The end of Parashat BeHaalotecha deals with Miriam's sin of Lashon HaRa, of relating to Aharon, her brother, that which she had heard from Tzipporah, Moshe's wife. Rashi explains that Miriam overheard Tzipporah comment that Moshe had separated from her in order to be constantly prepared to receive prophecy from Hashem. Miriam was punished for this in three ways. Firstly, she was afflicted with Tzaraat. Second, the whole camp waited a week to travel until Miriam healed, during which time some of Bnei Yisrael likely discussed her punishment. Third, for all generations, we must recall Miriam's sin every day as one of the six Zechirot (remembrances) along with Amaleik, Yetziat Mitzrayim, Kabbalat HaTorah, Shabbat, and the Cheit HaEigel. Why was Miriam punished so severely for speaking about Moshe, especially since, as Rashi explains, she did not intend her words to be derogatory?
At the beginning of the next Parasha, Parashat Shelach, the Torah deals with the sin of the Meraglim. Rashi explains that the two stories are juxtaposed because the spies, who witnessed Miriam’s punishment, should have understood the terrible consequences of speaking derogatorily about something or someone and refrained from publishing a libelous report about Eretz Yisrael. This explanation is troublesome; how can we even compare these two incidents? The Meraglim specifically intended to speak evil of Eretz Yisrael while Miriam had absolutely no offensive intent!
Both these questions can be answered with one concept. Of the five basic senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – four are for the most part objective in that a person identifies the stimulus as it is. For example, if a person smells a scent, he either smells it as pleasant or unpleasant, depending on whether it is in fact pleasant or unpleasant. The only sense that is subjective by nature is sight. A person sees things as he wishes to see them. One person sees a cup as half-full while another sees it as half-empty. The subjective nature of vision allows for the concepts of Ayin Tovah (good or benevolent eye) and Ayin Raah (bad or malicious eye). This is the relationship between the sin of Miriam and that of the Meraglim. In each case there was improper sight. Despite the fact that Miriam was looking out for Moshe, not trying to belittle him, she assessed the situation with the wrong attitude. The Meraglim saw Eretz Yisrael improperly, even though Moshe had explicitly warned them to look at the land properly and objectively (BeMidbar 13:18). Their sin was that their mouths preceded their eyes, influencing their sight and biasing their judgment.
The ability to see with Ayin Tovah can be gained only through Torah. On the heels of Kabbalat HaTorah, we must take this message to heart, adopting the trait of Ayin Tovah. According to the extent that we accomplish this, we will merit seeing the fulfillment of, "Ki Ayin BeAyin Yiru BeShuv Hashem Tzion,” “For they shall see, eye to eye, Hashem returning to Zion" (Yeshayahu 52:8).