How You Look At It

Do you want to hear a kasha that anyone can ask on any topic in any place in the Torah? Take out a sefer and read what it says. Then turn the sefer upside down and ask, “But now it says punkt farkert, the exact opposite, a contradiction.” Okay, so you don’t think it’s the most lomdishe question in the world? Maybe not. But the answer is very enlightening and is a major fundamental in life. It all depends on how you look at it. Things appear completely different when looked at from varied angles.

There are some people who feel that life has handed them lemons and they constantly walk around with a sour disposition. Yet, there are others who are able to turn those lemons into lemonade and live their lives happy and satisfied. The type of frame you use can have a major effect on the picture.

Every day, in Birchos Hashachar, we recite the brocha of pokeiach ivrim, thanking Hashem, “Who gives sight to the blind,” for the amazing gift of vision. Try walking around with your eyes closed for a while in order to appreciate this chesed from Hashem. But in addition to the physical eyesight that Hashem has given us, He gives us insight in a spiritual sense to discern between light and darkness. To differentiate between good and bad and to realize what to choose. It is also the ability to have a good and positive outlook on life if we don’t ruin it with our shortcomings.

In this week’s sedrah, we lain the third parsha of Krias Shema, where it says, “Velo sosuru acharei levavchem v’acharei eineichem – And don’t explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray…” (Bamidbar 15:39). Rashi explains that the word sosuru means spying. The heart and the eyes are the meraglim, the spies, of the body. They are the agents that procure aveiros. The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body commits the sin.

At first glance, there is no connection between these spies of the body mentioned in the parsha of tzitzis and the spies at the beginning of the sedrah who were sent by Moshe Rabbeinu to scout the land of Canaan. However, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, finds a strong association between the two.

We find two incidents of meraglim mentioned this week, the ones in the Torah who were sent by Moshe and the ones in the haftorah later sent by Yehoshua. Comparing the two, we find something fascinating. The meraglim sent by Moshe spied the land in peace and tranquility, without anyone disturbing them. They even cut off a massive cluster of grapes extraordinary in its weight and carried it back to the midbar unnoticed.

For 40 days, they remained in the land and no one complained or chased after them. They were surrounded by miracles that caused the inhabitants of the land to be distracted and not pay any attention to them. Wherever they went, the city chieftain died and the citizens were preoccupied with the funeral. If only the meraglim would have looked at this with the proper perspective, they would have seen the Hand of Hashem guiding them every step of the way and it would have taught them then that when they would be involved in capturing the land, Hashem would also perform wonders for His people.

In actuality, they viewed all of these occurrences with a distorted outlook. They interpreted all of the nissim and chassodim as a portent for danger for the nation. They brought forth an evil report on the land, saying that it devours its inhabitants, thus bringing tragedy for Klal Yisroel. Because of them, the day that the meraglim returned was established as a day of weeping for generations, the fast of Tisha B’Av.

In contrast to this, the meraglim who were sent by Yehoshua entered the land quietly, like spies who are fearful for their lives. They only reached the house of Rachav, who lived in a wall. They did not move from there, and even in her house, they felt the fear of death. She brought them up to the roof and hid them in stalks of flax. Only afterwards, when she saw the possibility for a safe escape, did she tell them to flee.

If so, logic would dictate that they would bring back a report that the land’s inhabitants are steadfast in guarding the land so that no strangers set foot within their boundaries. It would thus be impossible for them to conquer the land. Instead, defying logic, they relied on what they heard from Rachav, who said to them, “For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Yam Suf… We heard and our hearts melted” (Yehoshua 2:10-11).

They did not cast judgment based on their own personal fearful experience. Rather, from her words they understood that indeed they can conquer the land. That is the report they conveyed to Klal Yisroel, emboldening their hearts with bitachon and bringing yeshuah to their people.

We can derive a great lesson from this, says the Chevroner rosh yeshiva. It is not a person’s circumstances that establish his outlook on keeping the Torah and mitzvos and fulfilling the Will of Hashem. Rather, it is the heart that provides this vision. One can find himself in the best possible situation, and despite this, he will have a negative attitude and be full of complaints. Conversely, one can be weighed down with difficulties and have all the excuses in the world to complain and be miserable, yet he will see the good in everything.

This is what the Torah is warning us about when it says, “Velo sosuru acharei levavchem.” Do not let your hearts be like the meraglim to lead you astray, to ruin your own personal world and that of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, for everything depends on the purity of your heart. Just as the physical heart is a source of life by constantly pumping blood throughout the body, so is the spiritual heart the catalyst that determines what kind of a life a person will live.

To guide the heart in the right direction, the Torah gives us advice. Always look at the tzitzis, which have a string of techeiles, similar to the blue sky, which will remind you of the Heavenly throne. Consequently, you will develop the true Heavenly perspective on life, as it says, “In all your ways you know Him, and He will smooth your paths” (Mishlei 3:6).

This is why Klal Yisroel was punished in such a harsh manner for crying at the report of the meraglim. “You cried a crying for naught and I will establish a weeping for generations” (Taanis 29a). This is the bitter day of Tisha B’Av, when the two Botei Mikdosh were destroyed. Instead of seeing the chassodim of Hashem, they cried and complained. One who is ungrateful to Hashem and, instead of rejoicing, complains is committing a grave aveirah. Only a person who maintains a pure heart and a straight outlook merits leading a fully productive and happy life.

Perhaps the most stifling disadvantage a person can have is when he has a distorted view of himself, not realizing the kochos that he possesses. The meraglim said, “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes” (Bamidbar 13:33). About this the Medrash relates that Hakadosh Boruch Hu said to Yirmiyahu Hanovi (before churban Bayis Rishon), “Go and tell the Yidden: You don’t realize the gravity of what you said and what calamity you brought upon yourselves. You ignited the fire upon yourselves. One day per year, you will carry the burden of your sins. The meraglim said, ‘We were in our eyes like grasshoppers.’ That I was able to tolerate. But for their saying, ‘And so we were in their eyes,’ I am unforgiving. Do you realize how I made you look in their eyes? Who said you did not appear to them as angels?” (Tanchuma, Parshas Shelach 10).

This is mind-boggling, says the Alter of Slabodka. We are accustomed to thinking that the root of the sin of the meraglim was bringing forth an evil report about Eretz Yisroel. Yet, here Chazal tell us that their aveirah stemmed from viewing things with a wrong perspective.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu created man with astounding powers and senses that allow him to rule over the entire earth, the ability to see from one end of the world to the other and to be able to reach from here to the heavens. If so, how could they see themselves as grasshoppers? That, in and of itself, was forgivable, but to say that the other nations viewed them as such was unpardonable.

How could they say that the Canaanites were “too strong for them” because of their size? Didn’t they realize that physical size is not the measuring stick in the world of Hakadosh Boruch Hu? In fact, what happened in the end was that the huge Canaanim fled from them (Ohr Hatzofun).

We must learn from this all-important lesson. Everything depends on how you look at it. Many of man’s shortcomings come about because of a wrong perspective on life, not realizing his great potential and his true chashivus in the eyes of Hashem. The seforim say that this is one of the most efficient tactics of the yeitzer hara, convincing a person that he is deficient and unworthy of admiration.

One of our main tasks is to straighten our view of ourselves and the impact we have on the world, recognizing the importance of every mitzvah act and how precious we really are in the eyes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.