Torah Thoughts on Parashat Shlach Lecha 5780
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week’s parasha narrates the well-known story of the twelve spies or scouts. Moses sends a representative of each tribe to scout the land of Israel to find out about the land and its inhabitants.
Upon their return, two of the twelve spies give a positive report, but the other ten give a very negative report about the inhabitants of the land, adding that there was no way the people of Israel could defeat them in battle. These words demoralize the people, leading to a major crisis.
The Torah relates that when the people heard the ten spies saying they would not be able to conquer the enemy, they wished they had never left Egypt, and they cried bitterly (Numbers 14:1). According to tradition, that day was the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the same day on which the two Temples of Jerusalem were destroyed many hundreds of years later, the day of national mourning for the Jewish people.
A midrash tells that when God heard the people crying with ingratitude, He exclaimed, atem bechitem bechia shel chinam, va-ani kobea lachem bechia le-dorot, “you cried in vain, and so I declare upon you a lament for generations.” According to this midrash, God chose the ninth of Av as the day on which the Temples would be destroyed, in remembrance of the day on which the people did not wish to enter and conquer the land of Israel. Justified tears would replace unjustified tears!
Even when I don’t find the theology behind this midrash very appealing, I do believe that the concept of two kinds of cryings and its consequences is very interesting. I think we can learn something from these two ways of complaining.
We all live moments of happiness and sadness through life. However, we tend to react in different ways to these situations and feelings. Sometimes, we cry with no real cause. Sometimes we over-react to routine problems. Sometimes we exaggerate our anger and “cry” without a good reason. In doing this, we manage to ruin our day, our stress and anxiety levels increase, our health is impaired and, in addition to all of this, our bad mood is contagious and spills over onto our family and friends. As if all this was not enough, the problem that caused our anger becomes much more difficult to solve when we are in such a bad mood. Perhaps this is the real punishment we get when we cry without good reasons.
Fortunately, God does not decree a day of personal mourning upon us every time we complain for no good reason. Our bad mood simply goes away after a few hours or days, and life goes on. However, like in the midrash, we learn that unnecessary tears have negative consequences for us.
Our forefathers, according to the midrash, cried unwarranted tears, tears that never should have been shed. Especially in times of crisis, like the one we are living now, it is easy to overreact, stress out and complain for the many situations we must go through. Of course, there are real reasons for tears, like disease or the loss of a job. However, for many other much minor harms, we should try to have a better perspective and avoid vain tears and complaints. For, as we have seen, crying in vain has bad consequences for us.