Look for the good

November 24, 2016 23:02

A lesson for all of us from Oizer Alport

The first chapter of Lamentations which we read on Tisha B'Av is written in the form of an acrostic, with each successive verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Although chapters 2-4 follow a similar form, there is one notable exception. The verse beginning with the letter peh precedes the verse starting with the letter ayin, reversing their alphabetical order. The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin (104b) cryptically explains that this is because the spies sinned by preceding their mouths (peh) to their eyes (ayin) and reporting facts which they didn’t actually see. How is this to be understood, and what lesson can we take from it?

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that in any encounter, a person is able to find what he is looking for. Before he processes the new situation, he has already made up his mind. Not surprisingly, he proceeds to find evidence to support his conclusion, a phenomenon referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rav Chatzkel Levenstein explains that the primary sin of the spies was their trait of “narganus.” This refers to a person who is constantly full of complaints and has nothing positive to say about anything. Because the spies embarked on their journey already decided that they didn’t want to live in Israel, they interpreted everything they saw through negative lenses and returned with a report shaped by their biases.

The importance of how we view a situation and interpret events is illustrated by the following story. In the early 1950s, a large shoe company with stores across North America wanted to increase sales by expanding into new markets. They sent two salesmen to Africa to explore the prospects of opening branches throughout the large and untapped continent.

Less than a week had passed when the first agent sent back a despondent telegram: “I’m coming home at once. No money can be made here. Nobody even wears shoes!” After receiving the bad news, the management felt they had no choice but to explore other potential options for expanding their business.

Just as they were preparing to send agents to scout out another region, they received an important lesson in the power of perspective. More than a month after the first salesman had quickly despaired, the firm received an urgent cable from the second salesman: “Ship 15,000 shoes immediately to fill my five stores. Africa is a land filled with great opportunity – nobody has shoes, and everybody needs a pair!”

The Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:34) with an additional year of wandering in the wilderness for each day of the spies’ journey. Why were they punished for the entire trip and not just for the lone day on which the spies returned and spoke ill of the land of Israel? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the Torah is teaching that they sinned not just upon their return but each day of their expedition when they skewed everything that they experienced.

The spies sinned by seeking out the bad in every encounter. As we read Lamentations and mourn the consequences of their actions on Tisha B’Av, let us learn from their mistakes and adopt a perspective of seeking out the good in every life situation, which will in turn become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

November 24, 2016 23:02

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