Skip to content

SHLACH 2012

GLASSES OF ANXIETY


The story of the Spies is one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. The punishment resulting from their report was from the harshest possible, with ramifications felt until the present day. Instead of being allowed to enter the Land of Canaan immediately, Bnei Yisrael had to remain for forty years in the desert, where a whole nation of people from the age 20 died. Tisha B’av, the night when the Jews wept over the Spies’ report, was destined to be the night of future crying over the destruction of the two Temples. We still cry over this story of the Spies once a year.

We can conclude that what the Spies did must have been a very grave sin. We know, on the other hand, that the Spies were great and pious men who were handpicked by G-d and Moshe. They were Nessiim, leaders of the people. We may, and should, ask ourselves: what brought these men to fall to such a low level, actually speaking lashon hara about the Land? How could men of such stature be guilty of heresy, saying that even G-d cannot fight such strong nations?

The Targum Zohar (3;58) writes that they took counsel and plotted with one another, “If we enter the Land of Israel, we will be asked to resign as Nesiim. Only in the desert did we merit to being Nesiim and leading the people. But in Israel, Moshe will assign others to take our position.” So, they tried to get everyone to go back to Egypt.

This leaves us with some more questions. Why did it even occur to them that they would be voted out of office? And even more so, how could such great and pious leaders make such heretical statements, expressing disbelief in G-d, because of their egotistical desire to stay in their prestigious position of power?

Our Rabbis teach us (Sanhedrin 104b), “They put the Hebrew letter פ (here refers to פה- mouth) before the letter ע (here refers to עין – eyes) and said what they did not see.” Why does the Talmud tell us that the Spies “said what they did not see”? Did they not say what they saw? The answer is because they said what they saw. The Spies, and the People, were full of anxiety and worries. They had just recently heard prophecy from Eldad and Meidad that Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring the Jews into the land. Eldad and Medad’s prophesy was not questioned by Moshe. Everyone felt that something was going to happen. Either there would be a new leader, or Moshe might begin to behave differently. For the Nesiim, this meant a new person in power and implied that they could be voted out, that there might be a new way of leading the people. This anxiety was connected to the Jews’ coming into the Land of Israel. As long as they were in the desert, Moshe would stay and so would the status quo.

As anxiety is an emotion, it does not usually let a person see things rationally. He perceives things as he thinks they are, without going beneath the surface of appearances. The Spies perceived reality through their eyes of anxiety. And, more often than not, interpretation of what people see and the “color” of how things look are, to a great extent, connected to the tint of their anxiety glasses.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky informs us, in “Life’s Too Short!” that Anxiety is very similar to fear. However, in fear, there is a threatening situation. In anxiety, there are no apparent threats. In anxiety, there may only be an unconscious threat, a fear of something without being aware of what it is. The person feels haunted, as if he has a premonition that something terrible is going to happen… Not knowing what it is, he or she has no way of controlling or avoiding it.

Rabbi Twersky offers a powerful way of overcoming anxiety. It is through addressing the root of the problem: a low self esteem. If a person looks at himself as a midget, physically, emotionally or mentally, then anything and everything can be a threat. I will never be able to overcome this, is the thought behind the emotion of anxiety. Strengthening belief in G-d should bring one to believing in one’s self and being confident that, with G-d’s help, he will be able to overcome whatever brought about the anxiety. Then, anxiety just disappears. (See Messilat Yesharim ch. 20)

We can now take a second look at the Spies’ report and realize that it was what they saw from their anxiety glasses. The Spies were worried about retaining their position, believing that they were not going to be worthy of retaining their position as Nessim; in other words, they did not believe in themselves – a cause for anxiety. Their fears colored their perspective – twisted reality to suit their own agenda. Therefore, they saw the Land as being in such a situation that G-d would not be strong enough to take the 7 Nations out. And, that the Jewish People were midgets compared to the great giants of Canaan. That is what they saw, an exact reflection of their own anxiety. Being that anxiety is an emotion, it is osmotic and spreads from person to person like wildfire. Their projected anxiety touched the Jews until, that night, the “whole nation cried in their tents”.

After learning what anxiety is we can realize how many people suffer from it, without even knowing what they are suffering from. This means that there are things in life around us causing us anxiety that we think are very real, but in essence, they are only like a mirage in the desert. An anxiety mirage. These “non-realities” exist only in the mind, until they vanish into thin air when you get too close. When you talk them out while bringing G-d into the picture and put things in a rational perspective, they just do not exist.

Generally, in life, the worst thing one can do is to think that what he sees at the surface is what is really there. This is the lesson of the tzitzit at the end of the parasha. I always wondered what it is doing here in the Torah, right next to the Spies. When you see them(tzitzit strings) you shall remember all the Mitzvot of G-d and not stray after your hearts and eyes after which you are straying . And, by looking at the blue strings of tchelet on the tziztit which remind us of the blue sky, we are able to remind ourselves of the Throne of Glory. Someone once asked R. E. Dessler how it is that by merely looking at the strings of the tzizit, one can think of the Throne of Glory and remember all of the 613 Mitzot of the Torah?

R. Dessler answered him – It does not bother you – the Halacha that forbids one to pray facing the colored clothes of a woman, hanging out to dry, because one might come to have improper thoughts during prayer. How could one start thinking improper thoughts just by looking at a colored dress? The answer is that if that is the direction of a person’s thoughts, those are the thoughts that will enter his mind, for that is what he sees. If one is looking at tzitzit and he is concentrating on spiritual growth, he will see 613 mitzvot and the Throne of Glory, even in just a few white and blue strings.

The tzitzit are teaching us how to see things. Not how they look on the surface. Not how things look to us. But to see how they look when focusing on their deeper meaning. And, deeper than the way eyes of anxiety see things.

 

SELF ESTEEM OF A GRASSHOPPER

 

(ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם (יג, לג
“We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and that is how we were perceived by the Canaanites as well”

This is how the spies sent by Moshe described their encounter with the Canaanites while on their mission in the Land of Israel. When we read this description, though, we wonder how the spies could possibly have known how the enormous Canaanites perceived them. Indeed, Rashi asks this question, and explains that the spies also reported that they heard the Canaanites saying to one another: There are ants in the vineyards that look like humans.

Still, the spies’ description remains puzzling: Even if the spies intended to relate to the Jewish People their relatively diminutive appearance, why did they mention how they perceived themselves? Furthermore, we need to understand the change in terminology: The spies quote the gigantic Canaanites as calling them ants. Yet, they report that they perceived themselves – and were perceived by the Canaanites – as grasshoppers. How can we understand this switch?

The answers to these questions throw light on an important concept. The Canaanite perception of the Jewish spies as ants was the direct outcome of the spies’ self-perception as grasshoppers. When we perceive ourselves as being incapable or inept, this invites others to belittle us further. This was the spies’ gravest sin. They viewed themselves as being in a pitiable state, and infected the rest of the Jewish People with this self-image as well. Indeed, the Baal HaTurim comments that the reason the Jews suffered the Destruction of the Temple and are still in exile is the assessment the Jew makes of himself as being small in the eyes of the nations.

It is not surprising, then, that at the very end of the horrible curses of Parashat Ki Tavo – sequenced according to severity – we find the following: the Jews will be put up for sale as slaves to the gentile nations, but no-one will want to buy them (28:68). No further curses or punishments are mentioned, as if to say: this is the lowest level to which the Jewish nation can fall. This is the direct result of their perceiving themselves as worthless.

And this concept applies to each and every one of us. If we believe that we have no worth – that is all the worth we ultimately have.

 

 PARANOIA

 

When baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others displaces rational thinking and evaluation, we call it paranoia. One who looks beyond (para) the surface of others’ actions, and suspects a scheme or plot against him, is considered to be paranoid. Although paranoia is a condition that may require clinical treatment, it also affects healthy people to one degree or another. Few people notice that they have someone in their life towards whom they feel paranoid – baselessly accusing him or her despite the other’s pure intentions. It might be a child or student with a paranoid view of a parent or teacher. It might be employees or competitors with a paranoid view of one another. I asked a number of older people if they ever felt paranoid or if anyone (without real psychological problems) ever felt paranoid towards them. They all answered in the affirmative. Needless to say, they all mentioned that they endured much emotional stress as long as it was going on.

Paranoid feelings often result from a lack of self-esteem or sense of self-worth. Especially in the emotional context of family or other relationships, perceived lack of appreciation, respect, or love can cause paranoia to surface. Thus, strengthening the self-esteem of the person suffering from paranoia can help in dissipating his fear of the person he thinks is threatening him. But treating self-esteem alone is problematic because it is a drawn-out process and because it cannot fully relieve the misery and pitfalls of paranoia. If we look closely at the parashah, however, we can find an insight that can go a long way towards successfully treating this condition.

On his very last day, Moshe Rabbeinu rebuked the Jewish People for their wrongdoings during their forty years in the desert. Notice the interesting terminology he uses in regard to the national response to the incident of the spies:
ותרגנו באהליכם ותאמרו בשנאת ה’ אתנו הוציאנו מארץ מצרים לתת אתנו ביד האמרי להשמידנו.
You complained in your tents and said: G-d redeemed us from Egypt out of hatred – to put us in the hands of the Emorites to destroy us. (Devarim 1:27)

The Chafetz Chaim (שער התבונה פ’ טז’) connects the word ותרגנו (you complained) to נרגנות, which is essentially paranoia. When the Jews in the desert complained that all G-d had done for them was out of a desire to destroy them, this is nothing less than paranoia. The Chafetz Chaim writes on this concept concerning gossipers. One who suffers from paranoia will constantly transgress the stringent prohibition of לשון הרע (speaking ill of others). Since he will always feel that the other person is out to get him, he will have no emotional rest until he sets the imaginary score straight. The Chafetz Chaim lists another seven violations transgressed or nearly transgressed by the paranoid: ואהבת לרעך כמוך (loving your neighbor as yourself), לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך (not hating your brother in your heart), בצדק תשפוט עמיתך (judging others favorably), חושד בכשרים (suspecting an innocent person of wrongdoing), אונאת דברים (using hurtful words), הלבנת פנים (embarrassing others), מחלוקת (causing dispute).

In Moshe’s description, we can also see the characteristic way in which one who is paranoid expresses his paranoia: You complained in your tents. Paranoia is often found in a relationship where there is no open discussion. The person who feels he is the victim limits his complaints to the privacy of his own home.

From here, we can derive an important lesson about how to overcome the baseless fear of the other person and his actions. Just by being open and putting the cards on the table, much of the paranoia will dissipate. If the Jews would have communicated with G-d by means of prayer or by having Moshe Rabbeinu take counsel with G-d, the calamity would have been averted. The most effective way to deal with the problem is to be open about it. If not, the most irrational thoughts – such as G-d taking us out of Egypt to have us demolished by the Canaanites – can overcome even the greatest of minds.

About the author, Yosef

Leave a Comment