Understanding human nature

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: Understanding Human Nature.

At the time the Meraglim—the spies, were chosen from among the leaders to scout the land, they were highly respected leaders. Each of the 12 tribes had a representative, one of their leaders, to give an equal opportunity to all. Therefore, Moshe had chosen people of high values to represent them correctly.

When the Torah speaks of Hoshea and Kalev, it mentions that Hoshea had a letter added to his name, becoming Yehoshua. This addition was a prayerful invocation for Hashem, symbolized by the letter "yud" in Yehoshua, to protect him from the negative influence of the spies. On the other hand, Kalev went to pray at the graves of our forefathers in Hebron, seeking strength and blessings to resist the conspiracy of the spies.

Regarding the selection of the spies, it was Am Yisrael itself that requested Moshe to send spies to explore the land of Canaan before their entry. Moshe reluctantly agreed, knowing deep down that the spies would ultimately bring back a negative report.

It is important to note that Moshe did not intentionally choose individuals whom he believed would turn bad. The selection was based on their leadership roles within their tribes, without foresight into their future actions.

Several questions arise: If the spies were righteous at the time, how did Moshe know that they would turn bad? And if he did have knowledge of this, why did Moshe choose individuals whom he believed would eventually falter?

Another question that should be considered is, if Moshe was certain that the land was good (as Rashi explained that Moshe felt it was very good), why did he initially hesitate to send the spies? One might expect him to immediately agree to their mission, as they would only have positive things to report. Additionally, if the land was indeed good, why did the spies ultimately bring back a negative report?

To answer this, we need to understand the nature of humans. The diverse nature of human perspectives plays a significant role in how individuals interpret and understand the world around them. People's views and beliefs are shaped by various factors, including their upbringing, culture, experiences, and personal values.

Due to this inherent diversity, it is not surprising to find differing viewpoints on various subjects. Individuals may hold contrasting opinions on politics, religion, social issues, and more. This diversity of perspectives is evident in the political spectrum, where some individuals lean towards the right, while others identify with the left-wing.

The existence of these opposing views can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy between individuals who hold different beliefs. Each person tends to perceive their own perspective as the correct one, making it challenging to comprehend alternative viewpoints. 

Because of that diversity, when a group of twelve people going to spy a land and give their opinion, one can expect that some will come with good reports while others will have bad reports. Therefore Moshe, Yehoshua and Kalev knew in advance that this is just the way human nature is, and they can expect to have some slander the land.

In various instances within the Torah, we encounter this idea of having differing views in large settings.

For example, public violation of Shabbat (חילול שבת בפרהסיא) is viewed more severely than private transgressions. This distinction is reflected in Halacha, where there is a differentiation between individuals who violate Shabbat publicly in front of ten people and those who do so privately.

According to the explanation offered by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (אגרות משה ח״א סי’ לג), the reason for this distinction lies in the perception and potential consequences of the violation. When someone violates Shabbat in front of less than ten people, it is likely that those witnessing the transgression will attribute it to the individual's personal desires or weaknesses rather than a rejection of belief in Hashem. The violation is seen as a result of human weakness and lack of self-control.

However, when the violation occurs in the presence of ten or more people, there is a greater diversity of opinions and perspectives among the observers. In such a setting, there is a higher likelihood that at least one person might interpret the violation as a denial or disregard of the significance of Shabbat and a rejection of the principles of faith. Since the individual who commits the transgression in public demonstrates a lack of concern for being viewed in this manner, it suggests a potential leaning towards heretical beliefs or an indifference to the perception of others. Consequently, Halacha categorizes this behavior as more severe, considering the individual halachically, a heretic.

The concept, the differentiation between public and private violations, highlights the importance of being mindful of our actions and considering their potential impact on others' perceptions. It reminds us to exercise caution and sensitivity in our behavior, especially when it comes to matters that hold significance or may be subject to varying interpretations. Therefore the Torah warns: “you shall be cleaned from Hashem and from Israel” (במדבר לב,כב)

By being conscious of how our actions might be viewed by others, we can strive to avoid behaviors that may be perceived negatively or lead to misunderstandings. This awareness encourages us to act in ways that promote harmony, respect, and understanding within our communities and social circles.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel