“And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was angered, and swore, saying: Surely there shall not one of these men, even this evil generation, see the good land, which I swore to give unto your fathers. […] Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying: Thou also shalt not go in either;” – Deuteronomy 1:34-35, 37
Moses spend his final days exhorting the Israelites to follow the word of God. In addition to his encouragement, Moses reminds the Israelites of their short history and the events that brought them to this juncture on the banks of the Jordan River about to enter the Land of Israel.
The book begins with a recap of the story of the spies. Moses fills in some of the blanks in the story in this retelling of the tale. The people are reminded that none of the sinners from the incident would be entering the Land of Israel. Interestingly, Moses includes himself in those who would not be entering the Promised Land due to the sin of the spies.
The problem is that the Torah tells us in Parshas Chukas that Moses would not enter the Land of Israel because of his sin at Mei Meriva. When Moses was supposed to draw water from a rock by speaking to it he sinned and that is the reason he was banned from the land. It was not because of the spies. What are we to make of these remarks by Moses? Why is he saying he won’t be going to Israel as a punishment for the incident with the spies?
Throughout the sojourn in the desert, the Israelites doggedly complained to Moses. They were relentless. If it wasn’t water, it was bread. If it wasn’t bread, it was meat. If it wasn’t meat, it was vegetables. There was always something to complain about. Indeed, the Israelites logged numerous complaints to Moses.
R’ Schwab says that if we look at all the complaints, we notice that they all shared one common thread. The people repeatedly accused Moses of taking them out of Egpyt to die in the desert. They asked time after time “Why have you taken us out of Egypt?”
The essence of this complaint is that Moses was a rebel leader who decided on his own to flee Egypt. The people were blaming Moses for their circumstances. In order for this complaint to make sense the assumption must be that Moses was not following God’s word, rather he was doing as he pleased. When he was caught in a bind, the people called him on his supposed recklessness.
During the incident of the spies, the people complained to Moses. They said: And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them: ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would we had died in this wilderness! – Number 14:2
It is the familiar canard. Moses was to blame for their troubles with the spies as well.
This despite the baselessness for their accusation. Moses was acting upon the word of God. He had no say in the itinerary. He was as much a passenger on the journey as the rest of the people. But still, he was being blamed. Worse, he was being accused of acting on his own accord and thus he was culpable.
Human nature is such that hearing something over and over again for forty years will inevitably have an impact on the person. It’s impossible for it not to make an impression on the person’s psyche. It’s not quite brainwashing, but it’s a similar principle. When we are told a lie so many times over the course of so many years it begins to wear on us. We start to think that it might even be true. We start to believe the negative publicity.
Maybe Moses heard these accusations so many times over the course of the last 40 years that he started giving them some credence. Their accusation that he did things on his own without the approval of God took it’s toll. He started to think that maybe he was doing things on his own.
That is why he hit the rock instead of talking to the rock. Moses made the colossal error of thinking that he was the one doing the decision making and not God. Subconsciously, he decided to hit the rock to do it his own way. For this he was punished.
Now, while recounting the story of the spies and the accusation that he was a lone ranger acting without God’s approval Moses tells the people how much he was affected by their complaints. He tells the Israelites that their constant complaining had an effect on him and when he hit the rock part of it was because of what the Israelites had been saying to him for all those years.
The reason Moses was punished was because he hit the rock. But maybe the reason he hit the rock was because of the sort of complaints he had been subject to for 40 years. Case in point, the sin of the spies and the accusations and insults which accompanied the incident. Moses was told too many times that he was a renegade leader. Eventually his mind fooled him into believing it, if only for just a millisecond. But the damage was done. Moses hit the rock. Thus Moses mentions that he has been punished and will not be entering the Land of Israel while recounting the story of the spies.
In our lives we hear a lot about ourselves. Our parents and teachers tell us what they think about us. Friends and acquaintances make us aware of their opinions. Bosses and co-workers may express their feelings about us. Spouses and children tell us all that we need to know about ourselves. What they say might be true, it might not be true, but it definitely makes a difference.
We have to place ourselves in situations where we hear the right things about ourselves. Too much praise or too much criticism can make a real impression on our own thoughts about ourselves. Whether it artificially inflates our sense of self-worth, or if it artificially deflates our self-confidence, what other say about us makes a difference. It is wise for us to consider our social environment and analyze how we are being talked about in our daily lives.
Conversely, we have a huge responsibility to think about what we say about others. When it comes to our children, we have so much to say about them. Are we critical? Are we honest about their failings? Do they hear how much we love them? Do they hear how proud we are of their accomplishments? Do they hear a barrage of criticism? Do they get reminded of their shortcomings or negative personality quirks regularly?
We have so much power over what our children think of themselves. It would be wise for us to maximize their feelings of confidence and imbue them with an honesty about rising up to their challenges. What we say about them in person and what they hear us say about them will make a very big difference in the way they think about themselves.
The Jewish people as a whole are routinely discussed in the public arena. They say we are too much or this, or too little of that. We hear Jews being talked about it all the time. We read descriptions of Jewish people or Jewish ideas. Hearing lies over and over will take a toll on our collective psyche. We need to be sure that we do not believe everything we hear about ourselves. We cannot allow negativity dictate our communal mood.
It can be hard to stonewall what we hear about us as a group or as individuals. But being aware of the potential harm in believing our own publicity is the first step in avoiding it.
Above all, we cannot neglect our incredible opportunity to positively shape how others think about themselves. There is no part of our lives that this is more important that how we deal with our children and spouses. Let us use this knowledge to shower those closest to us with love, affection, positivity, and honesty. - Good Shabbos
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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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