The school year is ending, and the last few weeks are Baruch Hashem very hectic. I find myself looking at the girls in Bnos Avigail and giving myself permission to see their genuine inner beauty. During the school year, they are in process. They are continually “becoming”, and it’s only at the end of the year that I see them as they are - almost finished products. Choosing how to see them is an art that you learn.
Noticing this got me thinking back to the story of the spies which was the Parshah several weeks ago. The basic rule concerning the punishments that the Torah metes out is that there are ways to reverse choices that you made. It gives you a way to have a new beginning, and to dealwith reality. When you build a wall that keeps your recognition of Hashem’s presence out, you will find that you can’t see through the wall. The worst punishment meted out to the generation of the desert is the punishment that was the result of sending spies to help them see if they could enter the land, and ultimately it was their negativity that doomed them.
As you know, the result was a disaster. The awesome beauty, fruitfulness and hidden “something” that made the land one in which people of enormous stature just seemed to demand a “yes”, could be interpreted in very opposite ways. One way would be to step back, and say, “This is what Hashem had promised us all along. From the first time He spoke to Avraham to when we left Egypt the constant refrain was “I will give you the Land’. It was our greatest joy and hope.
Possibility two is “This isn’t going to happen. No way. No how”.
Did you ever feel like you are facing choice one and choice two? On one hand you know that Hashem is in control, and that He made commitments to us as a people. On the other hand, when you are nervously eating popcorn and watching (for instance) the election results, is it really all that easy to surrender your desire to be in the cockpit? To make the decisions and to feel the drama of being part of the ongoing play? The first step may be looking at the situation in all of its awfulness, at other people with all of their flaws, and the next step can be getting into your Me (or Us) against the Bad Guys.
The road that leads to bitachon isn’t easy. The word halachah, as you know, means the path to walk. The laws against speaking lashon hara are specific, numerous and strict. The way they function is to make you aware of the fact that you are constantly making choices. When you choose to speak negatively about other people (R. Nachman would add speaking lashon hara about the world itself sweeps you into the vortex of negativity (often disguised as sophistication) that makes it impossible for you to see good.
I had a marvelous Shabbos that brought home this truism. I was visiting with my son in Raananah (no, he doesn’t live near the newly elected prime minister who also calls Raananah his home). Two synagogues there decided to unite. One is a synagogue in a neighborhood that was started about 40 years ago. The members are no longer young, and the large building is no longer full. The other congregation is one in which lots of young families who moved to Raananah relatively recently needed more space than their tiny rented premises provided. I was there for their first joint Shabbos in the big shul. It was such a positive experience. It was full not only of people, but of life. The newcomers were anxious to show real respect to those who had dedicated so much of who they are to the shul, and the older members welcomed the energy and full seats in the large room. There was a giant kiddush at the end, with singing, dancing and most of all closeness and inclusion.
I have often heard of synagogues that split, and seeing the opposite made me aware of how much positivity, and its “offspring,”, optimism changes everything. The cause of this kind of positivity isn’t naïveté. It is seeing Hashem’s Hand when He makes you change course, and looking for His light in everyone else’s’ heart.