This week’s parasha contains one simple lesson for all of us. Refrain from excess speech. What does that mean? The spies reported back to Moshe and the Jewish People about many things that they witnessed in the Promised Land. Unfortunately, their slander of the land was calamitous for the Jewish People, as we still suffer today from their malicious speech. One must wonder, though, why their speech had an effect of such magnitude? After all, they only spoke about the land. There were no Jews in the Land of Canaan at the time, and the spies did not even describe specific people, which is the actual prohibition of Lashon Hara (laws of slander). What was their error and how can we learn a lesson from it?
To understand the nature of the spies’ sin, we can look at the prohibition of the Torah regarding the mizbeiach, the altar. The Kohen is required to ascend the mizbeiach by way of a ramp and not to use steps, as the steps would allow for his “nakedness” to be revealed. The Torah is not refereeing to the typical immodesty that one is familiar with. Rather, even the widening of the Kohen’s steps is tantamount to revealing one’s nakedness. Rashi writes that this prohibition regarding an inanimate object teaches us how we must be careful of the honor of any human being. Apparently, the Torah found it necessary to teach us lessons of honor and respect through inanimate objects. Rashi in our parasha writes that the spies did not take a lesson from Miriam, who slandered Moshe ever so slightly, and was punished with Tzaraas. In truth, however, we can relate to the missed lesson of the spies. At times we need to learn lessons from extreme examples, such as not taking wide steps on the mizbeiach and speaking ill of the land. Perhaps this will also explain why HaShem told Moshe that even if you find the request of sending spies to be favorable, I am displeased with this request and I will cause them to stumble. Why would HaShem cause someone to stumble? Does HaShem not seek out our welfare? The answer to this question is that HaShem was telling Moshe that the spies had their chance with Miriam, but He was willing to afford them another opportunity , this time through an inanimate object, to refrain from slander. Yet, the spies missed the whole point and spread malicious lies about the land. While normally think that it is easier to refrain from speaking poorly about an inanimate object than to speak about a fellow human being, in truth the opposite is the case. One who understands the gravity of slander will surely refrain from talking ill about his fellow man. Speaking ill of the land, however, takes more restraint.
HaShem should give us the understanding that slander is a symptom of sinas chinam, baseless hatred, and when we learn to refrain from excessive speech and speak only good of our fellow Jew, we will be deserving of the Redemption.
Have a slander-free Shabbos!