There are good people that do bad things, there are happy people that have sad days and there are bad people that sometimes do good deeds. We sometimes do something we think is good just to find out later that is was bad, and sometimes we do something wrong but later learn that something good came out of it.
It’s a human need to feel that you are a good person; our mind will distort reality to make us feel good.
On a recent visit to the FCI Gilmer WV, an inmate who was about to be released told me that he has no enemies outside of prison because he only robbed banks and chain stores and never robbed mom-and-pop shops. Another inmate, who was a gang leader in Philadelphia, told me that even when he was heavily involved in drug trade he never sold drugs to his friends’ moms. At the time, that was his standard to make himself feel like a good person.
From a Jewish perspective, how can one know what’s really good? The Fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1834-1882) explained to his son: “Take this as a general principle and remember it always: Any matter that is effective towards or actually leads to active service of G-d, and is confronted with opposition of any sort, even the most noble, that opposition is the scheming of the animal soul.”
This idea can help us understand something puzzling in this week’s Torah portion:
Moses sends 12 spies to the land of Canaan. Forty days later they return, carrying a huge cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and a fig, to report on a lush and bountiful land. But 10 of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors “more powerful than we are.”
The people weep that they’d rather return to Egypt. G-d decrees that Israel’s entry into the land shall be delayed 40 years, during which time that entire generation will die out in the desert.
One may wonder: When the leaders of each of the 12 tribes handpicked the spies, they surely chose the best and most pious among them — someone that they all trusted. So how did these 10 great men become “radicalized” anti-Israel in just 40 days, without YouTube or Facebook?
The 10 spies must have truly believed that persuading the Jews not to enter the holy land was the best thing they could do.
When the Jewish nation was in the desert they were in a utopia, all their physical, emotional and spiritual needs were provided to them from G-d. They did not have any worries, they were protected by the clouds of glory.
The spies knew that this was all going to come to an end once the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. They would need to work the land to meet their needs. This is not just a very time consuming task that would take them away from studying Torah, for the responsibility to provide can cause stress even when you are not at work. Somehow, even people that are very wealthy manage to worry about their financial future.
The spies believed that the Jewish people are much better off remaining in the desert where they can serve G-d without any physical or emotional distractions. They were wrong, because G-d wants us to go in to Israel and face the challenges involved in providing for our loved ones and with that still serve him and do mitzvot.
So next time you are trying to do a mitzvah and you get distracted, instead of feeling guilty remember that facing these challenges is the reason G-d brought us to the holy land. PJC
Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz is the rabbi at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Morgantown, West Virginia.