D’var Torah: Parshat Shelach L’cha – Being Careful with the Truth
“I was just being honest” has often been the excuse of a young camper when recounting to me why he had told his friend “Susie” that “Bobby” had said she was stupid. As we explore the value of truth this kayitz (summer), maybe it is wise to start with the idea that telling the truth doesn’t mean we have to run to say everything we hear that is on our minds just because it is accurate. Sometimes the best decision is to say nothing at all.
First, let’s look at this particular case. Does Susie need to know that Bobby said she was stupid? I think we can make arguments about situations where it might be right to tell Susie what Bobby said. However, most of the time I think it is best to at least sit on this information, and usually it is best to just keep it to ourselves or talk it over with our madrichim (counselors).
Why? Well, sometimes we complain to each other just to vent about something that upset us. Perhaps Bobby called Susie stupid because Bobby felt hurt he was excluded from the game she was playing with her friends. A great answer might be, “I don’t think it is nice to say someone is stupid and I am here to listen if you are feeling bad about something and want to talk about it.”
Sometimes we use the truth to stir up trouble. It might be true that Bobby said to you that Susie was stupid. Yet you also know that they are good friends, they usually say nice things about each other, and Bobby turned to you to say this only because he was upset. If, instead of running to Susie, you tell Bobby you know he is upset and offer to hang out with him until he feels better, it is likely that Bobby and Susie will patch things up.
A similar thing happens in this week’s parsha, Shelach L’cha. Moshe sends spies to bring a report about the land of Israel because the Israelites are preparing to invade. Each of the twelve tribes is represented by one spy. Ten spies come back and report, accurately, that the land is great and the people there are big and strong. At this point, they could said nothing more or they could have said that they believed that with God’s help they could conquer the land. Instead, they decided to sow discord by saying it was impossible to conquer the land and they would surely lose. When the people believed them, this led to the natural consequence of God not allowing that generation to finish the journey to Israel.
One other critical point. The Israelites chose, on their own, to accept the notion that the land was unconquerable. They assumed the worst. They had another option: to believe the spies Joshua and Caleb, who said that the inhabitants were big but also beatable.
Just because someone tells you something true doesn’t always mean it can only lead to one conclusion. Bobby may have said what he said privately in a moment of weakness or because he was feeling hurt. Yet the rush to tell Susie because it is the truth doesn’t do anyone any good. It might be better to help Bobby understand his feelings and remind him why he was friends with Susie in the first place. Similarly, the spies could have said that conquering Israel might be hard but that it was a good bet to have faith in the God that delivered us from slavery and gave us the Torah.
This kayitz, let’s try to use the truth to do good and to help people get along and heal. Let’s think very carefully before we rush to relay bad things people say or interpret them in the worst way possible. Shabbat Shalom.