Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rav Achimeir Kallah of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh
The Pasuk says (Bamidbar 14:1):
וַתִּשָּׂא, כָּל-הָעֵדָה, וַיִּתְּנוּ, אֶת-קוֹלָם; וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא
The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice; the people wept that night.”
And Rashi writes:
כל העדה – סנהדראות
The entire assembly – the Sanhedrins
This pasuk, like many other verses in the Torah and the rest of Tanach, does not draw much attention. However, our Holy Torah – which is a Torah of Truth, written from a pure and holy source – does not write letters or words, and definitely not verses, for no purpose. Every pasuk contains a hidden treasure – a treasure with seventy facets of the Torah’s “Pardess,” and we our obligated to plumb its depths.
When the ten tribal leaders, great Torah scholars, present the Holy Land as
“A land that devours its inhabitants” (Bamidbar 13:32) ארץ אוכלת יושביה
without getting into the reason for this perception, it is clear that only a special person or fool would be unafraid to enter the land after this observation. Even when Moshe and Aharon try to stem the tide of fear by tearing their clothes in protest, this action has no effect. The nation knows that seeing is believing and despite the great Moshe Rabeinu giving them assurances they are afraid; very afraid.
Even after Yehoshua and Calev, “the spies of the Land” (14:6), who also saw with their own eyes, speak in praise of the Land – there is no significant success. The people remain unconvinced. Stop for a minute and think about that. We have incredible leaders: Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua and Calev exhorting the people to trust them and fear not. Given all that they have gone through together, we still find that כָּל-הָעֵדָה, the heads of the Sanhedrins, are fearful and engulfed with trepidation.
What psychology is playing out here? Human beings, as great as they may be, are still human, and external fears can envelope and overpower even the greatest people. Seeds of hopelessness and despair can be seen. The impact of these seeds, which eventually develop into a mature tree of the deepest despair, ultimately caused the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which has yet to be rebuilt.
This notion of despair is encompassed in one word, which has deep meaning: “ויבכו – The people wept.”
Melancholia is a serious affliction. When sadness overtakes a person, they tend to despair of life. They feel empty and rudderless. There is no point in studying Torah and performing mitzvos, and logical reasoning will often not transpose the person in deep depression to resume a more regular routine.
In contrast, this is not the case when a person is happy with a mitzvah, happy for being alive, happy for being healthy and whole. Even if the person is not completely healthy they know that: “Whatever Hashem does, it is for the best,” כל דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד and: “It can always be worse.”
Within a backdrop of despair and melancholia, it can be understood why the nation said: “Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt.” (14:4) This is seemingly, total foolishness. Would anyone in their right mind consider going back to a life of slavery and persecution? Furthermore, it says in Shemos: “Bnei Yisrael were Chamushim.” (lit., armed) וחמושים עלו מצרימה. Chazal teach us that only a chamishis (fifth of the nation) departed Egypt. They were the ones who believed in Hashem, Who split the sea for them, and gave them the Torah. They were the spiritually enlightened generation; even the lowliest among them witnessed things that the prophet Yechezkel never merited. Did they really wish to give all this up? Moreover, for what? To return to the place from where they escaped, the place where they were empirically hated – Egypt?!
However, based on what was previously said, the nation’s desire to return to Egypt can be understood. Sadness עצבות that causes despair will ultimately cause a person to lose hope and not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The person becomes blinded by the darkness. This is true even when it is clear and obvious that Hashem is with him and helping him each step of the way. Sadness conceals light. In that moment of despair everything is uncertain. Disrepair sets in and logic is a remote consideration.
Egypt represented a continuum of עצבות—the place where they wallowed and subsequently descended into the forty-nine levels of impurity. The fiftieth level is the level of despair, as R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes. There is seemingly no reason for a person who has reached the forty-ninth level to attempt to climb up and out. He has fallen to the lowest levels; giving up is no longer a conscious activity, is it an inevitability? He has already reached the proverbial bottom and is unable to discern the harm that one more level can achieve.
A fundamental teaching of the Jewish nation, and the secret of our survival is that even when we have hit rock bottom, we should still remember: “There is no positive outcome if you continue to despair.” There is virtue in not allowing a descent to the fiftieth bottom level; the level of no return.
A great rabbi once said: Sadness is not a sin, but where sadness can lead – no sin could ever possibly lead!
A state of Happiness is not a mitzvah per se, but where happiness can lead – no mitzvah could ever possibly lead!
I’m often jealous of people who otherwise seem “simple” or “non intellectual” and yet despite clear hardship and set backs, remain mainly בשמחה. Perhaps that’s the message. Get over yourself. Get over your set backs. Find the positives. Don’t dwell on the negatives, and make your time in this world a productive one. The opposite, will lead to despair, and despair will lead to a situation where even Moshe Rabeinu can’t convince you that a direct promise from Hashem has significance to your life. If this happened to the Sanhedrins, it could certainly happen to all of us.
On the eve of a שמחה in our family, with the impending bris, on Sunday אי’’ה, of our grandson, I wish all readers שבת שלום, and weeks and weeks and years of only שמחה.