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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Shelach

Don't Bring Up Past Mistakes

But the people who dwell in the land are strong and the cities are extremely great fortresses, and moreover, we saw the offspring of giants there. Amalek dwells in the land of the south, and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites dwell in the mountains, and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and by the bank of the Jordan. And Calev calmed the people towards Moshe and said: We can well go up and take it into our possession, for we are truly able to do it.
(Bamidbar 13:28-30)

In his younger years, when Rabbi Yoseph Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Rabbi of Jerusalem, was the Chief Judge in the Jerusalem beis din of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, he once presided over a bitter argument between a husband and his wife about a week before Rosh Hashanah. After hearing both sides, he ruled in favor of the husband.

The family of the wife felt very hurt by the decision, and several men from her family refused to accept the decision. So, a short time after the case they gathered together, then went to Rabbi Yoseph Chaim’s house, shouting, and cursing. Rabbi Yoseph Chaim’s wife was very frightened, and burst into tears.

During this time, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim sat quietly in his usual place and continued learning Torah. When the shouting became unbearable, he stood up from his place, and turning to the intruders, he said in a strong, stern voice, “If you are right in your claims, and my fellow judges and I have made a mistake in our judgment, then you have already given over your claims to G-d, and He in His mercy will forgive us, since a judge can only judge based on what his human eyes see. But, if we were right in our judgment, then...

Here, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim paused. The faces of the intruders became pale, as they anticipated with fear the strong curse that they expected to hear.

“Then,” continued Rabbi Yoseph Chaim, “if we were right, I announce right here that I forgive you completely for all the pain you have caused my family and myself, and I bless you all that you will be written and signed for a good life and peace.” Stunned and embarrassed, the intruders left the house quickly before the neighbors could discover their outrageous behavior. (K'tzes Ha-shemesh Bi-gvuraso, p.189.

Rabbi Yoseph Chaim’s patience and willingness to forgive are a model for us in marriage. These same qualities are crucial ingredients in building a successful and lasting bond in marriage.

Amalek dwells.”1 What was the reason they (the spies Moshe sent to look over the land of Canaan) began their report with an account of Amalek? This is comparable to someone who did a bad deed and was punished with a strap. When it is necessary to frighten him, we remind him of the strap. So also, Amalek was a frightening reminder for Israel. The spies’ intention was to discourage Israel, as it is written, “And they swayed the hearts of the children of Israel.2

“And Calev calmed (the Jewish people).”3 In the beginning Calev told the Jewish people that he was united with them in their but in his heart he knew the truth was otherwise, as it is written, “And I answered the thing that was in my heart.”4 And G-d testified that Calev never really agreed with the other spies, as it is written, “And my servant, Calev, since he had another spirit with him.”5

When the spies said, “Calev is trustworthy,” he immediately stood on a bench and clamed all of Israel, since they were shouting at Moshe, as it is written, “And Calve calmed the people towards Moshe”.6 Because the people thought that he was going to say lashon hara, they kept quiet and let him talk. (Yalkut 743, par. Vayelchu)

What did the spies do wrong in mentioning the nation of Amalek at the beginning of their account? Mentioning Amalek was similar to a strap, and corporal punishment can, under certain circumstances, be a justifiable means of influencing people’s behavior; so what specifically was wrong with the spies implementing it here? Why did Calev fool the other spies by telling them he was united with them? Why was Calev allowed to use deceit in his plans to persuade the Jewish people? Why did G-d have to testify for Calev? Why did Calev stand on a bench to speak immediately after the other spies said he was trustworthy? What did Calev gain by calming everyone?

Amalek was a name dreaded by the Jewish people. This was the nation that attacked Israel first when they went in the desert. Our Sages say that Amalek “cooled down the bath.”7 This is explained as meaning that all the nations were afraid to attack Israel after it left Egypt, since they had heard of all the miracles that G-d had performed for the Jews. But Amalek was the only one that had no fear, and once they had attacked, this was “cooling down the bath,” in the sense that other nations were no longer afraid to attack them.

This incident with Amalek left an indelible impression on Israel, because Amalek was a fearless nation that craved the destruction of the Jewish people. The spies played off Israel’s trepidation by telling them that Amalek would have to be dealt with as soon as they entered the land of Israel. This was a clever technique to instill fright in the people’s hearts, since everyone knew that Amalek was ruthless.

It was wrong for the spies to use Amalek as a threat to the Jewish people, because corporal punishment can only be justified when needed to educate, but not when it is a deterrent to proper behavior. If the Jewish people were sinning, it would have been useful to remind them of the possibility that Amalek could attack them, so as to influence them to repent. But in this situation, when they were supposed to enter Israel, it was a time when they needed encouragement and the assurance that they would succeed with G-d’s help against all their enemies. Using Amalek’s name at such a time to frighten them, only succeeded in achieving the opposite effect.

Calev fooled the other spies by telling them that he was united with them. He was allowed to use deceit in his plans to persuade the Jewish people, since he felt it was the only way to fight against the terror that the spies were instilling in the Jewish people. He had to use deception in order to be able to show them how wrong the other spies were. He saw that the resentment against Moshe was so great that anyone siding with him would not even be allowed to speak. Seeing this to be the reality of the situation, Calev used a concept mentioned in Tehillim, “With someone crooked, be crooked.”8 Since the other spies were using deceit to influence the Jewish people, Calev used the same weapon to discredit them.

Anyone who had seen this whole incident, would have thought that initially Calev truly believed in the opinion of the spies. He was such a good actor, that it was impossible to know that truth of his opinions. Therefore, we need G-d’s testimony to tell us that there was not even the slightest thought in Calev’s mind that the spies were correct. Since the human eye could not have detected this, G-d had to present the truth. Even the fact that Calev sided openly with Moshe would not be enough to convince us that the felt that way from the very beginning. Only G-d’s testimony would put him above suspicion. Calev stood on a bench to refute the other spies’ opinion immediately after they said he was trustworthy. The reason for this could be that Calev was looking for an opportunity to begin his defense of Moshe, but did not find one. When he heard his name being mentioned as a loyal opponent of Moshe, he realized that this was the best time to step forward and voice his dissent, now that he had their full attention and was considered trustworthy.

What did Calev gain by calming everyone? He felt that he could not speak at all as long as there was such a vocal opposition again Moshe. He thought it not possible to shout above all the noise that the excited people were making. In order for his words to have any effect, he needed quiet , so that he could be heard clearly. Therefore, in order to draw their attention, he started with words they wanted to hear, “Is that the only thing that Moshe did to us?” implying that he would further denigrate Moshe with his upcoming comment. After that opening he had their attention and was able to say what he really felt about Moshe.

Don’t Bring Up Past Mistakes

Reminding Israel of their encounter with Amalek brought down their spirits. So too, in marriage we can cause our spouses great sorrow when we remind them of their past problems and mistakes. Usually one says this sort of unkind words when he is angry and wants to make his spouse suffer too. Such a cruel act hurts terribly, especially if the person being reminded has already repented. It does not make sense to torment a person who has repented, since if G-d readily accepts repentance, surely we should also.

By bluntly pointing out your spouse’s past mistakes, it is as if you are saying that your are flawless and have nothing to correct. However, it is obvious that everyone makes mistakes and that on one is perfect. Our Sages say, “Decorate yourself first, and then decorate others.”9 Before you criticize others, blemishes. Otherwise, in addition to making yourself seem unjustifiably self-righteous, the other person will not be at all inclined to accept your criticism, since he sees that you are doing nothing to correct your own behavior.

When a person is anxious about something, he is liable to take out his anxiety on his spouse. This is often true because he can easily find mistakes in her, since he sees her constantly. Obviously, it is not fair to make your spouse a scapegoat, since no one is to blame for your anxiety except yourself.

Think about what is bothering you and talk it over with your spouse to see if you can find ways to alleviate that anxiety. In any event, your spouse should not be made to suffer because of you. Be mature enough to handle your problems without burdening your spouse with them.

Whenever possible, it is a good idea to refrain from speaking for a least half an hour after you become angry. That will give you time for your anger to cool down. If you react immediately, you are bound to make mistakes. Additionally, make sure to speak quietly and not to raise your voice when you must speak. These two valuable pieces of advice will save you from the many troubles that arise from anger.

The spies tried to discourage the Jewish people from entering the land by reminding them of the incident of Amalek. From that reminder, the people became discouraged and lost confidence. We should take this lesson to hear and take special care not to remind our spouses of uncomfortable memories; otherwise we will be committing a terrible sin just as the spies did. Instead we must concentrate all our efforts on reminding our spouses of their successes and encourage them to higher levels of achievement. This can only make our marriages stronger and more loving.

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