The majority of our sedra discusses the infamous sin of the spies; the delegates from each tribe who were sent to report about the Land and ended up slandering the Land and questioning HaShem’s ability to conquer it. Indeed, of all the sins Bnei Yisrael commit in the desert, it is the sin of the spies and the sin of the golden calf which get the most ‘coverage’ in terms of number of pesukim. In fact, the proposed punishment for both of these sins are the same; HaShem originally plans to wipe out the Jewish People and start a new nation from Moshe Rabeinu, but Moshe intercedes and gains HaShem’s forgiveness.[1] But as we shall see, this was not the only punishment meted out to klal yisrael for the sin of the spies. (Remember that Bnei Yisrael also sinned here; they believed the spies’ report and cried to return to Egypt rather than ‘be killed’ in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael; 14:1-10.)
Firstly, the spies themselves were killed on the spot by a Divine plague (14:37). Secondly, with the exception of Yeshoshua and Calev , all men[2] over twenty were to die rather than go into the Land of Israel, and the men who were between thirteen and twenty who sided with the spies also died.[3] Moreover, instead of entering the Land imminently, all of the Bnei Yisrael had to now complete forty years wandering about the wilderness (14:34-36). These are the most well-known punishments for the sin of the spies. But Chazal tell us that there were more punishments and effects of this sin. The gemarra[4] reveals that throughout these post-sin-of-the-spies years, HaShem stopped communicating with Moshe in his ‘normal’ direct manner. Moreover, the gemarra elsewhere[5] records that the sin of the spies occurred on the night of Tisha B’Av. Thus, this was the official beginning of the tragic day of Tisha B’Av, about which HaShem says ‘you cried for no reason and (so) I will make you cry (on this day) for generations.’ Indeed, many tragedies have occurred on Tisha B’Av throughout the generations; the destruction of the two batei mikdash, the Roman slaughter of Beitar, our expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the start of World War One all took place on Tisha B’Av, to name but a few.
However, there is also a deeper repercussion to the sin of the spies, as revealed by the Maharal.[6] The Maharal points out that had the sin of the spies not occurred, our entrance into and settling in Eretz Yisrael would have been of a completely different nature. He explains that the initial plan was that the Exodus and the entering into Eretz Yisrael was to be one process. This is why one expression of the redemption from Egypt is ‘I shall bring you (ve’heiveisi) to the Land I promised to give to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov and I shall give it to you as an inheritance, I am HaShem’ (Shemos 6:8); HaShem told Moshe before He took us out of Egypt that the Exodus and going into the Land of Israel was to be one process. What this means is that Moshe would have led us into Eretz Yisrael (just as he led us out of Egypt)[7] and our entrance into Eretz Yisrael would have taken on the same status as the Exodus, namely that just as the Exodus remains with us forever and cannot be taken away from us, so too would our entrance into Eretz Yisrael have remained forever, in that no enemy nation would ever be able to exile us from the Land. Furthermore, had the spies come back with a positive report about the Land, (and would have taught the people the unique spiritual lessons housed in Eretz Yisrael) we would have undone the sin of the golden calf and the first set of tablets (the ones smashed by Moshe as a result of the sin of the golden calf) would have been returned to us. However, we did sin with the sin of the spies, and so the Exodus was divorced from our entrance into the Land of Israel; they became two processes, which meant that Moshe did not lead us into the Land and it would now be possible for an enemy to (temporarily) exile us from Eretz Yisrael – galus was now a possibility.
So far, we have seen many punishments and repercussions of the sin of the spies. We shall focus on a central question here: why were the Bnei Yisrael punished so severely for the sin of the spies? Why was the sheer number and graveness of the punishments so much greater than other sins committed by klal yisrael? The answer is a relatively simple one to hear, but the reason for it will need some explanation. So deep breath and here goes…
The concept is that the Bnei Yisrael did not only get punished here for this sin, but they got punished for previous ones too. Thus, after the sin, HaShem tells Moshe ’they have tested Me ten times and have not listened to My voice’ (14:22) - as the Mishna[8] explains, HaShem was saying to Moshe that Bnei Yisrael were now to receive a portion of punishment for all the previous nine sins they had committed in the desert. Indeed, Rashi[9] points out that it is no co-incidence that HaShem initially planned to wipe out the Jewish People after the sin of the spies just like He had planned to do after chet ha’egel: HaShem had decided to enact this decree at the chet ha’egel, but waited until the sin of the spies to put it into action (until Moshe saved the day via his beseeching HaShem for us). This certainly explains why the sin of the spies brought on such a ‘torrential downpour’ of punishments, but it begs another question: why should it be that the sin of the spies caused punishment for previous sins? Again, the answer is a relatively straightforward one to hear, but the reason for it will need some explanation. So another deep breath and here goes…
As the psukim,[10] Rashi,[11] and the Mishna[12] all say, one aspect of the sin of the spies was that they spoke lashon hara against the Land of Israel.[13] And lashon hara has the power to ‘drag back’ previous sins so that one faces punishments for these sins as well as a punishment for the lashon hara itself. This lesson is revealed to us by none less than Rashi himself.[14] When Moshe is growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, he ventures outside and (secretly) kills an Egyptian taskmaster who is beating a Jew. The next day, Moshe ventures outside and sees one Jew striking his hand to hit another Jew. After reproving the aspiring assailant, Moshe receives a harsh response; ‘are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?’ and the pasuk relates that Moshe says to himself ‘the thing is now known’ (Shemos 2:14). As Rashi cites there, Moshe had wondered what Bnei Yisrael had done to deserve such a harsh slavery, but when he saw that there were Jews who spoke lashon hara (as evidenced by the speech of the aspiring assailant), Moshe realised that this (lashon hara) was the cause of their harsh slavery; because lashon hara has the effect of bringing about punishments for past sins too.[15]
We have one more question left to answer, namely why should lashon hara have such a severe effect of triggering punishments for past sins? The Chofetz Chaim[16] explains this concept with a fascinating revelation about the effect of lashon hara. Being Jewish, we shall introduce this concept with a question. As the gemarra Yerushalmi reveals, there were generations which committed many heinous sins but were materially successful, for they did not speak lashon hara. Yet there were other generations which committed very few sins, but were punished greatly because they did speak lashon hara. So too, one’s judgment in the Heavenly Court can be made more lenient if one does not speak lashon hara. Why should this be? The concept is that the Heavenly Court mirrors a human court. Thus, when one comes in for judgment to the Heavenly Court, there are character witnesses just like a human court. These witnesses are your mitzvos and aveiros.[17] Similarly, just like in a human court one can apply for a more lenient sentence on account of good behaviour, so can special compassion/forgiveness shown to others make one’s Heavenly judgment more lenient. Now, in the Heavenly Court there is a special personality, and that is the ‘public prosecutor.’ As the case is down here, the job of the public prosecutor is to read out the charges and bring the witnesses against the defendant. The judgment in the Heavenly Court is based on the principle of ‘measure for measure’ (middah keneged middah), whereby the verdict given and judgment faced is caused precisely by your own actions. Thus, it is you who have created the witnesses; via your deeds. So how does one create the public prosecutor? When one speaks lashon hara; when one engages in speaking things which are negative (but true) about others. The precise measure-for-measure effect of speaking lashon hara is that one creates a public prosecutor; whose job it is to tell the court about the (true but) negative things that you have done. But if one does not speak lashon hara, then the public prosecutor does not show up, so the bad character witnesses cannot testify against you, and one’s judgment is much more lenient. Therefore, when one does speak lashon hara, one gets punished for that lashon hara and one has allowed the prosecutor to now bring witnesses against you for previous sins too - which is why one gets punished for those sins as well.
We shall finish on a positive note. Though it is a major task to avoid forbidden speech, we are supposed to go further. We are not expected to ‘merely’ refrain from negative speech, but we are expected to actively use our speech for positive use. The Chofetz Chaim quotes a midrash[18] which says that if you speak good of other people, the angels will speak good of you to HaShem. [Be careful not to speak good of people around others who are likely to counter with some negative statements about that individual.] This is one example of something positive to work on vis-à-vis one’s speech, apart from the very necessary avodah of refraining from lashon hara and other forms of negative speech.
In summary, we have seen the widespread spiritual effects of lashon hara in its capability of bringing back past sins via creating a public prosecutor in the Heavenly Court. We have also mentioned a positive facet of speech to work on, as pointed out by the Chofetz Chaim.
May we merit to work on our power of speech successfully,
Have a great Shabbos,

[1] See Shemos 32:7-14 regarding the chet ha’egel, and Bamidbar 14:11-20 regarding chet hameraglim.
[2] The women did not sin and so were not punished
[3] Bamidbar 14:22-23, 30-33 and Midrash quoted by Brisker Rav parshas Shelach
[4] Gemarra Bava Basra 121a-121b
[5] Gemarra Ta’anis 29a
[6] Heard from Rav Moshe Shapira
[7] See Devarim 1:37 (and the Ohr HaChaim there)
[8] Mishna Arachin 15a
[9] Rashi Bamidbar 14:33
[10] Bamidbar 13:32
[11] Rashi Bamidbar 13:2
[12] Mishna Arachin 15a
[13] Indeed, the Ben Ish Chai rules that one may not complain about the weather in Eretz Yisrael (see footnote 24 in the Artscroll ‘Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day’ - at the back)
[14] See Shemos 2:14 and the Rashis there
[15] Rav Moshe Shapira
[16] See pages 77 and 87 of the ‘Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day.’ Rabbi Tatz explains this in greater detail; I firmly recommend getting hold of a tape/CD of Rabbi Tatz’s shiur about lashon hara.
[17] See Pirkei Avos 4:13 ‘if one performs a mitzvah, he acquires a defending angel’
[18] The midrash is Midrash Mishlei 11;27 and is quoted by the Chafetz Chaim in his sefer Chovas HaShmirah perek 5

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