The people of Israel needed to see for themselves. They needed to check out Israel with their own eyes before they would agree to the Land of Israel as their homeland. This little due diligence that they performed, however, had catastrophic consequences which seemed totally out of proportion. “One year of Golus for each day”. “And the carcasses of all those that spoke about Me will fall in this wilderness.” Said G-d.
Rashi points out that this transgression was especially distasteful being that it came on the heels of Miriam and others ruminating about Moshe. They should have learned from the story of Miriam but instead they fell into the trap of the spies.
The two stories have much in common. Moshe gave up royalty in Egypt to protect a Jew. He became a nomad; he risked his life to free the Jewish people. As their leader he held back nothing. He gave away every comfort to serve the Jewish people. He became a Prophet and spoke with Hashem. In the words of the Torah: “Why aren’t you afraid to talk about Moshe?!” How could you bring yourself to say a word about the man who has given his life for you?
And now! You are a down trodden people. You are a nation without a home. You have no place to plant a garden or to build a school for your children. G-d tells you that he found the most beautiful spot on Earth. He chose a land that is green and flowing with beautiful brooks, hills and livestock. You say “let’s take a look and see if it is for us and if it is to our liking!” The Jewish response is absurd. “Let’s see for ourselves!” After all He has done for you – how can you question Him? How can you doubt Hashem after He has done so much?
In both of these stories there is a lacking in the same basic quality. Hakarat HaTov. Usually Hakarat HaTov is translated as gratitude. The correct translation, however, refers to the ability of man to recognize good that was done and to never lose sight of that good. Without this ability it is impossible to be a sincere Jew. It is impossible to maintain a relationship with man or with G-d. It is impossible to have a successful marriage. It is also impossible to find the truth in life because one is always blinded by the specks of fault even in the face of a multitude of goodness.
I remember having numerous discussions with a friend of mine who was involved in outreach. He shared with me his great joy when he succeeded in sending one of his students off to Yeshiva. He described how he had stayed up nights with this boy philosophizing about Yiddishkeit, how he debated with the boys parents regularly about the benefits of Judaism and finally raised the necessary funds for the boys trip to Israel. I was so impressed with the work my colleague had put in. While in Israel I happened to bump into this boy who by that time had become a full Yeshiva Bochur and was doing well. I struck up a conversation with him and wanting to hear more about my friend’s good work I asked him how he had come to Yiddishkeit. Imagine my disappointment when he told me that it was just something he had come to on his own!
The Jews forgot about all the good of Moshe and G-d and became obsessed with minutia and G-d’s disappointment in us was very great.
I’m very fond of quoting the previous Gerer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel. Often when he would hear that one of his Chasidim were upset at him he would ask, “Why is he upset? I never did anything for him!” There is something psychological about us not having Hakorat HaTov. We do say thank you, we may show gratitude, but recognizing and appreciating a good that was done is for some reason a difficult task.
It may be difficult but the older I get the more I realize that recognizing the good that G-d does for us in life and thanking Him regularly may be the secret to life. It may also be the essential point of Judaism; a point that underlies all points. Everything in Judaism begins with saying thank-you.
A new resolution: When we get up in the morning let’s make a mental list of just three things that are good in our lives and thank G-d for them. This will change our prayers, change our day and in a short time it will change our lives.