Shelach – The Power Of Attitudes
The attitude with which a person enters into an endeavour or approaches a challenge, is highly significant in determining the success of that endeavour or challenge
Parshat Shelach is well-known as the Parsha of spying. The Kli Yakar points out that three different words are used to describe the spying that took place in this incident: Veyasuru (ויתרו); Veyachperu (ויחפרו); Vayargelu (וירגלו). In this Parsha, HaShem uses the word, ‘veyasuru’ in his instructions to Moshe to send the spies. In Parshas Devarim, when recounting the peoples’ demand to send spies, the word, vayachperu is used, and when describing the actual spying, the Torah describes it with the word, vayargelu.
The Kli Yakar offers a fascinating explanation of the significance of each word, and explains why each word was used in its particular context. HaShem used the word, ‘veyasuru’ which comes from the root word, ‘yisron’ which refers to something being above or better than other things. HaShem wanted them to see the greatness of the land, because Eretz Yisrael is the greatest land, particularly in the spiritual realm. However, the general populace had a different intent – the Kli Yakar writes that they were constantly looking for an excuse to return to Egypt. Therefore, they utilized the language of ‘veyachperu’ which is connected to the word, ‘cherpa’, meaning disgrace, indicating that they were hoping to hear bad news about the land.
The spies themselves had the most nefarious intentions of all – they were prepared to even lie about the nature of the land so that the people would not want to go there. Hence, when the Torah refers to their spying, it uses the word ‘veyargelu’. This is connected the word, rechillus which refers to evil gossiping. He adds that ‘veyargelu’ also alludes to the word ‘regel’ which means foot, which is the lowest part of the body. This is because, in complete contrast to HaShem, they wanted to show the people that the land was actually inferior to all the other lands, as is demonstrated by their slander that the land consumes its inhabitants.
It is evident that the attitudes of each party at the beginning of this account, directly effected their behaviour throughout. The only spies who seem to have shared HaShem’s positive view of the mission were Yehoshua and Kalev – this is reflected in their response to the other spies’ slanderous report of the land: “...The Land is very, very good. If HaShem desires us, He will bring us to this Land and give it to us, a Land that flows with milk and honey.”
In contrast, the people were only too eager to accept the spies’ report which enabled them to reject the Land and call for a return to Egypt. Hence their response to the report: “...If only we had died in the land of Egypt...why is HaSHem bringing us to this Land to die by the sword? Our wives and young children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?!” The ten spies’ themselves easily deceived the people by misrepresenting the qualities of the land and instead presenting it as a strange land that consumes its inhabitants, thus actualizing their initial negative attitude to the land..
One of the lessons that can be derived from this understanding, is that the attitude with which a person enters into an endeavour or approaches a challenge, is highly significant in determining the success of that endeavour or challenge – if the person is optimistic and positive that he will succeed, he has far more chance to realizing his expectations, and if he is pessimistic and negative, the same applies. This seems to work on two levels. On the most basic level, it is well-known that positivity and happiness breed other good traits, such as enthusiasm and willingness to overcome difficulties. In contrast, negativity leads to lack of enthusiasm and sadness or even perhaps a degree of depression if things do not go as planned. In short, optimism breeds success, whilst pessimism breeds failure.
Studies in the academic world prove this theory: In one test, a sales company decided to alter their hiring approach. Up till that time, they would administer a standardized test to all applicants for sales positions. Their focus was on ascertaining intelligence and inherent aptitude for salesmanship, with low-scoring applicants being rejected outright. On this occasion, they did not reject the low-scoring applicants if they also registered as being naturally optimistic. Instead they made their own team consisting of these ‘failures’. This team was formed in parallel with another group that was hired based on the conventional method of high scores in aptitude and intelligence, but the people in this group were not considered naturally optimistic. The results: the optimists who had initially been rejected outsold the pessimists in the regular force by 21 percent during the first year. And in the second year by 57 percent!
However, it seems, that a positive attitude works on a much deeper, metaphysical level as well. One Rav makes the following, fascinating suggestion:
“An interesting idea to ponder is whether our thoughts actually have an effect on reality, such that pessimism breeds a negative actuality while optimism actually creates a positive reality. The mystical and Chasidic teachings of Judaism are replete with the idea that not only what we do and say has an effect for good or for bad on the physical and spiritual worlds, but even something as subtle and intangible as thoughts have such an effect. And in truth, since G-d thought Existence into being (the statement, “And G-d said…” being understood as an expression of G-d’s Will, since G-d doesn’t speak), and since mankind was created in the image of G-d (again, not to be understood literally but rather in our ability to will), then just as G-d thinks Creation, our thoughts can also create reality and it’s positively worth thinking positive!”
The Zohar alludes to this idea in the following words:
“The Lower World is always ready to receive and is called a precious stone. The Upper World only gives it according to its state. If its state is of a bright countenance from below, in the same manner it is shone upon from above; but if it is in sadness, it is correspondingly given judgment. Similarly, it is written, “Serve G‑d with joy!”—because human joy draws another supernal joy. Thus, just as the Lower World is crowned, so it draws from above.”
These sources demonstrate that joy and positivity have a spiritual effect on the upper worlds that is then reflected back to the physical world. The obvious lesson from this idea is that the idea of happiness and positivity is not merely because these are more pleasant states of being than sadness and negativity. Rather, they are self-fulfilling attitudes that work on all levels of reality. May we merit to bring optimism and joy into all our endeavors.
Notes and Sources
 Bamidbar, 13:2.
 Devarim, 1:22.
 Even though the order of the letters in the words, ‘veyachperu’ and ‘cherpa’ are different, it is common for the commentaries to find connections between words that have the same letters, but in a different order.
 Excluding Yehoshua and Kalev.
 Study led by Dr Martin Seligman. Quoted by Rabbi Josh Boretsky, Shlita.
 Quoted by Rabbi Josh Boretsky, Shlita.
 Zohar, Volume 3, 56a.