In our previous article, we began exploring the deeper nature of the sin of the M’raglim (Spies). To review, we explained that the sin of the M’raglim lay in the way they perceived Eretz Yisrael. The M’raglim’s physical sight was intact; what they lacked was spiritual sight. They physically saw giants burying their dead, but they interpreted this to mean that the “land consumes its inhabitants” (BaMidbar 13:32). In reality, as the Gemara explains, this was a miracle that Hashem performed to aid the M’raglim in their mission. Hashem killed off the leaders of the giants in each city so that the dwellers would be distracted with their funerals, ensuring that the M’raglim could travel through Eretz Yisrael undetected (Sotah 35a). The death of the giants was the external reality; the sin of the M’raglim lay in projecting faulty meaning onto it.
This was their two-fold mistake: The M’raglim not only misunderstood their experience, but they then reported this distortion back to klal Yisrael. This sheds light on why it was a violation of lashon ha’ra.
Lashon HaRa: Corruption of Speech
Speech embodies the power of connection. It is the mechanism that enables us to connect with other people and to overcome the barrier between us. Lashon ha’ra takes the very tool of connection, i.e., speech, and uses it to disconnect people from each other. When you speak negatively about someone, you create a wall between the subject of your negativity and the person you are speaking with. The very tool of connection has been corrupted to achieve its opposite goal.
As the Ramban explains, everything that the M’raglim said was “true” in the physical sense, but they failed to see what lay beneath the surface (Ramban, B’reishis 2:9). This itself is the epitome of lashon ha’ra: taking the truth and distorting it in order to create harm. Lying is a separate problem, violating the prohibition of “Midvar sheker tirchak” (Sh’mos 23:7). The evil of lashon ha’ra is not a fabrication but a corruption of the truth. The M’raglim suffered from a spiritual disease of ayin ha’ra (an evil eye). They had sight, but no vision; they saw, but they were blind.
Peh Before Ayin
The Maharal uses these principles to explain the placement of the peh before the ayin in Megillas Eichah (Netzach Yisrael 9). Proper speech requires first connecting yourself to a deep root of truth and spiritual thought, and then using speech as the medium for revealing that truth into the world. This revelation of truth is performed through the use of tangible, finite words. When Moshe Rabbeinu transmitted the Torah, he revealed the essence of spiritual truth in the form of concretized words. The speech and ensuing words were a loyal reflection of the truth.
The letter ayin literally means “eye.” As we have previously developed, the spiritual concept of seeing and sight reflects the concept of truth. When you see something, you see it as it is in a static state. When you look at a picture, you grasp it in its entirety, instantaneously. There’s no process of constructing or building the picture in your mind; everything is just there, all at once, without any effort. (This is in contrast to the spiritual concept of hearing, which represents a process, a movement through time, an evolutionary progression – one of effort, concentration, and organization of parts.) Your eye is also the organ that most loyally reflects and reveals who you are. The eyes are the window to the soul; one can see the inner depth of a person through his or her eyes. The word “ayin” is also connected to the word maayan, a wellspring, a surface that contains endless depth beneath it. (One can draw forth water – the source of life (mayim chayim) – by going into the depths of the wellspring.) Ayin, therefore, reflects the concept of reaching that which is hidden, higher, and transcendent. (This is why learning Gemara b’iyun means learning Gemara deeply, sourcing the physical expression of many varied opinions back to a higher root, and seeing how all the fragmented parts of the sugya connect to form a sophisticated and beautiful expression of a higher truth.)
The letter pei/peh literally means “mouth.” The reason ayin comes before pei in the Alef-Beis is to portray the ideal process of spiritual speech. First, one must connect oneself to the ayin, to the transcendent truth. The goal of the “peh,” the mouth of speech, is to then take the “ayin,” i.e., the truth, and express it into this world through the medium of speech. Thus, speech is meant to be a loyal reflection of something deeper – of spiritual truth.
A corrupted “ayin” (eye) does not reflect anything deeper. It sees only the physical world, disconnected from the spiritual and transcendent. A corrupted “peh” (mouth) is a mouth that speaks without reflecting a higher “ayin” – a higher truth. This is what it means for the peh to come before the ayin. In such a case, the mouth speaks without first connecting to anything deeper, unwilling to source itself back to its spiritual root. As a result, the “ayin” no longer reflects the spiritual truth. This corrupted eye sees only the surface and projects itself onto this physical surface. This was the sin of the M’raglim: a corrupted eye and corrupted speech. They were unable to see past the surface, unable to see the true depth that lay beneath the surface of Eretz Yisrael. While in truth, this was the place where Hashem most potently connects to this world, all they saw was a physical plot of land. As a result of their corrupted sight, their speech reflected nothing more than their own ego. Their speech was lashon ha’ra, speech that disconnected klal Yisrael from both Eretz Yisrael and Hashem Himself.
This is why it is specifically in Eichah that the pei/peh comes before the ayin. Eichah laments our loss of the Beis HaMikdash and our diminished connection with Hashem in Eretz Yisrael. In a deep sense, Eichah laments the actualization of what the M’raglim attempted to achieve: a disconnect between the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael, a disconnect between us and Hashem.
Tzitzis: The Correction of Sight
Following the sin of the M’raglim, the Torah introduces us to the mitzvah of Tzitzis. Why is the mitzvah of Tzitzis introduced specifically at this point? Is there any connection between Tzitzis and the sin of the M’raglim? To understand the connection between the two, we must first recall an important principle.
The Bent Path and the Straight Path
Imagine that you are walking along a straight path. At any point along the path, if you turn around, you can see exactly where you came from. However, if the path suddenly takes a sharp turn and bends off its straight course, then if you turn around, you can no longer see the starting point of your journey. The same is true of the physical world in which we live. Originally, the physical world loyally and perfectly reflected its spiritual root. When you looked around, you saw and experienced Hashem, and you knew that He created the world; it was like looking back down a straight path, directly back to the Source of the world. However, when Adam sinned, the entire world fell. The world became a bent path, and it is no longer clear where we come from. When we look around, we no longer see a universe that clearly and loyally reflects its G-dliness; instead, we see a physical world of multiplicity and twoness.
The Secret of Tzitzis
This principle of the straight and bent path is the secret behind tzitzis. Tzitzis are only required on a cornered garment. Only when the edge of the garment begins to bend are we obligated to attach tzitzis to the corners. The straight lines of the tzitzis in essence straighten the bent path of the garment. Thus, tzitzis represent our ability to source ourselves back to Hashem even on a bent path.
The details of tzitzis beautifully reflect this idea. The tzitzis strings are t’cheiles, dyed a beautiful ocean-blue color (BaMidbar 15:38). This reminds us of the sea, which reminds us of the sky, which then reminds us of the Kisei HaKavod (Hashem’s throne), and ultimately helps us trace ourselves back to Hashem Himself (M’nachos 43b). The gematria of the word “tzitzis” is 600; and when you add the eight strings and the five knots, you get a total of 613, corresponding to the 613 mitzvos we use to connect ourselves to Hashem (Rashi, BaMidbar 15:39).
The Potential of Sight
We all have our own unique paradigms: of ourselves, of the world around us, and of Hashem. We have the power of choice; we get to choose how we perceive reality and the meaning we give to our experiences. Many of us have sight, but only a few among us truly see. The goal of life is to embark on a genuine journey of shifting our paradigms, of aligning our spiritual sight with the true nature of reality. We will never achieve perfect spiritual sight, but we can get a little closer every day. The more we attach ourselves to the truth, the more our peh will become a genuine expression of our ayin.
May we be inspired to continuously expand our horizons, revolutionize and reconstruct our set paradigms, and build deeper eyes through which we see the world.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.
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