Don’t be Negative, Don’t Give Up

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

A certain Chassidic Jew came to visit the Gerrer Rebbe (The Chidushei HaRim). The chassid looked depressed, and the Rebbe asked what was troubling him. The chassid responded that he was bothered by the fact that it was summer. When the Rebbe inquired if the heat was bothering him, the chassid explained that his problem was not with the weather — it was with the weekly Torah portions. For two months during the summer, we read parsha after parsha that relates troubling episodes about the attitudes and behavior of our ancestors in the wilderness. The portions of Beha’aloscha, Shelach, Korach, Chukas, Balak, Pinchas, and Mattos-Massei contain incident after incident in which the pioneers of our nation acted in a state of desperation sometimes because of Yiush and a lack of emunah.

One example of their state of despair (yiush) can be found in this week’s parsha, Beha’alosecha and another example in next week’s Shelach Lecha. The example from Beha’alosecha is the example of the misavim – the people who complained that they did not have meat to eat in the wilderness. Normally, a person asks for something, and if they don’t get it, then they cry or complain. However, someone who cries or complains before even making the request assumes that the request is going to be rejected or that the one they are complaining to is not capable of helping. The misavim (complainers) cried and complained before making their request.

They wished to eat meat, but they approached this perceived problem with a negative attitude: they cried and complained first, saying “מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר” “Who will give us meat?”, implying they assumed from the outset that Hashem could not or would not provide meat. Only after complaining did they make the request, and they stated categorically that they were better off in Egypt. The verse records Hashem’s response:

וְאֶל־הָעָ֨ם תֹּאמַ֜ר הִתְקַדְּשׁ֣וּ לְמָחָר֮ וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֣ם בָּשָׂר֒ כִּ֡י בְּכִיתֶם֩ בְּאָזְנֵ֨י ה’ לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֤י יַאֲכִלֵ֙נוּ֙ בָּשָׂ֔ר כִּי־ט֥וֹב לָ֖נוּ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְנָתַ֨ן יְהוָ֥ה לָכֶ֛ם בָּשָׂ֖ר וַאֲכַלְתֶּֽם׃

And say to the people: Purify yourselves for tomorrow and you shall eat meat, for you have kept whining before Hashem and saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Indeed, we were better off in Egypt!’ Hashem will give you meat and you shall eat.

The Alshich commentary explains the gravity of their lack of faith-Emunah and negativity:

אלשיך ו אפשר כיון באומרם כי בכיתם וכו’ לומר כי הנה דרך המתאוה דבר ומבקש מאדוניו או אביו. כי ישאל תחלה ואם לא יותן לו אז יבכה בראותו כי תוחלתו נכזבה אך הבוכה טרם ישאל הוא כי מתחלה גמר בלבו כי אזלת יד מבוקשו כי אין לאל יד אדוניו לתתו לו על כן טרם יענה הוא בוכה. וזהו כי בכיתם לאמר וכו’ כי מתחלה בכיתם ואח”כ לאמר וכו’ הפך דרכו של עולם כי זה הוראת קוטן אמנה חלילה.

Perhaps in saying ‘for you have kept whining’ etc, it means to say: Behold, the way of one who desires something and requests it from his master or father is that he first asks, and if it is not given to him, then he cries when he sees that his hope was dashed. But one who cries before asking is because from the outset he concluded in his heart that his request could not be granted, as if the hand of his master was too short to give it to him; therefore, before he is answered, he cries. And this is ‘for you have kept whining…and saying’ – first you cried, and afterwards you said…, the reverse of the way of the world, for this shows a lack of faith-Emunah, Hashem forbid.

The key lesson here is about having a positive mindset and not assuming failure before even making an attempt. The Alshich’s commentary outlines three key points:

1) The normal approach when desiring something is to first make the request, and only complain or cry if the request is denied. Crying or complaining before making the request implies an assumption that it will be rejected or that the one being asked is incapable of providing it.

2) However, the people (the “misavim”) reversed this order – they cried and complained first saying “מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר” “Who will give us meat?”, implying they assumed from the outset that Hashem could not or would not provide meat. Only after complaining did they make the request.

3) This exhibited a “lack of faith-Emunah” and negativity by assuming failure before even trying.

We should not give up hope before even trying. “Don’t be negative, try to get it done.” Don’t start from a place of negativity and assume failure, but rather have a positive outlook and mindset of making a sincere effort to accomplish what you desire. Negativity is unproductive, while a positive attitude gives you a better chance of success.

This message is reinforced by the famous teaching in Masechet Berachot (10a) about the importance of maintaining hope and faith (Emunah) even in the face of adversity. It relates the story of King Hezekiah, who was told by the prophet Isaiah that he would die. Hezekiah, however, did not give up hope and instead prayed fervently to Hashem. As a result, his life was spared, and he was granted an additional 15 years. The Talmud quotes Hezekiah as saying to the prophet Isaiah:

אֲמַר לֵיהּ: בֶּן אָמוֹץ, כַּלֵּה נְבוּאָתְךָ וָצֵא! כָּךְ מְקּוּבְּלַנִי מִבֵּית אֲבִי אַבָּא, אֲפִילּוּ חֶרֶב חַדָּה מוּנַּחַת עַל צַוָּארוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם, אַל יִמְנַע עַצְמוֹ מִן הָרַחֲמִים

I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father (King David, the founding father of the dynasty of kings of Judea): “Even if a sharp sword is placed on a person’s neck, they should not despair of Hashem’s mercy.”

The message is that even in the darkest of times, we should never lose hope. Hashem is always with us, and we have the power to overcome any challenge if we put our faith-Emunah in Him. The misavim are punished for not only complaining that they lacked meat, but for their deeper lapse – they cried and complained without first making any effort to pray or ask Hashem for assistance. They showed a total lack of faith-Emunah and despair (yiush).

Another example of this lack of faith-Emunah and despair (yiush) is found in Parshat Shelach, when the spies say “אפס כי עז העם…והערים בצורות” – “However, the people is too strong…and the cities are fortified.” On this, the “Esh Kodesh” (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who was murdered in the Holocaust) explains:

עלה נעלה וירשנו אותה כי יכול נוכל לה, ונבין נא הא המרגלים דברים של טעם ושכל אמרו, אפס כי עז העם וכו’ והערים בצורות וכו’ ולמה לא התוכח כלב עמהם לסתור את שכלם ודברי טעמיהם, רק סתם עלה נעלה וכו

אבל כך צריכה להיות אמונת איש הישראלי, לא בלבד בשעה שרואה מבוא ודרך לישועתו גם ע”פ שכלו ודרך הטבע יאמין בד’ שיושיעהו ויתחזק, רק גם בשעה שאינו רואה ח”ו שום מבוא ע”פ שכל ודרך הטבע לישועתו יאמין בד’ שיושיעהו ויתחזק באמונתו ובטחונו

Let us go up and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it. Understand this – the spies spoke words of logic and reason…But why did Caleb not argue with them to refute their logic and reasoning? He simply said “Let us go up…”

But this is how the faith-Emunah of a Jewish man must be – not only in a time when he sees an opening and a path to his salvation even according to his intellect and the natural way, that he believes in Hashem Who will save him and he strengthens himself. But even in a time when he sees, Hashem forbid, no opening at all according to intellect and the natural way for his salvation, he believes in Hashem that He will save him, and he strengthens himself in his faith-Emunah and trust.

In the depths of the Holocaust’s darkness, Rabbi Shapira emphasizes that true Jewish faith-Emunah means trusting in Hashem’s ability to redeem, even when the mind sees no possible salvation according to reason and nature. One must strengthen themselves in complete faith-Emunah (emunah) and bitachon (trust), never giving up hope no matter how bleak the circumstances appear.

This poignant teaching from someone who faced the ultimate adversity reinforces the overarching message – to “never give up” but rather constantly renew our positive mindset, faith-Emunah and efforts, avoiding negativity and despair at all costs. Rabbi Shapira’s words serve as an eternal inspiration for maintaining the belief that can overcome any challenge.

These profound lessons from the incidents with the misavim and the spies, along with Rabbi Shapira’s perspective, are extremely timely and relevant for us in these difficult times. They remind us to remain steadfastly positive and faithful in the face of difficulties, and to never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of negativity and despair. We must internalize the eternal Jewish value expressed in the quote: “Even if a sword is placed on a person’s neck, they should not despair.” With emunah and bitachon in Hashem, we can overcome any obstacle.

During tough times, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But these Torah lessons teach us to:

  • Stay positive: Don’t give in to ייאוש negativity or despair.
  • Have faith-Emunah: Trust that Hashem can help you overcome challenges. 
  • Never give up: Keep trying and don’t lose hope.

ואמונה ובטחון כזה בד’ מקרב את ישועתנו (אש קודש פרשת שלח לך)

And such faith-Emunah and trust in Hashem brings our redemption closer (Esh Kodesh, Parshat Shelach Lecha)

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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