The Torah tells us explicitly that Bnei Yisrael were forced to wander in the desert for forty years as a corresponding punishment for the forty days the spies spent in the land of Israel. The pasuk strongly implies that this was a forty-day sin, which resulted in forty years of wandering, a year for each day.
If you think about it, though, the spies didn’t sin for forty days, but rather for one day. Their mistake was miscalculating and processing their experience and reporting negatively about Israel. This only happened at the end of their journey and lasted one day. Why were they accountable and punished for forty days of indiscretion?
The late Jose Lima starred as a pitcher for the Houston Astros for serval years in the late 1990s. Lima was an outgoing, energetic, likable young player known for exuding a positive attitude. But in 2000, when the Astros built their new stadium, now known as Minute Maid Park, Lima was upset. The fence in left field was much closer than the fence at the Astrodome. In fact, Minute Maid Park still has one of the shortest distances from home plate to the left-field fence of any ballpark baseball. The hitters love it, of course, but the short left-field makes it tougher on the pitchers.
The first time Lima stepped onto the new diamond, he walked out to the pitcher's mound, and when he looked into the outfield, he immediately noticed the close proximity of the left-field fence. "I'll never be able to pitch in here," he said.
Indeed, despite coming off an all-star season, and the excitement of playing in a brand new ballpark, Lima had the worst year of his career. He plummeted from being a twenty-game winner to a allowing a near-record amount of home runs.
Rav Asher Weiss explains that the meraglim’s mistake didn’t occur at the end of their journey, but at the beginning, and it lasted forty days. The meraglim engaged in a self-fulfilled prophecy. They came to the land with a poor attitude and outlook and everything they then witnessed was seen through their negative and pessimistic filter.
The Gemara in Berachos (55b) tells us that when a person dreams, he is shown the thoughts of his heart. The same is true while we are awake. We are shown the world around us, refracted through the prism of our hearts. When our heart is pure, when our attitude is positive, we see goodness in everyone and everything around us and we create good results for ourselves. If our hearts are tainted with pride and jealousy, we see only negativity in others and create a toxic existence for ourselves. B’derech she adom holeich molichim oso.
The Midrash tells us that the spies “searched for the faults of Eretz Yisroel, which Hashem called a good land.” The meraglim weren’t punished or held accountable for reporting faults in Israel. They were accountable for looking for faults, and that is something they engaged in for forty days.
Referring to the spies’ encounter with the giants, the Torah says “vanehi b’eineinu k’chagavim, v’chein hayinu b’eineihem” and “and in our eyes [too] we were like grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes.” While originally described as anashim, men of great stature, the spies report they became diminished in their own eyes and that of others. How could they know how they appeared in the eyes of others? The Kotzker Rebbe explains, by thinking so little of themselves, they projected this feeling onto others as well.
The very first statement of Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, instructs us to see ourselves as lions – hisgabeir ka’ari, la’amod laboker, wake up like a lion to greet the day. The spies saw themselves as grasshoppers, lowly and vulnerable. Instead, we are to roar like lions, confident, capable and ready to conquer whatever comes our way.
Modern psychological research concludes if we build up a strong belief in ourselves and what we want to achieve, we can do almost anything with a little training and coaching. The brain is designed to help us accomplish anything that we really want and believe we can do. When we use words like “can’t” or “I wish I could, but” or “I would do it if only” then we have set ourselves up for failure, just like the meraglim. The first step to changing our reality is to change our attitude. If we are going to realize our own prophecies, let’s have a vision for ourselves of success, accomplishment and achievement.