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Only the Facts are the Facts

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Shelach, the spies were sent into Israel and returned with a report stating that, although the land was flowing with milk and honey, the local inhabitants were powerful giants. They further advised that the Jewish people had no chance of conquering the land from the local inhabitants.

They expressed their sentiment by saying, “There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes (Bamidbar 13:34.) The Midrash explains that God could forgive them for saying that they felt like grasshoppers but would not forgive them for saying “and so we were in their eyes.” I believe the Midrash is teaching us a value lesson. Their expressing inadequate feelings was factual; That was the way they truly felt. However, the implication that in the eyes of others they appeared to be “grasshoppers” was not factual. It was simply their impression of how they appeared to others.

Similarly, their opinion that the Jewish people would be defeated by the local inhabitants was not factual, it was simply an opinion. I imagine that the statisticians would have predicted the destruction of the State of Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. That would have simply been an opinion, not a fact. The fact is that, thank God, the Jewish people won all these wars in convincing fashion.

Similarly, I recently saw a response by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein where he states that from the fact that the Torah exempts women from certain Mitzvot one cannot imply anything regarding spiritual standing of women. He maintains that they are of equal spiritual standing and brings a number of proof texts. The fact is that men and women have different roles and obligations in the Torah. Implying anything more is simply opinion at best and very often false.

In relationships it is critical to distinguish between fact and implication/opinion. Someone says something and we often immediately assume and imply things that they never intended in the first instance. This is a common cause of arguments, strife and resentment among people.

Our charge is to very clearly distinguish between the actual facts and opinions/implications. Only the facts are factual!