Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
What follows is a new and revolutionary definition of an evil person. In this week’s parasha it’s written that the spies spoke lashon hara (insulting language) about the Land of Israel, despite the lashon hara incident at the end of the previous parasha for which Miriam had been punished. Regarding the spies, Rashi writes: “these wicked people witnessed but did not learn their lesson.” Why does Rashi call them evil? Because an evil deed occurred for which Miriam was punished; the people knew about it, but did not learn their lesson. Immediately afterwards, lashon hara was spoken by the nation’s leaders when they delivered a slanderous report about the Land of Israel which was accepted by the nation. In other words, to be evil is to act like an automaton, without thinking, without paying attention, without drawing conclusions from what is happening around you. To witness what is going on and not be changed by it.
Our commentators write that we must never be passive observers. Instead, we must begin to look at the events around us not only to express an opinion, to become irritated or excited, but rather to take away personal lessons for practical application. If we see something bad happening around us, we should consider how to keep ourselves from reaching a point where we would behave in a similar manner. But if we see something good, we should try and bring that sort of behavior into our own lives. In short, to learn a lesson from everything we see or hear in order that we do not become evil..