The Origins of Yeah, But...

Jeff Hayden wrote in Inc Magazine, “These are 2 of the worst words you can ever use: 'Yeah, But', Both because of what they say about you... and how you feel about other people”. When people use “Yeah, Butthey are inserting their own slant and agenda onto their observations which may lead to distortion and even destruction. The original “Yeah, But” actually comes from our Parsha this week, Parshat Shelach.

At the beginning of our Parshah, Moshe sends forth 12 spies to scout out the land of Israel to learn of its greatness as well as its vulnerabilities before the Israelites will enter the much awaited and coveted homeland. Ten of the spies returned with a nefarious and negative report that caused chaos, mayhem, and a divine decree that the Israelites will need to sojourn through the desert for 40 years and all the men age 20 and above will die before the nation will be permitted to enter the Holy Land.

How did the ten spies convince the masses that the land was not good after G-d and Moshe both told of its greatness?

The spies pulled a “Yeah, But” on them.

Numbers 13:26-29

וַיְסַפְּרוּ־לוֹ֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ בָּ֕אנוּ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שְׁלַחְתָּ֑נוּ וְ֠גַ֠ם זָבַ֨ת חָלָ֥ב וּדְבַ֛שׁ הִ֖וא וְזֶה־פִּרְיָֽהּ׃ אֶ֚פֶס כִּֽי־עַ֣ז הָעָ֔ם הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְהֶֽעָרִ֗ים בְּצֻר֤וֹת גְּדֹלֹת֙ מְאֹ֔ד וְגַם־יְלִדֵ֥י הָֽעֲנָ֖ק רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם׃ ֲמָלֵ֥ק יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּאֶ֣רֶץ הַנֶּ֑גֶב וְ֠הַֽחִתִּ֠י וְהַיְבוּסִ֤י וְהָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּהָ֔ר וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ יוֹשֵׁ֣ב עַל־הַיָּ֔ם וְעַ֖ל יַ֥ד הַיַּרְדֵּֽן׃ 

This is what they told him: “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. BUT - the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Giants there. The powerful Amalekites dwell in the Negeb region; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell by the Sea and along the Jordan.”

If the spies had simply reported what they were asked to, history would have looked very different. They did not need to “Yeah, But” the situation. They did so in order to persuade the Israelites to fear entering the land. The spies had an agenda; and in order to achieve their agenda, they Yeah Butted the situation.

We live in a world that is filled with slants and agendas. When something of note occurs and the news reports it, when listening to different outlets, it can sound like two totally different happenings take place. 

The Talmud states that the virtue of Truth is the seal of G-d. Our task is to study truth, understand truth and live by these truths without an agenda. When sharing our observations, let’s examine whether we are indeed simply telling what we saw or are we inserting our agenda as well. Truth is paramount and strengthens the world we live in. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence