"But" is perhaps is the most powerful word in the English language. It has the ability to paralyse us. Often it is used as an attempt to excuse inaction or to excuse improper behavior. At best the word "but" means guilty with an explanation. You might be right and therefore I should act accordingly but...
While there may have been some bickering about the food in the desert and even though they had build a golden calf, the Jews with G-d's assistance were ready to enter the land of Israel with Moshe, Aharon and Miriam serving as their leaders. The destiny and destination of the Jewish people was well within grasp. But the word "but" ( Efes in Hebrew which interestingly also means "nothing") sent the Jews on a long detour, one which continues to this very day.
The twelve scouts were asked a series of questions by Moshe, ranging from the types of cities the people occupying the land inhabit, the produce of the land and the strength of the people. They reported what they saw, namely strong people in fortified cities in a land flowing with milk and honey. Surely an accurate report. So what was so terrible that the entire generation had to die in the wilderness? Our commentaries ever so attuned to nuances in the text note an extra word in their report. "But". "It does indeed flow with milk and honey and this is its fruit. But the people living in the land are aggressive and the cities are large and well fortified" (13:27-28). The one little extra word changed the report from an objective recording of facts to a subjective offer of advice, in essence we will be unable to settle the land. From a little but comes bigger accusations. Calev upon detecting the subjectivity in their report declares that we can and we will conquer the land. To this the spies "began to speak badly about the land.... a land that consumes its inhabitants." Moshe had envisioned, had yearned for the opportunity to set up a model state with the opportunity to implement the Torah of Mount Sinai into daily living in the Land of Israel. A chosen people for a chosen land. The Jewish people though were pragmatic. Now is not the right time, we are outnumbered; and is it really so necessary?
"But" is a word that plagues so many people. To men of vision there are no buts. There may be challenges, obstacles to overcome but there are no buts. Men of vision see grandeur, accomplishment, and the opportunity to turn dreams into reality. But often very practical people point out the buts. But we don't have the money, but we need to study the issue further (and further and further), but we don't have the manpower, but we are busy, but it just is not practical.
Thank G-d there are some who while understanding the practical problems involved manage to see the dangers of being overly practical. Was it practical for Israel to declare its independence in 1948? (or the United States in 1776?). Was it practical a generation ago to tell your boss you can not work on Shabbat? Was it practical to declare that Yeshivot could be set up all over North America?
Of course we often use "but" in explaining why we are talking lashon hara (gossip, slander) against other people. But it is true, but he deserves it, but everybody does it. Ultimately the Jewish people were punished for speaking evil against the Land of Israel. If such is the penalty for slandering a piece of land, how much more so must we be careful when we are speaking about other human beings.
Since the Jews were not willing to see beyond the report of the majority - while majority rules they are not always right - they would get their "wish" and not be forced to go to Israel. However, upon realizing the opportunity missed they had second thoughts. "When they got up early in the morning they began climbing towards the top of the mountain declaring; We are now ready! We shall go forward to the place that G-d described. We admit that we were mistaken" (14:40). But it was to late.
Each and every day we have the opportunity to make the world a better place. We can help others, study Torah, spend time with our families. Let us not evade our responsibilities with "but". Shabbat Shalom!