Monday, June 9, 2014

Anyway They Fall, Guess Who Gets To Pay The Price (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Throwing Stones")

The other day, our son was misbehaving. His poor behavior wasn’t particularly “over the top” horrible but he was over tired, aggravated and becoming more and more petulant. Whatever he was doing, I asked him once. He ignored me and went right on continuing his poor behavior. I asked a second time, but still nothing. By the third request a threat followed. Now his interest piqued and he was going to test me to find out if I was going to carry out my threat.  The punishment was meted out and now he very quickly stopped whatever it was he was doing, he very quickly apologized, and he very quickly tried to make up for his wrongdoing. I was having none of it. I explained that I wasn’t angry with him, but he was making matters worse.  I told him that it would be much better if he accepted the punishment, and learn from this little episode.  I also told him I would have much more respect for him if he quietly accepted his punishment as opposed to fighting about it, since acceptance would demonstrate a degree of maturity.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Shelach Lecha. The Torah portion begins with the narrative of Moshe gathering up twelve spies, one corresponding to each of the twelve tribes, and giving them the mission. The spies are told to investigate the quality of the land – fertile or barren, its inhabitants - warlike or peaceful, the nature of cities –fortified or open? The spies go and investigate and return. Ten spies offer a negative report and two, Caleb and Joshua, offer a positive report. B’nai Yisroel listen to the ten spies with the negative report and fell utterly overwhelmed at the prospect of entering into the land that Hashem promised them.  Hysterical, the people beg to return to Egypt. Hashem wants to wipe them all out immediately but Moshe defends the people just like he did after the Golden Calf. So rather than wiping out an entire people Hashem punishes B’nai Yisroel by prohibiting this generation from entering into the land. Then Moshe begin teaching B’nai Yisroel laws specific and premised upon settlement in the Canaan.  First Moshe teaches the Libation Offering as well as Challah. Next, Moshe teaches the laws of public atonement of unintentional idolatry, individual unintentional idolatry, intentional idolatry, a reminder about violating Shabbat and finally the laws of Tzitzit.
             However, it is B’nai Yisroel’s behavior after the negative report and after the ensuing riot that is so problematic on multiple levels.   After the initial plague and the Ten Spies are killed, B’nai Yisroel seems motivated to apologize and to do Tshuva. In order to prove their sincerity, they embark on a suicide mission without Moshe and the Ark and attempt to break camp and start marching off to Eretz Canaan. More of them are killed. However, this time it is the Amalekites and the Canaanites the kill B’nai Yisroel, not a plague. Why doesn’t Hashem accept B’nai Yisroel’s apology? Was the apology and Tshuva (repentance) sincere and heartfelt? What made them think to break camp without the Ark and Moshe? Was their attempt to begin marching with Moshe and the Ark more out of spite? Why didn’t they listen to Moshe when he told them that their foray would fail? Does Hashem bear any responsibility because he didn’t accept B’nai Yisroel’s Tshuva? The Or HaChaim (Chaim Ibn Attar-17th Moroccan Rabbi/ Kabbalist/Talmudist, who migrated to Jerusalem) explains that B’nai Yisroels’ claim of ChatanuWe sinned (Num. 14:30) is not sufficient since they did not permit any time to elapse between apology and action. If it was sincere, then after B’nai Yisroel states Chatanu, they would have accepted their punishment and tried to better in the future. Instead the statement was motivated not so much by sincere remorse but motivated their own desires and regrets, regret at having forfeited their chance to enter into the land. The apology and their attempt to march with Moshe and the Ark proved Hashem correct: this generation would never be ready to enter into the land as they are too spiritually damaged from slavery.
Thankfully our son listened. He wisely understood that having his father’s respect was ultimately more important than the immediate gratification that he was forced to forego due to punishment. Sometimes “no “is not such a bad thing.  Sometimes “no” is a sign of concern and care. For slaves who had spent so much of their life being denied, “no” indicates denial. The generation of slaves never will understand that. When our son thought better of begging, and looked up and told me not to worry, that he wasn’t angry and he understood that the punishment was for his behavior but he knew that I still loved him; I knew that he had taken one more step in growing up.   

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