In this week’s parsha, Parshat Shlach, the Jewish nation lets their fears take over. They send spies to see the Land that G-d has been promising them since Avraham, but instead of using the visit to generate excitement and practical tactics for conquering the land, they focus on the enemies that are there and declare that “on second thought, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
But when G-d punishes them and sentences them to 40 years in the desert, as they wait for the current generation to die out, they feel bad, regret their reaction and decide instead to go. As chapter 14 verse 40 states:
מ וישכמו בבקר, ויעלו אל ראש ההר לאמר: הננו ועלינו אל המקום אשר אמר ה’ כי חטאנו.
|40 And they rose up early in the morning, and got them up to the top of the mountain, saying: ‘Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised; for we have sinned.’|
Knowing that G-d accepts people’s repentance and sincerity, one would expect the Torah to recount the victory and subsequent praise and blessing from G-d. They were doing what he wanted, after all…
So, we are surprised to read that Moshe immediately rebukes them –
מא ויאמר משה, למה זה אתם עוברים את פי ה’: והיא לא תצלח.
|41 And Moses said: ‘Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD, seeing it shall not prosper?|
Then he tells them not to proceed, and when they do attempt to conquer, we hear that they are attacked:
מה וירד העמלקי והכנעני הישב בהר ההוא ויכום ויכתום עד החרמה.
|45 Then the Amalekite and the Canaanite, who dwelt in that hill-country, came down, and smote them and beat them down, even unto Hormah.|
The question is – WHY? Why are they rebuked for changing their mind and going full-speed ahead? Why does Moshe say they’re rebelling when they’re finally listening? And why would G-d punish them for entering the land when that passion and fearlessness is exactly what G-d was hoping for after the spies’ return?
Answer: Clearly, the sin was not simply their refusal to enter the Land! They were chastised for not listening to G-d, i.e not believing when G-d said it would be good in the Land and not trusting G-d to protect them in the wars that needed to be fought. So when G-d punished them with the decree that they would wander the desert for 40 years, they should have listened and showed respect by following orders this time. But again they don’t listen when they then push forward and try to attack in an effort to enter the Land.
The real teshuva, repentance, would have been to listen and follow what G-d said. So if at first the command was “enter” and they didn’t listen, true repentance would be to listen now when G-d says “wait!” The real issue was not the entering/conquering the land, it was the need for them to listen and accept what G-d says.
Can you think of when this happens at home with parents and children?