Just Curious

“When my brother Esav meets you and asks you, saying, ‘Whose are you, where are you going, and whose are these that are before you?’” (Beresheet 32:18)

Yaakov Avinu heard that his brother Esav was headed in his direction with warriors at his side. He immediately took a three-pronged proactive approach to the danger. He invoked military strategy by splitting his camp in two so that should one be attacked the second camp could escape. He prayed to Hashem to save him from his ill-intentioned brother. Then he amassed a bribe that he sent ahead to perhaps reduce Esav’s anger and hate and convert it to tolerance and peace.

Upon sending his messengers with the flocks he used as a bribe, he instructed them as to how to respond to Esav’s inquiries. His directives to his messengers provide instruction to his offspring throughout the ages.

A man was walking down the street when he noticed a crowd gathering. He approached to see what was the cause of all the commotion. One of the onlookers told him there was a suspicious package on the sidewalk. Rather than step back, he drew closer to get a glimpse of the potentially dangerous bundle. When a policeman advised that he step back because it could explode, he replied that he actually wanted to view the explosion.

When we hear of such an “insane” individual, we smile mockingly at the thought of such reckless stupidity. What we don’t consider is that most of us are just like this curious onlooker.

Our Rabbis teach that curiosity is one of the greatest disturbances to our service to Hashem. We see curiosity as a danger to life and limb (people say: “Curiosity killed the cat”), not realizing it is all the more dangerous to the soul. Curiosity exposes good people to things that are forbidden to view and to words that are forbidden to hear (or say). Generally, people are not strong enough to say, “What harm is there if I miss seeing or hearing or attending…?”

It is not for naught that the Torah mentions precisely all the potential questions Esav might ask. In effect, Yaakov was saying, “Know clearly, that if someone should ask you all of these questions he is on the side of Esav — he probably is Esav himself — because a trait and a weapon of Esav is curiosity.”

The praises of our Sages are showered upon one who lives in the confines of the “four cubits of halachah.” There is a job to do and that is to serve Hashem perfectly. One who focuses on Torah is paying attention to those things that will aid in achieving one’s purpose in life — “for this you were created” (Avot 2:8). We are commanded to control our eyes and to avoid being drawn after temptation — for that is the trait of Esav.

In today’s world, the desire to “know” even the most inconsequential facts and figures is a spiritual epidemic. The information generation has fueled the fires of curiosity to levels unknown before in human history. Distractions come in ways unheard-of in even the recent past. As a Torah Jew, it’s time to step back and make conscious clear decisions as to what is important and helpful to one’s spiritual growth and what are those things that are detriments to spiritual success. Now, more than ever, there is danger in “just looking.”

Shabbat shalom.