Pay Attention

“…these wicked ones saw but did not learn the ethical lesson.” (Bamidbar 13:2, Rashi)

The parashah opens with the selection of tribal representatives whose mission was to reconnoiter the land of Canaan to facilitate the impending battles our people were to face. Each tribe had one prince selected by Moshe with the consent of Hashem to jointly investigate the soft targets in a land of 31 nations.

Rashi asks, why does this story follow the punishment of Miriam, who spoke lashon hara concerning her brother Moshe? The entire people had to wait for her purification from the punishment of tzaraat that befell her for her misuse of the power of speech. Rashi answers, “Because she was stricken regarding the matter of negative speech about her brother and these wicked ones saw but did not learn the ethical lesson.”

These distinguished men were selected by Moshe. These princes were approved by Hashem. They are called “wicked men” because they did not learn from Miriam. Is that true justice?

The story is told about a man who, after a long life, reached the Heavenly Tribunal for his personal judgment. When the court ruled that he be sent to Gehinnom, he objected and requested a hearing with the Master of Creation.

“Alm-ghty One,” he pleaded, “You created me and placed me in a place full of desire and seductions that would lead me to act in a way contrary to Your wishes. I admit that I did do all the transgressions with which I was charged; however, our Torah states that one can be punished only after proper warning. I was not warned, so how can the court invoke the penalties?”

“Can you really say that you were not forewarned?” our Creator replied. “Not once and not twice, but day after day I sent you warnings which you ignored. Didn’t your dear neighbor pass away suddenly at a young age? Didn’t your community leader lose his fortune virtually overnight? Didn’t news of tragedy after tragedy reach your ears — and yet you did not react? You were expected to hear of the incidents and realize that the world is run by a Supreme Being Who pays for good and collects for wrongdoing. You did not inquire as to why you heard of these incidents. You did not hear My warnings.”

The Torah juxtaposes the tale of Miriam with the selection of the spies to awaken us all so that we will not live our lives in this world without paying close attention to all that we hear and see. We are expected to analyze causes and react. With all the information one hears and sees in one day, one is expected to consider that the world is not a series of random circumstances but, rather, a world run by the Ultimate Administrator.

If you hear something, you must not just say something — you must ask why you heard it. Then you must take action. The lesson is: “If you hear or see something, do something!”

Shabbat shalom!