Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Handle With Care
As any youngster who has studied Parshas Shelach will tell you, the
punishment meted out to the Meraglim (spies) sent to scout Eretz
Yisrael was unshakably fair: Forty years the Children of Israel would
have to wander in the desert - a year for each day that the spies had
spent scouting the Land and preparing their slanderous report, which
the fledgling nation was all-too-quick to accept. Upon reflection,
however, we are left questioning the seemingly harsh penalty: Was it
truly necessary to make them suffer a full year for each day spent in
sin? Would not a day for a day, or even a week for a day, been more
equitable? Furthermore, why does the Torah, when defining the
sentence, reverse the order of the words? "A day for a year, a day for
a year, shall you bear your iniquities..." (14:34) Shouldn't it have said,
"A year for a day," and not, "a day for a year?" [Numerous
commentaries raise this question. See, for instance, K'li Yakar.]
Irving took a long look at the speedometer of his spanking-new sports
car before slowing down: Seventy-three in a fifty-five zone! The
flashing red lights in his rear-view mirror insisted he pull over quickly,
but Irving let his car coast to a stop. Fourth time in as many months -
how could a guy get caught so often? He slumped into his seat, and
tapped the steering wheel, doing his best to look bored, his eyes
gazing in the rear-view mirror. The cop was stepping out of his car,
a big pad in hand.
Irving was tempted to leave the window shut long enough to gain the
psychological edge, but decided on a different tactic. Jumping out of
his car, he approached the officer contritely.
"Fancy that officer," he smiled, "guess you caught me red-handed in
a rush to get home to my wife and kids!" "Guess so," he seemed
uncertain - good.
"I've been spending some long days at the office lately; tax-season,
you know. Seems I bent the rules a bit - just this once." He toed at a
pebble on the pavement. "Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. You know, sir, you have a bit of a
reputation in our precinct." Ouch! This was not going in the right
direction. Time to change tactics.
"What'd you clock me at?" "Seventy-one. Would you sit back in your
car, please sir." "Now wait a second here officer, I checked my
speedometer as soon as I saw you - I was barely nudging 65!" The lie
seemed to come easier with each ticket. "Please, sir, in the car."
Flustered, Irving hunched himself through the still-open door.
Slamming it shut, he stared at the dashboard. The minutes ticked by.
The officer scribbled away on his pad. Why hadn't he asked for a
license? After what seemed to be an eternity, a tap on the door jerked
his head to the left. There he was, a folded paper in his hand. Irving
rolled down the window a mere two inches, just enough room for the
officer to pass him the slip. "Thanks." Irving could not quite keep the
sneer out of his voice. The officer returned to his car without a word.
Irving then unfolded the slip of paper - how much was this one going
to cost him? Wait a minute. What was this? Some kind of joke?
Certainly not a ticket. Irving began to read:
Once upon a time I had a daughter. She was six when
she was killed by a car. You guessed it - a speeding
driver. A fine and three months in jail, and the man was
free. Free to hug his daughters - all three of them. I only
had one, and I'm not going to be hugging her again. A
thousand times I've tried to forgive that man. A thousand
times I thought I had. But I just can't. I am not giving you
a ticket. I ask, rather, that you spend a moment thinking
about this story. And, please, be careful - my son is all I
Irving shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Then he twisted around in
time to see the officer's car pull away, and head down the road. Irving
watched until it disappeared. A full 15 minutes later, he too pulled
away, and drove slowly home. His kids were surprised by the bear-
hugs he gave them when he arrived home.
Sometimes, in the haste of a moment, we make critical decisions
whose repercussions reach far beyond the split-second it took to
make them. Events that change our lives forever are often predicated
by no more than a momentary lapse in forethought. Perhaps, had the
spies sat back and rethought what they were about to do, they would
have recognized the foolishness of their plan. It was, after all, the
Almighty, and not the Land, they were slandering. Perhaps, indeed,
after hearing Hashem's wrathful response to their report, they
immediately saw the error in their ways. Perhaps they wanted to take
it all back, to chalk it all up to a fleeting imprudence, deserving of no
more than a symbolic slap-on-the-hand, after which all would be
forgiven and forgotten, and they could immediately resume their
imminent passage into the Holy Land.
It was not to be. The damage had been done. A nation once
deserving of receiving the Holiest of Lands as their eternal inheritance
was no longer. Their children, too young to have been sullied by the
malicious slander - would inherit the Land.
"A day for a year." Sometimes, a day of misjudgment and haste,
brings in its wake a full year of tzures. Sometimes - it's a lifetime.
Perhaps, at the Meraglim's expense, the Torah is teaching us a
critical lesson: It can take a lot more than a moment to rectify a
moment. Think first, think again, and only then do. Life is precious -
handle with care.
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.