April 21, 2024
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Fixing the Failure or Learning from it?

While in the world of schools students work to avoid receiving an “F” on an assignment, they often work just as hard to convince the teacher that they actually deserve a higher grade. In the business world as well, most professionals attempt to avoid mistakes and try, as quickly as possible, to cover up or correct their failure. When was the last time you encouraged your child to live with his “F” and not try to do anything to correct it? When was the last time you attempted to correct a mistake you made at work only to be told that you should have left the mistake as is and not worked to fix it?

Sefer Bamidbar is filled with stories of the Jewish people’s mistakes,many of which lead to severe punishments. Only twice throughout the sefer, though, the Jews themselves attempt to alter God’s decree and avoid punishment. In this week’s parsha, the people complain for sustenance and are struck with nechashim [serpents] that begin to kill them. The people approach Moshe and request that he pray to God to “take away the serpents from us.” Moshe listens to their request and God provides a way for them to avoid death.

This story, and the people’s response, should remind us of the ma’apilim, the group of Jews who attempted to go to Israel following the sin of the spies. They also attempted to avoid punishment and demonstrated an interest in correcting their mistake by taking the initiative to enter the land. In both cases, the people admitted their mistakes and sought ways to fix them. The ma’apilim, however, met with resistance from Moshe and ultimate defeat upon entry to the land. Why would God accept the people’s teshuva in our parsha while rejecting it in Parshat Shelach? What made this attempt to avoid punishment laudable and the ma’apilim’s unacceptable?

Abravnel suggests two critical differences between the two stories that provide us with tremendous insight into the proper way of reacting to setbacks. First, Abravnel looks at the way the sin is identified in each story. The ma’apilim admit kichatanu, that they had sinned, but did acknowledge precisely where their mistake lie. In our parsha, on the other hand, the Jews clearly identify the root problem:“Chatanu kidibarnu baHashem vabach”[“We have sinned for we have spoken against God and you”]. Without a clear understanding and recognition of the mistakes we have made, our new behavior appears more like an attempt to avoid punishment than learning for the future.

Second, Abravnel recognizes a critical difference in the way each group of sinners attempts to correct its mistakes. In our parsha, the Jews look to Moshe for help and ask him to pray to God to remove the sin. They recognize that they are not in full control of their destiny and need the help of Moshe and mercy of God to move forward. The ma’apilim, though, jump to taking matters into their own hands. Without asking Moshe and before mentioning anything about sin, the Torah first describes that the people ascended the mountain to enter the land of Israel—“hinenuv’alinu el haMakom”[“Behold we shall go up to the place”].

In an age of “there’s an app for that,” we are used to thinking that we can solve any problem and fix any mistake we make on our own. The Torah reminds us that failure should breed humility and a willingness to work with and learn from others. Fixing the mistake is not the same as truly learning from it.

Rabbi Chanales is the Director of Educational Technology and a member of the limudei kodesh faculty at TABC, teaching Gemara, Tanach and Judaic Studies Electives

By Rabbi Yehuda Chanales

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