July 17, 2024
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The Importance of a Good Beginning

I recently found a small shoe box in one of my closets. Inside was my first pair of shoes! They were cute little white high-top shoes from Joseph’s Shoe Store on 181st Street in Washington Heights, New York. They had traveled from my mother’s house to mine. Why did my mother save my first pair of shoes for all these years? To my mother, my first shoes represented the beginning of her son walking. Beginnings are critical, as is evident from the episode of the meraglim (spies) in Parshas Shelach.

There seem to be conflicting ideas about the meraglim. The pasuk refers to them as “anashim.” Rashi notes this is a title which refers to upstanding individuals. Yet, upon the return of the meraglim from Eretz Yisrael, the pasuk says, “Vayeilchu Vayavou”-—They went out and they came back.” Rashi quotes the Gemara which equates their embarking to their return from their mission. Just as they returned with an evil plot to dissuade the Jewish nation from entering Eretz Yisrael, so too, when they set forth initially, it was with evil intent. So … were the meraglim upstanding or evil?

The Nesivos Shalom states that if one ends up in a bad place, it’s a sign that one never started properly. The meraglim were upstanding individuals, but their focus was wrong when they started the mission. If one starts off on the right foot, he has a chance of completing his task properly. The fact that they returned with an evil report indicates that they initially left with bad intentions.

Indeed, their sin caused the entire generation to wander for 40 years and perish in the desert.

After the sin of the meraglim, Hashem told Moshe the nation will not be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. Instead, they will wander in the desert for 40 years and all the men between the ages of 20-60 will die in the desert. Following this terrible news, Hashem told Moshe to teach the B’nei Yisrael the mitzvah of separating challah from dough when baking bread.

The timing of the teaching of this mitzvah now seems odd, as the mitzvah of separating challah is only required (by the Torah) with regard to the produce of Eretz Yisrael. Since they would all be in the desert for 40 years, then die, isn’t the challah training just a tease?

The Nesivos Shalom explains that Hashem wanted to indicate to them that they are not through as a people despite their serious setback. Hashem informed them of the mitzvah of separating challah to show that entering Eretz Yisrael would indeed happen … 40 years later.

Last year, I dealt with a married couple whose relationship was in big trouble. The husband had gotten involved in behavior very harmful to their relationship. I wasn’t sure this was fixable. Luckily, they connected to a good friend of mine who is a therapist specializing in this area. It worked. I asked my friend, “After such negative behavior, how were you able to get them back together?” He explained that in all situations, there’s a before and after. True, the husband messed up in a major way, but there is always hope. If the couple realizes that a new beginning is possible, they can begin to move forward again.

This pattern occurred with Klal Yisrael multiple times in the desert. We all know about the Sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the luchos (tablets). The first set of luchos was the “before.” After they were smashed, B’nei Yisrael needed a new beginning. Hashem gave them a new start with the second luchos.

In truth, Hashem gives us many new starts throughout the year. Every Rosh Chodesh is a new month—this Shabbos we are mevorchim (blessing) Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, an opportunity to have a new beginning. Really, every week is a new start, and even each day is a new beginning.

Someone once asked the great mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, “What should one do if he is almost finished davening Shemoneh Esrei and realizes that he was not concentrating from the beginning of the Shemoneh Esrei until now?” Rav Wachtfogel replied, “Start focusing now. Let go of what you already missed. Just start anew … now.”

In this vein, maybe my mother should have saved each new pair of shoes I wore, but I don’t think my closet would be big enough to store all of them!

May our beginnings always start on the right foot. If we err, may we start again anew with the proper footing, with Hashem’s guidance.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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