The Ma’apilim

In this week’s Torah reading, the Jews sent spies to the land of Israel. The spies returned with a negative report of the land, and instead of trusting God, the Jews cried about the fate the spies predicted for them. This was a great sin, which resulted in the Jews being banned from entering the land.

When the Jews realized that they made a grave error, a group of people named the “Ma’apilim” decided to take action. They decided that they will repent, and enter the land by force. But Moshe (Moses) warned them that it was too late. The deed had been done, and they cannot rectify the consequence. If they try go by force, they will fail. But they did not heed the warning of Moshe, and they forged ahead. As predicted, they were attacked by the people of the land, and they were all killed.

Too Late

We make this mistake of the Ma’apilim all the time. We think we can do as we wish, and in the end it will all work out and we won’t suffer any long-term consequences. But this is not necessarily so. Yes, a person can always do teshuvah (repentance), but this doesn’t mean that one can always rectify the consequences. There are times that heeding our personal desires will cause us to lose out on opportunities which will never return. If we are wise, we will consider what we are risking, before making mistakes in our service of God.

Had You Cried Once…

This concept was taught by Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) (Yalkut Shimoni, Yirmiyahu 327 [40:1]). When the Jews were exiled from their land, and Yirmiyahu the prophet had to leave them, the Jews began to cry and wail. In response, Yirmiyahu said, “I testify with the heaven and the earth, had you cried once [a cry of repentance] when you were still in Zion, you would not have been exiled!” But now it was too late.

The Unhappy Wagon Drivers

The Brisker Rav once reprimanded a person sharply for a misdeed which could cause dreadful ramifications. The man felt very remorseful, and asked what he can do to rectify what he had done. The Brisker Rav replied with a story:

“There was once a wealthy fellow who lost his money, and was forced to find a way to earn a living. He decided to buy a horse and buggy, with whatever money he had left, and become a wagon driver. When the other wagon drivers in town heard about the new competition, they were not happy. It was hard enough to earn a living as it was, and now it would become even harder. They decided to meet to discuss the problem, and at the meeting, the oldest wagon driver told them, ‘Don’t worry about. Leave it up to me to take care of him.’

What if the Mud is Too Deep?

Soon after, the old wagon driver went to the new wagon driver and struck up a conversation with him, ‘So I heard you are becoming a wagon driver.’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘Unfortunately, I have to resort to other ways to earn a living.’ ‘You know,’ said the old wagon driver, ‘being a wagon driver entails great responsibility. It’s not so simple to just become a wagon driver.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked the man. ‘Well,’ said the old wagon driver, ‘What are you going to do if it’s late at night and you get stuck in the mud in the middle of a dangerous forest?’ ‘That’s not such a big deal,’ answered the man, ‘I’ll whip the horses and they will pull us out.’ ‘But what will you do if that doesn’t work?’ asked the old wagon driver. ‘I’m a strong person,’ answered the man, ‘I will go out and help the horses.’

Please Teach Me

‘But what will you do if that doesn’t work either?’ asked the old wagon driver. ‘Then I will have to ask my passengers to give a hand to push it out.’ ‘But what if the mud is so deep that all your combined strength can’t pull it out? It can be very dangerous and it will be your responsibility!’ ‘I don’t know what can be done in such a case,’ replied the man, ‘Please teach me what I can do.’

The old wagon driver then said, ‘I am willing to tell you, but only on condition that you swear to me that you will not become a wagon driver.’ The man was in a dilemma. On the one hand, this was going to be his new way of earning a living. But on the other hand, he couldn’t risk being stuck in such a situation. In the end, he agreed and swore that he would not become a wagon driver.

A Wise Person Avoids the Mud in the First Place

‘Now I’ll tell you what you do,’ said the old wagon driver, ‘If you ended up in such a situation, there is truly nothing that can be done. But a good wagon driver makes sure he never ends up in such mud in the first place.’”

“In your case too,” said the Brisker Rav, “I don’t have any advice on how to rectify what is done. A wise person makes sure he doesn’t end up in such mud in the first place.” This is the lesson of Ma’apilim. Not all can be rectified. Be wise and don’t get stuck in the mud in the first place.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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