One muddy winter night in 1979, Lieutenant Shai was sitting with a mobile radar unit on a hill overlooking a plain in south Lebanon. Nine of his soldiers were lying in the plain below in an ambush. They didn't wait long. Radar detected three forms moving south towards Israel. They were terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Lieutenant Shai radioed his ambush commander to prepare. The three blips on the radar screen were moving closer and closer to the ambush. Suddenly, the blips reversed direction and started moving back North into Lebanon. Lieutenant Shai radioed the direction and distance of the terrorists from the ambush and told his ambush commander to commence firing immediately. The commander told Shai that he could still hear the terrorists moving south and that they should wait. Shai told him the Radar said otherwise and the ambush should begin firing. The commander refused. Finally, Lieutenant Shai ordered his ambush commander to commence firing immediately! The commander refused, being thoroughly convinced that he could still hear the terrorists moving south towards the ambush. “It was the most frustrating experience of my life,” Shai told me. “Three terrorists slipped through our hands. Why didn't he listen to me?”
A few years ago an acquaintance of mine put the following ad in the dinner journal of Yeshiva where I learned: “To Rabbi (the Honoree's name) -Whenever I've followed your advice, I've prospered. When I haven't… I haven't.” Why didn't he listen?
In last week's Parashah (Shemot 32:15), Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua meet at the bottom of Sinai, as Klal Yisrael are reveling with the golden calf. Yehoshua reports to Moshe, “Kol Milchamah BaMachaneh” “(I hear) the sound of battle (coming from) the camp.” Moshe corrects Yehoshua, “Kol Anot Anochi Shomei’a” “(No) it is the sound of distress I hear.” Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l explains that Moshe chastised Yehoshua for failing to distinguish between sounds of Simchah, joy, and the sounds of depression, which was the result of Klal Yisrael's mistaken belief that they were leaderless and abandoned in the Midbar. Yehoshua listened and became the most successful Manhig of Klal Yisroel in Eretz Yisrael.
The Midrash on this week’s Parashah tells us that Betzalel derived his name from “BeTzeil Keil” “in the shadow of Hashem.” He was brilliant, but also wise enough to follow the directions of Moshe Rabbeinu. After all, Moshe Rabbeinu wasn't, like Betzalel, merely in Hashem’s shadow, Moshe Rabbeinu stood in Hashem’s direct light. For listening and following directions, Betzalel became the greatest craftsman of all time.
It is quite a test sometimes to listen and follow the advice of our Rabbis, parents and teachers, especially when we feel another solution would be more appropriate. The ambush commander and the author of the ad blew it. Yehoshua and Betzalel simply listened and took good advice, and for that, count among the greatest people of all times.