What God Wants, Not What You Want by Simcha Wagner


In Parashat ShelachBnei Yisrael are persuaded by the rebellious spies that it is impossible for them to conquer the Land of Israel. As such, they weep and wail until Hashem decides that He can no longer listen to their complaints and finally punishes them. He declares that no one in this generation above the age of twenty, save for Yehoshua and Caleivwill enter the land, but will instead wander in the desert until they perish. When Moshe relays this news to the people, they are stricken with remorse, and spend the night doing Teshuvah, repentance. The next day, the incident of the “Ma’apilim” occurs: Bnei Yisrael confess that they have sinned and attempt to march into the Land to conquer it against Moshe’s warnings. They are swiftly repelled by the locals and are forced to give up. When reading this, many people wonder why the people failed. They had done Teshuvah, admitted that they had sinned, and took action in an attempt to rectify their previous misdeed. Why did Hashem not support their venture? The answer can be found in a comparison to Parashat Ki Tisa. When the Torah describes the people arising to prepare to enter the land it states, “VaYashkimu BaBoker VaYa’alu,” “And they arose early in the morning and ascended” (Bamidbar 14:40). Similarly, when discussing the Jews arising to serve the Eigel HaZahav in Parashat Ki Tisa, the Torah states, “VaYashkimu MiMacharat VaYa’alu,” “The next day they awoke early and arose” (Shemot 32:6). The great similarity between the phrasing in each case is staggering. The purpose of parallel structure in the Torah is often times intended to show us that the events occurring in each scenario are the same. According to the vast majority of commentators, the Eigel HaZahav wasn’t created for idolatry, but as a man-made means of serving and connecting with Hashem in the absence of Moshe. Bnei Yisrael thought that they could decide exactly how they wanted to serve Hashem. When Moshe had been around, there had been strict guidelines for this connection, but when Moshe was gone, the people felt lost and came up with an idea that they hoped would fill the spiritual hollow inside of them. The same thing is true in Parashat Shelach. Despite the fact that Hashem never commanded it, the people decided that, in a sudden display of loyalty to Him, they would conquer the Land. They felt that this would be a firm declaration that they were sorry for scorning the land and that they were now ready to make up for their errors. However, both stories present Bnei Yisrael as suffering from a very serious problem. Man cannot choose the method in which he wishes to please God. Hashem gave us the Torah, a set guidelines that tell us exactly what we should do to serve Him, and He gave us prophets to elucidate his will should it ever become unclear. In both of these cases, however, the people decided to ignore both Torah and prophet and serve Hashem in a way that they felt comfortable with. Such acts can scarcely be called pious. They are in fact mere spiritual indulgence, done to satisfy man’s spiritual needs and to allow him to feel as though he is a good, religious person. One can easily see examples of this in some of the religions that exist nowadays. Their practitioners will perform utterly ridiculous rituals, and they will leave feeling that they are deeply spiritual people. What happened to Bnei Yisrael in both cases unequivocally tells us that this is not the proper way to act. When serving Hashem, we must always make sure to serve Him the way that He has instructed us to do, not the way which we deem correct. If we do choose to serve Him in our own way, we, too, fall into the same trap as the worshipers of the Eigel HaZahav and Ma’apilim.

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