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The Road to Heaven is Paved with Good Timing and Objectivity

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Shlach the Jewish people lose their faith in God to conquer the idolatrous inhabitants of the Land of Israel and bring them into the promised land. Moses tells the people of God’s decree to delay their entry into the Land of Israel by forty years and that each man between the age of twenty and sixty would die on his sixtieth birthday. The reaction of the people was deep regret: “And the nation mourned excessively.”

A number of sincerely repentant Jews, understanding the root cause of their error to be a lack of faith in God, were determined to reverse course and make amends. They begin their ascent towards the Land of Israel with renewed faith and trust in God. They paid no heed to Moses’ warning that their course of action will not be successful, and they pay the ultimate price when they are murdered by the Amalekites. Their intentions seem noble, what was ultimately their mistake? What is the generational take-away message from this incident?

The great eighteenth century scholar Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar says these words “And Hashem was not willing (to save and protect them) because their wound was fresh and the decree was already decreed.” Actions stemming from all the good intentions in the world will ultimately backfire and exacerbate a situation if their timing is incorrect. In addition to evaluating our intentions, the Torah is teaching us that we need to consider the timing of our actions. Action at a time when the ‘wound is fresh’ is often counter-productive and results in the exacerbation of an already undesirable situation. This theme is echoed by the Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers which cautions us “Do not appease your friend at the height of his anger; do not comfort him while his dead still lies before him; do not ask him about his vow the moment he makes it; and do not endeavor to see him at the time of his degradation.”

While this is undoubtedly an important practical message, I think Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar’s words contain another critical message. When we do something wrong that causes a rift in our relationships and desperately want to make things right it is pointless if we attempt do so on our own terms, using our own subjective opinion as to what is needed to make amends. We should not assume to understand the course of corrective action. When we offend or upset someone in our relationships our corrective measures should be in accordance with the will of that person. At such times we need to avoid our attempts to make ourselves feel better, put ourselves aside, and focus on the will of the party we have offended or upset.

Rather than focusing on their own desperate need for repentance and course correction, this group of Jews should have focused on God’s will. Similarly, in our personal relationships in circumstances when we have caused pain, we should focus on the will of the other and in so doing rebuild our relationships.