By: Benjamin Klein (advisor for Atlantic Seaboard NCSY)
Is Good Intent Enough?
This week’s parsha is loaded with amazing stories and shocking events. After reading about the counting of all the Jews, and a delving into the jobs of the Levite tribe, we are met with the crazy story of the spies and their downfall, which cemented our fate to roam the desert for 40 years before entering Eretz Yisrael. Moshe appointed 12 leaders of the Jewish people to look over the land to see what they were up against. He advised them to look at the cities and how they were built, and a description of the land. The spies came back with a twisted negative report and suffered greatly for their treachery. Another fantastic story is the man who cut wood on shabbos. This man was also a leader of the Jewish people and knowingly acted against the Torah to show the Jewish people what would happen if they transgressed the Shabbos. He knowingly accepted his punishment of being cut off from the Jewish people as Rashi says.
I think there is a nice parallel between these two stories and a lesson that can be learned in how we approach our spiritual lives.
The question that begs to be asked is how did these people who were such great leaders of the Jewish people make such mistakes? If would be one thing if an average joe got scared of the responsibility and newness of Eretz Yisrael and told a fabricated report. However, to have your leaders of each tribe do the sin, how did this happen? The same applies to the cutter of wood. It would be one thing for a rebel or a guy who did not know what he was doing to make the mistake. However, a smart leader who knew full well the sin and did it anyways, what was he thinking?
I think the answer can be found in a basic understanding of intention. The spies were great men and thought they had the right intention to lie for the sake of Hashem. They thought to themselves..Hashem did not tell us to send spies! Moshe only asked because the Jews begged based on the trepidation of entering the land. So the spies took it upon themselves to scare the Jewish people with the false report, because they did not think they were ready to enter the land yet. The same applies to the cutter of wood. He wanted the Jewish people to understand the punishment and severity of sinning on shabbos, so he made an example of himself in full knowledge.
But is this really what Hashem wanted? True, their intention might have been great, but sometimes the right intention gets outdone by the actions we do. The spies took it a step further then necessary by trashing the land and lying. They could have voiced their opinions and told the Jewish people not to worry and to believe in Hashem. However they chose to take it into their own hands, and even though they started with pure intentions, their actions threw away all good intention and they were left with a big sin. As for the cutter of wood, his intention was to the benefit of the Jewish people to know the consequences. However even though he had proper intention, he took it too far by doing the actual sin and was sentenced to be cut off. We see from these two stories that intention for good is not always enough. You need to act on those intentions in the right way and always check that you are maintaining proper behavior.
I think this message can be applied to all of our lives. Throughout the day we do many mitzvoth whether it be praying, learning, good deeds, etc. We know we have the right intentions and know the importance of those deeds. However, sometimes we do not act in accordance with those intentions. Instead of putting our efforts into all of these mitzvot with zeal and happiness we do it without meaning and proper action. We can learn a lesson from these two fantastic stories of the spies and the cutter of wood, to always apply the proper actions to our intent. If we live life always with the intention of getting closer to Hashem and act accordingly, we will find that our daily mitzvot will be more meaningful and full of accomplishment.