Inconsistencies Part Two
He listened to, but did not participate in the ongoing conversations around Miriam’s Well in the days that followed their devastating punishment for their reaction to the spies. People were frustrated, depressed and angry. “I don’t want to live out the rest of my life in a tent in the desert.” “The only reason I could bear this camp was that I knew that we would soon enter the Land of Israel. Now I’m stuck.” “We never should have asked Moshe to send spies.” “He shouldn’t have listened to us!” Bitterness oozed from every word of every conversation.
He realized that there was also terrible confusion. Many people felt that they had lost everything. They had shattered their covenant with God. They were so devastated by their sense of failure that they believed that the Torah laws no longer applied.
He wanted to do something to reconnect them with whatever remained of their accomplishments, so, he decided to publicly violate the Shabbat. “And the Children of Israel were in the desert and they found a man gathering wood on the Shabbat day. Those who found him, brought him close to Moshe and Aaron and to the entire assembly, and they placed him in a guarded place for it had not been explained what they should do.” (Numbers 15:32-34)
“Those who found him,” wanted him jailed. They did not want anyone to violate their Shabbat by violating his! They did not “bring him close” for judgment; if that was their purpose, they only had to bring him to court, not to Moshe, not to Aaron, and certailnly not the entire assembly!
Something happened when they saw a man publicly breaking the Shabbat laws. They felt violated. They wanted him placed where he could not damage their Shabbat. Their response was to fight for Shabbat, for their Shabbat. Their connection with God’s laws was strong. Our “hero,” achieved his purpose.
He violated Shabbat in order to convince people that despite their terrible failures, the Torah lived. (Targum Yonatan ben Uziel 15:32) He was misguided, but also well-intentioned.
He sat in his cell, the only one in the camp, when the bars were opened and another man was violently tossed inside. (Ba’al HaTurim, Numbers 15:31) “Wow,” he thought, “I wasn’t the only one with the crazy idea!”
“Shalom Aleichem, Reb Yid,” he said as he extended his hand in greeting. “@#&*^%$!!!” was the man’s response.
“Why are you here?” he persisted.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“That’s why I’m here: I said that about G-d.”
Our hero started banging his cup against the jail bars. “Let me out! I don’t belong in the same cell as this man. I was well-intentioned! Help! How could you put us both into the same jail cell?”
He fell to the ground, sobbing. He could not believe that people thought of him as no better than his cell mate. He was so upset that the jailer asked Moshe to send a psychiatrist to calm the prisoner. Moshe sent a rabbi, Yonatan ben Uziel, rather than a doctor.
“Rabbi! Rabbi! I don’t belong here with a sinner. I’m a Tzaddik! I sinned with only good intentions!”
Rabbi ben Uziel smiled. Even the flames that extended up from around his head seemed to offer warmth and understanding. “We know exactly why you did what you did. Your intentions were different, but your actions were just as evil. Why did you not choose a different way to prove your point? Why did you not ask your rabbi for advice? Why did you make such a major decision on your own?”
He didn’t know how to answer Rabbi ben Uziel.
The great rabbi reached out and held the man’s hands in his own. “You took a terrible risk. You played with the laws of Shabbat. It is especially when you play with fire that everything must be consistent between your actions and intentions. Just look at what happened to the ten spies.”
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