Hashem criticized His holy nation relentlessly, yet Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, observes that for 38 of Israel’s 40 years in the desert, Hashem expressed no criticism at all. Herein is a lesson in Israel’s greatness.
“And the sons of Israel, all the congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin, in the first month” (20:1).
Thirty-eight years have elapsed since the episode of Korach. Miriam passed away in the first month of the fortieth year since the Exodus, Aharon passed away in the fifth month and Moshe passed away in Adar, the twelfth month (Megillah 13b).
From the preceding section of the parah adumah until now, no events or prophecies are recorded in the Torah, and by now all the generation of the episode of the meraglim have passed away (Rashi, lbn Ezra). No complaints are mentioned, and even by the very stern standards of Hashem no fault is found in the nation.
This lack of criticism is actually an immense encomium both for the old and for the new generation. In view of the supremely exalted standards required by Hashem, and considering the scathing criticism to which the generation had been so frequently subjected, the absence of any comment for this period of 38 years is actually a declaration of extraordinary commendation.
The severe chastisements proved a great blessing for this holy nation, for the people gained in greatness from each episode until they rose to the heights of perfection Bilaam recognized when he spoke the words of Hashem’s sublime approbation.
A great question arises: How can the psalm declare “Forty years have l quarreled with this generation; and they knew not My ways” (Tehillim 95:10)? For 38 of these 40 years not a word of criticism is written in the Torah, except in the episode of the daughters of Moab (25:1). Especially when we consider the words of Bilaam (23:8-4:9), this crushing expression of disapproval seems wholly unjustified.
It is clear that the Torah is written so as to serve as a stimulus to remorse and penitence forever. Just as the pious Jew beats his breast and recites on Yom Kippur a confession of a list of sins he had not committed, so also does our nation read the Torah contritely and flagellate its conscience for national sins which actually would be the pride and boast of any other people had they performed so few misdeeds as those for which Israel is castigated so severely.
“It is better for the righteous ones when Hashem shows His wrath in this world” (Shabbos 30a), and because of the stern disapproval shown to this greatest of all generations they became the most perfect in history. But all the castigations are merely the Face of Hashem. What actually was in the Mind of Hashem?
For the answer, we have recourse to the superlative declaration of Hashem’s eternal love, as enunciated by our archenemy Bilaam (23:7-24:17).
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
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