The tragic incident of the spies, which caused an entire generation to die without entering Eretz Yisrael, followed right on the heels of Miriam being stricken with leprosy for speaking improperly about Moshe.
Rashi writes that the Torah juxtaposes these two incidents to teach us that the spies were guilty of not having learned from the past. They saw what happened to Miriam when she spoke improperly, but didn’t take the lesson to heart.
We are supposed to learn from the mistakes of others. “Ha’roeh sotah b’kilkulah, yazir atzmo min ha’yayin – A person who sees a suspected adulterous woman in her disgrace should abstain from wine,” says the Gemara. In other words, don’t let the lesson pass you by. Take action to prevent the same thing happening to you.
Let me give you a practical example. Many of us have heard about the terrible tragedy in Lakewood. A young mother forgot her baby in the car, and the baby passed away from the heat. (One must be careful not to judge the mother. In today’s life of intense pressure, forgetting a child could sadly happen to anyone.) When we hear this story, we shouldn’t just shudder. Rather, we should advise our wives, daughters, and granddaughters to leave their pocketbook next to the baby for they are not likely to leave the car without their pocketbook.
Similarly, when we hear that someone suddenly took ill, we shouldn’t just sigh or say, “I can’t believe it; he does so much exercise. He was such a perfect specimen of health.” Of course, we should pray for the person and give charity on his behalf, but the news should also motivate us to make preventive maneuvers. The Gemara teaches us, “L’olam yivakeish adam shelo yechele – A person should always pray not to get sick.” Most of us are reactionary daveners and pray only when we need something. Hearing about sickness should remind us to pray not to become sick.
Some other examples: When we hear that someone died after he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a pole or drove the wrong way on a freeway ramp, we shouldn’t just say, “How horrible!” Rather, we should make sure that we take a power nap before returning home on Visiting Day after driving 150 miles north, shopping for our children, and eating a heavy barbeque.
When we see children going off the derech, we shouldn’t just think, “How sad that this girl is dressed this way,” or “How sad that this boy is smoking on Shabbos.” We should say to ourselves, “I want to take as many steps as I can to prevent the same thing happening to my family. I want to make sure I don’t compromise on their schooling for geographic or economic reasons, and I want to try as hard as I can to ensure their peers are wholesome.”
Finally, when we see a marriage fall apart, we shouldn’t just frown and say, “How awful.” The development should be a sparkplug stimulating us to pay more attention to our spouses and exert effort to learn how to please them.
May it be the will of Hashem that we see and hear the messages around us, bettering ourselves in their wake, and, in that merit, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.