Imagine a school classroom. The school day is nearly finished. The kids are fidgeting and restless. The teacher is still finishing off his lesson. While he is writing on the board, the bell goes. The teacher finishes writing. Seconds later, he swings around to address the class, ready to explain what he has painstakingly drawn on the board, and – all the kids have gone. He is alone.
Sound familiar? Maybe you (like me) were one of those schoolchildren. But were the kids wrong? They were perfectly entitled to leave, as the bell had gone. They were not obliged to do any ‘overtime’. And yet…
When Klal Yisrael received the Torah, they were commanded to leave Har Sinai and head towards Israel. And that is exactly what they did. The pasuk in our parasha proves this: “And they journeyed from the Mountain of Hashem” (10:33). Their actions were perfect. However, they were punished by Hashem.
Whatever for? Didn’t they follow their instructions by the book?
The Ramban gives us the answer. He quotes a Midrash which says that when Bnei Yisrael left Har Sinai, they fled ‘like a child running away from school’. They had had it with mitzvot. They had just received 613 of them. They wanted to scarper before they got number 614.
So the problem was not with their action. It was with their attitude.
So how does this affect us? Well, this problem of attitude over and above action, is in fact quite endemic. Let’s give a couple of practical examples:
Have you ever been in shul, on a Monday or Thursday morning, and someone tells you that there is a Chatan there? What would your first reaction be? Mine would be “so who did the the photography?” Your reaction might very well be “A Chatan? Yay! No tachanun!!” You would be amongst good company, as this is a very common reaction. Inevitably, the davening would end several minutes earlier.
But what is your attitude? Is it “Now I have 10 minutes more for brekkie” or just simply, “I got out 10 minutes early! Never mind the Chatan – that’s a cause for my own celebration!” Or do you think “I’ve just missed 10 minutes of prayer. That’s 10 minutes lost, when I could connect with Hashem. I’m sad about that. But wait – I can make up the ten minutes by learning a mishna, or saying tehillim for all the cholim. I just can’t let those extra minutes be wasted!”
Or how about us married couples. How often do our parents invite us round for dinner. We eat – and then go. How does that make them feel? Are they our parents? Or our personal caterers? It would be appropriate to spend ten minutes after the meal, just with them. Talk about (almost) anything. And don’t rush it. I guarantee you that will make them feel special. Go on – Heaven knows they deserve it.
So next time we find ourselves in one of these situations – and they happen more often than we think – let’s try and develop a positive attitude that we can adopt. It shows Hashem that we mean more to Him than just children running away from school.
We are His children. Let’s act appropriately.