Why We Do What We Do

One of the most disturbing sins of the Jewish people occurs when the “spies” are sent into the land of Israel to investigate it’s viability. Beyond their lack of faith in a G-d who already told them the land is their’s, they then came back with a report that the land wasn’t for them. ‘The inhabitants are too big, too strong’, ‘we are too small, too weak’. What is less known, however, is the strange aftermath.
Referred to as the “Mapilim”, it would seem that a certain segment of the Jewish people had a change of heart for the better, as if they repented for their misdeeds. They come to Moshe and beg him- “We are ready to go up to the land Gd said, for we have sinned” (14: 40). And yet, Moshe reprimands them in response- “Why have you transgressed the word of Hashem? You will not suceed” (14:41). What was wrong with their new-found commitment? Does Hashem not recognize the legitimacy of their repentance?
When it comes to wrongs and rights of our behavior, we must keep in mind that what we do is often simply a reflection of the main point: that we follow what Hashem guides us. Building relationships is not about doing X or doing Y, it’s more about doing what the other desires. It’s true that what they ask of Moshe now is exactly what they should have done the first time, but now the rules have changed. Before, ‘following Hashem’ meant going into the land. Now, ‘following Hashem’ means not going in. Same act, but different purpose.
Whether it’s Gd, our friends, spouse or neighbor, what matters is not just an act, but what the act represents. Visiting the sick is not always in the interest of the sick. Providing food to a friend isn’t always great if they’re on a diet. When it comes to behavior, we must consider the context of our actions, not just whether something’s a “good act” or “bad act”.