What lesson could we learn from the מעפילים who were killed in battle while making an attempt to conquer Eretz Canaan after hearing from Hashem that they were going to have to stay in the Midbar as a punishment?
When the Bnei Yisroel heard that they were going to be sentenced to forty years in the Midbar, so some of them wanted to do teshuva and show that they are ready to fight for the conquest of Eretz Canaan like they were told to at first.
But we learn here that sometimes it’s too late. Sometimes it’s too late! The ability to be misakein is not a gift that’s always available.
Now in most cases when a person made an error, he did a chet, there is always a tikun for the chet; whether it’s in this manner or another manner, there are various kinds of tikun. But sometimes an opportunity is lost and it’s lost forever.
Let’s say somebody had a parent and he could have fulfilled the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim. Then the parent passed away. That’s an opportunity that’s lost. It’s lost; nothing will help. Yes, it’s possible to do teshuva to a certain extent; it’s possible to be מכבדו במותו, to honor a parent even in death, but still the opportunity that he had to a live parent is gone forever.
A husband and a wife. As long as the wife was around you had an opportunity to respect her, to make her happy; but you used mean words, vexatious words, and now she’s gone. Now all you can do is regret that you lost your opportunity forever. It’s gone forever.
And that’s what happened to the מעפילים. It’s a lesson that האי עלמא כבי הילולא דמיא – this world is like a wedding. When you come to a wedding and the meal is served, חטוף ואכול – take and eat (Eiruvin 54a). Don’t wait for later! Soon the lights will go out in the hall and the caterer will take all the stuff and throw it into the garbage can; it’s all over. So while the wedding is going on, sit down and enjoy the meal.
This world is a meal; there are all kinds of good opportunities. You have a father and mother. You have a husband and a wife. You have a rebbe. You have opportunities to do good things. You have yourself too. And as long as you’re here with all these opportunities, חטוף ואכול – utilize the opportunity because later you’ll be sorry.
I always tell the same story: there was a man who never let his wife say anything to him. He was always too busy to listen to her. And one day she died. And now he was so sorry. He sat near her bed and he held her hand all night and he was talking to her all night – to wake her up! Because he was so sorry. Gone forever!
Why didn’t you treat her with some respect while she was still around? Gone forever! And in the next world רשעים מלאים חרטות – Gehinom is nothing but regret; gone forever! And when you leave this life it’s gone forever; you can’t come back again and try again.
And so the מעפילים teach us to make use of the opportunity while you have it. Had they all joined in and said, “Yes! We’re going to listen to Kalev and Yehoshua! We will conquer the land!” then they would have gained that great opportunity. But they lost it. And the מעפילים, in their despair, they attempted to regain what they had lost. But it was gone forever.
TAPE # 965 (June 1994)