The smugglers walked quietly beside the coffin. Mind you, this was not a real funeral and these were not real mourners. The six men - three on each side of the casket - were a band of thieves smuggling goods inside the coffin, and were making their way to the city gate.
The smugglers walked quietly beside the coffin. Mind you, this was not a real funeral and these were not real mourners. The six men - three on each side of the casket - were a band of thieves smuggling goods inside the coffin, and were making their way to the city gate. Posing as pallbearers, the funeral processional was the perfect ruse to transport their stolen contraband across the border.
As they came closer and closer to the city gate, their cadence became a bit stilted, perhaps out of nervousness. With each passing step, the border guards grew increasingly suspicious of this dubious proceeding. Overcome with doubt, the guards pushed the men away and flung open the casket. Just as the guards had suspected, there was no corpse in the coffin; rather it was filled with stolen goods from the marketplace. Caught in the act, the six men begged for mercy and cried at the feet of the border guards.
"It is a shame that you are only crying now," barked the guard. "If you had been crying when you staged the funeral processional, we would not have suspected any strange behavior. It is only when we saw that no one was crying that we became suspicious."
In this week's Torah portion, Hashem becomes angry with a segment of the Jewish population and "a fire of Hashem burned against them, and it consumed at the edge of the camp" (Numbers 11:1). It is at this point that the people cried out to Moses, he prayed on their behalf, and the fire died down.
Similar to the thieves in the above story, the members of the Jewish nation waited until punishment literally loomed over their heads before they began to beg for mercy and cry out to Hashem. Had they acted appropriately in the first place, none of this would have happened.
Oftentimes, we catch ourselves acting inappropriately in given situations, whether it be talking in synagogue, acting with disrespect to a parent or elder, or just about any situation where we have the choice to act or not to act according to the ways that Hashem prescribed for us. As humans, we have a tendency to exhibit "ex post facto emotions" - only crying, loving, missing, caring after the fact. If we were to train ourselves to act appropriately in our day-to-day activities, Hashem would not need to reach beyond the natural realm to get us to show some emotion.
Every day we are faced with a multitude of choices: If my spouse has a dilemma, do I ignore their feelings or empathize with them instead? If my friend needs help, do I make up some poor excuse and run on with my day, or do I take the extra time to help them take care of their needs? If a coworker seems to be feeling down, do I not take notice or do I stop to say a few comforting words?
These are the choices. We can either choose to walk quietly beside the coffin or we can joyously choose to express the G-d-given vitality of our soul.
Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan, is a senior at Georgia State University and the new Director of Development at Yeshiva Atlanta.
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