The story goes that in the Polish village of Chelm there was a dangerously steep hill. People were always falling down this hill and getting injured. The village elders gathered to find a solution to this terrible problem, and after days of discussion, they finally had it; they built a hospital at the bottom of the hill.
Finding solutions to our problems can be a tricky task. We are often convinced that we’ve finally addressed something only to find that it revisits us in different guises, over and over again. The reason is that it is human nature to focus predominantly on symptoms rather than causes. For example, we are more inclined to diet than we are to question what prompts us to eat. Symptoms are, after all, more detectable and less fundamental. Getting to the heart of the matter is the real work, and it often brings with it a fair amount of discomfort. It is when we are willing to go deep and discover the core cause of our issues that we truly affect change and reparation in our lives.
A perfect example of this is showcased in perashat Matot, where we are told of a punitive strike ordered by G-d against the people of Midyan. Special forces were sent to launch a retaliatory attack against Midyan for intentionally seducing us to worship their gods and sleep with their women, in hope that it would cause us to morally implode . The issue had literally plagued us (25:9). The special forces came back with a strong feeling of victory. They had killed every male, the kings of Midyan…and Bil’am ben Be’or….(31:7-8). They even came back with a jackpot of spoils:
The Children of Israel captured the women of Midyan, and their little ones, and their animals and all their acquired wealth, and all their goods they took as plunder (31:9).
Problem solved? It would seem so. Yet, instead of receiving a hero’s welcome, they are met with a very upset Moshe Rabbenu:
Moshe was furious with the military commanders…who had returned from the armed-force in war; Moshe said to them: ‘You have kept alive all the females! They were [the cause] for the Children of Israel through the word of Bil’am of turning away
from G-d in the matter of Pe’or, so that a plague came against the community of God! (31:14-16)
Moshe was distraught because not only was the problem left unsolved but the troops had brought it home with them! The men, subconsciously perhaps, found a way to legitimise the problem in the form of victory prizes. They had discovered a life with these women that they knew they could not have, but that they nonetheless wanted to maintain in some way. They went through the motions of addressing the issue, focusing with their military attack on peripherals rather than the core problem. Instead, they marched right back to where they had been before, Midyanite women in tow.
To live at our best and most viable levels, we must work at identifying the real cause of our difficulties and vices. We face many challenges and obstacles, and all too often, like the townspeople of Chelm, we build hospitals at the point of injury rather than prevention at the point of origin. Israel was blessed to have Moshe who immediately identified the real issue and ordered a solution. Often, we are also blessed to have a stand-in for Moshe in the form of a spouse, friend, teacher, mentor, or even a child. Yet, all too often, instead of heeding their words, we rationalise and find excuses to accommodate our poor behaviour.
Whatever the case, at all levels of breakdown, upon recognising minor cracks, or full-on upheavals we always have two options: we can recover — literally cover again what may have been exposed as the problem, or we can stare it in the eye, recognise it for what it is — with all the pain that may come with it — and roll in the deep with G-d Himself living a life which is full and free.