Too Little Too Late

How many times did you have an encounter with another, whether it was positive, less positive, or even antagonistic; and later on, you think to yourself, “I wish I said this, I should have said that, or why didn’t I say that?” Even though we prepare for these meetings, and we try to be at our best, there are times we miss the opportunity; and then, we inevitably must live with the consequences. Such is life. There is no going back in time, and trying to force the matter afterwards could lead to disaster. 

In Parshat Shelach the Israelites receive a once in a millennia opportunity to enter into the land of Israel. The spies they sent ahead come back with a dark report about the land and the nation balks at their predicament. Instead of welcoming this divine and blessed gift of returning to their homeland, the nation complains and disdains their lot. In response, G-d informs them that their generation will not merit entering the land. Rather, they will die in the desert, and their children will enter instead.

At that moment, the proverbial light bulb turns on and the people try and recapture the lost opportunity:

Numbers 14:40

וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּֽעֲל֥וּ אֶל־רֹאשׁ־הָהָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֶּ֗נּוּ וְעָלִ֛ינוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַ֥ר יְוָ֖ה כִּ֥י חָטָֽאנוּ׃

Early next morning they set out toward the crest of the hill country, saying, “We are prepared to go up to the place that G-d has spoken of, for we were wrong.”

What happens next is truly a tragedy.

Numbers 14:44-45

וַיַּעְפִּ֕לוּ לַעֲל֖וֹת אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַאֲר֤וֹן בְּרִית־יְוָה֙ וּמֹשֶׁ֔ה לֹא־מָ֖שׁוּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ וַיֵּ֤רֶד הָעֲמָלֵקִי֙ וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּהָ֣ר הַה֑וּא וַיַּכּ֥וּם וַֽיַּכְּת֖וּם עַד־הַֽחׇרְמָֽה׃

Yet, defiantly they marched toward the crest of the hill country, though neither G-d’s Ark of the Covenant nor Moses stirred from the camp. And the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that hill country came down and dealt them a shattering blow at Hormah.

As the 19th century idiom goes, it was, “Too little too Late.”

We don’t always get second chances. In this situation, the case was closed. Due to the lack of interest on the part of the Israelites, the generation that departed from Egypt lost the opportunity to reach the Holy Land. Despite “Monday Morning heroics” to reassert themselves, they lost their golden moment. What could have been was no longer a possibility.

The lesson is clear: When great opportunities appear, we must embrace them and advance forward.

At the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, we aim to provide children and families with opportunities to impact their lives. For example, we help support families in need to send their children to camp. Camp provides children with experiential knowledge that is less taught in schools. We are excited about another great summer at our JCC camps, and for all Jewish camps and campers around the globe.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein

Community Scholar in Residence