There is a mischievous stereotype associated with curiosity; for example the character of Curious George or, as the saying goes: “Curiosity killed the cat.” However, as the Orchos Tzadikim emphasizes in each chapter, there is both a positive and negative aspect to every attribute.
When it comes to the attribute of curiosity the Torah says in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan that Moshe beseeched Hashem: “Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon” (Devarim 3:25). Hashem did not let Moshe enter the land of Israel but He at least let him see it, as it says, “Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan” (Devarim 3:27).
The Ralbag learns a very interesting lesson from here. “It is befitting for people to put in all their efforts into seeing everything that you are allowed to look at in order to recognize within it the ingenious of its Creator, May His Name be Blessed, which created all these types of things. For this reason Moshe requested that if Hashem did not want him to crossover the Jordan, at least He should allow him to see the general landscape of the land in order to appreciate all the great qualities of it strengths, and its places of settlement. This was his will when he said, ‘Pray let me cross over and see the land,’ let me crossover or see. It is obvious that this was his intentions because Hashem told Moshe to ‘Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes etc.’ We also find elsewhere that this trait was very strong inside Moshe Rabbeinu as he said, ‘Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush not burn up’ (Shemos 3:3)?” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We find that Moshe always had a sense of curiosity, to search out the unknown, to figure things out, to appreciate what is to be seen in the world. Be it the land of Israel, the burning bush, or even when we find in the Torah that after he convinces Hashem to forgive the Jewish people over the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe says: ”Show now Your glory” (Shemos 33:18). Hashem, in fact responded “…Then I shall remove My hand and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen.”
One might think that this trait, even if used for good, might indeed still be bad because we say two times a day in the third paragraph of Shema, “Don’t stray after your heart and your eyes.” Looking around and gazing at things in the world might lead us to focus on inappropriate things, so shouldn’t we create safeguards and put on blinders to ensure we stay away from those evils? Also, curiosity for the world around us might lead to a lot of wasting time from Torah learning; so why is this a good quality!? Furthermore, Moshe was in fact warned that he cannot get too close to the burning bush, to stare at it or to see exactly what He wanted to see of Hashem’s glory.
Just as there is good and bad in every character trait, each character trait leans to the good or the bad but also could be used in the opposite manner, for example, hatred is a bad character trait but it can sometimes be used in a positive way, like when hating the bad deeds of constant sinners. Love is a positive trait that can be used in a bad way as well. We must therefore say, based on this Ralbag, that curiosity is in fact a good character trait and can be harnessed for very good things, like raising your level of belief in Hashem through looking into the wonders of his creation. However, there is always a balance in life, and one has to be careful not to overdo it, which might cause wasting time or worse looking at forbidden things. On the other hand, if a person focuses his gaze in the world and his curiosity at appropriate times to get a better understanding of Hashem’s awesomeness, strength, and wonder, then the more the merrier.