After the Jews accepted the evil report of the Spies, they were sentenced to forty years of wandering in the desert. This was no arbitrary number; the forty years corresponded to the forty days that the Spies spent surveying the Land of Milk and Honey. One year for each day that they failed to capitalize on the positive attributes of Eretz Yisrael. The Talmud (Chagiga 5b) questions how is the punishment consummate with their sin, after all did they sin for forty years? Answers the Talmud, that someone who sins for but one day of the year, it is considered as if he sinned the entire year.
How are we meant to comprehend this concept that one day is equal to a whole year? On the surface this seems to defy basic logic. Secondly it implies that if someone erred, he has a green light to sin until the end of the year!
Even if we grant that one day of a year is equal to an entire year, surely that doesn’t mean that we multiply everything by 365. Rather, sinning a year and sinning a day are equalized. This being the case why were the Jews castigated 40 years corresponding to the 40 days, since the 40 days were part of one year they should have been punished for but a single year?
The rationale behind why one day can carry the weight of an entire year, is because the resolve and commitment that a person shows in one day can have sufficient input to sustain a years’ worth of activity. A person can be carried through the entire year based on the resolution of a day’s undertaking.
Of course there is no amnesty for the person who has sinned one day to sin the rest of the year, and he will be held accountable for every continued act, however this does not negate that one day can carry energy for the rest of the year. Thus a person who sins an entire year or a person who sins once, might have the same resolve to sin and therefore their punishments are equal.
We can now understand why the punishment meted to the Generation of the Desert was one year of traveling for each day of spying. Each day the people remade their minds to reject the land of Hashem. Each renewed descion carried the weight of an entire year, thus for their 40 rebellious days, they received 40 years of wandering.
Sometimes its not the action that counts, but the determination behind the action.
The Talmud (ibid) recounts that the father of the famous scholar Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi, maximized the time he could spend at Yeshiva. This entailed spending three months on his outward journey travelling to Yeshiva, one day at the school and three months on his return trip.
Some of the Rabbis called him the “one day scholar”. Rav Idi took personal offense at the appellation and became dispirited. He applied to himself the verse: “I am as one that is a laughing-stock to his neighbor” (Job 12).
Rabbi Yochanan was worried about divine retribution and said to Rav Idi: I beg of you, do not bring down punishment upon the Rabbis.
Rabbi Yochanan then went forth to the College and delivered the lecture: “Yet they seek Me day by day” (Isiah 58), Do people learn Torah by day, and not learn Torah by night? The meaning of the verse is: Whoever studies the Torah even one day in the year, Scripture accounts to him as though he had studied Torah the whole year.
Shabbos is suspended even to prolong the life of the terminally ill by a few hours (Shulchan Aruch 329:4).