“And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and to his children, saying, ‘This is how you shall bless the Children of Israel, say to them: “May HaShem bless you and guard you; may He enlighten His face towards you and favor you; may He lift His face towards you, and give you peace.”‘” [Numbers 6:22-26]
The Talmud [Rosh HaShanah 17b] records an interesting incident, in which the convert Bluria came to Rabban Gamliel and pointed out an apparent contradiction. Here in our parsha, the Kohanim bless the people that G-d should “lift his face” towards them, or favor them — and yet elsewhere, in Deut. 10:17, we read that G-d does not “lift his face” to people, that He does not show favoritism!
Rebbe Yossi HaKohen had an answer for her. “I’ll tell you a parable — to what is this similar? To a person who borrowed $100 from a friend, and set the date when the loan would be due in front of the king, and swore to his friend on the life of the king [to repay the loan].
“The due date came and went, and he did not repay the loan. [Some time later,] he came in front of the king to assuage the king’s anger. So the king said to him, ‘I forgive you my embarrassment — but now go and soothe your friend!’
“So too here, one is talking about sins between man and G-d, and one is talking about sins between man and his fellow man.”
Rebbe Yossi HaKohen taught that when it comes to sins between man and G-d, G-d can ‘turn His face’ towards a person. He can show favor, forgive, even where it isn’t warranted. But when it comes to interpersonal sins, G-d will say, as it were, “sure, _I_ forgive you — but what about the person you injured?”
When we think about “religious” behavior, we tend to think about observance of various rituals — keeping Kosher, Shabbos, praying in the synagogue, etc. But avoiding gossip and hatred, giving charity, visiting the ill and returning lost objects are just as much a part of Judaism.
Last week was Shavuos, when we read the portion describing the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. G-d uttered ten statements, which he then had Moshe inscribe into two stone tablets.
The two tablets were equal in size. The same number of statements was recorded on each one. And each tablet was filled with writing.
What did this mean? The first tablet contained statements which were several sentences each. But the second tablet had a much shorter text: “Don’t kill! Don’t commit immorality! Don’t steal!…” How could each tablet be covered with text?
So I have heard it argued that in order for this to be possible, it is obvious that the writing on the first tablet was smaller, while the writing on the second was very large and prominent. Everyone knew that the first Commandments, those about acknowledging G-d and not worshipping anything else, were part of Torah. But HaShem had to deliver a clear message: behaving appropriately towards other human beings is also part of Torah!
Furthermore, as many Rabbis of the Mussar [Ethics] movement would say, if we want to be stringent, let us be certain that we are stringent about Lashon Hora (gossip), stringent about the amount of kindness we do in a day, stringent about the number of smiles we bring to others. If G-d will “be lenient” or show “favoritism” in our practice of Mitzvos between man and G-d, then that is where we can afford to be lenient. But in Mitzvos between man and man, there is no room for that. G-d may forgive slights towards Him — but if we slight others, then we need to ask _them_ for forgiveness first!
If we are trying to increase our involvement with Mitzvos, then let us be certain that this does not only involve doing more on Shabbos, and keeping a more careful standard of Kashrus. Let us be certain that our homes are known for generosity, kindness and good deeds as well.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken