This weeks parsha sheet is dedicated to the memory of my sister-in-law’s mother, l’iluy nishmas Sussya Leah bas Yehuda Leib, one of the k’doshos of last weeks terror attack. She was a woman whose love, concern and respect for others was exemplary. May she be a mayletzes yosher for all Klal Yisroel.
This weeks parsha, Devorim, begins with Moshe rebuking Bnei Yisroel for the many mistakes that had been made. “Ayleh hadevorim asher deebare Moshe…” – these are the words that Moshe spoke – “bein Paran uvein Tofel v’Lavan vaChatzairos v’Dee Zahav” – between Paran and between Tofel and Lavan and Chatzairos and Dee Zahav (1:1).
‘Paran’ refers to the sin of the spies who were sent out from Paran. However, what sin was connected to Tofel and Lavan? Rashi quotes Rav Yochanan that there is no previous mention of places named Tofel and Lavan! Rather, Moshe was alluding to our complaints (tofel) about the white (lavan) manna.
All of the rebuke was given through hints as opposed to an open confrontation. As Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz points out, Moshe, a few days before his death, was censuring Bnei Yisroel for sins that were known to all. Amongst them were the sin of the spies which led to that whole generation dying in the wilderness before entering Eretz Yisroel and the sin of the golden calf, the punishment for which is mixed in with every punishment that we ever receive. Truly the major, significant sins of our nation throughout all time. Yet, Moshe didn’t want to openly rebuke us! Why not? So as not to embarrass us! We see the tremendous respect we must feel and show to others and how careful we must be with their honor!
A person might mistakenly say that when confronting the nation as a whole, such caution must be exercised, but when dealing with individuals, one needn’t be so careful. Yet, we see from the gemera (Gittin 57.) the tremendous force that is unleashed and the resulting devastation that can be caused by embarrassing even a single individual. Bar Kamtza was thoroughly humiliated when he was thrown out of a wedding that he had mistakenly been invited to. Hashem enabled his fury to cause the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash! Here it wasn’t the embarrassment of the whole Bnei Yisroel but rather that of an individual Jew who was lowly and base enough to send the Roman government after his own people! The embarrassment of even such a person ascended to the highest level of heaven and precipitated the destruction of the holiest place on earth!
We find this same concept after the ill fated rebellion of Korach and his congregation against Moshe and Aharon. After the 250 men had offered the incense to Hashem and were consumed by fire, Elazar, the son of Aharon, was told to collect the pans that they had used. Why wasn’t Aharon asked to do it? To show us derech eretz (proper respect)! These men who rebelled against Hashem and were punished by death, didn’t deserve the additional embarrassment of Aharon himself, one whose position they had challenged, picking up their offering pans! Their punishment was perfectly measured and exact – absolutely nothing could be added to it! Aharon could not be the one to collect their pans!
If, even when giving needed rebuke, we must be so careful, how much more so in our regular daily encounters! One time, before a return back home to Israel after a visit to the U.S., I was in a store trying to round up some boxes to pack in. There were some in one aisle with a few items still inside of them. As I was carefully removing those items and neatly placing them on the shelve, one of the employees ran over and started to shout how I was making a mess and causing his job to be that much harder. While apologizing that I hadn’t meant to cause him any additional work and acknowledging that his job must be quite difficult, I made sure to us the word ‘sir’ as often as I could. The transformation that took place in this man was unbelievable. He began to stand straight with his head held high and apologized to me for getting upset. He then set out to help me find boxes! I realized so clearly from that encounter, and from the times that I’ve thanked the people washing the floors or sweeping the streets, that all anyone really wants in this world is a little bit of respect and appreciation!
One of the reasons that we cover the challah at the shabbos table is to spare it the embarrassment of witnessing the blessing being made on the wine first. I, personally, have never encountered an embarrassed piece of bread… However, if we’ll teach ourselves to show sensitivity to things that doesn’t really feel any shame, how careful will we be with human beings who feel shame so intensely! With that in mind, any husband who openly upbraids his wife for forgetting to cover the challah (or for anything, for that matter!) might be, to some extent, missing the point!
This matter of honoring others became very clear to me after a certain incident. I needed something to be purchased in a Home Depot and delivered to a lift being sent to Israel. I don’t enjoy troubling people and asking for favors, but I didn’t really have too many options. I phoned a certain talmid and, feeling a bit uncomfortable, asked if he’d be able to do this for me. He readily agreed and took down all of the details. Before hanging up he, hesitantly, asked me if he was the first person I had called upon to do this favor for me. When I told him that he was, he let out a loud whoop! “Out of all the people that you know you called me first! Rabbi, you made my day!”
He, of course, had made me feel fantastic, but I didn’t have a total understanding until that evening. I was looking through a sefer (Maarachei Lev) which ‘happened to’ discuss the gemara’s statement that serving a Rebbe is greater than learning from him. This was a concept that I had difficulty understanding. He explained that when a talmid is chosen to ‘serve’ his Rebbe, he feels important. He feels respect from his Rebbe. Once he feels that he’s respected by his Rebbe, he’ll soak in the Rebbe’s words and absorb a tremendous amount from him. It is the ‘shimush’ (serving) that enables the learning.
The way to a person’s heart and soul is through, not his stomach, but his dignity and feeling of self worth. Once that has been established, rebuke will be easily accepted and deliveries will be readily made from Home Depot!
The Kli Yakar offers a different explanation of “bein Paran uvein Tofel v’Lavan”. ‘Paran’ refers to the sin of the spies, that baseless crying on Tisha B’av which led to the well deserved tears of many Tisha B’av’s to come. ‘Tofel’ refers to the Chet HaEgel, the sin of the golden calf. Moshe, upon seeing the Egel, broke the luchos, the stone tablets. That day, the 17th of Tammuz, was designated as the day that other stones would later be broken. The wall around Yerushalayim was breached on that day, opening the path toward the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The twice repeated ‘bein’ refers to the period of time between these two dates- the time of bein hametzarim- ‘the three weeks’.
There are two ways to guard against attacks. The more ‘natural’ way is through close connections between men. Bein adam lechavero – between man and man. Allies bind together during attacks and stave off the enemy. Alternatively, through a close connection to Hashem, there will be enhanced supervision from above, guarding and protecting from attacks.
We lost these two safeguards during these two dates. On the 17th of Tammuz, by making the Egel, we turned our backs on Hashem and His supervision. On the 9th of Av, we initiated senseless hate by claiming that it was because of Hashem’s ‘hate’ for us that He was sending us to Eretz Yisroel. This ‘sinas chinum’ (baseless hatred) spread to poison the relationships between man and man and removed that aspect of protection. The period of time sandwiched between these two tragic dates became the designated time for our national tragedies and mourning. We were vulnerable to attack.
Moshe’s rebuke was, as the Ohr HaChaim says, to “all of Yisroel”, meaning to Jews of all generations. Correct these sins!!! Cry true and meaningful tears of tshuva!!! Repair these breaches!!! Don’t allow these dates and that which they manifest to continue to pummel and punish you for generations!
May we merit to feel and show the proper honor and respect for Hashem and for others, turning these days of tragedy into days of rejoicing, paving the way for the ultimate geulah sheleimah bimhaira b’yameinu, amen!
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).
Baltimore, MD 21215