The most exciting news in almost a century had just come from the most unexpected source. Three men who had been visiting the home of Avraham and Sorah in the guise of Arab nomads had just offered a gratifying prophecy. Sorah and Avraham were going to have a baby — in one year.
“And Sorah laughed at herself, saying, “After I have withered shall I again rejuvenate? And my husband is old!” (Genesis 18:15)
Hashem became upset and asked Avraham: “why did Sorah laugh and claim that that she is old? After all is something beyond My capacities?”
What troubles many of the commentaries is Hashem’s obvious deviation. Sorah blamed the problem on her husband, yet when Hashem quoted her, He substituted the words “my husband is old” with the words “and I am old.” Hashem, whose entire embodiment is that of emes (truth), seems to have masked the truth.
When I was two years old, I visited My grandfather, Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, together with my parents. After four years as a widower, my grandfather had recently remarried and my step-grandmother was just getting used to the new family. I entered the apartment and immediately began playing with items that were not meant to be touched. Do distract me, my new grandmother called to me. “What is your name?” she asked.
Beaming like a politician with a prepared response, I shouted, “bahn-deet Muttel!” Muttel, of course, was a nickname for Mordechai, an affectionate sobriquet that I was called in memory of my great-grandfather. But bahn-deet, a term that in all vernaculars, from Yiddish to English, means bandit, shocked all of the adults. Obviously someone had labeled me a troublemaker right from the onset of my career.
My mother was beet-red, as her new mother-in-law began chiding her upon the use of derogatory nicknames for children, even in jest.
Before my mother got a chance to defend herself, my grandfather, whose brilliance through the years had earned him the reputation as the great peacemaker and conciliator par excellence, stepped out of his study and declared “it’s all my fault.”
Everyone looked shocked. In what way was the great sage Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky, responsible for a two-year old child running around and declaring himself a bandit?
“Let me explain,” my grandfather began. “Young Mordechai is named for his grandfather Boruch Mordechai Burstein. However, I asked my son to follow my tradition and give only one name, as in Biblical times. That’s my opinion, and it is something my daughter-in-law is not accustomed to. The name Boruch was totally left out.” The great sage continued.
“I’m sure you are aware of the name Benedict, or even Bendet. Those were Jewish names that were translations of Boruch, just as Wolf was for Zev and Ber was for Dov. Our daughter-in-law was refused the opportunity to name her son Boruch Mordechai, but can we stop her from the affectionate memories she evokes if she calls him Bendet Muttel?”
The Talmud tells us that Hashem set a standard for the generations to come. When dealing with husbands and wives, in order to promote peace and harmony within a household, one could even stretch the truth. Hashem did not want to quote Sorah as saying, “my husband is old.” Avraham may have been insulted even slightly. So Hashem shifted the words as if Sorah was talking about herself.
For peace’s sake, if someone errs by insulting another soul, it is no Mitzvah to quote the affront verbatim or even accurately. Like Hashem himself, if one must quote the incident he is entitled, even obligated, to hide the truth if it may cause harm to the soul of a Jewish home.
Perhaps for the sake of shalom, it may be even necessary to mask the bandit.
Dedicated by Dr and Mrs. Jeffrey Gross and Family
L’Refuah Shlaimah Mordechai ben Miriam
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.