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Parashat Devarim

In honor of my wife Pamela by Abe Sayegh

Parashat Devarim

This Parasha begins the last of the five books of Moshe, which make up our Chumash. In this Parasha, Moshe, near death, gives his last speech to B'nei Yisrael before they enter the Land of Israel. The first Passuk begins with the words, "Eleh hadevarim asher diber moshe el kol yisrael be’ever hayarden.” “These are the words that Moshe spoke to B'nei Yisrael on the other side of the Jordan.” The word "Eleh" equals 36 in Gamatria, which represents the last 36 days of Moshe's life, when he gathered B'nei Yisrael and rebuked them for all the bad things they did as they journeyed through the desert. Moshe waited until the end of his life to give them Tochecha (rebuke) for a few reasons. One reason is that when one is old and at the end of his life, the rebuke is more effective. In addition, had he rebuked them earlier, they would have been embarrassed during the years that followed, and this embarrassment could have affected them in a negative way. Rashi points this out in the third Passuk, commenting that Moshe learned this lesson from Yaakov, who did not rebuke Reuven until he was on his deathbed, because he feared Reuven’s reaction. Yaakov was worried that the criticism would turn his son off and Reuven would join Eisav. How careful must we be today when rebuking someone! Rabbi Diamond teaches us that we don’t know how to deliver a proper rebuke today and, has v'shalom, we may turn someone off from Judaism through an improper rebuke. Unfortunately, I've see this happen too many times, and when someone does get turned off, it's extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to help them return to Torah again. According to Hashem's instructions at this time, Moshe rebuked B'nei Yisrael and said to them: "You have been rebellious with G-d from the day I knew you." Rambam says that Moshe's sin at the waters of strife, when he hit the rock, was that when B'nei Yisrael were begging for water, Moshe reprimanded them, saying (Bamidbar, 20:10):"Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water from this rock?" Moshe’s use of the word “rebels” in reference to B'nei Yisrael was one of the reasons that he was punished by being denied entrance to Eretz Yisrael. The question is asked, if Moshe was instructed by Hashem to rebuke the people for being rebellious, why was it not appropriate for Moshe to call them rebels back then, and why was he punished for doing so? To answer this question, we have to look at Pirke Avot (2:5), where it states: "Do not judge your fellow Jew, until you have walked in his shoes". In other words, don't be so quick to judge others until you've experienced all that they have experienced in their life (which is impossible) because you may react similarly to how they are reacting. At that time, when Moshe hit the rock, the people were not being rebellious; rather, they were thirsty for water. Being a great multitude, and wandering in the desert without seeing any source of water, they panicked and became desperate. It was a lack of faith in Hashem, who had miraculously carried them all this way, but all the same, Moshe should have considered their sense of desperation and their thirst for water. To refer to them as rebels was wrong. There's a story that I heard first-hand from Rabbi David Ozeri, which depicts this idea clearly. "There was once a man who was collecting Tzedakah for himself for some hardship that he was experiencing in his life. So Rabbi Ozeri went around to the men in the shul and put together some money for the man. He went over to hand it to him, but the man angrily threw the money right back in Rabbi Ozeri's face. Rabbi Ozeri became upset with the man and wanted to throw him out of the shul for being so ungrateful. Then the Rabbi hesitated and considered for a moment, thinking that if this man can throw this money back at him, it must mean either that he's lost his mind or that’s he’s so desperate that the few dollars that were collected on his behalf were an insult to him. Rabbi Ozeri said to himself, “How can I judge this man if I haven't walked in his shoes? I can't even begin to imagine the suffering that he must be going through." This story really sheds light on all those times when we think we have a license to judge people. We all make mistakes, and nobody but Hashem knows the circumstances that a person goes through, that brought him to the decisions he ultimately makes. Now when B'nei Yisrael had conquered Transjordan (Gilead), and were about to enter the Land of Israel, they were not in any danger, yet they were still complaining to Moshe. At this point, Moshe determined that that they were still lacking the proper trust in Hashem. Because their attitude could not be justified, it was appropriate now to refer to them as a rebellious people. Another way of understanding this, is that when Moshe rebuked B'nei Yisrael for complaining about not having water, it was completely different from when the 250 leaders rebelled with Korach. Moshe should have taken into account their human thirst and the lack of water in the desert. Rav Lopian takes this a step further and explains that when Hashem created people, He supplied them with all their needs. The more a human being requires a certain element in order to survive, the more available it is to him and the less necessary it is to his survival, the less abundant it is. For example, air is the most critical element for our survival and it’s also the most abundant and can’t be limited or controlled by anyone. Similarly because we need water, running streams and underground water sources are part of our surroundings. But precious gems are certainly not necessary for human life to exist and they are also very rare and extremely costly to obtain. We are now just a few days away from Tisha B'av, and the Gemarah clearly states that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of "Sinaat Chinam" or baseless hatred. Based on the above story, why would anyone hate another person for no reason at all, whether in the time of the destruction of the Second Bet Hamikdash or today. The answer to this question is that we think our hatred is justified because we don't take into consideration the other person’s circumstances. If we would only stop and think why a person acted in a certain way, we would not hate him or her for their response. We think we have definite grounds for hating that person, whereas in reality our hatred is baseless! May we all learn to accept rebuke from the senior people around us, because it will only help us grow for the better. May we also try to view our fellow Jew favorably and non-judgmentally, no matter what the circumstances, because we surely cannot understand what brought them to their decisions until we've walked in their shoes and only then can we even begin to understand their plight. Shabbat Shalom! Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of Rabbi Amram Sananes Leiluiy Nishmat.... Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana Moshe Ben Garaz Rafael ben Miriam Moshe Ben Mazal