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Parashat Devariim

Dedicated in honor of my wife Marlene by David Anteby

Parashat Devariim

This Parasha of Devariim is the fifth and final book that Moshe received on Har Sinai, which makes up the 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. Rabbi David Sutton explained an interesting concept in that before we can give rebuke to someone, we must first give them praise and compliments even as much as 10 times to buffer the blow of the negative affect that the rebuke will have. I've seen this happen too many times, and when someone does get turned off from a rebuke, it's extremely difficult and sometimes impossible, to help them return to Torah once 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 just 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.

The following is a true story about Rav Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005) who was one of the greatest Rabbi’s of our time and who wrote extensively about raising children and the psychology of moral education. He had a very gentle and progressive approach and this story exemplifies many aspects of his approach. One of his daughters had just got engaged and the future in-laws were invited for a Shabbat dinner at the Wolbe home. In an atmosphere of great purity. Rav Wolbe welcomed the new in-laws warmly and everyone wished each other Shabbat Shalom. When his daughter’s future chattan arrived, he warmly exclaimed, “Welcome our future son-in-law!”

The atmosphere could not have been more joyous and pleasant throughout the shabbat meal. Suddenly the door bell rang repeatedly. Everyone was astounded and there was terrible tension in the room, who could be breaking the Shabbat at the Wolbes by ringing the door bell multiple times?

Rav Wolbe opened the door, and in walked his rebellious son, who had left the fold and was no longer even remotely religious. He was wearing a t-shirt with slang on it, jeans and sneakers. He wasn’t wearing a kipoah and as he walked in he threw his cell phone and car keys on the hall table.

Rav Wolbe’s response filled everyone with surprise. His voice filled with love and happiness at seeing his son as he greeted him in the same way he would have greeted him had he been the greatest Yeshiva scholar.

He said warmly to his son, “Oh welcome my son. Really what an honor that you came to join us for dinner tonight. How could we have had this very special Shabbat without you? Come, please come in my son, you must be hungry.”

The son sat down at the table, to the right of his father, as his father did not express any hint of disapproval. His voice was full of acceptance and his message was one of unconditional love. He was not embarrassed or ashamed of his son in any way while in front of his future son in-law and his family. He made his son feel that he was so very proud of him.

“I see that you’re looking well, my son,” he said. His son shrugged. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said flippantly. Rav Wolbe turned to his daughter’s fiancé and said, “You should know that you have an extraordinary brother-in-law, really extraordinary. His intelligence keeps amazing us since he was a child. I’m certain that you’ll get along well together.” He showed only pride for his son and how much he respected him. He continued to praise him in front of the others to raise his self-esteem and to show his unbending love for his son. He could see right into his son’s heart, and he saw that his son was good, and capable of great things, and that is what he chose to focus on. Not any of the negatives but only giving off positive vibes to his son.

As they were all singing shabbat songs, Rav Wolbe reached out and lay his hand on his son’s hand. The gesture was full of love and acceptance and said, “No matter what, you are my son I am very proud of you, I miss you, and I will always love you.”

At the end of the meal, Rav Wolfe said, “Thank you for coming my son. Our family would never have been complete without you and we love it so much when you join us.”

The son said, “Thank you dad,” took his car keys and cell phone and left. As he reached his car just as he was about to start the engine he hesitated, thought about the evening and decided to go back to his father. As he entered the house he immediately went over to his father and they hugged each other. He told him, “Thankyou for being there for me. He continued to say that he’ll be walking not driving tonight”. This would obviously please his father, as his son would also reconsider his rebellion. Love rather than disappointment had paid off immensely!

Ever since that evening, this “rebellious” son changed his ways to become a true man of Torah. He explained it the following way a few years later:

“The sincere love I received from my father that Shabbat evening and the way he made me feel so welcome and without any pre-conditions. Even with my profanities and provocations – he didn’t get upset, didn’t criticize me nor did he force me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with like saying Berachot or wearing a Kippah. He surrounded me with much love and acceptance which is the only thing that ultimately connected me back to Torah.”

Now when B'nei Yisrael had conquered Transjordan (Gilead), and as they 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 they were still lacking the proper trust in Hashem. 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 that element 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 also need water for our survival, running streams and underground water sources are part of our surroundings. But precious gems are certainly not necessary for human life to exist so therefore they are very rare and extremely costly to obtain.

We are now just a few days away from Tisha B'av, which is marked by the date the “9th of Av” when so many terrible tragedies happened in our history beginning with the spies who spoke negatively about the land of Israel before they were about to enter it. They were worried about losing their high positions and complained about the giants there and how they looked small in their own eyes. It seems as if they were concerned about losing their honor and at the same time had a case of low self esteem to view themselves as small as grasshoppers in their own eyes. From then on throughout history we’ve seen so much tragedy on this 9th day of the month of Av including the destruction of the first and second Bet Hamikdash, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and many other sad days in between. I also came to realize that Tisha B’av is the original 9/11 which is most probably why the recent destruction of the twin towers in 2001 were also destroyed on the American date of 9/11 (sept 11th).

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 days of the destruction of the 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 another person is acting in a certain way, we would not hate him or her for their ways, rather we should show them love as Rabbi Wolbe did with his son in the above story. We may think we have definite grounds for hating another person, whereas in reality our hatred is really baseless!

May we all hesitate greatly when rebuking another person and if we must, may we do it with trepidation and only after first giving positive vibes and compliments. May we also learn to accept rebuke from others that truly want to 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!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Leiluiy Nishmat....

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