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Parashat Devarim

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Esther Bat Bahia by the Serure Family

Parashat Devarim

This parasha of Devarim begins the fifth and final book that Moshe received on Har Sinai, which together make up the Humash. In this parasha, Moshe, near death, gave his last speech to B’nei Yisrael before they entered the Land of Israel.

Giving Rebuke

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 gematria, 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 had done as they journeyed through the desert.

Moshe waited until the end of his life to give them tocheha (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 thirdpassuk, 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 Esav.

How careful must we be today when rebuking someone! Rabbi Diamond teaches us that today we don’t know how to deliver rebuke properly, and has veshalom, we may turn someone off from Judaism through an improper rebuke. 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.

Rabbi David Sutton says that before we can rebuke someone, we must first give them praise and compliments even as much as ten times, to buffer the blow of the negative effect that the rebuke will have.

Understand Where They’re Coming From

According to Hashem’s instructions, 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: “Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water from this rock?” (Bamidbar 20:10) This is one of the reasons that Moshe was punished by being denied entrance to Eretz Yisrael.

The question is asked: If now Hashem told Moshe to rebuke the people and say that they were rebellious, then 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 if you were in their shoes, you might react similarly.

When Moshe hit the rock, the people were not truly 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. True 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.

Now, when B’nei Yisrael had conquered Transjordan (Gilead), and 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, and now it was appropriate to refer to them as a rebellious people.

Don’t Label Him a Rebel

The following is a true story about Rav Shlomo Wolbe, A’H, who was one of the greatest Rabbis 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 method.

One of his daughters had just gotten 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 hatanarrived, 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 doorbell 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 doorbell multiple times?

Rav Wolbe opened the door, and in walked his rebellious son, who had left the fold and was no longer religious. He was wearing a t-shirt with slang on it, jeans and sneakers. He wasn’t wearing akippah, 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 was 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, “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, who 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 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 feelings to his son.

As they were all singing Shabbat songs, Rav Wolbe reached out and laid 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, “Thank you for being there for me. I’ll be walking, not driving, tonight.”

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.”

Tisha B’Av

We are now just a few days away from Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, when so many terrible tragedies happened in our history. It all began with the spies, who spoke negatively about the land of Israel when they were about to enter it. They were worried about losing their high positions, and they complained about the giants there and how they looked small in their own eyes. It seems that they were concerned about losing their honorable positions and had a case of low self-esteem, because they were as small as grasshoppers in their own eyes.

From then on, throughout history we’ve seen so much tragedy on the 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 — it is the 9th day of the 11th month in the Hebrew calendar. This is most probably why the recent destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001 occurred on the American date of 9/11 (September 11th).

The Gemara clearly states that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat hinam, or baseless hatred. 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 the other person’s circumstances into consideration. If we would only stop and think about what the other person is going through, we would not be angry with them. Rather, we should show them love as Rabbi Wolbe did with his son. We may think we have definite grounds for hating another person, when in reality, our hatred is baseless!

Rabbi David Yoseph gave a short shiur on the topic of sinat hinam (baseless hatred). He pointed out that the gemara says that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat hinam. He explained that a person may hate his friend for different reasons, like if he did something bad to him, maybe he embarrassed him, or he spoke badly about him, or maybe he even stole money from him. But sinat hinam means hatred for NO reason. When there’s a reason, that reason can end or stop at some point, and the hatred will disappear as well. Sinat hinam does not have a reason other than jealousy. But jealousy, whether of health, or money, or children, is not substantial and it is illogical. The person didn’t take anything from the friend who is jealous.

Masechet Yomah discusses the destruction of Betar, which occurred 50 years after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. The fall of Betar was worse than the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, because there was a holocaust where over four million Jewish people died. Why? The Talmud talks about how the people of Betar were jealous of the smart, successful people in Yerushalayim. And when the Bet Hamikdash was burning, the religious Jews of Betar, blinded by jealousy, were actually celebrating. We can learn from this how terrible and toxic it is to hate people for no reason, so we may start to love one another and celebrate each other’s happiness and success.

In the afternoon of Tisha B’Av the mourning starts to subside, even though that was the time of day when the Bet Hamikdash started to really burn. The halacha states that we can sit on chairs and sing Nakdishach in our minha tefillah. Mishnah Berurah explains it’s so we don’t fall into despair and lose hope, because losing hope is worse than anything. As Jews, we must always have hope, because Hashem is always watching and protecting us, even when it seems that He’s hidden.

May we all hesitate greatly before rebuking another person. If we must, may we do it with trepidation and only after first giving positive thoughts and compliments. May we also learn to accept rebuke from others who truly want to help us grow. 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. Only then can we even begin to understand their plight. May we celebrate our friends’ successes, and may we never despair or lose hope! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • When our children get us upset, do we try to understand things from their point of view?

  • Are we careful to rebuke our children appropriately, with a lot of love and positivity before and after?

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