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Parashat Devarim

Dedicated by Harry Adjmi in loving memory of his beloved sister,

Arlene Tebele Braha, Chana bat Leah, A’H.

Parashat Devarim

Giving Rebuke

This parasha of Devarim begins the fifth and final book that Moshe received on Har Sinai. In this parasha, Moshe, near death, gave his last speech to B’nei Yisrael before they entered the Land of Israel. The first passuk begins with the words, “Eleh hadevarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisrael be’ever hayardenThese are the words that Moshe spoke to B’nei Yisrael on the other side of the Jordan.”

The gematria—numerical value of the word eleh equals 36. Eleh 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 tochecha—rebuke for a few reasons. One reason is that the rebuke is more effective when one is old and at the end of his life. In addition, had he rebuked them earlier, they would have been embarrassed during the years that followed, which could have negatively affected them. Rashi points out in the third passuk that Moshe learned this lesson from Yaakov, who waited until his deathbed to rebuke Reuven because he feared that the criticism would make his son 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 chas veshalom, we may turn someone off from Judaism through improper criticism. I’ve seen this happen too often, and when someone gets turned off from a rebuke, it’s extremely difficult — and sometimes impossible — to help them return to Torah again.

Rabbi David Sutton says that if we do deliver rebuke, before doing so, we must first give them praise and compliments even as much as ten times to cushion the blow of the negative effect that the rebuke will have.

Chinuch

In recalling their request to send meraglim—spies to assess Eretz Yisrael beforehand, Moshe chastises B’nei Yisrael for making the request, but he conceded that “The idea was good in my eyes (1:23).” The Talmud deduces that Moshe felt it was a good idea to send meraglim, but Hashem did not. Hashem knew that sending spies would end in disaster, and He did not want them to go.

Rabbi Frand asks that if Hashem knew that the meraglim would end up poisoning the nation’s minds against Eretz Yisrael, why did He agree they could go? Hashem could have told Moshe, “Tell them that I am G-d, I call the shots, and I said ‘NO!’”

Rabbi Mottel Katz, the late Rosh Yeshivah of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, takes an important lesson in chinuch from this incident. There are times that children want to do something that their parents deem inappropriate or incorrect. Our parental instincts tell us to lay down the law and prohibit them from doing what they want. We reason to ourselves that we are required to mechanech—educate our children, and sometimes this means that we have to say, “No.”

But is it always right to say no?

We learn from the spies that there are times that we have to grant requests, even if we know that what our children want is wrong. Hashem knew that the people were not ready to accept His refusal. Had Moshe returned from Hashem with a negative response, they would have thought, “How are we supposed to go and fight against a country without sending spies? Everyone knows that you don’t fight without intelligence,” and they may have sent spies anyway.

Sometimes, notes Rabbi Katz, chinuch is all about conceding. We have to distinguish between when our children can accept the denial and when they are just too set on doing what they intend to do to receive our “no.”

Rabbi Katz added a personal anecdote on this lesson that must have occurred in the 1940s or early ‘50s.

“One day, the boys came over to me in yeshivah and asked me to change the schedule for one night,” wrote Rabbi Katz. “They wanted to pray Arvit earlier than we regularly did. When I asked them why they wanted to daven early, they explained that a heavyweight championship bout was being fought in New York that night, and they wanted to listen to the match on the radio. If we prayed at the regular time, they would miss the fight.”

“Of course,” writes the Rabbi, “the very request was inappropriate, not to mention the questionable propriety of yeshivah students listening to a fight between two humans trained to beat each other until one of them could no longer stand up. I realized that if I refused, the boys would not understand why I did and possibly skip Arvit. Growing up in America, they were accustomed to the finest, most respectable citizens flying in from all over the country to view these matches. They considered watching or listening to the radio broadcast of two adults pummeling each other, a perfectly normal means of recreation.”

“I decided,” concludes Rabbi Katz, “that since these boys would not begin to understand why I was refusing their request and would challenge my rejection, it would be better to allow them to pray early and listen to the match.”

Of course, there are many cases in which parents and mechanchim have to say no. But in this case, Rav Mottel learned from the best Teacher. If Hashem permitted Klal Yisrael to do something that He knew was wrong when He realized they could not accept His refusal, then the Rosh Yeshivah of Telz had to find it in himself to do the same.

Labeling is Disabling

The following is a true story about Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ZT’L, a veteran expert in proper chinuch. Rav Wolbe wrote extensively about raising children and the psychology of moral education. He had a gentle and practical approach, and this story exemplifies many aspects of his parenting 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 chatan arrived, he warmly exclaimed, “Welcome to 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 tension in the room. Who could be ringing the doorbell?

Rav Wolbe opened the door, and in walked his rebellious son, who had left the community and was no longer religious. He wore a t-shirt with slang, jeans, and sneakers. He wasn’t wearing a kippah, 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, and he greeted him like he would have the most outstanding yeshivah 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; you must be hungry.” The son sat at the table next to his father, who did not express any 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 his father was so very proud of him.

“I see you’re looking well,” Rav Wolbe 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 has amazed us since he was a child. I’m certain that you’ll get along well together.” He continued praising his son in front of the others to raise his self-esteem and show his unbending love and respect. He could see right into his son’s heart that he was good and capable of great things, which is what he chose to focus on.

As they were singing Shabbat songs, Rav Wolbe reached out and laid his hand on his son’s. 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 will always love you.” At the end of the meal, Rav Wolbe said, “Thank you for coming. 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 return 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 tonight, not driving.”

Ever since that evening, this “rebellious” son changed his ways to become a true man of Torah. He explained it a few years later: “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, the only thing that ultimately connected me back to Torah.” As this chinuch expert has taught us, love, rather than rebuke, pays off immensely!

May we all hesitate before rebuking another person. If we must, may we only do so after first giving positive thoughts and compliments. May we also learn to accept rebuke from others who genuinely want to help us grow. May we learn from Hashem when not to say “no,” and always accept our children with love.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

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

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