Parashat Devarim / Tisha B'Av
Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel, Yehudah ben Rachel, Miriam bat Rachel, Leah bat Rachel, Daniel ben Rachel, and Rav Eliyah Dov Ben Chavah Esther
Parashat Devarim / Tisha B'Av
This parasha of Devarim begins the fifth and final book that Moshe received on Har Sinai, which together make up the Chumash. 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 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 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 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 cushion the blow of the negative effect that the rebuke will have.
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 that it was a good idea to send meraglim, but Hashem did not. Hashem was aware that sending spies would end in disaster, and He did not want them to go.
Rabbi Frand asks, if Hashem knew that the meraglim would end up poisoning the minds of the nation against Eretz Yisrael, why did He agree that 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 to do. 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 simply were not ready to accept His denial of their request. Had Moshe returned from Hashem with a negative response, they would have thought to themselves, “How are we supposed to go and fight against a country without sending spies? Everyone knows that you don’t fight without intelligence information,” and they may have sent spies anyway.
Sometimes, notes Rabbi Katz, chinuch is all about conceding. We have to distinguish between when our children are able to accept a “no,” and when they are just too set on doing what they intend to do to accept our refusal. Rabbi Katz added a personal anecdote on this lesson that Rabbi Frand said 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 there was a heavyweight championship bout being fought in New York that night, and they wanted to listen to the match on the radio. If we would pray 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 simply would not understand why I refused, and possibly skip Arvit. Having grown 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.
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 September 11th.
The Gemara clearly states that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam—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. 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 chinam. 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 perhaps he even stole money from him. But sinat chinam 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 chinam 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 physically do something bad or 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.
Rabbi Mansour wrote that the key to redemption is unity and peace, being kind and loving to one another, even to those with whom we disagree and of whose actions we disapprove.
There was once a man who was praying in Shaare Zion and objected to the fact that somebody else, who was known to be far less than strictly Torah observant, received an aliyah. The man expressed his objection to Chacham Baruch Ben-Haim, who assured the man that this other fellow was allowed to receive an aliyah. When the man continued to voice his disapproval, Chacham Baruch said, “Many years ago, there was a man here in this synagogue who was known not to be particularly observant, but Chacham Yaakov Kassin allowed him to receive an aliyah. Rather than rejecting him, Chacham Yaakov decided it was best to welcome the man with love and friendship.”
Chacham Baruch continued, “That man was your father. You are observant today because your father was warmly welcomed and respected when he was not yet strictly religious.”
This period, when we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, is the time especially suited for increasing our level of tolerance and love for those with whom we disagree. We need to work together and show one another respect and friendship even if we follow different lifestyles and have different views about important matters. Nothing positive can possibly result from arrogantly and condescendingly criticizing people for what we perceive as their religious laxity. If we want to precipitate change, then to the contrary, this can be achieved only through warmth, friendship, and love.
If we succeed in building and maintaining peaceful relations within our community and between the various communities in Am Yisrael, then we will succeed in breaking the unity between the forces of evil so that our prayers for redemption will be answered, and Tisha B’Av will then be transformed into a day of great joy and festivity, Amen.
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. May we celebrate our friends’ successes, and never despair or lose hope! And, of course, may we merit to see the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Are we careful to rebuke our children appropriately, with a lot of love and positivity before and after?
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