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PARSHAS DEVARIMThese are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael. (1:1)
Chazal teach that Moshe Rabbeinu's "words" were actually words of rebuke, veiled in a manner not to embarrass Klal Yisrael. Tochachah, rebuke, is a mitzvah. The Torah teaches in Vayikra 19:17, Hocheach tochiach es amisecha, "You shall reprove your fellow." This is part of caring about and loving our fellow man. Regrettably, some people get carried away with their performance of this mitzvah. While administering rebuke is a mitzvah, it is not one that applies to everyone. In other words, not all of us are capable of - or fit the criteria - for an individual who may express reproof to others. As Duchaning, Blessing the Jewish People, is a mitzvah, but only for Kohanim, likewise, rebuking one's fellow man is a mitzvah that should be carried out by select individuals.
From the commentaries, one deduces four primary criteria which should be satisfied before an individual assumes the mantle of censoring others. First, will the subject of our critique become embarrassed? Do I really love the person and seek only his betterment? Do I receive any personal benefit from my rebuke? Do I understand the character of the one who I am rebuking - ie, do I know if this rebuke will be helpful - and not detrimental?
Perhaps one factor should be more evident than the rest, because all of the rest hinge on this specific antecedent: Do I really love the person and seek his betterment? If one cares about someone enough to be brutally honest and administer rebuke, he is a true friend; he understands the character of the individual whom he rebukes; and he acts accordingly, in order to help him.
Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Karlin was a well-known tzaddik, righteous person, and one of the early founders of the Chassidic mesorah, tradition. Horav Uri, zl, m'Strelisk who was known as the Saraf, Fiery One, for his fiery passion in serving Hashem, was a disciple of Rav Shlomo. The Karliner did not achieve longevity, as he left this world at a rather young age. Yet, he achieved prominence as a holy person and had many students who viewed him as the gadol hador, preeminent leader of the generation. Shortly before he took leave of his earthly abode, he directed his students to look to Horav Mordechai, zl, m'Neshchiz as his successor and their new moreh derech, spiritual guide.
Rav Uri traveled to Karlin with the hope of seeing his Rebbe, but he arrived too late. When he heard the sad news, he descended into deep mourning and refused to be comforted. He had lost his illustrious Rebbe who was more like a father to him. All that he did for some time was plunge deeper and deeper into melancholy over the passing of his Rebbe. Finally, he asked one of the students, "Prior to his passing, did our holy Rebbe issue forth any mandate for the future?"
They replied that, yes, Rav Shlomo had instructed them to study under Rav Mordechai m'Neshchiz.
"Well, if the Rebbe made this request, then I must go to Neschiz and bask in Rav Mordechai's brilliance." Rav Uri gathered his few belongings and set forth for Neshchiz. When he arrived in the town, he immediately dropped his belongings at the local inn and went to visit Rav Mordechai. He came to Rav Mordechai's home and discovered it to be filled with people from all walks of life, each waiting to meet the holy Rebbe, to share with him his problems, hopes and needs, and ask for his counsel and blessing.
Rav Uri was not surprised to find a house filled with people, because Rav Mordechai was a great man whose blessings had great validity. The people would enter one by one, share their stories; the Rebbe would listen and offer his advice and blessing. Rav Uri saw a well-dressed man approach the Rebbe to discuss a major business deal for which he asked for the Rebbe's blessing. Rav Uri sensed that something was spiritually amiss with this man. He was an unsavory character, whose immoral escapades beclouded him. This was something that only a great tzaddik could notice. A man who was attuned to the highest levels of spirituality could detect a spiritual deficiency looming over a person. It, therefore, took him by great surprise to see Rav Mordechai greet the man with a big smile and converse with him at length. The man left the room with what appeared to be a very satisfied look. How could Rav Mordechai be fooled by this man?! He was a chameleon! Rav Uri was a passionate person to whom zealousness was no stranger. He was grasped by a spiritual seething as a reaction to this encounter.
Rav Mordechai was a wise man, and he sensed Rav Uri's inner tension. He was well-aware of his unique spiritual devotion and superiority. He called out to him, "Yungerman, what brings you here - without an invitation? Leave and do not return until I send for you!" When Rav Uri heard this, he immediately left in a very depressed mood and headed for the bais ha'medrash which was nearby.
Rav Uri sat in shul and contemplated the situation. Was he permitted to leave? Had he fulfilled his Rebbe's mandate? He came, and he did not like what he saw. Now, it was time to return. While he ruminated over his predicament, Rav Mordechai entered the shul and came over to him. Rav Uri was quite nervous standing before the holy Rav Mordechai. The tzaddik began, "My son, I was well aware of that man's objectionable morals and activities. Do not think that there was anything about him which I did not detect, but let me first ask you a question: Why do you think Rav Shlomo Karliner sent you here?"
Rav Uri just sat and listened. Some questions are rhetorical - and this was one of them.
"You should know," Rav Mordechai countered, "your Rebbe sent you here for one purpose: to learn an approach to serving Hashem. Take this rule and ingrain it into your heart: Anyone whose love for all Jews is not strong enough that, when he witnesses another Jew transgressing a grave sin, he can at that time run over to him, embrace and kiss him like a long-lost brother, then he has not even achieved half of what is demanded of a Jew! He is lacking in his service of Hashem. For this is the way we catalyze a sinner's return to Hashem."
Rav Uri was silent when he heard these words. He now understood the penetrating insight of the Karliner. Ahavas Yisrael, love for all Jews, is an uncompromising ingredient in spiritual leadership. One must possess and maximize this trait if he is to succeed as a Jewish leader - or, for that matter, as a Jew.
These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael. (1:1)
Sefer Devarim is Moshe Rabbeinu's last will and testament, spoken by him during the last five weeks of his life. He began with an indirect rebuke, alluding to the nation's sins and, at times, mutinous behavior during the past forty years. His words were cloaked, clouded in allusion, in an effort not to embarrass and offend his listeners. While this is clearly the preferred approach to rebuke, one wonders why in the past he had not manifested such restraint. Indeed, the Maor Va'Shemesh focuses on the word Eilah, "These," a term which implies a specific designation which excludes previous "words." Chazal teach, Kol makom she'neemar eilah, pasul es ha'rishonim, "Whenever the Torah uses the word eilah, these, it rejects that which was stated previously." What is the Torah rejecting?
The Maor Va'Shemesh explains that Moshe was chastised for his earlier rebukes of the nation. Shimu na ha'morim, "Listen now, O' rebels" (Bamidbar 20:10); Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army (Bamidbar 31:14). When Moshe rebuked the nation in what was to become Sefer Devarim, the critique was veiled, and thus acceptable to Hashem. The Torah writes eilah, these, to teach that only these specific words constituted an accepted rebuke. Moshe benefited in two ways. First, he was rewarded for this rebuke, since he had administered it in a manner that was acceptable. Second, he repaired his earlier rebuke of the people, such that whatever Heavenly dissatisfaction had dominated earlier was cleared up. The Meor Va'Shemesh concludes with a strong reprimand against those who seek to lord it over people by administering rebuke, they should think twice, because "one does not know the innermost blemishes of the hearts of man and what they must repair." In other words, before one begins to rebuke others, he had better make sure that he knows: what really happened and why, what went through the mind of the perpetrator; and what provoked him to act inappropriately. Everybody has a story.
At times, the greatest favor one can do for another person is to attempt to understand his situation and what makes him tick. In his book, Do Unto Others, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates a beautiful story which I feel is illuminating. As a psychiatrist in a large state hospital with hundreds of patients who were mentally ill, he oversaw medical students who would visit the hospital periodically. He would guide and instruct, listen and explain, present various cases which were textbook related, but hardly ever seen outside of an institution.
As part of a tour of the chronic care facility, he pointed out a senior patient who had been hospitalized for fifty-two years, during which time he had never uttered a word. This fellow had a daily routine to which he had strictly adhered during the time that he had been institutionalized. He would eat his breakfast - in silence - and then go to a corner of the community room, assume a position in which he was bent over with his knees to the ground and his hands directed upward. He would remain in this position until the afternoon when he was called for lunch. Following lunch, he returned to his strange position until he was summoned for supper, after which he returned once again until bedtime. During his tenure in the hospital, neither had he altered his behavior, nor had he spoken a word. No form of treatment, medical or shock, had succeeded in creating even a dent in his routine. Other than meals, it was impossible to get him to leave his position or to speak a single word.
When Rabbi Twerski concluded his presentation, one of the students asked if he could speak with the patient. "Certainly, he is all yours," was the response. What could this man achieve which decades of therapy had failed to accomplish?
The student walked over and told the man that he must be tired from all of this crouching. "Why not sit down for a bit?" he asked the patient. The man looked blankly at him, just as he had looked at everyone for over fifty years. The student, however, then did something no one else before him had ever done. He assumed the strange position, which the man had maintained for all of these years. "Here, you go take a rest. I will take over for you," the student said. Without a word, the patient got up and went over to the couch to rest - something that he had not done in fifty-two years!
Rabbi Twerski concludes that while it is difficult to ascertain what was going on in this patient's mind all of these years, the medical student had definitely struck a chord which made a difference. Perhaps the man thought that he was holding up the world and that, if he let go, it would all come crashing down. The medical student had offered him a respite from his immense toil. Why did he leave to eat and sleep? - Good question, but there is no rationale to the behavior of a disturbed person.
Let us get back to the incredible discovery made by this student. Apparently, this man's deranged mind had rationale to what he was doing. To him, his wretched life had great meaning. After all, he was saving the world! We were dismissing him as "crazy," while, in fact, as far as he was concerned, he was totally normal. Imagine if someone would have attempted to understand this person, tried to get into his mind and make sense out of it. Today, he might have been living a productive life and be a contributing member to society.
Is it any different when we rebuke someone - or refuse to rebuke someone, because we think that he/she is too far gone? Understanding another member of the Jewish people - whether he was born into an observant family and regrettably went "off" or was a non-practicing Jew all his life. We refuse to make a connection between "us" and "them." We eschew the possibility that they may have what they think are legitimate issues which prevent them from returning to observance. If one of us would stretch out his hand in a gesture of good faith more frequently, as a symbol of willingness to understand, we might begin the process of bringing back and saving a Jewish soul.
Stories have long been a motivational vehicle for reaching people. Storytelling is much more than an entertaining performance. Storytelling is a basis for communicating with others in a manner that opens otherwise closed doors. The Maggidim of old used stories as a natural pathway to a person's heart and mind. A good story adds depth in place in which traditional learning and rebuke cannot penetrate. The allusions of Sefer Devarim, with names of cities which Rashi explains never existed, could very well be an attempt to reach the people through the non-conventional means of a story.
There is a well-known "story" about the significance of a story. The Chassidic movement of mid-eighteenth century saved many Jews from spiritual extinction. For the most part, the Jews were too poor and too involved in the burden of eking out their meager living to make Torah learning a priority in their life. Chassidic Rebbes inspired and imbued these Jews with fire, passion, love, spiritual hope, employing stories rich in tradition as their means of preserving the Jewish soul. Like magical seeds nourishing the Jewish soul, these stories revived the stone-cold hearts, infusing them with hope.
The story goes that the founder of Chassidus, Horav Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, zl, once "saw" a grave misfortune looming over the Jewish People. He understood that a serious decree was about to be made against the nation. The Baal Shem went out into a certain part of the forest, lit a fire and recited a prayer. Miraculously, the prayer successfully interceded with Hashem, and the tragedy was averted.
Years later, when his talmid, disciple, the Mezritcher Maggid, zl, was needed to intercede before Hashem, he went to the same place in the forest and said, "Hashem, I do not know how to light the fire, but the special prayer that made the difference before, I can still recite." Hashem listened, and once again misfortune was turned back.
Horav Moshe Leib, zl, m'Sassov, was called upon at a later time to intercede on behalf of the Jewish People. He went to the forest, but neither lit the fire, nor said the prayer. He said, "I do not know how to light the fire, nor am I proficient in the prayer. I do, however, know the place in the forest where this was all carried out. Will You please forgive the Nation?"
It then fell to Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Rizhin, to speak on behalf of the nation. It was no longer that simple. Times had changed; much had been forgotten. The Rebbe spoke to Hashem, "I cannot light the fire; I cannot even recite the prayer. In fact, I do not even know the exact place in the forest where the Baal Shem went. I can, however, tell over the story. And this must suffice."
Throughout the years, in good times and in times that were not so good, we have relied on the "story" to convey our innermost feelings. It opens the door as it reveals the true sentiments of people. A story adds the depth that traditional learning and rebuke do not always inspire. Stories make the rebuke seem real and personal. Through the vehicle of the story, we have the opportunity to reach a person without locking horns with him concerning his errant behavior. This is more likely to catalyze a favorable reaction.
How can I alone carry your trouble and your burden and your quarrels? (1:12)
Rashi translates tarchachem, as "your troubles": Melamed she'hayu Yisrael tarchanim, "this teaches us that the Jewish People were troublesome." Masaachem, which literally means, "your burdens," is employed by Rashi to infer that they were apikorsim, heretics. It is understandable for the word tarchanim to imply the troublesome nature of the Jews. Both words are derived from the same root word. How is masa, burden, related to heresy? There seems to be no connection between the two words.
Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, explains that, indeed, from a practical perspective, a deep connection exists between the two terms. Apikorsus, heresy, is a heavy load for a person to carry. Life becomes very difficult and extremely "weighty" when one does not believe in a Higher Being. When one expounds the belief that, Les din v'les Dayan, "There is no judgment and there is no Supreme Judge," he becomes bogged down with problems. Such a person has no faith upon which to rely when the going gets rough. Imagine becoming ill and receiving a dread diagnosis: If one has no faith, what is he to do? To whom does he turn?
The questions and issues with which the non-believer must contend are of great consequence. Where does he turn? With whom does he seek counsel? What are his options? Nothing! No one! He is all alone, impeded by his foolish heretical non-beliefs!
Not so, the maamin, believer. He turns to Hashem, to the Torah, to its disseminators. They will ease the load; they will soothe the pain. Life is so much easier for one who trusts in the Almighty. The true believer does not declare, Es is shver tzu zein a Yid, "It is difficult to be a Jew." This expression reflects that the speaker does not really understand Judaism. How can something which sustains, gives purpose and meaning, is a source of comfort and support through the trials and tribulations of life, be shver, difficult? Indeed, all of those well-meaning Jews who kept Shabbos amid financial challenge, but muttered Es is shver tzu zein a Yid, maintained their fidelity to Hashem, but, sadly, their children are not interested in a life of difficulty. Now they have other difficulties, the most burdensome and heartbreaking of which is that their own children do not care at all about their grandparents' religion. Tragically, many of them are products of their parents' fatal mistakes.
This is not to suggest that life for the observant Jew is a walk in the park. The observant Jew has challenges and difficulties, but he also has the ability and tools with which to deal with them, while his non-observant counterpart has lost touch with the "tools." One of our most powerful instruments is the Siddur/Tehillim, and the vehicle for dealing with challenge is prayer. We know that as soon as a challenge arises, our Tehillim becomes our trusted companion, as we pour our hearts out in prayer to Hashem. The Jew who professes not to believe acknowledges neither Tehillim, nor the vehicle of prayer. Thus, the vicissitudes of life confront him; he is frustrated by its burden, leaving him no other option but to lash out in anger, hurling invective at the only One Who can help him.
For an inheritance to the children of Eisav I have given Mount Seir. (2:5)
The old clich? goes; Es is shver tzu zein a yid, "It is difficult to be a Jew." While this is a wrong attitude for a Jew to take, it may, from a practical point of view, be considered true. Living an observant lifestyle takes a certain amount of conviction, resolution and forbearance. What we fail to acknowledge is that the clich? might have some validity; there may be a good reason for the manifold challenges that a Jew confronts in life. Horav Aharon Bakst, zl, explains this as a reason for the distinction between Yaakov Avinu and Eisav with regard to the land which was endowed to them by Hashem.
Concerning Eisav, the Torah writes, "For an inheritance to the children of Eisav, I have given Mount Seir." Eisav receives his portion of land without toil, without challenge - an inheritance, a bequest. Klal Yisrael also receives its allotment - Eretz Yisrael, but with strings attached. The Jewish People must first experience slavery in Egypt. It was not merely slavery; it was degradation, persecution, brutality and pain - all of this, so that they could travel forty years in the miserable wilderness, and then enter the Promised Land. One would think that Hashem's chosen nation would have received better treatment.
Rav Bakst explains that Klal Yisrael is not much different than a young calf, which is able to walk on its own a mere few days after birth. It is able to eat without help. Yet, a human must be helped with his food, spoon fed by his mother, until he reaches an age of cognition when he can do things on his own. After the parents have provided the basics, they must raise and educate their child. It is not a "done deal." Why does man, who is the focus and purpose of the entire universe, have to go through such a lengthy training process? And, if he is lucky to be blessed with normal, decent parents, he might even succeed, while animals are born and shortly thereafter are independent?
Apparently, this is the underlying rule which guides the world: anything whose purpose and function is lofty and critical must undergo a preparatory process whose difficulty coincides with the acute nature of its purpose and function in life. Man has purpose. He plays a decisive role in maintaining the world; thus, his process is lengthy and challenging. Animals have simple goals. Some serve as food, while others serve as man's "best friend." Man's goals and area of achievement are considerable. He can aspire for eminence and achieve it. Therefore, the initiatory process is of greater challenge and greater consequence.
Eisav has no purpose in life. Without a Torah and a way of life dictated by Hashem, he has nothing to look forward to other than to eat, sleep and stay out of trouble. Yaakov, however, has definitive goals, choreographed by the Divine Creator of the world. Therefore, the process of investiture which he must undergo is that much more challenging.
V'ohavata es Hashem Elokecha - You shall love Hashem, your G-d.
Sefer HaIkrim writes that true unadulterated love exists only when it is focused on one subject. Love that is spread over two or more subjects is incomplete. Therefore, we are commanded to love Hashem - who is Echad, One.
In the preface to his Shev Shmaitsa, Horav Aryeh Leib HaKohen, zl, applies this idea to make a powerful observation. In the parsha of Akeidas Yitzchak, when Hashem instructs Avraham Avinu to sacrifice Yitzchak (Avinu), He says, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love." After the "aborted" Akeidah, Hashem said, "For now, I know that you are a G-d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me." Prior to the test, Hashem mentions Avraham's love for Yitzchak; after the test, Yitzchak's singularity is mentioned, but not Avraham's love. What catalyzed the change? This was, in effect, the actual test. Hashem saw that Avraham's love was divided between the Divine and his son, Yitzchak. By asking Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak, Hashem was seeking to complete Avraham's love. Avraham successfully withstanding the test was indicative that his love for Hashem was now complete, since Avraham was able to quell the love he harbored for Yitzchak. Therefore, after the test, the Torah no longer mentions Avraham's love with regard to Yitzchak.
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