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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Devarim

This Week's Peninim In Memory of
Aharon ben Pinchos Yitzchok Sandweiss
Niftar 11 Menachem Av
By Rabbi & Mrs. Yisroel Grumer These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael. (1:1)

Rebuking Klal Yisrael prior to his death, Moshe Rabbeinu recounted their past sins, so that they would learn from their errors. Rashi tells us that out of respect for Klal Yisrael, Moshe did not elaborate their sins. Rather, he mentioned them b'remez, alluding to them through the names of their encampments. These names refer to the various sins committed in these places. The Maharal questions this statement, since apparently Moshe did delineate Klal Yisrael's most outstanding sins. Furthermore, the Shach asks why Moshe rebuked the people who were about to enter Eretz Yisrael. After all, they were not the sinners; their parents had rebelled.

Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, cites the Chidushei Harim who interprets the concept of "remez" as the actual sin. This means that a hint of the original sins still tainted them. They were liable for the sins of their ancestors, because they continued to commit the transgression, albeit, in a diminished manner. Moshe mentioned the sins "b'remez," since the remez of sin still existed. Consequently, Moshe continued elaborating the sin. How could they truly understand the significance of what they were doing wrong if they were not sensitive to the nature of the original transgression which their ancestors had committed? Regrettably, the breach into the spiritual fiber of Klal Yisrael created by the sin was long standing.

Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads. (1:13)

In a play on the word "and I will appoint them," the Midrash changes the "sin" to a "shin", transforming the word to "and I shall hold them guilty". The Midrash is teaching us the importance of listening to our spiritual leaders. If they lead properly and the common people still do not respond with respect, the people are liable. They cite an interesting analogy. Once a snake was sliding along its path, when the tail began complaining to the head, "Why are you always in the front with me dragging along behind? I want to lead, while you follow in the rear."

The head responded, "Very well. We will switch positions, and you will lead. Since the tail has no eyes, we can well understand what happened. The snake fell into a pit, then it was singed by fire. Finally it was scratched by a thorn bush into which it had run. The fate suffered by the snake was to be expected, given the fact that the tail had guided it.

Similarly, when the common Jew attempts to usurp the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael, we are beset with bruises -- and in many instances -- serious injury. Our Torah leaders are the "eyes" of the nation. They lead because they have vision. They have the necessary perspective to guide the people on the correct and safe path.

Even the best leader will succeed only if he has the respect and approbation of the people he is to lead. One earns this respect by virtue of his character and scholarship. At times, however, the people themselves are not worthy of their leadership, not recognizing the leaders' virtue and capabilities. In the Talmud Chagigah 14A, we find a compelling statement from Rav Dimi. He said, "Yeshayahu cursed Klal Yisrael with eighteen curses. Yet, he was not satisfied until he pronounced, "The youngster will behave insolently against the elder, and the base against the honorable." Yeshayahu uttered eighteen terrible curses, each one grave and serious with awesome ramifications. That was not sufficient. He wanted to deliver the final blow, the blow that would have the greatest effect. What was that curse that would outdo all the others, that would devastate Klal Yisrael's chance for survival? It was the one that pronounced an end to the authority of the zekeinim, elders, and talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. We cannot survive without their leadership.

Why is this? Why is Klal Yisrael so unique that it cannot exist without the institution of elders? Rabbi Akiva compares us to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly without its wings, so, too is Klal Yisrael helpless without its elders. A bird uses its wings to go higher and to remain airborne. Otherwise, it will fall to the ground, a helpless broken bird. Without its leadership, Klal Yisrael will not only not go forward; it will actually fall and cease to exist. A generation's greatest disgrace is demonstrated when the people do not show respect to their gedolim, leaders. How shameful is it when people refer to gedolei haTorah in the most pedestrian terms? The arrogance of the common Jew, his self-declared scholarship, provokes chutzpah towards our leaders. One cannot accept leadership from another if he is filled with himself.

The Satmar Rebbe, zl, once set forth criteria for a gadol to be accepted. He must first be a talmid chacham, totally proficient in all areas of Torah erudition. Secondly, he must be a yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing person, who will not adapt his psak, halachic decision, as a result of outside pressures or personal vested interests. Third, he must have special, common sense. He must possess an acute ability to understand and deal with all people. He should be able to ferret out those who would undermine the Torah way of life. A gadol is the embodiment of Torah; he reflects it in his total demeanor. To respect a gadol is to respect the Torah. To deny a Torah leader the respect he deserves is to challenge the Torah itself.

All of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land. (1:22)

Chazal view the word, "all of you", as the cause of the tragic outcome of their mission to spy out Eretz Yisrael. The people came forward in an unbecoming manner. They were demanding and disrespectful. The young pushed aside their elders, and the older people pushed ahead of their leaders. This was in sharp contrast to their behavior at Kabalas HaTorah when the entire nation came forth with a request, but in a respectable and orderly manner; the young encouraged their elders to go forward, while the elders displayed the proper respect to their leadership.

Why is it necessary to remind us of Kabolas HaTorah? If anything, one would think that this parsha, marking the beginning of Moshe's rebuke, would mention only those actions or incidents which merited rebuke. If so, why is the manner in which they came forward at Kobalas HaTorah so significant? The Kli Yakar posits that actually their attitude during Kabolas HaTorah was worthy of rebuke. When the Torah was given, superficially their behavior seemed appropriate. They were relaxed, giving respect where it was due, not pushing ahead of those more deserving than they. When it came to issues concerning their physical welfare, however, they pushed and fought, each one attempting to get ahead of the other. Respect was suddenly gone, decency completely vanished. Had they behaved honorably during Kabolas HaTorah, or did they just not care enough to fight for their spiritual advantage?

This is the concept to which Moshe was alluding. The way they acted during their quest for spies indicated their true nature. When they cared, they clearly exerted effort. They were dignified only regarding Torah because it did not mean as much to them. Does not this spiritual lethargy plague us till this very day? How often do we see people pushing their way into the Bais Medrash to study Torah or attempting to be the first one to respond to an appeal for tzedakah? This inconsistency in our attitude towards spiritual matters, unfortunately demonstrates our true nature.

You slandered in your tents and said, " Because of Hashem's hatred for us did he take us out of destroy us. (1:27)

Moshe Rabbeinu recounted the events surrounding the spies' ill-fated mission to Eretz Yisrael. He attempted to refresh their minds concerning their prior mistakes, so that hopefully they would not repeat the same errors. He admonished them to remember their murmurings and rebellions, the slander that demoralized a nation, the ingratitude that catalyzed a rebellion for which we still suffer today. What did they do that night that still haunts us to this very day? They cried! Does crying deserve such a severe punishment? It depends what type of crying and for what reason. Chazal tell us that the people shed unnecessary tears. That night happened to be Tisha B'Av. Hashem said, "You have wept without cause, the time will come when later generations will weep with good cause." They cried - for nothing. "Bechiah shel chinam," weeping for no reason, resulted in a "bechiah l'doros," a weeping for generations. The lesson seems simple, if you cry for nothing, Hashem will one day give you a reason to cry.

So many of us become depressed when confronted with challenges, when overcome with problems. Is that a sufficient reason to cry? We must conjure up our faith in the Almighty and place our trust in Him, so that we do not submit to undue expressions of grief. Yet, we ask whether unnecessary weeping deserves such grave punishment. Should we still be paying for the people's behavior that night? Because some individual yields to depression and fear, others need not suffer for generations.

We suggest that the sin was not merely their unwarranted weeping. Rather, their sin was the issues about which they did not cry. When one cries unnecessarily, he shows that he is preoccupied with concerns that are unrealistic, while he allows great issues to remain unnoticed. When one cries about foolish, petty or self-defined concerns, he demonstrates his priorities. He shows where his concerns really are. Bnei Yisrael wept unnecessarily that night - because they were selfish. Their fear and grief covered up their real character. They were ungrateful to Hashem. They did not weep when Hashem's Name was slandered and desecrated. They showed no concern when the leaders He chose were disparaged and abused. They wept when they thought they were in danger. It was not what they cried about that was the problem; the issue was the matters about which they did not cry.

An Og, King of Bashan, went out toward us...Hashem said to me, "Do not fear him." (3:1,2)

From the fact that Hashem told Moshe not to fear Og, the Torah was suggesting that Moshe had reason to fear him. What could there be about Og that would engender fear in Moshe. As Rashi says, Og had received merit for a good deed that he had performed many years earlier. Og was the one who told Avraham that Lot had been taken captive. This act of kindness gave him a zechus. The question is obvious. Og had an ulterior motive in communicating this message to Avraham. Chazal tell us that Og hoped Avraham would rush into battle to save Lot and be killed. Og would then be free to marry Sarah. Why then should malicious intent, albeit causing an inadvertent good deed, be rewarded to such an extent? Moreover, did Og really help Avraham? He only relayed some pertinent information to him. Does this warrant such enormous merit that Klal Yisrael should fear going into battle with him?

Horav Reuven Grosovsky, zl, infers from this that a good deed, regardless of the motivating factor behind it, engenders great merit and reward for he who performs it . Furthermore, if this reward is available to a pagan whose intent was harmful, how much more so is there reward set aside for an individual who performs acts of kindness with a pure heart! If we would only take this message to heart, we would pursue every opportunity to do good unto others. It is unfortunate that we do not realize how the simple things that are so easy to do have so much value.

1. From whom did Moshe learn the value of rebuke shortly before one takes leave of this world?
2. Due to the sin of the meraglim, the generation that left Egypt was destined to die in the desert. What else did they lose as a result of this sin?
3. In what manner is Klal Yisrael compared to the stars of the sky?
4. In how many languages did Moshe explain the Torah?
5. How long did Klal Yisrael camp in Kadesh?
6. By what merit did Lot deserve that his descendants should inherit land on Eivar HaYarden?
7. Regarding which king did Hashem tell Moshe, "Do not fear him"?

1. Yaakov Avinu
2. Had they not sinned, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael without having to battle the nations.
3. Just as the stars of the sky last forever, so, too, will Klal Yisrael endure forever.
4. Seventy
5. Nineteen years
6. He went with Avraham to Egypt. Also, when Avraham said that Sarah was his sister, Lot remained quiet
7. Og, King of Bashan.

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