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   by Jacob Solomon

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These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel… concerning the (sins of the Israelites in the following places:) the Wilderness, the Arava, opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and between Tofel, and Lavan, and Hatzerot, and Di-Zahav (1:1 - translated according to Rashi).

The bulk of the Book of Devarim contains Moses' final address to the Israelites before his death. He opened by reminding the Israelites of their past sins and rebellions from the Exodus onwards. In order not to offend or embarrass the Israelites, he alluded to the offences by stating where they took place (Rashi 1:1). Thus for example, Di-Zahav was where the Israelites built the Golden Calf - which was made possible because they had "enough gold".

Applying this comment of Rashi to the text of the Parasha shows that Moses told the Israelites off in two stages. The first stage was by veiled reference - in the first verse. Once the Israelites were tuned into his words of castigation, he continued to detail the offences - which form a large part of the Parasha. However the content of his warnings shows clearly that he gave his listeners self-respect. When Moses reproved the people he did not refer to the misdeeds of any individual families, such as Korach's.

As the converse to the above, the Talmud (Gittin 55b) states that the failure to rebuke one another was a fundamental cause of the destruction of the Second Temple, since reproach is necessary for spiritual progress and correction. In addition the person who does not reprove shows a failure, which also caused the Destruction.

This is derived from he famous story of Kamza and Bar-Kamza (ibid). A certain man had a friend called Kamza and an enemy called Bar-Kamza. He made a banquet that was attended by the Rabbis. He also issued an invitation to his friend Kamza to attend. By mistake, the invitation went out to Bar-Kamza. When the host noticed Bar-Kamza at the meal, he ordered him to leave. Bar Kamza begged to be allowed to stay, and he offered to pay up to the entire cost of the feast. The host ordered to him to leave and threw him out. Deeply disgusted and wounded, Bar Kamza said that since the Rabbis sat there and did not protest, he would slander them to the Roman Emperor. He managed to bring false evidence to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling against him. That led to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.

This raises the following issue. Why did the Rabbis sit silent at Bar-Kamza's humiliation? Perhaps it may be argued that they were in a difficult situation. They were after all guests at a banquet - enjoying the host's largesse. Well-behaved guests do not usually question their host's activities, even if they are of a lower standard of conduct than their own.

Their error may be found in method of Moses' rebuke. When Moses had to rebuke the Israelites just before his death, he was not merely in danger in losing the goodwill of one person, but of all his people. Those last words that he uttered would be the ones by which he would be most remembered.

How did he manage to rebuke and not be hated for it? He did not remain silent, as the Rabbis did in the story. Instead he drew attention to their shortcomings intelligently, by veiled references, as in opening pasuk quoted. Once he gained their attention and their goodwill, he continued to castigate them in such a way as his words would be remembered, but he would not be hated for it.

This was the failure of the Rabbis. The correct thing to have done would have been to approach the host indirectly, using a veiled reference (as Moses did)… in this case, perhaps by introducing into the conversation an intelligently applied anecdote on the subject of inhospitality. Then the discussion could have been broadened (as with Moses) so as not to exclusively refer to the host… In such a way, the fatal slander of Bar-Kamza to the Roman Emperor could have been avoided.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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