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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pekudei: Cynic, cynic on the wall


Moses made an exact account to address the gossip of cynics. Moses was beyond reproach. The cynic's only purpose is to destroy the subject of their mockery. Cynics are one of four groups of people that will not be allowed into the Divine presence in the world to come. There is no limit to how low a cynic can go. The two negative character traits of insolence and pride combine to produce the cynic. Just as you cannot talk sense to someone who is intoxicated, the same applies to the cynic. Cynicism is like a shield covered with oil. Amalek only destroyed the reverence. Rashi compares the cynic to somebody jumping into a hot bath. The three obligations on Purim were designed to help us counteract the cynical forces represented by Amalek.

Exact account by Moses

This week's Torah portion starts: "These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moses' bidding" (Shemos 38:21). The Midrash Tanchuma says that Moses sat down and made an exact account of everything that had been received and spent in the making of the Tabernacle. Asks the Midrash, G'd referred to Moses as the one who "in My entire house he is the trusted one" (Bamidbar 12:8). So if G'd clearly trusted Moses, why did he have to make an exact account?

Cynic's gossip

The Midrash explains that Moses overheard the gossip of some cynics who were talking amongst themselves. They said that a person who was in charge of the entire Tabernacle and had limitless gold and silver at his disposal, "are you surprised that he became rich?" To address the gossip of the cynics Moses made a promise that when all the work had been completed, he would make an exact account. This is why the Torah refers to this as "the reckonings of the Tabernacle."

Moses was beyond reproach

Moses was the beloved leader of the Jewish people who did everything for the sake of the honour of G'd and for the benefit of the community. From the time when he grew up in Egypt, he dedicated his life to help and assist his fellow human beings. Who would dare doubt his integrity? When everyone was busy at the time of the exodus from Egypt asking for gold, silver and other valuables from their Egyptian neighbours, Moses was busy trying to find the coffin of Joseph so to fulfill the promise to take his remains along with the Jewish people when they left Egypt. Could anyone seriously think that the greatest of all prophets, whose whole life was devoted to seeking spiritual values, would allow himself to steal from the donations of the Jewish people which were used to build the Tabernacle? Moses was surely beyond reproach.

Destructive nature of cynicism

This teaches us the destructive nature of cynicism and mockery. It is not based on any common sense or intellectual wisdom. Cynics will find or even invent any minute flaw in a person's conduct or personality. They will utilize the smallest little crack in the foundation and develop it to ruin the whole building for their own aggrandizement and entertainment. Their only purpose is to destroy the subject of their mockery.

Great sin of mockery

Rabbi Yaakov Molin, better known as the Maharil writes, "A person shall guard himself not to mock. The cynic will justify and say I will just say something in jest in front of others so that I shall appear to be cute. I will do all kinds of shtick (stunts) to make people around me laugh. One should be aware that this is a great sin." Our sages (Avodah Zara 18b) warn that the cynic will eventually find himself in great pain and in the end he will receive major punishment. The Talmud (Sotah 42a) teaches that there are four groups of people that will not be allowed into the Divine presence in the world to come. One of these groups is cynics. (The other three groups are people who speak gossip, people who lie, and people who flatter to gain favour).

How low can you go?

Later in this week's Torah portion, the Midrash shows us that a cynic will not even stop from being cynical about G'd Himself. The Midrash relates that the Tabernacle was constructed in the three months after Yom Kippur, but it was only erected on the first of the month of Nissan. G'd wanted it to be erected in the same month as our Patriarch Isaac was born. Again the cynics spun their evil doings, wondering aloud, "what's going on, the Tabernacle is finished, why is it not being erected?" Obviously, they did not know the intentions of G'd. As the Midrash explains this is the meaning of what is says, "And the people spoke about G'd and Moses (Bamidbar 21:5)". Not only were they calling into question the propriety of Moses' conduct, they dared to question G'd's as well. There is no limit to how low a cynic can go.

Insolence and pride

Rabbenu Yonah (Gates of Repentance 3:174) explains that the two negative character traits of insolence and pride combine to produce the cynic. Even without having any personal benefit, the cynic will cause major damage to fellow human beings, pulling them down without any regard to the consequences. Only a proud person who thinks of himself as being better than his contemporaries would allow himself to be cynical about others. A modest person who is aware of his own flaws will never mock someone else.


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Path of the Just Chap.5) explains that a person who becomes accustomed to the cynicism and mockery will not be able to accept even common sense. This person totally loses his bearing and will not accept guidance from anyone else to recover his direction. Instead, he looks at everything in a crooked way. He becomes totally intoxicated with his own cynicism. Just as you cannot talk sense to someone who is intoxicated, the same applies to the cynic.

Nothing can penetrate

Rabbi Luzatto compares cynicism with a shield covered with oil. With the slippery oil that makes everything slide off its surface, nothing will penetrate the shield. In the same way, with the slippery character traits of pride and insolence, nothing will penetrate cynicism. Any attempt to help correct the cynic will be in vain.

Destroying reverence

Even worse, our sages say that one cynical comment will distort a hundred proofs. People will laugh when they hear mockery and will not even realize how it affects them. Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner explains that as the Jewish people left Egypt and were miraculously saved at the splitting of the Red Sea, the whole world stood in reverence of them. Nobody dared to touch them. Along came the nation of Amalek, with no real agenda. Although they were not threatened in any way by the Jewish people in the desert, they attacked the nation who had just been freed from slavery. There could only be one motivation: to break down the reverence in which the Jewish people were held by the rest of the world. This was a classical act of cynicism. Amalek did not gain anything for themselves. They only destroyed the reverence.

The hot bath made cool

The Torah states, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt. That he met you on the way " (Devarim 25:18). The Hebrew word for "meeting" used in this connection can also be translated as "cooling". The nations were afraid of the Jewish people but the cynicism of Amalek "cooled them down". Rashi compares the cynic to somebody jumping into a hot bath. Although he got burned, he nevertheless cooled it down for others, proving that it was possible to survive somewhat to jump into the hot water. Amalek jumped into the hot bath for no reason other than to "cool down" the Jewish people.


In a few weeks we are going to celebrate Purim. On Purim, we remember what Haman, a descendant of Amalek, did to the Jewish nation. On the Shabbos before Purim, we are obligated to remember what the nation of Amalek did to our ancestors after the exodus from Egypt and we read the portion of the Torah dealing with this (Shemos 19:14). Amalek personified the evil of cynicism that brings about so much ruin and breakdown of relationships in its wake. The essence of Purim is to bring people closer to each other by showing concern and care for everyone. This is done by fulfilling three of the obligations on Purim: (1) sending food to friends and family; (2) giving charity to the needy; and (3) having a festive meal. These were designed to help us counteract the destructive forces represented by Amalek. One must be cautious that the very activity of Purim should not be abused to poke fun and ridicule others. The spirit of Purim (no pun intended) should prevail to destroy cynicism and bring us all closer together.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel