Knowing What To Say
The Sedra of Devarim begins the final book of the Torah, and with it brings the final days before Moshe’s death and the people’s entry into their promised land.
Before continuing the narrative, Moshe stands in front of the Children of Israel recounting their steps, whilst giving them harsh rebuke over their many transgressions. In doing so, he also pleads with them to maintain their Torah observance and commitment to God as they journey into Israel. As their leader and guide, Moshe had to ensure they would uphold their devotion long after his passing away.
Rashi, in his opening words, gives us an important insight. The verse says “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.” Rashi explains the reason so much detail is given as to their location; each place alludes to one of their many wrongdoings in the desert, whether that be a specific place where they complained, or the Korach rebellion. Moshe didn’t want to be too direct or harsh in his rebuke, so he instead implied it to them by referencing the places where bad things had happened.
According to Rashi, Moshe felt the need to admonish them. He wanted to strengthen them for the upcoming challenges that they would face as they reached the Land of Israel. He needed them to remember and learn from their past mistakes, so as to not repeat them.
As their leader, Moshe was able to rebuke them, but this is something we often find ourselves doing in one form or another. Whether that is at home with family members, at work or even with friends, we love to pick up on the flaws of someone else. The Torah teaches us that, under certain circumstances, we should reprimand our neighbour. Yet, at the same time, we need to question if we are ourselves in a position to impose our judgement upon and try to improve another person.
If we truly care about another person, we will only say what they are able to hear and in the way they are able to hear it. This is such an important lesson! Even if we feel the need to make a comment, if it will not be received properly we can do far too much damage. True love and devotion to another takes great patience and sensitivity, and during this time in the days leading up to The Ninth of Av, we should all take great care in how we treat each other. So many of the calamities facing our nation are pinpointed back to a lack in derech eretz – treating each other properly. In fact, we are told that baseless hatred was at the very core of the destruction of the second temple – the effects of which we are still living with today.
Therefore, Moshe really understood how to be sensitive when admonishing others, and was able to navigate his words in an appropriate tone. Please God we should learn from him and always be able to strengthen the relationships we have with respect and kindness, and may we merit celebrating and not crying on the Ninth of Av.
Helping others to Grow
The Sedra of Devarim contains the opening words of the final book of the Chumash. The book contains highlights of the previous four books, lists of commandments and the details of the final days of Moshe’s life before his emotional passing. The Book of Devarim is also seen as a transition between their 40 years in the desert and their new life in the Land of Israel.
The Sedra begins with Moshe’s harsh rebuke of his people for their wrongdoings in the desert, giving them a stern reminder of their responsibility to remain true to the Torah and its laws. He includes the episode of the spies who were sent in to the land to ‘scout’ it out which was the impetus for their prolonged stay in the desert.
When Moshe recounts the story he says “All of you came close to me . . .” as it was the idea of the people to send spies to Israel. Rashi explains that Moshe’s criticism is that they came to him as a disorganised group, young people pushing aside the elderly, and old people pushing aside the leaders. This panic stricken ‘rabble’ was not the appropriate way of approaching their leader. On the surface it would appear that the problem is a lack of derech eretz – common decency. They appeared frantic and rude, but if we look deeper below the surface we find a more profound insight.
Moshe in his denigration takes issues with their lack of faith. It was clear to him that their behaviour and manner was caused by a lack of belief in God. Had they have planned out their arguments and come with a clear head, they would have presented a coherent case.
However the question arises, if Moshe felt their motives were not genuine why did he let the spies go, why not stop them and save them from their desert-bound punishment?
He probably wanted stop them but he knew that this lack of faith would not simply vanish. If they lacked it now, it would only deepen. By letting them go and make the mistake themselves, the punishment would help them to grow and realise their misguided sentiments.
How many times has this happened to us? Whether it is our children, friends or family, we often have a perspective over a situation and see so clearly that others are making mistakes, taking wrong turns and suffering bad decisions. It is usually best to help and guide people through these stumbling blocks, but there are moments when letting people fall down on their own, will build them and make them stronger from the lessons they can learn.
May we learn these valuable lessons, and have the care and sensitivity to only ‘interfere’ always in the correct and appropriate manner.