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Devarim

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken


"These are the words which Moshe spoke to the entire nation of Israel..." [1:1]

As the Sifsei Chachamim points out, this is unusual phraseology - the Torah would typically use an introduction such as "Moshe spoke to the entire Nation, saying..." Why, then, does the Torah use a less direct reference to "the words which Moshe spoke?" Furthermore, Moshe goes on to list various locations where the nation sinned against G-d, without an explanation of what happened in each place. Why does he not give further detail?

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) explains that the Torah is avoiding direct language because Moshe is delivering a rebuke. Out of concern for Israel's honor and dignity, the Torah merely hints to the various sins, rather than listing the sins themselves all at once.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, Dean of the Mir Yeshiva, explains in Sichos Mussar that the Torah is teaching us a crucial lesson in interpersonal communication. Moshe teaches us how important it is to honor every person, and to be careful with the dignity of others.

This is not only true concerning an entire congregation of holy people, but even with truly wicked individuals. The Medrash says that Bilaam's donkey died immediately after rebuking his master (as we read in Parshas Balak, several weeks ago). Rashi explains that had the donkey lived, people would have pointed to it and said, "there's the animal which chastised Bilaam!" G-d was concerned about Bilaam's honor, and thus killed the donkey.

Who are we discussing here? Bilaam! A man who distinguished himself as a paragon of evil, who attempted to use his G-d-given spiritual talents to curse the nation which G-d had blessed. Furthermore, it would have honored HaShem's Name if the donkey were permitted to wander free, with people pointing to it and saying, "this is the animal which G-d allowed to speak!" Nonetheless, Bilaam's honor took precedence.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz explains that we must be extremely careful about the honor of every person around us. Even when it is appropriate to criticize and rebuke, we should never rejoice in embarrassing someone else - rather, we should be careful not to rebuke more than necessary, to say more than needs to be said.

And as Rabbi Shmuelevitz points out, this is quite relevant to this time of year. In several days we will reach the Ninth of Av, the day on which both Temples were destroyed. The first, our Sages tell us, was destroyed because Israel willingly transgressed cardinal sins, those which the Torah tells us to die in order to avoid. The second, however, was destroyed because of needless hatred between Jews.

The Talmud says that the destruction itself was caused by the embarrassment of a particular individual, known as Bar Kamtza, at a party. Seeing that no one, including the Rabbis present, arose to prevent the host from embarrassing Bar Kamtza, the latter decided to strike back - and went to inform on them to the Romans, claiming that the Rabbis were rebelling against Roman rule. The Talmud reads [Tractate Gittin 57a]: "Rabbi Elazar says, come and see the incredible power of embarrassment, for the Holy One, Blessed be He, helped Bar Kamtza, and He destroyed His House and burned His Temple."

Let us learn to be extremely careful with the honor of all others, and treat them with dignity and respect... and may we merit to see the reversal of the destruction, and the rebuilding of the Temple, speedily in our days.


 


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