Parshat Devarim: A Rebuke That Brings Blessings to the World

Despite failed attempts at dialogue, Moshe doesn’t back down. He attacks the nation’s inappropriate behavior, respecfully yet assertively. Some thoughts on inter-generational accountability, which holds the secret to the Jewish people’s existence.

Chezi Zecharia is the Principal of Yeshivat Neveh Shmuel, in Memory of Samuel Pinchas Ehrman

Who among us enjoys being criticized or reproached? Even Moshe, our great and humble leader, has difficult experiences when it comes to his ability to communicate with the Jewish People: “they would not listen to Moshe, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9). Moreover, when the Jewish people complained at mei meriva, they are admonished by Moshe: “Listen, you rebels…” (Numbers 20:10)! According to some commentators, as a result of this act of rebuke, Moshe is informed that he would not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Rebuke with sensitivity

Stories have been told of the Chafetz Chaim and how he had rebuked those around him. In one such case, the rebuke ended on a negative note for the one doing the rebuking:

Once, a Jew from the community who had begun opening his shop on the Sabbath was brought before the Chafetz Chaim. The Chafetz Chaim berated the Jew, who then closed his shop on the Sabbath. A half-year later, the Jew resumed opening his shop on the Sabbath, and the community asked him to visit the Chafetz Chaim. The Chafetz Chaim apologized repeatedly to the shop-owner, who forgave him, but also asked him why the Chafetz Chaim was asking for his forgiveness. The Chafetz Chaim responded that he is the one who should be asking for forgiveness, because he had castigated this Jew for violating the Sabbath. He explained that as long as he believed it to be constructive, he was permitted to castigate the Jew, but now, when he realized that it was not constructive, it turns out that the Chafetz Chaim was prohibited from castigating and disparaging the Jew.

One is not permitted to disregard a fellow human being’s dignity and disparage others in the name of rebuke, as we are told by Rashi: “…and refers to them only by a mere allusion contained in the names of these places out of regard for Israel”. Moshe himself would proceed to blessing the Jewish people during his rebuke, with a loving heart: “May Hashem, the God of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold, and bless you as He promised you.”

Fortunate is the generation that can hear words of rebuke

Many “compliments”, rebukes, negative comments and critiques are slung at the young nation that had just left Egypt: “Yet for all that, you have no faith in Hashem, your God”, with regard to the sin of the spies, and “…but you would not listen; you flouted the Hashem’s command…”, in reference to those who tried to reach the land of Israel independently after the sin of the spies. Observers could remark that this was truly an obstinate nation that tended to zigzag.  However, we’ll state that this was a great generation that was capable of hearing out and listening to words of rebuke. It was capable of hearing, accepting, and refraining from striking out. “To all of Israel…” – sixty thousand people were hearing and listening when the Torah was being given on Mount Sinai.

A nation of people, young and old, who were prepared to listen to rebuke bring blessings and spiritual satisfaction to the world:

… shall love the rebukes, for as long as there are rebukes in the world, spiritual satisfaction comes to the world, goodness and blessings come to the world, and evil leaves the world, as it is stated: “But to those who admonish shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Tamid 28a)

Inter-generational accountability

“These are the words that Moshe addressed to all Israel…”.

There are only two places in the biblical text that Moshe addresses the entire nation of Israel – in this week’s parsha, and in Parshat Hakhel. The Kli Yakar points out that Moshe’ statement was addressed to all of Israel, but that he was speaking mainly with the greatest of Israelites, each of which merited the appellation of Grandfather Israel”. The gedolim, the greatest of the generation, transmit “Grandfather Israel’s” heritage to future generations. They have the responsibility of strengthening the spiritual links in the chain that binds our nation together:

“… and because the gedolim must admonish the nation, for if they do not do so, the nation’s guilt shall be attached to them.”

Those who are great also have the great responsiblity of creating mutual inter-generational accountability. The admonishment may be addressed to this generation, but it remains in force for all generations to come, for in every generation, the gedolim, because of their responsibility, must ensure that “the path continues, and only those who continue walking will reach its end” (excerpted from a poem by Yoram Teharlev).

“The enlightened ones of all of the generations come together to build the Holy Temple”

The Sefat Emes asks, in his own language, how our sages could have stated that “each generation in whose days [the Holy Temple] was not built is considered [a generation] in whose days [the Temple] was destroyed”. After all, there were countless generations with great and righteous people, so how could we say that the Temple was destroyed during that generation’s time, because of those great people?

The Sefat Emes answers that the construction of the Holy Temple isn’t merely the patrimony of the generation in whose time the Temple will be built. Rather, “All of the days of the generation come together will all of the enlightened ones of the children of Israel from all generations“. A generation that doesn’t concern itself with the next generation does not contribute to the building of the Temple, and as such, this generation’s lack of effort is equated with destroying the Temple, God forbid. Conversely, the positive approach is that “every generation helps, and contributes a bit to the construction of the Temple“. If there is enough inter-generational accountability, a mutual accountability that shows concern for the subsequent generations, the Temple will be built and re-established, along with the set of commandments and values that that our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers taught us – all of those are the “enlightened ones” who will merit to be called Israel.

As we approach the ninth of Av of this year, and Shabbat Hazon, let us wish upon ourselves that we share the lot of the generations of the enlightened and those who are truly worthy, which come together to build the Holy Temple, out of mutual inter- and intra-generational accountability that spans many generations, instilling the value of ahavat hinam – baseless love.


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