CHOOSING LAST WORDS
The Midrash elaborates on the name of the last book of the Torah . Devarim, from the root word Devorah, bee. . Just as a bee dies after it stings, so, too, he who delivers words of rebuke: To teach you that when someone rebukes the Jewish Nation, even rightfully so, he is immediately “removed”. Yaakov, our Forefather, knew this, and only on his last day did he rebuke his sons. All his life, Moshe Rabbeinu pondered how and when he should rebuke the Jews. Ultimately, he learnt from his forefather, Yaakov, exactly how to accomplish this sensitive task. He knew that he would have to chastise them on his very last day. The sting was to bring about his death.
Just as Moshe learnt the when from his forefather, so he learnt the how. Therefore, Moshe rebuked mostly in hints. When Moshe rebuked the people for the sin of the Calf, he only hinted to it- די זהב. The surplus money the Jews had with them from Egypt is what caused them to make the Golden Calf. Why did Moshe not get straight to the point? This was, in a way, a modeling of Forefather Yaakov. One unique aspect of the rebuke Yaakov gave his children was to refrain from making mention of the act of sin. Rather, the sin was to be referred to, and the focus was on the loss that was suffered as result of the sin. Reuven was rebuked and told that he would lose his rights as a firstborn, to kingship and to priesthood. His hastiness was the focus of the rebuke, and not his action. Shimon and Levi, as well, were not reproved for their attack on Shechem, but for their having “stolen” the sword and traits of Uncle Esav. Moshe learnt from this that the correct way to call a person to order is to do so indirectly. The cause of the sin, the loss and the result of sin, was the focus in his words rather than the sin itself. For this reason, Moshe changed the sequence of rebuke from that of the sequence of events. First, he mentioned the sin of the Spies, and only then did he mentioned the sin of the Golden Calf. This is because the sin of the Spies had a much more onerous result and more far-reaching ramifications on the lives of the people than that of the Calf.
R’ A. L. Heiman zt”l reveals another underlying point to which many are oblivious. The Torah stresses that Moshe spoke to all of Israel. Rashi brings the Sifri, that Moshe was careful to call everyone to this gathering of rebuke. If he would rebuke only a part of the nation, the others, in the market place, would later say to those who were present, “You heard the Son of Amram chastising you, and you did not answer him?! Had we been there, we would have answered him back (Sifri: four or five times on each offense)! ” So Moshe made sure that everyone was there, saying, “If anyone anything to offer in his defense, let him speak up now”.
This is hard to understand. How could anyone defend himself and challenge the truth of what Moshe was saying? Was someone going to refute the sin of the Spies or the sin of the Calf? Was someone going to deny the complaints about conditions in the desert?
There is one rebuttal that can be given to Moshe: The people whom he rebuked could simply say, If you want to reprimand anyone for the sin of the Calf or the episode of the Spies, dig up our fathers’ graves direct your comments to them . What do we have to do with it? The truth of the matter is, no one was left! The Midrash even explains that for this reason, Moshe gave them a blessing in the middle of giving the rebuke, ה’ אלקי אבותיכם יסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם . He blessed them for listening to him and not saying that they were not guilty for the sins of their fathers. If so, if they were not the ones who sinned, then why did Moshe rebuke them? How could Moshe refute the defense of the “ones in the market place”? And, if they were also deserving of rebuke, why did he call them to order for what their parents did and not for what they did themselves?
If one were to study the history of the Jews from after the sin of the Spies until Moshe’s last day, he would find that the sons sinned the sins of the fathers. They, also, served idols (Peor), fought with Moshe about the Manna and lack of water, and even tried going back to Egypt when faced by the war of C’na’ani, King of Arad. פקד עון אבות על בנים . Instead of Moshe mentioning their sins directly, he did so through a subtle hint. He made it as if the sins of the sons were because of the fathers who brought them up in such a fashion. As if they were not guilty.
We have a lot to learn from this. At times we look at our parents and notice their mistakes. Let us know, that these mistakes and mishaps may very well have some sort of déjà vu in our lives. And we can learn from our own weaknesses and work on them. And when we do not, we say אבל אנחנו ואבותינו חטאנו But we and our fathers have sinned.
Moshe was so careful to pick the right words.
LEARNING TO CRY ON TISHA B’AV
There are twenty-one days on the Jewish calendar when we are expected to stir up our emotions over the loss of the Temple. Our Sages tell us: כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה – Anyone who mourns over Jerusalem will be privileged to see her in her rejoicing. During the three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, we are expected to add emotion.
But is it really possible to care about a loss which occurred 1943 years ago, even if the loss was tremendous? The challenge is even more difficult in this age known as עקבתא דמשיחא – the era before the coming of Mashiach. Indeed, many of the identifying signs of this period, foreseen in the Talmud (Sanhedrin97a), are visible today before our very eyes! The name of this period, עקבתא דמשיחא , literally meaning “heel of the Messiah,” hints at the difficulty we face mourning over theTemple. Metaphorically, Jewish history can be compared to the human body – from the head down to the heel. The head is represented by Moshe Rabeinu and the דור דעה , the “generation of knowledge” who received the Torah at Sinai. The story of our nation winds down to its culmination in our time, a period comparable to the heel of a foot (עקב). The heel has a uniquely large amount of skin to cushion and support the whole body. It is also the place where there is a lot of dead skin. These features are reflected in our time when emotions and feelings for others are greatly diminished.
If the “caring days” are long gone, how can we be expected, so many years after the destruction of theTemple, to care and to cry over it? What if we just don’t feel anything? Is there any technique we can learn in order to generate a little genuine sadness and real tears?
And why do we have to get all emotional about it? Would it not suffice to learn from our past mistakes and focus on fixing our national problems with dry cheeks?
The answer is that while we need to use our minds to mourn for the Templeand Jerusalem, that is not enough. Indeed, there are two words for tears in Hebrew: בכי andדמע . דמע has the same letters asמדע (intellect), because it is rooted in an intellectual understanding of a tragedy. In contrast, the other type of tear reflects an emotion triggered by the heart. It is called בכי and it has the numerical value of the word לב (heart). Thus, the Hebrew language itself teaches us that there are two paths to tears, and we are expected to use both of them, as it says in Eichah: עיני עיני ירדו מים – both my eyes shed tears. On the conceptual level, this means that tears flow from both sources.
The tears of the heart express feelings and emotions that words simply cannot. Any Holocaust survivor will tell you that all the Holocaust books and movies barely give you a glimpse of what it was really like. This is because some emotions cannot be contained by words. Many of us learned this first hand, when tragedy struck close to home. Our immediate response was not “How did it happen?” or “What could have been done to prevent it from happening?” Such questions are not asked by close relatives after suffering a tragic loss. They respond with the heart, not with the mind.
The two relationships where emotions run strongest are those of bride and groom, and mother and child. “Identity involvement” is very strong in these relationships. And the stronger the sense of identity, the stronger the sense of emotion. For this reason, the Prophets use these two metaphors frequently to describe the emotional pain that G-d “experienced” – as it were – due to the Destruction of the Templeand His people going into exile. For example, the Prophets speak of Zionas a mother waiting and longing for her long-lost children to finally come back home. If we do not feel this emotion, it is a sign that we do not properly identify ourselves as being one with our Nation.
A CHILD CALLED NACHUM
There was a couple who loved each other dearly, but, unfortunately, had not been blessed with children. They comforted each other by saying that the day would come when they would be “ready” to be parents, and able to hold their future in their hands. They prayed together, went for blessings from great rabbis together, and went for treatments together.
The difficult waiting period dragged on year after year – for twenty years. The woman cried bitterly to her husband, and began to despair. But her loyal husband kept encouraging her – and himself. One night, he looked at her tear-stained face and suggested that they try still another series of treatments. To their utter joy – the woman became pregnant .They would often stay up late discussing what they would name their baby, if a boy or if a girl. They talked about what neighborhood would be ideal to live in and about details of good parenting that they had never before gone into. They laughed together for nine months – the best nine months of their married life.
As the woman was rolled into the delivery room, she began to feel severe pains which were unrelated to the regular birth pangs that she had been experiencing for the previous several hours.. Complications were becoming more serioius by the minute; the lives of both mother and baby were in jeopardy. The doctor put the hard facts on the table in the form of an ultimatum: either the mother or the baby! There was not enough time to ask a Rabbi about what Jewish Law dictates in this case, and the poor woman acted on emotion: She turned to her husband and said, “Call him Nachum, and tell him how I gave up my life for him. And make sure he says Kaddish for me with all his heart!”
The father held his son on his knees at the bris, and everyone cried bitterly when he called out the name. Every year, Nachum would celebrate his birthday on the Yahrzeit of his mother. He would say Kaddish in shul from the first time he was able. And on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, his father asked him to go visit the mother’s grave and say Kaddish fervently for the one who gave up her very life for him. To the father’s dismay , however, the boy said the Kaddish nonchalantly, without a tear in his eye. The father was devastated. “Nachum,” he asked “don’t you have any feeling for your mother who gave up her life for you?”
Nachum gazed at the floor and tried to explain himself: “But I never met her. I really don’t have any feeling for the person everyone has been telling me to cry for.”
In a certain sense, we are all Nachum. We have difficulty mourning the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), something that we never had the privilege of experiencing. But let’s stop and think for a minute. The prophet Yermiyahu tells us that G-d poured out his wrath on “sticks and stones” – the Holy Temple – instead of destroying the Jewish People for the sins they committed (Eicha,Ch. 4). We survived only because theTemple was destroyed. To fully understand what we lost, however, we must learn about the major differences between the era of theTemple and the present. The Temple was so much more than just a mere building of sticks and stones. It was the place where all Jewish hearts connected. And it was the only place in the entire galaxy where the glory of G-d’s Presence could be experienced. Only by destroying this marvelous place was G-d able to wake us up from our spiritual slumber and sinful lives.