In memory of Reuven ben Sarah
1.It’s a Matter of Principle
Vayikra el Moshe vayedaber Hashem eilov mei’ohel mo’ed leimor”- And (Hashem) called out to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him from the ohel mo’ed, saying…” (Vayikra 1:1)
The Midrash Rabbah (1:15) learns from this pasuk that even a dead animal is better than a Talmid Chacham who lacks da’at. This is implied from that which Moshe waited for Hashem to invite him to enter the Mishkan. Although Moshe built the entire Mishkan, he nevertheless held himself back from entering until invited.
It is definitely inappropriate to enter someone’s home uninvited, but how could doing so have rendered someone of Moshe’s caliber guilty of lacking the fundamental quality of da’at? Also, what does the Midrash mean to tell us when it states that a Talmid Chacham who doesn’t act with da’at is on a lower level than a dead animal?
The Realization of Realization
Whenever we speak about knowledge, we find three words used to describe it: Chachma, Bina and Da’at. Chachma refers to knowing information, and Bina is the ability to construct concepts off of previous knowledge. Da’at, however, has not been achieved until one internalizes the information in a way that its applicable .Rav Avigdor Miller teaches that this is a level of clarity to the senses that is so live and vivid that it can’t be forgotten.
For example, a parent can tell a small child that he should not play with fire because it can burn them. The child has gained a piece of information (chachma). Then the parent can teach the child how to distinguish between something hot and something that isn’t (bina). But until the child actually makes the mistake of touching something hot – and experiences the pain of a burn first-hand, he will not gain a true understanding of what it means to touch something hot. Only after this happens will the child develop an instinct to run away from fire because he now has it internalized (Da’at).
If a Talmid Chacham doesn’t internalize information in a way that he will act upon his information refining his beliefs, principles and proper habits, than his knowledge and efforts are for naught. He is more useless than an animal carcass; at least a carcass has bones that can still serve a purpose. Without Da’at, one’s knowledge is unrealized potential, because it has not been internalized in a usable fashion. (For this reason, the Rambam in his Mishna Torah calls the section on middot “Hilchot De’ot”).
The actualization of realization
Some people live life without ever thinking about what their principles and beliefs are. They act on the spur of the moment. When one lives this way, life can get very confusing. It becomes full of contradictions and sometimes one sees how others perceive him, and he is shocked. One finds himself wondering, “I don’t think this way, so why did I act this way?”
Take out time to jot down what your principles, beliefs and life-values are. Then weigh them out against each other, and review it periodically, asking yourself, “Is this the way I behave?” There is no better way to see your true reflection.
2. A B C of manners
As mentioned earlier, da’at is a level of clarity which makes ideas so clear that they won’t be fogged up. Attaining this level of clarity allows one to differentiate; it is for this reason that havdalla is said in the bracha of “chonen hada’at.”
Although Moshe built the Holy of Holies in the Mishkan, he did not walk in without being called. This demonstrated his appreciation that where there is a door separating between two people or places, there is an opportunity to recognize that a world exists outside oneself. Moshe didn’t just say that if G-d exists everywhere, surely I, as a representative of G-d’s nation, can just walk in!
The Resented Critic
The word “bikoret” means criticism. This word shares a root with the word “bikur,” which means “visit.” Rebbitzin Neudstadt explained that the connection between these words can be understood with the following mashal (parable):
A new neighbor arrives in the apartment building. Mrs. Cohen befriends her in a welcoming way. One day, while Mrs. Cohen is in the privacy of her own home doing dishes in the kitchen, she turns around and is surprised to find her new neighbor standing right there looking at her.
“What are you doing here?” asks Mrs. Cohen, nearly dropping the dishes in shock.
“I just thought I’d stop in for a visit!” answers the new neighbor.
Mrs. Cohen says to her new neighbor, “I appreciate your visit, and you’re welcome to visit anytime. However, there is a door for a reason! Next time, please knock and I will gladly invite you in!”
The same way that even if a person invites a visitor, they expect the visitor to knock before entering, one who is giving criticism to a spouse, friend or acquaintance must first ensure that the other person is ready to hear what he has to say. It is sometimes important and constructive to help another improve himself through positive criticism, but we must make sure before we criticize someone that we have earned his trust and that the other person is welcoming us into his heart. Otherwise, it can be an offense of the first degree, despite the good intentions of the critic.
Obnoxious Line Cutters with Filthy Fingers
This is the common denominator between many etiquette rules and manner guidelines– the recognition that a world exists outside one’s self and act accordingly. Recently I stood in a line and a few rushing people tried cutting. I looked at them with disgust. My friend then asked me why I look at them so lowly – they didn’t transgress any Halachic or Local law! They didn’t really steal anything.
There are some people who don’t understand why it is so important for everyone to eat with a fork. They say, “If G-d gave us fingers that serve the same purpose of a fork (if not better), then we should use them! They just use the fork not to be strange and not to dirty their fingers.
However, as discussed earlier, part of da’at is to realize and internalize that if there is a line, than it is for everyone’s best interest, in order to create peace and tranquility. If there exists a fork in order that a person should not be grossed out by the one sitting on the opposite side of the table – use it. This is the basics of da’at. Derech eretz kadma latorah!
3. Quest for Honor
The Honor Crutch
The first word in the pasuk discussed above, “Vayikra” is spelled with a small letter ‘alef’. Moshe was not instructed by Hashem to make this letter smaller than the others – he did so out of his own humility, as he felt unworthy to be summoned by G-d for a private meeting in the Holy of Holies.
This word ‘vayikra’ with a small letter ‘alef’ reminds us of another variant spelling of the word vayikra. When Hashem summoned Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, the word vayikra has no alef in it altogether. Despite the fact that Moshe was a much greater person than Bilaam, we see that in Moshe’s eyes, he was no more deserving of the honor of speaking with Hashem.
The Medrash Tanchuma states, “kol haboreiach min hasheroro, hasheroro boreiach acharov” – “One who runs away from honor, honor runs after him.” The opposite is also true – one who runs after honor, the honor runs away from him. This truism has been proven many times over. How can we understand this?
People often chase honor because they suffer from low self-esteem, and therefore need others to validate them in order to provide them with a sense of self-worth. When someone runs from honor, others notice that he is a person who is self-confident and comfortable with himself, and respect him much more. This is the only way to becoming deserving of real honor. (Real Power by David Lieberman Ph.D page 79)
What Ticked off Haman
In the Purim story, Haman managed to pass legislation requiring everyone in Achashverosh’s kingdom to bow down to him, and the people obediently did so – except for one. Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman. This led Haman to complain that everything he had accomplished was worthless in his eyes as long as there was one person who didn’t bow down to him.
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, in his sefer Sichos Mussar, explains Haman’s particular frustration in seeing that Mordechai did not share this quest for honor. “Kol zeh eineno shaveh li bchol et asher ani roeh et mordechai hayehudi yoshev bshaar hamelech” (5:13) – “All of this is not worth anything to me, as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the gate of the King!” R’ Chaim asked: why did Haman get so upset from just one person out of the whole kingdom?
His answer is powerful. Someone who chases after honor is never at rest. As long as there is more honor to be chased after – and there always is – he will have no peace until he has “conquered” that honor. All the other honor is not enough.
By contrast, Mordechai sat and learned Torah all day, completely disinterested in what others thought of him. As a result, he was not the slightest bit impressed with the worldwide recognition and honor that Haman was receiving. When one knows he is doing the right thing, as Mordechai did as he sat and learned Torah, he feels an inner peace that cannot be challenged by others. This healthy mindset of Mordechai gave him the power to stand up against all the ridicule he received for protesting against the seuda of Achashverosh.
This inner peace is completely unattainable to someone who chases honor.
4. Honor’s Correct Address
Credit Where Credit is Due
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (6:6) says HaOmer davar b’shem omro meivi geula l’olam – One who repeats something he heard from another, and attributes the saying to the one who said it, brings redemption to the World. This is learned from Esther, who told Achashverosh that it was Mordechai who discovered Bigsan and Seresh’s plot to kill the king.
The Maharal asks two questions on this Mishna. First, we know that reward is always proportionate to the deed which was done (Middah K’neged Middah, “measure for measure”). Why was redemption an appropriate reward for Esther’s willingness to give the credit to Mordechai?
Second, many people throughout history have attributed their statements appropriately, yet they did not bring redemption!
He answers that since the redemption was to come through hidden miracles, G-d wanted it to come about through someone who was herself willing to remain “hidden” and not take any credit for herself. Esther “gave credit where credit was due.” The name “Esther” means “hidden” – because this was the character trait that made Esther the right one for the job.
The Maharal understands that this Mishna does not mean that every time someone attributes a statement it brings redemption. Rather, it means that when redemption comes, it will always come through someone who is willing to hide himself and not take the credit for the redemption.
Stop Searching for Yeshuot (Redemption)
The Chovot HaLevavot (Shaar HaBitachon, Perek 5) writes that a true “Baal Bitachon” attributes all of his successes to G-d. If one would do this more often, as opposed to only blaming G-d for his failures, he would feel more love for G-d, and G-d would be more willing to send salvation through his hands.
Imagine standing on top of a 20-story building, and feeling that because one is so high up that makes him tall. This is the foolishness of attributing our successes to ourselves, rather than realizing we are just midgets on a giant’s shoulders – Hashem is creating our successes!
There is another benefit to attributing one’s successes to G-d. The Sfat Emet explains that when others see someone attributing his successes to Hashem rather than taking all the honor for himself, they actually feel more comfortable around that person – and people are “turned off” by those who take credit for their own accomplishments and make themselves out to ‘G-d like’.