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The sedra starts by saying……

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel over the Jordan River in the desert on the plain opposite Suf between Poron and between Toful and Lovon and Chatzeiros, and Di Zohov.

Eleven days from Chorev, the way of the mountain of Seir, till Kodesh Barnea. And it was in the fortieth year, the eleventh month, the first of the month when Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel, according to everything which G-d had commanded about them.

Rashi says that as these were words of rebuke and Moshe was going to remind them of all the places where they antagonised the Almighty. Therefore to honour Jewish People, he only mentioned the places indirectly. The reason the verse reports that he spoke to “all Israel” was so that no one could claim that, had they been there, they would have provided counter argument justifying the previous rebellions. Although verse one, starts by saying “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel” the verse concludes without h ng reported anything he said. Rashi points out that the words “In the desert, B’Arova, opposite Suf etc.” is what he said! Each of the words was mentioned by Moshe remind them of their previous catastrophic rebellions. In verse three Rashireports that the time of the rebuke was near to Moshe’s death. He waited until then to remind them and to rebuke them for the things they had done wrong. This precedent he learned from Yaakov. He too waited till near his death before rebuking his sons. The Rashi is opening exposing a tremendously important principle.

I knew a very great lady who sadly died of cancer. Before she died she recorded an audio cassette for each of her children. The tape recorded the message she felt was appropriate to each one, criticising their weaknesses and praising their strengths. It advised them exactly what to do with their lives to maximise their potential. I have never asked her children but I would strongly suspect that these cassettes are their most precious possessions. Even though their mother was criticising them at the time of her last few weeks, the criticism obviously was a product of her love for them. If someone is sure that they are being criticised from a position of affection and love then and only then will they accept the criticism. That is exactly the point that Rashiis making in his first two comments on the sedra. Moshe waits until near his death, he gathers all the Jews no one is excluded, anyone who was to justify may attempt it, and he is subtle in reminding them of what went wrong.

The Alshichpoints out that there is one enormous question raised by the Rashi. He pointed out that these are the places where the Jews had provoked G-d. Bamidbor, “In the desert”, referred to the conflict which occurred after the Jews had crossed the Red Sea. In the third day of their journey into the desert they had no water and complained bitterly about h ng been taken out of Egypt. The next rebellion is hinted at in the word B’Arova; this was the rebellion which took place when the Jews sinned at the incitement of the Midianite and Moabite women when they bowed down and worshipped the idol of Baal Peor. Opposite Suf, refers to the rebellion of the Jews when they came to the Red Sea and again complained about h ng been taken out of Egypt. Between Poron and Toful and Lovon, refers to the spies who brought back the damning report about Israel. Chatzeiros, refers to the rebellion of Korach and his allies. Finally Di Zohov, refers to the making of the Golden Calf.

The Alshich notes that the posuk is not in chronological order. If it had been then the rebellion, at the Red Sea should have been stated first. He says that Moshe was exploring the willingness of the Jewish People to accept rebuke! If the criticism was going to be rejected by them, it makes their original crime much worse in the eyes of G-d, they show no regret. So he “tests the waters” by pointing out some of their rebellions in such a way that invites them to accept the criticism.

If a person is criticised, accepts the facts but ” You are correct…..but “, then by definition they are not accepting the criticism, they are justifying their position. Moshe points out the rebellions out of order, to preclude this possibility. Starting chronologically the first rebellion was at the Red Sea. The Jews of course would have a “yes….. but”. Yes it’s true, but after 210 years of contamination by Egyptian idolatrous society, our faith is G-d was incomplete and weak. When we reached our first crisis with our backs to a sea and an Egyptian army in pursuit, it is true we didn’t pray and ask G-d for help. But that was understandable given the circumstances. Moshe anticipates this response and therefore starts with the second rebellion after the Jews had crossed the Red Sea. At this time the verse in Exodus reports that “They believed in Hashem and Moshe His servant.” The Jews could no longer claim that it was through lack of faith that they rebelled. If so how could they justify the rebellion three days into the desert.

But here too they could have a justification a “yes but”. It is true that we rebelled in the desert because of lack of water; but who wouldn’t! We were faced with starvation and death by thirst . We were desperate. Moshe anticipates this reaction too. So the next rebellion he mentions is the one at Arova. This is the rebellion when the Jews engaged in idolatry after the of the Moabite and Midianite women. They had recently fought and won two major wars and had become exceedingly rich in so doing. So that if the Jews claimed that the rebellion in the desert was because the situation was so desperate and that was the only reason. Then that excuse fails when faced with the reality of a further rebellion in which their situation was one of luxury and security.

Once again a justification is applicable. They can claim that it was their very rich situation itself which produced the rebellion. Because life was so easy, life was so comfortable, we became lax in our attachment to the Almighty. The Alshichsays even though every situation in a Jew’s life is a challenge whether being rich or being poor. Being rich and being loyal to Judaism however is the harder of the two. When you think of the most famous Jewish names associated with wealth Rothschild etc. then very few remain Jewish for more than a few generations. If you mix with Lords and Dukes and Princesses, you end up married to Lords and Dukes and Princesses.

Moshe anticipates this refutation too and therefore his next hint is Opposite Suf; the rebellion at the Red Sea. The situation here could not have been more different. If their life was comfortable and luxurious at Arova and the rebellion of Baal Peor, at the Red Sea it was the opposite, they were desperate. There is a phrase which says there are no “atheists in foxholes”. Generally in desperate straits people turn to G-d. At the Red Sea they failed to do so. It can’t be that wealth was the justification of the rebellion at Arova, even when they were desperate they also rebelled.

Again they can claim that it is true we did it but not because we thought that G-d couldn’t help. At the Red Sea we thought G-d wouldn’t help. We were a people who had committed great crimes against G-d in Egypt, worshipping idols as did the Egyptians, we had used up all our “credits” in Heaven. The miracle that was required to save us would not be justified. Moshe anticipates this and therefore points out the next rebellion which was the rebellion of the spies.

The journey from Mount Sinai to take the land of Israel was an eleven day march. Rashipoints out that they covered this ground in three days. For three days one footstep carried them a distance of three footsteps. They walked in the middle of a miracle with the scenery flying past. Here the Jews could have been in no doubt that G-d was with them and still the spies brought back a bad report.

Again there is possible rebuttal. Surely you can’t blame all of us for the failure of the ten spies who brought back a bad report of the land of Israel.

Moshe anticipates this too and goes on to the next rebellion which happened with Korach. Here allthe Jews rebelled against Moshe, not just a tiny fraction. But they can claim that was the fault of Moshe’s tribe, the Leviim. Korach was from the house of Levi. Ordinary Jews would never have done such a thing. ..So Moshe finishes with Di Zohov, the Golden Calf. At the Golden Calf the only tribe who remained loyal was the tribe of Levi.

In order to make sure that they are as willing to accept criticism as possible Moshe Rabbeinu crafts his rebuke with skill, with wisdom and with love. His legacy to them will be that they will not repeat the same mistakes after he has gone.

But the Alshichsaid that Moshe was exploring whether or not they would accept his rebuke. The possibility occurs that that they may not. How and what would one do if they refuse to accept the criticism?

Rabbi Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu vol 4 PG 250 has an essay entitled A Crucially Fundamental Principle in Education. He quotes Reb Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the Lecho Dodi) who in Bris Halevi states the following. The Zoharsays that the souls of Geirim (converts) are the garments which is worn by tzaddikim (saints) in Gan Eden (Heaven).

Reb Shlomo Alkabetzexplains that just as there is a union between husband and wife in this world there is too in the world to come. The physical union of husband and wife produces a physical offspring, a child. The spiritual union of the souls of tzaddikim in Heaven produces a spiritual offspring, the souls of geirim. We see with Avrohom and Sora that they are reported in Genesis to have made souls!

Rabbi Desslerexplains that this mystical concept; “Gan Eden” doesn’t simply refer to the “World to come”. It is a euphemism for an environment in which a person enjoys the highest spiritual levels in this world too. He proves this by referring to the story of Avrohom and Sora. When the Torah reports in Genesis that they made souls, then this was during their lifetime not when they were in “Gan Eden”. And Rabbi Dessler says that two tzaddikim come together and produce an environment which will influence others. Contact with these special and unique people, takes the basic spiritual potential of ordinary people and refines and elevates it. This is true about geirim who come close to Judaism through their contacts with tzaddikim . It is also true about any Jew who elevates himself through an attachment to a rabbi, to a teacher. If however the person is not possessed of a sufficiently refined character, then the influence of the teacher, role model, or tzaddik, will not be able to fully take hold. In such circumstances then the influence cannot be direct, the rebuke must not be specific. Rather the effect of the tzaddik and tzaddekes will be indirect.

The Talmud states that both Avrohom and Yitzchok only had their existence so that there would be a Yaakov! Avrohom and Yitzchok laid the groundwork so that the purest form of contact with G-d which was exemplified and personified by Yaakov, could come to the world. Avrohom inherited a world which was bereft and ignorant about G-d . It was therefore necessary for him to employ chessed (kindness) in order to influence them to change their ways. When people see a house built on kindness and a family who exemplify kindness, then for some it will prove deeply attractive. They will want to become close and attached to that family. As this attachment grows the person will be more and more willing to model himself on the paradigms of the family. This was the role which Avrohom performed and in so doing created and influenced the world. Subsequently it was able to move onto the next stage which was exemplified by Yitzchok whose relationship with G-d was more direct. A person willing to sacrifice everything for G-d. Eventually his inheritance could be bestowed on a Yaakov who would find a world which was able to bear his influence. The point that Rabbi Dessler is making, is that if someone is unable to take direct criticism, then direct criticism is inappropriate for them. The inspiration has to be by example and the example has to be from the heart, one which demonstrates love, affection and concern for the person. That leads to the person attaching themselves to all of those values. Had Moshe failed in a direct approach to the Jewish people another was available.

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!

Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb

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