Lesson of Moshe

Parshat Devarim

Parshat Devarim – [Administering Justice from Deep Sense Sensitivity, Empathy and From Personal Experience, as well as Judging Others Favorably]

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv (translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This week we shall read the pasuk, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to Yisrael…in the wilderness, in the Arava, near Suf, in the vicinity of Paran, Tofel, Laval, Chatzerot and Di Zahav” (Devarim 1:1).

We need to understand why all these places are mentioned? Rashi HaKadosh z”l explains, “Because these are words of rebuke – and here are mentioned all the places they angered Hashem – therefore the words were cryptic and only mentioned by hinting, in order to preserve the honour of Yisrael.”

This means that that here was a necessity to mention all these places, to indicate, that in those places the Bnei Yisrael angered Hashem, and as such these are pointed words of rebuke aimed at them. Yet all the time that Moshe led them he protected their honour and so when he came to rebuke them, he did it indirectly so as not to [directly] offend even one of them.

Even when there is a mitzvah to rebuke another this must be done in a sensitive manner as the Torah says, “You must admonish your fellow but do not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17). We may ponder how is this achieved? How may we rebuke another without offending them? Consider that we see someone do a sin or a wrong, surely he will be offended when rebuked?

This may be understood through the following parable.

A king ruled his people with the full force available to him, he was a warlord, he decided the economy, law and everything was through his command. He had one son who was spoilt and lived a luxurious lifestyle. As the king saw that he was ageing and his lazy son would succeed him, whilst ignorant of all aspects of the kingship that include warfare, national security, the economy, the finance, law and order, he realised he must train him ready for when all authority would fall to him on his death.

Immediately he commanded academic experts to train his son. The first expert was specialized in warfare and national security, the second in economy and finance, and the third in law and order.

The king paid them handsomely, whilst tasking them to teach him in a two-year window, thereby preparing his son for his future powerful role. Two years passed and the experts came to the palace bearing the good news that the prince had learnt assiduously, and he is fit to rule, sine he is now well-versed in the national security, economy and law.

The king was elated and arranged a party. He produced certificates of recognition for the experts. However, the expert in law and order requested that he teach the prince one more principle, he requested [everyone wait] one hour. The expert took the prince to a nearby room and whacked him with a rod five times in succession. The son returned to his father bruised and aching.

Understandably the king was furious demanding an explanation. What was the meaning of this?

The expert explained. “You tasked me with teaching him to be a king and judge – one who judges righteously – so consider what will happen when all types of vagrants and those who have transgressed the king’s laws arrive for justice, he will decide their fate, how many times they should be whipped. Yet the prince will have lived a spoiled life, one which he has never been smitten. Not even a fly had the gall to touch him! And so he will sit on his throne and decide who shall receive ten lashes and who twenty, but he will not know that some may die after just five lashes, since he will not realise the full strength of each lash. However, now that he himself has received many such lashes he will comprehend how to estimate and assess what each lash is capable of inflicting. So, he will think twice, for he will consider the effect this would have on his own flesh and so he will judge true justice. This is what I sought to teach him and so did I act with this intention.

From here we learn that in order to judge another a person has to feel and empathise what he would do in the other person’s position. In this vein Chazal teach us, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place” and “judge everyone favourably” (Avot 2:4 and 1:6).

Therefore, before we rebuke anyone, we should take a moment to think, how we may act in their position, based on their current experience. We will then certainly view things differently.

During this period we should increase in unconditional love and distance ourselves from baseless hatred. [See further the concept of “unconditional love” in the writings of the Hassidic Rebbe Reb Yechezkel of Kuzmir z”l (1772-1856) in his work Nechmad MiZahav p. 77.]

We should make every effort to see all those in our vicinity from a generous perspective, whether at home, work or where we study. We should not judge them in a [hasty] moment, but rather judge them favourably. Apart from achieving this level in our observance, we may also merit to a quality of life which is more spiritual, as the pasuk states, “May there be peace in your walls, tranquility in your palaces” (Tehillim 122:7).