Parshat Devarim

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints
by Dr. Joel Berman

Gam Bi Hitanaf Hashem Biglalchem Leimor Gam Ata Lo Tavo Sham, "Because of you (Bnai Yisrael), Hashem became angry at me (Moshe), saying, 'You too will not enter Eretz Yisrael'" (1:37).

Here, Moshe is rebuking Bnai Yisrael for the sin of the Meraglim. We learn that Moshe was not allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael because he hit the rock at Mei Meriva. According to this Pasuk, however, he attributes the incident of the spies, an incident that occurred 38 years earlier, to his not being allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. What, then, is the connection between Mei Meriva, the Meraglim, and Moshe's punishment?

Rav Shimon Schwab, zt"l, lists some of the ridiculous complaints Moshe was bombarded with: "Why did you bring us out of Egypt?" "If we had only died in Egypt," and "Wouldn't it be better for us to return to Egypt?" The nature of a person is such that no matter how high his spiritual level, the environment around him will eventually influence him. Rav Schwab says that after forty years of leading Bnai Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu did act not on Hashem's command and hit the rock. In other words, Moshe is telling Bnai Yisrael that the years of complaints and rebellion finally caused him to lose control, thus resulting in his punishment. (Lest you think this was an overly harsh punishment, it should be noted that Jewish leaders are judged by extremely high standards. No matter how much Chesed a person has performed, no matter how much Tzedaka a person has given, no matter how great a Talmid Chacham he may be, if he is caught stealing even one penny from the charity box, his reputation is ruined.) Contrast this standard to the standards of our political leaders. While we strive for new heights, they, without rebuke, punishment, or Hirhurei Teshuva, are defining new lows.

It is cliche, but it is true: if you play with tar, it will stick. The Rambam teaches us that a Tzaddik put in the company of Reshaim long enough will himself turn into a Rasha. If Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest leader, could be so affected by the people in the desert, the greatest of all generations, imagine how careful we must be.

Toiling in Torah
by Yoni Ratzersdorfer

When Moshe Rabbeinu proposed to establish a judicial and educational system to replace the system in which everyone came to him to learn, the people replied, Tov Hadavar Asher Dibarta Laasot, "The thing that you have proposed to do is good" (1:14). Rashi comments that Moshe was upset with the enthusiastic reaction from the nation. Moshe responded to the people, "From whom is it better to learn, from me or from my students? Isn't it better to learn from me, someone who has toiled and suffered in the study of Torah?" Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Rashi should have said that they should have preferred Moshe Rabbeinu as a teacher because he was the original teacher, as opposed to learning from his students. Why does Rashi choose to say that Moshe was a better teacher because he suffered and toiled in his learning?

This can be answered by saying that some people who are not yet great scholars might find it easier to learn from a student because the student does not have as great an understanding as the original teacher. Rashi is trying to tell us to seek out the best teacher, someone who has toiled and suffered in learning in order to completely understand every subject. This type of teacher does not solely rely on his great mind but constantly labors to find the truth.

This can explain Rashi in Parshat Bechukotai, where he says that anyone who does not toil in Torah is viewed as someone who has not learned at all. Even a person with the greatest of minds who has not labored but depends on his memory and genius cannot be considered a true Talmid Chacham. The wisdom of the Torah is far greater than the wisdom of any human mind. Only after a person puts in effort and has suffered in his learning will Hashem assist him in understanding the Torah.

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