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Interpersonal relationships

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Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reviews the 40 years of wandering in the desert and reminds the Children of Israel to be loyal to the Torah. It also includes an important lesson in interpersonal relationships.

This week’s Torah portion is Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22) and with it we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah. Devarim, and most of Deuteronomy for that matter, is essentially one long sermon that consists of Moses’ parting words. Moses reviews the last 40 years of wandering with the people and reminds them to be loyal to the Torah.

The opening verse reads: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arava, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Laban and Chatzerot and Di-zahav.”

As one can see, the Torah leaves no room for doubt as to where this sermon is taking place. Even a GPS couldn’t give a more accurate description of their location. The famous commentator, Rashi, explains that the Torah mentioned all these place names as a way of gently reminding the Jewish people how (and where) they had sinned in the last 40 years. For example, instead of confronting the people directly for the sin of the Golden Calf, the Torah mentions “Di-Zahav,” which can also be read as “the incident with the gold.” (Indeed, there is some discussion as to whether these place names are completely fictitious and were simply written in order to remind the people of their sins, or if these are real places that coincidentally can be read as referring to past sins, as well).

compassion to prisoner

Showing compassion even to a sinner. (shutterstock)

A parable is told to help us make sense this section. There once was a king who had an orchard. When his fruit had ripened, he placed a watchdog in the orchard to prevent thieves from stealing the luscious fruit. One day, looking out of his palace window, he saw a friend sneaking into the orchard in order to steal some fruit. The dog did its job, and the intruder eventually got out, albeit with some very ripped clothes.

The king wasn’t sure whether he should confront his friend about the incident. On the one hand, he was concerned that by confronting him, he would embarrass him. On the other hand, he was worried that if he didn’t confront him, his friend would just try to steal again in the future.

So he made a plan. Some time later, when his friend came to visit, the king “apologized” because he heard that his dog had ripped his friend’s clothes. The friend then realized that the king knew everything.

And so it was with Moses. Moses was sensitive to the feelings of the Jewish people. If he did not chastise them for their sins, there was a good chance that they would repeat them. On the other hand, if he chastised them harshly, they would be embarrassed. Moses therefore softened his rebuke by simply hinting about their sins, casually reminding them.

This year, immediately after the Sabbath, we will be observing Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. Our sages teach us that the primary culprit for this tragedy, our primary sin, was that people did not treat one another properly. It follows, therefore, that if we want to rectify that sin and bring back the Holy Temple, we should be especially considerate towards one another. Moses’ rebuke to the Jewish people, done with sensitivity and compassion, is a good example.

For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:

https://unitedwithisrael.org/unity-will-bring-redemption/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-bribery-vs-gratitude/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/some-mistakes-could-become-valuable-life-lessons/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/the-greatness-of-you/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-a-nation-of-leaders/

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