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 Parshas Devorim - Vol. 4, Issue 41
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Havu lachem anashim chochomim unevonim viy’duim l’shivteichem v’asimeim b’rosheichem (1:13)

The book of Devorim begins with Moshe’s review of the 40-year national history from the time of the Exodus until the present. Much of Parshas Devorim revolves around Moshe’s rebuke of the Jewish nation for sins they committed during this period, in an attempt to ensure that they wouldn’t continue in these mistaken ways. It is curious to note that in our verse, Moshe seems to digress from his chastisement to stress that the Jewish people are distinguished, wise, and understanding. Why did he interrupt his focus on reproaching the people with this point, which is hardly a message of rebuke?

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (9:8): Do not reprimand a scoffer lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. Why would the wise Shlomo advise rebuking a person who seemingly shouldn’t need it and ignoring a scoffer whose ways need correcting?

The Shelah HaKadosh suggests that the erudite Shlomo is actually talking about only one person. The Torah obligates (Vayikra 19:17) a person who sees another Jew engaged in inappropriate activities to rebuke him and attempt to inspire him to change his ways and return to the proper path. In order to do so successfully, a bit of wisdom is required. Shlomo HaMelech advises that talking condescendingly to the scoffer will be useless and cause him to hate the one attempting to reprove him. Talking to him as if he is wise and respectable will likely move the sinner to accept his words and love him for caring about him and coming to his assistance.

A modern-day application of this lesson is offered by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. He writes that when growing up, he was a typical child who got into his share of trouble. However, his father taught him a priceless lesson in how to raise well-adjusted children by the manner in which he rebuked him. All too often, we hear parents screaming at their children, “You good-for-nothing bum! How could you have been so foolish and lazy?” A child who grows up repeatedly hearing this message slowly absorbs the belief that he truly is foolish and lazy. Not surprisingly, he will likely go on to make decisions in life which reflect this self-image.

Rabbi Twerski’s father, on the other hand, used to scold his children in Yiddish, “Es past nisht” – what you did isn’t appropriate for somebody as wonderful and special as you! The message which was constantly driven into him was that he was an amazing child with tremendous potential who simply needed to maintain his focus on channeling his energy properly. As one might expect, he grew up with an unshakably positive self-esteem which surely contributed to his success in life.

With this introduction, the Shelah HaKadosh explains that before fully launching into his criticism of the Jewish people, Moshe first built them up by emphasizing their many good qualities and tremendous potential, which would in turn allow his message to be well-received. The lesson for us is clear: whenever we may need to correct a family member, friend, or co-worker, we should do so in the wise and proven manner taught to us by Moshe Rabbeinu and Shlomo HaMelech.


V’atzaveh es shofteichem ba’eis ha’hee leimor shamoa bein acheichem ushfat’tem tzedek bein ish u’bein achiv u’bein geiro (1:16)

            Even in his youth, the great Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was known for his remarkable diligence in his studies. While his peers idly passed their free time playing games and acting their ages, Rav Yonason utilized every spare moment for the study of Torah. Somebody once asked him about his behavior, questioning whether he wouldn’t be happier if he spent at least a portion of his free time engaged in more age-appropriate extracurricular activities.

            Rav Yonason, demonstrating the sharp mind for which he later became world-renowned, explained his conduct based on a Gemora in Sanhedrin (7b). One opinion in the Gemora cites our verse as the source of the law that a judge may not listen to the claims of one of the litigants if the other party isn’t present to challenge his arguments. This is hinted to by the words ùîò áéï àçéëí – you shall listen between your brothers – which teaches that a judge may only listen to the accusations of one party if the other is present.

            The Gemora in Sanhedrin (91b) teaches that a person receives his yetzer hara at birth, whereas his yetzer tov doesn’t enter him until his Bar Mitzvah, at which point he is held accountable for his actions. Even a person who never becomes a judge in a Jewish court still serves as a judge every moment of his life, as he must constantly listen to the arguments of the two “litigants” inside of him – his yetzer hara and his yetzer tov – and sort them out to reach a judgment about the proper course of action to choose.

“While closing my books to indulge in the hobbies and games enjoyed by the other boys may seem quite tempting,” concluded the wise-beyond-his-years Rav Yonason, “this is the opinion of only one of the litigants – my yetzer hara. As a judge, I am forbidden to listen to his claims until my Bar Mitzvah, at which time the other party will be able to present its counter-claims, and I will be able to reach a judgment regarding the proper course of action. However, until that time, the ‘law’ gives me no choice but to ignore him and diligently continue with my Torah studies!”


Vata’anu va’tomru eilai chatanu l’Hashem anachnu na’aleh v’nilchamnu k’chol asher tzivanu Hashem Elokeinu vatach’g’ru ish es klei milchamto vatahuni la’alos ha’hara (1:41)

Upon hearing the negative report of the spies about the land of Israel, the Jewish people despaired of the possibility of ever conquering the fierce inhabitants of the land. They expressed their desire to die in the wilderness or even return to Egypt rather than attempt to enter Israel.

Yet upon hearing Hashem’s decree that they would be forced to wander and die in the wilderness without ever entering Israel, they immediately changed their attitude and expressed their desire to go there. They were so strong in their new convictions that they attempted to do so over the warnings of Moshe, ultimately paying the price for their efforts with their lives when the Canaanite inhabitants attacked and killed them. Their abrupt about-face is difficult to comprehend. How can this radical change in attitude be understood?

            The Alter of Kelm explains that human nature is to rebel against authority. Rav Yaakov Emden suggests that it is for this reason that the Gemora (Kiddushin 31a) teaches that a person who performs a mitzvah that he is obligated to do will receive more reward than somebody who performs the same mitzvah but isn’t required to do so. Because the former knows that he must do the mitzvah, he will encounter more resistance than will the latter, who knows that can opt out at any time. If the former succeeds in overcoming his internal opposition and performs the mitzvah, he deserves a greater reward.

Similarly, Hashem gently asked Moshe (Shemos 11:2) to “please” instruct the Jewish people to borrow gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors prior to the Exodus. Although they would be getting rich in the process, Hashem merely requested it of Moshe to teach that even an action which is clearly in a person’s best interest may cause him to rebel if it becomes an obligation.

            With this introduction, we can now understand that originally, the Jewish people knew that they were commanded to enter and conquer the land of Israel. As excited as they were for the ultimate conclusion to their redemption from Egypt, they nevertheless harbored resistance to the fact that they were commanded to do so. As soon as they had an excuse to believe the spies’ negative report and rebel against their instructions, they were only too eager to do so.

Upon hearing that Hashem not only wouldn’t make them go to Israel but in fact decreed that they must die in the wilderness, effectively forbidding them from entering the land, the exact dynamic which had caused them to rebel against the command to go there now caused them to want to defy the new instructions and enter Israel immediately.

            Many people approach the tragic episode of the spies as a localized incident, one which should motivate us to work on our love for the land of Israel to rectify their sin. While this is indeed appropriate, the Alter teaches us that the lesson is much larger. Many times in life we logically recognize the propriety of a certain action, but as soon as somebody – be it G-d, our spouse, or our boss – makes it mandatory, an emotional struggle begins. Being aware of this phenomenon can allow us to overcome our innate resistance and do what we know is right, for which the Gemora teaches we will be greatly rewarded.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (1:1) that Moshe mentioned Chatzeiros as an allusion to the sin of Korach’s rebellion, and Di Zahav to hint to the sin of the golden calf. Why are these sins listed in non-chronological order, which is again repeated in Tehillim (106:16-19)? (Chanukas HaTorah)

2)     Why did Eisav merit receiving Mount Seir as his inheritance immediately and without any hardship (2:5) while Yaakov and his descendants were forced to descend to Egypt and suffer centuries of backbreaking slavery before they were finally able to receive the land of Israel as their inheritance? (Rav Aharon Bakst quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

3)     There are four blessings which – in the Diaspora, where Yom Tov is observed for two days – are recited exactly once annually, one of which is associated with this time of the year. How many of them can you identify?

 © 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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