AIMeM would like to thank Uri Kishstein for filling in this week as part of the 'Summer of Subscribers'!
In Parshas Devarim, the first pasuk reads as follows. “אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר משֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין פָּארָן וּבֵין תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת וְדִי זָהָב” "These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel across the Jordan, in the wilderness, on the Aravah plain opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel and Lovon and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav." This and the following pesukim recount all of the places where the Jewish nation angered Hashem. In order to hide this fact, the Torah only mentions the sins of the Jews in an obscure fashion and doesn’t directly describe each and every place in detail of what exactly happened there. This is in order to insure that the honor of Bnei Yisrael is upheld.
Looking at Rashi’s commentary, we can find several problems with his interpretation of these pesukim. The first, and most obvious question is, why does Rashi have to say that these “places” aren’t really places and that they are just hinting to the sin? The simple reading of this pasuk is to understand that the places mentioned are actually the names of places where the Jews sinned, so how does Rashi know they are not real places? And furthermore, Tosafos adds, not much further on in the Torah, Moshe openly rebukes the Jews for the sins of the Meraglim and the Egel Hazahav very harshly. If Moshe was so concerned about the Jews honor, then why would he give them such harsh rebuke?
To answer the first question all we have to do is to look into Rashi’s next comments. Rashi quotes a Gemara stating that throughout all of the Tanach, the places Tofel and Lovon are never mentioned, so it must be that these places are mere symbolism and not actual locations.
The second question is a little more difficult to answer because if Moshe is going to use logic that applies to some sins, then that logic should extend to all sins! No matter how severe!
Rav Ovadia of Bartenura gives a very interesting answer to this question. When you begin a long mussar-type speech to somebody, how do you start? Do you go all gung-ho in the beginning? No! You need to ease the person into the mussar. You might mention what they need to improve on, but you do it in a subtle, sensitive way. But once you are in the middle of your mussar, there is no need to be nice and sensitive, because after all the whole point of the mussar is to get the person to change his/her ways. This is exactly what Moshe did. When he began he wasn’t going to make Bnei Yisrael feel bad, because after all, they is a beautiful and holy nation. But once Moshe had begun, he felt that there was no need to speak in symbolism, he went right at them so they could clearly understand the message Moshe was telling them.
Uri Kirshstein lives in Charleston, South Carolina. He studied at Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem and Lander College for Men in Queens, New York. He is a first-time contributor to AIMeM.
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