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Weekly Thought - Devarim

Friday, 16 July, 2010 - 1:10 am

This week’s Parsha, Devarim begins with hints of Moshe Rabbenu’s words of admonishment toward the Jewish People. The Rebbe explains how Moshe Rabbenu approached these words, and illuminates an everlasting lesson to us in how to use words in our daily lives, especially with the education and guidance of our children.

The Gemorah states that when a person needs to admonish others, it should be carried out in a specific manner. First, one “pushes away the other with his left hand”, and then “draws his close with his right hand”. The ‘left’ refers to Gevurah–strictness which comes from the “weak” side, while ‘right’ refers to ahava–affection which comes from the “strong” side. This two sided approach is different than Elisha, who pushed his servant Gechazi away with ‘both arms’, and that of Yehoshua ben Perachia who also pushed away his ‘well-known student’ with ‘both arms’.

In the continuation, the Gemorah explains how to rebuke a child. Strictness, from the weaker side, is mentioned first, and then that we must show chesed from the right, is mentioned second. The Rebbe questions the Gemorah based on the following premise. When we begin teaching children, we give them sweets to get them to learn. Later, we teach that serving Hashem purely out of love is the best motivation, and not for the sake of a reward. We begin with chesed, yamin – the right side. Based upon this foundation the Rebbe asks: Why is the order in the Gemorah to first rebuke, with the left, and only then draw close with the right?

The Rebbe explains that the real intention in the Gemora is not to describe what comes first and what comes second in sequence. What is actually meant is that even when you rebuke another, they need to see kindness, that you hold them very strong and dear. This is shown in the story the Gemorah brings following the statement. Elisha the Prophet had a gabbai named Gechazi who was the leader of all of his students. Elisha showed Gechazi special favor. He gave his own staff to revive his child. There was a great closeness between them. The yamin was already established. Elisha told Naaman, the General of Aman, to dip himself seven times in the Yarden and he will be cured from tzoraas. In gratitude, Na’aman offered Elisha gifts which Elisha did not accept. Gechazi went behind Elisha’s back and took the gifts. When Elisha found out that Gechazi had taken the gifts, he declared that the tzora’as of Na’aman will be on Gechazi and his three children. (see the Haftorah of Tzaria-Metzora.) The Gemorah comments that Elisha’s rebuke of Gechazi was too harsh. The Gemora states that “he pushed him away with both hands”.

This is similar to the story of Yehoshua ben Perachia. He had a well-known student with whom he was close. Once, they were eating together and the student made a comment to which Yehoshua ben Perachia took great offense. Yehoshua ben Perachia became very upset with him and rebuked him very sharply. As a result the student left his teacher. The Gemorah said he was too harsh with this student. He should have rebuked him with the left and brought him close with the right. But in this story as well as that of Elisha and Gechazi, their connection had began and was established in a positive place, before they gave rebuke.

From these episodes we can better understand another Gemorah. The Gemorah says the great sage Rava would begin his lectures with something humorous causing everyone to laugh, and would only then started his lecture. The purpose was so the students should learn Torah b’simcha with open minds toward the subject. This was done, even though the Gemorah says that when a student sits before his Rebbe he must have awe. To make it easier on his students Rava started with yamin – closeness, through humor. Was Rava required to make the humorous remark? He did it each time he began a shiur because his students needed to sit with awe-left. He therefore decided to start by cheering them up-right before the shiur, to better enable them to sit in awe.

There are times that we are required to tell a child (or anyone else) about things they need to correct. When this occurs, the left has to push away, meaning we need to be clear and definitive about what is occurring or not working. But the right needs to bring close to be effective. We never win with outright control. The only way we can possibly be effective is if we have a warm and established loving relationship. The other individual must feel that you care for him, and are close to him or her.

This is connected with this week’s parsha when Moshe was admonishing the Jewish people for their behavior over the past forty years. He only spoke after he was successful smiting Sichon and Og. Rashi asks why the Torah needed to mention this. Rashi answers that Moshe considered that if he would admonish them before they come into at least a part of Eretz Yisroel, the Jews may not accept his words. They may think or say; “What does Moshe want from us? What good has come from all of what we have gone through? Does he only come to harass us?” Therefore Moshe Rabbenu waited until he conquered Sichon and Og and gave them possession of the land. Moshe first made the Jews feel that he cares and loves them, and only then he gave them rebuke. For their benefit he revealed to them their true condition, and then the Jews accepted and knew, that these words were intended, for their greater good.

The Rebbe asks why the additional step was necessary. Moshe Rabbenu had been feeding them all these years, and providing them with water, etc. How could Moshe be afraid to admonish them before they went into Eretz Yisroel? The Rebbe answers, since this was to be a very strong admonishment for the sin of the Golden Calf, he needed to add something very positive to them to balance the rebuke. We see clearly that the way of Moshe Rabbenu was not with ‘both hands’, The way he mentioned it to them was as if to remark “Look and you will see for yourselves that you had so much gold, and you simply did not know what to do with it!” This teaches us how parents should act with their children. We can first establish true and enduring positive bonds. Then can we hope that when a moment arises when we need push away with the left the established good will enable us to bring them close with the right.

Based on Likutei Sichos Vol. 17 Chag haPesach, and 28 Menachem Av 5736/1976

Reb Sholom Ber Gordon once came to the Rebbe. He had a shul in Newark where many people were not frum. He asked the Rebbe how he should speak to them when they are doing something wrong and need change their ways. The Rebbe told him that when someone goes into a “shvitz” he goes up higher and higher to get to hotter place. A fellow is there with a certain type of broom who hits him on his shoulders. The man visiting the shvitz says, “Ah! Do it again!” If the fellow with the broom would stand on street corners hitting people with his broom no one would want it done twice! Only once a person becomes physically warm in the shvitz the ‘zetz’ from the broom goes into his bones, he feels good and wants more. The same thing b’ruchnius that you cannot just rebuke people for what they do wrong, first you being them close and give them the warmth of Yiddishkeit through Chassidus and they feel the warmth in their bones. Then you can tell them how to correct themselves and they are ready to accept.

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