Torah thought forFriday 3 Av 5783 July 21 2023

Parashat Devarim - Shabbat Chazon

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Empathic Justice and Judging Others Favourably, and Replacing Baseless Hatred with Unconditional Love

This Shabbat, Parashat Devarim, is also “Shabbat Chazon” which proceeds Tisha B’Av, during which time the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred (sinat chinam).

This Shabbat we shall read in the weekly Parashah, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisrael on the east bank of the Jordan, in the desert, [and] in the Aravah, near Suf, in the vicinity of Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chetzerot and Di Zahav” (Devarim 1:1).

We must explain why all these places are mentioned here. Rashi HaKadosh z”l explains this, “Because they are words of rebuke and he (Moshe) mentioned the places where they angered Hashem, therefore he was cryptic and mentioned them by indicating, in order to maintain Am Yisrael’s dignity.”

Meaning that all those places had to be mentioned in order to indicate that in those places the Bnei Yisrael angered Hashem and that they were deserving of rebuke. However, all the time that Moshe Rabbeinu lead Am Yisrael he maintained Am Yisrael’s dignity and when he came to rebuking them he did this indirectly so as not to offend even one person amongst Am Yisrael.

Even when there is a mitzvah for a person to rebuke another, we must do this in such a way that that the other person isn’t [unduly] offended, “You must admonish your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17).

It begs the question, how is this achieved? How may we successfully rebuke without offending them? We see them sinning or committing a misdemeanour, if so, for sure they will be offended by our words!

To answer this we will preface the following analogy:

There was a king who had total dominion over his people and he was also the military commander. He further decided all matters regarding economics and law, and everything was through his command. This king had one son who was spoilt and lived comfortably. After a while the king realised that he was getting older and that his son, the crown prince, was very idle and couldn’t tell his right from his left. Therefore the king decided to teach his son all about the kingship. To educate him about the army, security, fields of economics and finance, law and justice and similar areas, to prepare him towards the future role that will fall to him after his death.

Immediately he ordered that experts from the Royal Academy to teach his son. The first expert was proficient in the army and security. The second one was expert in economics and finance, and the third was an expert in law and justice.

The king paid them handsomely and fixed a two year period for them to teach his son well and to prepare him to become the future ruler.

Two years passed and the experts came to the royal palace with the news that the king’s son learnt diligently, and that he is fit to rule. For he now fully understands matters of the economy, security and law. The king rejoiced and fixed a date that he will arrange a splendid banquet in honour of the crown prince. During the proceedings the king wanted to give a certificate of recognition to the experts that taught his son. But suddenly the expert for justice asked to give an extra lesson to the king’s son, just one more session, and for that he asked for just one hour.

The expert took the king’s son to a nearby room and hit him with a stick, five continuous blows! The king’s son returned to his father bruised and sore, and explained what had happened. Understandably the king was extremely angry and demanded an explanation from the expert for justice, what was the justification for this?

The expert stood and explained to the king, “My master the king! You ordered me to prepare him to be a king and a judge who is capable to deliberate and judge righteous justice. Indeed when many criminals and those who transgress the king’s law will come before him for his deliberation, he will decide their punishment, how many lashes they will receive. But he is a pampered prince who has never been smitten and not even a fly has had the audacity to touch him. He will sit on his throne and will act heavy-handed in his rulings. He will decree 10 or 20 lashes to those being punished, yet he will not comprehend that there are some people for whom 5 lashes may kill them! However, now my master the king, that the son has received  from me several lashes, he will know how to evaluate and estimate what each lash is. When he will come to decide whether to exact 5 or 10 lashes, he will think a number of times and carefully consider, for he has felt this on his own flesh and subsequently he will give a true judgement! This is what you ordered me to teach him and indeed I have done so!”

We learn from here that for a person to judge their fellow, they must empathise with them and feel what they feel. To contemplate what they would do in their friend’s place and situation. As our chachamim said, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in their place” and “Judge everyone favourably” (Avot 2:4 and 1:6).

So before we rebuke our fellows we should always remember to stop and think for a moment, what would we do in their position based on what they are currently experiencing? Without a doubt, they will view everything in a different light.

During these days, we must increase in unconditional love (ahavat chinam) and distance ourselves from baseless hatred (sinat chinam). [See further the concept of “unconditional love” in the writings of the Hassidic Rebbe Reb Yechezkel of Kuzmir z”l (1772-1856) in his work Nechmad Mizahav p. 77.]

We must make every effort to view those around us, whether at home, at work or where we study, in a good light. We must not judge them in a brief moment, but rather we should judge them favourable! Apart from obtaining this virtue, we will merit to a life of greater spirituality, like the words of David HaMelech, “May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your palaces” (Tehillim 122:7).

Shabbat Shalom!