19 Jan 2023 Parshas Va’era: Rebuke With Love
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Va’era, the great Exodus from Egypt begins; the redemption which takes the Israelites from a downtrodden and oppressed nation, to a people of freedom and liberty. The first seven makkos unfold and with each plague, Moshe and Aharon warn Pharaoh that if he does not let the nation go, G-d will wreak havoc upon him, but with a hardened heart, Pharaoh continues to say ‘no.’
At the very beginning of the sedra, after Hashem promises Moshe the “arbah leshonos geula” (the Four Promises of Redemption for which we drink four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder), and the fifth of “וְהֵבֵאתִי“ (the promise of Eretz Yisrael) the pasukim tell us: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Come speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he shall send the Children of Israel from his land” (Shemos 6:10-11). And yet, strangely, two pasukim later, in a seemingly redundant fashion, the pasuk says: וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל–מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל–אַהֲרֹן, וַיְצַוֵּם אֶל–בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶל–פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם—לְהוֹצִיא אֶת–בְּנֵי–יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them to the Children of Israel and to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt (6:13).
What does the second verse teach us that the first verse does not? As we know every word in the Torah is measured, it cannot simply be repeating the same information for naught. Rashi, quoting Medrash Rabbah, explains: ואל פרעה מלך מצרים. צִוָּם עָלָיו לַחֲלֹק לוֹ כָבוֹד בְּדִבְרֵיהֶם, זֶה מִדְרָשׁוֹ – Hashem commanded them concerning Pharaoh, to accord honor to him with their words (Rashi to Shemos 6:13). Hence, the first verse is instructing Moshe and Aharon to go to Pharaoh. And the second is instructing Moshe and Aharon that when they go to Pharaoh, they should speak to him with honor and respect.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski z’l writes, “Is this not a bit strange? Moshe was going to warn Pharaoh about the ten plagues that he would suffer. In the presence of all the ministers in the palace, Moshe was going to speak harshly to Pharaoh, and warn him about impending doom. How could this be respectful? R’ Yehudah Leib Chasman zt’l (1869-1934) says that there was no way out of delivering the warning to Pharaoh. However, although what had to be said had to be said it could still be said respectfully rather than with indignation. Indeed, we see that when Moshe told Pharaoh about the plague of the firstborn, at which time Moshe was angry, he nevertheless spoke with respect for the king (Shemos 11:8 w/ Rashi: וירדו כל עבדיך. חָלַק כָּבוֹד לַמַּלְכוּת).
“The Torah is teaching us that even when we must reprimand or punish someone, we should make every effort to avoid insulting him. This is so important in discipling children. Certainly, children must be reprimanded when they do wrong, and sometimes it is necessary to punish them. However, we should be most cautious to do so in a manner that does not humiliate the child or crush his spirits. Children who were insulted when they were disciplined are likely to develop feelings of shame and worthlessness which may accompany them throughout their lives. If parents would realize how destructive low self-esteem is to their children, they would be much more careful in how they discipline them. Emotional abuse of a child is as serious an offense as physical abuse. Yet, parents who would never think of breaking a child’s bones may not give much thought to the words they use in a reprimand. Children must surely be taught right from wrong, but the teachings must be done in a way that retains the dignity of the child” (Twerski on Chumash, p.120).
This is such an important lesson for all of our interactions with others. There are times when errors must be noted, pointed out, and at times, rebuked. But the rebuke must always been given with respect for the other party, and while the behavior is rebuked, the person’s integrity must never be.
We learn this from Yaakov Avinu in his bracha to Shimon and Levi. With the words: כִּ֤י בְאַפָּם֙ הָ֣רְגוּ אִ֔ישׁ, he rebuked their actions against Chamor and the people of Shechem (Bereishis 49:6 w/ Rashi), nevertheless, Yaakov said: אָר֤וּר אַפָּם֙ כִּ֣י עָ֔ז וְעֶבְרָתָ֖ם כִּ֣י קָשָׁ֑תָה, Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh. Rashi teaches: אֲפִלּוּ בִּשְׁעַת תּוֹכֵחָה לֹא קִלֵּל אֶלָּא אַפָּם – even at the time of rebuke, Yaakov only cursed their anger.
As the Sages teach: לְעוֹלָם תְּהֵא שְׂמֹאל דּוֹחָה וְיָמִין מְקָרֶבֶת, a person must always ‘push one away’ (give rebuke) with the left hand (give rebuke weakly), and draw close with the right hand (be effusive and generous with compliments and praise) (Sotah 47a).
It happened one time that on the 8th day of Pesach, Rav Moshe’s doorbell rang (HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l (1895-1986). A talmid present opened the door and admitted an elderly European woman. Rav Moshe made a point of averting his gaze so it was obvious that he could not see the woman’s face. The woman said her sister had passed away on yomtov and she had a question to ask regarding using the deceased’s possessions. Rav Moshe answered her question and then with his gaze still averted, he said in a soft voice, “Today is yomtov, why did you ring the bell?”
The woman replied, “I come from Poland and we eat gebroktz on the last day of Pesach.” She mistakenly thought that the dispensation of this custom on the 8th day of Pesach meant it had the status of Chol HaMoed or less. Rav Moshe explained to her that this was incorrect, and then he wished her well and she left. Rav Moshe then turned to his talmid and said, “I kept my eyes averted because I had to point out her error in ringing the doorbell. This way, she will not be embarrassed should we meet again, because she knows I do not know who she is” (Reb Moshe, Artscroll, 25th yarzheit edition, p.367-368).
ממשה ועד משה, לא קם כמשה
Even when it was necessary for Moshe to rebuke Pharaoh, the Torah teaches us a powerful lesson in human interactions. When rebuke must be given, it must be done with respect, concern and love.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,
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