Friday, July 16, 2010

Devarim 5633 First Ma'amar

Our parsha begins, “אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל .../These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel …” (Devarim 1:1)  It seems that Moshe Rabbeinu had no problem speaking to the entire nation.  However when God first asks Moshe to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the nation, he says, “... לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי .../… I am not a man of words …” (Shmos 4:10)

The first Midrash on our parsha resolves this apparent contradiction with a pasuk in Mishlei (15:4), “מַרְפֵּא לָשׁוֹן עֵץ חַיִּים .../A soothing tongue is a tree of life …”  The Midrash explains that “עֵץ חַיִּים/a tree of life” refers to the Torah.  Thus, the pasuk can be read as, “The Torah heals the tongue.”  Although before the giving of the Torah Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to speak, afterwards his tongue was healed and he spoke to the entire nation.

Although the Midrash resolves the apparent contradiction in pesukim, the simple meaning of this Midrash is difficult.  Why does the pasuk make a point of teaching us that the Torah heals the tongue specifically?  Does it not heal anything else?  What is the significance of the tongue?  The Sfas Emes therefore teaches a deeper understanding of this Midrash.  The word לָשׁוֹן/tongue also means language. 

While forming words is purely technical, language gives words meaning.  It is because of language that words convey thoughts and intent.  Therefore it is language that is so very powerful.  Language is so powerful that Chazal[1] compare it to an arrow which kills from afar.  In fact, Chazal say that it is stronger than an arrow.  An arrow has a limited range whereas language can influence throughout the entire world.  If evil words are so powerful, certainly good words are even more powerful according to Chazal’s principle that good is stronger than evil.[2]

Accordingly, the pasuk in Mishlei can be understood as, “The Torah heals (empowers) language.”  Moshe Rabbeinu understood the power of speech.  He also understood that the true power of language comes through the Torah.  The Arizal[3] teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu was the repository of knowledge for the entire nation.  He therefore did not want to speak to the nation until the strength of his words were such that they would be able to reach and influence every single member of the nation of Israel.  This became possible with the giving of the Torah.

This concept explains a difficult Rashi on the words in the first pasuk of the parsha, “אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל/to all of Israel”.  Rashi is bothered by the word “all”.  Why does the Torah tell us that Moshe spoke to all of Israel?  If the pasuk had simply said that Moshe spoke to the children of Israel, as it says in many places, would we have assumed that he did not speak to the entire nation?

Rashi quotes Chazal who explain that since Moshe Rabbeinu is castigating the nation for the transgressions they committed since leaving Egypt, the Torah makes a point of telling us that he spoke to the entire nation at the same time.  If he had spoken to part of the nation, those not present may have been tempted to believe that the Moshe’s words did not apply.  They may have rationalized that had they been present, they would have been able to provide answers and reasons as to why they acted as they did.  In order to prevent this from happening Moshe insisted on speaking to everyone at once.

However, the Sfas Emes is unsatisfied with this reasoning because there is still no reason to assume that Moshe Rabbeinu would not have spoken to the entire nation at once.  However, according to our understanding of the Midrash above, it is clear.  There was a period during which Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to speak with the entire nation because his words did not yet have the power to reach and influence everyone.  Therefore there is a reason to assume that he spoke with only a part of the nation.  Chazal are therefore teaching us, that Moshe Rabbeinu waited until he was able to speak with the entire nation and influence every single person.

Because language conveys thought, meaning and intent, the same words can be used for diametrically opposed purposes, for good and for evil, to heal and to destroy.  The Sfas Emes teaches that we have the ability to rectify words by using them for good.

Moshe Rabbeinu used the word אֵיכָה/how, to convey the greatness of the nation.  He said, “אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי/How can I bear alone” (Devarim 1:12).  The nation was too great for one man to carry.  With this use of the word אֵיכָה/how, he essentially rectified the word since it was used by Yirmiya as a lament, “אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד/How she sits in solitude.” (Eicha 1:1)  The Midrash[4], in fact, addresses the issue of the vastly different contexts in which this word is used.

Shlomo HaMelech alludes to this as well when he wrote, “טוֹב לִשְׁמֹעַ גַעֲרַת חָכָם מֵאִישׁ שֹׁמֵעַ שִׁיר כְּסִילִים/It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man that to the listen to the song of fools.” (Koheles 7:5)  Obviously, the intent behind the words are important rather than the words themselves and a person can rectify his own poor choice of language by using the same words for good.

[1] Arachin 15b
[2] Tosefta Sota 4:1
[3] [3] Eitz Chaim 32:1, Sha’ar HaPesukim Shmos from “ve’ata neva’eir inyan ge’ulasam”.
[4] Eicha R. 1:1

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