by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – October 1, 2015
In the supplication preceding the obligatory passage of Shema read in the morning by religiously observant Jews the world over, we find, “Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, to learn, and to teach, to safeguard, to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love.”
Upon contemplating the aforementioned supplication, the latter day Torah luminary R. Moshe Feinstein is reported to have wondered about the wording. We can understand asking G-d to have the ability to understand or to listen and to learn as well as to safeguard and perform His precepts. However, how many of us can expect “to teach”? Only a fraction of the general population is made up of teachers! In response, R. Feinstein explains that indeed every single one of us can be a teacher – by example. If an individual behaves properly, that individual has taught by example. If one treats others with consideration and concern, he or she has taught by example. If one exhibits devotion to G-d, he or she has taught by example. If one deals honestly and fairly with others, that individual has taught by example.
When observant Jews in synagogues around the world complete the reading of the Torah on the holiday of Simchat Torah, the Torah portion of V’zot HaBracha is read. In this Torah portion that culminate the entire Torah, Moses offers his final parting words to the nation; and in these words, he shines as the teacher par excellence, not only gaining his appellation of Moses our Teacher for all the laws of the Torah that he transmitted to us but also for teaching by example in an exemplary fashion.
We read (Devarim 33:1), “And this is the blessing that Moses, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death.” Before his death, Moses turns to each of the tribes comprising the nation of Israel and blesses the tribe individually according to that tribe’s unique attributes and, afterwards, blesses all the tribes collectively.
Moses spent some 40 years leading the nation through the desert to the Land of Israel after fighting for the nation’s release from slavery and persecution at the hands of the Egyptians. During this tumultuous period, Moses did not have an easy time. The nation for whom he performed unparalleled miracles did not obediently follow his every instruction. He was met by resistance from the nation when he approached them in Egypt. He was met with the sight of the nation dancing around a golden calf only forty days after presenting to them G-d’s holy Torah. He was met with complaints concerning what the nation would eat and what they would drink. He was met with resistance from the spies who were sent to scout out the Land of Israel, and then resistance from the nation as a whole to the idea of entering the land gifted them by G-d. He was met by complaints and insults at the hands of his brethren led by Korach, Datan and Aviram. He was further denigrated at the hands of the Prince of the tribe of Shimon who, along with others of his tribe, indulged in the lowest of transgressions of the Torah that he transmitted to them. Moses was brought to utter exasperation by the nation that he wanted only to teach and help. “How can I alone carry your trouble and your burden and your quarrels?” Moses exclaims (Devarim 1:12).
As a result of his troubles at the hands of the nation, he launches into a monologue shortly before his passing in which he berates and admonishes the members of the nation for their reprehensible behavior and warns them of the severe repercussions to follow should they not refrain from such behavior and not abide by the Torah and its precepts. Had Moses finished with this, we could certainly understand. He, as G-d’s most trusted messenger, had exhibited enormous talents, performed tremendous miracles and showed unlimited selflessness as leader of the nation, whereas the nation, on the other hand, repaid him and the Al-Mighty G-d he served and represented with disobedience and brazen disrespect. The nation deserved and needed to be admonished and warned. And one would understand if this great leader and teacher Moses would just stop there.
Moses, however, the great teacher, who, not only taught the nation academically, teaching them the words of G-d and His Torah, but also continuously taught by example, would not depart the nation he led with just admonishment and harsh words. Despite all the frustration that the nation caused him, his selfless concern for the nation made it imperative to add words of encouragement to the nation. He recognized that, despite their faults, different parts of the nation had various unique talents and capabilities, and Moses offered his best wishes to each of the tribes that each of them effectively utilize those special talents and capabilities for their betterment and greater good. Moreover, Moses offered his best wishes that all of the tribes of this nation be blessed with all the talents and capabilities to further their betterment and their greater good.
As R. Feinstein pointed out, every one of us can teach by example, and our great teacher Moses displayed this in exemplary fashion. Moses understood that we cannot just be critical of others, even if others, indeed, deserve criticism. Despite all frustrations, even at the point of exasperation, we must, in caring for others, recognize that our brethren have great talents and capabilities that can be utilized to our benefit, and, in caring for our brethren, we must hope and offer our best wishes, like Moses, that our brethren will do what is best for them.
When observant Jews in synagogues around the world complete the reading of the Torah on Simchat Torah, reading the Torah portion of V’zot HaBracha, they then, upon completion of this Torah portion, immediately commence reading from the beginning of the Torah once again. One may say that when we absorb the message taught to us by example by Moses our Teacher that, despite all the faults of our brethren around us, we must recognize that our brethren, nevertheless, have within them unique and sundry talents that can be used to our benefit, and we wholeheartedly express our hope and best wishes that our brethren utilize these talents to our greater benefit, then we can start a new beginning, with G-d’s help, in which we read again and absorb G-d’s Torah for our betterment and great good.
Sadly, many of our brethren do not exhibit exemplary behavior – even those who consider themselves religious and observant. Divisiveness, petty jealousies, animosity, dishonesty and apathy plague various members of our community. Many in one sector of the population look at their brethren from another sector with disdain and disinterest. There are many parts today of the Jewish community. There are Sephardim, of Moroccan, Iraqi, Yemenite, French, Spanish and other descents. There are Ashkenazim, of German, Polish and Russian descents. There are American Jews, English Jews, South African Jews and Australian Jews. There are Hasidic Jews and non-Hasidic observant Jews, Haredi Jews and Dati Leumi Jews, and non-observant Jews. And there are so many who have something bad to say of others who belong to any of the other groups without even meeting given individuals of those groups.
Moreover, there are groups of the population who are treated with basic disinterest. While there may be enormous amounts of charity provided to certain causes, there still are various groups amongst the Jewish population who are hard pressed to get any assistance, if any. Jewish women with children who are awaiting divorces or received divorces, husbands with children who have been widowed, teenagers or adults with emotional problems and other such groups find themselves with little or no help from the community to get back on their own feet, so to speak.
There are, in fact, many within all of the different sectors of the Jewish populace who behave deceitfully or with apathy, whether in relation to others or in relation to G-d. And there are many holes that need to be filled – but are regularly ignored. And there are many who are quick to criticize, and, in fact, there are those who deserve criticism.
Nevertheless, we must recognize that there is still much good in all sectors of the Jewish populace – if we would only exhibit the intellectual honesty and take the necessary time to think about it and see it. We must, then, hope that those deserving criticism understand their error and mend their ways, and fill those holes that remain open, as Moses hoped when admonishing our People. And we must show true caring and concern for our brethren whereby we wholeheartedly offer our best wishes to our brethren to exercise their talents and capabilities – that we do not ignore – for the benefit of the Jewish populace at large.
Let us, with truth and honesty, caring and concern, offer our best wishes before a new beginning – best wishes to all of our brethren. Let us hope that we can all utilize our best qualities and gain other good qualities to progress as a nation – undivided by divisiveness, jealousies, animosity, dishonesty and dis-concern – on the way to a new beginning that we can all be proud of, that we can all enjoy and that we can all appreciate. Let us all be examples to others and may all others be examples to us, as all of us care for each other – in harmony and brotherhood.