by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – July 25, 2012
The first words of the Torah section of Devarim are: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, across the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Plain, opposite [the Sea of] Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Lavan, and Chatzerot and Di-Zahav.” Upon this verse, Rashi comments: “Because they are words of rebuke, and [the Torah] lists here all the places in which they angered G-d, this is why it put ‘the words’ vaguely, and mentioned them through intimation, because of the honor of Israel.”
As regards the aforementioned verse and Rashi’s comment on it, we find an interesting insight by R. Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902-1979), the famed rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Mir. In one of his discussions, published in Sichot Mussar p. 133, R. Shmuelevitz notes how Moses’ restraint in clearly enunciating the nation’s well known sins, such as the golden calf and the spies, indicates the magnitude of respecting another’s feelings and honor.
Taking care to limit as much as possible harming another’s feelings is not restricted only to a multitude, R. Shmuelevitz points out. We see this from the story of Bilam’s donkey, where the donkey was killed in order not to bring extended shame to even the wicked Bilam (Rashi on Bamidbar 22:33). So too do we see in the story of the Tanna R. Gamliel’s position of nasi being revoked and his being replaced by R. Elazar ben Azariah as a result of his actions towards R. Yehoshua (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 27b). With regards to the latter incident, the famous medieval Talmudist R. Menachem Meiri (1249 – c. 1310) explains that “even though R. Yehoshua was worthy to be nasi, they [the Sages] did not appoint him because R. Gamliel would thereby have excessive angst.”
R. Shmuelevitz also notes that, after Korach and his group of 250 rabble rousers were punished, G-d commanded Elazar the son of Aaron to remove this group’s pans rather than Aaron as a lesson by G-d. Had Aaron removed the pans of this group that personally attacked him it would be “rubbing salt into the wound” – so to speak. Even though these people were sentenced to death by G-d for their reprehensible actions, their honor was to be spared as much as possible.
In conclusion, even when one transgresses G-d’s Will in the worst way and is punished in the most severe manner, we are obligated to heed his feelings and honor him as much as possible and not punish him, by acting otherwise, more than is his due. We have a tendency, when we notice another’s wrongdoing to totally castigate that individual, many a time deriding him amongst our friends and acquaintances. We learn from the above that respecting another’s feelings and honor is not to be taken lightly – even when the other is guilty of wrongdoing.