Thursday, May 23, 2013

Behaalotcha/Shelach 5773

Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 12:1)

At the end of this week’s parsha, Behaalotcha, Miriam discovers that Moshe (Moses) has separated from his wife. She discusses her concern with Aharon (Aaron). They equate Moshe’s level of prophecy with their own and cannot understand why Moshe has chosen to abstain from marital relations while they remain with their spouses. In fact, G-d has instructed Moshe to remain ritually pure so that he constantly is prepared to receive G-d’s word.

G-d becomes angry that Miriam has criticized His most exalted prophet and He afflicts Miriam with tzaraat, a leprosy-like skin condition. For seven days, until she recovers, Miriam is exiled from the camp. The people in the camp do not move on until Miriam rejoins them, giving them time to contemplate the importance of shmirat lashon (guarding one’s speech).

Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel.  (Bamidbar/Numbers 13:1)

At the beginning of next week’s parsha, Shelach, Moshe sends out scouts to report on the condition of the Land of Israel. They describe the Land as one that “devours its inhabitants”. Wherever they go, they witness funerals, so they assume the Land is dangerous. In fact, G-d has arranged for there to be many deaths and burials during the scouts’ visit so that the inhabitants of the Land will be distracted and not notice the scouts.

Rabbi Mordechai Willig on comments on the juxtaposition of the two Torah portions: “Miriam’s basic mistake was the misinterpretation of the facts. She thought that Moshe had decided on his own to abstain, and she questioned his decision. In reality, however, Moshe was commanded to do so. Miriam’s lashon hara (improper speech) was caused by her incorrect understanding of a situation that she had discovered.”

Rabbi Willig notes that the scouts made a mistake similar to the one Miriam made. Writes Rabbi Willig: “The lesson that the meraglim (scouts) should have learned from Miriam was the need to be certain about the facts before criticizing a person or a land…Once the negative impression of the land took hold in the people’s minds, it was impossible to uproot. Such is the power of negative speech…that it is difficult, if not impossible, to rectify.”

As parents, we must make sure we have all the facts before we criticize our children. We should not rush to judgment and should always give them the benefit of the doubt. If we must criticize, we should do so privately so that we do not embarrass our children, and so that we do not creative a negative impression of them for others.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Naso 5773

In his discussion of the Haftorah for Naso (Shoftim/Judges 13: 2-25), Rav Yissocher Frand writes about Rav Shimon Schwab’s “novel interpretation” of the Haftorah’s account of an angel appearing to Manoach and his barren wife to announce that they would have a special child, a lifetime Nazirite who would fight against the Philistine oppressors.

The angel appears first to Manoach’s wife. When she tells Manoach, he prays to G-d for the angel to reappear and tell him how to raise the child. The angel has already given the future mother the necessary instructions on how to raise a Nazirite – as her Nazirite son would, she should abstain from wine and grapes from before conception forward. Rav Schwab asks, what more did Manoach need to know?   

The angel returns and tells Manoach: "From everything that I warned your wife, guard (tishamer). Do not consume that which comes from the grape of the vine…" Asks Rav Schwab, so what in fact is new in the angel's answer? He just seems to be repeating what he already told Manoach's wife.

Rav Schwab explains that Manoach does not have a question regarding the laws of being a Nazirite. He asks a question regarding chinuch, the laws of raising children. Manoach asks, “Can I raise a Nazirite, if I myself am not a Nazirite?" Could he raise a child to do things that he does not do himself?

Writes Rav Frand: “According to Rav Schwab, the angel responded, ‘Yes, in fact, you must also observe these laws yourself.’ This is an elementary principle in child rearing, but it is a tremendously novel interpretation of the verse in our Haftorah. In Hebrew grammar, the verb tishamer, which appears in the angel's instructions to Manoach, can be interpreted in one of two ways. The standard interpretation is ‘she should guard herself’ (third person, referring to Manoach's wife). Rav Schwab interprets the word in accordance with the second possible translation: ‘You should guard yourself’ (second person, referring to Manoach).”

The angel delivers a basic parenting principle: the only way for parents to teach is by our own example. If we want to raise decent and honest Jewish people then we, ourselves, must be decent and honest Jewish people.