Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)An Uncluttered Mind

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)An Uncluttered MindThis week’s Parsha contains part of Moses’ parting words said during the last five weeks of his life. It begins with his giving rebuke to the nation, and we can learn from the way he does it.The Jews of that generation made a number of poor choices, decisions that affected their future as well as the future of all Jews succeeding them. Moses realizes he does not have much time left and he uses the opportunity to remind everyone about their misdeeds in order to help them to refrain from doing them in the future. But he does it in a notable way; he didn’t explicitly reveal each wrongdoing, he merely mentioned the place in which it happened. If the purpose of rebuke is to make someone aware of misconduct, how can we understand Moses mentioning only the place of the transgression without mentioning what the transgression was?Rashi explains that Moses refers only to places “in which they angered the Almighty; he therefore said these words in an obscure manner and only intimated (that they had sinned in these places) to uphold the honor of Israel.”   Moses didn’t need to cite a particular transgression, the simple hint of mentioning the place was enough. It’s human nature to recognize something from a hint when it is important to us. For example, when a woman talks about her grandparents and says, “they’re survivors,” everyone realizes that they survived the Holocaust; mentioning “survivor” is all that’s needed. So, too, with pointing out someone else’s poor behavior. A mere hint will cause us to remember our wrongdoing and think about making sure it will not happen again.This is the first lesson we learn about rebuke. When something about one’s past is embarrassing and we want to help that person, we should not delve into the matter more than  necessary. If one is sincere about rebuke a mere hint is enough; anything else is degrading. If you find yourself lingering on the particulars of the past you might want to ask yourself if the topic is brought up for the person’s benefit or for yours. If you are angry, you might find yourself simply venting, raising your voice, and angerly saying, “well, someone needed to tell you this.” We have an intrinsic sense to know when someone is saying something for our benefit. One of the surefire indications is if the person continues to rant, focus on the past, and gives no indication that (s)he stands by your side to help you deal with this character defect. If we intuit that the person is with us, we stand of chance of admitting our error but if it is merely an angry tirade, we shut down.Moses was about to die and knew the people would pay close attention to his words. Before entering the Land of Israel, he wanted to make sure they had learned lessons from their many mistakes over their forty-year desert sojourn. He mentioned many places but said nothing other than the name of the place. He knew they were sincere; he had them, not him, in mind.  If we allow Moses’ example to serve as a template for us, we will have more peace of mind and serenity in our lives. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before criticizing someone else. Will (s)he listen? What is my motivation? (To unload and show I’m frustrated or for the good of the person?) What is the best way to say it? People prepare for college and job interviews, and we should prepare every time we want to give someone a “piece of our mind.” Keep it short; sometimes a few sincere words can shed much light and have the greatest impact.Moses has served as the template for the qualities necessary for Jewish leadership; you have to love your flock, even when they appear unlovable. You want what’s best for them and will seek to help them to gain clarity if you see them going in a way contrary to their Jewish heritage. The more we can remove ourselves emotionally from an incident, the more effective it will be for both the one being rebuked and also the one giving it. It’s hard not to allow resentments and negative emotions to control us but when we manage to do so, our heads are less cluttered and our lives much happier.Good Shabbos.