Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)Sometimes You Lose When You Win

Rabbi Berel Wein tells a story from his youth when he was a student in Chicago’s Hebrew Theological College, the Skokie Yeshiva. In 1945, the Cubs made it to the World Series against the Tigers. Rabbi Wein’s friend, who was 13 or 14 at the time, stood in line all night to buy tickets to a World Series game at Wrigley Field and sold them the next day at a much higher price. Unfortunately, for him, he sold them to an undercover cop. The policeman arrested him and put him in jail for the night to teach him a lesson.
When the boy came back to the yeshiva, everyone was wondering what was going to happen to the boy. The story was in the newspapers; Yeshiva student in jail for scalping World Series tickets. People were saying that the administration should kick him out of the yeshiva. All eyes were on the dean of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Jacob Greenberg to see how he would respond.This week’s Parsha is read every year on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av, and the connection is highlighted by one verse. How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself? (Deut. 1:12) The first word (in Hebrew) of the verse is Eicha—‘how’ is the same as the first word in Lamentations,  scroll we read on Tisha B’Av.
Moses had told the Almighty that he could no longer handle the responsibility of the people on his own, and in response, he was told to appoint multiple judges who would help to lighten his burden.
What particular aspect of dealing with the people did Moses find so difficult? Rashi (quoting a Midrash) says that when two people would come to be judged one against the other in court, if one would see his rival was about to win the case, he would counter: I can bring more witnesses; I have additional proof to bring.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with doing everything in one’s power to win a case but apparently there is because this verse is the connection to the tragedy of Tisha B’Av—we even read it to the tune of Eicha—Lamentations. Somehow this verse is meant to bring forth a sense of tragedyThe Talmud has two opposing opinions for why Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. One version (Yoma 9b) gives senseless hatred as the reason but another version (Bava Metzia 30b) says it was because the people were careful to follow the strict letter of the law; they weren’t willing to compromise and go above and beyond the strict letter of the law.
Well, which is it? Was the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple because of senseless hatred or was it because they weren’t willing to go above and beyond the strict letter of the law? These two issues actually lead one into the other. Baseless hatred is generally defined as hating someone without sufficient cause. What would happen in these cases?
Reuven files a complaint against Shimon. And, as is customary in a Jewish court, the Judges ask Reuven and Shimon if they would like to find a compromise? Reuven refuses and insists the court employ the FULL LETTER OF THE LAW (“throw the book at) against his friend, Shimon.Shimon can’t understand why Reuven will stop at nothing to win the case; as a result, he begins to hate Reuven. Is this hatred justified? Technically not, because Reuven has the right to refuse to compromise. He is permitted to invoke his legal rights. But of course, that makes no difference to Shimon, and their relationship begins to deteriorate.
Here is an example of how digging in one’s heels and refusing to compromise, even while following the law 100%, can itself lead to hatred. If Reuven was interested in his friendship with Shimon, he would be able to find it in his heart to compromise. Instead of making a feud which might potentially affect their families and maybe even their community, Reuven could have found a compromise. But Reuven stood his ground and it went downhill from then.The verse connecting our Parsha and Tisha B’Av teaches us a lesson: It isn’t only when we are nasty and lose our temper that we damage our relationships, it’s when we stand on principle. I am right and he or she is wrong—that can be the most damaging.
When there is a dispute between two parties, siblings, parents, children or spouses, very rarely are the lines of right and wrong clearly demarcated because there are usually two sides to every story. If the barometer for our willingness to give in is dependent only on whether we are right or wrong, we will find ourselves embroiled in disputes our entire lives. However, if we can muster the inner strength to live in a mind-frame where Shalom (peace) comes first, we will foster better relationships. Only then will we have the sense to recognize that it doesn’t matter whose right, what matters is trying to find a compromise—EVEN THOUGH I’M RIGHT—then we are bringing ourselves, our families and communities, and the rest of the Jewish people one step closer to ending the millennia of our exile.
Fortunately, Hebrew Theological College had a sharp and clever dean. Despite the tumult and talk, Rabbi Greenberg said, “I looked through the entire Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), and did not find one mention of the Chicago Cubs.” And that was it. Nothing more was said or done. The student stayed in the yeshiva, graduated and became a prominent member of the Chicago Jewish community. He married, and eventually moved to Israel and had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who were loyal to the Jewish home in which he had raised them. If the Rabbi Greenberg had expelled him, who knows what would have become of him and his connection to Judaism. He might have been able to justify himself if he had decided to kick out the student, but would he have been right? When we are able to look beyond whether we’re right or wrong, when we are able to function beyond the rules and have sensitivity, compassion, and a vision for the future, then we are living in a way that can not only impact the lives of others, it can also be a brick bringing us one step closer to rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple which once stood prominently in its midst. Good Shabbos
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