Gentle Rebuke Can Lead To Return
Moses' sensitive rebuke of the Israelites teaches us that we can always return and renew our relationship with God and religion.
One only needs to look at the way Moses spoke to the Children of Israel to understand the term "sensitivity." Moses, aware of the importance of bringing up the past sins to the Children of Israel, did it in such a way as to not embarrass anyone in the crowd. Merely alluding to the places of the sins was enough for the Children of Israel to understand his point. This in itself shows that Moses was not venting anger and was not intending to embarrass. Rather, the words of reproof were short and succinct, fulfilled their purpose, and so maintained the "respect of Israel."
The Book of Deuteronomy begins with words of reproof and, later, continues with the verse, "And thou shalt keep His statutes." Nahmanides explains the order: Moses wished to indicate that the Children of Israel were supposed to go up into the Land of Israel immediately after they received the Torah. It was their sins, however, that brought on various setbacks. This idea contains a crucial lesson: although the Children of Israel did sin, and did have to wander the desert for many years, the time again came when the next generation had the opportunity to enter the Land of Israel.
In a recent seminar that I attended, many students and I were told to draw "I.D. cards," which were to explain who we are to our colleagues. Unaware of what I was doing, I began to draw a tree filled with, instead of leaves, Jewish stars. I soon realized the reason I did this. Leaves on a tree fall off during the winter, only to come back during the spring. So too with our connection to our religion: Sometimes we feel that we are so close to God and that we are totally in the swing of things. Other times, however, we feel like those leaves that dropped away from their source onto the ground. We feel unconnected and lost.
However, there is something to always keep in mind. Leaves end up growing back. Just like it is innate and part of the natural process for leaves to grow back on trees, so too is our religion and connection to God that much a part of our core--though there are always times when we feel so far away, we will always "grow back."
This story, applied to a historical event, can connect to the idea that after 40 years of wandering, when the Children of Israel were so far away, the nation was still able to "grow back" and once again enter the Land of Israel. Connecting to the other theme of this week's parashah, reproof, watching out for our fellow Jews, speaking nicely and giving constructive criticism in an appropriate fashion can help keep our friends (as well as ourselves) on the right path. And one more person on the right path is one step closer to perfecting our world.
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