Monday, July 8, 2013


Deuteronomy 1:1−3:22

Rebukes And Responses

In Moses' final speech to the Israelites, he provides us with a model of effective rebuke.
By Rabbi Bradley Artson

May I have a word with you? The opening words of the fifth book of the Torah begin simply enough, "These are the words that Moses spoke (diber) to all Israel." The Rabbis of the ancient Midrash Sifre Devarim note that every place the Bible uses the verb 'daber' indicates harshness or rebuke, whereas the Hebrew word 'amar' conveys a sense of praise.

Why, then, did Moses 'diber' to the Jews? Why did he speak harshly to them on the border of the Promised Land? Because his final speech to them, the culmination of his long life of service to them and to God, consisted of chastisement--reminding them that they fell far short of the sacred standards embodied in the Torah and Jewish tradition.

And did the people resent Moses' apparent harshness, as most of us would? Did people say, "He never gives us a break," or note that even at the end, he was still haranguing them, unable to focus, even for a moment, on their virtues and better natures? Apparently not.

The speech is, after all, dutifully recorded in the Torah and read every year in synagogues around the world. And when Moses concluded his words and then went off to die, the Jewish people mourned his loss, even as we still keenly feel his absence today.

Can you imagine what it would be like if a Rabbi, at a dinner honoring 25 years of service with a particular synagogue, rather than dwelling on warm memories, started to list all of the congregants' flaws over the past two-and-a-half decades? Can you imagine how resentful and bitter most of us would feel?

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