שבת טעם החיים שלח תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shelach 5771
Speech and Stitches
שמר פיו ולשונו שמר מצרת נפשו, one who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles. (Mishlei 21:23)
דבר, דפר, תפר. Those who are familiar with the style of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch will recognize this pattern of word etymology. The word דיבור means speech and ultimately that word is associated with the word, תפר which means stitches. What is the deeper meaning behind this association? This week’s Parasha provides us with an amazing insight into the connection between speech and stitches. The Torah records the episode where Moshe sent spies to investigate the land of Canaan and its inhabitants. The spies returned with a slanderous report and the Jewish People believed them. This slander and the people’s lack of faith in HaShem’s power was the catalyst for the Jewish People aged twenty to sixty to die over the forty-year period in the Wilderness. The simple explanation for this punishment is that the Jewish People didn’t have faith in HaShem that he could defeat the mighty nations residing in the Land of Canaan. HaShem therefore declared that they would not merit entering the Land and they would die in the Wilderness. Upon examining the episode with the spies further, however, we will discover a deeper explanation that will offer us a practical approach to how we should be using our power of speech.
Many people wonder what exactly the sin of the spies was. The Zohar states that the spies were the leaders of the Jewish People and they were concerned that upon entering Eretz Yisroel, they would lose their exalted positions. For this reason they spoke ill of the land. The Ramban posits that their misdeed was that they negated all the good that was to be found in Eretz Yisroel. The Torah, however, seems to indicate that their primary sin was that they spoke badly about the Land, as it is said (Bamidbar 14:37)וימותו האנשים מוציאי דבת הארץ במגפה לפני ה’, the people who spread the evil report about the land died in a plague before HaShem. Given the fact that the Torah emphasizes that the sin was in their evil speech, we must understand what was so grievous about their speech and how we can learn from the spies what we should not be doing.
It is said (Mishlei 21:23)שמר פיו ולשונו שמר מצרת נפשו, one who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles. This verse teaches us that the best manner for one to avoid trouble is by guarding ones mouth. Dovid HaMelech echoes this message when he writes (Tehillim 34:13-16) מי האיש החפץ חיים אוהב ימים לראות טוב נצר לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה בור מרע ועשה טוב בקש שלום ורדפהו, who is the man who desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. We see that the only true method of avoiding evil is by refraining from slandering others. The spies deviated from this important dictum, and the result was tragic. By utilizing their power of speech for the wrong reasons, they caused a rift between HaShem and His people. The word דיבור, translated as speech, can also mean leadership, as the verse states (Tehillim 47:4)ידבר עמים תחתינו ולאמים תחת רגלינו, He shall lead nations under us and regimes beneath our feet. In fact, this verse indicates that the manner in which we will conquer the nations is through proper speech. We see, then, that it is not only the individual who will do well by refraining from evil speech. Rather, the entire nation can reap the rewards of utilizing the power of speech for the good. The word דבר is similar to the word תפר, stitches. If we do not speak well of other, we cannot hope to be “stitched together.” The sin of the spies was that they slandered the land where we are supposed to be united. This slander caused a rift amongst the nation and we were doomed to suffer from this tragedy throughout the millennia. When we exercise restraint in our speech, we can be assured to lead a good life and merit to be united with HaShem and with other Jews. HaShem should grant us the power to guard our mouths carefully and then we will see an end to all strife and discord, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in Action
On Shabbos we must be careful with our speech, as the Halacha mandates that we speak less words of idle chatter and engage more in Torah study.
Please submit your suggestions to email@example.com and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
My Father the Chassid
Most parents will embarrass their children. The question is: how?
by Ruchama King Feuerman
My father used to think Orthodox Jews were extinct. He considered himself a belly Jew –Jewish because of the foods he ate. The herring, the carp and the sable, the chicken soup and schav and kreplach, these survived the migration from Russia and Poland to America, but the rituals and spirit of Judaism did not.
Back in the 1960’s, my father worked at a men’s tailoring store, the Wohlmuth Company, in Nashville. His coworker was a man named Sam Golden, the first Orthodox Jew my father had ever met. He was astounded by Sam’s kindness and generosity toward every schnorrer and ne’erdo- well who came through the store (or tried to). Once, a man in a black suit and hat showed up, asking for a donation. My father said, “Sam’s not here” and sent him on his way. When Sam returned and my father mentioned something about a guy looking for a handout, Sam ran out the door and searched for two hours, trying to track the man down. He returned in defeat and told my father, “If anybody comes in here and needs anything, give it to them, and I’ll give it back to you.” Then, “I just want to tell you something, Mr. King. Don’t think you’re doing them a favor. They’re doing you a favor.”
My father thought Sam was crazy, and yet, a spiritual fire was lit. Soon after that, my father started putting on Tefillin, then later, observing Shabbos and the holidays. My mother, from a traditional Sephardic household, went along with these changes. Still, my father wasn’t completely given over; he had what some might call an attitude. He both admired rabbis and suspected them. He was convinced the whole kosher industry was a scam dreamed up by rabbis to make a buck. He was impatient with synagogue procedures. Whenever the shul president got up to speak, my father would later say, “That man loves the sound of his own voice.” He didn’t understand Judaism’s preoccupation with religious laws and details. “When it’s time for me to go to heaven,” he’d tell us kids, “is God really going to say, ‘No, Bert, you tore toilet paper on Shabbos, you’re not welcome up here’?”
And yet, it was his suspicion of rabbis and a desire to trump them that actually brought him closer to the synagogue to attend the rabbi’s weekly Torah classes. He’d lean forward as the rabbi talked, waiting for an opportune moment to pounce with a question: “What kind of God would ask an old man to sacrifice his only son?” “How could Joseph’s brothers sell him for a pair of shoes?” “How did Noah fit all those animals into the ark, anyway?” “And what was really going between Abraham and Hagar?” To my father’s surprise, the rabbi was hardly startled or bothered by these asides. In fact, he welcomed them. The other congregants might give each other looks: “There goes Bert King again.” But if they had a question they couldn’t bring themselves to ask, my father would serve as feeder to the rabbi. “Tell Bert,” they’d say. “He’ll ask the rabbi.” As a kid, I was embarrassed.
Over the years, my father became extremely devoted to the rabbi of the shul and, by extension, to the synagogue. The rabbi’s wisdoms, both his biblical and off-the-cuff life insights, filled our Shabbos table conversations. When it was time to set up the chairs for an event at shul, my father would be the only one doing it every single time and the only one folding the chairs away. When it came time to put up the Sukkah, there my father was, with maybe one other volunteer. People thought he was the janitor. This made me ashamed, too.
He barely knew Hebrew and said most of his prayers, with great feeling, in transliterated English. My siblings and I — enrolled at the local Hebrew Academy — were supposed to fill in the gaps. Once, my father asked us at which point he was supposed to bow down during the Shemone Esrei. I was seven. I took a stab: “Whenever it says, ‘Baruch Atah HaShem,’ bend your knees and bow down.” He followed my instructions until his rabbi told him that four bows would suffice instead of the 19 he’d been doing.
If only someone would’ve told me: “Your father is a baal teshuva (returnee to Orthodoxy),” maybe then I wouldn’t have been so mortified by my him, he who couldn’t stop asking questions and doing things that other fathers didn’t do. I didn’t know what a baal teshuva was, not until years later. I’d never seen one before in my Young Israel community. Now there are plenty, but then it was an unknown phenomenon.
He taught me never to ignore another human being.
I served as my father’s teacher, faulty as I was, when it came to Halacha, or Jewish law. But my father was imparting knowledge to me, though at the time I was too embarrassed to realize it. Mostly, he taught me never to ignore another human being. He’d walk into a bank, see an obese teller with a pock-marked nose and chin, surely the most unattractive human being I’d ever laid my teenage eyes on, and he’d spread out his arms and say, “Darlin’, you look like a million bucks!” (This was in the South, in the 1970’s, where you still could get away with such comments.) She’d say, “Shucks, Mr. King, you just cut that out,” but she’d be smiling and he’d be telling her a joke, and next thing you knew, she’d be bent over, chortling into her fist, then offering a joke of her own.
After we left the bank, I’d ask, “Dad, who’s that woman you were talking to?” He’d spread out his hands, as if to say, “Beats me.” He could never simply pass someone by. I used to think this was all Sam Golden’s doing, the legacy of his coworker.
Once he saw an old Chinese woman, in traditional garb, wandering through the streets, obviously lost, mumbling incoherently. He said, “This mitzvah’s mine,” and he brought her home, and through hand motions and other charades, tried to get a family member or some other name out of her. She was terrified.
When her brother finally tracked her down, he found my father singing songs from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the only words of English that seemed familiar to the old woman. She was smiling and rocking her head to the song. This mitzvah was his, all right. He was ambitious to do a kindness.
His rabbi, the one he’d been devoted to all those years, announced from the pulpit that there was one man in the shul who was going straight to Gan Eden for his ability to make people laugh and feel good. His name was Bert King. It was my father’s most treasured moment. Still, I couldn’t let go of my self-consciousness about him. There was something vaguely disgraceful about his chesed, especially in the eyes of a teenaged daughter. I felt this even as I was becoming more religiously observant.
Once I asked my father, “Dad, what would you do if you found $10,000 in the middle of the street?”
He looked uncomfortable. He said, “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know? You’d return it, right?” He said, “I’d like to think so, but I honestly can’t tell you what I’d do.”
I was furious at him. This was my pious father? The one who’d inspired me to take Judaism seriously, to go beyond what I’d received at home and at school?
And then I read a tale of a rebbe who had posed the same dilemma to three students. The first answered, “I’d return the money.”
“You’re too glib,” said the rebbe.
The second said, “I’d keep it.”
“You’re a thief,” said the rebbe.
The third said, “I’d want to keep the money, and I’d pray to G-d with all my being to give me the strength to resist.”
“You’re a Hasid,” said the rebbe — an upstanding human being.
My father, despite — or perhaps because of — his contradictions, is a Hasid.
Now that I’m a parent, I wonder if I’ll embarrass my own children. Of course I will. It’s inevitable that we embarrass our children. The question is how — with our good deeds or our bad ones? (www.aish.com)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shelach 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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