20 Jun Cutting Some Slack
If someone asks you for quick advice about relationships what would you say?
One of the most valuable lessons in life, I learned from an Israeli taxi driver. I don’t recall how we got into the conversation, but at some point we were talking about Ahavas Yisrael. He shared with me a valuable insight, simple and true. Sometimes we run into difficult people. “Understand,” he said, “Hu lo ra – he’s not bad; ra lo – it is bad to him.” Meaning, if a person acts miserably, it does not mean he is a bad person, but rather he is experiencing some misery in his life.
Besides being a lesson that can be applied multiple times a day, it helps us understand how strife is addressed in the Torah. During the travels in the midbar, Bnei Yisrael were supplied with water that miraculously emanated from a special rock. The water flowed in rivers and encircled much of their encampment, providing for the people as well as livestock, trees and vegetation. This miracle came about in the merit of Miriam and was referred to as Be’er Miriam. When she passed away, the water supply dried.
While Moshe and Aharon were inside the tent crying upon the loss of their sister, Bnei Yisrael were crying outside. After only six hours of mourning, Bnei Yisrael were advancing toward their tent. Aharon remarked that the righteous descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were coming to fulfill a mitzvah of kindness: nichum aveilim. Moshe said that their manner of approach was indicative of their intent. Bnei Yisrael were coming as one tumultuous crowd, young and old, crowding together without respect shown for the elders. This could not be a group coming to perform a mitzvah.
“Why did you bring Kehal Hashem to this midbar to perish?” (Chukas 20:4). the people complained. The attitude in this complaint showed that Moshe’s assessment was correct. Bnei Yisrael were coming to complain (there was no water). This behavior from the nation of Hashem is incredulous! Their leaders were in mourning for a sister – a woman so righteous that the entire nation benefited from a miracle performed in her merit. They should have recognized the great loss and should have come to pay their respects. At the very least, they should have waited with their complaints! If they absolutely could not wait, surely they could have expressed themselves in a respectful manner.
Even though Bnei Yisrael came with complaints to Moshe, the Torah states that they quarreled with Hashem. “These are the waters of strife where Bnei Yisrael quarreled with Hashem.” (Chukas 20:13). The Gemara learns from this that if someone argues with his Rebbe, it is considered as if he is arguing with Hashem (Sanhedrin 110a).
Where do we find the punishment of Bnei Yisrael? There is no punishment mentioned! How can this be? They came while Moshe was in mourning! Their words are seen as strife with Hashem!
Why did they come? They came because of a raging thirst. Their timing and approach clearly appear to be wrong. They are not condemned in judgment, however, because of their real and excruciating pain. They were in a genuine state of agony. Even when guilt is evident, mercy is shown to those in great suffering. (Midrash HaGadol) “Hu lo ra; ra lo.” Even when behavior seems so wrong and inexcusable, that does not define them as lowly. It could be that they are suffering, but they are good people!
Have we ever held others accountable for how they spoke because they went beyond our definition of acceptable? Do we realize that when someone cries out in pain, even if his mode of expression is lacking, we should respond benevolently with understanding and compassion?
People suffering excruciating pain may not be able
to take control of themselves.
Summer is an opportune time to enhance relationships and we are introducing a new column to share insights and valuable lessons on this most relevant topic. Originally from New York, Rabbi Hershel Becker has been a community rabbi and spiritual leader in Miami for over thirty years where he has achieved a reputation as a beloved mentor and sought-out advisor. His weekly emails are distributed internationally in English and Spanish. His newest book, In Pursuit of Peace: A Torah Guide to Relationships is a welcome addition to his series. Along with Love Peace: Blueprints for Lasting Relationships (Ama la Paz- Spanish edition) Rabbi Becker’s sefarim provide the resources for applying Torah principles to build and enhance interpersonal connections.
Rabbi Becker is available to speak in your community/bungalow colony/camp. To make arrangements contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments and questions are welcome. Rabbi Becker is author of, In Pursuit of Peace: A Torah Guide to Relationships, and Love Peace: Blueprints for Lasting Relationships. He is available to speak in your community/bungalow colony/camp. To make arrangements contact email@example.com. Your comments and questions are welcome.
Rabbi Hershel Becker