The Repercussions of One’s Actions

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier. Rosh Kollel

In this week’s פרשה, the Torah relates a discussion that took place between אהרן הכהן, Ahron, and משה רבינו, Moshe Rabeinu. The argument was if the he-goat was brought as the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice should have been eaten or burned, as Ahron had done. In 10, 16, it states “and he (Moshe) was wrathful with Elazar and Ithamar, Ahron’s remaining sons.” Chazal teach us that if not for his anger, he would have analyzed what had happened and realized that they had acted properly. (See Malbim)

Rashi in Numbers 31, 21, פ’ מטות ל”א: כ”א quotes the following (ספרי):

“Because Moses fell into anger (Numbers 31:14) he fell into error: there escaped him the laws concerning the removal of uncleanness absorbed by vessels which have contained the food of heathens. This, too, was the case on the eighth day of the installing of the priests, (Leviticus 10:16) “And Moses was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar”, — he fell into anger, he fell into error Similarly, when he said, (Numbers 20:10, Numbers 20:11) “Hear, now, ye rebels”, … “he smote the rock”; it was through his anger that he made the mistake.” (Sifrei Bamidbar)

Rashi in 10, 20 explains that Moshe Rabeinu agreed and was not embarrassed to say, “I didn’t understand”. The תרגום ירושלמי explains that once he understood he was mistaken, he sent a message – an announcement – that ‘I was the one who didn’t understand, and my brother Ahron taught me the true understanding.’ Because of this he was rewarded.

Harav Nosson Wachtfogel זצ”ל asked, “Firstly, one is not allowed to say לשון הרע even regrading oneself. Secondly, if one makes a mistake in correctly following Hashem’s desire, one should keep it private and definitely not proclaim it publicly!

Even more perplexing is, how is it possible that Moshe Rabeinu who transmitted the Torah to Klal Yisrael, who is described as the most humble of all people, that the Divine Presence ‘spoke through his throat’ could make such a mistake?

We are being taught that despite his unfathomable, superior qualities and greatness of achievement, it is an immutable consequence of anger that for the moment one forfeits one’s wisdom and knowledge. This is what is meant by דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה, that only with noble character can one understand Torah. At the moment one is not focused on impeccable behavior, one squanders their gift of Torah. Moshe Rabeinu was teaching us for eternity this basic fundamental principle; therefore, he was not only allowed to publicize his mistake, but actually felt a responsibility to share this doctrine.”

Let us examine a passage in Yoma 86a: The Gemara asks: What are the circumstances that cause desecration of God’s name? Rav said: For example, in the case of someone like me, since I am an important public figure, if I take meat from a butcher and do not give him money immediately, people are likely to think that I did not mean to pay at all. They would consider me a thief and learn from my behavior that one is permitted to steal.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is an example of desecration of God’s name? For example, someone like me, if I would walk four cubits without Torah and without phylacteries, and the onlookers did not know that it is only on account of my body’s weakness, that would be a desecration of God’s name. Yitzcḥak from the school of Rabbi Yannai said: Any case when one’s friends are embarrassed on account of his reputation, meaning his friends are embarrassed due to things they hear about him, this is a desecration of God’s name.

From these statements, we are taught the obligation of one who is viewed and respected as a leader of Klal Yisrael, as one to emulate; to appreciate the grave consequential impact all their actions have on society. For example, though Rav Yochanan was a renowned Tzaddik, and would never be suspected of not wearing his Tefillin unless there was a valid reason, nevertheless human nature is to almost automatically view the situation as one sees it. This is designated as a חילול השם, a desecration of Hashem!

One may have all the best intentions, all the necessary justification – but it still is a grave violation, due to instinctive human reaction that the person is not living up to the usual expected Halachic practice! An important life lesson; every action can affect another, especially if one is viewed as an exemplar!!

In תנא דבי אליהו פ”ח, there is a comparison between חזקיהו המלך and אלקנה (husband of חנה). King Chizkiyahu was ill and Hashem informed him that his fervent prayers would be answered and he would be healed. Hashem altered nature as a sign of his imminent healing. He reacted by inviting a non-Jewish royal family and showed them the ‘secrets’; the Holy Ark and Tablets, הארון והלוחות.

Elkanah was noted for his relentless dedication to inspiring many families to join in traveling to the מקום קדוש, the Tabernacle every Yom Tov. For only seeing the potential good in all, he was rewarded by Hashem to have שמואל הנביא, the Prophet Shmuel as a leader of Klal Yisrael. But Chizkiyahu who disgraced Hashem, due to arrogance, by ‘showing his secrets’ to non-Jews, had a son, Menashe, who was a wicked person.

Moshe Rabeinu, who is the paradigm of humility, was blessed that Hashem would speak through him to Klal Yisrael, while Chizkiyahu, due to a lapse of arrogance, forfeited the protection of Hashem.

Rav Nosson זצ”ל asked, “Chizkiyahu, in his reign, through his ceaseless efforts, was successful in that every person was proficient in all of Torah. If so, why wouldn’t he be blessed like Elkanah? The answer is the above lesson; a person who is a leader of others (מנהיג) has the awesome accountability that every action is pure in its essence. By entertaining the non-Jewish group, he could cause people not to avoid assimilation. What would seem to be inconsequential, was the cause of having a child who would lead Klal Yisrael astray. A grave responsibility that every action must be measured in the context of the רבים.”

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