Phantom of the Word

(Torah Portion Devorim) Phantom of the Word

The fifth book of the Torah is called Devorim – Words, which refers to the words of encouragement, direction, blessings and reprimand that Moshe delicately and expressively offered to the Jewish people at the end of his life.

We are currently in the period of mourning over the destruction of our Temples in Jerusalem. Our Sages tell us that G-d allowed the second Temple to be destroyed because disunity existed within the Jewish people.

Harmful words spoken about others are the typical culprit for disunity. In fact, the incident of the spies returning from scouting the Land of Israel and giving a false report about the land is very prominent in Moshe’s reminiscences. This incident set back and stymied the Jews’ entry into the land because of a slanderous report.

Our Sages tell us that already when the spies set out on their mission, they had a preconceived notion that the land was bad. This distorted their view of the wonderful land. Their critical eye was so warped that they even proclaimed, “It is through the hatred of Hashem towards us that He is taking us into the land!” False pretenses are a recipe for disaster.

With this in mind, I would like to focus on an aspect of harmful words, which I will call, ‘The falsely perceived word.’

In 1936, Rabbi Shimon Schwab o.b.m. delivered a sermon in his synagogue in Ichenhausen, Germany, on the topic of the sin of the golden calf. Within the sermon, he disparagingly referred to the golden calf as a ‘vermittler’- (a go between). A Nazi spy seated in the synagogue, misunderstood the word as ‘Hitler’, and reported the rabbi to the Gestapo, claiming that the rabbi publically maligned Hitler.

Rabbi Schwab was summoned to the Gestapo and forcefully explained that this was an outright lie, “I said vermittler and not Hitler, and it was totally misunderstood and misconstrued by the spy.” After this explanation, he was told that the case would be reviewed and that he would be advised of the outcome.

Needless to say, for the next two months, the rabbi feared for his life and slept fitfully. Then he was notified that the matter was dropped. ‘The falsely perceived word.’

Another case in point: I was once presenting a class to a group while other things were going on in the same room. Someone working in the room at the time, caught bits and pieces of the lecture, and told a friend that she was insulted and hurt by my subject matter since she felt that it was directed at her. The friend with whom she shared this with, called me to give me the heads up. I told her that I didn’t even know the person who felt insulted. A short while later, I got in touch with the person and after introducing myself clarified any misunderstanding. ‘The falsely perceived word.’

Have you ever seen this happen? While one is talking on the phone, someone listening to half the conversation makes a false assumption about the complete conversation and as a result causes much unnecessary friction. ‘The falsely perceived word.’

If we would simply hold off from forming our opinions until hearing the entire conversation or seeing the entire picture, so much needless discord and conflict would be avoided, and unity would abound!

Consider, if our Temple was taken from us because of disunity, certainly, if unity prevails amongst us, it will cause the Temple’s re-establishment!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks