Torah Brings Blessing

“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, in the Wilderness, in the Aravah, opposite the Sea of Reeds; between Paran and Tophel, and Lavan, and Chatzerot, and Di-zahav”

(Devarim 1:1)

Moshe wished to leave Bnei Yisrael with words which would remain imprinted in their hearts forever. He was loath to leave his beloved flock, and wished to give them spiritual provisions for the long journey ahead. As they were sustained by these morsels, they would feel that Moshe still lived among them. The opening phrase in this Chumash, “These are the words,” indicates that they should make these words paramount in their lives. All else should be left by the wayside. Included in this injunction was Moshe’s death. They should not allow it to break their spirit and drive them to despair. Living by Moshe’s teachings would keep him alive at all times, for “tzaddikim are considered living even after death” (Berachot 18a). Chazal add (see Tikkunei Zohar 114a) that every generation contains a spark of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe Rabbeinu wished to impart the following message to all generations. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on account of baseless hatred (Yoma 9b). The jealousy which raged during that generation was the catalyst for lashon hara, quarrel, and dissention. These are what led to the churban. Similarly, Am Yisrael was punished because the spies spoke derogatorily about Eretz Yisrael. They were slated to spend forty years wandering in the Wilderness instead of entering immediately (Bamidbar 14:21-35). Therefore, this Chumash begins with “these are the words.” Bnei Yisrael should see to it to speak only positive words. Words that harm and raise a ruckus should be avoided. Behaving in this manner provides the background for peace and brotherliness. Hashem’s Name would then descend upon them.

The sefarim state that the word אלה (these) is an acronym for the phrase אבק  לשון  הרע (avak lashon hara – lit. the dust of lashon hara). Moshe warned Bnei Yisrael that they should beware of speaking even words remotely resembling lashon hara. Such dust seems insignificant. But this is not so. These words, seemingly said in all innocence, have the power to plant seeds of destruction, causing untold damage. Although this type of speech is not overtly negative, something in the tone of voice transforms these words into avak lashon hara (Chafetz Chaim 2:2). One who makes light of the sin of avak lashon hara will eventually stumble in the sin of lashon hara itself. The road from there to the churban is very short.

One should forsake the “dust of lashon hara” and embrace the “dust of the [steps of] talmidei chachamim.” This is in line with the Mishneh in Avot (1:4), “Sit in the dust of their feet.” One should frequent the Torah Sages, listening to their words of wisdom and absorbing their attitudes. By cleaving to them, the “dust of their ways,” the residue of their lifestyle is sure to cling to him. This is no ordinary dust. It is like diamond dust, every grain of it precious. Chazal add (Sukkah 21b) that even the ordinary speech of talmidei chachamim is considered Torah. All the more so, their Torah talk.

The world saw two powerful prophets (see Tanna d’vei Eliyahu 28). Moshe Rabbeinu was the prophet of Am Yisrael and, l’havdil, Bilaam Harasha prophesied for the gentiles. They both had tremendous power in their speech (see Rashi, Bamidbar 22:4). Although Moshe had a speech impediment (Shemot 4:10), the pasuk states (ibid. 19:19), “Moshe would speak, and G-d would respond to him with a voice.” Moshe’s mission was to transmit Hashem’s message to Am Yisrael. Since his voice was essential for completing his task, Hashem assisted him, and his words of prophecy were well-received by Am Yisrael, who believed in him and trusted that he was the true emissary of Hashem.

Bilaam, too, had the power of speech. But he twisted his G-d-given talents to curse Am Yisrael. Moshe, on the other hand, used his words for blessing. Only when it was very necessary, as in the instance with Korach and his followers, did Moshe see fit to curse. These two great men possessed the same quality, yet, while Moshe used it for positive purposes, Bilaam abused it for negative ends.

At the end of Devarim, we read the parashah וזאת הברכה (And This Is the Blessing). The word וזאת (and this) refers to Torah (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 757). Torah gives a person the ability to bless (see Chazon Ish, Taharot 299). Only one who is immersed in Torah and studies it thoroughly is capable of blessing. Although Bilaam recognized the truth in Torah, proven by his words (Bamidbar 24:5) “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel,” he chose not to cling to it. On the contrary, he attempted to thwart those who studied and supported Torah. Since he was so far removed from Torah, he was incapable of blessing, and could only curse. Whereas Moshe drew down blessing and bounty upon the world, Bilaam Harasha brought curse and imprecation to the world. He and his cohorts will find their ends in the depths of doom (Avot 5:19).

Now we can understand why Hashem approached Bilaam, asking him how he thought he had the power to bless Am Yisrael. A mouth which never studied Torah, but, instead, spoke inanities and consumed forbidden foods, is not capable of blessing those who are called blessed. On the other hand, a mouth that studied Torah draws from it the power to give blessings of significance. The fact that Bilaam did, indeed, end up blessing Am Yisrael stemmed from the fact that this was Hashem’s desire. Otherwise, he would never have succeeded in this.

A diamond left lying in the mud will never be recognized as the precious stone it is. Only after it is removed from the dirt and cleaned well, will it be able to shine. But until this happens, it resembles any other rock lying at the roadside. One’s mouth must be kept clean so that it has the power to bless. How? Only by learning Torah.

Man’s superiority over beast is in his power of speech (Onkelos, Bereishit 2:7). A person who misuses this power, through sinful speech, is inferior to the animals, which do not profane the power of speech. Since the Torah influences a person to speak positively, it is man’s obligation to be involved in Torah. This will promote positive talk. Pearls of wisdom will flow forth from the mouth of a man immersed in the sea of Torah.

The concept of Torah study is not exclusive to the Beit Hamidrash. Restraint from lashon hara, caution in kashrut, being careful with others’ possessions, and love for one’s fellow man, are all included in the category of Torah study. Torah is acquired only through good middot. One who lives in accordance with the dictates of the Torah is considered to be studying Torah. May it be Hashem’s will that we and our progeny know Hashem’s Name and study His Torah for its sake.

In Summary

• The phrase “These are the words” teaches us that Moshe asked the nation to focus on the words of Torah after his death. This would keep his spirit alive among them. Moshe’s spark exists in every generation.

• Moshe reminded the people that the Beit Hamikdash would be destroyed on account of forbidden speech, like the lashon hara spoken by the spies. Baseless hatred, based on jealousy, would also contribute to its destruction. Bnei Yisrael should therefore fortify themselves with unconditional love for one another.

• The word אלה (these) is an acronym for the phrase  אבק  לשון  הרע. The root of baseless hatred and lashon hara is merely the dust of lashon hara, which can grow to epic proportions, creating towers of destruction. Instead, one would do well to cleave to the dust of talmidei chachamim.

• Moshe Rabbeinu and, l’havdil, Bilaam Harasha, were prophets who possessed tremendous powers of speech. But while Moshe used his speech for blessing, Bilaam misused his for curse.

• The words “And this is the blessing” refer to the Torah, the ultimate source of blessing. Hashem asked Bilaam how he thought he could bless Bnei Yisrael – his mouth was never involved in speaking words of Torah. Bilaam succeeded in blessing our nation only due to the spirit of Hashem which was with him.

• Man is superior to beast only due to his power of speech. But when a person utilizes his mouth for evil speech, the animals are manifold times superior to him.


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