Friday, August 8, 2008



Mussar can be traced back to the Torah itself, perhaps no where more strikingly than in Sefer Devarim. This is Moshe Rabeinu's farewell speech, filled with words of encouragement, review, and reproach.

The first line seems to set the scene in more than one place. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the Torah is pinpointing exactly where Moshe was when he taught his last message to the Jewish people. This is in stark contrast to the cryptic location of his burial place.

Rav Hirsch suggests that the idea behind the exactness of the location is to remind us that Moshe is to be remembered as our teacher. His burial place is not mapped out because we are not to idolize him. this is similar to the idea of Moshe's name not appearing in the Hagada (although it actually does appear there one time.)

Rashi says that the places named are actually hints to sins of the Jewish People. Following in the footsteps of Yaakov (the first man to know his own death was impending) Moshe gives veiled words of reproach before his death.

The Or HaChayim says that each word listed here is a hint to a trait that we must work on. For example Dei Zahav means enough money, we must say enough to money. Mul Suf, means you should always keep death (sof) opposite your eyes,etc.

May we be inspired by Moshe's love of his people and by his message of mussar.


A chashuv young son of a prominent Rav - who inherited his father's love of Torah and gregarious energy - passed me on the street today. He said a warm hello and then - toch kdei dibur - said he wanted to share a question he was recently asked.

The Hebrew word for a bee is devorah, which is the same root as the Hebrew word which means word (davar, which is the root of the name of this week's parsha and the fifth book of the Torah).

G-d blessed me with an immediate thought, which I think has merit to it. Feel free to think about it before reading on (this fellow told me he had come up with the same answer as me).

Bees are known for two things - their sweet honey and their painful sting. Words are the same way, they have the potential to foster good will or to cause pain.

Another idea of the bee/word connection is to highlight that these two potentials go together; if you can sting (and if you sometimes need to do so) then you were also gifted with the capacity to provide sweetness (and need to do so).

Sharon Marson read this thread and added the following: Bees are the only creatures who make their own food for their own sustenance (as opposed to mammaals thay produce milk for the offspring only). Man is the only being that creates words (as Unkelus calls us - ruach memaleleh" - a spirit that speaks. Just as bees use what they produce in order to sustain themselves, so we should use our unique output of speech towards our own growth.

On a related note I have read (although it seems to be open to a bit of debate) that bees produce sweet honey by eating and then regurgitating (perhaps more than once). Similarly we need to speak and then rethink and restate what we've said (perhaps more than once)

May we be blessed to use our words to sweeten - even to sometimes help heal the sting we ourselves have stung.

1 comment:

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I just wanted to point out that this was expanded a few hours after it was originally posted. So if you read it earlier today (Friday) you may want to re-read and catch the additions.