Why the Code? by Avi Finkelstein


Parashat Devarim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu listing many of the places that Bnei Yisrael have traveled through on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that Moshe wasn’t just reminding Bnei Yisrael of their travels, he was gently rebuking them by alluding to all of these places in the Midbar, the desert, where they have sinned.

A challenge is posed on Rashi’s approach. If the goal of this is to avoid embarrassing Bnei Yisrael by harshly reminding them of their mistakes, why within the next few Pesukim do we read of Moshe’s direct rebuke towards the people in terms of their desire to return to Egypt, the Eigel HaZahav, the Meraglim, Korach’s Rebellion, and their ingratitude towards the Man? Moshe Rabbeinu’s original intent to avoid causing any form of discomfort to the Jewish people seems to change, and a very harsh and very critical rebuke is delivered. How can it be that Moshe’s plan changes so rapidly?

 Rav Twerski offers an answer that is based on Parashat No’ach. When Hashem commanded Noach to bring seven pairs of kosher animals and seven pairs of non-kosher animals into the Teivah, the term used for the latter set is “Lo Tahor” instead of the simple “Tameih.” It is a well known concept that the Torah wastes no words, yet here we see that a lengthier phrase is written simply to avoid the negative connotation of “Tameih.” Some of the commentaries point out that later in the Torah, in Parashat Shemini, when we are taught the laws of Kashrut, the Torah refers to pig as “Tameih.” Why in Parashat Shemini is it ok to use such an explicit description, while previously in Parashat No’ach by the episode of the flood such language was considered offensive and insensitive?

Rav Twerski answers that, “The Torah is teaching us that there are times when euphemisms are in order to be used, and times when they can be misleading.” For example, the phrase “Sagi Nahor,” which is literally translated to “lacking light,” is often used when referring to blindness. It is understandable that one would want to speak in more of an indirect manner to be more respectful. However, caution must be expressed as throughout history euphemisms have been utilized to mask atrocious and horrific ideologies. The operation known as “The Final Solution” was in truth a genocidal plot by the Nazis against Jews, gypsies, and cripples, hidden behind a name that almost sounds as if it identifies a path of betterment for the world.

 What Moshe Rabbeinu said to the Jews in response to their sins is relayed to us as a historical recount; there is no attempt to hide the negative actions of the nation. But when the Torah is simply telling us of Moshe’s speech to the people of their journey, there is no justification for us to be reminded of the sins of others and thus the hidden language is fitting.

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