There are so many wonderful things to experience on planet Earth. However, once in a while, we all see and hear things that we would rather not see and hear. Unfortunately, not only is the experience unpleasant, but in fact we are influenced, for good or otherwise, by our surroundings. Even holy and righteous people are influenced by their surroundings.(For this reason, big tzadikim go out of their way to avoid seeing and hearing such things!)
At the end of last week’s Parsha, we find two striking exchanges. Firstly, in response to Paroh decreeing that the Jewish slaves will now have to gather their own straw, Dasan and Aviram have sharp words for Moshe and Aharon.
וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם יֵ֧רֶא ה' עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם וְיִשְׁפֹּ֑ט אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִבְאַשְׁתֶּ֣ם אֶת־רֵיחֵ֗נוּ בְּעֵינֵ֤י פַרְעֹה֙ וּבְעֵינֵ֣י עֲבָדָ֔יו לָֽתֶת־חֶ֥רֶב בְּיָדָ֖ם
[Dasan and Aviram] said to [Moshe and Aharon] “May Hashem see you and punish you for making us loathsome in the eyes of Paroh and his servants, putting a sword in their hands to kill us!” (Ex. 5:21)
Immediately, Moshe turns to Hashem saying
לָמָ֤ה הֲרֵעֹ֙תָה֙ לָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה שְׁלַחְתָּֽנִי׃ וּמֵאָ֞ז בָּ֤אתִי אֶל־פַּרְעֹה֙ לְדַבֵּ֣ר בִּשְׁמֶ֔ךָ הֵרַ֖ע לָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֑ה וְהַצֵּ֥ל לֹא־הִצַּ֖לְתָּ אֶת־עַמֶּֽךָ׃
“Hashem, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Paroh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this nation; and still You have not saved Your people!”
Moshe is criticized for his reaction. In fact, Hashem needed to ‘step in’, so to speak, to spare Moshe from punishment. Parshas Vaera opens with the words
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹקים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י ה'
Hashem declared “I am Hashem” (using the 4 letter name of mercy), and I will be forgiving and merciful to Moshe, notwithstanding the way that he spoke to Me”
Moshe Rabbeinu was righteous and humble beyond our comprehension. Still, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 6) is clear that the way Moshe responded was improper, and in fact, says incredulously “is it possible to imagine that Moshe would speak this way of his own initiative to G-d? Of course not!
אלא הם שהקניטוהו Rather it was they [Dasan and Aviram] who instigated and affected Moshe to speak this way.
The Alter of Slabodka, R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, explains the words of the Midrash as follows. Of course Moshe knew full well that Dasan and Aviram were anything but role models. In fact, they themselves were speaking out of their own pain, a point that Moshe of course was sensitive to as well. He would never use them as a personal example for himself, or be consciously affected by their outbursts. Inescapably, all of us -even Moshe - are affected by what goes on around us. Simply because Moshe heard their language and attitudes, his response to G-d Almighty was adversely affected.
Moshe reminds us of our own sensitivities. We are affected for good or otherwise by what we surround ourselves with. As we embark on a week of (well deserved!) winter break, we will not be surrounded by our familiar BYB environment and culture. Let us make sure that we continue to surround ourselves with sights and sounds of kedusha that will inspire us further in our service of Hashem.
Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos and a restful winter break,
Rabbi Binyomin Halpern