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Should a Leader Be Sensitive?

“These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan in the desert, in the Aravah, opposite Suf, between Parran, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeros and Di Zahav” (Deuteronomy 1:1).

The fifth book of the Torah relates Moses’ parting words to the nation during the last five weeks of his life. According to Rashi’s commentary, we’re not just getting a boring travelogue here. The names of these places are subtle reminders to the people about some of their most serious sins after the exodus. For example, Di Zahav, which literally means ‘enough gold’, hints at the debacle of the Golden Calf.

Rashi explains that Moses used these indirect references out of sensitivity for their feelings. A full-throated direct rebuke would not have been received well and would probably produce a defensive reaction. However, if Moses had to tread so carefully because the fragility of the feelings of the nation, why do we find non-ambiguous and explicit harsh rebukes by Moses in subsequent passages for the very same sins? Why does Moses stop pulling his punches?

People are generally very resistant to having their faults pointed out. They will be resentful of those who chastise them and will not really consider their input. That’s why Moses initially took a very subtle and indirect way of alluding to Israel’s sins. Not being confronted, the people had the emotional space to think about the names of these places. On their own, they will make the connections and contemplate what happened there. Later, when Moses brought up these failures directly, they would be less defensive and resistant. (Rabbi Dr. Michael Bernstein)

By Rabbi Michael Skobac


Rabbi Michael Skobac had been involved with Jews for Judaism (Canada) since 1989 and currently serves as its Director of Education and Counselling. He is a leading authority on missionaries, cults and issues relating to Jewish continuity and Jewish spirituality. Rabbi Skobac's publications include Missionary Impossible; Counter-Missionary Survival Guide; The DaVinci Code: A Jewish Perspetive; and Intermarriage: Is There Ligth at teh End of the Tunnel?


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Republished by Angelique Sijbolts with permission for the Noahide Academy.

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