Disciplining Disciples

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Ha'azinu
Disciplining Disciples

Parshas Ha'azinu is called a "Shira" (Song; See Rashi Parshas Vayeilech, 31:19). Yet, Parshas Ha'azinu is riddled with rebuke that Moshe gave the Jewish people if they sin. This seems to present a dichotomy. A song invokes cheerfulness, whereas rebuke comes across as being harsh. Why would a parsha dealing with rebuke be called a "song?"

Perhaps the lesson is that we are supposed to invite constructive criticism for with it we can improve our moral standing and fulfil our life's mission. After all, one of the forty-eight qualities necessary for acquiring Torah is, "Oheiv Es Hatochachos" (loving reproof; Pirkei Avos, 6:6). Therefore, this Parshas which speaks about harsh reproach is called a "song" to remind us that we are supposed to be happy when we are reprimanded.

Another aspect of the parsha is that it is all encompassing, mixing past, present, and future into one conglomeration. This characteristic brings us to the following story mentioned in the Seder Hadoros (Eleph Hachamishi, Divrei Hamaschil "Vi-ofen", pg. 214).

Once upon a time, the Ramban had a student named Avner. Eventually, Avner became a heretic and abandoned the Torah and its way of life. As it happened, Avner became extremely wealthy and so powerful that he was revered throughout the land.

One year, on Yom Kippur, Avner summoned the Ramban to his home. Due to Avner's powerful influence, refusing to go was not an option, so, the Ramban, still wrapped in his tallis and kittel, made the journey from shul to Avner's house.

Once the Ramban was inside, Avner wasted no time. He took a pig, slaughtered it, cut it up, cooked it and ate it in front of the Ramban. Then, Avner asked the Ramban, "Tell me, how many sins have I just transgressed?" The Ramban said, "Four." (1) slaughtering, 2) cutting, 3) cooking, 4) eating)

Avner disagreed and said, "No, I transgressed five sins." (Perhaps, after disagreeing with his former Rebbi, Avner was right. He did transgress five sins. The fifth sin was the disrespect he displayed to the Ramban). After witnessing such chutzpa, the Ramban gazed at Avner blaringly. Avner was taken aback because he still had a slight trace of yirah (reverence, fear) of his Rebbi.

Then, the Ramban asked him, "How did you come to such heresy?" Avner responded, "It's all because of you! Once, I heard a class from you on Parshas Ha'azinu, in which you said that Parshas Ha'azinu doesn't only contain all of the mitzvos in the Torah, but, it also contains within it every single thing in the world. I said to myself that this is absurd. How is it possible for a parsha with just fifty-two versesin it to contain every detail in the universe? I said to myself that if this is the type of hog-wash you're teaching me now, maybe everything else you taught me was also false. So, I went off the derech of Torah."

The Ramban replied, "You know something, I still teach that Parshas Ha'azinu contains everything in it. Why don't you ask me about something specific, and I'll show you that it is found in Parshas Ha'azinu."

Avner was shocked at the challenge. He thought to himself, "The Ramban can't be serious. How is he going to pull this one off?"

Finally, Avner retorted, "If it's as you say, show me where my name is found in Parshas Ha'azinu."

The Ramban said, "You have spoken well. You have made your request. Give me a few moments and I will show you where your name can be found in Parshas Ha'azinu."

The Ramban walked over to one of the corners in the room and began to pray, begging Hashem to show him where Avner's name could be found. Suddenly, the verse struck him like a flash of lightning.

The Ramban turned to Avner and said, "Your name can be found in the verse that says, "Amarti Afeihem Asahbisa Mei-enosh Zichram" (I had said, I will scatter them, I will cause their memory to cease from man; 32:26). The third letter of each one of those words are: reish, aleph, beis, nun, and reish, which spells "R' Avner" (Reb Avner)."

Avner began to tremble. He fell on his face and asked his Rebbi if there was a remedy for his spiritual illness. The Ramban replied, "You heard what the words of your verse said. That is your remedy."

Avner reviewed the words of the verse in his mind, "I will scatter them, I will cause their memory to cease from man," and he knew what he had to do.

Avner went to the docks, purchased a boat without a captain, and sailed off into the night. Avner was never heard of again.

There are so many lessons one can glean from this story. Here are a few:

1) It is so crucially important to respect bona-fide Torah authorities. They serve as the links of our traditions. Without them, we do not possess a true understanding of the Written Law. That would make Torah obsolete. One example of this respect toward Rabbinic authority would be, instead of saying, "Rashi makes no sense," say, "Rashi makes no sense to me."

2) Not only are the teffilos of tzaddikim so potent, and not only are the tefillos on Yom Kippur so powerful, but prayer in general is a very effective tool.

3) Even a person like Avner has a tikkun (remedy). Certainly, we can be repaired from any spiritual damage we may have caused within our constitutions. There is always hope. Never give up.

4) We must appreciate every nuance of Parshas Ha'azinu, and of the entire Torah for that matter. There is always more than meets the eye.

So, as we sing the song of Ha'azinu this Shabbos, let us try to be a little bit more open to self-improvement. Moreover, during the reading of the 52 verses in Parshas Ha'azinu, let us be reminded that when Hashem admonishes us, it is coming from a loving Parent to His "ben" (son), because the word "ben" is numerically 52.