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Thought for the Day: Giving Mussar Like Moshe Rabeinu

Parshas D'varim is always read the Shabbos before the fast of Tisha b'Av is observed.  Sefer D'varmim is Moshe Rabeinu's farewell address and summary of four decades of loving leadership of the Jewish people.  Parashas D'varim begins with a mussar shmuess to Klal Yisrael.  Of course the Shabbos before we as a nation mourn the loss of our Holy Temple and contemplate the thoughts and deeds that led to that horrific disaster is a perfect time for a mussar shmuess.  But perhaps as much as the message itself, the careful and precise manner of delivery can have just as much impact on us for good.

First, Moshe Rabeinu gathered everyone together; no exceptions.  There was to be no possibility of anyone who wasn't there having a grievance that he could have said this or that in rebuttal.  One may infer from that, by they way, that when Moshe Rabeinu spoke, he also listened.  There must have been time for people to absorb the discourse, think about it, and conclude that they had nothing to say in rebuttal.

Second, the message was delivered only in hints.  This and that place were mentioned (some of which are not real place names) and people would remember on their own the events and mistakes.  When my children were younger, we had a problem for a while with spilling.  It seemed that we couldn't get through a meal without spilling lots of liquid all over the table.  I was getting more and more frustrated.  I finally decided to just forget about it and deal with the cleanup but at least have a pleasant dinner.  I think we had no more spilling after that.  I finally realized that the children were old enough to know not to spill and it was my frustration that was making them tense and leading to more spilling.  Mussar has to be tailored to the audience.  Mention just enough to get the message across and no more.

Finally, Moshe Rabeinu delivered his message as close to the end of his life as possible.  He knew that when they would see him later they would be embarrassed.  Moshe Rabeinu's words were precise and targeted.  On the one hand, they needed to hear every word so they could make the necessary corrections and adjustments.  On the other hand, once they realized how obvious their flaws were to the great Moshe Rabeinu, they would always feel naked in front of him.  Even that exalted generation who had stood at Har Sinai and come face to face with their Creator could still feel embarrassment and shame in front of another human being.  Moshe Rabeinu was sensitive to that and saved his most penetrating words for his last days in this world.

That's sensitivity and care in how to deal with a fellow Jew is a message for all year around, and a recipe for building the final Bais HaMikdash and turning Tisha b'Av into a celebration of living together with our Creator.

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