By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
There is a fascinating incident related in the Gemara (Shabbos 88a) which begs for interpretation. A Sadducee saw Rava so engrossed in his learning that he did not even realize that his fingers were under his leg in such a way that was causing them to bleed. The Sadducee said to him, “You are from an impetuous nation; you preceded your mouths to your ears (that you accepted the Torah without hearing first what it says therein), and you still remain in your hastiness. First you should have listened to find out whether you could keep the Torah or not.” Rava responded, “About us, who go with wholesomeness, it is written, ‘Tummas yesharim tancheim—the wholesomeness of the straight ones leads them’ (Mishlei 11:3). However, about those who go with crookedness, it is written, ‘Veselef bogdim yeshadeim—and the crookedness of the rebellious ones destroys them’ (ibid).”
Rashi explains that the Sadducee’s objection was that it was illogical to agree to follow the Torah laws before knowing what they were. Perhaps the Torah contained commandments that were beyond their abilities. Rava responded that they had a relationship founded on love with Hashem and they knew that He wouldn’t give them a mitzvah that they couldn’t fulfill.
This Sadducee was apparently aware of one of the more obscure points of Jewish history, that the Jewish nation said “na’aseh” before “nishmah.” Then he was most certainly aware of the ten plagues. Likewise, he knew about the miraculous crossing of the Yam Suf and all the accompanying miracles. Why did the Sadducee find it so bizarre that the Jewish nation trusted Hashem not to give them a commandment too difficult to master? Hashem acted in such a magnanimous and benevolent manner towards us. Hashem most definitely earned our trust.
Rava apparently pinpointed the source of the Sadducee’s confusion by pointing out that he was one of those who go with crookedness. How is that relevant to the Sadducee’s question?
My rosh yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, explained that the Sadducee was a thoroughly dishonest individual. He was so crooked that he never trusted anyone else because he assumed that they were as deceitful as he was. Further, he couldn’t even imagine that any individual could blindly trust someone else. It was incomprehensible to him that the Jewish people would trust Hashem, no matter how benevolent He is. This was the thrust of Rava’s answer: “You are too crooked to understand our total reliance and trust in Hashem.”
The rosh yeshiva used this same explanation to shed light on a Rashi in Chumash. Avraham Avinu charged Eliezer with a mission to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. He directed Eliezer to find an eligible woman from Avraham’s own family. Eliezer davened to Hashem that the girl that accedes to his request for water and goes further and also gives his camels water be from the right family and otherwise appropriate for Yitzchak. As soon as he finished praying, Eliezer saw Rivkah approaching and asked her for water. She aced the test and gave him and his camels water.
Eliezer was astounded to see that Hashem had fulfilled his prayers so quickly. Rashi says that he trusted Hashem that Rivkah was indeed Yitzchak’s intended kallah and immediately gave her the jewelry designated for the chosen one. He did not even pause for a few seconds and ask her what family she was from. When he recounted these events to Besuel and Lavan, he made a slight change. He said that he first asked her what family she was from and only then gave her the jewelry upon hearing an appropriate response. He was afraid that if he told them the truth that he trusted Hashem and gave Rivkah the jewelry before even knowing who she was, they wouldn’t believe it and they would think he was a charlatan and refuse the marriage offer.
The entire sequence of events leading to the giving of the jewelry is so outstanding. Mere moments after Eliezer makes a “deal” with Hashem, Rivkah comes along and fulfills his exact requirements. Even Besuel and Lavan had to admit that “M’Hashem yatza ha’davar,” that this was obviously divinely decreed. Yet they couldn’t fathom that Eliezer would give Rivkah expensive jewelry solely based on his trust in Hashem that He affirmatively answered his prayers. Similar to the Sadducee, Besuel and Lavan were thoroughly dishonest, probably among the most deceitful characters we find in Tanach. They surely never trusted anyone, and couldn’t imagine anyone else doing so either. No matter what Divine signals were present, they could not comprehend that Eliezer would trust in Hashem.
The Baal Shem Tov used to say that when viewing another person critically, you should realize that you are like a mirror. The faults you find in that individual are likely faults that you yourself possess. When you see a fault in another individual you should check to see if you are guilty of the same weakness. People tend to project their shortcomings on others. Of course, none of us have this tendency. But you might know someone else who has this failing, and this article is for him. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.