“He said WHAT about me?”
“She did WHAT at that party?”
How many times in our lives have we heard what a friend or relative said about us, or what he did in such-and-such a circumstance, and we were just astonished? How could she have done that? we think. I never would have imagined he thought that about me! we lament. Mark Twain once wrote, “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.”
True enough. But what if the friend has his information incorrect? Do we have any obligation to investigate the report for ourselves, even if the messenger of ill is as trustworthy as they come? Based on Parashat Ki Tisa, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Moses has been up on Mt. Sinai for over a month, receiving the Torah from God Himself. When it appears Moses is delayed in returning, the Israelites get restless, and convince Moses’ brother, Aaron, to fashion a golden calf for them. The people promptly begin celebrating around this idol, much to the Lord’s displeasure. Reports God to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have acted basely…They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low to it and sacrificed to it…” (Exodus 32:7-8). Moses responds by pleading for mercy for the people, since God has made clear His intention to annihilate them. When finished with his petition, Moses descends from the mountain, and returns to the camp. “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain” (32:19).
Asks the 11th-century commentary on Exodus, Shemot Rabbah: Why did Moses become enraged, and destroy the Tablets, only after he saw what was developing in the Israelites’ camp? Wasn’t God’s telling him enough?
No, it was not, answers Shemot Rabbah. If I do not see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe it, thought Moses. Therefore, he returned to the camp, saw the dancing, and only then destroyed God’s handiwork.
Woe to all of us, laments Shemot Rabbah, that many of us testify about things which our eyes did not see (and, I would add, our ears did not hear). We hear from someone, even an extremely trustworthy someone, what a friend or family member did to or said about us, and we are so angered, we allow the previously strong connection to be damaged, if not ended. How many relationships would still be intact today, or would at least be much stronger, if the offended side would have just done some investigating, instead of just taking the messenger’s word for it? If the offending party was worthy until now of our love and respect, then surely she is worth some effort to find exculpatory evidence to acquit her of the charges being made against her.
If Moses could check up on a negative report delivered by the One who knows our innermost thoughts, then surely we, who rarely have the complete picture of an event, can find the time for some due diligence. We may find, as Moses did, that the report was entirely accurate, and we might be justified in severing the relationship. But if, as often happens, we find that the report was not entirely accurate, then we will be able to preserve and strengthen a relationship which will hopefully last for many years to come.
(Based on ב. יאושזון, מאוצרנו הישן – שמות-ויקרא, p. 192)