That is the parsha in which the Kli Yakar discusses at length the slander against Moshe Rabbeinu and how that results in an epidemic.
Epidemics Result from Slander against Torah Leaders
The Kli Yakar notes that the sin against Moshe Rabbeinu flowed from the heart to the eye.
Because the people (influenced by the Erev Rav) held reservations in their hearts against Moshe Rabbeinu. Because they envied Moshe Rabbeinu's status and suspected him, their eyes were blinded as a result.
They denied things they saw with their own eyes.
All this cumulated in them doing the opposite of what their actual sight showed them.
The Kli Yakar then goes on to say,
...every sickness and every plague that comes to those who kick their leaders.
He means religious leaders.
The entire commentary on this verse focuses on the tendency to suspect and speak against our own leaders, even against leaders on the status of Moshe Rabbeinu.
And he notes that eye problems, leprosy, plague, and illness come about because of this.
In fact, even lashon hara against regular people results from speaking against Torah leaders.
(I guess if people feel that they can badmouth a Gadol, then kal v'chomer, a regular person.)
Anyway, as far as I can see, there are 3 reasons why a person speaks against a Torah leader:
1) The person, whether outwardly frum or not, doesn't consider the Torah leader a real authority
Various sources are cherry-picked out of context to contradict the Sage's sage advice.
In this person's world, everyone is equal and the tremendous talmid chacham is certainly not superior to this university-educated critic.
A variation of this is thinking your own group is not only superior, but the only real way.
Interestingly, Am Yisrael always consisted of different groups. (Twelve, to be exact.)
Wouldn't it have been silly of Shevet Efrayim (who pronounced "shin" as "sin") if it had insisted that everyone who said "Shabbat Shalom" (rather than "Sabbat Salom") was saying it wrong?
And wouldn't it have been equally silly if all the other Tribes derided Shevet Efrayim for saying the words "wrong"?
After all, if Efrayimite pronunciation was so problematic, wouldn't Moshe Rabbeinu or Yehoshua bin Nun have told them?
Avraham Avinu & Yitzchak Avinu also had very different ways of serving Hashem. They had very different personalities.
And that's fine.
Even among Gadolim today, there are different ways of expressing themselves.
Some are clear & concise while others are more esoteric.
(For example, the Spinker Rebbe of the early 1900s used to answer questions by quoting a verse until his questioner came to the answer on his own via this holy hint.)
Here is a brief summary of the 3 main different ways in serve Hashem in Judaism:
Ways of Litvaks, Chassidim, and Sefardim.
(And within those 3, there are fine-tuned variations.)
2) That Torah leader criticized your personal Torah leader.
(There are also modern examples of this. So as not to re-fan flames, I won't discuss those details, but you probably can think of a few yourself.)
I will just say that in some cases, it seems the criticism was given in order to curb certain tendencies in that group that had gotten or seemed about to get out of control.
I've heard this regarding the Vilna Gaon's rejection of original Chassidus, for example.
The Baal Shem Tov and his disciples were fine, of course, but other people were taking things too far. (I heard stuff like people doing cartwheels in the middle of davening, and other things.)
Today, most of us are grateful for Chassidus, even if we aren't chassidim ourselves. (And heck, who HASN'T personally benefited from Chabad when they got stuck somewhere? Or Satmar. My son has been rescued by a Satmerer with a car more than once.)
But it could be that without the Vilna Gaon's initial opposition, Chassidus among the masses may have ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere. (Look at the Shabbatai Tzvi debacle, which initially sucked in many good sincere Jews. In fact, it was Post-Shabbatai Tzvi Stress Disorder that fomented so much opposition to early Chassidus.)
Sometimes, these high-level controversies reflect an even higher controversy going on in Shamayim. The opposing Torah leaders are the human earthly representatives of an opposition occurring in the upper dimensions of Creation.
I can't remember who the leaders in the following story were, but there were two Rebbes in opposition. Yet one day, one of these Rebbes announced to his chassidim that the other Rebbe had died. (The other Rebbe lived far away and there was no natural way this Rebbe could have known that.)
The chassidim asked how he knew.
This Rebbe then stated that the light in the world had diminished. If so, who else could have died, causing that effect on the world?
The chassidim were shocked because this implied that their Rebbe's critic (or target of his criticism – can't remember which) was actually an exceptionally holy person.
Obviously, there were things going on behind the scenes to which the regular people were not privy.
And so...we have 2 reasons why Torah leaders might criticize each other (and do so sharply):
- To curb certain behaviors that might get out of hand.
- To reflect (and somehow rectify) a machloket (controversy) occurring in Shamayim.
There are other reasons, but these are 2 big ones.
It should also be emphasized that the above refers to people who are genuinely great people.
Unfortunately, there are rabbis with a lot of book knowledge who lack good middot and engage in controversies NOT l'shem Shamayim, but rather due to their ego.
At the same time, it's important not to shove a genuine Torah leader into that category. Sometimes people do that to allow themselves to criticize him, but such people really are catering to their own ego needs in that case.
Sometimes, a non-Gadol rabbi of a community or shul attracts a following due to his own charisma, his agility in dealing with people, his ability to reassure people (even if it means offering them loopholes of halachic questionability), and the fact that he possesses more knowledge than his audience.
His adherents can be quite loyal to him.
Yet he is not a talmid chacham, he is not a Torah leader, and he has no right to criticize real Gadolim...and real Gadolim have every right to criticize him.
Again, in this post, we are speaking REAL Torah leaders, REAL talmidei chachamim.
(This can be hard to figure out sometimes, so here is more information to assist with this: More Tips on How to Recognize a Real Gadol.)
3) The Torah leader is surrounded by controversy and slander.
The Baal Shem Tov was a tzaddik with ruach hakodesh and the early founding Rebbes were also tzaddikim with ruach hakodesh (albeit maybe not on the level of the Baal Shem Tov). Yet the slander and controversy they endured in unbelievable.
Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech endured terrible slander.
It's very important not to get involved.
Unfortunately, today's cultural mores drive people toward halachically questionable behavior.
In British culture, you're supposed to be decisive. Waffling and indecision isn't acceptable.
In American culture, you're supposed be CON-FI-DENT! You must SPEAK OUT!
Take a STAND!
Feeling undecided or hesitant is not so acceptable. It's seen as insecure or lacking in intelligence.
Yet it really is okay to feel that way.
And regarding Torah leaders, it's fine not to take a stand when you suffer doubts.
For example, the Yismach Moshe, Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum (1759 – 1841), remembered himself in a previous incarnation as a member of Sanhedrin in the time of the Moshe Rabbeinu-Korach controversy.
While all his fellow Sages joined the camp of Korach (the masses followed Moshe Rabbeinu), the Yismach Moshe-as-Sanhedrin-Member retained a certain doubt as to whether Korach was really in the right.
When his grandson expressed astonishment as to how the Yismach Moshe could have indulged in any speculation against the righteousness of Moshe Rabbeinu, the Rebbe explained that Korach's position was so persuasive, his doubt was actually very precious in Shamayim.
Ultimately, the Yismach Moshe said, "Not wanting to be part of the machlokes[controversy], I ran into my tent and closed the entrance tightly. I refused to come out until it was all over."
Astonishingly, his thoughtful doubt & refusal to pick sides became his salvation.
(For the original story, please see Not Everything is Black & White & Parshat Korah: The Jewish Eye.)
Another massive problem in today's world is the manipulation of images. Photoshop can do amazing things, as can video-editing software.
Photographing or filming from a certain angle can also distort a scene.
Using this against frum people is nothing new.
For example, in Stefania Heilbrunn's Children of Dust and Heaven: A Diary from Nazi Occupation through the Holocaust, a Polish survivor recalls one Sunday in September when journalists & film-makers invaded a town comprising a significant Jewish population.
These media pros set up tables with cards and piles of money, then (with the military assistance of beatings kicks, and rifles) they forced respectable Jews to sit there and play cards.
Even more appalling, a bearded chassid was forced (via the same violent means) to sit on a chair while they made a "notorious Polish streetwalker" sit on him...the resulting events both filmed and photographed.
All of the above was done to show the alleged "vice and debauchery" of the Jews.
Conveniently, the soldiers with their fingers on their triggers and their beatings and kicking of the victimized Jews were not shown.
Please note the collaboration of military personnel, journalist, professional photographers, and film-makers in this revolting scenario — all admired members of society, of course.
This certainly happens today.
How much lashon hara against real rabbis is inspired by journalists, newspapers, news blogs, and carefully edited video clips?
There is not one non-frum media outlet (whether Jewish or not) that really wishes to show a Gadol in his true light.
Unless you are very committed to Torah & mitzvot, you really do not like what the Gadolim say nor what they stand for.
Sure, maybe you'll cherry-pick certain phrases that sit well with you, but not more than that — unless you're very committed, as said.
Be careful of what you read & watch; so much of it is manipulated.
And get comfortable with not being decisive or CON-FI-DENT.
It's okay not to know. It's okay not to be completely sure...until you are.
Let's Stop the Epidemic
And if we're not sure if someone is a tzaddik or not?
Better safe than sorry advises: Keep mum.