He does this by uses two metaphorical images.
Reeds are light and flimsy, and even a small breeze can send them whirling around, helplessly crashing into each other.
Next, he uses the image of a people trapped topsy-turvy and struggling in a dragnet with no firm ground, no way to regain one's balance or even a comfortable position, and no way out.
In the words of the Kli Yakar:
This [verse] is followed by "and a man will stumble over his brother." And this speaks of the division of hearts found in Yisrael more than all the other nations as it says: "and I will scatter you among the nations." Just as with [the act of ] threshing, where one [grain] does not cleave to another, so shall Yisrael be.
Even when they are in the lands of their enemies, a man is separated from his brother, despite it being the way of exiled people to comfort one another.
But Yisrael are not like that for they are scattered and separated even while in Exile. And each one pushes his friend with a strong arm and demands to oust him from his position, to roll over him, and to fall upon him like the curse of Achiya HaShiloni, which says, "as a reed lurches about in the water" (Malachim I 14:15) because every reed is pushed and whirled by the wind that blows it.
And in addition to the wind's pushing, every reed pushes his friend.
We find that every reed is blown twice:
1) Because of the wind
2) Because of his fellow reed being propelled against him
And so it goes, one against the other, until everyone stumbles and falls.
Similarly, every man from Yisrael is blown by the wind as symbolized by
Therefore, it [the verse] compares them here to a wind-blown leaf because the leaf is very feeble and is propelled by the wind blowing on it. And even though each leaf crashes into his friend--thereby striking him—so likewise, every man from Yisrael in Galut resembles the leaf blown by the above-mentioned wind.
Despite this [that it's unintentional or panicked pushing], one pursues his fellow to strike him with the rod of his tongue or before the nations or with lashon hara in Jewish areas—as symbolized by the sound of the leaf. Therefore, [this verse is] immediately [followed by]: "and each man stumbles over his brother."
And the wind-blown leaf further symbolizes the widespread meaningless speech [שיחת חולין] that is said without truth in all the streets of town....every man from Yisrael is blown and pursued by the sound of a leaf, meaning that the meaningless speech of lashon hara that is heard outside, their voice is the voice of the downtrodden....because speakers of lashon hara have made themselves heard throughout all Yisrael; there is no one innocent of this.
For each one rejoices in his friend's misfortune and it will be sweet honey to his palate if he can find a place to condemn his friend.
And in our generation, this middah alone is enough for the lengthening of our Exile.
But then again, I don't know what was going on at the turn of the Seventeenth Century in Bohemia or whether the Kli Yakar was just making an exceptionally strong general statement in a driven attempt to bring this behavior to a screeching halt.
However, the last thing he mentioned—looking for "a place" (i.e., an opportunity or a reason) to condemn one's fellow Jew—is something that can be done even by very well-meaning people.
Just one example:
When I was a new mother, my friends and I constantly analyzed why other people's kids behaved in an undesirable manner. This kind of thing was rampant in my generation of young mothers. Whether it was a kindergartener's disobedience or a teenager's weakening religious observance, we picked apart each situation and were delighted when we found the alleged root of the problem. We did this without names or identifying details, of course, but we still did it. And of course, we always "discovered" that it was something the mother was doing--not the father, not the teacher, not the child's innate nature, not extenuating circumstances, but specifically the mother.
Because deep-down, we were terrified.
Just like the struggling people in the dragnet or the whirling and crashing reeds, we secretly panicked under the stress of raising children against excruciating odds.
No way did we want to undergo what we saw other mothers undergoing. If it was a fault in the mother's methodology, then that meant that we, as mothers ourselves, could simply wave our magic chinuch wand and avoid the so-called mistakes she was making.
And in that way, we could have total control over our situation and our children would turn out just right.
Fortunately, Hashem disabused me of this notion pretty fast by gifting me with a first-born who was a combination of Batman and a Green Beret soldier.
(Or, in Enneagramspeak, an Eight with a Seven-Wing.)
And many of my peers also realized our mistake and came to understand what all our well-meaning analyses were rooted in. And it brought many of us to turn to Hashem instead of the Esavite attitude: "Kochi v'otzem yadai—my own power and the might of my hands has made this wealth for me."
Yes, sometimes a child's difficult behavior is the result of poor mothering, or poor parenting in general.
And sometimes it's not.
But the point is that condemnation is usually rooted in fear and a frantic desire to prevent that same outcome from happening to you, too, God forbid, and is not necessarily an accurate assessment of what's really going on.
Anyway, there are many examples of well-meaning people doing this.
"They will then confess their iniquity...." (26:40)
וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת עֲוֹנָם
....even though they confess and admit this sin caused [the suffering to happen] to them, nonetheless, they still sin and continue while their spiritual impurity remains within them.
As is the habit of our generation, everyone admits that a few well-known transgressions caused all the hardship. And nonetheless, they don't repent from these [transgressions]....
Well, there is a lot of food for thought in all this:
- Much problematic behavior is the result of chaotic conditions and oppression beyond anyone's control.
- Should reeds and leaves engage in fights and accusations with each when the wind crashes them around? Should they speak lashon hara about the leaf or reed that was blown against them?
- Should you slander or flame the person whose boot knocked your neck in the dragnet as he tried to regain his footing and prevent himself from being quashed by the people squeezed against him? If you frantically grab someone's ear in an attempt to pull yourself out from under the squirming mass of humanity, should you be slandered or flamed?
- While the admission that our misdeeds cause our problems is miles above the Western denial of any Heavenly consequences or messages resulting from our actions, it is still imperative that we take concrete steps to do true teshuvah, and not just mouth the words.
If you've been following the Kli Yakar series, you'll know that he does not justify or excuse people who behave disgracefully.
What it seems he's doing here is just directing us to look at the WHOLE picture before we decide how to respond.
And to watch our mouths.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.