The Symbolic Importance of the Lesser Staff of Moshe Rabbeinu
The Kli Yakar deduces that Aharon’s staff possessed greater power than Moshe’s staff because Aharon’s staff operated in every place there was water: rivers, streams, ponds, etc.
Furthermore, Aharon’s staff was compared to a tanin, which the Kli Yakar defines as a large serpent whose venom is more lethal than that of a smaller serpent.
This leads to an important lesson as stated by the Kli Yakar:
“….the burning venom of a large snake is greater than that of a regular snake.
Moshe’s staff was not given great burning venom because he also needed to shepherd the Jewish people with it and he needed to behave gently (b’nachat) with them even in an hour of anger.”
Dealing with Lashon Hara
Next, the Kli Yakar discusses the great harm caused by lashon hara. In last week’s parsha, he attributed the root of lashon hara to hatred and envy. In this parsha, he focuses on envy alone as the root.
He names two groups which are harmed by lashon hara:
- People of prestige and prominence who are attacked by envious people who envy that high status.
- People who stand up "like a stalk" to the speakers of lashon hara and do not submit to being among those who “listen to abuse without replying.” Among this group, the Kli Yakar notes that there are those who react out of pride in their status, feeling especially hurt that someone of their position is being treated in such a way.
He acknowledges that regular people can also be deeply harmed by lashon hara, but the above people are even more harmed by it due to their status and prominence.
So how can one be saved from lashon hara?
The Kli Yakar readily acknowledges that one cannot always be totally protected from lashon hara. He describes a slandering tongue as "an arrow that can pass through many walls."
Ultimately, you just can’t control other people’s behavior.
But he also states that one who makes himself like those who are inconspicuous and "don’t make themselves seen" before others are better off than those who confront their slanderers by asserting their own virtues.
He derives this advice from the verse (Yeshaya 26:20) much quoted by the Jews of Eretz Yisrael when under attack from incoming missiles:
"Go, my nation, come into your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourself for a little while until the rage will pass."
He points out that while sitting within "a room within a room" usually protects one from any kind of weapon, one who is the target of lashon hara is not completely protected even if he encloses himself within "the innermost chamber."
However, he points out that a victim of lashon hara can still find some relief if he or she does the following:
- Do not confront with slanderer by proclaiming your own virtues
- Do not respond at all
- Act as if you do not hear and are not taking it to heart
I just also want to point out that there is a difference between confronting a slanderer by saying, “How dare you say that about someone of my stature!” and publicly making a halachically necessary statement, such as a factual correction, retraction, or apology.
They are two different situations.
Furthermore, the Kli Yakar himself was a prominent Sage and a dayan, and he lectured at a prominent yeshiva. So obviously, he was not able to completely avoid the spotlight himself.
Simply speaking, I understand his words to mean that one should merely do one’s best not to attract unnecessary attention to oneself.
But if you’re thrust into the position (because you see a need and no one else is filling that lack), such as leading a community (like the Kli Yakar did as a rabbi) or presiding over a rabbinical court (which he did as dayan), or lecturing at a prestigious yeshiva (like he did), or writing Torah thoughts and mussar for the benefit of the Jewish people (like he did in several books), then you do so.
However, you just don’t glorify yourself or spend more time than necessary in the limelight. And that’s a lesson for all of us, regardless of our position in society.
Applying This to the Regular Jew
Probably, regardless of our status, everyone reading this has been slandered at least once in their life.
And the above is just one way to handle it.
I know that the temptation to defend my own self is overwhelming when it happens, but the fact is that if someone is the type of person who either speaks or accepts lashon hara, despite clear prohibitions against doing so, they probably won’t believe anything I say to defend myself anyway.
And that's that.
The Malbim (1809-1879) was Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel who was born in Russia and served as a rabbi all over Eastern Europe. He was bitterly fought by the Reform Movement for most of his adult life, even suffering brief imprisonment over a false accusation in Rumania by wealthy German Reformers. Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Torah among other valuable works he composed.
This is my own translation and therefore, any errors are also mine.