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    Finding the good – D’varim

    Moses speaking to the Israelites, illustration from a 1907 Bible card

    “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel” – that is how the sidra opens.

    Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev asks, “What words did Moses speak to the people? Words of rebuke and reproof”. He knew them well, and he told them home truths.

    “However,” adds Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, “when he spoke to God, he did not, God forbid, speak of the iniquities of Israel, but only of their good points, and he pleaded in favour of his people.”

    Levi Yitzchak was of course the great defender of Israel. When someone complained that he had seen a wagon-driver greasing his axles while wearing tallit and tefillin, Levi Yitzchak said, “Master of the world! What a wonderful people are Your people of Israel! Even whilst greasing their axles they think of You!”

    What a pity it is that there are so few Levi Yitzchaks today, able to see the good points in others and to insist that the Almighty acknowledge the virtues of His creatures.

    In Jewish life in particular we desperately need some Levi Yitzchaks. Somehow we seem to have been blessed with so many self-appointed experts on the subject of other Jews, who make certain that God knows all the smallest details of fellow Jews’ failings, follies and frailties.

    Yes, of course I realise that God knows it all already and if we do happen to act wrongly He is far from unaware of it. So the critics are not telling Him anything He doesn’t know. If someone deserves punishment from above it will presumably happen even without our help. But when we speak well of others it helps us as well as them.

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