SALT - Friday, 19 Tishrei 5780 - October 18, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
 
            In concluding his blessing to Benei Yisrael before his death, Moshe foresees the time when the nation’s enemies will try to deceive them – “ve-yikachashu oyevekha lakh” – but Benei Yisrael will triumph.  Moshe assures them, “ve-ata al bamoteimo tidrokh” – literally, “you shall tread upon their high places” (33:29).  A number of commentators, including Rashi and Seforno, explain that this prediction refers to the defeat of even the mightiest warriors of the enemy nations that threaten Benei Yisrael.
 
            Rav Shimon Schwab is cited as offering an allegorical interpretation of this phrase.  He suggested reading Moshe’s final blessing as an exhortation to Benei Yisrael – that the highest moral standards of the other nations must be our starting point.  The image of Benei Yisrael “trampling” on the “high places” of the other nations charges us with the obligation to surpass the morals of other peoples.  The Torah’s commands come not in place of, but rather in addition to, the basic moral and ethical norms that are expected of all humankind.  The Torah’s obligations begin at the place where basic, elementary ethics and manners end, and Moshe’s final instruction to us is to make other people’s “high places” the point upon we “tread,” meaning, the minimum standard that we maintain, as we strive for a much higher level of conduct.
 
            On this basis, Rav Schwab explained the significance of the famous story told in Masekhet Kiddushin (31a) of Dama ben Netina, a gentile diamond merchant in Ashkelon who was rewarded for the exceptional respect he showed to his father.  The rabbis at that time approached him to purchase an expensive jewel, but he could not make the transaction because the key to his safe was underneath his father’s pillow as his father slept, and Dama refused to wake his father.  God rewarded Dama with the birth of a rare para aduma (red heifer) in his herds, which he was able to sell to the Jews for a large sum.  Rav Schwab remarked that the Gemara told this story in order to show us the minimum standard to which we must aspire in the way we treat our parents.  The nation that received God’s Torah is expected to strive for the highest ethical standards, and so the Gemara describes for us the pinnacle of the non-Jews’ morality so that we aspire to extend well beyond that point and become the great people that God expects us to be.a