SALT - Monday, 26 Tammuz 5778 - July 9, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The opening section of Parashat Matot tells of the laws related to vows that Moshe presented to the nation’s leaders, a series of rules which he introduced by saying, “Zeh ha-davar asher tziva Hashem” (“This is the matter that the Lord commanded”).  Rashi, based on the Sifrei, notes that this formulation is unique to Moshe’s prophecies.  Other prophets commonly introduced their divine message with the proclamation, “Ko amar Hashem” (“Thus said the Lord”), whereas Moshe here introduced his prophecy with the phrase, “Zeh ha-davar asher tziva Hashem,” which represents a higher level of prophecy than that of other prophets.  Rashi’s comments here are likely based upon the theory he mentioned in several other contexts (e.g. Shemot 15:2, Bamidbar 8:4) interpreting the word “zeh” (“this”) as referring to something that can be directly seen.  According to this theory, the term “zeh ha-davar” used in the context of prophecy points to a special level of clarity and directness, indicating that Moshe’s prophecy marked a more direct form of communication from God than that of other prophets.
            Developing this notion further, Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk suggested that the difference between “ko amar Hashem” as “zeh ha-davar” lies in the amount of faith needed to trust the prophet’s authenticity.  The formulation “ko amar Hashem” used by most prophets points to the fact that it was not readily obvious to the audience that the prophets were the authentic conveyors of the divine word, and some leap of faith, however small, was necessary for them to accept the message.  But when Moshe conveyed his prophecy, it was clear and evident that he spoke the word of God, and this is the meaning of “zeh ha-davar” – that the people readily perceived that his words had been communicated directly from the Almighty.
            Rav Elimelech here gives us an important insight into effective teaching and instruction.  This quality of Moshe’s prophecy – its being evidently authentic – is likely the outgrowth of his outstanding humility, which the Torah tells us exceeded that of all other people on earth (Bamidbar 12:3).  Moshe acted and spoke without any tinge of ego or self-adulation.  It was obvious to the people that he taught them not to feel important or superior, but out of a genuine desire to fulfill his mission of communicating the divine word.  And this is what made him such an effective teacher and guide.  The most valuable tool for a teacher or preacher is sincerity and honesty.  Rhetorical devices certainly have their place and can prove helpful in delivering an important message, but ultimately, there is no substitute for sincerity in attempting to sound convincing and authentic.  If one seeks to be accepted as an authentic voice for the values he or she espouses, then his or her voice must indeed be authentic.  This is the difference between “ko amar Hashem” and “zeh ha-davar asher tziva Hashem.”  If we are perfectly sincere and honest in the way we teach and present Torah, then we have a greater chance of earning acceptance and communicating our values and ideals effectively and convincingly.