Of Bee Stings and Honey — And a Giraffe

Harav Avraham Genechovski, zt”l, was standing alongside another well-known talmid chacham at a bus stop in Yerushalayim, awaiting a Bnei Brak–bound bus, when a van pulled up in front of them. The driver, himself a ben Torah who was well acquainted with Harav Genechovski, was headed to the same destination and was glad to offer the two Torah scholars a lift.

As the van drove off, Harav Genechovski’s companion turned to him and asked a complex question in Choshen Mishpat, an area in which Harav Genechovski, famed for his Torah knowledge, had particular expertise.

The companion was baffled by the most puzzling reply.

“In the local zoo,” Harav Genechovski replied, “there is a giraffe. Now, this creature comes from abroad. How do you think they managed to transport such a tall animal here?”

For the rest of the trip, Harav Genechovski continued to speak about similar, seemingly frivolous topics, never addressing the Choshen Mishpat dilemma.

It was only after arriving in Bnei Brak and alighting from the vehicle that Harav  Genechovski explained.

“The driver is a talmid chacham,” he said. “But in this complex Choshen Mishpat question he would be unable to add anything to the discussion. The driver’s wife was sitting in the back of the van. Were she to listen to us discussing the question and see her husband remaining silent, it would lessen his honor in her eyes….”

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Parashas Devarim begins with a verse describing the words Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to Bnei Yisrael: “On that side of the Yardein, in the Midbar, in the Aravah opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav…”

The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 1:6) states that the word “devarim” is similar to “devorah” — a bee — and that like a bee whose honey is sweet and whose sting is bitter, so were the words of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rashi, quoting Chazal, teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu’s intent in this parashah is to rebuke Bnei Yisrael for the various times they angered Hakadosh Baruch Hu through their misdeeds. This helps explain the “sting” of the bee, but what does the honey represent?

The Ben Ish Chai explains this concept through a parable of Chazal (Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer).

A king once sat and watched from the distance as a man he genuinely liked slipped into the royal garden with the clear intent to steal some produce. The watchdog tied to the gate of the garden attacked the intruder and tore his clothes.

The king said, “If I will ask my favorite, ‘Why did you enter the garden?’ he will be ashamed. Instead, I will say, ‘Did you see that mad dog who ripped your clothes?’”

In the same vein, not only did  Moshe Rabbeinu refrain from explicitly naming the sins committed by Bnei Yisrael, he used terms that alluded to both the sins they committed as well as the great kindness shown to them by Hashem.

For instance, the word “midbar,” alluded to both the mann that Hashem fed Bnei Yisrael in the desert, as well as the “dibbur,” the fact that they sinned by inappropriately complaining about the lack of food.

Each word symbolizes two distinct meanings: the “sting” — the error committed by Bnei Yisrael — and the “honey” —  the kindness of Hashem at that very place.

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This incredible sensitivity exhibited at a time of rebuke is a powerful lesson that applies in all places and times. It reminds us that we are obligated not only to carefully weigh each word we utter, but to also analyze all possible ramifications that may emerge from our statements and actions.

A talmid of Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, came to bid farewell to his rebbi before returning home before Pesach. Harav Shlomo Zalman, who was aware that this talmid was an orphan who had lost his father, gave him some parting advice. “Do not spend any more time than necessary on bedikas chametz,” he urged his talmid. “Search for as long as you are required to, but not any more than that.”

He explained why: “The longer you are bodek, the more time your mother will have to think to herself, ‘My husband used to do the bedikah in such and such a way…’ These memories will cause her pain. Therefore, hurry the bedikah so she should not have time to think…”

The Tshebiner Rav, zt”l, once sent a letter to his married daughter asking her if a prospective couple-to-be could possibly meet in her house. The Rav added that since the kallah-to-be was very poor and would presumably be wearing very simple clothes, he asks that his daughter also don simple clothes so not to embarrass her…

May we all be granted the wisdom to show the proper sensitivity to others at all times.