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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 11:2-4

Either Way, Don’t Say

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Gemara: The mekoshesh (the man who desecrated Shabbat in the desert) was Tzelufchad, as it says … – these are the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira said to him: "Akiva, this way or that way, you are destined to receive judgment – if it is as you have said, the Torah covered it up, and you are uncovering it; and if not, you are spreading slanderous reports about that righteous person."

Ein Ayah: Whoever acts against the divine statutes is one who sins and will have a related punishment. There are, though, distinctions between different types of sins. There are those whose sin is breaking forth with light in a place in which darkness is required. After all, not everything that exists needs to be known, including in regards to historical facts.

One who sins by acting contrary to a statute distorts the character of existence from its correct form. Worse than this is one who sins by creating distortion. If it happens that something false becomes part of the world of "known facts," especially if it detracts from a true situation in the realm of justice, one has sinned in falsifying judgment. Certainly the two sins are not of the same gravity, and the punishment is in line with the values violated, but either way, one will have to reckon with a judgment against him for the sin.

It should be recognized that the reason behind things that are to be omitted is equivalent to that for things one is obligated to do. When something is omitted by the Torah, the omission has a positive element to it. The matter is much more noticeable when it contains information that naturally would have clarified something pertinent. If the Torah, nevertheless, remains "sealed" on that matter, it is a sign that it was purposely left concealed. Therefore, said Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira to Rabbi Akiva, if indeed Tzelufchad was the person involved , it would be wrong for Rabbi Akiva to reveal the matter contrary to what the Torah intended as to what should be revealed and what should not.

If indeed it is not true that Tzelufchad was involved, then there was an act of slandering about a righteous person, which would represent a unique offense, which goes beyond the general sin of slandering those who are innocent. Each righteous person and anyone that the Torah chooses to discuss is someone whose memory is supposed to bring benefit to those who learn Torah. Our image of that person impacts our essence in various ways, both consciously and subconsciously. Since Tzelufchad was not mentioned in the context of the sin that Rabbi Akiva attributed to him, he is to be presumed to be righteous and he should impact upon us as one who is righteous. Therefore, Rabbi Akiva was depriving us of having Tzelufchad impact upon us on the level his memory is capable of doing. That is the danger of the statement of slander in regard to the specific righteous person involved.
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