The Black Hole Called Exaggeration
Let’s Be Real
This week’s Torah reading begins to tell us about the journey of the Jews through the desert on their way to the Land of Israel. They reached a place called “Refidim,” and they were faced with a lack of water. The people confronted their leader, Moses, and demanded that he supply them with water. Moses, at a loss, turned to God in prayer and said, “What should I do for this nation? If I wait any longer they will stone me!” God, in response, commanded him to pass in front of the people, and take along the elders of the nation, as part of the mission to provide them with a source for water. Rashi explains (17:2) that there was a special meaning in the instruction to pass in front of the nation. Moses said that the people were on the verge of stoning him. Therefore, God said to him that he should pass before them and see how they will in fact not stone him. God was not happy with Moses about his exaggerated accusation against His children.
Our great leader Moses, who loved his people dearly, surely would not have talked that way about them without good reason. If he mentioned such a thought to God about the people being on the verge of violence, we can be certain that he meant it sincerely, and it wasn’t merely an exaggeration. We can be sure that the people did not approach Moses with a smile, to put forth their request in a calm and respectful manner. Moses must have sensed a hint of a threat lingering in the way they expressed their complaint. In spite of this, God saw that there was a little haste in vocalizing such an accusation, and Moses should have been more careful not to misjudge the extent to which the people were ready to go with their feelings against him.
This lesson certainly pertains to us. Very often when we are slighted by someone, before we know it, we create a heap of severe accusations against that person and we turn that person into a villain. I was once standing in line at the post office, when all of the sudden a middle-aged woman approached me. Raising her voice, she started spewing harsh words at me for the awful disrespect I had shown her. Apparently she was walking not far behind when I entered the post office, and ‘how dare I’ not hold the door open for her! It just so happens that I had not taken any note of anyone coming up behind me when I entered. Certainly, if she was literally right behind me, I would have realized that she was there and I would have held the door open for her. Nevertheless, assuming she was quite a few feet away, let us say I would have noticed her approaching. If I would have stood there an extra ten seconds to hold the door open, it would have been an act of courtesy. If I would have decided instead to rush inside instead of waiting for her, would that have truly been a most despicable act deserving of harsh reprimand in the middle of the post office? I had never met this person before. This was not the door of a bank vault which involves extra strain to open; she was perfectly capable of opening the door herself effortlessly as she had indeed done. Objectively speaking, failure of one to go out of his way to perform an act of extra courtesy for another, to whom he owes nothing, is very far from being considered a crime.
The truth of the matter is that we do this all the time. When someone says or does something to us which causes our ego to get slightly diminished, we are naturally quick to blow up the offense in our minds to be ten times worse than it really is. Instead of being disciplined and swallowing our pride, we feel the need to have our honor restored to its full glory. This often leads us to take the incident and create a whole case of how that person is so insensitive, rude, etc. Even if were wronged by someone, it is imperative that we keep things in perspective and not blow things out of proportion. Even if that person was wrong for what he/she did, for us to make the accusation worse than it really is, would be a crime on our part. If someone says something less than flattering to us, perhaps he/she should have been more sensitive with his/her remarks, but it doesn’t mean that person doesn’t love us. If someone rushes by, knocking in to us, without excusing his/herself, that person should have more careful and respectful, but that doesn’t turn him/her into a full-blown obnoxious individual. Controlling ourselves to view the misdeeds of others as minimally as possible is very challenging. However, it is our duty to view the children of God in a positive light, and not to reduce their stature in our eyes with exaggerated emotions. Additionally, if we break this tendency, we will find ourselves to be much happier in life, as we will save ourselves much unnecessary anguish.
Parshas Beshalach 5780/2020
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber