l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov


“In the wilderness, in the plain” (1: 1)
Rashi explains (in the beginning of this verse) that these are the places that Israel angered G-d. Out of respect for Israel he didn’t list the sins themselves, but hinted to them by mentioning the place names where they occurred.

This seems difficult. In the continuation of the book of Devarim Moshe lists all the sins explicitly with all the details. for example in parshat Ekev (9: 7) “Remember how you angered G-d and made for yourselves a golden calf” It also says there “You would anger G-d”. In our parsha it states “Remember the incident of the spies”. Moshe wasn’t concerned in those cases about their honour.

Perhaps we can explain Rasbi’s intent based on what he wrote in parshat Beha’alotecha (Bamidbar 9: 1) regarding Pesach Sheni. “The book of Bamidbar should have begun with this incident (because it happened in the first month, whereas the beginning of Bamidbar is the second month). However, because it alludes to the disgrace of the Jews (since in the entire forty years in the wilderness this was the only time they did the Pesach sacrifice – see Tosefot Kiddushin 37b s.v. ho’il for an explanation of this), the Torah did not want to begin the book with it, out of respect for the book.

It is clear from here that the main objection is only at the beginning of a book, out of respect for the book, but in the continuation of the book there is no issue. Thus we can explain that the Torah only needed to allude to the sins at the beginning of the book, because it did not wish to begin with the disgrace of Israel, and therefore had to only hint to them. However, later in the book, there is no problem with stating the sins explicitly.

With this chidush we can also understand the Talmud in the beginning of Pesachim (3a). There it explains that a person should always speak using clean and respectable language, and they learn this from the language in the Torah in parshat Noach. It says there (Berieshis 7: 5) “From the animals that are pure and form the animals that are not pure even though the Torah could have used fewer words and simply written ‘the impure animals’. This is because ‘impure’ is not dignified language. Rashi explains that even though the Torah uses the word ‘impure’ several times, here the Torah changed its language to teach us that we should always try and use clean language.

Rashi’s explanation requires elaboration. Based on what we have said above, that being particular about clean and decent language is only the at the beginning of a book. This verse in Noach is the first time that the concepts of pure and impure appear, therefore the Torah wrote it using clean language, as the first time.

Also there in Pesachim it says; It was taught in the house of Rabbi Yishmael that a person should always speak with clean language. It explains there that for this reason the Mishna uses the word ‘ohr’ (light) to mean evening (in the evening of the fourteenth) rather than the word ‘lail’, because ‘light’ is a nicer way of saying it than ‘night’, which is language of darkness an depression, like we find in creation ‘He called the darkness ‘night’.” And also in Tehillim (104: 20) “Darkness comes and it is night”.
However later in the gemara (7b) it uses that word explicitly – ‘It was taught in the house of Rabbi Yishmael that on the night of the fourteenth we check for chametz…’. It seems as though the house of Rabbi Yishmael are contradicting themselves, first they say that we must use nice language – ‘light’ instead of ‘night’, and then they themselves use the word ‘night’ of the fourteenth. How can we reconcile these two?
The explanation is that when one learns in depth in the middle of a book, there is no obligation to use the nicest language (provided, of course, that it is not crass or foul language), since the mind is involved in learning deeply, and is not able to think of nice words. However at the beginning of a book, at the beginning of the first Mishna, it is required. Out of honour for the beginning of the book it is appropriate to search for the best language – ‘light’ of the fourteenth. But when the house of Rabbi Yishmael were involved in the intricacies of the halacha, they were not particular on their language and used ‘night’ of the fourteenth.
If goes without saying that if it is possible to do both – to learn in depth and use good language, certainly that is the best. That is the basis of the proof there from the language of ‘riding’ and ‘sitting’ regarding a zav and zava. The Mishna uses ‘sitting’ instead of ‘riding’ when speaking about a zava because it is better language to say ‘sitting’ regarding a female.