| Parshah |

Making a Mockery

The power of leitzanus caused 250 wise men to join Korach and reject Moshe Rabbeinu

“If you lay siege on a city for many days to wage war on it to capture it, do not destroy its trees…” (Devarim, 20:19)

From this prohibition, Chazal derive the laws of bal tashchis, not to wastefully destroy anything of value. This mitzvah is not just a practical tip. It’s the fundamental point that defines who is a tzaddik and who a rasha.

This belief is also what spurs the behavior of a leitz, a scoffer. The word leitz doesn’t refer to one who is occasionally flippant, but to someone who deliberately belittles precious values.

Rabbein Yonah in Shaarei Teshuvah says a leitz mocks words and actions to distance himself from them. Since he’s dismissing these values as worthless, his sin shares a core similarity with bal tashchis. (Rav Wallach, Maayan Hashavuah)

My eighth-grade students were hosting an out-of-town school for Shabbos, and I was scheduled to give the second workshop during the Friday night oneg. I lounged in a chair, idly reviewing my topic. Truth was, I didn’t need to practice. Tonight’s topic was one I’d used and enjoyed before, so I was looking forward to it. Then Aviva finished her workshop. I was up next.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 90a) says that every Jew has a part in Olam Haba. Yet the Gemara (Sotah 42a) says that leitzim aren’t received by the Shechinah. Mockery is obviously a bad trait. But why is it so bad that the Shechinah won’t accept such people?

Man’s purpose in this world is to reach shleimos, by pursuing the proper principles and priorities. The leitz knows what these values are, but he chooses kalus rosh, lightheadedness. He has a rosh — he’s smart. Yet, he chooses to fill his mind with frivolity. Such a person, says Rabbeinu Yonah, will eventually become an apikorus, scorning the mitzvos.

One look at Aviva’s chalky complexion and my stomach sank. “I have never,” she leaned on the doorway for support, “in all my years of teaching, met a group like this one.”

Aviva’s a few years older than me, an accomplished public speaker whom I admired greatly. I couldn’t fathom what had shaken her so badly.

“Rowdy? Rambunctious?”

“I can handle rowdy. This was—” she paused, searching for the word. “I’ll let you see for yourself.”

Trying to still my sudden nerves, I gave myself a mental pep talk.

You can handle spirited groups and discussions. Aviva’s having a hard day. Nothing to do with you.

Ah, pride goeth before the fall.

There’s an expression: “One leitzanus pushes away 100 rebukes.” A speaker can move an audience to teshuvah, until one fool makes a joke — and then his whole message dissipates like smoke. The speaker’s forced to descend from the podium. There’s no one to listen.

The power of leitzanus caused 250 wise men to join Korach and reject Moshe Rabbeinu. There’s no protection against such mockery. A person can drive well with a great car and good brakes, but if the street’s full of oil, the car will skid.

Despite Aviva’s gloom-and-doom, I was confident when I entered the room. Many of my students were there, interspersed with those from the school we were hosting. I had a great relationship with my girls and I figured, if nothing else, they’d enjoy the workshop.

But was it my imagination or were my students tense? Did I hear the sound of muffled giggles or was I getting paranoid? Taking a deep breath, I plunged into my introduction, a fascinating tale based on a famous O. Henry story.

A jaw-breaking yawn echoed from the middle row. “Is this ever going to end?” a girl stage-whispered.

Shaken, I tried to continue my tale but didn’t manage to get much farther.

“What’s your point?” called out a tall girl.

“The point is to bore you pointless,” shot back another. Loud jeers accompanied this.

I fell silent. On the surface, these guests looked like an average group. But there was an undercurrent of barely concealed scorn — contempt that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. But that didn’t make it any better.

I stood there, suddenly aware of my student’s eyes on me, feeling their awkwardness, feeling I failed them. It doesn’t matter how captivating you are, I realized, you’re not going to reach these girls. And along with these thoughts came the pain of helplessness and shame, as they made a mockery of me and my message.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 706)

 

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