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Parshas Behar/Bechukosai - How Do You Handle the News?    20 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:05:04 AM


There are several world-renowned lines of questioning that we all either come to ask or need to answer throughout the course of our lives. One of those questions took place during while teaching  my Chumash class at SCY High. I needed to convey two pieces of information to my students, one of which I knew they would welcome while the other would cause them to want to run away.  It’s important to note that for every question or piece of information I present, the response must be accompanied by an explanation of why. And so, I presented the question: “I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” The class was pretty much split down the middle, half stating that they wanted to hear the bad news first, deal with it and get it out of the way and  then hear better news. The other half said they want to hear the good news first and have at least something positive which would help them to better deal with the bad news that follows.

A different situation may call for what you've likely heard as the ‘sandwich method’ (sometimes called the ’feedback sandwich’). The sandwich method starts off on a positive note, mentioning a constructive criticism, then finishes off with another positive comment. But if you only have one good and one bad, how do you choose? An additional consideration is who decides - the speaker or the receiver.

According to a 2013 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, most people with good and bad news to share prefer to share the good news first. (Researchers call it "priming emotion-protection," a fancy way of saying, "maybe this won't be so bad if I ease into it." But the same study shows that most recipients of good and bad news prefer to hear the bad news first, if only because that reduces the worry factor: If I know bad news is coming, I'll dwell on that -- and be less likely to take seriously or pay much attention to the good news. Maybe that's because we tend to prefer stories with happy endings. (No research is necessary to confirm that statement). Most people tend to feel anxiety and discomfort when receiving bad news, thus the news-recipients may choose to receive the bad news first so that the following good news will ultimately help to make them feel better.  Research confirms that most people would rather give good news first while the receiver prefers to hear the bad news first.

Studies and polls are very limited regarding the time and place where the assessment is occurring. As a result, the findings of the research is that it tends not to carry enough weight to determine permanent solutions and policies. That is not to say we do not rely on information in the short term when that is the only way to make decisions. By and large the Torah itself, which is immortal, does give us insight and direction for the past, present and future. With that said, we turn to the Torah to answer our question of what is the preferred order: the good then the bad or the bad then the good? The answer is quite simple. The Torah is replete with examples of the positive and good first,  followed by the negative. A few of the many examples of these include the blessings and the curses of Parshas Re’eh. The Torah states in Devarim 11:26 "ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה"  “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse”. In Devarim 27:11 when it comes to Har Gerizim and Eival, the Torah states "אלה יעמדו לברך את העם על הר גריזים...ואלה יעמדו על הקללה בהר עיבל"  “The ones who stand on Mount Gerizim for the people’s blessing….the ones who shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse”. While there are many more examples, I will demonstrate one more  comes from this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s double Parshios of Behar and Bechukosai speaks of the Tochacha, the public rebuke and warning to the Jewish people regarding what might happen if we rebel against Hashem. Here again, the Torah first mentions the good and then the bad. In the beginning of Bechukosai, the Torah states in Vayikra 26:3: "אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם. ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם"  “If you follow my laws and are careful to keep my commandments, I will provide you with rain.” Rain is an open sign of blessing, seen throughout the Torah, while draught is a curse. Only a few verses later, in 26:14, the Torah states: "ואם לא תשמעו לי ולא תעשו את כל המצות האלה"  “[But this is what will happen] if you do not listen to Me and do not keep my commandments.” Once again, we have the positive of observing the Torah and receiving the reward of rain,  followed immediately by the negative warning: if we don’t follow the Torah, bad things will befall us. On this passuk, Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein* in his sefer Tosefes Bracha quotes a question from the famed commentary Ibn Ezra regarding why the blessings come short and concise while the curses are extensive and elaborate. The answer, generally speaking, is because the good characteristics outweigh and are greater than bad middos.  Rav Epstein explains that the curses are only mentioned to serve as a deterrent to frighten the people from sinning-  and we can never receive enough deterrents to keep us from sinning. The brachos/blessings will surely come true, so being exact, precise and to the point is sufficient. Rav Epstein continues with a short psychological insight that “good” comes in short bursts and small amounts. In the event something good from the blessing is lacking, it is no longer good but will be replaced with something else that is good. On the other hand, when it comes to curses, the “bad” appears and piles up, one upon another until the curses become impossible to bear.

On a personal note, I interpret the coming of the good first because I hope to take the bracha, the good and use it effectively so that there will no longer be a need for the other shoe -the “bad” to drop. Let me take something good now in the hopes that the bad will never come. It is always better to hear good news than to hear bad news, whether we are the speaker or the receiver. We should all be blessed with blessings and never need the lessons learned through being receivers of the bad.

* Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein was a very fascinating man who lived and studied in Lithuania from 1860-1941. He was the son of the great Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, Rabbi of Novardhok and renowned author of the monumental halachic work Aruch Hashulchan. Additionally, his uncle was the famed “Netziv”, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the flagship Lithuanian yeshiva, Volozhin. In addition to coming from such illustrious Rabbinic stock, the younger Rabbi Epstein, despite being a bookkeeper by profession, was a noted Torah scholar in his own right. There is almost no shul or yeshiva in the world that does not carry his work “Torah Temima”, a highly informative and innovative commentary on Talmudic and Midrashic texts which he placed alongside the biblical source that spawned them. Despite some minor controversy, Torah Temima remains highly popular among the learned masses of Jews from across the spectrum.

Less well known, however, is another commentary he wrote on the Torah called “Tosefes Bracha”. This work is not formatted the same way as Torah Temima. Rather itis a standard-design freestyle commentary on the Chumash. Unlike Mekor Baruch, Tosefes Bracha has not been reprinted any time recently and is therefore difficult to find (in fact, it isn’t even one of the 40,329 seforim freely available on!

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784