On July 14, Rabbi Berel Wein, famous author and lecturer, shared a shiur on parshiyos Matos-Mas’ei at Beit Knesset HaNasi, where he is Senior Rav.

He began by stating that the overarching goal of Torah is that people should behave decently, and we should be able to trust people. The parshah says to believe in Hashem and in Moshe His servant. Rabbi Wein explained that the Torah was saying to the Jewish people that Moshe told you something so you should accept that it is for your benefit. “The basis of society is trust and belief.” Children trust their parents, students trust their teachers, people with physical ailments trust their physicians, and people trust the government. Others have a direct influence on our lives, and when they are honest and have a sense of altruism, then that is a good society. When that is gone, then society deteriorates.

Sadly, today there are numerous examples where that deterioration is apparent. We live in a time when no one trusts the media or the government. Children don’t trust parents. Many times, teachers and professors are exposed as frauds and dangerous.

The Torah wanted us to know the 613 mitzvos to show us that there is a norm of society and there’s a way to live. The Ramban says that there can be a person who observes all 613 mitzvos but that the person is a naval – an awful person. “Mitzvos are only effective in a society of trust and goodness.” Why did Chazal put such emphasis on mitzvos between man and man, even above mitzvos between man and G-d? The idea is that you have to be a mentch first. The Torah presented Avraham as the founder of monotheism. He was a person you could trust and who cared for others. He was not represented as a genius or lawgiver or political leader. The Torah presents him as a wonderful human being. Then Hashem says, “I’ll give you 613 mitzvos, if you are a wonderful human being; but if you are not, then the 613 mitzvos won’t help you.

He noted that we aren’t accustomed to thinking in these terms. We say in the morning davening that “these are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come. This is speaking about eternal values such as honoring parents, hosting guests, visiting the sick, etc. He noted that there are no laws how to treat a guest. Part of the psychology of bikur cholim is you see you are spared and that things could be worse. “Your empathy towards others has a quality that helps you be a good person, and that is good for society.”

Hachnasas kallah has no limit. Organizations set up kitchens for brides and provide counseling, etc. Then there are organizations that do chesed shel emes for the dead. “A basic structure of trust and goodness are what Torah is built on.”

He pointed out that secularization of the Jewish people is based on lack of trust. In the beginning of the 20th Century, government laws were for good people, with laws providing unemployment insurance, workman’s compensation, etc. In this type of society, we are trying to build a good society.

This week’s parshah has halachos and mitzvos, but the Torah frames it as Moshe talking to the Elders of Israel. This is how a just society is built. The first thing is trust, qualified in halachah.

He shared that the Gemara teaches about a concept of m’shapara. Although not keeping one’s word has no legal effect, Hashem will pay back people who don’t keep their word. It is not a just society if you say you are going to do something and don’t do it. If I can’t trust you, then all society is hurt by this.

Moshe tells the Elders of Israel that their job is to make a just society where people can trust each other.

In the three haftaros for the Three Weeks, the first was about speech, this week was about hearing, and the last one is about vision. The job of the leaders is to create a society where everyone has free speech and what they say can be trusted.

Moshe Rabbeinu is asking the leaders: What is your common vision for the future? This is your task: to create such a society.

By Susie Garber