Avraham ben Mussa: Lishon Harah
The 21st of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Avraham ben Musa (1660-1733). Born to Rav Shlomo in Tutiuan , Morocco , he moved to Saly , Morocco some time before 1706, and was
probably Rav of the city. A learned mekubal, he later moved to Fez . His most famous sefer is Minch s Sotah. His only remaining work on kabalah are his noted on Kisvei HaAri.. In about 1720, he moved to Tunis ia where he appointed Rav and Rosh Yeshiva.
Rabbi Avraham ben Mussa zt”l was one of the great rabbis of Sali, Morocco, about 250 years ago. He once travelled to Tunisia. Unknown there, he rented a small room. After putting his things away, he went out into the street to inquire about where the shul is found, and other such things. A Jew happened to recognize him. “Rabbi, it is a great honour. This evening, a wealthy man is making a wedding, and all of the rabbanim from the area will attend. It will be an opportunity for the rabbi to meet the local rabbis. I’m sure you will be given a place of honour at the head table.”
R’ Avraham asked the man the address of the wealthy mechutan, and thanked him for his help. R’ Avraham later made his way to his home (weddings at the time were celebrated at home), where he found the tables lavishly set. He was a bit early; most of the guests were just beginning to trickle in. R’ Avraham sat down at a table in the meantime to rest, still tired from his journey.
Soon, the mechutan came in to check that things were in order. Seeing the stranger, whose clothes were still dusty from his travels, he assumed him to be a lowly pauper. “Please, sir, if you don’t mind. This table is for important guests. I would be happy to have you attend the wedding – there is a table there in the back for needy.”
“Oh, ok.” R’ Avraham said, taken aback. He stood up from where he was sitting. Instead of going to the back table as instructed, he left the home and went back to his room.
The mechutan entered the kitchen to check on the foods cooking. To his shock, he was suddenly unable to see anything. He sat down, hoping this was a momentary blackout. Half an hour passed. He realized something terrible had happened; he was suddenly blind. On the day of his daughter’s wedding.
He was a G-d fearing man. Such a sudden and unexpected occurrence, he felt, could not be a matter of chance. “What could I have done to deserve this?” he asked his friends. “That man you asked to sit in the back… you know, he just got up and left. Maybe he was an unknown scholar?”
Hearing the suggestion, the mechutan immediately sensed they were right. He began to ask around. Eventually the situation came to the attention of the man who had met R’ Avraham in the street and given him directions. “Do you know who that was? R’ Avraham ben Mussa, the famous scholar of Sali!” The mechutan, accompanied by a group of his closest friends, followed the man to R’ Avraham’s room. The blind man fell to his feet, begging R’ Avraham’s forgiveness. “Had I known you to be a Torah scholar,” he said, “I would never have sent you to the back.”
“That, my friend, is exactly why I left. Know, that it is not for the honour of the Torah that I took affront – after all, you had no way of knowing I was a Torah scholar. Rather, it is because you deigned to judge me by my clothing, as if one’s clothing, physical appearance, or even social stature has some bearing on his true worth. Your eyesight will return only when you accept on yourself to treat all men with respect.” He did.
The sometimes overwhelming desire to put others down stems at least partially from judgmentalism – from the absurd idea we can, with a casual glance and a turn of the nose, decide the worth of others. There are many instruments through which we channel our judgment: clothing, social status, looks, friends, wealth, smarts… The common denominator is that in doing so, we commit the most blatant case of judging a book by its cover. Humans are almost infinitely complex – gosh, we don’t even understand ourselves – and to think that by hastily painting a mental portrait of someone else, we can figure out what makes them tick, is presumptuous and condescending.
Perhaps the Torah punishes the gossiper with physical blemishes to remind them, and us, that they’re way too focused on external appearances.