[When speaking about the animals that came to the ark,] the Torah states:1 “from the pure [species of] animals and from the [species of] animals that are not pure.” [Commenting on this choice of wording,] in the Talmud, our Sages state:2 “A person should never utter an offensive word. For the Torah elaborates [and uses] eight [extra] letters so as not to state an offensive word, as it is written: ‘from the pure [species of] animals, and from the [species of] animals that are not pure.’”

Rashi explains that [our Sages are offering] a rationale for the use of the lengthy wording “from the [species of] animals that are not pure” ([in Hebrew,] three words with a total of thirteen letters), instead of stating in short, “the impure [species]” (one word, with five letters). “This teaches [us] to endeavor to use refined language.”

Just as our Torah reading contains this instruction with regard to [refined] speech, it also contains another instruction with regard to [refined] sight. [It relates how] Shem and Yefes took the utmost care not to look upon the nakedness of their father. [When Noach became intoxicated and they went to cover his nakedness,] “They walked backwards... with their faces backwards... and they did not see the nakedness of their father.”3 As a reward for taking this precaution, [they were granted] great and noteworthy blessings: “Blessed be G‑d, the L‑rd of Shem. May Canaan become [a slave to them].4 May G‑d be gracious to Yefes and He will dwell in the tents of Shem.”5


This story, however, raises a question. After the Torah tells us that they walked “with their faces backwards,” it is obvious that “they did not see the nakedness of their father”6 (for they were facing backwards). What does the phrase “they did not see the nakedness of their father” add? We must say that the verse is teaching us a new concept and a unique quality [that can be learned] from the conduct of Shem and Yefes which we would not know from the previous phrase, “with their faces backwards.”


This difficulty can be resolved by first [explaining the following] teaching of the Baal Shem Tov:7 When a person sees an undesirable quality in a colleague, this indicates that there exists within his own self something similar to that undesirable quality.8 Like a person who looks in a mirror, “If his face is clean, when he looks in the mirror he does not see any flaw.”9 If, however, he sees filth or a blotch in the mirror, it is because “his own face is dirty.”

[Clarification, however, is required:] On the surface, why is it necessary to say that seeing evil in a colleague denotes a like quality and mirror of the evil in the onlooker? Why is it not possible that this evil be apparent only in one’s colleague and not exist within oneself at all?

[To resolve the question,] it can be explained10 that every event that happens in the world is controlled by Divine Providence. Even this event (i.e., that one sees an undesirable quality in a colleague) does not happen by chance, Heaven forbid, but was ordained from Above. Since G‑d did not create anything in this world without a purpose,11 it is impossible to say that a person would be led from Above to see an undesirable quality in a colleague without reason. Therefore, [seeing the undesirable quality] must surely serve as a lesson,12 informing him that he also possesses this undesirable quality and that it is necessary for him to correct it.

Why is it necessary for one to receive this lesson indirectly — to inform him about his own evil through [seeing the corresponding evil in] a colleague? Because “love covers all flaws.”13 (How much more so is this true with regard to self-love.) [Thus] “a person will see all blemishes except his own.”14 Therefore the way to bring a person to the realization of his own shortcomings is to give him the opportunity to see them [as they are manifested] in a colleague.15 When he sees the drawbacks of these shortcomings and undesirable qualities (in his colleague) and when he contemplates his own situation with a serious intent, he will come to the realization that the faults he sees are in truth his own. To reword the above statement: All the blemishes that a person sees outside [of himself]16 are (a result of) his own blemishes.


One may, however, ask: A Jew’s mission is not only to refine and elevate his own self, but also to affect his colleagues, as reflected by the command:17 “You shall surely admonish your colleague.” [And further, our Sages state18 that one must repeat such an admonishment] even 100 times.

If so, why say that the intent of his being shown from Above the undesirable qualities possessed by a colleague is for him to realize that he possesses those undesirable qualities and that he must eliminate them? Perhaps the true intent in showing him the undesirable qualities in his colleague is so that he will admonish [his colleague] and help him to correct and improve his conduct.

Moreover, as mentioned many times,19 the Jewish people never serve merely as an intermediary through which G‑d’s intent concerning another matter can be achieved. [We cannot say] that His ultimate intent is directed toward a matter that is peripheral in relation to them. (In contrast, all other created beings, even the sublime spiritual worlds,20 are not themselves the purpose of their existence but rather exist “for the sake of the Jewish people and for the sake of the Torah.”21 ) The Jewish people, however, are themselves [G‑d’s] ultimate purpose.

Just as this concept applies with regard to the Jewish people as a whole, so, too, it applies to every individual Jew. It cannot be said that one Jew must serve as a mere intermediary for a colleague. [Instead, G‑d’s] ultimate intent is focused on each Jew individually.22

Accordingly, it is understood (that with regard to the individual Divine service of every person), it cannot be said that the reason a person is shown the faults of a colleague from Above is solely for the benefit of the onlooker without any benefit accruingto the person who possesses the faults.23 [Instead, the intent is to benefit the person who possesses the faults through] the observer’s admonishment and efforts to correct and eliminate the evil the person possesses.

As such, since we must say that the purpose of being shown the evil in another person is to [aid that person in] correcting it, why must we say that when a person sees evil [in a colleague] he is looking in a mirror; that he is being shown his own evil in the guise of his colleague?


This question can be resolved by first explaining another problematic concept in the passage from the Talmud cited above (sec. I): “A person should never utter an offensive word... as it is written: ‘...and from the [species of] animals that are not pure.’”

[The Talmud] continues, mentioning another similar principle: “A person should always speak with refined words, for when relating the laws pertinent to a zav,24 the Torah uses the expression ‘saddle,’25 while with regard to a zavah,26 it uses the expression ‘seat.’”27 (The reason the Torah uses a different expression is that it is not fitting to mention a woman riding in the ordinary manner.28 )

The Talmud questions this principle, stating three instances where the Torah does speak of women riding. After the resolution of the third verse, the Talmud asks: “In the Torah, is not the term ‘impure’ mentioned?”

[The order of the Talmud’s questions] is difficult to understand. The word “impure” appears in the Torah more than 100 times. Seemingly, it would have been more logical for the Talmud to first question the use of the term “impure,” which appears frequently, and then to inquire about the use of the expression “riding” with regard to women. Why are the questions mentioned in the opposite order?

Also, clarification is necessary: What is the Talmud’s intent when asking in a tone of wonderment: “In the Torah, is not the term ‘impure’ mentioned?” It is as if the statement that “impure” is mentioned in the Torah is a new [and previously unknown] concept that will enable us to resolve doubts. [Since the use of the term is so prevalent,] seemingly, it would have been more appropriate [to use a less radical expression, for example]: “Behold, the term ‘impure’ is used by the Torah.”


In resolution, it can be explained that when the subject is a halachic decision, the decision must be rendered using the clearest wording possible — even if such wording is offensive — so that the halachah will be utterly decisive and unambiguous. For this reason it is understandable why in most places in the Torah, the term “impure”is used despite the fact that using concise wording does not have an advantage (according to the Maharsha’s perspective) over refined wording. It is only with regard to the Torah’s stories that terms like “impure” will be stated using indirect and lengthierwording.29 For with regard to the Torah’s stories, the use of lengthy but refined wording is found as often as concise but offensive wording, because [the advantages of] the two are equally balanced.

In the (majority) of places where the Torah [uses the word “impure”], it communicates halachic rulings. Hence it is necessary for the Torah to use the expression “impure.” This is not because there is an advantage to using concise wording, but because halachic rulings must be stated clearly and unambiguously.

On this basis, we can understand the initial supposition of the Talmud that even if many words will be required, the Torah uses refined language even though the term “impure” is found in many places in the Torah. For, as explained above, in most places the term “impure” is used in a halachic context. Therefore, [its use] does not run contrary to the general principle that “A person should never utter an offensive word,” even according to the initial supposition of the Talmud that [this principle] applies even when [it is necessary to use] many words.

The intent of the Talmud’s question: “In the Torah, is not the term ‘impure’ mentioned?” is that we find the term “impure” used by the Torah even when it is possible to use indirect language in the midst of a story. And since we find it used at times in such a context, [that would imply a contradiction to the teaching never to use offensive wording. Nevertheless,] since the term “impure” is mentioned only several times in the Torah’s stories, the Talmud does not consider the use of the term “impure” as a stronger question than the use of the term “riding” in connection with women. Hence, it does not give this question precedence.


As mentioned, when it is necessary to give a halachic ruling concerning (an object or even) a person, we are obligated to render the ruling using clear wording, saying “impure” or the like. Nevertheless, when referring to impurity outside the context of direct halachic rulings, one must refrain from [referring to it directly; for that is considered] using offensive wording since one is speaking within the narrative aspect of the realm of halachah.

Proof of this concept can be brought from the command:30 “When there will be a man among you who will not be pure... he shall go outside the camp.” The verse is coming to inform us of the laws governing that person, [i.e., a halachic ruling]. Nevertheless, since it is not dealing with the laws that define whether or not he is pure, but rather with the command for him to leave the camp (for it is already known that he is impure), the Torah uses indirect wording and states “who will not be pure” instead of “will be impure.”

Just as the above concepts apply with regard to refined speech, so, too, similar concepts apply with regard to sight. When one hears that a Jew performed an improper act, he is obligated to see the resulting halachic imperative: i.e., he should look only to what he realizes that he must do to correct the situation. He should admonish [his colleague] (obviously, in a pleasant and agreeable manner31 ) and [endeavor to influence him to] adopt a positive course of conduct. This should be the primary dimension of what he sees.

When, however, he hears about his colleague’s unfavorable conduct and does not see the halachic imperative relevant to him but instead sees the wickedness of his colleague, that is a sign that “his own face is dirty.” Since he focuses (not on the obligation he has to correct the situation, but) on the fact that his colleague possesses evil, that is a sign that the evil his colleague possesses is a reflection of his own.

Since (as stated above) “G‑d did not create anything in His world without a purpose,” there is a directive in everything that a person sees. In this instance, the directive is twofold:

a) The fact that he has been shown (from Above) a quality (in his colleague) that must be corrected serves as a directive for him to become involved with [that colleague] to improve him.

b) The fact that he has been shown something [that appears] evil is a directive that this evil exists within himself and he must correct himself. For if he were on the level of a righteous man (at least with regard to this particular32 ), he would not see or focus on this evil.


On this basis, we can explain why the Torah adds [the phrase]: “They did not see the nakedness of their father,” although it is seemingly obvious from the previous phrase, “with their faces backwards.” The intent is to emphasize that not only did Shem and Yefes not see their father’s nakedness in a physical sense (because “their faces [were] backward”), but that they did not see or feel any dimension of “nakedness” or fault in their father. Their feelings focused entirely on what they had to do; i.e., to cover their father’s (nakedness). They did not see their father’s nakedness as an independent matter.

This approach distinguishes Shem and Yefes from their third brother, Cham. Shem and Yefes did not see, while with regard to Cham, it is written:33 “And Cham... saw.”

This came as a result of differences in their inner personal characteristics and spiritual levels. “Cham was the father of Canaan.” Since he himself possessed evil (albeit on a less extreme plane34 ) — for Cham is associated with chammimus (“warmth” or “excitability” in Hebrew),35 an expression of the left vector36 — he saw37 the evil of Noach’s drinking and intoxication.38 For [the latter] is also a manifestation of excitability. (Although Cham’s excitability was on a less extreme plane than the excitability he saw and that was manifest by Noach, he was still affected by it because this quality existed, albeit in a less extreme manner, within himself.)

Shem and Yefes — who represent the right and central vectors — were above this type of evil, even on more refined levels. And since they themselves were above this evil, they did not see this [evil] in others. They saw and knew only the task incumbent on them to fulfill.


The above provides every one of us with a lesson. When one hears or sees an undesirable quality possessed by another Jew, he [certainly] should not speak about it and tell others of it as Cham did. [Cham] did not content himself with the fact that he saw [— and was affected by —] the evil; he informed others about it: “And he told his two brothers outside.”39 Moreover, one should not even think unfavorably about a colleague.40 [Instead,] he should contemplate [only] what he should do, how he should admonish him (so that it will be in an appropriate way, as stated above) and correct his [fault]. At the same time, he should endeavor not to see the evil in his colleague even while he is working with him.

When one conducts himself in this manner, emulating Shem and Yefes, he merits the promise of the blessings: “Blessed be G‑d, the L‑rd of Shem. May Canaan become....” And “May G‑d be gracious to Yefes, (but) He will dwell in the tents of Shem.” And he merits to be a medium for the Torah,41 for the vessel for the Torah is peace.42 And furthermore, he merits that the Divine Presence will rest in “the tents of Shem,” (in the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash)43 [which will come about] through unity and through the love of our fellow Jews.44 May this take place in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Bereishis, 5726)