Category Archives: Parshas Matos

Parshas Matos-Masei: I Can Read Your Mind!

Parshas Matos-Masei

I Can Read Your Mind!

“We have therefore brought an offering for Hashem Any man who found a gold article—an anklet or a bracelet, a ring, earring or clasp [has dedicated it for Hashem] to atone for ourselves before Hashem.” (Bamidbar 31:50)

I remember reading the following story: There was excitement in the small village when they heard that the king would be visiting them in a week. In preparation for the king’s visit the town elders decided to fill a giant barrel with wine and present it to the king upon his arrival. Where were they going to get so much wine to fill the giant barrel? They decided that each family of the town would bring one bottle filled with wine and pour it into the giant barrel. This way the barrel would fill with wine. They placed a giant barrel in the center of the town with a ladder reaching to the top. Every day people lined up to pour their bottle of wine into the barrel. The day finally arrived, and the king visited the town. The people were so excited to present the king with this wonderful gift. The king was shown the barrel and was given a kingly goblet. They filled his goblet with wine from the giant barrel. The townspeople were shocked by the look on the king’s face as he drank the wine. The king was obviously very unhappy. When he was asked why he was so unhappy he said that his goblet was filled with water! It turns out that every family in the village had the same thought. Wine was expensive. Each family thought to themselves that if they would pour in water instead of wine then no one would notice. After all, who would notice a difference in taste if there was only one bottle of water in the entire barrel of wine. The problem was that everyone in the town made the same calculation and so no one poured in wine but rather water instead. All the villagers were embarrassed in front of the king.

Balak, king of Moav, hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish People. Hashem did not allow Bilaam to succeed. Bilaam, still wanting to harm the Jews, advised Balak of a very detailed and conniving plan to cause Hashem to punish the Jews. Balak followed the plan and succeeded in enticing many Jews to immorality and idol worship. Sadly, this resulted in the death of 24,000 Jews. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to avenge the deaths of the Jews by going to war against the Midianites (Bamidbar 31:2). The Ohr HaChaim says (Bamidbar 31:3) that although the Midianite army was large, Moshe only sent 12,000 soldiers to battle. The pasuk (Bamidbar 31:3) says that Moshe chose אֲנָֹשִים, men, to be soldiers. Rashi says that these men were tzadikim, righteous men. The Sifsei Chachamim explains that Rashi learns this from the seemingly extra word, אֲנָֹשִים. Obviously, it was men and not women who went to war. Thus, the word אֲנָֹשִים refers to righteous men. Gur Aryeh says that these men were G-D fearing. Ohr HaChaim says that these men did not harbor sinful thoughts when the Midianite women were first sent to entice the Jewish men. The Ksav Sofer says that Moshe chose tzadikim who had spent their lives working to defeat their yetzer hara. Moshe wanted them to fight totally for the honor of Hashem. Moshe did not want them to think that they were fighting because of a personal agenda to avenge the Jews who were killed. The Jews fought victoriously and killed all the Midianite males as well as their 5 kings. They also took booty. Any item that may have touched a dead body had to be purified. “Every cloth, every article of skin, everything made of goats’ hair, and every object of wood” (Bamidbar 31:20) had to be purified.

Hashem commanded the Jews to also purify all metal utensils, that they took as booty, (Bamidbar 31:23) via the process called hagalah. Rashi explains that anything non-kosher which had been absorbed in the metal utensils had to be expunged in the same manner as it had been absorbed. Thus, any vessel which had been used for cooking with hot water, was cleansed through hot water. Any vessel which had been used for roasting over a flame, was cleansed by making it white hot in a flame.

The Ramban, Da’as Zekanim, and many commentators wonder why the mitzvah of hagalah was first commanded now, after the battle with Midian. Why wasn’t it taught after the previous battles with Sichon and Og. Different answers are given. The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk,(as quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) says that the wars against Sichon and Og did not defile the minds of the Jews. Mizrachi & Chizkuni (Bamidbar 25:18) say that, on the other hand, the Midianites did contaminate the minds of the Jews by sending their wives and daughters to entice the Jews to sin. Therefore, a new mitzvah of hagalah was commanded now. It sent a message that the Jews should expunge that which had been absorbed by them; they should cleanse the impure thoughts in their minds. This fits in with what Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk says about an earlier pasuk (Bamidbar 31:21). The pasuk says, “וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֶלְעָזָ֤ר הַכֹּהֵן֙ אֶלאַנְשֵׁ֣י הַצָּבָ֔א הַבָּאִ֖ים לַמִּלְחָמָ֑ה ”. Elazar the kohain gave a message to the soldiers who had returned from the war with Midian. Yet, the pasuk says, “Elazar the kohain said to the soldiers who came to the war…”. Why does the pasuk say that the soldiers came to the war if they had already returned? Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk answers that Elazar the kohain told the soldiers to expunge the vessels from the impurity that had been absorbed. Similarly, Elazar was telling them that now they were entering into a new war, with their evil inclination. They had to remove any inappropriate thoughts that may have entered their minds from seeing the Midianite women during and after the battle. Similarly, after the battle, the officers of the Jewish army brought offerings to Hashem from the gold that they had captured during the war. Rashi (Bamidbar 31:50) says that the offering of the gold was to atone for the impure thoughts that their hearts had entertained for the daughters of Midian. Chidushei HaRim says (as quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) that when the Jewish officers heard the command to do hagalah, they took it as a lesson for themselves. Even a vessel that was totally clean and that was permitted to be used, still had to be cleansed from the impurities within it. The officers learned a lesson from this, that they, themselves, needed atonement for impure thoughts even though their thoughts did not result in any act of sinning. They understood that the impure thoughts, in and of themselves, were actually sins that required repentance.

We learn two very important lessons. First, each Jew is like a holy vessel. Even our thoughts must be pure and holy. Also, the allure of the yetzer hara is very strong as it attempts to sully our thoughts. The Jewish soldiers were tzadikim, people who had worked on conquering their yetzer hara, and limiting their physical needs and desires. Yet, the yetzer hara was still able to cause them to think unholy thoughts.  Therefore, they had to bring offerings to atone for their impure thoughts.

The yetzer hara is constantly “attacking” us. If he can’t get us to commit sinful acts, he will try to contaminate our thoughts. We must constantly be on our guard and defend ourselves from the yetzer hara. The best defenses are to avoid looking at anything inappropriate and to learn Torah and study mussar, which helps us to improve and refine our character traits.


Parshas Matos-Masei: You Can Be the Next Super-Hero!

Parshas Matos-Masei

You Can Be the Next Super-Hero!


“… He shall dwell in it [a City of Refuge] until the death of the Kohain Gadol….” (Bamidbar 35:25)

We can be like this super-hero! We, too, can save lives!

“Cities of Refuge”, orei miklat, were established, by Hashem’s command, in the Land of Israel and across the Jordan river. They afforded protection to one who had killed another person accidently. While there, the killer was protected from any angry relatives of the deceased. He remained there until the death of the Kohain Gadol. Then, he was permitted to return home in safety.

What connection did the Kohain Gadol have to the accidental murderer? The Talmud (Makos 11A) explains that on some level, the Kohain Gadol was indirectly responsible for the accidental death. The Kohain Gadol should have redoubled the intensity of his prayers, pleading for mercy that there not be any unintentional murders as long as he was the Kohain Gadol . On some level, his prayer was lacking some intensity, thus an unintentional murder had occurred.

The Talmud (Makos 11A) compares the Kohain Gadol’s “guilt” to a story that occurred to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. A man was once killed in a freak occurrence. He was eaten by a lion a few miles from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s home. The prophet, Eliyahu, had been accustomed to speak to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Eliyahu did not speak to him for three days, showing his disapproval. Eliyahu felt that Rabbi Yehoshua should have prayed with more intensity that such an occurrence should never happen near his home. We see that there is a degree of responsibility for the Torah leader to pray for his generation.

A “yeshiva” boy was once hit by a car near Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, on the east side of Manhattan. That was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l’s yeshiva. Someone ran into the yeshiva to ask Rav Moshe to daven for the boy. Rav Moshe said that it was impossible that this should happen to a Jewish boy, near his yeshiva. Sure enough, it was discovered that the boy was not Jewish. The yarmulka that was found next to him was not his. He had taken it off the head of a Jewish boy.

Rashi (Shmos 21:13) explains what happens based on the following scenario: A man murdered but there were no witnesses. So, he could not be punished by the court. Another man killed unintentionally, but there were no witnesses. So, he did not go to a City of Refuge. Hashem then orchestrated events to bring justice and punish these two murderers. Hashem arranged that they both came to the same inn. The intentional murderer was sitting under a ladder that the unintentional murder was climbing. The unintentional murder fell and killed the murderer. Hashem brought justice and the intentional murderer was killed. Witnesses saw what had happened. Now the unintentional murder was sent to an ir miklat. Hashem arranged that justice be done to both murderers.

The Talmud (Chullin 7B) quotes Rabbi Chanina who says that a person does not injure his finger unless it was decreed in Heaven that it should happen. There is no such a thing as an “accident” since everything that occurs is predetermined and orchestrated by Hashem.

According to this, the Talmud (Makos 11A) is very difficult to understand. How could the Kohain Gadol’s prayer have saved the unintentional murderer from killing? Death had already been decreed on the victim of the accidental killer as well as the man who was eaten by a lion. Hashem even orchestrated events to bring the matter to justice. If so, why was there a grievance against the Kohain Gadol and against Rabbi Yehoshua for not davening as intensely as they could? If the result was already predetermined, even their intense prayers would not have helped!

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that apparently, a heartfelt prayer can change that which was already predetermined and decreed to occur! It can change Hashem’s decree! The prayers of the Kohain Gadol or Rabbi Yehoshua could have changed what Hashem had already ordained should occur.

Wow, what an amazing power of prayer our great Torah leaders had! This power of prayer is not limited to the Torah leader. When the evil Lavan caught up to Yaakov, after chasing him and his family, Lavan blessed his daughters. The Sforno (Bereishis 32:1) says that this blessing, from the evil Lavan, was effective, because it was said with heartfelt sincerity, with his total being, harnessing the power of his tzelem Elokim, image of Hashem.

Even a rasha has this power of prayer! Certainly, we, too, have this power of prayer! Our supplications can make a difference! Our heartfelt prayers can change the course of history! We can change that which has already been decreed that would happen to us, our loved ones, or to the entire Jewish People!

Let’s harness this super-power! Let’s try to increase our heartfelt and sincere prayers to Hashem,

harnessing our tzelem Elokim! Let’s make a difference in our own lives and in the world!


Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l as notated in Pinnacle of Creation by Rabbi Aryeh Striks & Rabbi Shimon Zehnwirth, as well as in Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyomin Luban