Category Archives: Sefer Bamidbar

Parshas Chukas: One Marshmallow or Two?

Parshas Chukas

One Marshmallow or Two?

 

“Therefore, those who speak in parables shall say,”Come to Cheshbon.” (Bamidbar 21:27)

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel, a professor at a Stanford University conducted an important psychological study. He tested hundreds of children, most of them between the ages of 4 and 5 years old.  It was dubbed “The Marshmallow Experiment”. Each child was brought into a private room and placed on a chair. A marshmallow was placed on the table in front of him. The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room. If the child would not eat the marshmallow, then the child would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then he would not get a second marshmallow. In the study, many children eventually gave in to temptation. A few of the children were able to wait the entire time. The researchers conducted follow up studies and tracked each child’s progress. The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures. The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeeded in each capacity that they measured. This proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life. (Behavioral Psychology Willpower by James Clear)

The Torah says, “Therefore, those who speak in parables shall say,”Come to Cheshbon” (Bamidbar 21:27). The Talmud (Bava Basra 78B) interprets the verses homiletically. “Hamoshlim” those who speak in parables, those people who rule over their evil inclination will say, “Come to Cheshbon”. Come and let us calculate the account [cḥeshbono] of the world. Let us look at the financial loss incurred by the fulfillment of a mitzvah in contrast to its reward. Let us also look at the reward for committing a transgression, i.e., the pleasure and gain received, in contrast to the loss that it entails.

The same idea is quoted in Pirkei Avos (2:1). Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi says, “…Calculate the cost of a mitzvah against its reward, and the reward of a sin against its cost.” Rabbeinu Yona and Rashi both explain that if you chose to do a mitzvah and incurred a financial loss because of that, do not be upset. Your reward in Olam Haba will be thousands of times greater than your loss was. The reverse is also true. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi continues, “Consider the reward of a sin against its cost.”  Rashi explains “the reward of a sin” refers to the enjoyment that you may receive by sinning. Consider the pleasure that you receive which will cost you dearly in Olam Haba. Is it worth it? The Rabbeinu Yona says, if you feel that by sinning you will receive a large financial gain or much pleasure, stop and think. The punishment that you will receive will be greater than your gain. Is the result worth the temporary and fleeting pleasure that you would have?

The Talmud tells us (Succah 52A) that Rabbi Yehuda teaches that in the time of Mashiach, Hashem will slaughter the yetzer hara, the evil inclination in the presence of the righteous and in the presence of the wicked. To the righteous the evil inclination will appear insurmountable, as a high mountain. To the wicked it will appear as a mere strand of hair. “The righteous will cry and say, ‘How were we able to overcome so high a mountain?’ The wicked will cry and say, ’How were we unable to overcome this strand of hair?’”

The Bais HaLevi (as quoted in The Pirkei Avos Treasury by Rabbi Moshe Lieber) says that the Talmud teaches us the psychology of sin. “The allure of sin lies in the promise of thrill. Before one tastes evil, it seems to be enjoyable and exciting. Once experienced, it loses its glamour.”  The righteous did not experience sin. Thus, the allure was great. The righteous will be surprised at how they were able to overcome such a strong temptation. The wicked already tasted sin. After the momentary pleasure that they felt, they felt its emptiness and hollowness. It was no longer a big deal and no longer tempting. At that moment, it would not be difficult for them to say no, to their yetzer hara. “It was unfulfilling and as conquerable as a strand of hair.”

We are all accountants by profession. We must constantly calculate our actions. Will they increase the debit side of the ledger or the credit side? Is a moment of pleasure worth the consequences? Is a loss incurred, to perform a mitzvah, worth a reward, thousands greater than our loss?

We must make these decisions constantly, every moment of the day and every day of our lives. May Hashem give us the strength to make the correct decisions!

 

Parshas Korach: Be a Thinking Person!

Parshas Korach

Be a Thinking Person!

 

“And Moshe heard and fell on his face.” (Bamidbar 16:4)

Korach was exceedingly smart and was one of the richest men in history. He had the privilege of being from the family of Kehas, which was privileged to carry the holy Aron HaKodesh. He was also a prophet, seeing futuristically the great people who would be his descendants. Unfortunately, all this was not enough for him. Korach became jealous of an appointment which he felt that he should have received. As a result of his jealousy, Korach instigated a terrible dispute and questioned the legitimacy of Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. His dispute was actually against the validity of the Torah and Hashem. Korach and his followers were, therefore, punished by being burnt, by the earth swallowing them up, or a combination of both.

Korach falsely accused Moshe of having made up parts of the Torah. Korach approached Moshe in a very demeaning way. Korach said that it did not make sense that a garment made totally of techailes (blueish wool) still needed a string of techailes tzitzis. He claimed that a room full of Sifrei Torah should not need a mezuzah on the doorpost (Rashi on Bamidbar 16:1).  Korach then told Moshe and Aharon that the entire Jewish People were holy, and that Moshe and Aharon had taken too much of the leadership for themselves (Bamidbar 16:3). Moshe & Aharon were devastated by the serious dispute that Korach was promulgating. The Torah (Bamidbar 16:4) records Moshe’s reaction. “And Moshe heard and fell on his face.” Rashi explains that this was already the fourth major sin that the Jews were involved in. Moshe’s tefillos had saved them until now. Moshe felt that this was one time too many and he could not approach Hashem in prayer. Interestingly, what was Aharon’s reaction? Why didn’t he also fall on his face? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that Korach’s main complaint was directed at Aaron’s appointment as Kohain Gadol. It would have been unbecoming for the modest Aaron to remonstrate by displaying such a reaction. The Ramban explains that Aaron, in his modesty and holiness, did not utter a word throughout this whole controversy. He held his peace, seemingly admitting that Korach’s status was greater than his own, and that he had only become the Kohain Gadol because that was what Hashem had wanted.

Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Beifus in Yalkut Lekach Tov, quotes the Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 18:9) gives an example of Aharon’s extreme modesty at an earlier point in time. At the dedication of the Mishkan, Moshe anointed Aharon. When the oil was placed on Aharon’s head, he had trembled, feeling that perhaps he didn’t deserve the appointment as Kohain Gadol. If that was true, then benefitting from the holy anointing oil would have deserved the serious punishment of kares.

The great Aharon was always contemplating if he truly deserved such honors. Korach was different. The Midrash Rabbah continues, that Moshe had told Korach numerous things to try to appease him and to calm his wrath. Korach did not respond to any of Moshes’s entreaties. Korach did so intentionally. Korach said to himself that if he answered Moshe, Moshe would respond. Since Moshe was smarter than Korach, Korach was concerned that Moshe would counter all his arguments and win the debate. Korach was not interested in that, thus he remained silent.

Aristotle was similar in this way to Korach. Rabbi Yisroel Brog quotes the Rambam as saying that Aristotle was so brilliant, that he was on a level just below prophecy. Aristotle should have recognized the obvious fact that there is Creator who created Man for a purpose. Just like Korach, Aristotle wanted to block the obvious from his mind. Aristotle was extremely immoral. He wanted to push the idea of Hashem out of his mind, to enable himself to continue in his immoral ways.

Aharon was a thinking person. Korach and Aristotle chose not to be thinking people. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in the third perek of his sefer Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just) discusses the importance of being thinking people. Before we act, we should stop and think if the action is appropriate. If it is appropriate, we should think if there is any aspect of the act that can be improved. After we act, we should also stop and think. Was the action proper? Was there any aspect of it, in thought or deed, that could be improved for the future?

If we go through life as thinking people, we will be better people. That refers to actions we do to others, as well as actions that we do to/for Hashem. We won’t act in a rash manner, and we won’t act inappropriately. We will have better quality and happier interpersonal relationships and a closer and better relationship with Hashem.

 

 

 

Parshas Shelach: We Don’t Live in a Bubble!

Parshas Shelach

We Don’t Live in a Bubble!

 

The Talmud (Shabbos 33B) relates that Rabbi Shimon bar Yocḥai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, had to escape for their lives as the Romans wanted to kill them. They hid in a cave. Hashem made a miracle and created a carob tree and a spring of water to provide for their needs. They davened and then learned Torah all day. They stayed in the cave for twelve years, until Eliyahi Hanavi came and told them that the Roman Emperor had died, and the decree of their death had been rescinded. After Rabbi Shimon bar Yocḥai and Rabbi Elazar left the cave, they saw people plowing and sowing their fields. They couldn’t understand why people were “wasting their time” plowing, and not learning. “Rabbi Shimon bar Yocḥai said: These people abandon eternal life of Torah study and engage in temporal life for their own sustenance”. The Gemara says that every place that Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar directed their eyes to, was immediately burned. They heard a Divine Voice who said, “Did you emerge from the cave to destroy My world? Return to your cave!” They returned to the cave and stayed there for another year. They emerged on an erev Shabbos. They saw an elderly man holding two bundles of myrtle branches and running at twilight. They asked him, “Why do you have these?” He responded, “In honor of Shabbos”. One bundle corresponded to, “Remember the Shabbos day, to keep it holy” (Shmos 20:8). The second one corresponded to, “Observe the Shabbos day, to keep it holy” (Devarim 5:12). Rabbi Shimon turned and said to his son, “See how beloved the mitzvos are to Israel”. Their minds were put at ease, and they were no longer as upset that people were not engaged in Torah study. They saw that people can be involved in mundane activities yet still be focused on serving Hashem.

We all know the story of the spies. Hashem took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, and was poised to take us into Eretz Yisroel. Before we went into Eretz Yisroel, we wanted to send spies to check things out. Moshe acquiesced and sent very righteous individuals to do the job. The spies went, returned, and reported that the task was too daunting. They saw numerous funerals and determined that the environment was too harsh. The nations who lived there were very powerful. They also saw giants there. The Jewish People were scared, felt depressed, and cried the entire night. Hashem said that their crying had no basis. As a result of their lack of faith in Hashem, all the males who were then between the ages of twenty and sixty years old, would die in the desert. The Jewish People would remain in the desert for 40 years, before being permitted to enter Eretz Yisroel. The world would not be perfected, and the era of Moshiach would be postponed.

There are many interpretations explaining the sin of the spies. Most of the interpretations view the spies in a negative light. One explanation is that although they were told to report the facts, they were not supposed to add their personal opinions as to whether the Jewish People could succeed in conquering the land. Another explanation is that their appointment to the very important task of spying-out the land, caused them to feel a degree of arrogance, which colored their objectiveness. Others say that their objectiveness was colored because they were afraid that they would lose their leadership positions once the Jews entered the land. Another explanation is that, as representatives of Hashem, they should not have minimized themselves by saying that they felt like ants when compared to the giants.

The Chiddushei HaRim (Parshas Shelach) questions many of the above commentaries and explains that the sin of the spies did not stem from a bad character trait. Rather, it stemmed from their righteousness! Life in the dessert was like a utopia! The Jews had no need to work for food or shelter, as Hashem provided them with both. They had the mann for food and the clouds of Glory sheltered them from the elements. Their clothes grew with them. Since all their needs were provided for, they had nothing to distract them from growing ever closer to Hashem. They could raise their level of spirituality higher and higher. The spies realized that this would all change when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel. They would not be living on miracles. They would have to work hard for a living, working the fields. The spies were worried that the need to focus on daily needs would cause a steep spiritual decline amongst the people. Thus, they felt that it was not a good idea to enter Eretz Yisroel.

Although their motivation was noble, they made a major mistake. It was Hashem who wanted the Jews to go into Eretz Yisroel. Hashem understood what the challenges would be. Hashem clearly wanted the Jewish People to be challenged, to struggle, yet maintain their spiritual standing.

The Torah (Shmos 22:30) says,”You [the Jewish People] shall be Men of Holiness to Me [Hashem]”. The Kotzker Rebbe emphasizes the word “Men”. Hashem is not looking for us to be angels, 100% perfect.

Hashem made us human, with challenges and enticements.

Hashem wants & expects us to overcome them and become holy.

Hashem knows that we can do it!

 

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Yissocher Frand from Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3.

 

 

Parshas Beha’aloscha: Pawns in the Hands of Hashem

Parshas Beha’aloscha

Pawns in the Hands of Hashem

 

“For every first-born of the Children of Israel became Mine, of man and livestock; on the day that I struck every first-born in the land of Egypt….” (Bamidbar 8:17)

We are pawns in Hashem’s hands. We may have plans to do something, but Hashem controls our destiny.

A group of four religious Jews traveled by plane from Cleveland to NY to go to a trade show. When they left it was too early to daven Shacharis. They had planned on davening at one of many minyanim in Manhattan. While on the plane, the pilot announced that due to heavy fog they would be unable to land in New York or even in New Jersey. They were going to land in Washington DC. Luckily, there were six other Jews on the plane. They decided to daven as soon as they had landed. As they were davening, a man who hardly looked Jewish asked if he could say kaddish. Apparently, his father had passed away just a few days before. Since he was not observant, he was not saying kaddish. One of the men helped him say the kaddish. He told the men at the minyan that his father had come to him in a dream, asking why he was not saying kaddish. He had told his father that he hardly knew how to say it and there were no synagogues in the area where he lived. His father had said that his soul needed his son to say kaddish for him. He had asked his son to please say kaddish if he would send a minyan to his son. His son had agreed. He woke up from the dream and discounted it, until he saw a minyan at the airport. It was a clear sign to him that his father had sent him a minyan. Accordingly, he said kaddish. After the story, the travelers understood why their flight was diverted. Hashem had plans for them, to help someone say kaddish. (Around the Magid’s Table by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

The Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 15:12) says that Hashem does not elevate one to a position of prominence, until he passes the tests that Hashem gives him. The purpose of the tests is not to determine what level one is currently on. Rather, the purpose is to elevate the person after he passes the tests. Once he is on a higher level than he was before, Hashem gives him the position of prominence. Hashem gave our forefather Avraham ten tests after which Hashem gave Avraham a special blessing,”And Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything.” (Bereishis 24:2) Hashem also gave Yitzchak various tests. The Maharzu elaborates on those tests. Yitzchak was forbidden to leave the Land of Israel when a famine struck, the Plishtim kept chasing him from place to place, and he was afraid that he would be killed for the King to take his wife. Yitzchak passed all the tests, without voicing or even feeling any complaints against Hashem. He never questioned or even wondered why Hashem had caused these events to occur. After passing the tests, Hashem blessed Yitzchak, “Yitzchak sowed in that land and in that year, he reaped one hundred-fold; thus had Hashem blessed him.” (Bereishis 26:12) Yaakov & Yosef were given their own challenges. They passed their tests and Hashem blessed them. The entire shevet (tribe) of Levi was tested. They lived in an environment in Egypt where the other shevatim (or at least large parts of the shevatim) succumbed and did not learn Torah or perform the mitzvah of bris mila. Yet, the tribe of Levi remained true to Hashem. Even in Egypt, they learned Torah and performed the mitzvah of circumcision. Later, they were the only shevet from whom not even one member participated in the sin of the Golden Calf! The entire shevet was righteous!  Therefore, Hashem chose them to serve in the Mishkan.

Rashi (Bamidbar 8:17) says that, by rights, the first-born Jews belonged to Hashem. Hashem had killed all the firstborn Egyptians and had spared the first-born Jews. Therefore, the first-born Jews owed their lives to Hashem. Thus, Hashem took them for Himself, so to speak, to serve Him in the Mishkan. However, the firstborn forfeited their rights when they sinned with the Golden Calf. The Leviim took the place of the firstborn in serving Hashem in the Mishkan because of all their righteousness. They showed righteousness in Egypt and none of their shevet sinned with the Golden Calf.

Rashi seems to be in contradiction to the Midrash. The Midrash says that Hashem gives prominence and blessing AFTER one passes tests. If so, how can Rashi say that the firstborn merited prominence simply because they were saved from death? What tests did they pass to deserve the honor of serving Hashem?

Rabbeinu Bachya in sefer Chovos Halevavos (in the unit, Faith in Hashem) says that one should surrender his entire being to Hashem. He should realize that even after much thinking and planning, he isn’t the one in control of his actions. Rather, Hashem is in total control of his destiny, of what happens to him. Although one has the freedom to choose, the result of his actions is determined by Hashem. When one reaches this level of belief, that he is steered and guided by Hashem, that is passing the greatest and most difficult test. When he feels that there is no longer a “me” but that he is in the hands of Hashem, then he is ready to pass any test that Hashem would give him. Ordinarily, if a situation would occur, he would be hesitant to act in a way which could cause himself harm. Once he realizes that he is in Hashem’s hands, he will do whatever is right, even if it seems that it may be harmful to himself.

This is the explanation of Rashi. The Jewish firstborn were close to death. They realized, with every fiber of their being, that Hashem is the One who gives life and controls destiny. That, in of itself, enabled them to attain this high level of faith in Hashem. They did not need any outside stimuli or any other tests to elevate them. Thus, being on such a high level, they already deserved the special privilege and prominence of serving Hashem.

We should strive to reach this high level of faith.

Although we have freedom to choose our actions, we must realize that Hashem controls our destiny.

 

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l

 

Parshas Naso: Good Things Come in Small Packages!

Parshas Naso

Good Things Come in Small Packages!

 

“…A man or woman who shall separate themselves by taking a vow to become a nazir, to abstain for the sake of Hashem.” (Bamidbar 6:2)

I remember reading a very beautiful story.                                                               

Avrumi was nine years old. His mother had passed away a few years earlier and his older sister, Leah, was taking care of him. He felt so close to Leah who was like a mother to him. Leah’s birthday was approaching, and Avrumi wanted to do something special for her. One day, the two of them passed a jewelry store. Leah saw a necklace displayed in the window and remarked that it was so beautiful. Avrumi immediately decided that this was the gift that he wanted to buy for his sister. He went home, opened his piggy bank, and counted the money he had saved. He had thirteen dollars and seventy-six cents. He rushed to the jewelry store. He went inside and asked the owner how much the necklace in the window cost. The owner was surprised that a young child should be asking about buying a necklace that was valued at over one thousand dollars. He asked the boy why he wanted to buy it. Avrumi explained that his mother had passed away and his sister took such special care of him. Her birthday was approaching, and he wanted to give her a special present. The storeowner asked Avrumi how much money he had. Avrumi poured the contents of his piggy bank on the counter, a collection of pennies, dimes, nickels, and a few quarters.  He said that he had thirteen dollars and seventy-six cents. He asked with childish innocence, “Is this enough money?”. The store owner was a kind man and was touched by Avrumi’s total sincerity. He said, “What a coincidence. That is exactly what the necklace cost.” Avrumi gave a huge smile as the storeowner wrapped-up the necklace. A few days later, Avrumi gave Leah her present. She was so touched. Then she asked Avrumi where he had purchased it. She realized that this was an expensive necklace and felt that the storekeeper must have given it to Avrumi by mistake. She brought the necklace back to the store and said that there must have been a mistake. The storekeeper looked at Leah and told her that there was no mistake. The necklace was paid in full!  Avrumi’s complete love for his sister had touched the storeowner’s heartstrings and he accepted that love as full payment for the necklace. 

In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, a person could choose to take a vow to become closer to Hashem by becoming a nazir. As such, he was forbidden to have wine or grape byproducts, he was forbidden to cut his hair, and he was forbidden to become tamei lmais, ritually impure through proximity to a dead body. Usually, one became a nazir for thirty days, after which he had to shave his head and bring specific sacrifices to Hashem. If the nazir became tamei lmais, he had to shave his head, bring a special korban, sacrifice, and had to restart his time as a nazir. The Talmud (Nedarim 9B) states that Shimon HaTzadik, the Kohain Gadol, never ate the korban of a ritually impure nazir, except once. A very handsome a nazir, became tamei lmais and went to offer a korban. Shimon HaTazadik saw him and asked why he had decided to become a nazir, necessitating him to shave off his beautiful hair. The nazir replied that once while shepherding his father’s flock, he had noticed his reflection in the water. After he saw his beautiful hair, the yetzer hara had tried to entice him to sin. He responded by becoming a nazir and shaving his hair for the sake of Hashem. Shimon HaTzaddik was exceedingly impressed. This nazir had done something beautiful but why did Shimon HaTzadik accept only his korban and no other nazirs.

The Eitz Yosef (in sefer Ein Yaakov, in Nedarim) explains that some nazirs who became ritually impure regretted having ever become nazirs because they had to restart their time as a nazir. Their regret diminished the holiness of the korban that they had to bring. That is why Shimon HaTzadik never accepted any of their korbanos. However, this nazir became a nazir in private, without fanfare. He did it totally for the sake of Hashem. So much so, that Shimon HaTzadik was certain that this nazir felt no such regret. Thus, his korban maintained its holiness. Therefore, Shimon HaTzadik accepted it and attributed to him the pasuk, “ki yafli lidor” (Bamidbar 6:2), which the Ibn Ezra explains, means that by becoming a nazir, one is doing something wonderous.

Is the action of a nazir so special that it is considered wonderous? Is it so difficult to abstain from wine and not take a haircut for a mere thirty days? Rabbi Yaakov Neiman in sefer Darchei Mussar (as quoted in Yalkut Lekech Tov by Rabbi Yisroel Beifus) says, that abstention, in of itself, was not such a big deal. However, if the intent was totally for Hashem, that elevated a mundane action into something very special. A very special mitzvah can become tainted if done with ulterior motives such as for personal aggrandizement or praise.  However, a relatively “small mitzvah” done with total purity of heart, totally for the sake of Hashem, is very precious to Hashem, as a pure korban.

Our goal should be to try to perform mitzvos with total purity of heart. Each chapter of Pirkei Avos ends with a quote from the Talmud (Makos 23B), “Rabbi Chanania ben Akashya says, “Hashem, blessed is He, wants to give merit to the Jewish People, therefore He gave us Torah and an abundance of mitzvos….” The Rambam (in his Perush Al HaMishnayos) says that one of the foundations of our belief is that one merits life in the World to Come by doing at least one mitzvah properly, with total heartfelt devotion to Hashem. It must be done out of love for Hashem, solely to fulfill Hashem’s will. Then he will merit life in the World to Come. Therefore, Hashem gave us many different mitzvos to give each of us the opportunity to observe at least one mitzvah perfectly, thereby inheriting a portion in Olam Haba.

 

Parshas Bamidbar: Unconditional Love!

Parshas Bamidbar

Unconditional Love!

 

“…Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying.” (Bamidbar 1:1)

A certain rabbi’s daughter got engaged. The groom and future-in laws were invited to join them for Shabbos. In the middle of the Shabbos meal, the doorbell rang repeatedly. The rabbi opened the door and in walked his own son, who had strayed from religion. The son walked in and placed his car keys on the hall table.

The rabbi lovingly greeted him. “Welcome, my son! What an honor that you came to join us tonight. How could we have had this very special Shabbos meal without you?” Throughout the meal, the rabbi praised his son, raising his self-esteem and showing him boundless love. In between singing Shabbos songs, the rabbi put his hand on his son’s and said to him, “No matter what, you are my son. I will always love you.” When the son was ready to leave, the rabbi said, “Thank you so much for coming. Our family could not have been complete without you here. We love so much when you join us.” The son said, “Thanks Dad.” Then he picked up his car keys and left. A minute later, the son returned. He went over and hugged his father. “Thank you for being here for me. I’m not going to drive tonight. I will be walking instead.”

This boy eventually returned to a life of Torah and mitzvos.  He credited his father’s love and encouragement for his turnaround. (Living Emunah 6 by Rabbi David Ashear)

It says in Pireki Avos, “Rabbi Akiva said, Beloved are the people of Israel for they are described as children of the Omnipresent.”  (3:14)

During the time of the prophet Yirmiyahu, the Jewish People had sinned greatly. They felt that they had fallen so low that repentance was no longer possible. They told Yirmiyahu,” “We have broken loose. We will not come to You anymore.” (Yirmiyahu 2:31) The Midrash Tanchuma (Bamidbar 2:1) explains what the Jews were saying. In those days, they baked bread by placing it on the hot walls of an oven. When the hot bread was removed from the oven, it could not be put back in since it could no longer stick on the side of the oven. The Jewish People said that they were like this hot bread. After being driven out of the warm relationship with Hashem and exiled from Yerushalayim, they could not foresee their return, just as the warm bread could not be returned to the oven. They felt that they were so removed from Hashem that they could never return.

Hashem responded to the comments of the Jewish People by telling Yimiyahu, “Have I been like a desert to Israel…?” (Yirmiyahu 2:31). The Midrash Tanchuma explains Hashem’s words. “Is it customary for a king of flesh and blood, when he leaves for the desert, [to find] easy living [there] just like that which he had found in his palace?”  When the Jewish People left Mitzrayim, Hashem made their stay in the desert very pleasant. “And I did not even bring three fleas to trouble you”. There was food to eat, from the manna. There was ample water from the rock which was the Well of Miriam. The Jews were surrounded by Clouds of Glory. The Clouds protected them from the sun, killed snakes and scorpions and leveled the mountains and valleys to facilitate their walking with ease. The clouds also “cleaned” their clothes which never wore out. The clothes also grew with them. (Yirmiyahu. 2:31:) Hashem treated the Jews royally in the desert. You are still beloved! Of course, you can repent, no matter how far you have strayed.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l asked, How did Hashem’s words allay the concern of the Jews? How did it prove that Hashem still loved the Jewish People now, when they had fallen so low. Hashem had performed miracles in the desert for the Jewish People when they had been on a high spiritual level. They deserved Hashem’s acts of kindness, but the Jews now felt they were too distanced from Hashem to receive this kindness.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l answered, that the Jews of Yirmiyahu’s generation mistakenly felt that Hashem’s love for the Jews was dependent on their righteousness and closeness to Him. They recognized that they had sinned so much that they were far from Hashem. When Hashem told them about all the kindnesses that He had performed for their forefathers, the generation of the desert, Hashem was sending them a clear message. The multiple acts of kindness that Hashem had done for their forefathers far exceeded what they had deserved, despite their greatness. Yet, Hashem did it for them, showing His absolute love for the Jewish People. This made them realize that no matter how low they had fallen, Hashem loved them as a father loves his son (Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh says, that Hashem loves us even more than a father loves his son). Hashem’s love for us is unconditional, even when we do not deserve it.

We can learn life-changing messages from this. No matter how low we fall spiritually, Hashem is always waiting for us with open arms. Hashem waits for us just as a father waits for his child. Therefore, we can always repent our past misdeeds and come closer to Hashem.

This idea should also give us strength when we experience life’s challenges. We should never feel that we have sinned too much to ask Hashem for help or that we don’t deserve Hashem’s kindness. Hashem’s love for us is absolute. We can always turn to Hashem for help.

 

Parshas Matos-Masei: With this “Secret”, We Can Do Anything!

Parshas Matos-Masei

With this “Secret”, We Can Do Anything!

 

“For he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen gadol, and after the death of the Kohen Gadol, the killer shall return to the land of his possession”. (35:28)

The Talmud (Kiddushin 29B) relates that there was an evil demon living in the Yeshiva headed by the Talmudic sage, Abaye. The demon caused harm to some of the students, even during the day. When Abaye heard that Rav Acha bar Yaakov was coming to town he told all the people to refuse to lodge him for the night. He wanted Rav Acha to be forced to stay in the Yeshiva, “and perhaps a miracle will occur”, and the danger would cease. In fact, Rav Acha did stay in the Yeshiva. When he saw the demon, he davened to Hashem for help and the demon perished.

The Maharsha asks, “How could Abaye endanger Rav Achya’s life by relying on the possibility that a miracle would save his life?” The Maharsha explains that Abaye was 100 percent certain that the prayers of this pious scholar would destroy the predator. This would not be considered a miracle since prayer is part of the “natural order”. Abaye knew that Hashem would answer Rav Acha’s prayer and would protect him from harm.

This week’s parsha discusses an accidental murderer. If one killed unintentionally, he was sent to an ir miklat, a city of refuge, where he was protected from any family member wanting to avenge the death of their relative. The killer was permitted to go free, and be protected from harm, only after the Kohen Gadol died. The Talmud (Makos 11A) says that the mother of the Kohen Gadol would bring food and clothing to people in the city. Her hope was, the more comfortable their lives in the city of refuge, the less urgency they would feel to leave, and the less likely it would be that they would pray for the death of the Kohen Gadol.

Why would the mother of the Kohen Gadol be concerned that the prayers of a killer could possibly cause the death of her son?

Even though this prayer would have been outrageous, since prayer is part of the natural order of the world, it could have been accepted. Thus, the mother of the Kohen Gadol, tried to foil this powerful prayer from being recited.  (Based on Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3)

Prayer is part of the natural order of the world and is not miraculous.

We have this incredible power, within us.

Sincere prayer can produce unimaginable results.

Let’s use this power and turn to Hashem for all our needs!

 

Parshas Pinchas: Love Conquers All!

Parshas Pinchas

Love Conquers All!

 

“Give us a possession [in Eretz Yisroel] among our father’s brothers” (Bamidbar 27:4)

Hillel used to say that we should emulate Aharon Hakohen, who loved peace and chased after peace, who loved people and brought them closer to Torah (Pirkei Avos 1:12). If a person was a sinner, Aharon would befriend him, showing his love for him. That person would feel, “If this Tzadik would know about my evil deeds, he would stay far away from me” (Rav Ovadia MiBartenora). The person would feel embarrassed about his evil deeds and would improve his ways. Aharon’s love “conquered” the sinner’s mindset and helped rehabilitate him.

Hashem told Moshe which Jews would inherit land in Israel. Only males inherited portions of the Land. Tzelafchad’s five daughters approached Moshe with a complaint. They said that their father had died and did not have any sons. Therefore, they wanted to inherit their father’s portion in the Land of Israel. Moshe brought their claim to Hashem who agreed that they should inherit their father’s portion. Rashi says that the daughters were not motivated by the desire for financial gain but were motivated by a passionate love for the Land of Israel.

Their love for the Land was in stark contrast with that of the men who scouted the Land of Israel. The spies did not have true love for the Land of Israel. It says in Tehillim (106:24) that “they despised the desirable Land”. The Malbim explains that this pasuk is referring to the spies. Since the spies did not have true love of the Land, they did not believe Moshe’s words that the Land was good.

Rav Avraham Pam (Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith) explains that the spies described the Land exactly as they had seen it. The cities were heavily fortified, the land was inhabited by giants, the fruit was unusually huge, and many funerals took place there. Nevertheless, the spies should not have worried. They should have trusted in Hashem who promised them that the Land was wonderful and that He would destroy its inhabitants. Since their love for the Land was lacking, the obstacles they had seen appeared to be overwhelming. This feeling caused them to abandon hope of entering the Land. This was their sin. However, Yehoshua and Kalev described Eretz Yisroel in glowing terms. They said, “The Land we passed through … is very, very good” (Shmos 14:7). Since they had a love for the Land, they did not view the obstacles they saw as obstacles. They knew that the obstacles could be overcome.

All the Jewish women of that generation had a passionate love for Eretz Yisroel. That love negated all the fears and doubts that troubled the men who did not have the same degree of love for the Land. Therefore, while the men, from the ages of twenty to sixty, died in the desert, the women merited entering Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Pam says that this insight teaches us a very important message. Often, one is inspired to action. It may be to learn more Torah, to do an act of kindness to others, to do any other mitzvah or any positive act. After planning to act on his inspiration, often a person can be plagued with doubts. He may feel, “Can I really do this? Am truly qualified? Is it too hard for me? There are too many things that can go wrong”. He may see so many issues that he may change his mind and decide not to do it. 

The lesson of the daughters of Tzelafchad is, if one has intense love for something, that can help him overcome all obstacles. It will help him shake off inevitable uncertainties and give him the drive to accomplish his goals.

 

My Mother, Risha Toba bas Reb Gershon, passed-away last week. She exhibited many good character traits. One of her strengths was the sincere love and graciousness that she showed to everyone. In different ways, she connected to people of all ages. She connected to both Jews and non-Jews. She loved people – and they felt her love! The way she treated people was truly mekadesh Shem Shamayim. May her neshama find its eternal rest in Gan Eden!

 

Parshas Chukas: One Thing Leads to Another!

Parshas Chukas

One Thing Leads to Another!

 

“But Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Jewish people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (Bamidbar 20:12)

It was an awesome miracle! Every day in the desert, millions of people and their animals were provided with plentiful water. It miraculously flowed from a rock, known as the Well of Miriam. When Miriam died, the Rock hid itself and the Jewish People no longer had a source of water. They complained to Moshe. Hashem told Moshe to find the Rock and speak to it, and it would, once again, provide water. Moshe ended up hitting the rock and water burst forth.  “But Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Jewish people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (Bamidbar 20:12)   Clearly, Moshe and Aharon committed some sin. Their punishment was that they would die before the Jews entered the Land of Israel. They would not be privileged to enter the Land of Israel.

Numerous commentaries attempt to explain Moshe and Aharon’s “sin”.  Some say it had to do with Moshe hitting the Rock instead of speaking to it. Others say, it had to do with the way Moshe spoke to the Jewish People. Abarbanel quotes 10 different explanations, asks questions on all of them, and gives his own interpretation.  

It says in Tehillim (62:13), “…and faithfulness is Yours, Hashem, to reward each man according to his deeds”. Hashem always punishes “measure for measure”, i.e. the punishment is similar, to the sin. The Metzudas Dovid explains, when a person contemplates his punishment, he will be able to figure out what his sin was and what he would need to do to improve himself.  The Abarbanel asked, “What was the connection of Moshe and Aharon’s “sin” to their punishment?”  Why were they punished by being barred from Eretz Yisroel?

Furthermore, the Abarbanel asked, “What did Aharon do?” Moshe hit the Rock and spoke to the Jewish People. Aharon just stood there. Why was Aharon also punished? 

In Sefer Devarim (1:37) before Moshe died, he mentioned some of the past sins that the Jewish People had done. He spoke about the sin of the spies and said, “Hashem was also angry at me, because of you….” Therefore, I, too, will not be privileged to enter the Land of Israel. It seems that Moshe forfeited the right to enter the Land of Israel because of the sin of the spies and not because of what happened with the Rock?

The Abarbanel asks numerous other questions. His explanation is that Moshe and Aharon were not punished because of what occurred with the Rock. Rather, Aharon was punished because of the sin of the Golden Calf. Aharon formed the calf to delay the people from sinning, while he awaited Moshe’s return from Har Sinai. Aharon had good intentions. However, his actions led to catastrophic results. It led to some Jews sinning, causing their deaths immediately by plague or sword. It also resulted in the decree that the Jews would die in the desert and would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. Since this resulted from Aharon’s actions, it would not have been proper for Aharon to enter the Land of Israel while the rest of the Jews were forbidden. (Shmos 32:1-7). This was clearly a punishment, “measure for measure”.

Similarly, Moshe was punished because of his actions with the spies that he had sent to the Land of Israel. The People had asked to send spies. Their only concern was to discover the best route to take and which cities to capture first (Devorim 1:22 and Rashi). Hashem had just said to scout out the land. Moshe added additional questions for the spies. Moshe had asked that they find out the strength of the people and the fortification of the cities. Moshe purposely and with good intentions, added these questions. When the Jewish People would find out that how powerful these people were, that there were giants, and that the cities were exceedingly fortified, they would further appreciate Hashem’s kindness in enabling them to conquer the land.  However, these additional questions resulted in the spies terrifying report. As a result of that, the Jews felt they were powerless, and that Hashem was incapable of conquering these nations. This resulted in Hashem’ decree that they would die in the desert and not enter the Land. Moshe’s unintentional actions indirectly caused this decree. Therefore, it would not have been appropriate for Moshe to enter the Land while the rest of the People were forbidden to.

To show respect for Moshe and Aharon, Hashem concealed these larger sins with the smaller sin by the Rock, even though Aharon did not sin at all by the Rock. The sin by the Rock wasn’t the reason for their punishment. Rather, Hashem used it as a means to punish them for their previous actions, without embarrassing them.

The Abarbanel teaches us a powerful thought! One is held accountable for the results of his actions. If noble intentions result in negative actions by others, one is still held accountable for them. We also see a level of fairness by Hashem. If one caused a negative action which resulted in another person being punished, one should not derive benefit from that which another lost, because of that action.

On the positive side, if one’s intentions result in positive actions, one is rewarded for them! Imagine if one taught Torah to a Jew who had little, or no Torah knowledge and that person became a very learned and righteous individual. Would it be fair if the student went to Olam Habba while the teacher did not?

We must be very careful and think through the possible repercussions of our actions!

We may be punished for negative repercussions and we will be rewarded for positive ones!

 

Parshas Korach: More Powerful than…!

Parshas Korach

More Powerful than…!

 

“…and Moshe said to Hashem, “Do not turn to their gift offering!’” (16:15)

Chizkiyahu, King of Yehuda, was an extremely righteous king who disseminated Torah among the Jewish nation.  He became deathly ill and the prophet, Yeshayahu son of Amotz, came to him and said, ‘So says Hashem: Prepare your household, for you shall die …!’” Yeshayahu the prophet was informing King Chizkiyahu that a death sentence was already decreed upon him. King Chizkiyahu replied, “Son of Amotz, finish your prophecy and leave! I have a tradition handed down from my ancestors that even if one has a sharp sword laying on his throat, he should not hold back from requesting Hashem’s mercy!” Whereupon, Chizkiyahu turned his face towards the wall and whole-heartedly prayed to Hashem. Immediately afterwards, Hashem reappeared to Yeshayahu the prophet and told him: “Return to Chizkiyahu, … and tell him: ‘So says Hashem, G-d of your father David: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I shall heal you! On the third day ascend to the House of Hashem and I shall add fifteen years to your life.’” (Melachim II (Chapter 20)

 

Korach was very wise and very rich. He experienced prophecy, futuristically seeing that his descendants would be very prestigious. He was a member of the Leviite family of Kehas, the family who was entrusted to carry the holy vessels of the Mishkan. Nonetheless, unfortunately, all of that was not enough for him. He became jealous of Moshe’s appointments of Aharon as Kohein Gadol and Elitzafon as head of the family of Kehas. Hashem had told Moshe to make those appointments. However, Korach’s jealously led him to claim that Moshe had made the appointments on his own.   To bolster his claim, Korach declared that not only did Moshe make-up the appointments on his own, he even made-up some of the mitzvos that he taught them. Korach claimed that the mitzvah of tzitzis made no sense. On a garment of any material, one string of techailes (wool dyed a bluish-purplish color) together with the other strings, would suffice to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. Then, why should a garment made totally from techailes need one extra string of tchailes to be acceptable? Also, why would a room that has a sefer Torah need a mezuzah, in addition? The Torah itself contains the parsha of the mezuzah as well hundreds more mitzvos.

 

Korach’s pronouncements were very dangerous. He attacked the fundamental belief that the Torah is the word of Hashem. If one would suggest that Korach could have succeeded had he davened to Hashem for success, you would think that person was crazy. How could Hashem accept such a prayer which would undermine Hashem’s own Torah?

 

Yet, we see something very fascinating. Moshe attempted to make peace by going to the homes of Dassan and Aviram, the other two leaders of the rebellion. Dassan and Aviram rebuffed Moshe and responded with brazenness. Moshe then beseeched Hashem not to accept the korban of ketores that they were going to bring on the following day.

 

Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, the Alter of Kelm, says we see from this, the tremendous power of prayer. Moshe had to beseech Hashem not to accept their korbanos, representing their tefillos. Had their tefillos been accepted, they would have succeeded in denying that Moshe was teaching Hashem’s Torah. If the Torah was not from Hashem, then they would have succeeded in denying the validity of the Torah itself. The entire Torah would have been nullified!  Moshe was concerned lest their prayers be accepted. Hashem set up the World in such a way that sincere and totally heartfelt prayer is very powerful and has a good chance to be answered, even if the request runs contrary to Hashem’s will. Moshe knew that principle. Therefore, he had to pray to Hashem to counter their prayer.

 

We see a similar idea in the Talmud (Yoma 53A). When the Kohain Gadol exited the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he prayed for the needs of the Jewish People. One of the prayers was that Hashem should not listen to the prayers of the travelers who had come to Yerushalayim. The travelers were returning home. They prayed to Hashem that it should not rain, which would cause the roads to become muddy, making the travel home very difficult. Rain, however, is important to everyone else, other than the travelers. Rain is needed for drinking water and to help crops grow. Other Jews prayed for rain. Why was it necessary for the Kohain Gadol to add this to his prayers? The traveler’s prayers were totally sincere and from the heart. They understood that only Hashem could help them. Those prayers were so powerful, that the Kohain Gadol’s prayers were needed to counteract them. (based on a dvar torah quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov.

 

When we daven to Hashem with a complete heart, and with the realization that only Hashem can help us, our tefillos are very powerful. Even if we do not see the results that we hope for,
due to our powerful tefillos Hashem will help us in some way either now or in the future.