Category Archives: Sefer Bamidbar

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 Chukas: Who Would Have Thought The Broken Bottle Could Be So Powerful?!

Parshas Chukas

Who Would Have Thought The Broken Bottle Could Be So Powerful?!

“This is the law [regarding] a person [אָדָם] who dies in a tent; anyone who enters the tent and everything that is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days.” (Bamidbar 19:14)

More than 100 years ago, a poverty-stricken rabbi from Jerusalem went to Italy to raise funds for his family. After his boat docked on a Friday morning, he started walking, hoping he would find a Jewish neighborhood. A horse-drawn carriage drew alongside him and stopped. It turned out that the rider in the wagon was a very wealthy Jew. He greeted the rabbi warmly and invited him to his home for Shabbos. At the Shabbos seudah, the rabbi was flabbergasted by his host’s enormous wealth. Gazing at the breakfront which was full of crystal, silver, and gold, the rabbi noticed a broken glass flask. It was so out of place that the rabbi asked why the flask was placed there. The wealthy man then told his story. He had grown up in Amsterdam. When he was a teenager, his grandfather, who was in failing health, had asked him to come to Italy to help in his store. Soon after, his grandfather died. He loved the business and became very successful and very wealthy. He became so involved in his business that, little by little, he slid away from Judaism. One day, he was walking and heard a Jewish child scream. The child couldn’t stop crying and repeating, “What will I tell my father?”  Apparently, the little boy was very poor. His father had saved a few coins to purchase a jar of olive oil for the Chanukah menorah. The child made the purchase but not bring it home right away. In the interim, the jar fell and broke, and the olive oil spilled out. The wealthy man took the little boy back to the store and bought him a new jar of olive oil. Afterwards, he felt haunted by the boy’s words, “What will I tell my father?” He thought to himself, what would he tell his Father in heaven after 120 years. He had drifted so far from Judaism, what could he say to Hashem?  Thereupon, he gathered up the broken glass of the flask and brought it home. That night, to the surprise of his family, he lit a Chanukah candle. One thing led to another, and he eventually he became an observant Jew, teaching his family along the way. After hearing the story, the rabbi understood why that broken flask had a position of prominence in the breakfront. It was instrumental in re-igniting the pintele yid, the spark that is in every Jewish soul. (Echoes of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

In the time of the prophet Yirmiyahu, the Jewish People served idols. Hashem asked Yirmiyahu to exhort the Jews to repent (Yirmiyahu 2:2-3). Rashi and Radak say that Hashem desired to shower the Jews with compassion because Hashem remembered the kindness of their forefathers, in following Hashem into the barren desert after leaving Egypt. The Jews showed their faith in Hashem by following Moshe and Aharon into a desert without provisions.

Although the Jews were serving idols, they were still called “holy to Hashem” (Yirmiyahu 2:3). Rashi says that the Jews are considered holy like Terumah, the first fruits of Hashem’s harvest. Radak adds that the Jewish People are compared to the first of the harvest before the Omer, which is forbidden to eat. Whoever eats it is liable. Even when Jews sin and are punished for their sins, the nations who harm them are punished because they are harming Hashem’s “first fruits”.

The Yalkut Shimoni (Yirmiyahu, 265) adds that even during Yirmiyahu’s time, when the Jews were serving idols, Hashem, nonetheless, called them, “בְּנִי”, “my son”.

In the Midrash Shocher Tov (Tehillim 14:4) we see that even when we are at our low point, we are considered holy to Hashem. During the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, when the Babylonians ate the holy meat that was left from our korbanos and ate the lechem hapanim, the 12 loaves of holy bread, the Jews were at a very low point. Yet, they were still called “holy to Hashem”.

It says in this week’s parsha, “When a person dies in a tent, whoever enters the tent and whoever is in the tent shall be impure for seven days.” (Bamidbar19-14)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh zt”l quotes the Talmud (Bava Metzia 114A). The rabbis taught that the description,”אָדָם ”, “a person” [who dies in a tent] only applies to Jews. The Torah, therefore, teaches that only the dead bodies of Jews are capable of conferring ritual impurity on people who are under the same roof; the dead bodies of Gentiles are not able to have that effect on anyone under the same roof with them. What is the reason for that? Only people who have been given the Torah have absorbed the kind of sanctity during their lifetime which attracts the spiritually negative influences, to their remains.

Even when a Jew sins, he is stilled beloved by Hashem as a child is to his father. He has inherited within him, genetically, a faith in Hashem, as his forefathers had when they followed Hashem into the desert without knowing how they would obtain food. Furthermore, because each Jew received the Torah at Har Sinai, each Jew is a holy person.

We must view every single Jew with love, as each Jew is holy and special to Hashem!


Parshas Korach: Women Are Better Than Men At this!

Parshas Korach

Women Are Better Than Men At this!

The entire congregation of Bnei Yisroel complained…against Moshe and Aharon, saying: “You have killed the people of Hashem” (Bamidbar 17:6)

A pregnant Temma was very excited as she headed to her doctor’s appointment. She was looking forward to hearing good news about her baby. The doctor listened to the heartbeat of the fetus and told Temma that she was going to give birth to twins. Now Temma was doubly excited! The doctor sent Temma for an ultrasound. The ultrasound confirmed that Temma was having twins. However, it showed that one baby would be born healthy while the other would be born physically and mentally deficient. Temma was devastated! She went for a second opinion which only confirmed the first one. When the Jewish, but irreligious, doctor saw Temma’s tears, he said to her, “You are lucky that you are religious because you know how to pray.” Temma and her husband spent the rest of the pregnancy davening intensely. Her tefillos did help. Although the second twin was born physically disabled, it was not mentally disabled. The author concludes,”As frum Jews who are brought up davening from a young age, we often don’t appreciate the concept of Tefillah enough. We often think of it as a burden. It took an irreligious doctor to make Temma realize what a powerful tool tefillah can be.” (Sparks of Majesty by Genendel Krohn)

Rav Yeshaya Bordecky was on a boat that capsized. He was thrown into the water with his two young children. He held onto his children and began swimming to a nearby shore. It was exhausting work. Soon Rav Yeshaya realized that he did not have the strength to continue. The only way he would be able to save himself and one of his children would be to let go of the second child, leaving her to drown. He pushed himself a little more, but then had no choice. He started letting go of one of his children. The child screamed and pleaded, ‘Tatty, don’t let go!” The painful cry pierced Rav Yeshaya’s soul. He grabbed his daughter and finding strength which he had not known that he had, swam to shore, saving both children. (In the Spirit of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

The Talmud (Berachos 32B) says, “If one davens and is not answered, let him reinforce himself and daven again.” Prayer comes from the depths of our hearts. Often, we can “dig deeper and deeper”, more than we ever thought was possible. That type of prayer is much more powerful.

Korach was a very prestigious person. He instigated a terrible machlokes, quarrel, with Moshe Rabbeinu. He claimed that Moshe was making some things up on his own and pretending that Hashem had said them. He falsely said that Moshe had made certain leadership appointments on his own, and not by the direction of Hashem. Undermining Moshe Rabbeinu was a very serious action. It was undermining all the teachings that Hashem had instructed Moshe to teach. Korach persuaded many others to join his rebellion. In addition, 250 of Korach’s followers felt that they deserved to be the kohain gadol instead of Aharon HaKohain.  Moshe told them that there could only be one kohain gadol. As a test to see which one person Hashem already chose to be the kohain gadol, Moshe told the 250 men, as well as Korach and Aharon Hakohain, to offer the ketores sacrifice. He explained that only the kohain gadol was permitted to offer that sacrifice. Anyone else who offered that sacrifice would perish. They chose to offer the sacrifice. Korach and his followers were punished for their role in this terrible machlokes. They and all their possessions were swallowed by the earth. Then, a fire came from Hashem and burned the 250 men. The Jewish people understood why Korach and his other followers had to be punished. However, they were upset that the 250 men were burned since they brought the sacrifice with sincerity. “The entire congregation of Bnei Yisroel complained…against Moshe and Aharon, saying: “You have killed the people of Hashem” (Bamidbar 17:6). Targum Onkelos explains that the Jewish People complained that Moshe and Aharon had caused those deaths.


Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l asks, How could the Jewish People think that Moshe and Aharon caused the deaths of the 250 men? The men were warned numerous times what the consequences would be. The Riva explains that Moshe gave them ample warning. He clearly told them that only one person would survive this test. Only the individual whom Hashem had already chosen to be the kohain gadol would survive this test. Rashi (Bamidbar 17:2) says that these 250 men were negligent and careless about their lives. That is why the pasuk (Bamidbar 17:3) says that they “sinned with their lives”.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Derash Moshe) answers that the Jewish People felt that the memory of this machlokes, this rebellion started by Korach would fade in time, by the next generation. The next generation would know about the miracles that Moshe had performed to quelch this rebellion. They would have total faith In Moshe and would realize that Korach’s position had no merit. Based on this thinking, the Jewish People felt that Moshe should have davened to Hashem to spare the 250 men. They said to Moshe, “You have killed the people of Hashem” because Moshe did not daven for their survival. The Jewish People’s evaluation was erroneous. Hashem knew the power and influence that machlokes could have. This is evidenced by the fact that we are still in galus from the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash which resulted from sinas chinam, baseless hatred, which stemmed from machlokes. Hashem knew that these men had to die to stop the influence of machlokes.

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl”’s explanation, the Jewish People felt that Moshe had caused the deaths of the 250 men because he did not daven for them!! Wow! They felt that Moshe’s not davening was considered as if he had caused their deaths!

How many people do we know who need our tefillos? We must daven for them!


Women have a special power of tefillah, moreso than men. Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l cited the following from our sages: King Yoshiyahu was a very big Tzadik. He encouraged and succeeded in bringing almost the entire Jewish People to teshuvah. He destroyed all the idols and evils done by his predecessor, King Menashe. King Yoshiyahu had hoped that his actions would avert the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The only thing that was still needed was tefillah. King Yoshiyahu sent an emissary to one of the prophets at that time, to daven to avert the destruction. Yirmiyahu was the leading navi at that time. He dearly loved the Jewish People and would certainly have davened with totality of heart for them. Yet, he was not the prophet that King Yoshiyahu sent for. Rather, he sent the message to the prophetess Chulda. Why? The Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l explained that a woman has more compassion and mercy in her heart than a man. Therefore King Yoshiyahu felt that her prayer would be more successful.

A woman’s heartfelt tefillah has greater depth and can accomplish more than that of a man.

We all have an obligation to daven for those in need!

Even moreso, women who have a greater power of prayer, should daven for those in need.


Parshas Shelach: Just Imagine…!

Parshas Shelach

Just Imagine…!

A poor person was invited to a meal at a wealthy man’s house. When all the guests were finished with their first course, the rich man rang a bell. Almost at once, waiters came in to remove the dishes and bring in the next course. The poor man was amazed. He had never seen anything like that before. After the second course was completed, the host again rang the bell, and again the waiters removed the plates and brought yet more food. The poor man was so impressed that he purchased a similar bell for his own house. He returned home very excited! He told his wife. “We are going to have unlimited food and waiters. Wait until you see what I brought home!” He immediately placed the bell on the table and told his family and friends to take their regular seats. He then rang the bell with confidence. He waited for a waiter to walk in—but nothing happened! “I don’t understand it! When the rich man rang the bell, all the food was served!” The next day he returned the bell to the store that he purchased it in. “The bell you sold me is useless. I did not get a response when I rang it.” The obvious reason nothing happened, says the Dubno Maggid, is because there was neither a waiter nor food prepared in the next room. Preparation was necessary for the bell to accomplish anything. In some ways many of us are like this man, continues the Dubno Maggid. For example, the Torah says if we look at our tzitzis, we will be reminded to perform all of Hashem’s mitzvos.  There are many people, though, who can look at a pair of tzitzis and not be reminded of anything. Only if one studies and understands how the tzitzis represent the 613 mitzvos, and studies what the 613 mitzvos are, can one appreciate what his viewing of the tzitzis should accomplish. Merely to look them without any preparation is like ringing a bell without having arranged for anyone to respond.

Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l was known to wear as many as 175 pairs of tzitzis at the same time. Once, when Rav Sheinberg was fundraising in Florida, a woman approached him. Her son was not on the correct Jewish path. She thought that if her son wore a pair of Rav Scheinberg’s tzitzis, perhaps it would reignite the spark of Yiddishkeit within her son. Rav Scheinberg’s son, who was assisting him, told the woman that she could have a pair of tzitzis if she would donate one thousand dollars to the yeshivah. [He had a very good reason to ask for that, as we will soon see]. Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg told the woman that he also wanted to see her son personally. He told the son, “Your mother just gave a thousand dollars because she cares about you so much, and I don’t want your tzitzis to be sitting in a drawer. I want you to promise me that you will wear these tzitzis for one minute a day—that’s it.” The son could not say no. He ended up wearing the tzitzis for more than a minute a day. The tzitzis had such an effect on him that after six months of wearing them, he went to learn Torah in Yeshiva Ohr Somayach. This all came about from one minute of wearing tzitzis.

When you visualize a certain situation in your mind and then imagine how you would react to it, it helps to prepare you, should that situation occur.   Visual imagery is a very beneficial tool in strengthening ourselves to perform mitzvos and to stave off the yetzer hara.

There is a fascinating story in Sefer Shmuel l (Shmuel 1 17:33-37). Before King Dovid became king, as a young lad, he volunteered to King Shaul that he would represent the Jewish People to fight against the Plishtim’s giant, Goliath. King Shaul was skeptical since Dovid was untrained while Goliath was a seasoned warrior. Dovid replied that Hashem had shown him previously, that he was capable. Dovid was a shepherd. Once, a lion and a bear appeared simultaneously. One of them carried off a lamb from the flock that Dovid was watching. Dovid then killed both the bear and lion with his bare hands. Dovid felt that this was a sign from Hashem that he would also be capable of fighting against Goliath. King Shaul agreed and let Dovid go to battle. Dovid beat Goliath. The Vilna Gaon says that Dovid realized that a miracle had occurred through this sheep. Therefore, he slaughtered the sheep and made a garment of its skin. He always wore that garment to remember the miracle that Hashem had performed for him. Dovid used this imagery to constantly remember Hashem’s kindness to him.

The Torah says (Bamidbar 15:39) that you should look at the tzitzis that you are wearing. This will in turn help you remember the mitzvos and then you will be able to fulfill them.

HaKsav VeHaKabalah explains that the pasuk doesn’t literally mean that looking at the tztzis will help you remember the mitzvos. Rather, it means thinking about the tzitzis intently and with intensity.

Rebbe said in Pirkei Avos (2:1) that if we contemplate and visualize three things in our minds then we will not sin. We should envision what is above us — a seeing eye and a hearing ear and that all our deeds are recorded. Rabbeinu Yona says that these three things are the same one idea. If we have an awareness that Hashem knows and remembers all that we do, then we won’t sin. If it is all one idea, why did Rebbe mention all three? The answer is that if we visualize each one separately, it will have a stronger impact on our actions and help protect us from sin.

Rabbeinu Bachya, the Or HaChaim, and others say that the pasuk does mean that you should have an actual visual reminder. You should look at your tzitzis. The visual impact of seeing tzitzis triggers your memory which, in turn, leads to the performance of the commandments. It is also a reminder that you are Hashem’s servant and that you should not allow your eyes and heart to bring you to sin.

Fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis only costs a few dollars, yet its impact is priceless! One can use both visual imagery as well as actual sight of an object to strengthen oneself to perform mitzvos and come closer to Hashem.


Parshas Beha’aloscha: Hurdle to Greatness!

Parshas Beha’aloscha

Hurdle to Greatness!


“It sometimes happened that the Cloud was [there] [but] from evening until morning, and then the Cloud rose in the morning, and they traveled; or [the Cloud was there] for a day and a night and the Cloud was lifted, and they traveled.” (Bamidbar 9:21)

A student of the Chozeh of Lublin once davened to Hashem, asking that he earn his weekly livelihood early in the week. Then he would have the peace of mind to learn Torah the rest of the week. The Chozeh told him that, of course Hashem could provide his livelihood earlier in the week. However, that may not be what Hashem wanted. Hashem wanted this student to be able to learn Torah and do mitzvos under less than desirable conditions. His Torah learning and his mitzvos, when done under the trying conditions, were more holy and more pleasing to Hashem. “Maybe Hashem has more satisfaction in how you overcome your burdens and create light in the midst of darkness.” (The Pirkei Avos Treasury by Rabbi Moshe Lieber)

After leaving Egypt, the Jewish People traversed the desert. Hashem guided them with a Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night. Whenever the Cloud rose from the Mishkan, it indicated that it was time to leave. Then the Jews packed their belongings and left. The Bekhor Shor says that Hashem did not inconvenience the people by making them break camp at night. However, sometimes the Cloud signaled to the Jews to leave after one day, sometimes after a month, and sometimes after a year. The Sforno says that it was impossible to predict with any degree of probability how long they would stay in one location. Sometimes the Jewish People arrived at a location, unpacked, and then had to leave hours later. The Ramban says that sometimes they arrived at an unpleasant place to camp. They wanted to leave right away but the Pillar of Cloud did not move for a long time. Other times, they came to a beautiful site. They wanted to remain there for a long time. They would unpack and settle in. However, the very next morning, the Pillar of Cloud rose, indicating that they had to leave. They had to repack all their belongings and continue traveling. The Ramban says that this was very bothersome.

What was Hashem’s purpose in doing this? Why was the trip through the desert so difficult, as the Jewish People never knew how long they would be remaining in one place?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt”l in Michtav m’Eliyahu explains that Hashem may have done this to teach the Jewish People a very important lesson. Learning Torah and doing mitzvos should not depend on external conditions.

One is apt to say, “If Only”. “If I only had a little-more free time, then I would learn Torah. If only I didn’t have to go to my job early in the morning, then I would be able to daven with a minyan or then I would be able to daven slower, with more concentration. Or if only I didn’t have to work so hard to earn a living, worry so much about my children, be busy with homework, be busy with shidduchim, or be busy with medical troubles, then I would do so much more.”

Life is never perfect. It is full of disturbances and challenges.

That is what Hashem was teaching us with the unpredictable travels in the desert. Life in the desert was not easy at times. However, Jewish life does not depend on conditions improving. A Jew must learn Torah and do mitzvos under all conditions, even difficult ones. One can’t wait until he gets comfortable before learning Torah or doing other mitzvos.       (based on Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Rabbi Frand on the Parasha)

It says in Pirkei Avos (2:5), “Don’t say ‘When I am free then I will learn’, for perhaps you will not become free.” One should never postpone learning Torah to a more opportune moment, for that moment may never come.

“I don’t know how, but someone had managed to smuggle in a pair of tefillin by bribing a kapo with dozens of bread and margarine rations. I only know that every morning many of us rose before the call-up to perform this mitzvah….  Jews who did not know each other, who perhaps did not even speak the same language, met each morning at dawn, exposed themselves to nameless dangers for the sake of doing this mitzvah.” (Professor Eli Wiesel, in a 1982 article)

A Jew must learn Torah and do mitzvos under all conditions, even difficult ones. Mitzvos done in trying circumstances give Hashem even more pleasure than those done when all is calm. We have the opportunity, to achieve greatness and holiness when we do mitzvos despite our challenges.


Parshas Naso: Open the Faucet and Receive the Flow of Mercy!

Parshas Naso

Open the Faucet and Receive the Flow of Mercy!


“They shall confess the sins which they committed and return the principal amount [of the object] of his guilt and add one fifth to that amount….” (Bamidbar 5:7)

The Jacoby’s were planning on celebrating sheva brachos that evening, in the yard that they shared with their neighbor. Mr. Jacoby asked his neighbor, Mr. Leibowitz, for permission to plug loudspeakers and lights into his electric outlets. Mr. Leibowitz graciously agreed. A few hours later, the sheva brachos began. At midnight, the festivities were still going strong. The music, singing, and speeches were amplified loudly by the loudspeakers. Finally, Mr. Leibowitz called Mr. Jacoby, asking him to please stop using the loudspeakers, since it was so late. Mr. Jacoby assured him that that the party would soon be over. A little while later, the loudspeakers were still booming. Mrs. Leibowitz suggested to her husband, “Why not just unplug their extension cord?” Mr. Leibowitz realized that, indeed, that would be the simplest solution since the electricity for the loudspeakers was coming from his own outlet. As he went to pull the cord, he looked outside. Just then, he saw that the men were dancing around the chosson. Everyone was smiling and happy. Mr. Leibowitz hesitated. How would the chosson, kallah, and their guests feel if the sheva brachos suddenly turned dark. He decided not to interrupt the festivities and did not unplug the electricity. (Tomer Devorah by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi)

The mitzvah of viduy, confessing one’s sins, is the foundation of repentance for every sin. In that case, why is it specifically written in this pasuk which talks about repentance for the sin of theft? The Chidushei HaRim zt”l answers, that every sin which we do, has, within it, an aspect of theft. How so? Hashem gave us life to fulfill His will. When we use our lives and abilities to sin against Hashem, we are in effect stealing from Hashem. Therefore, it is appropriate to write viduy in the pasuk discussing theft. (Quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) 

The Midrash (Bereishis 33:3) tells of a time when there was a drought. The prayers of the tzaddikim did not bring relief. A simple act of kindness, performed by one ordinary person, was the final act that rescued everyone from starvation. Rabbi Tanchuma understood that mercy practiced in our world awakens corresponding mercy in heaven which then flows down to us. And that is why the famine ended.

After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe prayed to Hashem who forgave the Jewish People for it. After his supplications were accepted, Moses felt that it was an auspicious moment to ask Hashem to grant the Jewish people a way to obtain mercy, should they fall and sin again, in the future. Hashem revealed the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy with which Hashem conducts the world.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17B) quotes Rabbi Yehudah who says that “a covenant was established regarding the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that they will never be returned empty-handed.”

 The Talmud (Shabbos 133B) brings the pasuk, “This is my G-D and I will glorify Him.” (Shmos 15:2). Abba Shaul says, “Ve’anveihu” (“and I will glorify Him”) should be interpreted as if it were written in two words: Ani vaHu, me and Him [Hashem]. We should emulate Hashem’s ways. Just as Hashem is compassionate and merciful, so too should we be compassionate and merciful.

When we copy Hashem’s ways and transform our feelings into mercy, we awaken mercy in heaven, bringing a flow of blessing upon us.

Sefer Tomer Devorah teaches us how to emulate Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes which are hinted to in Neviim, sefer Micah (7: 18-20). “Who is a G-D like You, who pardons iniquity, and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He does not maintain his anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”

The Tomer Devorah says that the first of the Thirteen Attributes of mercy is that Hashem bears insult. At the very time that a person sins against Hashem, Hashem still allows that person life and movement of his limbs. The very limbs that are sinning against Hashem! Hashem bears the affront while still supplying the sinner the ability to sin against Him. Hashem’s patience is beyond description!

Although it is not always easy, we are supposed to copy this characteristic of Hashem. Even if we are insulted, we should not withhold our goodness and kindness to the very one who harms us. We should do so even if we constantly do favors for a person, and he displays such ingratitude by using the same favors to harm us.

When we ignore insults and emulate Hashem’s trait of forbearance and kindness,

we bring a flow of mercy from heaven to us and to our world!


Parshas Bamidbar: The Secret of Life-Found in the Tractate Bava Kama!

Parshas Bamidbar

The Secret of Life-Found in the Tractate Bava Kama!


“The Tent of Meeting shall travel [along with] the camp of the Leviim in the center of the [other] camps, just as they camp so shall they travel….” (Bamidbar 2:17)

After WWII, when the Jews were freed from the concentration camps, many were placed in DP, Displaced Persons, camps. The Jews would often be in those camps for months until they could go on with their lives and emigrate to other countries. The needs in those camps were great. There was a need for kosher food, clothing, and medical help. Many Jews wanted help to find any relatives who may have survived the war. At that time, Rabbi Aaron Paperman was a pulpit rabbi in New Jersey. He heard that there was an opportunity to become a United States Army chaplain. Rabbi Paperman asked for advice from his rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Elya Meir Bloch. Rabbi Bloch told him to leave his position and become a chaplain. That would enable him to be in the position to help the Jewish survivors. Rabbi Paperman indeed became a chaplain and helped many Jews in various ways. One Jewish man, Yitzchok Sieger, approached Rabbi Paperman with a very unusual request. He asked if Rabbi Paperman could get him a Gemora Bava Kama (a volume of the Talmud). Rabbi Paperman was shocked at this unusual request which ignored the basic needs that this man could have asked for. Yitzchok explained, “Four years ago I was in my kitchen in Hungary, and I was learning Bava Kama. The Nazis, yemach shemam, came and took me away. I haven’t seen a Gemora in four years. If you get me a Bava Kama, that’s all I need to get myself back to normal. With a Gemora I will be able to nurse myself back to health.” Rabbi Paperman knew of a nearby shul that had been ransacked but had not burned down. He went there and found the volume of the Talmud that Yitzchok had requested. Yitzchok gave Rabbi Paperman such a happy smile when Rabbi Paperman presented him with the Gemora. The effort was successful, and Yitzchok became rejuvenated. He eventually left the DP camp, went to America, married, and raised a family. The tranquility and serenity provided by his Torah study was the means that gave him the mental capacity to get his life in order. (In the Spirit of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

The Chizkuni (Bamidbar 2:17; 10:33) says that the aron, the ark that proceeded the Jews into battle was constructed by Moshe Rabbeinu and contained the broken set of luchos (Ten Commandments).

The aron that was in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a different ark. It contained the second set, the set of unbroken luchos. That aron was always located in the center, with the people surrounding it on all sides. The Sforno (Bamidbar 2:17) says that regardless of whether the Mishkan was fully assembled or whether the Jews were traveling, and even when the Jews began camping after traveling, the aron always remained in the center of them.

There are two opinions in the Talmud (Jerusalem Talmud Eruvin 5A) that discuss the formation of how the Jews traveled in the desert. One opinion says that they traveled in a straight line. The other opinion says that they traveled in the same formation that they encamped, in a box formation. The above Sforno clearly follows the opinion that the Jews travelled in a box formation. Thus, even when traveling, the aron was in the center of the Jewish people.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) says that since the Torah was in the aron in the Mishkan, it had to always be in the exact middle of the Jewish camp; not closer to one or further from another. This was so that all the Jews could have an equal share in it. Similarly, the Targum Onkelos (Bereishis 2:9) says that the eitz hachaim, the tree of life, in the Garden of Eden was in the exact middle of the garden. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that the Torah is the eitz chaim. The Torah gives us life! When we study the Torah diligently and observe it strictly, we receive spiritual reward. Even beyond that, it helps us overcome the hurdles of daily life. In a human body, life comes from the center of the body, from the heart, as it pumps blood throughout the body. Similarly, Torah is our eitz chaim, our lifeblood. Therefore, the Torah in its holy ark had to be in the middle of all the Jews.

“Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya said that Hashem wanted to confer merit upon the Jewish people; therefore, Hashem increased Torah and mitzvot for them.” (The final Mishna in Meseches Makkos. This Mishna is also repeated at the end of every perek of Pirkei Avos.)

The Sfas Emes says that the study of Torah and the performance of the mitzvos are Divinely conferred privileges, which we are fortunate to have.


The Torah is the source of spiritual and physical life for every single Jew.

It is equally accessible to each of us. Let’s take advantage of the golden opportunity!



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



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.