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March 05 Kosherpages launches 

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Matos-Massei

Thursday, 8th July 2010

This weeks Torah portion tells of our going out to war against Midian.  The verse states that one thousand men from each tribe went out to battle.  The Sages add that an additional one thousand from each tribe went out to the battle-front to pray for victory.

Rabbi Chatzkel Levenstein asks, Why, if their victory was guaranteed by their being sent by Hashem (G-d), was Tfilah (prayer) necessary?  Why was it necessary to have one thousand people praying, an equal amount to the fighters?

Also, why was it necessary for them to go out to the fields to pray, where the fighting was taking place? Could they not pray in their home towns and villages?

He explains that what we see with our very own eyes is what we believe most. If the battle had been won without prayer, even with the fighters being extremely righteous people, there could have been an erroneous feeling of Kochi ve’otzem yodi (the strength of my own hand) has won the battle.

In order for them to clearly realise that the prayer was the only contributing factor to their victory, they needed to actually see the this prayer taking place. The equal amount of people praying were winning the battle!

Whilst we obviously need to have people physically fighting on the battle-front, our battles are ultimately won with our Tfilah (prayer), and our connection to Hashem (G-d).

Pinchas

Thursday, 1st July 2010

Zealotry is Like Radiation - It Can Be Useful But It Is Very Dangerous

This week's Torah portion speaks of when Pinchas performed a bold and zealous act on behalf of the Almighty, killing a couple involved in public promiscuity between a Jewish Tribal leader and a Moabite Princess, a desecration of G-d's Name. Pinchas was rewarded for his act of Sanctifying the Name of G-d and was granted the Covenant of Eternal Priesthood.

In addition to now being granted the priesthood, Pinchas was also blessed with the Covenant of Peace [Bamidbar 25:12]. The Netziv says that under normal circumstances, when a person kills another human being, that makes an indelible impression upon him. He is changed forever. The blessing granted to Pinchas as a reward for his exercise of violent zealotry to protect the honor of G-d, was that he did not incur any personal damage from this violent act. Since he acted for the sake of Heaven, his act did not have the normal effect it would otherwise have had.

The Netziv is saying that zealotry is very, very dangerous. It is like radiation. It can be used to heal and to treat cancers. But, if a person is exposed to radiation in the wrong way, it can kill him. Zealotry is like radiation. It has an effect on the person who uses it. Pinchas needed a special blessing to immunize himself, as it were, from the negative effects of the zealotry he had engaged in.

Golda Meir once said that she could forgive the Arabs for killing the Jews, but she could not forgive the Arabs for forcing the Jews to kill Arabs. Killing, even in a justified defensive war, ultimately has an effect on the national soul.

 
 

Balak

Thursday, 24th June 2010

Balak, King of Moav, sent messengers to Balaam asking him to curse the Jewish people, enabling him to then defeat them. Balaam received a command from G-d in a dream that he should not go with these people. When the people arrived to escort him, Balaam said "G-d refused to let me go with you" (Numbers 22:13). Rashi comments that Balaam was really sending a subtle message that G- d said, "I cannot go with you, but I may go with dignitaries of greater stature than you."

How come that G-d explicitly said not to go and yet Balaam went? Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz observes that although Balaam was a prophet, he interpreted the prophecy to fit his own designs. The root cause of error is that people ultimately hear what they want to hear.

The Talmud (Gittin 45a) relates a time that Rav Ilish was taken captive. One day a man who knew the language of birds sat next to him. A raven came and called to Rav Ilish who asked the man, "What is the bird saying?" The man answered, "Ilish run, Ilish run!" Rav Ilish said, "Ravens lie so I will not rely on him." Meanwhile, a dove came and called out. Rav Ilish again asked the man, "What is the bird saying?" The man answered, "Ilish run, Ilish run!" Rav Ilish knew that the dove would not lie and so he escaped successfully.

If Rav Ilish did not want to trust the raven, why would he trust this stranger and risk his life by attempting to escape? Maybe this stranger was misinterpreting, or even lying about, the bird's message? We may conclude that Rav Ilish knew bird language himself. Nevertheless, he consulted with the stranger to make sure that he heard correctly. He was afraid that perhaps he was hearing what he wanted to hear.

Throughout our lives we receive many messages that can help us improve ourselves. They may come from parents, teachers, mentors. The essential thing is to strip ourselves of our own personal agendas, so that we hear what they say, not what we want them to have said.
 

Chukas

Wednesday, 16th June 2010

This weeks Sedra (Torah portion), Chukas, contains the sin of the Mei Merivah (Waters of Strife). What exactly was Moshe's (Moses's) sin. This sin cost Moshe the privilege of entering Eretz Yisroel (Israel). According to many commentaries, the sin was that Moshe hit the rock rather than speaking to it.

There does not seem to be much difference between bringing forth water from a rock by hitting it, or by speaking to it. Why was it so important to speak to the rock? There must have been some specific lesson that the people were supposed to learn when Moshe spoke to the rock. What was that lesson?

Rabbi M Feinstein suggests that the lesson is that sometimes we have to speak to people who seem unreceptive to what we have to say, and we feel that we are speaking, if not to a rock, then at least to a wall. Rabbis have been doing this from time immemorial. This goes back to the days of the prophets. They speak, they speak, they speak and it is as if they are talking to a wall. Sometimes talking to children can also feel like talking to a wall. The intended message was that it is necessary to speak to others, even if it seems like you are speaking to a rock.

Sometimes we speak to our children and we think that they are not listening, but we need to keep speaking. We need to keep the dialog open. The lesson was so important to the Jewish People because it taught that even when a person speaks to a rock, there sometimes are results. This is a life-long lesson that we must always remember.

Korach

Thursday, 10th June 2010

In this week's Sedra (Torah portion) Korach's death is not mentioned explicitly, only that of his followers. The 250 people who joined Korach were burned to death. Whereas Doson and Avirom were swallowed alive in the earth. What happened to Korach? Where, when and how did he die?

There is an opinion that Korach did not die with those who were burnt or those swallowed by the earth, but that he died later in a plague. Another opinion says that Korach was both burnt and swallowed in to the earth. When the 250 people began to bring their Ketoress offering, Korach joined them and was consumed by fire. At that time he was standing near where the the earth was to open, which opened up for Doson and Avirom, and Korach rolled into the open pit.
According this second opinion, why did Korach received both punishments? A possible answer could be that if he had only been burnt and not swallowed,  Doson and Avirom could have complained, "Why were we swallowed up by the earth as only followers of Korach, while Korach himself was not?" If he would have been swallowed but not burnt, the 250 followers could have had a similar complaint, "Why were we burned as only followers of Korach, while Korach himself was not?" He therefore received both punishments.

Shelach

Monday, 7th June 2010

In this weeks Sedra (Torah portion) "Hashem (G-d) spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying, 'Send for yourself men and let them spy out the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel...'" These "men" that were being sent were people of high stature who were representatives of the tribes. Rashi explains that at the time that Moshe sent these individuals they were righteous. Only later when they were engaged in spying out the land did they become corrupt.

The Ohr HaChaim asks, if these men were all initially righteous and went to spy out the land with Hashem's approval, what caused them to become corrupt?

The Ohr HaChaim answers with a fundamental principle. When a person represents another individual as his agent he is affected to some degree by the mindset and thoughts of that person who appointed him. Since the motive of Klal Yisroel (The Children of Israel) was to be suspicious and distrustful of Hashem regarding the Promised Land, the spies were impacted by this negative intent. These qualities of the Jewish people, who they were representing, diminished the stature of these special "men".

To be a faithful Jew, our job is to carry out the commandments of Hashem and to do His Will. To benefit from His influence we must act as His agent without any ulterior motives.

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