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Pinchas

Thursday, 5th July 2018

Rashi explains that while the face of Moshe (Moses) was comparable to the sun, the face of Yehoshua (Joshua) wasn’t quite as great and was similar only to the moon. On this, the Gemora (Talmud) in Bava Basra (75a) adds that upon recognizing this, the elders of the generation remarked “woe to us for this humiliation”. It is difficult to understand why they only felt shamed upon noting this distinction, and why specifically Yehoshua made them feel this way and not the even greater Moshe. 

Rabbi Itzele Volozhiner and the Chofetz Chaim compare this to a case of a rich businessman who arrives one day in a small rural village, asking if anybody would be interested in becoming his partner in a new project. The businessman offered to put up all of the necessary funds and expertise, but merely desired a hard worker to assist him with managing and running the business. Most of the residents were content with their simple lifestyles and were sceptical about the man’s promises of fame and fortune, so they passed on the offer. One simple, illiterate villager decided that he had nothing to lose, and agreed to become the man’s partner. A few years later, the pair returned to visit the village, arriving in an impressive carriage and dressed in a manner which clearly revealed the success of their project. At this sight, the villagers were mortified and ran to hide . 

They explained that they weren’t embarrassed by the wealthy entrepreneur, as they felt that his education and resources gave him advantages that they could only dream of. They were, however, quite shamed at the sight of the success and riches which had met their former neighbour, as they remembered all too well that they had been offered the same opportunity as he, but only he was wise enough to take advantage of it. The recognition of what they had had the ability to become and their failure to do so generated powerful feelings of humiliation. 

Similarly, the Jews in the wilderness never measured themselves against the levels reached by Moshe, as they viewed the pious family into which he was born and the elevated soul with which he was blessed (as he lit up the house with light upon his birth) as bestowing upon him opportunities for greatness that they could never fathom. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehuda Zev Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva (College Dean), notes that Yehoshua was neither the wisest nor the greatest of the generation. The Ramban (13:4) writes that the spies are listed in descending order of greatness, which means that Yehoshua was only 5th out of the 12 spies. The Baal HaTurim (13:3) writes that each of the spies was only a leader of 50 Jews, meaning that there were many greater Jews who led groups of 100 or even 1000. 

Rather, Rashi explains (27:16) that Yehoshua was chosen on the basis of his devoted service of Moshe throughout the 40 years in the desert. Upon recognizing this, the Jews became aware of the levels which could be reached when a person who had been just like them used his talents to their fullest. The Vilna Gaon writes that the most excruciatingly painful experience a person goes through after his death is when he is shown a picture of what he was capable of and destined to become had he maximized his potential, which will stand in stark contrast to what he actually accomplished, and it was this humiliation that the Jews experienced upon the inauguration of Yehoshua as Moshe’s successor.

Balak

Friday, 29th June 2018

A sword-bearing angel came to obstruct Bilam from going to curse the Jewish people. What was the identity of this angel?  Rashi (22;22) cites a commentary which says he was the angel of mercy and was coming to prevent Bilam from sinning. 
 
Says Rabbi Pam: If one were to imagine an ‘angel of mercy,’ one would probably picture an ethereal, white, florescent being with a halo hovering over them, whilst we would picture an ‘angel of death’ as dark, etc. with a sword.  Here, however, the angel of mercy appears with a sword. 
 
The message is that what might appear to be an angel of destruction may actually be the angel of mercy.  In other words, what one might ordinarily and initially brand as a disappointment, collapse, or failure, might really be HaShem (G-d) dealing with mercy in disguise.  This goes for a failed business venture, a shidduch (match) which broke off, or other disappointments in life too.  Perhaps the business would have failed later anyway and lost more money, or perhaps this couple was just not meant to be anyway and save more serious pain which would have occurred later on - the failings here were really HaShem protecting the person, we were the ones who failed to see it that way. They were undercover angels of mercy .

As a true story in illustrates, there is a small shul in the centre of New York City with a regular minyan (quorum) for shacharis (morning prayers). Now one morning a few years ago a highly unusual thing happened. There were only nine men there. So they waited a bit for a tenth man even though they had to get to work. 
 
After several minutes, an old Jew showed up. He insisted to lead the davening (prayers), the others agreed. However, he was taking such a long time the other nine were starting to show frustration; 'Who does he think he is? Does he not realise we have to be at work already?’ 
 
Suddenly they heard a massive explosion and an overwhelming crashing sound. They went towards the door to see what had happened. It was September 11, and the nearby World Trade Center Towers had been attacked. Some of the people at this minyan would have been inside the Twin Towers if shacharis had been on time and finished with normal speed. 
 
They felt the relief as they had realised their lives had been saved by this 'new chazzan - leader.'  As they turned around to thank him, they realised he had gone, and he has not been seen since. The point is that these people felt rather frustrated at the speed [or lack of it] of the chazzan, but they did not realise that it was HaShem’s means of ultimately saving their lives.

The truth is that it seems that everybody has their own individual story of Divine Providence in their own lives, and how something that they thought was destructive turned out to be constructive in the long term. It depends on one’s attitude and bitachon (trust).
 
Two Chassidishe (Chassidic) Rabbis were put in prison in Russia in the early part of the last century for false accusations. In this prison there was no toilet, just a bowl in the middle of the cell which all the inmates were to use to relieve themselves.

The time came for shacharis, and the Rabbis were extremely upset.  One may not daven (pray) in the proximity of excretion. One of the Rabbis turned to the other and made the following point: ‘when was the last time we were ever able to fulfil the halacha (Jewish law) of not davening when there is excretion around,’ he continued ‘we should not be sad, it is a merit that we can fulfil this halacha!’

The two Chassidishe Rabbis in a prison cell were found by the guard dancing joyfully and fervently around a bowl of excretion - a dance in celebration of fulfilling a halacha.  In fact, the prison guard was so perturbed and irate that there should be such joy and noise in the prison cell, that he went in and forcibly removed the bowl.  The Rabbis stopped dancing and davened shacharis - ‘now we can fulfil the mitzvah and halachos of shacharis too!’ was the excited call.

Rav Ya’akov Kamenetzky would tell this with his personal story; he was vying for a position in the Rabbinate in a town in eastern Europe during the 1930s, and the other candidate was chosen above him, and so a disappointed and despondent Rav Ya’akov made his way to America; to ultimately become a hugely successful leader of the immediate and wider /national community there. Unfortunately, the fate of the other ‘chosen’ Rabbi was that he was killed in the Holocaust together with his entire town. Rav Ya’akov would essentially point out that what he initially thought was a disappointment, turned out to be the malach shel rachamim.

What we initially think is a disappointment, can often turn out to be the malach shel rachamim (the Angel of Mercy).  This is not a deep, complex, or complicated message, but a very practical and effective one to try and internalise.

 

Chukas

Wednesday, 20th June 2018

This week’s 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 Moshe 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, not to hit them.

Korach

Thursday, 14th June 2018

Korach had 3 sons Assir, Elkana, and Aviassaf. These sons, however, were saved from the calamity. It is interesting to note that these sons are referred to as "the sons of Korach", namely in the Psalms. (Refer to Psalm 45, ect) 

A very curious question can be asked, we find in the Talmud Baba Mezia59b the following statement: " If there is a case of hanging in one's family record, say not to him, "hang this fish up for me". This might cause a person to be shamed because of its hurtful reference. So why do we refer to the sons of Korach as the "sons of Korach", isn't this derogatory and shameful to associate these righteous men with reference to their father's shameful rebellion?

In the Yalkut Shimoni 752, it states the following about the sons of Korach: " When Moshe came to visit Korach in order to somehow persuade him not to rebel, the sons of Korach found themselves in a dilemma , " If we stand up for Moshe in order to honour him, we will offend our father. If we remain seated, on the other hand, we transgress the Mitzvah of giving honour to a Torah Scholar. They decided to fulfil the Torah commandment , and arose in honour of Moshe even if their father would be angry."(end of quote)

This took great courage on their part. Its often not easy to go against the flow, yet the sons of Korach were unique in that they were seekers of truth. This is what saved them - an honest conviction to do what's right.

It is precisely for this reason they are known as the sons of Korach. They were surely influenced greatly by their father, and the very movement he started against Moshe and Aaron. Even so, they sought to do what was right in the face of tremendous adversity. By calling them the "sons of Korach", we are in actuality praising them for their courage . There were no other men who were so under the influence of their father than these 3 men, yet they found a way to do what was right. By calling them the 'sons of Korach", we emphasize this very fact.

Every person is being pulled by the "fads" of his time and location. yet somehow we need to still be able to retain a sense of free will to do what is right in the face of adversity. The sons of Korach should be examples to us all.

Shelach Lecha

Wednesday, 6th June 2018

They reported to him and said, “We arrived at the land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But – the people that dwells in the land is powerful, the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant.

On the surface, it seems that the Meraglim (spies) did nothing wrong in describing what they had seen. They had been sent to make their own observations – whether the land was good or bad and if the people that dwell in it are strong or weak; and that is exactly what they had reported back. It seems that they could not be faulted for reporting the truth as they had seen it. What then was the reason for their punishment? 

You get a phone call about a certain boy for a potential shidduch (match). The boy is slightly overweight and has no teeth. Your phraseology in your response could make or break the shidduch. If your response is, “The boy is extremely intelligent, very kind, and very social, but he is overweight and has no teeth”. You are implying that his negative qualities outweigh all of his good attributes. The term “but” negates all that which was previously stated. However, if your response is, “Listen, this guy is slightly overweight and has no teeth, but he is extremely intelligent , very kind, and very social”, you are implying that despite his negative traits he is still an unbelievable prospect.

Although the Meraglim gave over the report exactly as they have seen it, the fact that they mentioned the word “EFESS – BUT”, revealed that they had a personal agenda. In a purely factual report there was no need for such a qualifier; they should have continued to state the facts. By using a word that implied a contradiction to the optimism of their first two sentences, they were, in effect, telling the nation that no matter how rich and blessed the land was, it was beyond their reach; the inhabitants were just too strong and their cities too invincible. It was the way the Meraglim phrased their report that caused their punishment. 

One can apply this principle when complimenting or praising. If one says for example, “The steak was unbelievable, but it tasted a bit raw” or “You’re a great guy, but you are annoying”, he has negated the entire compliment. He is implying that the positive is irrelevant in comparison to the negative. Never put a compliment and but in the same sentence.

 

Behaalosecha

Wednesday, 30th May 2018

"Make for yourself two silver trumpets... and they shall be YOURS for the summoning of the assembly." (10:1)

The gemara - Talmud (Menachot 28b) teaches that all of the vessels that Moshe (Moses) made could be used by later generations as well. However, the trumpets were for Moshe to summon the nation and could not be used by subsequent leaders.

Why? What was different about the trumpets?

Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger suggests that there is a simple lesson here. The way that the leader of one generation calls his flock and relates to his congregants will not necessarily work for the leader of the next generation.

Nasso

Tuesday, 22nd May 2018

The Torah goes to great lengths to repeat the Korbanos (offerings) of each Nasi (Prince). It would have been much shorter to just write the offering once and then say that all the Nesi'im (Princes) brought the same Korbanos.  Why the lengthy repetition?

Many times we find that people who want to do an act of "passion" feel that they must "out do" what everyone else is doing and go one step further. If someone spends £900 for a pair of Teffilin (Phylacteries) then I must spend £900 plus 1 in order to do even better.

The Torah is telling us that each Nasi brought the exact same Korban (offering) as his fellow Nasi. There was no need to out-do each other to be great.  Each Nasi would be able to have his own special Kavanos (thoughts and intentions) when bringing his korban, however, the visible portion was the same for all.
 
This teaches us that we can do the identical action as everyone else, yet still have individual greatness!

Bamidbar - Shevuoth

Thursday, 17th May 2018

"Count the sons of Levi according to their fathers’ household, according to their families, every male from one month age and up shall you count them (Bamidbar 3;14)" 

The counting of the tribe of Levi was different to the counting to that of every other tribe. The children of Israel were to be counted “from twenty years upwards”, yet, the members of the tribe of Levi, were counted from one month upwards. Why is the tribe of Levi different? 
 
Counting a person means that he is reckoned as part of the community. We do not normally reckon infants and children into the count of those who have accepted Jewish responsibilities upon themselves, since although they might have been educated by parents and teachers to make Judaism the main part of their life, it is not certain that they will continue to do so as adults. Therefore, for the tribes of Israel only those who were twenty and upwards can be counted truly as part of the community. 

The tribe of Levi, however, were different. The whole essence of the Levites was to be the bearers of Jewish service and Jewish learning. They therefore could be relied upon to imbue their young with absolute loyalty to Judaism. From the age of one month old the members of Levi were reckoned in the counting of their tribe, since it was known that by the age of 20 they would definitely still be on board with Jewish commitment. 

The tribe of Levi shows us the way. In these current times, when our people is under attack, we must imbue our young with love of Torah from an early age, and thereby ensure their Jewish loyalty and commitment.

Behar-Bechukosai

Wednesday, 9th May 2018

The first half of Behar deals with various laws regarding "Shmita" . In short, the commandment of "Shmitta" is that in the 7th year all agricultural activities ceases, and the land of Israel lies fallow.

The land will give its fruit and you will eat to satisfaction...And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Behold, we will not sow and we will not gather our crops’, I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years (25:19-21)

Hashem (G-d) promises that if someone keeps the Shmitta year by not harvesting his field or gathering crops, he will be blessed in the year preceding the Shmitta and he will reap enough food to last the next three years.  From the verse quoted above it sounds like Hashem is giving a blessing to someone who does not trust fully in Him.  What is the explanation of these verses?

Rashi explains that the blessing of “satisfaction” that one receives from observing the Shmitta is that “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing”, which means that one will be satiated after eating only a small amount. When the Torah then says “And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year?’” and continues to detail the blessing, one will note that the blessing is that there will be “crop sufficient for the three years”. 

The Sforno explains that any person who keeps Shmitta will be blessed with enough to eat for three years.  However, the initial blessing of “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing” is reserved for someone who trusts in Hashem and does not question His ways.  This person will see the same small crop for one year but find that it lasts him three years.  If however, he questions Hashem and asks ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Because he kept the Shmitta, he still receives the blessing of having enough to eat for the three years, but when this person will receive enough crop in the first year to last for three years, he will receive the quantity of three years worth of food.  This person will have to work three times as hard on all of his fields in the sixth year, whereas the person who trusts in Hashem will not even have to work any harder in the sixth year and he will receive the same amount (qualitatively) as the one who questioned Hashem.

Emor/Lag B'Omer

Tuesday, 1st May 2018

One of the most disheartening episodes that occurred during the 40-year desert sojourn is recorded in this week’s parsha (Torah portion). A man quarrelled with a fellow Jew and left the dispute in a rage. He reacted by blaspheming Hashem (G-d). This abhorrent behaviour was so aberrant that no one even knew what the punishment was!
 

So Hashem reviewed the grievous penalty for the deplorable act. As in any society, the ultimate act of treason was met with a capitol sentence. The Torah declared a death penalty. But curiously enough, Hashem does not leave it at that. When the Torah reveals the penalty for the heinous act of blasphemy, it continues:
 

“And one who blasphemes the name of Hashem shall be put to death … and if a man inflicts a mortal wound in his fellow man, he shall be put to death. If he inflicts damage then restitution shall be paid. The value of an eye for the loss of an eye, the value of a break for a break and the value of a tooth for the loss of a tooth. And one who wounds an animal must be made to pay. (Leviticus 24:15-21)

Shouldn’t blasphemy be in a league of it own? Surely the act of affronting G-d Almighty cannot be equated with attacking human beings. And surely it has no place next to the laws of injurious action towards animals!

Rabbi Y’honasan Eibeschutz one of Jewry’s most influential leaders during the early 1700s, was away from his home for one Yom Kippur and was forced to spend that holy day in a small town. Without revealing his identity as Chief Rabbi of Prague, Hamburg, and Altoona, he entered a synagogue that evening and surveyed the room, looking for a suitable place to sit and pray.
 

Toward the centre of the synagogue, his eyes fell upon a man who was swaying fervently, tears swelling in his eyes. “How encouraging,” thought the Rabbi, “I will sit next to him. His prayers will surely inspire me.”
 

It was to be. The man cried softly as he prayed, tears flowed down his face. “I am but dust in my life, Oh Lord,” wept the man. “Surely in death!” The sincerity was indisputable. Rabbi Y’honasan finished the prayers that evening, inspired. The next morning he took his seat next to the man, who, once again, poured out his heart to G-d, declaring his insignificance and vacuity of merit.

During the congregation’s reading of the Torah, something amazing happened. A man from the front of the synagogue was called for the third aliyah, one of the most honourable aliyos (call ups) for an Israelite, and suddenly Rabbi Eibeschutz’s neighbour charged the podium!

“Him!” shouted the man. “You give him shlishi (the third aliya)?!” The shul (Synagogue) went silent. Reb Y’honasan stared in disbelief. “Why I know how to learn three times as much as he! I give more charity than he and I have a more illustrious family! Why on earth would you give him an aliyah over me?”
 

With that the man stormed back from the bimah (podium) toward his seat.

Rabbi Eibeschutz could not believe what he saw and was forced to approach the man. “I don’t understand,” he began. “Minutes ago you were crying about how insignificant and unworthy you are and now you are clamouring to get the honour of that man’s aliyah?”

Disgusted the man snapped back. “What are you talking about? Compared to Hashem I am truly a nothing.” Then he pointed to the bimah and sneered, “But not compared to him!”

Perhaps the Torah reiterates the laws of damaging mortal and animals in direct conjunction with His directives toward blasphemy. Often people are very wary of the honour they afford their spiritual guides, mentors and institutions. More so are they indignant about the reverence and esteem afforded their Creator. Mortal feelings, property and possessions are often trampled upon even harmed even by those who seem to have utmost respect for the immortal. This week the Torah, in the portion that declares the enormity of blasphemy, does not forget to mention the iniquity of striking someone less than Omnipotent. It links the anthropomorphic blaspheming of G-d to the crime of physical damage toward those created in His image. It puts them one next to each other. Because all of Hashem’s creations deserve respect.

Even the cows.

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