Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Va'Eschanan: wanting to be in eretz yisrael

Parshat Va'Eschanan

This Monday is a very important day in the calendar. This Monday is Tu B’Av. The 15th of Av. On the 15th of Av we commemorate a number of events that took place in our history, and it is closely related to marriage and love.

In Israel Tu B’Av is celebrated by many Israelis as a form of Valentine’s Day. People will be giving their loved ones gifts and chocolates.

But there is another aspect to the significance of Tu B’Av. This Monday, Tu B’Av, is the first marker of the upcoming shemitta year. Tu B’Av is the first time one has to be concerned with shemitta. It is the cutoff date for planting new fruit trees. After Monday, in Israel, one can no longer plant fruit trees, until after the shemitta year is over.

In this week’s parsha, we read about how Moshe pleaded and prayed to Hashem to have his punishment rescinded. We know he was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael due to his having struck the rock rather than speaking to it. This was a terrible punishment for Moshe. He so desired to get into Eretz Yisrael that he tried everything he could to get Hashem to change his mind.

So he davens to Hashem. He says, “אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן: הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה, וְהַלְּבָנֹן.” Let me cross the Jordan and see the good land, the mountains and the Levanon, referring to the Beis Hamikdash… But Hashem said “No. and I have had enough of this. I do not want to hear anymore”

Many of the meforshim say that Moshe did not just want to go into Eretz Yisrael. He desired to go in because of the Mitzvos Ha’Tluyos Ba’Aretz. The special mitzvos that only apply in the Land of Israel. Moshe knew he would never have an opportunity to fulfill these, as he would not be going in. He pleaded with Hashem to let him in so he could have such an opportunity. These mitzvos are a nice chunk of the 613, and he did not want to be deprived of the opportunity of keeping shemitta, and giving trumah and maser, leaving peah and the rest of them…

That is a wonderful explanation of the passuk. But I think there is also something to the simple reading of the passuk. The passuk tells us how Moshe wanted to go in and see the Land. He wanted to see yerushalayim, see the Mikdash, see its goodness. He wanted to tour Israel. He just spent 40 years in the desert leading the Jews to Israel, constantly telling them how good the Land is. He desired to actually see it. This was his goal for the past 40 years.

Moshe wanted to sign up for a Birthright trip, or join a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, or even just to go in and go touring for a few days. He wanted to live in Eretz Yisrael, and of he could not then at least he should be able to see Eretz Yisrael.

A Jew might have great reasons for living in Chutz La’Aretz. But he should at least desire to live in eretz Yisrael, and if that is not feasible, then he should at least try to visit Eretz Yisrael. Even if he cannot, as Moshe could not, he should still make it his goal and objective. It should be at the forefront of his thoughts. He should do everything in his power to make it happen.

Tu B’Av is a good day to begin thinking about Eretz Yisrael, whether moving there or even just to come and visit. Tu B’Av is the first marker of shemitta. Think on Tu B’Av about all the mitzvos you cannot keep while living outside of Israel and how you really should be in Eretz Yisael. Think about how you should come for a visit and plan your aliya, even if right now you cannot do it. Make it a goal, or at least a consideration.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

D'Varim: timely mussar

Parshat D'Varim

Moshe begins a brief review of all the events that transpired since leaving Egypt. During this review he takes the opportunity to chastise the people for their complaints and actions during the time period in the desert and he implores them to improve their ways and dedication to the service of Hashem as they enter into the Land of Israel.

Moshe waited for this 11th hour moment to give them the mussar, rather than do so all along throughout the 40 years of wandering through the desert.

Rashi tells us a couple of reasons why Moshe waited until now, the last possible moment, as they are on the cusp of entering into the Land and Moshe is about to die:
  1. So he would not constantly be telling them off - just once at the end.
  2. after giving someone mussar, the relationship is often then strained. The rebuked will often try to avoid the rebuker, from embarrassment.
Moshe had to lead the nation. He had to build the people into a nation. Many did not want to be there and found things to complain about at every opportunity.

If Moshe would have given them mussar all along, they would have thought of him as a pest and would have begun to ignore him. They would also have avoided him whenever possible. He would not have been able to build the nation like that. He wisely led them through the desert and only at the end gave them the mussar, when he knew he would no longer be making them uncomfortable, as he would no longer be with them.

When giving someone mussar, one has to consider whether the time is opportune. Is it really the best time right now, or maybe later it will be even more effective? Will my mussar now be accepted or will it just push him away further?

The only way to succeed in giving mussar is by considering these questions and making sure your mussar is timed properly. That is what Moshe did.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Masei: sphere of influence

Parshat Mas'ei

In 35:6-8, after Hashem and Moshe just appointed Yehoshua and some Nesiim to be the executors of the division of Eretz Yisrael, the Torah talks about the cities of refuge. It says the Levite tribe would not receive a portion but would be allotted the 6 cities of refuge, along with an additional 42 cities spread out among Israel.

Why did they not get a portion like every other tribe? If any one tribe was deserving of being given a portion, it would be them! They were completely dedicated to the service of Hashem. They were the ones who never strayed from doing the right thing (aside from korach, but that was individuals). So why were they not given a portion, but spread out in specific cities taken form the portions of other tribes?

Maybe the reason is because the Leviim were so dedicated to the service of Hashem. Much more so that any other group or tribe.

If Hashem gave them a portion, they would be fairly isolated. they would continue living a life dedicated to Hashem and all would be very nice.

But by mixing them among all the other tribes, life can be even better. By not being isolated in their own portion, but by living among the other tribes, they can show the rest of the Nation how to live a life of dedication. They can teach the people. They can influence.

When one has what to offer, he should not remain isolated. he should share it with everyone else.

Matos: the impression formed

Parshat Matos

In Perek 32 we find the tribes of Reuven and Gad requesting from Moshe that they be allotted the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as it was lush grazing land and better for their flocks.

Moshe's response was that by requesting this, and if he would approve it, an impression will be formed in the minds of the rest of the nation. The impression would be that these tribes are avoiding participating in the coming battles, and that they found a better land than the Land of Israel, and, in a sense, are rejecting the Land of Israel. By creating this impression, others might be influenced to reject Eretz Yisrael and attempt to avoid entering.

There was nothing really wrong with the actual request. On its own merits, it stands as a reasonable request. The only problem Moshe had with it was the impression it gave over to others. For that side issue alone, Moshe would have rejected the request. It was only because they found a solution - i.e. to go in with the nation, fight the battles, and only afterwards go to reside on the eastern banks of the Jordan River - was their request approved.

There are two lessons (that are connected) I see in this story:
  1. We have to be careful of the impression we give over. Even if every other aspect of what we might be doing is fine, pure and logical, the impression (formed) is just as important a factor.
  2. In the big debate about whether Jews in America, or anywhere in the Diaspora for that matter, are really striving to live in Eretz Yisrael - maybe on its own it is not so bad to live in America and even to want to remain there. A person can have very valid reasons - parnassah, culture, friends, health, etc.. - to desire to remain in America. These people, however, should still be careful to not give the impression that they are rejecting Eretz Yisrael, rather they are preferring Diaspora for a very specific, possibly legitimate, reason. That is a big responsibility because while they prefer to live in America, they should not be the cause of other people following in their ways for less legitimate reasons.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pinchas: who done it?

Parshat Pinchas

In 25:14 the Torah tells us the name of the man who had committed the public act of indecency with a Midianite woman. Until now, when relating the incident, the Torah did not tell us who he was. It simply described him as a "Jewish man".

Rashi tells us that because it just told us who was the tzaddik - Pinchas - so it also tells us who was the rasha.

But at the end of Parshat Balak when it related the main part of the story it also related there who the tzaddik was, yet regarding the rasha it did not tell us his name, it called him a Jewish man without actually identifying him. Why not then but now yes?

Earlier, at the end of Parshat Balak, the Torah was relating the story of what happened. If at that time, as the story is happening, the Torah would tell us his name, we would see how important a person he was and what he was doing, it would give people an opportunity to "learn from him".

If, for example, you would see a Rabbi eating in a certain restaurant that you thought was questionable, you would probably say, "Oh, the Rabbi must have checked it out and found it to be ok. if he can eat there, I for sure can."

You see an important person, a leader, doing something that might be questionable ethically or morally, and you automatically say that if he is doing it it must be ok.

If we would have read the story knowing from the start that the offender was Zimri the Nassi, we would rationalize in our minds that what he was doing must have been ok. We would likely learn from him.

When it relates the story, it only tells us "a Jewish man", so we will not learn from him and follow in his ways. He is just a Jew who did something wrong. nothing special.

Now, in Parshat Pinchas, when it is validating the vengeance of Pinchas, it is ok, and even beneficial, to tell us who the offender was. Now that he has been punished, and Pinchas is being glorified for having meted out the punishment, nobody will take example from him. The risk has been negated. On the contrary, by saying his name now, people will see that even great people make mistakes, and they get punished for them. They do not have protexia from being punished.