Thursday, May 31, 2007

B'Haalotcha: a successful community

Parshat B'Haalotcha

In 11:28-29, after Moshe gathers 70 Elders of Israel leaving two behind, we find the two begin prophesying in the camp. Somebody (Gershom perhaps) sees and runs to tell Moshe. Yehoshua gets upset and asks permission to kill them off. Moshe responds - are you jealous for me? What would I give to have the whole nation as prophets of Hashem....

The natural reaction a person has to the success of other people is jealousy and an attempt to denigrate that person. The success of others is often perceived as a threat to you. To ensure your own success, you feel you have to knock down other people.

Moshe said that that is not the way. We must strive to be successful, but we should also be happy about the success of others. We should strive for their success, and we should encourage them to succeed. Their success should be seen as independent from yours. You can both be successful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

B'Haalotcha: acting on questions

Parshat B'Haalotcha

In 11:21-24 the passuk relays a conversation between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe says there are 600,000 people here and how can You just say You will give them meat for a month! Even if You shechted all the cattle and brought them all the fish from the sea it would not be enough for a months worth of food! So how can You make such a promise?

It seems that Moshe also doubts Hashem's ability to provide and to come through on His promises. So what makes MOshe better than the rest of the Jews, that he is their leader?

According to the Sifri brought in Rashi, this question only applies according to the explanation of the passuk given by Rabbi Akva who understands it according to the simple meaning, as I described it above. According to Rabbi Shimon there is no question because he understands it differently.

So, according to the simple reading of the passuk, and according to Rabbi Akiva, how could Moshe have these doubts, and if he did,what made him better than the rest?

People are allowed to have questions. Having emuna, faith, in Hashem and the Torah does not mean one cannot have questions. It does mean that those questions do not sway his observance of the mitzvos and following Hashem's words.

So maybe Moshe did have questions and doubts. Maybe he did not understand how everything worked. But Moshe had emuna and he acted on the emuna and not on the questions. The rest of the people kvetched and acted on their questions. That is the difference.

B'Haalotcha: someone else is picking up the tab

Parshat B'Haalotcha

In 11:4-5 we are told about the Jews complaining that they did not have meat. They say, "מי יאכלנו בשר. זכרנו את הדגה אשר נאכל במצרים" - who will feed us meat? we remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the gourd, the melons, etc....

Rashi tells us they had plenty of meat available - the Torah told us earlier about the herds of cattle they took with them out of Egypt, but they were simply looking to complain.

They complain about the lack of meat, but then they remember and refer to what they ate in Egypt and there is no mention of meat. They ate fish and vegetables in Egypt. So why are they complaining about the lack of meat now if they never had meat anyway?

The complaint is "Who will feed us meat". Since they left Egypt, the have gotten used to having everything handed to them on a silver platter. They have not had to do anything. Hashem takes care of all their needs. They put forth no effort at all for anything other than serving Hashem.

They got used to having a free ride and that is why they are not willing to use their own animals for meat. Let Hashem give us meat, why should we use up our own!! Not only that, but when people get things for free on a regular basis, they lose the perception of the giver.

If one works for a living and has to buy food from his own money, he is careful not to overspend, and to buy within his budget and this type of food rather than that type of food. But when somebody gets used to having everything covered and he has nothing to worry about and no responsibilities, he wants the best. After all, it is not his money he is spending - it is someone else's. He loses the perception of what is necessary and what is extra.

In Egypt they never ate meat. But in Egypt they had to work for their food. In the desert they were handed everything with no effort on their part, so now they need meat. On someone else's tab it is easy to insist on luxuries.

B'Haalotcha: even the small things are important

Parshat B'Haalotcha

At the beginning of the parsha, Aharon is commanded as to the methodology of placing the wicks and lighting them in the menora in the mishkan. In 8:3 the passuk says, "ויעש כן אהרן" - and Aharon did so.

Rashi says on this verse, that it shows us the praiseworthiness of Aharon that he did not deviate from the instructions.

This leaves an opening for the question I have asked a number of times before - We know Aharon never deviated from instructions, especially regarding the mishkan. The passuk has told us so many times already, and Rashi points out each time that this is his praise for not deviating. So, why does Rashi have to say this, and why does the passuk need to praise Aharon for not deviating?

I think the reason might be because of the subject matter involved. The subject matter here is the menora and specifically the wicks of the menora, and their placement. One might think that maybe it is not a big deal exactly how the wicks are put in and lit. It i sa pretty mundane issue. Maybe if the kohen (Aharon in this case) finds it easier to light them in a different order, or to clean the old wicks out or place the new wicks in dofferent orders or methods, maybe he would feel it is such a mundane issue and he can do it as he sees it being most convenient.

After all, it is not like it is such a major thing. It is just the wicks!

But no - even on such a "minor" issue as the wicks of the menora, Aharon still did not deviate from the instructions Hashem had given him. That is his praise - that he totally gave himself up to doing things according to instruction and even on the small things he was "mivatel" his own da'as.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Naso: not getting out of hand

Parshat Naso

The last section of the parsha goes through the donation of korbanot the nesiim gave at the dedication of the mishkan. All 12 gave the same exact donation.

Rashi tells us why the nesiim were so quick to be the first to participate with a donation at the dedication ceremony. he tells us that for the building of the mishkan the nesiim had said they would let the people give first and they would give whatever was lacking afterwards. It turned out the people gave so much there was nothign left for the mesiim to give. They were upset they missed the oportunity to participate, so now they jumped forward right away.

But why and how did they all give the same exact thing? This was not base don a commandment that they had to bring a specific korban, so how did all 12 individually think of the same exact korban?

I think they must have gotten together and decided what to bring. That way it would not "get out of hand".

Think of it similar to the "wedding takkanos" of Agudas Yisrael in America. Weddings were getting out of hand as each person needed to outdo the one before him. So Aguda made rules and now nobody should feel the need to outdo the other guy and spend beyond his means.

The same here. If they each would bring their own thing, the first guy would bring, let's say, one cow. The second guy would say,"That's all he brought? I will bring 2 cows." The next guy would then bring 5 cows and 2 sheep. The next would bring 10 cows and 15 sheep. etc.

It would get out of hand, so they agreed that they would each bring the same exact ste of korbanos.

I did see a pshat that despite the fact that they each brought their own korbano, they were still brought with the individual style and "kavanos" of the specific tribe.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bamidbar: functioning properly and efficiently

Parshat Bamidbar

In this weeks parsha, we see a detailed description of the formation of the Jewish Nation in their tribal groups for the travelling through the desert.

I think we can learn a lesson from the detail. Bnei Yisrael could have travelled in a large mass of people, with everyone walking with their friends and family and whoever they wanted. Nothing really would have been wrong with that. So why didn't they travel like that? Why were the instructions of where everyone should be so specific?

I think we can learn a lesson from thsi that everyone has his place in the community. Everybody has what he is supposed to do and where he is supposed to be. Haphazard is no good. We need order and direction in order to function properly and efficiently.

Bamidbar: Moshe's children

Parshat Bamidbar

during the lineage of the family of Levi, it says "These are the generations (children) of Aharon and Moshe..." and it goes on to list the children of Aharon, and not the children of Moshe.
Rashi tells us that we learn from the fact that it calls the children of Aharon as being also the children of Moshe that one who teaches someone else Torah, it is as if that person is his child. So the children of Aharon were also the children of Moshe, because Moshe taught them Torah.

That is very nice, but what about the actual children of Moshe? Why do they not get mentioned at all? It is listing the children of all the Levite families, so why not list Moshe's children as well?

We did not have an answer for this. I saw one answer about how Moshe's children had stayed behind with Yisro in Midian. I do nto remember why, but I did not like that answer, as they are still Moshe's children and should have been mentioned...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

B'chukosai: protection money

Parshat B'chukosai

In the middle of the section of the tochacha, in 26:23-24, Hashem says, "וְאִם-בְּאֵלֶּה--לֹא תִוָּסְרוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, קֶרִי. וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף-אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם, בְּקֶרִי; וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם גַּם-אָנִי" - and if despite all this you still walk with Me in happenstance, I will walk with you in happenstance and I will smite you...

That does not exactly sound like בקרי - happenstance. b'keri sounds like whatever happens happens. It does not seem like it should include "I will smite you". This sounds not b'keri, but against. So how does that last phrase fit with what Hashems says that he will go with us b'keri?

The natural result of Hashem not going with us full-time, is our being punished. We have only survived the generations because of Hashem's protection. If we stop doing the mitzvos, and subsequently Hashem stops offering us His portection, but goes with us b'keri, we will be hit.

We deserve to be hit, in that situation, and have no protection from Hashem. So, yes, being hit is a natural result of b'keri.

B'har: on equal footing

Parshat B'har

In 25:35-36 the Torah says, "וכי ימוך אחיך ...והחזקת בו.. וחי אחיך עמך" - when your brother shall become poor.. and you should support him.. that your brother should live with you. The passuk goes on to talk about not charging interest, etc.

It is not enough to give a little tzedakka. You have to support your fellow Jew who became poor. "Your brother should live with you." You have to support him enough that he can live with you. On equal footing.

Don't make him sell his house and move to a lower class neighborhood. Help him get by and back on his own feet while continuing to be part of the community with respect.

The gemara says that one must support a fellow jew with tzedakka to live at the level he is accustomed to.

Your brother shall live with you. Don't just support him to help him live. Supprot him at the level that he can continue living with you. On equal footing.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Emor: from rags to riches

Parshat Emor

The Torah is going through various details of the various holidays. It discusses the Omer offerings and upon arriving at the end of the Omer count (i.e. Shavuos), one has to bring a sacrifice called "shtei ha'lechem" - the two loaves. In 23:17 the Torah tells us, "מִמּוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם תָּבִיאּוּ לֶחֶם תְּנוּפָה, שְׁתַּיִם שְׁנֵי עֶשְׂרֹנִים--סֹלֶת תִּהְיֶינָה, חָמֵץ תֵּאָפֶינָה: בִּכּוּרִים, לַיהוָה" or in English, "Ye shall bring out of your dwellings two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, for first-fruits unto the LORD."

This korban had a very unusual detail that makes it practically unique. It was made from chametz - leaven. It is one of two korbanos that contain leaven (the second is the korban Toda). All other sacrifices, including all the various mincha offerings, including the lechem ha'panim, including all other dough that would be offered in avrious forms in the mikdash, were leaven free. Kosher for Passover. Matza, albeit it thick and soft usually.

What is the significance of this sacrifice, the "Two Loaves" being made from chametz, unlike almost every other korban?

This offering, the שתי הלחם, is brought at the conclusion of the omer. The Omer count began on Pesach and concludes on Shavuos. In a sense, the Omer is the bridge between Pesach and Shavuos.

Pesach is יציאת מצרים - the Exodus from Egypt. Shavuos is מתן תורה - the giving of the Torah. Omer, the bridge between them, is the process of leaving Egypt and working towards מתן תורה. It is the time to prepare for the receiving of the Torah.

On Pesach we ate לחם עוני - poor man's bread, a.k.a. the Bread of Affliction. We eat the matza to remember the days of slavery and oppression. By doing so we recall the process of leaving Egypt and leaving that oppression behind. Shavuos is when we finally hit the target and got the Torah. That is when we ultimately became free and a nation.

To symbolize this we offer the rare sacrifice with חמץ - the opposite of poor man's bread. This is the bread of the free and the wealthy. The un-oppressed. Rich man's bread, if you must. When we get to Shavuos we can finally say the עוני of מצרים is behind us.

We start with poor man's bread, we work towards our freedom and we end with rich man's bread.