Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Balak: getting a new perspective

Parshat Balak

Balak brings Bilaam out to curse the Jews. When it does not pan out and Bilaam ends up blessing the Jews, Balak gets upset and finds a new location from which Bilaam could attempt to curse them. This happens a few times.

Why go to a different mountaintop to curse them?

Balak was trying to give Bilaam a different perspective each time.

If one time he looks at the Jews and can't curse them, maybe he needs to look at them from a "different angle". Maybe he needs some new perspective on the Jews, and that would arouse the ability to curse them.

We, too, have to be open to looking at things from a different perspective. If we are not successful at something, sometimes we just need to look at the problem from a different angle. Get a different perspective tto possibly understand better the issues.

Balak: they must have thought Bilaam was nuts

Parshat Balak

Balak tried to persuade Bilaam to come with him to curse the Jewish people. In 22:21 we find Bilaam finally agree to go with Balak's messengers, "וילך עם שרי מואב". As the story progresses, we read about how an angel stood in the path and the donkey had to veer off into the vineyard, while Bilaam was hitting it, the donkey spoke, Bilaam saw te angel and spoke to it.. etc. A series of very bizarre events.

Where were the Moabite officers during these bizarre happenings? What did they think of what was going on? They saw the donkey speak and did not think anything was out of the ordinary? Did they not see the angel - or did they think Bilaam was speaking to himself? They must have thought he was nuts!!

Maybe that is why the angel had to force the donkey off the path and into the middle of the vineyard. That afforded them some privacy so he could talk to Bilaam and so Bilaam could witness the miracle of the donkey speaking.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chukas: fitting emuna

Parshat Chukas

After the incident in which Moshe hit the rock to draw water instead of speaking to the rock, Hashem gives Moshe a punishment. In 20:12, Hashem tells Moshe, "Therefore you will not bring the nation [into the land of Israel]."

How does the punishment fit the crime? Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Ok, so he did not maximize the possible Kiddush Hashem. He did not teach them the highest level of emuna he could have. What does that have to do with bringing Bnei Yisrael into the Land of Israel?

Living in Eretz Yisrael is the ultimate level of emuna one can have. Especially after coming from a life of slavery, and the life of the people who grew up in the desert. To live in Eretz Yisrael requires great emuna that Hashem takes care of us and our needs.

If Moshe could not teach Bnei Yisrael that level of emuna, then he is not the right person to prepare them and bring them into Eretz Yisrael. They need someone who can raise them to the appropriate level of emuna.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chukas: a rep

Parshat Chukas

In 20:13 it tells us that, "
These are the waters of Meribah, where the children of Israel fought with the LORD, and He was sanctified in them."

But at the beginning of this incident in 20:2 it said they fought with Moshe. Did they fight with Moshe or with Hashem?

I would say, that is one and the same. Technically, they fought with Moshe, as the passuk first says. However, Moshe was a representative of Hashem to the people of Israel.

Picking a fight with Moshe is like picking a fight with Hashem.

Chukas: why didn't He kill them?

Parshat Chukas

In 20:2-8, we find Miriam has just died. With her went the "Well of Miriam" which had been the source of water for the Israelites.

the people find themselves in the desert with no water. They come to Moshe and complain that they have no water and how could he bring them in the desert to die... and Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the rock to draw out water for the nation.

What changed? In the previous few parshiyos, we encountered a number of incidents in which the people complained and Hashem punished them. He sent them plague to kill them, or too much meat, etc.. Why this time does Hashem provide them with water in this fashion instead of punishing them for the complaints like He did previous times?

Here they were complaining about a lack of water. In previous incidents they complained about a lack of luxuries , or about questioning leadership, etc.

The complaint here about lack of water is legitimate. People need water to live. It is a basic necessity. For this type of complaint there is no need to punish them.

Yes, it also might indicate a weak level of emuna - faith in Hashem's ability or capability to provide for them. They should have, after all they have seen and been through, been confident that Hashem would find them a new source for water.

That, however, is not a reason to punish them, rather a reason to educate them. Hashem has to now provide for them a lesson in emuna. That is why His response is not to just find them a pool of water in the desert. Rather, He makes it into a whole lesson. he brings them to a rock and instructs Moshe to draw water from the rock. That was going to be a lesson in emuna, at the same time as providing the water they needed.

Chukas: relaxed perfection

Parshat Chukas

In the beginning of the parsha, the Torah teaches us the concept of Para Aduma (red heiffer) and its details. In 19:2 the passuk tells us to take a "complete (faultless) red heifer" (פרה אדומה תמימה).

Rashi defines "temima" - faultless, or complete, as meaning it must be complete in its redness, being that if it would be found to have two black hairs, it would invalidate it from service as a red heifer.

One could extrapolate from that that one black hair would be acceptable. Only a minimum of two black hairs is a problem.

What's the difference one hair or two hairs? They are both so insignificant relative to the rest of the animal. If the minimum is going to be so small, why not make it even one hair, and if one hair is not a problem, why is two hairs a problem - maybe we should say only ten hairs?

There is no such thing as "perfect" in this world. The most perfect item will always have some sort of minor blemish. If you look hard enough you will find it. There is nothing perfect.

The Torah allows for a slight blemish in the red heifer, because if it did not, it would be impossible to ever have a red heifer. With one black hair we still call it "complete" and "perfect". That is the physical reality.

But once that blemish repeats itself, it can no longer be called "complete" or "perfect" even by our relaxed standards. One non-red hair will be ok, but more than that, means it is not just a slight aberration of perfection, but it is not perfect.

The same is true in our lives. Nobody is perfect. Do something once, and it can be overlooked as a slight aberration. Do it twice and it is indicative of a problem and can no longer be ignored.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Korach: they keep complaining

Parshat Korach

After the fight with Korach has been concluded, then a plague ran through the camp killing people, and Hashem stopped the plague, in 17:6 the passuk tells us how the people complained that Moshe Aand Aharon were killing off Gods nation, which leads to Hashem offering to Moshe that if he has had enough of them yet, He (God) would be willing to kill them all. He (God) is just waiting for the word from Moshe.

It is amazing how the people just keep on complaining. A group of people just complained a short while ago. They forced a confrontation, and even after Moshe warned them off they kept going, they all got killed with unusual deaths.

The past few Torah portions have given us other examples of the people's complaints and how Hashem dealt with them, often resulting in the deaths of the complainers.

The people complain and get killed. So how do they have the gall to complain yet again, especially after they just witnessed the horrific deaths of Korach and his group of supporters?

People like to complain. A leader has to know that before he takes the position as leader - he has to know that no matter what he does, no matter how much integrity he has, no matter how honest he is, the people he is leading will complain and kvetch.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shlach: part of the group

Parshat Shlach

In 14:6 it says, "ויהושע בן נון וכלב בן יפנה מן התרים את הארץ קרעו בגדיהם" - and Yehoshua and Calev, of those having spied out the land, tore their garments.

Don't we know they were 2 of the 12 spies already? Why does it have to tell us that they were of the spies?

Their report and whole attitude was completely different than that of the other 10 spies. One could be surprised to learn they were part of the same group of people. One could be shocked to see the differences between these two and the other 10. Maybe they were not really doing their job. Maybe they were just crazy right-wing fanatics with their own agenda to influence the decision to go into Israel.

The Torah reminds us that, no, they were not just trying to put on a good show on behalf of their friend Moshe. They were part of the group of spies. Everything the others saw and experienced, they also saw and experienced. They are tearing their garments because they know there is nothing wrong with the Land of Israel - they were the spies, so nobody knows it better than them.

Shlach: having an agenda

Parshat Shlach

In 13:21-33 we find the spies returning with a fairly negative impression and report of the Land of Israel. I find it astounding that being their report is so negative, why is it that none of their experiences are related to us? What happened to them that they had such a negative impression? The passuk simply says (aside from the one passuk about cutting down the cluster of grapes), "and they returned from spying out the land at the end of 40 days."

One would think, based on the negative reports they came back with, and the attitude that they are so against going into israel, that they must have experienced such traumatic and frightening events. Seen horrible things. Why does it not tell us a single negative event from their days of spying?

I suspect it might be because they did not experience any such negative or traumatic events.

I think their trip through the Land of Israel was probably relatively quiet and uneventful. The negative report was contrived based on their agenda. They had an agenda to recommend against going in, for whatever reason (many commentaries discuss their agenda).

It was not a result of any bad experiences or anything negative they might have seen while spying, just in order to justify their agenda.

Shlach: pure representation

Parshat Shlach

In 13:24 we find the spies having arrived at Nahal Eshkol, cutting down a cluster of grapes, some pomegranates and some figs and carrying them away. The spot is called Nahal Eshkol based on the cluster (eshkol in Hebrew) they cut down. Interestingly, the passuk says, "אשר כרתו משם בני ישראל"

Bnei Yisrael did not cut the grapes down - the 12 spies cut the grape cluster down. That is such a significant incident that it gets the place named for it? And even so, why not say that the spies cut the cluster, why say bnei yisrael cut the cluster?

When you appoint a shliach - a messenger, a representative, that shliach is representative of you. When the shliach performs his duty, it is as if the sender is performing his duty. He takes the identity, to a certain extent, of the person sending him.

This applies to leaders as well. When you select a leader - a President, Prime Minister, etc. that leader represents the people behind him. When he goes and meets with foreign heads of state and signs treaties and agreements, it is not him making the agreement, but the nations he represents.

That is why here it says Bnei Yisrael cut the cluster from there. Sure it was only the 12 spies doing it, but they represented the nation. And since Bnei Yisrael cut the cluster, that is a significant event, deserving of renaming the location.