Thursday, July 31, 2008

Masei: women of great fortitude

Parshat Masei

In 36:10-11, it says the daughters of Tzlafchad did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and they married their cousins.

From the fact that it says this only after the representatives of Menashe petitioned Moshe on the subject, and from how it says it here that they did as Hashem commanded and married their cousins, I would suggest that we can deduce that the girls originally intended to marry out of the tribe and not marry their cousins. Perhaps that is why the reps of Menashe felt the urgency in suddenly petitioning Moshe - they were about to lose that portion.

The passuk here testifies that they did as Hashem commanded. They did not come forward with counter-arguments. they could have argued that they should not be limited, they could have said the case was already decided with no such condition, etc. They could have put forth a number of arguments. but they did not. They did as Hashem commanded, and married their cousins.

This is a testimony to their great fortitiude, and to their integrity in the sense that they were all along really just trying to do the right thing, and not personally profit from the loophole. They changed their plans, they cancelled their plans with whomever they were considering marriage, they made no peeps or complaints about it. They simply did what Hashem said to do.

We should all be so honest and deal with such integrity in our dealings.

Masei: righting a wrong

Parshat Masei

In 35:5-6 the representatives of the tribe of Menashe come complaining that by giving Tzlafchad's portion in Israel to his daughters, they are hurting the tribe of Menashe - the girls will marry out, and the land will follow them to the husbands tribe.

Moshe agrees and makes a stipulation that the girls should only marry within the tribe of Menashe.

Why did Moshe not respond to them that it is too late - they should have argued this when he first brought the issue up before God? Nobody mentioned such an issue then, so what right do they have to limit the girls now after the case has already been decided and closed?

A person has to not be afraid to do the right thing. Even if that means re-visiting something previously decided. Even if it means looking at something previously discussed in a new light. If something was done unjustly, it should be fixed. The wrong must be righted. If there is a way to do so, if the wrong can possibly be righted, even if it seems unfair, like to impose conditions on Tzlafchad's daughters well after they were given their freedom, a person must have the courage to step in and right that wrong.

That is what Moshe did. Yes, he had already told the girls the inheritance is theirs. Now he heard of a new issue and had to find a way to make sure his previous decision did not hurt the greater community, and that required imposing a new condition. It is never too late to right a wrong.

Masei: affecting others

Parshat Masei

In 35:34 it says, "ולא תטמא את הארץ... אשר אני שכן בתוכה כי אני ה' שכן בתוך בני ישראל" - do not defile the land... that I dwell within it, for I Hashem dwell amongst Israel.

We live in a global village of sorts. Nothing we do is contained and limited to our own sphere of influence. Everything has an affect on the greater community.

Hashem says don't defile the land that you live in, because I live there too.

In other words, your actions do not affect only you, but other people as well. And Hashem as well. So when doing things, any thing, one must consider the ramifications of his actions, and not just the ramifications that will be to him, but how it will affect other people as well...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Matos: not making them resent you

Parshat Matos

One point, among the many, that jumps out at me from the discussion between the tribes of Gad and Reuven and between Moshe is this - the impression of being unified. Of feeling, and knowing, that everyone is contributing to the whole of the nation equally.

the whole problem with their taking the parcel of land in the Eiver HaYarden was that the rest of Israel would think they do not want a part of the land, and that they are trying to avoid fighting in the wars alongside the rest of Israel.
Moshe is concerned the people will see them setting up their homes while they themselves are about to embark on a lengthy battle to conquer the Land of Israel, and he knows that they will come to resent Gad and Reuven. They will call them shirkers. They will say they are living off our backs and blood.

The whole discussion, and the agreement they worked out, was based on this premise; to avoid a situation where the rest of Israel would resent them, even if only because of a false impression.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pinchas: public and private sin

Parshat Pinchas

In 27:3, as the daughters of Tzelafchad ae presenting their case why they should be allowed to inherit the lands of their deceased father, they say, "[Our father] was not among the congregation..."

Rashi explains their words that Tzelafchad had died for a private sin, not for participation in the sin of Korach or that of the complainers.

The daughters of Tzelafchad are making a very important distinction for us. There is a big difference between doing something in public and between doing something in private.

What is the difference? Either way it was a sin whose punishment was that of death!

They are telling us that when a sin is committed in public, where it can possibly influence other people, that is so much more serious. When done in private, it is between man and God and nobody else is involved or influenced.

Therefore a private sin, while still deserving of death, will have less serious consequences and ramifications.

And ultimately their claim was accepted by Hashem

Pinchas: The Nobel Peave Prize for violencc

Pashat Pinchas

In 25:12 Pinchas gets rewarded with Hashem saying, "הנני נותן את בריתי שלום"

Pinchas received the Nobel Peace Prize, so to speak, from Hashem for his actions.

It is ironic that the award of Peace is given to Pinchas when his action, righteous as it was, was one of extreme violence. The award would perhaps have been more appropriately called something else, perhaps the Plague Prevention Award or the Standing up for God Award, or whatever. But the Covenant of Peace?

שלום is not necessarily pacifism - always looking to talk through your disputes and arguments. Sometimes to achieve peace, a violent act might be needed.

It takes a bold and daring man to recognize that. Pinchas recognized that this situation, this public defilement of the nation, could not be resolved by discussion and persuasion. Only by one method would the situation be resolved. His violent act killed two people, but it spurred the Jewish people on to renewing their relationship with Hashem.

That is why Pinchas, despite, nay - because of, his violent act, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Balak: Is our faith as strong as Bilaam's?

Parshat Balak

When Balak first tried to persuade Bila'am to join him and curse the Jewish people, Bila'am tried to make very clear that he would only be able to do whatever it is that hashem wants him to do.

Later, after Bila'am's multiple failed attempts, in 24:13, Bila'am, again, says, "If yo give me a house full of gold and silver, I would not beable to go against what Hashem wants me to do..."

I am no ba'al mussar, but I find this situation striking. Bila'am Ha'Rasha, who claims to know how to manipulate Hashem and find the moment He gets angry and take advantage by cursiong the jews at that very moment, he stands up and says that no sum of money, no matter how great it might be, will allow him to act against Hashem.

What about us? How often do we, for even just a small monetary gain, allow ourselves to be lax and derelict in our obligations towards Hashem?

How great it would be if we would have the wherwithal of Bila'am to be able to say with full confidence that no amount of money will make a difference in our allegiance to Hashem!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Balak: we quote Bilaam every day during davening

Parshat Balak
Sheva Brachot Drasha

The following is what I said last night when speaking at a 'Sheva Brachos' we were hosting for a cousin who got married.

מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראך. Bilaam gave this bracha to the Jews, he had this insight about the Jews. I never really understood why we start of our day, every single day, saying, as one of the first things we say in the morning, this verse of Mah Tovu. Bilaam Ha'Rasha said this about the Jews. No matter how good it was, couldn't we find a better quote from someone a little less evil, and quote that everyday? Couldn't we find something that a tzaddik said that we could quote every day?
Why quote this from Bilaam, every day as we start the day?

How is it that Balak pressed on wqith his aim to curse the people. When he saw that his attempts were futile, why did he not give up, realizing that Hashem would not let him curse the Jews, and send BIlaam home - so they would not be cursed, but at least they would also not be blessed! Why did he not just give up and go home?

Truthfully I do not really have an answer to this question why Balak did not just give up. But I do think it provides us with an insight as to how the human mind works.

Balak and Bilaam were totally dedicated to their cause of cursng the Jews. They were focused, and they were determined to acheive their goal. Had they paused, taken a step back for a moment to re-evaluate the situation and look at it objectively, they might have said something like, "This is crazy - let's just go home, have a beer and watch the football game". but they did not. Because they were so focused and dedicated, they did not understand what was happening around them.

This type of devotion and dedication is what Bilaam saw in the Jews when he said Mah Tovu. He saw that despite their hardships - the slavery, the exodus, the travels in the desert, never having enough food and water (at least constantly complaining about it), the Golden Calf, the Spies, and more - they were dedicated to living their family lives in holiness with modesty. He recognized their determination to remain steadfast in their lifestyle of Tznius.

That si why, possibly, we quote Bilaam every day. Because he recognized that in us, and we want to start our day off, every day, reminding ourselves that as a nation our success comes, in part at least, because we are so careful with building our families modeled on tznius and living wih kedusha.

Balak: his own reality

Parshat Balak

Balak and Bilaam go out a few times to try to curse the Jews. Each time Bilaam tries to curse, it comes out as a blessing. Each time, Balak gets increasingly more upset at Bilaam, screaming at him more and more.

Why did Balak keep trying. Bilaam told him he can only say what Hashem allows himm and after seeing that Hashem would only allow Bilaam to bless, not curse, Balak should have said let's go home and have a beer instead. Why did he keep trying?

The events show that a person can get caught up in what he sees as reality because of his personal interests. He can completely ignore everything else, because he is completely focused on one thing.

Balak was so determined to curse the Jews that he completely blocked out any objective evealuation of the situation. He did not even see that he had no chance of success and that he was accomplishing the exact opposite of his goal. He fooled himself into thinking he could still do it.

Balak: 2 sides to every story

Parshat Balak

In 22:5 Balak says to Bilaam, "הנה כסה את עין הארץ" - that Sichon and Og, both of whom we relied upon for protection, were defeated by the Jews, so we would have no chance against them.

So just be peaceful and let the Jews pass and don't make trouble! The Jews did not start up with Sichon and Og - Sichon and Og attacked them! So if you are afraid of the Jews, just leave them be. If you do not attack them, they will ignore you as well. Why look for a better way to defeat them?

Eveybody lives in their own reality. We look back to Parshas Chukas and find the Jews making their way peacefully to Eretz Yisrael when Sichon and then Og both start up and attack them. Balak's reality was that the Jews were powerful warmongers, starting up with all the nations they come into contact with. They aleady defeated them, and we are next in line.

There are two (or three!) sides to every story. Everyone has their own reality and their own perspective, and they act based on their own reality.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Chukas: sitting in the getaway car

Parshat Chukas

Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to speak to the rock, and it will give forth water. Moshe hits the rock. Hashem punishes them by not allowing them to enter Eretz Yisrael.

What did Aharon do wrong? He stood there while Moshe hit the rock. He did not do anything. So why did he get punished at all, or at least why the same as Moshe?

We see from here that being an accomplice to a crime is just as bad as having committed the actual crime.

Aharon was the guy in the getaway car. If someone goes in to rob a bank, and his partner sits outside waiting for him in the getaway car, they are both equally responsible for robbing the bank.

So Aharon was like that guy in the getaway car. He was Moshe's accomplice. He stood by Moshe's side while Moshe hit the rock. So sure he did not actually hit the rock himself, but he is equally as guilty.

We have to be very careful with whom and with what we associate ourselves. Just being associated with bad, makes us equally as guilty, even if we did nto actually do anythign wrong.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Chukas: resting on your laurels

Parshat Chukas

The Parsha concludes with how the Jews smote Og and took over the land of Bashan. Then it concludes with one last passuk, that is even the first of a new perek, and says they traveled to Arvos Moav.

Why does it not conclude the parsha with the battle of Og and start the next parsha with the travel to Arvos Moav? Anyway that is really relevant to the parsha of Balak and Bila'am and not to us in this parsha, so why did chazal make the portion break after that last passuk and not before?

I do not ask why the perek is begun with this passuk rather than the one after it, because the chapeters were delineated not by Jewish sources, so that has less meaning. But the portion itself (the paragraph markers, so to speak) is marked after this passuk, and the parsha concludes with this last passuk. Why?

I would suggest that they could have stopped after what was definitely a big battle with Og. they could have stayed a while and rested, enjoyed a bit of respite, before they moved on.

But no - it says the nest passuk right away to tell us that they right away moved on. They went to Arvos Moav right away and continued on the journey to Eretz Yisrael.

They refused to sit on their success. One must always continue progressing.

Korach: Are Egypt and Israel equal?

Parshat Korach

In 16:13-14, Dasan and Aviram are giving their response to Moshe who had called upon them to come talk with him. He was trying to sway them to drop out of the fight. They respond by saying (passuk 13) that he took them out of a land flowing with milk and honey... and (passuk 14) he did not even bring them into the promised land flowing with milk and honey.

Chazal broke up the aliya right in between those two psukkim. That is very unusual - to break an aliya in the middle of a sentence. Really it should even have waited, possibly, to break it up after Moshe's response, but at least wait until Dasn and Aviram finish saying what they were saying?

I would suggest that the reason Chazal put the break there is to cause us to think about what they were saying. Dasan and Aviram used the same exact words to describe Eretz Yisrael and Egypt. They described both as being the land flowing with milk and honey. They were equating the two lands - you took us from one, bring us to the other.

Chazal are making us think about that and saying stop. Dasan and AViram want to equate Eretz Yisrael and Egypt, but you cannot. they are not equal. We will make a division between them to show that.