Parshat Korach 5779

Parshat Korach 5779

A brief analysis of Parshat Korach illuminates the difficulty of convincing one to change their misguided approach. Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader who redeemed the Jewish people from slavery, led them to the encounter with God at Sinai, faithfully defending them at every turn – had lost the trust of the people. The tragedy of the meraglim- the spies – was much more than a conquest of the land delayed for a generation. It sowed the seeds of mistrust between the people and their leaders. These feelings were brought to the surface by the political opportunist and Moshe’s first cousin Korach. “They had a confrontation with Moses along with 250 Israelites who were men of rank in the community, representatives at the assembly and famous” (16:2). Aharon, the great peacemaker did not escape their wrath either. “They demonstrated against Moshe and Aharon and declared to them. You have gone too far”(16:3). The Jewish people were not willing to accept responsibility for their lack of faith. If they were to die in the desert the blame must lay elsewhere. Did not Moshe promise to take us to a land of milk and honey? It is he, not us who is failing.

 

Before the incipient rebellion could gain any more traction Moshe, Aharon and their detractors ‘had it out’ in full view of the people. Moshe successfully predicts a miraculous “earthquake” to swallow up the 250 dissenters. One would think that would be the end of the story vindicating the leadership of Moshe to the masses. Yet “the next day the entire Israelite community began to complain to Moshe. ‘You have killed God’s people’ they exclaimed” (16:6). Unbelievable. Recognizing Moshe’s continued leadership would mean taking responsibility for their own sins something they were not willing to do. They preferred to blame the victim. This continuing challenge to Moshe led to a plague costing the lives of an additional 14,700 people. Despite Aharon’s stopping of the plague, God instructs Moshe to conduct a further test to demonstrate Aharon’s choice as Kohen gadol. Even this would not suffice. “Put Aharon’s staff back there before the ark of testimony as a keepsake. Let it be a sign for anyone who wants to rebel. This should put an end to their complaints to Me and then they will not die” (17:23).

 

Rabbi Jay Kelman explains that this is typical of those who are fixated on blaming others for their problems they distort the facts converting positives to negatives. Though given a formula for long life i.e. stop complaining and stop trying to depose your rightful leaders, in the very next verse “the Israelites said to Moshe, We’re going to die. We will be destroyed; we are all lost” (17:21). It is at this point that God puts in motion His idea after the golden calf – of starting a new nation. The Torah thus records laws relating to the leaders, the kohanim and leviim and then silence, the silence of death for 38 years. “This is the decree of the Torah. When a man dies in a tent this is the law”. When the Biblical narrative picks up, it is with the death of Miriam in year forty.

 

“And do not be like Korach and his congregation” (17:5). While this prohibition refers specifically to creating unnecessary controversy it can also refer to refusing to learn from our mistakes or worse yet, to even see our mistakes. Korach, our Sages tell us, was a wise man. Many a wise person is convinced of their wisdom and is unable, or unwilling, to change course despite the warning signs. It might be health problems that are ignored or ignoring the obvious signs that our children (or we ourselves) have substance abuse problems. Perhaps we do not cut our losses from a misguided investment or continue conducting business oblivious to the changes around us. We may ignore a spiritual malaise blaming it on a mid life crisis. Who is wise? Haroeh et HaNolad – one who literally sees that which is born. The word “nolad” implies dynamic growth, maturation, freshness. The truly wise person is one who is always growing, carefully examining themselves to see if their thoughts and deeds need refining or even changing.

 

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Shelach Lecha 5779

Parshat Shelach Lecha 5779

In this week’s Torah portion Moses sends 12 spies to go from their encampment in the desert and observe the land of Israel. Moses instructs the spies to “see what the land is like” (Bamidbar 13:18) Their task was to see the land, see for themselves and report back that it is a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, ten of the 12 spies failed. They returned with a negative report.

“And there we saw the giants…and we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so were we in their eyes.” (Bamidbar 13:33) They had no real way of knowing how they were perceived in the eyes of the ‘natives.’ – Yet, in their own view they were unfit and inferior – and therefore they assumed that that was the reality. They looked for the negative and found the negative. We don’t see things the way they are, rather, we perceive things the way we are.

The ten spies were pessimistic about entering the land of Israel. They had other motives, wishing to remain spiritually sheltered in the desert and led by Moses and therefore went in with a negative and self-defeating attitude.

In contrast, the other two spies, Yehoshua and Kalev, were optimistic about entering Israel, and so they observed the exact same situation but saw something completely different. “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (13:30) This was their response to the scouting mission. Rav DovBer Pison comments: ‘This week’s energy is the power of the scouts’ , the mentors, in our lives. These are the people we depend on to give us advice and lead us in the right direction. We must choose these people in our lives carefully, for their biases will affect the advice they give us and the path we ultimately take.If you already have such people in your life, be sure that they are the right people to turn to and the advice they give you is unbiased. Choose advisors, experts in whatever area you seek expertise and advice. But be sure to choose a person with your best interests in their hearts, with open and optimistic attitude and you will be led in the right direction.

In this week’s Parshah too, the spies discovered that wherever they went, a plague struck down the Cana’anim and they were dying in large numbers. They concluded that the air of the land of Israel was unhealthy and prone to breeding plagues. They failed to see (or perhaps they did not want to see), that the Divine Hand was at work, protecting them, preventing their discovery by keeping the Cana’anim too busy to notice them, or at least, to be concerned with their presence. In this way, Hashem reckoned, they would be able to go about spying the land without hindrance. Yet they misconstrued Hashem’s chesed, mistaking His loving care for hatred.

The verse in Devarim (1:20) describes how Israel grumbled that night in their tents, how they declared that it was due to God’s hatred of Israel that He took them out of Egypt, to deliver them into the hands of the Ammorites to destroy them. In fact, Rashi comments, He loved them, and it was they who hated Him! And he goes on to quote a famous folk-saying ‘What a person thinks about his friend, he believes that his friend thinks about him’. Presumably, this saying is based on the verse in “ke’Mayim ha’ponim le’ponim” (Mishlei 27:19).

The Zohar attributes the spies’ prejudice to the fear that, once they entered Israel, the old constitution would end, and a new era would begin, incorporating new leaders, who would replace them. Presumably, that is also what prompted them to renounce Hashem as a hater. In order to misconstrue Hashem’s motives in His interrelationship with us, it is not necessary to be guided by personal prejudices (though it does help). All that is needed is a lack of appreciation a. of Hashem’s extreme goodness; b. of the fact that He loves all his people, and c. the extent of that love.

 

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Beha’alotecha 5779

Parshat Beha’alotecha 5779

In the Torah portion of Beha’alotcha there appears a phenomenon that is found in no other place in the entire Tanach – two sentences are bracketed by two backwards facing Hebrew letters, nuns, as a way to set them apart from the rest of the text.

 

“And when the ark would journey, Moses said: ‘Arise God and let your enemies be scattered, and let those that hate You flee from before You.’ And when it [the ark] rested he would say: ‘Rest peacefully God among the myriad thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:35-36). The first sentence is recited in synagogues around the world when the ark is opened and the Torah removed for public readings, and the second sentence is recited when the Torah is placed once again in the ark. Rashi, quoting the Talmud, (Shabbat 115b-116a) explains that these two sentences are set apart due to the fact that they are not in their natural chronological place. Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman comments: ‘This alone would not seem sufficient reason as Rashi tells us many times that various events recorded in the Torah are not in a sequential order. What then, according to the Talmud, is the reason that they appear here? Rashi informs us: in order to separate between a series of sins which occurred in the desert. The Talmud continues by stating that these two sentences actually are considered an entirely separate book! In this manner the five books of Moses are actually seven, as this two sentence book actually divides the book of Numbers into three books. As with all verses, mitzvot and stories in the Torah, there are multilevels of understanding, especially when there is a one time phenomenon such as inverted letters that create a separate book of just two sentences. The Slonimer Rebbe quotes a Torah from the Maggid of Koznitch who suggests that the ark represents a Torah scholar who is compared to an ark containing the Torah. The Torah has been so integrated into his being that he is like a “walking Torah scroll.” The word for “journey” in our verse shares the same root as the word for “test.” Therefore, anytime the ark, in this case a Torah scholar, journeys, it is inevitable that he will face challenges and tests. The Slonimer explains that this idea really applies to every person who wants to journey from one spiritual level to a higher, more refined level of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of Torah and mitzvot.

 

He shall not exchange it nor substitute another for it (27:33)

 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that every person was born to a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively their own. No one—not even the greatest of souls—can take his or her place. No person who ever lived or who ever will live can fulfill that particular aspect of G‑d’s purpose in creation in his stead. This point is illustrated by a story told by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn: A wealthy businessman and his coachman arrived in a city one Friday afternoon. After the rich man was settled at the best hotel in town, the coachman went off to his humble lodgings. Both washed and dressed for Shabbat, and then set out for the synagogue for the evening prayers. On his way to shul, the businessman came across a wagon which had swerved off the road and was stuck in a ditch. Rushing to help a fellow in need, he climbed down into the ditch and began pushing and pulling at the wagon together with its hapless driver. But for all his good intentions, the businessman was hopelessly out of his depth. After struggling for an hour in the knee-deep mud, he succeeded only in ruining his best suit of Shabbat clothes and getting the wagon even more hopelessly embedded in the mud. Finally, he dragged his bruised and aching body to the synagogue, arriving a scant minute before the start of Shabbat. Meanwhile, the coachman arrived early to the synagogue and sat down to recite a few chapters of Psalms. At the synagogue he found a group of wandering paupers, and being blessed with a most generous nature, invited them all to share his meal. When the synagogue sexton approached the paupers to arrange meal placements at the town’s householders, as is customary in Jewish communities, he received the same reply from them all: “Thank you, but I have already been invited for the Shabbat meal.” Unfortunately, however, the coachman’s means were unequal to his generous heart, and his dozen guests left his table with but a shadow of a meal in their hungry stomachs. Thus the coachman, with his twenty years of experience in extracting wagons from mudholes, took it upon himself to feed a small army, while the wealthy businessman, whose Shabbat meal leftovers could easily have fed every hungry man within a ten-mile radius, floundered about in a ditch. “Every soul,” said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in conclusion, “is entrusted with a mission unique to her alone, and is granted the specific aptitudes, talents and resources necessary to excel in her ordained role. One most take care not to become one of those ‘lost souls’ who wander through life trying their hand at every field of endeavor except for what is truly and inherently their own.”

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Nasso 5779

In Parashat Nasso , Hashem commands Moshe to teach Birkat Kohanim to Aharon and his sons. The third verse of Birkat Kohanim reads, “May Hashem lift His face towards you (yisa Hashem panav eilecha) and give you peace.” (Bamidbar6:26) The Hebrew phrase nesi’ut panim – lifting the face – is interpreted in numerous ways. Chazal explain that it involves G-d granting favor to Israel, or, more specifically, treating them with favoritism. For this reason, the verses of Birkat Kohanim are read but not translated during kriat haTorah in the synagogue (as other verses were, according to the practice at the time of the Gemara), so that the listeners would not be confused by the concept that G-d favors one nation. (Megillah 25b)

 

The idea that Hashem shows favoritism, however, is more than confusing; it directly contradicts another pasuk in the Torah: “For Hashem your G-d is the G-d of all power, and Master of all masters, the great, mighty, and awesome G-d who shows no favoritism (lo yisa panim) and takes no bribes.” (Devarim10:17) Indeed, the Gemara itself is puzzled by this contradiction: “The ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He, Master of the Universe! It is written in your Torah, ‘[He] shows no favoritism and takes no bribes,’ yet behold You favor Israel, as it is written, ‘May Hashem lift His face towards you!’ He answered them, Should I not favor Israel, for whom I wrote in the Torah, ‘You shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem your G-d,’ yet they are careful about themselves for a kezayit and a kebeitzah [i.e., they bless even after eating less than is necessary to be satiated]?!”

 

The Gemara’s explanation seems to be that G-d certainly does favor Israel, but they deserve this special treatment because of their willingness to do more than the law demands. But how does that answer the question? Despite Israel’s righteousness which makes G-d want to favor them, the pasuk nonetheless states that Hashem does not show favouritism!

 

One possible answer is based on the important idea that G-d acts toward us in the way that we act toward Him. In a real sense, we create the framework in which we live. In the words of the Chafetz Chaim, “It is known that according to how a person directs his attributes in this world, he correspondingly arouses G-d’s attributes in the world above. If his way is to ignore slights and to act with kindness and mercy towards people, he correspondingly arouses the attribute of mercy above, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, has mercy on the world because of him. and he merits also that the Holy One, Blessed be He, has mercy on him and ignores his sins.”

(Shmirat HaLashon, Shaar HaZechira, Perek Sheini)

 

Thus, G-d’s favoritism – that is, going beyond the demands of strict justice – is a direct result of Israel’s willingness to do more than the law demands. The verse stating that G-d does not show favoritism refers to a normal case that demands justice. Israel does more than G-d’s law demands, however, so G-d acts toward Israel beyond the letter of the law. That is, in its own way, an aspect of justice.

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Bamidbat 5779

Parshat Bamidbat 5779

God commands Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel according to their families and their fathers’ household. The Israelites follow this command and do everything that God instructs. Immediately following this census, the Israelites are commanded to “encamp, every man with his standard according to his ensigns according to the insignias of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp” (Numbers 2:2). The Alshekh asks the following questions: 1) Why, when looking at the Hebrew, is this commandment phrased as if it applied to individuals, i.e. ish a man, rather than collectively? 2) The Torah, in relation to the tribes, discusses the direction of their encampment proceeding the camp leaders. With regard, however, to the camp o Judah, we read about the direction of the camp PRIOR to the camp leaders. 3) Why does the Torah vary the manner in which it introduces the second tribe in each encampment from the others? The Midrash describes that there was some jealousy between the tribes concerning their positions around the tabernacle, as well as the order in which they would travel. God told Moses to tell the tribes that they would occupy the same positions as their founders had occupied when they carried Jacob’s bier to burial in the cave of Machpelah. This is recorded in the Torah by the words “according to the ensigns of the houses of their fathers” (v.2). There are two other areas in which jealousy could manifest itself. 1) The 4 camps, each sharing 1 flag between them could be jealous of the composition of each camp, i.e. the tribes that had been assigned to be part of the same camp. 2) The camps that had been assigned to travel at the rear of the procession could be jealous of those marching in front. Ephraim, for instance, could be jealous of Reuben and Judah, and Dan of all the others. Since the leaders of each tribe could still have felt inferior to the 4 camp leaders, the Torah hints at the positioning of the sons at Jacob’s bier. To avoid Judah boasting that he was the leader, the Torah speaks about “AND those encamping in an easterly direction”, i.e. the other two tribes are described as an integral part of the camp of Judah. Displaying similar sensitivity for the members of the camp of Dan – the rearguard –the Torah, (v.31) states that though they traveled last, it was ‘ledigleyem’, according to THEIR flags; as if all the other camps were subordinate to the camp of Dan, and not vice-versa. In the case of the tribes Issachar and Zevulun, the Torah writes u-fekudeyhem, THEIR counted ones (plural), to point out that unity existed. Though each one considered himself a separate unit, they related to one another in such a way that each one assumed responsibility for the other’s physical or spiritual well-being (Zevulun providing Issachar’s material needs, Issachar studying Torah and sharing his merit with Zevulun). The reason the Torah writes “the camp of Ephraim according to their armies westward”, is for that it is a compliment to the angels who had become the armies of Israel – as God’s presence is conceived of as emanating from the West (the Holy of Holies being the most western part of the tabernacle).

 

When the Torah discusses the issue of counting the people of Israel, we learn that this is an act of elevating the Israelites, i.e. numbering them. This was performed through their handing over the half shekel, which formed their ransom money for their sin of the golden calf. This is the reason the the Torah employed the term ‘ki tissa et rosh’ – when you “lift the head” when describing their being counted. This is in contrast with the members of the tribe of Levi who had no need to pay a ransom for their soul seeing they had not been guilty of that sin. This is why the Torah introduced the instruction to count the Levites (3:15) with the words “pakad et bnei Levi” – “count the members of the tribe of Levi.” If all this is correct, why did the Torah change its wording when it came to counting the Kehatites and employ the same term ‘nasso’ when instructing Moses and Aaron to count them? Perhaps the fact that the Kehatites were entrusted with a task such as carrying the Holy Ark and the Table which required them to enter the Tabernacle was a special elevation for them and this is why the Torah wanted us to know this and wrote the term ‘nasso’. It is a relative term and shows that their function was more highly rated than that of the family of the clan of Gershon, although Gershon was the older of Levi’s sons. The reason that God chose the Kehatites for this task was that they provided “light for the world” in that Moses and Aaron were descended from. It was no more than fair that the branch of the Levites who had produced Moses and Aaron should be the ones entrusted with carrying the Torah, which Moses had communicated to the people. Our verse is careful to say – ‘meetoch bnei Isreal’, “from the midst of the children of Israel,” seeing that Kehat was the middle son of Levi’s three sons Gerson, Kehat, and Merari.

                                                                                            Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Bechukotai 5779

Parshat Bechukotai 5779

The theme of Parshat Bechukotai is the “Tochacha” – a series of devastating predictions of what will befall the Jewish people throughout history – exile, anti-Semitism, persecution, and more.

Yet we know how much the Almighty cares for us, and He never “punishes” without “sandwiching” it with love. So it is not surprising that the “dire predictions” in this parsha also contain hidden blessings.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons explains: ‘…For example, Leviticus 26:33, God declares that “I will scatter you among the nations.” This is a hidden blessing, because if the Jewish camp is geographically divided, then when one community is persecuted, the other can carry on. Also, Leviticus 26:22 says that when the Jews are in exile, the “Land [of Israel] will be desolate.” This is a hidden blessing, because throughout the millennia – as numerous empires conquered the Land, and countless wars were fought for its possession – astonishingly, no conqueror ever succeeded in permanently settling Israel or causing the desert to bloom. This, of course, made it easier for the Jewish people to return in the 20th century and resettle their homeland – a hidden blessing. God cares for us so deeply, giving us the confidence that in life, every cloud has a silver lining.’

If you will keep my mitzvahs … the land will yield its produce … and I will give you rain” (Lev. 26:3). It’s interesting that the Torah promises an abundance of material and physical blessings in exchange for following the Torah. Most of us would probably expect a promise of spiritual return such as the promise of Heaven, paradise, or eternal life.

Rabbi Ron Jawary offers some insight into this verse: ‘Interestingly, the Torah never makes an explicit mention of life beyond this world. Perhaps what the Torah is teaching us is that we shouldn’t think the world and all the blessings in it have nothing to do with a spiritual life. The idea behind this could be that the physical, material blessings are truly spiritual blessings in that they provide us with an opportunity to connect to the Divine.

The more we understand this, the greater is our opportunity to become a conduit for God’s blessings. In fact, the Talmud expands on this and points out that we all have certain skills and talents, and should strive to share those talents with those around us. In doing so, we’re taking the physical blessings we’ve been given and transforming them into an eternal spiritual connection with God.’

 

                                                                                            Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim