parashas Chukat – Balak 5780

B”H

“And the soul of the people became impatient because of the way.”

– Numbers 21:4, JPS, 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael, as a result of circumstances that seemed beyond their control, grew impatient along the journey. By taking a roundabout way around the country of Edom, they felt they were moving further away from their destination . Their frustration manifested in the form of complaining; yet, the question may be asked, did they really have anything to complain about? What was the nature of their complaint. The Torah records that “the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: ‘Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.'” (Numbers 21:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Commentary explains that they were dissatisfied with the the mode of their existence. In other words, they were discontent not only with the bread and water that H’Shem provided for them, rather, also with the means that they received this provision. In particular, R. Bachya explains, that their complaint disparaged the manna, and the water from the “well of Miriam” that H’Shem had provided for them on their travels, because they were dependent each and every day on H’Shem to give what was necessary for their daily existence. This is in comparison to other nations, who were able to store up a supply of bread and water that was always available.

It was as if they were really saying that the bread and water they received was not in the manner that they would have preferred. Moreover, the manna did not seem substantial enough for the rigours of the wilderness that they had to endure. Yet, H’Shem provided for them on a daily basis, in order to test their faith in him; for they would have to trust that on the morrow, they would be able to collect the manna in the morning, during the weekdays. Of course, on the sixth day, they received a double portion for that day and Shabbat. They were tired of this type of day to day existence, and seemingly yearned for more security in their material needs.

Because of their complaints against Him, and the heavenly provision of manna, G-d sent fiery serpents that bit the people. When they acknowledged their wrong perspective, H’Shem told Moshe to make a copper serpent, and place it on a pole. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). Thus, as Rashi comments, when they looked up towards the serpent, they turned their hearts to their Father in Shomayim (Heaven).

In parashas Balak, the “prophet of the nations,” Balaam is hired by Balaak, King of Moab to curse B’nei Yisrael. The concern of the Moabites was that they could potentially be attacked by the Children of Israel. They had heard of how B’nei Yisrael defeated Sichon and Og, two Ammonite kings, and they feared for themselves. Specifically, Torah records that whenthey saw the multitude of B’nei Yisrael, they were overwhelmed with dread. The Hebrew word translated in this pasuk (verse) is koots. This is the same word used to describe how the Egyptians felt about the Children of Israel, generations ago, when they saw that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12, JPS).

Balaam’s three attempts to curse Israel are thwarted by H’Shem. Each time, he and Balaak bring seven offerings to H’Shem, hoping to appease Him; yet, H’Shem is adamantly opposed to Balaam’s intent to curse Israel. Balaam was told by G-d even before he set out on his journey to Moab, with the princes sent by Balak, “‘Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed'” (Numbers 22:12, JPS).

Yet, eventually, in response to the persistence of Balak’s emmisaries, G-d said to Balaam, “‘rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do’” (Numbers 22:20, JPS). Later, on the journey to Moab, Balaam was reminded by the angel of H’Shem, “only speak the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35, JPS). So, not only did H’Shem prevent Balaam from cursing Israel, He also caused Balaam to bless Israel instead.

Reflecting on the complaints of the Children of Israel, concerning the provision of manna and water that H’Shem provided for them, it is interesting to note that they were not somehow prevented from complaining; rather, they were rebuked after the fact. If there was some way that H’Shem could prevent us from complaining in life, then, perhaps, instead of words of negativity, we would speak positive words each and every time. Our intended curses would be transformed into blessings. “Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3, JPS).

parashas: Avadon

B”H

Shiur for parashas Korach 5780

“So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [Sheol]; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” – Numbers 16:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach gathered the adus (congregation) against Moses and Aaron, in an attempt to overthrow their authority by means of an outright rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). It was an opportune time for rebellion, inasmuch that the people were already disgruntled, because of the decree proclaimed by H’Shem that the men, over twenty years of age would all pass away in the wilderness, during the course of the next thirty-nine years, as a consequence of their lack of trust in H’Shem, when they neglected to enter the land at the designated time.

Korach, Dathan and Aviram were the ringleaders of the uprising. As a result of their insurgency, Korach perished (AVD), along with his family, and Dathan and Aviram, with their families, when they were swallowed up by the earth. Incidentally, the Hebrew word yov’du, translated as “perished,” derives from the shoresh (root word), aleph-beis-dalet. The word, avadon, is also derived from the same shoresh. Avadon refers to a place of destruction similar to Sheol, possibly Gehinnom. Additionally, the two hundred fifty men of renown, who followed him were consumed by fire from H’Shem, when they attempted to offer up incense, individually, every man his fire pan.

Both punishments were clearly by way of divine intervention; yet, the people ignored this. They still had a complaint against Moshe: they claimed that Moshe was responsible for the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty followers. The people themselves had been rallied by Korach against Moshe and Aaron; now, their enthusiasm was piqued by the loss of these men, who supported the rebellion. In response, to subdue another uprising, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, wherein 14,500 perished, before Aaron intervened at the urgent insistence of Moses.

“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take thy fire-pan, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the L-RD: the plague is begun’” (Numbers 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). The response was immediate: “And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed” (17:13). Symbolically, the burning of incense represents steadfast prayer; perhaps, prayer may serve today as an effectual means to combat the current pandemic.

parashas: Perception

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shelach 5780

In parashas Shelach, ten out of twelve men of great reknown, leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, fall prey to a negative perception of themselves, in contrast to the local inhabitants, who were like giants. The ten spies perceived themselves to be like grasshoppers, “in their own eyes;” hence, they thought that they must also look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants. Deeming themselves, nor the people of Israel as no match for the inhabitants of Cannan, they returned, and spoke ill of the mission to enter the long awaited promised land of Eretz Yisrael.

It is interesting to note that the preceding passage to the incident of the spies concerns lashon hara, whereof Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke ill of him. She was chastised with leprosy, until Moshe prayed on her behalf for H’Shem to heal her. If these two events are in chronological order, then the spies did not learn the lesson. Instead, their own lashon hara demoralized the entire people, and elicited consequences that would last for forty years; that entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb passed away in the wilderness, excepting the women and children.

Lashon hara is a transgression that the Torah indicates is committed by the best of us; yet, this does not make it excusable in anyway; rather the prolific contagion, as demonstrated by the people’s acceptance of the spies’ ill report of the land shows how easy it us to succumb to this transgression. Today, lashon hara, and its counterpart, retzilus (gossip) are so widely accepted, so as to be said to be institutionalized within the greater part of society; also the widespread use of the Internet intensifies the bane.

Yet, how can the proliferation of what is considered the norm be interrupted? By the realisation of consequences that stem from what goes unchallenged. If only we could see the consequences of our own actions ahead of time; by thinking, before we act, we can visualize the potential ramifications of our decisions in life. Instead of speaking impulsively, we should reflect more on our words, before voicing our own thoughts.

parashas Shelach 5780

Restoration

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nasso 5780

“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

  • Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

parashas Nasso 5780

Heritage

B”H

There is a rich heritage, sparking an inspirational message across the ages, that a Jew has a place, a home, and a refuge within the belief, practice, and traditions found in the realm of yiddishkeit. There is a Jewishness about everything from potato latkes to the peyos (side curls) of an Orthodox Jew. The entire gamut of a Jewish way of life, in all of its kaleidescopic color, consists of a seamless unity from one generation to another. Despite assimilation, some semblance of the original focus (deveykus) and lifestyle of our ancestors, may still be found amongst all of us, from one end of the spectrum to the other. No matter how a Jew is defined, the pintle yid – the essential Jewishness – may always be found in one form or another.

Because the door is always open to explore the various facets of Judaism, from many different angles, opportunity prevails upon us to enter into a world that is replete with sights, sounds and experiences, that may have the effect of rekindling the glowing embers in our heart. With the help of H’Shem, these flames may be fanned into a fire of longing for a closeness to G-d, that will compel us to take that first step through the doorway. Once taken, we are in the hands of H’Shem, who will lead us along the way of our unique path on the road home to Him.

“Turn us unto Thee, O L-rd, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”

– Lamentations 5:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

six thousand years of history

B”H

Shiur for parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5780

“Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the L-RD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” – Leviticus 25:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

What is more important, the symbol or what the symbol conveys? The sages say that on Shabbos we get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come). While we look forward to a day of rest every week, the greater import is its likeness to Olam Haba. Therefore, both the weekly Shabbos, a twenty-five hour period of rest, and what the Shabbos conveys have significance. We enjoy our day of rest in this world, and are inspired, even reassured by the forthcoming thousand year Sabbath, that actually precedes Olam Haba, in the next world, when the new heavens and the new earth appear (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

A similar question, what is more tangible, the symbol or what the symbol points toward? Regarding Shabbat, it seems quite apparent that three festive meals, two of them preceded by Kiddush, are well worth waiting for throughout the previous six days of week, and very tangible realities. Yet, they are ephemeral; and, after havdallah, although our souls are somewhat comforted by the smell of the besamim (spices, usually cloves), we still have the mundane weekdays ahead of us. So, Olam Haba, is described in the negative, because we cannot conceive of the World to Come. Rather Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture) describes Olam Haba as a place in time, whereof no eye has seen, nor ear heard of its delights (Isaiah 64:3). Therefore, although Olam Haba may seem less tangible, from our perspective in Olam HaZeh (This World), Olam Haba will last forever. Food for thought.

The commandment of Shemitah, wherein the land lies fallow every seventh year, is also symbolic of the Millennial Shabbos. The first six years, wherein the land was worked represent the six thousand years of history mentioned in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98). In the seventh year, the land lies fallow, pointing towards the thousand years of peace. Thus, the implied message may be taken as that there is a reward for our efforts in this world, on a spiritual level, so that the souls that are written in the Book of Life, may partake of eternal life at the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead).

“This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba; prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the Banquet Hall.” – Pirkei Avot 4:21