The repulsive idol and the lack of boundaries
ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב וגו’ וצמד ישראל לבעל פעור וגו’
The [Jewish] nation began to commit lewd acts with the women of Moav…and the Jews clung to [the idol] Ba’al Peor
At the end of this week’s parsha, the Jewish people hit a new low. They began to have illicit sexual relationships with women from the foreign nation of Moav, and they committed severe acts of idol worship. The Torah uses an unusual expression to describe their attitude towards the idol known as Ba’al Peor. It says וצמד, which is the verb form of the word which describes a tightly bound cover on a vessel. This means that the Jews became tightly bound, or clung, to the idol Ba’al Peor. With some historical context, this is very hard to understand. The form of worship of this idol was one of the most repulsive things imaginable. The way to serve this idol was to eat and drink things which would cause diarrhea, and then to defecate on it. How could the Jews be not only interested, but totally attached to such an idol?
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The dormant merit
ויאמר יקוק אל-משה אל-תירא אתו כי בידך נתתי אתו ואת-כל-עמו ואת-ארצו ועשית לו כאשר עשית לסיחן מלך האמרי אשר יושב בחשבון
Hashem said to Moshe: “Do not fear [Og], as I have given him, his entire nation, and his land into your hand. You shall [be able to] do to him as you did to Sichon, the Aramean King, who dwelled in Cheshbon
After forty years in the wilderness, the Jews had begun their final journey towards the land of Israel. They entered the land of Sichon, the King of the Amorites. They successfully conquered his land, and further journeyed towards the land of the Giant Og, King of Bashan. Hashem told Moshe not to fear Og, as their victory was guaranteed. Why was Moshe afraid of Og? There was no reassurance from Hashem before they battled Sichon. It must be that Moshe wasn’t afraid of him, only Og. Rashi brings an explanation from Chazal that Og had actually been alive since the times of Avraham. He informed Avraham that the latter’s nephew Lot had been taken captive during an intense civil war. This knowledge gave Avraham the chance to rescue his nephew, which he successfully accomplished. Moshe was worried that this merit from hundreds of years earlier would grant Og victory over the Jews. Hashem comforted him and told him not to worry, as the Jews would emerge victorious.
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Keeping our loved one in mind
ויקח קרח וגו’ ודתן ואבירם וגו’ ואון וגו’ ויקמו לפני משה ואנשים מבני-ישראל חמשים ומאתים וגו’
Korach took [his tallis] …and Dasan and Aviram…and Ohn…they and two-hundred and fifty men from the Jewish people confronted Moshe…
This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. To kick off his rebellion, he took a tallis which was entirely dyed techeiles, a blueish color. Normally, only some of the tzitzis strings need to be dyed techeiles, but not the garment itself. He had two-hundred and fifty of his men wear a similar garment in front of Moshe. Korach asked Moshe: “This tallis, whose material is entirely colored techeiles, does it require tzitzis”? Moshe responded: “It does”. Korach rejected this ruling, and argued that if just some strings of techeiles exempt the garment, having the entire garment be techeiles should be more than sufficient. Therefore, there was no need for tzitzis in such a garment. Why did Korach specifically pick this topic to start his rebellion? As well, Korach wasn’t an ignoramus. He was an incredibly learned individual. How then could he ever think that such a tallis would be exempt from tzitzis?
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The paths of two greats
אלה שמות האנשים אשר-שלח משה לתור את-הארץ ויקרא משה להושע בן-נון יהושע
These are the names of the men who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun: Yehoshua
When the Jews had almost arrived at the land of Israel, they had the idea to send spies to scout out the land. They wanted to know not only about the landscape, but about the inhabitants. Were they a conquerable force, or not? Twelve men, one for each tribe, were selected for the task. One of them was Moshe’s faithful student, Yehoshua. He was originally called Hoshea, but Moshe, as a form of prayer, added the letter yud to his name, making it Yehoshua. Moshe was concerned that the spies had evil intentions, and would falsely give a negative report. He therefore added a letter from G-d’s name to Yehoshua’s, pleading that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the council of the spies.
Continue reading “Shelach 5779”
The three pillars of a positive character
דבר אל-אהרן ואמרת אליו בהעלותך את-הנרת אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות: ויעש כן אהרן אל מול פני המנורה העלה נרתיה כאשר צוה יקוק את-משה
Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you ignite the lights, let them illuminate towards the center of the Menorah. Aharon did so; he ignited its lights towards the center of the Menorah, as Hashem commanded Moshe
This week’s parsha begins by discussing the Menorah, including its make and how it was lit. The Torah uses an unusual way to describe the lighting of the Menorah wicks: בהעלותך. Literally, with your raising up the lights. There are many things learned from this, but one of them is the fact that Aharon was instructed to construct a three-step block of stone in front of the Menorah. Meaning, the verse is telling Aharon and his descendants to “go up” to light the Menorah, using these steps. The next verse teaches us that Aharon properly constructed these steps. We could say that this was a practical necessity, in order to reach the top of the Menorah. Why though were there specifically three steps? Also, was there any more significance to this steppingstone?
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A most difficult match
אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו וכו’ וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף וכו’ והא וכו’ ארבעים יום קודם ליצירת הוולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני וכו’ לא קשיא, הא בזיווג ראשון והא בזיווג שני
A man’s wife is determined based on his actions…and it’s as hard (for Hashem, so to speak) as the splitting of the Reed Sea…But is that so? At the moment of conception a Heavenly voice calls out “The daughter of so-and-so is to marry so-and-so” …This isn’t a contradiction. [It’s preannounced] with a person’s first match, and [it’s difficult] when it’s their second match
This week’s parsha discusses the Sotah, a suspected adulteress, and the way in which she can clear her name to her husband. Since such topics are not the most positive, Reish Lakish would begin his class on the topic by relating a nicer discussion of how a couple meets in the first place. He says that a person’s second match is as hard for Hashem to make as it was to split the Reed Sea. Why is this so? Is it really so difficult? To compare it to one of the greatest miracles in our history? Something so intense that it caused the entire world to tremble? What’s the comparison? Also, why does a person’s first match need some sort of Heavenly announcement, and so early? Why couldn’t it have been when they were born, instead of when they were conceived? How does this announcement work, such that without it, the match is difficult to make? Finally, why is a match compared to the splitting of the sea, something representing separation and distance. A more appropriate comparison would have been the miracle of the Arnon valleys, where Hashem caused two mountains to come together to squish the Jews’ enemies.
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The minuscule tribe
כל-פקודי הלוים אשר פקד משה ואהרן על-פי יקוק למשפחתם כל-זכר מבן-חדש ומעלה שנים ועשרים אלף
The entire count of the Leviim, which Moshe and Aharon counted through the command of Hashem, according to their families, all the males from one month of age and above was 22,000
When the national census of the males was conducted, most of the twelve tribes were counted from the age of twenty. However, the Levite tribe was counted from the age of one month. Nevertheless, their total was less than any other tribe, not even reaching half of the smallest tribe. Why was this so? One suggestion is because they were the only tribe in Egypt that wasn’t enslaved. The Egyptians embittered the Jews’ lives, and the more they tortured them, the more Hashem had them multiply. Jews were miraculously having as many as six babies at once. Since the Leviim weren’t enslaved or tortured, they didn’t receive this miracle growth to their population.
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The escape clause
ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר
Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain
The holiday of Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. It’s when the Ten Commandments were stated. Before the great revelation of the Divine, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain, and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. The gemarra concludes that this created a מודעא רבה לאורייתא, meaning they had an escape clause. If they ever failed to keep the Torah, they could always claim that they never accepted it willingly. They were never really obligated to keep it, since their acceptance was under duress. Only once they accepted it anew did they lose this claim.
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The toil of Torah
אם-בחקותי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם
If you walk in my decrees, and you guard my mitzvos, and perform them….
The parsha begins by spelling out all the good that will happen to us if we follow Hashem’s Will, and everything else that will happen if we don’t. The Torah begins this stipulation with a vague requirement to walk in Hashem’s decrees. What does this mean? It can’t mean that we should observe Hashem’s commandments, as that’s what the rest of the verse expresses. We are taught that it means that we are expected to toil in Torah. Not just learn it, but be fully engaged in the learning experience. This is in addition to our mitzvah observance. We are also taught that Hashem so-to-speak yearns for our toil in Torah. Why is this so, and why is this the introductory requirement in order to receive Hashem’s blessings?
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The Mountain and the rested Land
וידבר יקוק אל-משה בהר סיני לאמר: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you arrive at the land which I give to you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath for Hashem
This week’s parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land of Israel is to lie fallow, and the fruits become ownerless. What’s unusual with this mitzvah is it’s introduced by specifying that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. This specification isn’t done with any other mitzvah. What does shemittah have to do with Mount Sinai? Rashi says to teach us that just like the general principles as well as the details of the mitzvah of shemittah were taught at Mount Sinai, the same is true for all mitzvos. However, this is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishmael holds that all other mitzvos had their general principles taught at Mount Sinai, and their details were taught at the Tent of Meeting . What then does he learn from the specification of Mount Sinai with the mitzvah of shemittah? As well, even according to Rabbi Akiva, why was shemittah chosen to specifically teach us this idea?
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