Balak 5779

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The repulsive idol and the lack of boundaries[1]

ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב וגו’ וצמד ישראל לבעל פעור וגו’‏
The [Jewish] nation began[2] to commit lewd acts with the women of Moav…and the Jews clung to [the idol] Ba’al Peor[3]

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[4]. 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[5], and then to defecate on it[6]. How could the Jews be not only interested, but totally attached to such an idol?

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Chukas 5779

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The dormant merit[1]

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[2] in Cheshbon[3]

After forty years in the wilderness[4], 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[5] an explanation from Chazal[6] that Og had actually been alive since the times of Avraham[7]. He informed Avraham that the latter’s nephew Lot had been taken captive during an intense civil war[8]. 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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Korach 5779

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Keeping our loved one in mind[1]

ויקח קרח וגו’ ודתן ואבירם וגו’ ואון וגו’ ויקמו לפני משה ואנשים מבני-ישראל חמשים ומאתים וגו’‏
Korach took [his tallis][2] …and Dasan and Aviram…and Ohn…they and two-hundred and fifty men from the Jewish people confronted Moshe…[3]

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[4], a blueish color. Normally, only some of the tzitzis strings need to be dyed techeiles[5], but not the garment itself. He had two-hundred and fifty of his men wear[6] a similar garment in front of Moshe[7]. 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[8]. 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[9]. How then could he ever think that such a tallis would be exempt from tzitzis?

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