The torn garments; the torn tribe
ויתן להם משה לבני-גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן-יוסף את-ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי ואת-ממלכת עוג מלך הבשן וגו’
Moshe gave to the tribe of Gad, the tribe of Reuven, and half of the tribe of Menashe, the son of Yosef, the kingdom of Sichon, the king of the Emorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of the Bashan…
The Torah describes an interesting interaction between the tribes of Reuven and Gad. They had abundant flock, and noticed that the recently conquered land on the East side of the Jordan river was suitable for flock. They requested to Moshe that they stay on that side of the river, and not join their brothers into the Land of Israel proper, on the west side of the Jordan. After a whole back and forth, Moshe eventually agreed to their request. Seemingly out of nowhere, Moshe also decided to allocate some of this land for half of the tribe of Menashe. They seemingly didn’t request this, so why did Moshe do this? Also, why only half the tribe, and not the whole tribe?
Continue reading “Mattos/Masei 5782”
A Greedy nature
ויען בלעם ויאמר אל-עבדי בלק אם-יתן-לי בלק מלא ביתו כסף וזהב לא אוכל לעבר את-פי יקוק אלקי לעשות קטנה או גדולה
Bilaam answered and said to the servants of Balak: “[Even] if Balak gave me the entirety of his treasury, silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to transgress the word of Hashem, my G-d, to do something small or large”
The Moabite King Balak had a plot to hire the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jews. Besides his occult abilities, Bilaam was a renowned non-Jewish prophet. He had direct communication with G-d. When Bilaam heard that Balak wanted his help, he responded in the negative. He stressed that even if Balak would give him all of the riches in the world, Bilaam admitted he couldn’t go against Hashem’s will. Rashi, quoting our Sages, tells us that this teaches us that Bilaam had a greedy nature.
Continue reading “Balak 5782”
Fiery snake bites
וידבר העם באלקים ובמשה למה העליתנו ממצרים למות במדבר וגו’ וישלח יקוק בעם את הנחשים השרפים וינשכו את-העם וגו’ ויבא העם אל-משה ויאמרו חטאנו כי-דברנו ביקוק ובך התפלל אל-יקוק ויסר מעלינו את-הנחש ויתפלל משה בעד העם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה עשה לך שרף ושים אתו על-נס והיה כל-הנשוך וראה אתו וחי: ויעש משה נחש נחשת וישמהו על-הנס וגו’
The nation spoke against G-d and Moshe: “Why did you take us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?!”… Hashem sent against the nation the nechashim haserafim (stinging snakes), and they bit the people… The nation came to Moshe and said: “We have sinned! For we have spoken against G-d and you. Pray to G-d to remove from us the snakes”. Moshe prayed on behalf of the nation. Hashem said to Moshe: “Make for yourself a saraf (snake; lit. burning/stinging), and place it on a staff, and it will be that all who were bitten will look at it and live.” Moshe made a copper nachash (snake), and placed it on the staff…
As the verses describe, the Jewish nation spoke rudely against Hashem and against His servant Moshe. The resulting punishment was Hashem unleashed against them a swarm of snakes, described in the verse as the nechashim haserafim, the stinging snakes. They bit the people, and many died. The nation repented, and Moshe prayed that the threat be removed. Hashem told Moshe to make some sort of statue of a snake, and called it a saraf. The verse then tells us that Moshe made a copper nachash, which means snake. How did Moshe know to make the statue out of copper? Rashi tells us that since Hashem told Moshe to make a nachash, His intent must have been a copper one, since the Hebrew word for copper is nechoshes, etymologically related to nachash. The obvious question on this is that Hashem told Moshe to make a saraf, not a nachash. If they’re the same thing, why is the Torah inconsistent in its terminology? If they’re not the same thing, what is Rashi saying?
Continue reading “Chukas 5782”
ויאמרו בני ישראל אל-משה לאמר הן גוענו אבדנו כלנו אבדנו: כל הקרב הקרב אל-משכן יקוק ימות האם תמנו לגוע
The Children of Israel said to Moshe, saying: “Behold! We have perished, we’re lost; we’re all lost! Anyone who comes close to the Mishkan of Hashem will die! Will we stop perishing?”
After a series of devastating blows, the morale of the Jewish people had reached a new low. Many had died at this point, due to unwarranted complaints or all out acts of rebellion. Those that remained were scared for their lives. They came to Moshe essentially expressing their complete despair. While this is a tragic point in the history of the Jews, we can perhaps glean an inspiring message.
Continue reading “Korach 5782”
The proper attitude towards mitzvos
ויסעו מהר יקוק וגו’ זכרנו את-הדגה אשר-נאכל במצרים חנם וגו’ וישמע משה את-העם בכה למשפחתיו וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-יקוק למה הרעת לעבדך וגו’ האנכי הריתי את כל-העם הזה אם-אנכי ילדתיהו וגו’
[The people] journeyed from the Mountain of Hashem… “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free”… Moshe heard the nation crying amongst their families…Moshe said to Hashem: “Why have You done evil to Your servant? … Did I bear this nation? Did I give birth to it?!”
Parshas Beha’alosecha is a depressing section of the Torah. It begins a series of sins that the Jews committed while they were in the desert. After the Torah describes three episodes of sins, Moshe abruptly starts complaining to Hashem. It appears like he was throwing in the towel, expressing his inability to deal with the people. This is quite surprising, for we know that when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe gave it his all to defend them. What’s different about these sins which were too much for Moshe to handle?
Continue reading “Beha’alosecha 5782”
The proper understanding of marriage
והשקה את-האשה את-מי המרים המאררים וגו’
You shall have the woman drink the cursed, bitter waters
The Torah describes what’s known as the Sotah ritual. If a married woman, due to her immoral behavior, becomes a presumed adulteress, she and her husband cannot live together until the matter is confirmed. If she indeed committed adultery, they have to divorce. If she is in fact innocent, they can resume married life as normal. How can they clear up this scandal? The Torah provides a unique avenue for her to prove her innocence. The woman, now known as a Sotah, is taken to the Temple. Various rituals are performed, and offerings brought. This includes writing down on a piece of parchment a set of curses which are to befall her if she is guilty. This parchment contains instances of the name of Hashem. It is then placed in a cup of bitter water, the writing dissolves, and she is to drink it. Miraculously, after the ceremony, it became clear to everyone if she was innocent or not.
Continue reading “Nasso 5782”
Fire, water, desert
וידבר יקוק אל-משה במדבר סיני באהל מועד וגו’
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting…
The Jewish people, ever since our inception at the Exodus from Egypt and the National Revelation at Mount Sinai, have been pursued by the enemies of Torah. Throughout the generations there were always new means created to try to extinguish the flame of our tradition. Our national memory recalls that these efforts have grown stronger and mightier, seemingly beyond the boundaries of nature. We all know it was not one Jew who gave up their life to preserve the Torah, but myriads. And yet, our enemies’ efforts to slaughter us have proven futile, as the Torah is just as present as ever.
Continue reading “Bamidbar 5782”
The responsibility of the Kohen Gadol
…והשיבו אתו העדה אל-עיר מקלטו אשר-נס שמה וישב בה עד-מות הכהן הגדל וגו’
…The congregation shall return [the accidental killer] to his city of refuge (where he initially fled to), and he shall dwell there until the death of the Kohen Gadol…
The Torah mandates that someone who, G-d forbid, accidentally kills another, be sentenced to exile. They have to leave their family and friends and dwell in one of the cities of refuge that the Torah delineates. It serves both as protection from the deceased’s relatives (who may want to take revenge), and as a form of atonement. The Torah does give a time limit to this exile. Although, it’s seemingly incongruous to the crime committed. The accidental killer must stay in their city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Only then can they return to their home. Why did the Torah make his freedom dependent on the Kohen Gadol’s death?
Continue reading “Mattos / Masei 5781”
פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם ולא-כליתי את-בני-ישראל בקנאתי
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Jewish people, by acting out his zealotry amongst you. [As a result] I did not wipe out the Jewish people with my zealotry
Parshas Pinchas begins where the previous parsha ended. Zimri ben Salu, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, committed a leud act with a Midianite woman in front of the entire congregation. Moshe was at a loss what to do. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon HaKohen, recalled that in such a situation a zealot may take the law into their own hands. He punished Zimri, and Pinchas was rewarded kindly by Hashem. The Sages in the Midrash make an unusual comment about the results of Pinchas’ actions. They say that “it makes sense that Pinchas was rewarded”. What do they mean by this teaching, and what are they stressing?
Continue reading “Pinchas 5781”
Bilaam’s interaction with Hashem
ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם ויאמר מי האנשים האלה עמך: ויאמר בלעם אל-האלקים בלק בן-צפר מלך מואב שלח אלי
G-d came to Bilaam and said to him: “Who are these men who are with you?” Bilaam said to G-d: “Balak, the son of Tzippor, the King of Moav, sent [them] to me”
ויאמר אלקים אל-בלעם לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את-העם כי ברוך הוא: ויקם בלעם בבקר ויאמר אל-שרי בלק לכו אל-ארצכם כי מאן יקוק לתתי להלך עמכם
G-d said to Bilam: “Do not go with them. Do not curse the nation, as they are blessed”. Bilaam got up in the morning and told the ministers of Balak: “Go back to your land, as Hashem has withheld permission for me to go with you”
ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם לילה ויאמר לו אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את-הדבר אשר-אדבר אליך אתו תעשה
G-d came to Bilaam in the night, and said to him: “If these men came to invite you, then get up and go with them. However, relate [only] that which I will tell you. That is what you shall do”
The King Balak, whom this parsha is named after, hired the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The verses show that he was a non-Jewish prophet, and communicated with G-d. It’s interesting to see and analyze their interactions. Rav Rutterman, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, related that we can glean two fascinating insights into the human psyche from these interactions.
Continue reading “Balak 5781”