Korach 5780

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The danger of scoffing[1]

וידבר אל-קרח ואל-כל-עדתו לאמר בקר וידע יקוק את-אשר-לו וגו’ זאת עשו קחו-לכם מחתות וגו’‏
[Moshe] spoke to Korach and his assembly, saying: “Tomorrow morning it shall be known who is Hashem’s…Do this: Take for yourselves firepans”[2]

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. Korach claimed that Moshe was making everything up[3]. He claimed that Moshe was a false prophet. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The next morning, they would all take firepans and put incense on them. Through this act of Divine service, it would become clear who was Hashem’s chosen leaders. The result was that those that banded with Korach were burned to death by their firepans, whereas Moshe and Aharon emerged unscathed. This validated their rightful place as the leaders of the people, and prophets of Hashem.

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Mattos-Masei 5779

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Mistaken priorities[1]

וגשו אליו ויאמרו גדרת צאן נבנה למקננו פה וערים לטפנו וגו’ בנו-לכם ערים לטפכם וגדרת לצאנכם וגו’‏
[The tribes of Reuven and Gad] approached [Moshe] and said: “We will build shelters here for our flock and cities for our children”…[Moshe responded: “Build for yourselves cities for your children, and shelters for your flock”…[2]

After the Jews conquered the land of Sichon and Og, on the east side of the Jordan River, they were prepared to enter the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuven and Gad noticed that the area they had just conquered was excellent grazing land. Being that they had ample flock to feed, they thought it would be a good idea for their apportioned land to be given from this one, instead of the land of Israel proper. They approached Moshe and told him if they received this conquered land, they would use it to build shelters for their flock, and cities for their children.

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Balak 5778

Personalized rebuke[1]

ותאמר האתון אל-בלעם הלא אנכי אתונך אשר-רכבת עלי מעודך עד-היום הזה ההסכן הסכנתי לעשות לך כה ויאמר לא
The donkey said to Bilaam: “Am I not your donkey which you have ridden upon from when you first started[2] until now? Have I ever been in the habit[3] of doing this to you?” [Bilaam] replied: “No”[4]

As the wicked gentile prophet Bilaam was on his way to curse the Jewish people, an Angel of Hashem blocked his path[5]. He could not sense the Angel, unlike the donkey he was riding on. As the donkey kept trying to change course, Bilaam hit it. A miracle happened, and his donkey spoke to him. She asked him why he would hit it. This donkey had served him faithfully all these years, and surely this change in behavior was for some yet-unknown reason. Bilaam couldn’t deny the donkey’s logic. Chazal note[6] that there are two instances in the Torah were a person was rebuked and became speechless; they had no way to respond. These instances are to teach us to heed the final day of judgement, where Hashem will show us our failings, and we will be unable to respond. The first instance is with Yosef and his brothers[7]. Despite having his brothers sell him to slavery, Yosef became the viceroy in Egypt. When he finally revealed his identity to them, they were speechless. The second is with Bilaam and his donkey. When Chazal teach this lesson, they phrase it in a strange way. They say that when Hashem will rebuke us, He will do so in a manner that is in accordance to each person. What does this phrase mean?

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