Devarim – Where to Go Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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We are living in times where we are stuck, we have no place to go, there are no solutions. Everything is unknown and seemingly helpless. These feelings are exacerbated at this time of the year when we mourn over our exile, the pitiful feeling of being homeless with the Beis HaMikdash in ruins, without any sense of knowing when this exile will end.  When will we be brought home? When will everything be ideal, peaceful, and clear? How can we handle all these doubts in life? What can we do to pull through and live unwaveringly? 

Every year we read this week’s Torah portion of Devarim right before Tisha B’Av. There are a couple of pesukim in the portion that connect to this day. One of them states, concerning the travels in the desert upon spending a nice amount of time by the land of Seir, Esav’s descendant’s land, that Hashem told the Jews: “You have been skirting this hill country long enough; now turn north” (Devarim 2:3).                                          רַב־לָכֶ֕ם סֹ֖ב אֶת־הָהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה פְּנ֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם צָפֹֽנָה׃ 

The Medrish Rabba on this portion expounds on this pasuk by first quoting a pasuk in Tehillim “Be patient and wait for the LORD, do not be vexed by the prospering man who carries out his schemes” (Tehillim 37:7). Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said that at the time the enemy (Rome) came to destroy Jerusalem there were 600,000 destructive angels standing at the entrance to the Beis HaMikdash to defend it. When they saw Hashem’s Holy Presence watching and keeping silent, as it says, “He has withdrawn His right hand [that shielded Israel] from the enemy” (Eichah 2:3), so too they gave way for [the Roman] to come in. Rebbe Yehuda bar Simon said, If [Hashem] saw them come to destroy His house and was quiet, how can you want to stand up against them, they just are requesting their reward that came for them from their forefather [Esav] for honoring our forefathers. When the pasuk says, “רַב־לָכֶ֕ם סֹ֖ב” what does “סֹ֖ב אֶת־הָהָ֣ר” mean? Rebbe Chanina said that Esav encircled his parent (הורו), referring to his father who relied on him for food, as it says, “Yitzchak loved Esav because game was in his mouth” (Breishis 25:28). Rebbe Shmuel bar Rebbe Gedalia said, Hashem said ‘I am going to payoff reward,’ when Yaakov gave Esav gifts, what did Esav say? “I have plenty (רַב), don’t be pained.” Hashem said, in this manner he honored Yaakov and so to in this language I will say turn away from them ( רַב־לָכֶ֕ם סֹ֖ב) “for you have been surrounding this hill for a long while (Devarim Rabba 1:17). 

The Rada”l explaining the Medrish when it says that Hashem was silent when the enemy was ready to destroy His house, if so how can they try to defend it, and this is what’s referred to when the Torah says “you have been… for a long while,” shouldn’t the student be like his teacher? It’s possible that “skirting this hill” is homiletically referring to the Beis HaMikdash which is called “the good mountain…”meaning the Jews should surround and stare at this mountain that will be destroyed and then they will understand that it is not worth it to try to attack the enemy. 

The Medrish Rabba (paragraph 19) concludes explaining the rest of the pasuk, (פְּנ֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם צָפֹֽנָה), “now turn north,” what do these words refer to? Rebbe Chiya said that Hashem said to them “If you see that [the enemy, Rome] wants to provoke you do not stand up against them, rather hide yourselves from them until they pass from this world, that is what it means  “now turn north,” צָפֹֽנָה the root of this Hebrew word could also mean hidden. Rebbe Yehuda bar Shalom said that the Jews said to Hashem, “Master Of The World, his father blessed him (Esav) with the blessing of ‘and you shall live by your sword,’ and you agreed with him, and told us to hide ourselves from them, but where should we run away to?” Hashem said back, “If you see them about to attack you run away to Torah,” and what’s hidden (צָפֹֽנָה) refers to the Torah as it says, ‘He lays up sound wisdom for the upright,’ (וִצְפֹּ֣ן יִצְפֹּ֣ן לַ֖יְשָׁרִים תּוּשִׁיָּ֑ה). 

The Rada”l on this particular medrish has a very important messages to convey based on the words “run away to Torah.” Similarly, the Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (chapter 6) exclaims that when one sees suffering coming to him he should run to the rooms of Torah and immediately the suffering will run away from him. The Likutten in the Tanna D’vei Eliyahu explains that when one is learning Torah and he is also suffering; his heart will feel content about it… What will he then do, judge the situation righteously…? This is what it means that the suffering will just run away, meaning you won’t feel your suffering emotionally, and also automatically through accepting you suffering with love then there will not be any wasting time from Torah learning and the suffering will separate from you.  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Putting these two midrashim together which explains this pasuk in our Torah portion in its entirety, what can be concluded is that when the Romans came to conquer Yerushalayim and destroy the Second Beis HaMikdash Hashem told the Jews that they were not worth defending themselves, it was over, their sins makes it fitting for the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed and for them to be put into exile, while it is time for the Romans to reap the reward of their forefather Esav who deserves to be rewarded for his deeds of showing respect for his father Yitzchak and the one time he showed respect to his brother Yaakov. The Jewish people were stuck, the Heavenly decree was declared and there was no way out. So what were they supposed to do, there was no point in putting up a defense and where could they go?  

Hashem answered that they should runaway to the Torah. But what does that help? Does everything just magically disappear? They are in the middle of a war zone, being trampled and torn apart, one would think it is hardly the time to sit down and learn! 

However what the Rada”l is in fact telling us is that the medrish is trying to teach us a very important lesson in sanity. When all else fails and there is no hope, in order to avoid anxiety and depression the remedy is Torah learning. It has an effect to calm one’s nerves, to be able to judge the situation and Hashem favorably as well as to accept with love the state one is currently in. This is not magic; it makes perfect sense. How can one delve into Hashem’s gift to mankind as a handbook for life and think Hashem is evil, chas viShalom, for putting him in this deadly, painful situation. This would be a contradictory attitude while learning the Book of Life, therefore Hashem said, when one is suffering and there is nothing else to seemingly do, no place to turn, all else fails physically or naturally then still don’t give up, don’t be depressed, accept Hashem’s judgement with love. But how can you just do that so easily? 

The solution is Torah learning! By submerging oneself into the Book of Life then one will perforce realize how to judge the situation righteously and it is medication for the mind and soul in order to accept the plight that one is in with open hands and love so that one can live a fulfilling life again, without wasting any time from Torah learning, no matter what the situation is. It can be war time, a serious illness, a pandemic, or a natural disaster, but all the feelings of suffering and unknown and hopelessness will disappear when starting to learn Torah, it’s a psychological and spiritual healer even when all else fails. 

Good Shabbos Chazon, may we see the true redemption sooner than later, G-D willing, 

Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder 

Mattos/Maasei –

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Subtle Differences Between a False Sense of Security and True Security
Does trust in Hashem lead to doing His mitzvos, or does doing mitzvos lead to trust in Hashem? And, vice versa, does trusting in some one or something other than Hashem lead to sin, or does sin lead to trusting in others other than Hashem? Both could be true, and the Chovos Halevavos in his introduction to the Gate of Trust observes in terms of trusting in Hashem, “The benefits in religious matters: Among them, peace of mind, and trusting in G-d as a servant must trust in his master. Because if one does not place his trust in G-d, he will place his trust in something else, and whoever trusts in something other than G-d, the Al-mighty will remove His providence from such a person, and leave him in the hands of the one he trusted, and he will be as it was written: ‘For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water’ (Yirmiyahu 2:13). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This pasuk in Yirmiyahu is read in this week’s Haftorah, which is read during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, discussing the wayward, rebellious state of the Jewish people on the eve of the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash. The Radak details the parable made of Hashem to a wellspring of flowing water, which is true security, to idolatry and the other nations which are a false sense of security. The Radak observes, “The prophet compares the good that influenced the Jews while they still strongly held onto Torah observance, to the source of a living spring which brings forth water without stop, so to [Hashem says] ‘I am the same way and you left me to serve gods which for them are like broken wells.’ Wells or cisterns are man made to gather in them rainwater and if they are broken all their water will leak out of them just as it came in. Behold those that trust in them are flawed, and behold it is good to rely on Hashem who is compared to an ever flowing live water spring for 2 reasons: (1) For the water doesn’t come to him from any other place rather from its place do they flow, (2) it never stops flowing. Similarly, it is good to rely on Hashem because the good comes to them from Him, Himself and He doesn’t receive the good from any place else and His good never stops. On the flip side, comparatively the good that the Jews receive from gods and from nations who observe them, and they in fact trusted in the king of Assyria and the king of Egypt to help them from the enemy which was harassing them at the time, are like broken wells, for even if they were full to the top with no cracks, they have a stopping point when they run out of the water which was poured into them, not emanating from themselves. So to the power of those that Israel was seeking help from came from elsewhere because the king can’t do anything without his army and servants, of course also without the help of Hashem, as it says ‘the king does not save with most of his valor.’ If they are relying on their gods to help them, behold they are like broken wells that can’t retain water, for even if someone pours water into them, it would leak out through the cracks and no water would be found, similarly one who trusts in other gods even if they are a very big nation with weapons, they are like nothing and their enemies can defeat them. Also, if they were low on food supplies and turn to their allied nations for sustenance then they might turn to them to ask for a lot but they will only have so much to offer.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
After understanding the parable it would seem obvious that it is better to trust in Hashem and observe his mitzvos because the starting point is that Hashem is the Almighty, All Powerful, and ever flowing with good and favor, (one only receives that goodness when he reciprocates with Torah observance and doing Hashem’s will.) Why would anyone reject this especially if the flip side is relying on someone who is finite and imperfect who can’t even take care of himself but must rely on human manpower for strength and control. Also, though they have opportunities to rely on Hashem to fortify their strength why rely on third hand help or sustenance instead of getting help from the source, Hashem Himself, even if it is through His intermediaries it is still better than relying on a human leader which winds up being at least third hand help. Certainly, if these human allies don’t trust in Hashem, but rely on others then you are trusting in something which is imperfect and has faults that relies on nonperfect, faulty material to bring imaginary hope and reliance. To put it in this vane why would anyone ever choose relying and trusting in others and not have full trust in Hashem? Isn’t it an obvious choice?!!

However, the reality is that one’s full trust in Hashem that He will sustain and take care of him is dependent on his level of observance and commitment to Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos. For the more a person does Hashem’s will then Hashem reciprocates with security and reward therefore a person will understand and strengthen his trust in Hashem but because people make mistakes and don’t always serve Hashem properly then there are repercussions which makes life not so easy which in turn makes it harder for one to put full trust in Hashem, (though he should have full trust in Hashem even if one makes mistakes but one should trust that Hashem is doing what is right for you and you should strive to do better so that you will deserve the ultimate good which Hashem wants to bestow upon you,) and that is why people turns to other things to trust in, and once one loosens his connection and trust in Hashem then Hashem allows him to trust in what he begins to rely upon in his imperfect state. This is what the Chovos Halevavos quoted above means.

One might say Hashem never takes care of me directly any way. He always sends his messengers to ensure I get what I need. Hashem usually works through nature so what’s the difference between relying on him and relying on His messengers? But that itself is the difference. It is all in the attitude. If the attitude is I am relying on Hashem, then your reliance is on an infinitely perfect entity that can send anything your way to help you and He never stops giving, you just stop properly receiving if you don’t do what is good for you. But if your attitude is why should I rely on Hashem, he’s not directly in my life in any sort of way and my life is miserable and bumpy any way, so I might as well trust in something that I can see and understand, though it is only human, or finite, so imperfect, then what you get is to be put into the hands of what you choose to rely upon, and even if it may look trustworthy in the beginning, but since nothing in this world is perfect, then you will run into trouble at some point, and by then it will be harder to get out of the mess you have made for yourself.

So in fact we see it is not so easy to choose the obvious choice of trusting in Hashem, but the key is that it is easier and better to trust in Hashem if you try to put all your efforts into serving Him properly and perhaps imbibing this parable into one’s kishkes will make it easier to adhere to doing the right thing which will result in a more fulfilling and enjoyable life style which you can put full faith into.

Pinchas – Human Perfection

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 Hashem decreed Moshe Rabbeinu’s death by the hitting of the rock in the Torah portion of Chukas. Now, Moshe is faced with the reality for the first time that he will pass on before entering the Promise Land in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas, “Hashem said to Moshe, “Go up to this mount Abarim and look at the land that I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother was gathered…” (Bamidbar 27:12, 13). Responding,  “Moses spoke to Hashem, saying: “Let the Lord, the God of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…” (Bamidbar 27:15, 16).

The Ralbag learns from Moshe’s response that those who have lived a complete, well-rounded life are not afraid of death, for they don’t greatly choose the life in this physical world, as there is something much better after they acquire all their intellect, which can only be appreciated in its entirety after one loses his physicality. For this reason we don’t find that Moshe was scared of dying;at this point and in any other place in time rather, Moshe requested from Hashem to appoint a person over the congregation who would put all his efforts into leading them, because his intentions were to do what was good for as long as possible. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

There is an innate drive in every living being to stay alive and to cower from death. It is in everyone’s natural instincts to do whatever they can to stay alive, to the point that a person will automatically recoil when faced with a burning fire. 

Anyone who feels the opposite is deemed to be unhealthy and possibly dangerous to themselves or others. Yet we find here that those who have reached human perfection, who have fulfilled their potential in life, do not fear death. Indeed, on the contrary, those individuals would rather die than live in this finite world. How does this seem appropriate for such an upstanding citizen of society and leader as Moshe Rabbeinu?

Furthermore it seems that Moshe did request from Hashem (in the Torah portion of Vaeschanan) to change the deadly decree on him, and get permission to enter the Promised Land with the Jewish people. So what does the Ralbag mean?
It would seem that in fact Moshe felt he was not finished yet with his mission in life. He believed that he could gain better insights to take with him to the Land of Eternity, if only he could enter the Holy Land. Which is why he davened 515 prayers to enter The Land. But he was not terrified of death itself, because he understood that his physical body in fact hindered the ultimate spiritual and intellectual experience of basking in the Presence of Hashem and appreciating the Torah he learnt in this world on a more pure and Divine level.

Only one who has nearly completed his mission in life and feels no need for his body anymore can wholly appreciate this, if not then on whatever level one is  on there is this natural pull and drive to stay physically alive.


Chukas/Balak – Clarifying Comes to Clarity

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One might think it is obvious that the best teacher one can possibly have is Hashem Himself. However, Hashem thinks otherwise in this week’s haftorah for Chukas and Balak, which takes place in the Book of Micha.

In the middle of the Haftorah, Hashem sends Micha to the Jewish people to “verbally fight” against them for rebelling against Him, right around when the First Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. “Hear ye, O mountains, the controversy of Hashem; and you mighty ones, the foundations of the earth; for Hashem has a controversy with His people, and with Israel He shall contend. O My people, what have I done, and how have I wearied you? Testify against Me. For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micha 6:2-4).

Hashem goes on to say in the next pasuk, which is the link to this week’s Torah portion, “My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab planned, and what Bilaam the son of Beor answered him. From Shittim to Gilgal, may you recognize the righteous deeds of the Lord.” The Haftorah concludes with the fact that Hashem does not want their sacrifices and offerings but rather, “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what Hashem demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-D” (Micha 6:8).
When Hashem first claims ‘what have I done wrong to you,’ and He reminds them of how He took them out of Egypt with great leaders, the Ibn Ezra says an amazing thing! Hashem is telling the Jews of the time, “That only a tremendous favor did I do for you when I elevated you and took you out by means of a person who can speak with you and tell you all you need to know, and to inform you of My ways. This was Moshe who came to Pharaoh and Aharon who prophesied for the Jews before Moshe came and Miriam who prophesied for the women. Also, the Torah was given through the hand of Moshe, and Aharon who was his spokesman. Both taught the mitzvos to the men and Miriam to the women. For the word of Hashem was with him face to face just as a person speaks to his friend mouth to mouth, and not in a dream or vision, or with riddles. This is a great favor and is amazing, for the words were clear like a father to his son and a rabbi to his student.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem challenges the Jewish people: ‘how can you rebel against me? I did so many favors for you and acted so kindly towards you, for example, I brought you out of Egypt and taught you the Torah through emissaries, not directly.’ Why was sending emissaries a kindness and a favor? Imagine watching videos of the most perfect orator, who spoke clearly and eloquently, better than you can imagine. Isn’t that exactly a depiction of what Hashem could have done, through dreams, visions or prophetic riddles, if Hashem were to have Himself given the instructions to leave Egypt, to each person, and taught each of them the Torah? How much better could it have gotten?

However we all know that the video sometimes is scratchy; there can be a blip in the system; the audio is bad; the bandwidth is weak. So as perfect of a speaker as He might be, there is a possibility of a glitch in our system, and of some disparity in understanding that might come about. So too if the Jewish people would not have had Moshe, who was on such a high level of prophesy, unlike anyone else, learning and getting direction from Hashem “face-to-face,” where he could question and clarify matters with Hashem, “mouth to mouth” and then teach it to Aharon and Miriam in order to help spread it to the masses so they could also question and clarify, then the Jewish people would have had to rely on their individual interpretations of dreams or visions or prophesy on lower, possibly unclear, levels, depending on where everyone was holding. In receiving direction and the Torah from Hashem directly they would not be able to respond back,  since they weren’t on the same level as Moshe was, to properly respond to Hashem. Therefore, it was a tremendous favor of Hashem to send Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam as His emissaries on His behalf to take them out of Egypt and teach them the Torah.

We see from here how important it is to have a father or rabbi in your life that you can talk to ask questions and clarify matters so they will be clear. Just watching videos, even if the speakers seem to be very clear, or reading books, even if you think they are clearly understandable, will not put you in the proper framework to serve Hashem properly compared to having someone who you can turn to and not be afraid to ask questions, as well as help you make applications to other matters, and to be sure you are doing the right thing. If Hashem could say it was better for them to have Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam as their guide and teacher, though it doesn’t make a difference how great they were, they still aren’t G-D, then it shows the opportunity to have a relationship with a rabbi to a student or a father to a son must be priceless. All the more so in our day and age even if our mentors and teachers aren’t as clear as professional speakers, but the professional speakers and expert writers aren’t G-D either.

 Bottom line the opportunity to be able to clarify matters, the give and take on a personal level to ensure clarity and to be able to apply one’s self is the best way to ensure you are doing the right thing and serving Hashem properly.
Take advantage!

Korach – The Response to Anarchy

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Korach’s rebellion with his followers takes place in this week’s Torah portion of Korach. The beginning of the portion states: “Korach the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Pelet, descendants of Reuvain. They confronted Moshe together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. They assembled against Moshe and Aharon, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” Moses heard and fell on his face. He spoke to Korach and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him” (Bamidbar 16:1-5).

The Medrish Rabba explains in more detail the conversation Korach and his followers had with Moshe and Aharon. They said to Moshe and Aharon that the entire nation are all holy and all of them heard on Har Sinai the mitzvah of, ‘I am the Lord your G-D’ so why should you reign over the congregation of Hashem?! We could understand if everyone didn’t hear the receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai, except for you, but now that everyone heard so why are you elevated over everyone else (Bamidbar Rabba 18:6)?

In the next paragraph of the Medrish Rabba (18:7), in the second answer of how Moshe responds the Medrish says that Moshe said to them, Hashem created boundaries in His world. Are you able to combine day and night? That is what the pasuk says in the beginning, ‘And it was evening, and it was morning’ (Breishis 1:5), ‘and G-D separated between the light and between the darkness’ (1:4 there). This was done for the practicality of the world. So just as He differentiated between light and darkness for the practicality of the world, so too He separated the Jewish people from the rest of the nations, as it says, ‘And I separated you from the rest of the nations to be for me’ ( 20:26). And so too He separated Aharon, as it says, ‘And he separated Aharon to make him holy in the Holy of Holies’ (Divrei HaYamim alef 23:13). If you are able to combine the  separation between light and the darkness, you are able to nullify this also, therefore Moshe said to them, ‘Morning, and Hashem knows what is His and the Holy and he offered on it, it is already fixed, and that which he chooses he shall bring close to Him.’

The Rada”l on the medrish clarifies that if light and darkness combined together the world would  be able to benefit from it’s useful purpose. So too the Jews separated from the rest of the nations of the world and Kohanim separated from Yisrael, through their separation, that is their use in order to stay holy and to be free to serve Hashem. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Korach and his followers’ claim is that everyone should be equal, we all are holy and together like one man with one heart who received the Torah then why should Moshe and Aharon be elevated to a higher status than everyone else? This statement is an anarchist, utopian like statement. What is Moshe’s response? Moshe breaks it down for them as clearly as possible, stage by stage to make clear that there is a logical need for a hierarchy, and it is unhealthy for the world to be one big melting pot.

Moshe first gave the example of the light and darkness, imagine if light and darkness would be combined, not light shed onto a pitch black room, but combined like if you would combine yellow and blue which makes green then you would never get the benefits of yellow and blue if they were always mixed, so too if light and darkness were combined then you wouldn’t be able to see as well or sleep as well, the combination would not be useful at all, at least at its optimal potential. The same is true about the Jews and the rest of the nations. By Hashem setting us apart and giving us a status of a light upon all other nations, princes to the King Of All Kings, he set us apart to keep us holy and focused on our mission to serve Hashem at great heights. If He would not have separated us from everyone else and we would just be intermingled with the rest of the world then there would be no push or sense of responsibility to be focused on being holy and to serve Hashem to the optimum since we’d all be doing the same thing and there would be no impetus to not do what everyone else is doing  and finds interesting. This means that the very essence of being set apart and put on a higher pedestal is what gives the proper motivation for one to succeed in what he is asked to do, the hierarchy and sense of being unique and special gives one a sense of responsibility to produce proper results. In this case of course every Human being was created in the image of Hashem, and has high degrees of intellect with potential to reach great heights in serving Hashem but Hashem still put the Jewish people on a pedestal in order so that they feel that sense of responsibility to be unique and separate, holy, so that they can be an example and benefit to the world in serving Hashem to their optimum.

So too within the Jewish people Hashem created a hierarchy of Kohanim over Yisraelim. The kohanim have to be even more scrupulous in their holiness and they are given the special job of the only ones able to perform the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, they have benefits such as  the priestly gifts, but their sanctified status comes with a lot of responsibility and if every Jew would have equal status, anyone can perform the sacrificial service, for example, then no one would adhere to the level of holiness required. This is similar to  people who wish to have no government or law and order because it is not right that some people have higher status and control over others. Yet without the positions of leadership there would not be an impetus or responsibility to get things done properly and the whole world would fall into chaos.

Even at the risk of abusive control, haughtiness and all other negativity that comes with leadership we see from here that it is more worth while to have a sense of hierarchy and not anarchy in the world in order to infuse a sense of responsibility and purpose  for the benefit of the world.

All Korach and his followers wanted was anarchy, a utopia where everyone is equal, but Moshe’s response was that it would be useless and harmful to the world because if everyone is equal. If there is no leadership then there is no responsibility and the world would then fall apart.

The Negiah: The Power of a Bias

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This week’s Torah portion is Shelach, which discusses the incident of the spies. This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim. It shows the power and extent a bias corrupts without defining what the bias of the spies was. For an explanation of the exact bias of the spies please click here and here and here for the Rosh HaYeshiva of the entire Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim network, Rav Henoch Liebwitz zt”l’s shmuz found in Majesty of Man.

A major theme in the Torah portion of Shelach is the count of the meraglim, the spies. The Mussar Giants say this is an example of great people succumbing to mistakes which appear be obvious to other people, but to the individuals involved in the matter there was some kind of negiah, bias, that distorted their deductions.

The Yalkut Shimone says that the spies were righteous. In the opening pasuk of the portion it says: “Send for you men,” “Shelach licha anashim;” and whenever the Torah says “anashim,” “men,” it is refering to righteous people.
The selection of these people were approved by both Moshe and Hashem. Nevertheless, on this pasuk Rashi says that Hashem told Moshe ‘they are being sent on your command, not Mine.’

Really, Moshe couldn’t understand the request of the Jewish people, because Hashem promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. So there was already a doubt as to whether their request was authentic or not; Hashem had assured them, so they shouldn’t have any doubt in the land.

In fact, at the end of his life, Moshe warned the people to not do like their fathers did and mess up when they were about to go into the Promise Land. Moshe reminded them, “And all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come’” (Devarim 1:22). Rashi there says that when the Jews came to ask for the spies the younger folks were pushing the elders and the elders pushing ahead of the judges. This was a lack of courtesy which Moshe now admitted he didn’t pick up on at the time but should have noticed and rejected their request. In the next pasuk, “And the matter pleased me; so I took twelve men from you, one man for each tribe,” Moshe even admitted that he thought they had a good idea. It is hard to admit you are wrong. But “Derech Eretz Kadmah liTorah,” good manners precede the Torah; it is the beginning and ending of the Torah. A slight lack of courtesy could destroy even a sincere and devoted motivation to do something. A lack of good manners is not being so meticulous in Jewish law, halacha, in general, and specifically in character development, mussar.

As a result, while Moshe hand-picked the spies and Hashem approved, he still had his suspicions and blessed Yehoshua, as well as prayed for him, that he would be saved from the influence of these bad people.

Once in the land, “They went up in the south, and he came to Hebron” (Bamidbar 13:22), Calev only went to Chevron to pray by the tomb of our forefathers. Calev at that point was aware that there was something wrong and prayed to not be corrupted. When the spies returned to the camp Calev had to stop the people from stoning Moshe and Aharon. He had to first act like he was against Moshe and Aharon to get the Jews to listen to him and then convinced them otherwise, that they were making a bad decision in following the rest of the spies. However, with all his bravery and conscientiousness, he still had to pray to Hashem to not fall to the influence of the spies. He might have thought that when he is in the company of all the great Jewish leaders he might be great himself, but if he is acting on his own, it is hard to feel that one can overcome the danger by himself. Therefore he turned to Hashem to ask for assistance. Based on this it would seem that both Yehoshua and Calev acted by themselves, not together, as it says that for their own deeds they merited to inherit a part in The Land.

To understand the extent of the spies’ bias and how far they went in going against Moshe, we see that they came back on Tisha B’Av and they went from tent to tent crying that ‘we will never see each other again’ and ‘destruction is imminent if we enter the land.’ Then all of the Jewish people, men, women, and children started to cry. Because of this bias they could not enter the land and there was then a real reason to cry, for all generations, until the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

The lesson we see from here is that even if one knows he is doing the right thing, but everyone else is doing the wrong thing, he still might be able to fall into the evil inclination’s trap. So one cannot rely on oneself but rather should pray for Divine Help as we see that Calev left the spies, though he might have put himself in a dangerous and compromising position, in order to pray to Hashem by the tomb of our forefathers. He couldn’t pray where he was but had to go to his forefathers, as he knew Hashem would accept their prayers to save him. Yehoshua, also, had Moshe pray on his behalf so he felt a little more comfortable since Moshe prayed for him.

There are times we feel a little too confident about ourselves, at those times we must turn to Hashem to pray to Him that He removes any bias that we can give in to when making decisions, for example, yeshiva guys sometimes feel too confident that they are always in yeshiva and don’t have to worry about any outside influences but the truth is they still have to pray for Hashem’s help to not stumble. So to, everyone else in the world, with their own circumstances should always turn to Hashem for Divine Assistance in making proper judgement calls.

Biha’aloscha – The Negative Effect Physical Desires for Food Have on Faith

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There are two episodes in the Torah which seem to mirror each other but had vastly different outcomes. In this week’s Torah portion Biha’aloscha the Jews complained that they were not given meat to eat which they desired, as the Torah states, “But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the Children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at’” (Bamidbar 11:4-6).  Hashem responded, “And to the people, you shall say, ‘Prepare yourselves for tomorrow and you shall eat meat, because you have cried in the ears of the Lord saying, ‘Who will feed us meat, for we had it better in Egypt.’ [Therefore,] the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat it not one day, not two days, not five days, not ten days, and not twenty days. But even for a full month until it comes out your nose and nauseates you. Because you have despised the Lord Who is among you, and you cried before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt’” (11:18-20)? In the end, “The people rose up all that day and all night and the next day and gathered the quails. [Even] the one who gathered the least collected ten heaps. They spread them around the camp in piles. The meat was still between their teeth; it was not yet finished, and the anger of the Lord flared against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very mighty blow” (11:32, 33). The Jewish people were in the desert for a couple of years at that point, and were on the way to Israel to possess their Promise Land, before they sent the spies. They had been eating nourishing manna all this time, yet the Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion says that they didn’t lust for something they required, they were simply running after their desires, since the manna was technically enough for them. But there was a group of lowlifes that left with the Jews out of Egypt who had convinced many of the Jews to cry and say that they very much desired that Hashem give them meat to eat, and even though they had a surplus of cattle, as it says, “And also, a great mixed multitude went up with them, and flocks and cattle, very much livestock” (Shemos 12:38), yet they wanted to find some excuse to have Hashem give them meat.

In a similar vein, right after the Jewish people witnessed all the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, when their belief and trust in Hashem reached such a peak that Hashem testified, “so said the Lord: I remember to you the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2), an expression of endearment for the Jewish people following blindly Hashem out of Egypt into a barren desert. Yet the Torah relates, “The entire community of the children of Israel complained against Moses and against Aaron in the desert. The children of Israel said to them, If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill! For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death…And Moses said, When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and bread in the morning [with which] to become sated, when the Lord hears your complaints, which you are making [the people] complain against Him, but [of] what [significance] are we? Not against us are your complaints, but against the Lord… And Moses said to Aaron, Say to the entire community of the children of Israel, Draw near before the Lord, for He has heard your complaints.…It came to pass in the evening that the quails went up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. The layer of dew went up, and behold, on the surface of the desert, a fine, bare [substance] as fine as frost on the ground” (Shemos 16:2-3, 8-9, 13-14). They just left Egypt with such wonderous miracles as eating from fruit trees miraculously grown and producing succulent fruit as they were walking through dryland in the splitting of the Red Sea, as well as drinking fresh water from the walls of salty seawater on either side of them, plus much sheep and cattle which left with them out of Egypt. Yet when they got to the desert of Cin their physical desire of hunger caused them to complain to Hashem. Yet at that point Hashem listened to them but did not punish them; on the contrary, he began giving them manna and quail.

What was the difference between these two episodes? Both times it would seem that the Jewish people were at such great height of belief and trust in Hashem that they should have trusted in Hashem to feed them at first, and later what Hashem had been feeding them; yet they complained that they wanted to go back to Egypt, as the Ralbag in the Torah portion of Bishalach says, since meat was found there in plenty. Both times Hashem listened to their complaints and gave them what they wanted. But the second time they were punished, and many died; what changed?
The Ralbag in his Toaliyos learns a very important lesson from here in this week’s portion, “this is to inform us that it is not befitting of a person to run after his physical desires, for we see what happened to those who ran after their desires and many of them died. However, the Almighty Hashem wanted to fulfill their request to show the nation that the hand of Hashem is not shorthanded so that they will strengthen their faith in the Almighty Hashem. He showed them the He brought for them such an abundance of meat to last a month, for even the least amount a person gathered was ten laden donkeys full. Now, behold The Almighty Hashem did not punish when they asked for meat and bread in the Desert of Cin because then they did not have manna and it was appropriate for them to ask for bread and sustenance. However, now, when they had manna the problem was, they were running after their physical desires or their intent was to test The Almighty Hashem if he can give them meat in such abundance.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We first learn from here that one’s physical desires, at the very least for food, can cause someone, even at such lofty levels of belief and trust in Hashem, to question their faith.
We also see how two episodes, which at first glance look exactly the same, can have drastically different results. For in the first case in Bishalach, all they wanted was a much-needed well-balanced diet, which Hashem patiently provided when they asked for it, though they did so in the form of a complaint. But in this week’s portion of Biha’aloscha their complaints stemmed from running after a desire that they wanted but did not need. Therefore, even though Hashem did fulfill their request, just to teach them a lesson in strengthening their faith, it came with deadly consequences.

It is very important to get to the root of an issue and to see the subtle differences before concluding that two things might look the same.

Naso – Expectations to Appreciate What You Can Have

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In this week’s Torah portion of Naso we discuss the status of a nazir. A nazir separates oneself from this world in 3 ways; he or she cannot cut their hair, drink wine or any grape products and cannot come in contact with the dead. An average nazirus [period of being a nazir]  is thirty days. The Torah states, “Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: A man or woman who sets oneself apart by making a nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of the Lord” (Bamidbat 6:2), and Rashi asks there, “Why is the section dealing with the nazarite placed in juxtaposition to the section dealing with the sotah? To tell you that he who has once seen a sotah in her disgrace should abstain from wine, because it may lead to adultery (Sotah 2a)…Too keep himself aloof from wine for the sake of Heaven. (Nedarim 9b, Sifri Naso 1:84.)”

The nazir is separating oneself from worldly matters for formidable reasons, for the sake of heaven; for example, in order to not fall into sin. Yet the Gemara in Taanis 11a says, “Shmuel said: Whoever sits in observance of a fast is called a sinner, as it is inappropriate to take unnecessary suffering upon oneself. The Gemara comments: Shmuel holds in accordance with the opinion of the following tanna, as it is taught in a baraisa: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar the Great says: What is the meaning when the verse states, with regard to a nazirite: “And he will atone for him for that he sinned by the soul [nefesh]” (Numbers 6:11). But with what soul did this nazirite sin? Rather, the nazirite sinned by the distress he caused himself when he abstained from wine, in accordance with the terms of his vow. And are these matters not inferred a fortiori (kal vachomer)? And if this nazirite, who distressed himself by abstaining only from wine, is nevertheless called a sinner and requires atonement, then with regard to one who distresses himself by abstaining from each and every matter of food and drink when he fasts, all the more so should he be considered a sinner.”

The Torah says a sacrificial atonement has to be brought by the nazir if he was in contact with the dead and ruined his first nazirus (see Rashi in Nazir 19a that says that a nazir is really liable as soon as he began to abstain from wine but he only is allowed to attain his atonement when he messes up and has to start all over again.) The Torah specifically states, “The kohen shall prepare one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering and atone on his behalf for sinning on his soul, and he shall sanctify his head on that day” (Bamidbar 6:11).

The Daas Zekeinim explaining what exact sin the nazir has done saying that “sinning on his soul” (מֵֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָ֖א עַל־הַנָּ֑פֶשׁ) is similar to the language used in Shoftim 20:16, “All these could sling a stone at a hair-breadth and not miss.” (כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא). The Targum says it means “he changed from;” in this case he changed his soul and prevented it from drinking wine. This is similar to the drasha brought by Chaza”L, ‘who distressed himself abstaining from wine.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Daas Zekeinim is explaining this pasuk based on the gemaras in Nazir and Taanis which say that a nazir deserves an atonement for just abstaining from what he was once permitted. This isn’t a sin per say but it still is deserving of an atonement because he is going against the norm and what he has been accustomed to. Why is this a problem, especially in lieu of the fact that Rashi pointed out earlier that he is doing this for the sake of Heaven, to not indulge too much in worldly matters, and to stay away from sin? Also, wine is known to be something which can cause much harm or inappropriateness, like what happened by Noach and Lot. So it would seem that what a nazir is doing is a very positive thing; so why is he deserving of an atonement even if he did not mess up on his nazirus?

It would seem that forbidding something which G-D permits to you is a problem because you are changing something which  you are allowed to have. The reason why this is a problem deserving of an atonement can be understood from the words of the Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim.
The Mesilas Yesharim in his section on Kedusha, chapter 26, says “Behold, for the man sanctified with the holiness of his Creator, even his physical deeds become actual matters of holiness. A sign of this is in “the eating of temple offerings”, which our sages of blessed memory said: “the priests eat and the owners obtain atonement” (Pesachim 59b)… But for the Holy man who constantly clings to his G-d, whose soul treads freely among true thoughts in love of his Creator and fear of Him, behold, it is considered as if he is walking before G-d in the Land of the Living, while still here in this world. Such a man is himself considered as a tabernacle, a temple and an altar. This is as our sages said (Gen. Rabba 62:6)… For the Shechina (divine presence) dwells within them just as it dwelled in the Temple. Due to this, the food they eat is like a sacrifice offered upon the fire of the altar, for certainly it was a great elevation for those things to be offered on the altar, since they were offered before the Shechina… So too, the food and drink which the holy man eats elevates that food or drink as if it had actually been offered on the altar… and “[if a man wishes to offer a wine libation upon the altar], let him fill the throat of the Torah scholars with wine” (Yomah 71a). This does not mean that Torah scholars were craving for food and drink, G-d forbid, that one fills their throats like one stuffs a glutton. Rather, the matter is according to the intent I explained. That Torah scholars who are holy in their ways and in all their deeds are actually just like the Temple and the altar, for the Shechina (divine presence) literally dwells upon them as it did in the Temple. Thus, what is offered to them is as offered on the altar, and the filling of their throat is as the filling of the basins.”  We see how a righteous person can take something mundane, even wine, and make it holy when being used with proper intentions, and this Nazir wants to lose that potential opportunity by abstaining from wine?! Putting oneself in that potential missed opportunity deserves an atonement! (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Furthermore the Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Happiness discusses the pros and cons of drinking, and by the advantages he says: “From all of these citations we can know the praise of wine when it is drunk according to the measure of the wise who drink a specified amount — so that the intelligence may be stronger than the wine and not the wine be stronger than the intelligence, and who drink at a set time, together, and not with those barren of knowledge, vain and empty. For wine adds deep wisdom, a tree of life for those that hold it. And wine adds wisdom to the intelligent person but doubles the folly of the fool. It revives the love of a friend but stirs up the enmity of a foe. It opens the hand of the generous and hardens the heart of a miser. And thus should be the manner of one who drinks wine. He should use the wine as a healing for his worry and thus strengthen himself in Torah to study it with joy, for when a man is plunged in grief he cannot study and even judges of courts of law, when they are grieved, cannot give a clear judgment. Grief also disturbs the concentration of the mind on one’s prayer. Also, when a man is plunged in pain or grief he has not the strength to fulfill the request of someone who is speaking to him or is asking him for a favor. And it is written : “In an acceptable time have I answered you” (Is. 49:8). Therefore, an intelligent person should direct himself in drinking wine in this manner — that he should remember not to drink too much so as to be compelled by his condition to neglect his work and his affairs. And, moreover, he must guard himself from drinking so much that he neglects his study of the Torah and his prayers, or until he becomes too frivolous and lightheaded. And he should not drink to the extent that he reveals his secrets or the secrets of others. And if you will drink in this moderate measure, wine will not become loathsome to you. Even on Holidays and Festivals, of which it is written : “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 12:18), one should not prolong his drinking more than is proper, as it is said : “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart” (Ibid. 28:47). From this you learn that we have not been commanded to rejoice in a manner that the Creator of all is forgotten. For it is impossible to serve the Lord, may He be Blessed, out of lightheadedness, or laughter, or drunkenness.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Ultimately there is a balance that must be made when it comes to indulging in worldly pleasures, especially drinking wine. We cannot deny that Hashem did create a concept of a nazir, as there is a whole portion about it in the Torah and a whole masechta dedicated to it in the gemara. Therefore it must be permitted, and possibly needed, for some people to best stay out of trouble; however we see from here that it is not the ideal situation. One should preferably use drinking wine and other worldly matter for the sake of Heaven, to serve Him  optimally, as Hashem intended for us in this world. For this reason, a nazir, even if he is abstaining for only thirty days and even if he did not break his nazirus, really is in need of atonement.

We see from here how much we must appreciate what Hashem gives us in this world and to use it wisely because that is what Hashem wants us to do.

Shavuos – No One Published “Understanding G-D for Dummies”

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בָּר֥וּךְ כְּבֽוֹד־יְהֹוָ֖ה מִמְּקוֹמֽו
 “Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place” (Yechezkel 3:12). This pasuk is said, at a minimum, 3 times every morning in our davening, as well as being in every Kedusha. What is the meaning behind this pasuk and why does it conclude the haftorah for the first day of Shavuos?

The Haftorah for the first day of Shavuos comes from the first chapter of Yechezkel which discusses the Maaseh Merkava, Hashem’s “Heavenly Chariot,” because the vision that Yechezkel had in his prophecy is similar to what took place when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The Mishna in the beginning of the second perek of Chagiga says that one may not expound on this subjectexcept with one individual who is a sage and understands of his own knowledge. The Rambam explains the concept of the Maaseh Merkava as trying to understand in detail the reality of Hashem and His description, as well as angels, the soul,  intellect, and what happens after death. The Bartenura argues and says it refers to using “Hashem’s Crown” through mentioning Hashem’s Holy Names, including how exactly angels are arranged in Heaven, and tapping into Divine Intervention, Ruach HaKodesh. Either way, it is a very deep concept which we will not get into. Then the Haftorah seems to randomly conclude with the pasuk in perek 3 pasuk 12 of Yechezkel:

And a wind lifted me up, and I heard behind me the sound of a great uproar: “Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place.” יבוַתִּשָּׂאֵ֣נִי ר֔וּחַ וָֽאֶשְׁמַ֣ע אַֽחֲרַ֔י ק֖וֹל רַ֣עַשׁ גָּד֑וֹל בָּר֥וּךְ כְּבֽוֹד־יְהֹוָ֖ה מִמְּקוֹמֽוֹ:

The Gemara in Megilla 31a lists which haftorah we read for each Yom Tov, and does not mention this last pasuk. The earliest known source I was able to find was the Tur Orach Chaim, siman 494, which mentions reciting this last pasuk after reading the first chapter of Yechezkel as the Haftorah. It would seem random to throw in a pasuk, two perakim later, to conclude the Haftorah. What seemingly is the connection?
The Yalkut Shimone  puts the pasuk into context, “Rebbe Pinchas the Kohen, the son of Chama said in the name of Rebbe Reuvain, ‘What does and I heard behind me’ mean? After My friends and I praised Hashem I then heard ministering angels praise and declare, ‘Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place.’ And it says, ‘When the morning stars sing together, and all the angels of G-D shout’ (Iyov 38:7).”  Though very true that “Then the Ofanim, and the Holy Chayos with great noise raise themselves towards the Seraphim. Facing them they give praise saying ‘Blessed is the glory of Hashem from His place,’” as we say every morning in our davening, as alluded to in this medrish; yet  the Radak says on this pasuk that Yechezkel is foretelling through prophecy an appearance of him being lifted by the wind to go into exile, and when he was lifted by the wind he heard a voice from after the place he had his prophesy and the voice said, “Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place.” This means to say that when Hashem’s Holy Presence removed itself from His place on top of the covering between the Keruvim because the Jewish people were diminishing His honor when He was amongst them, as a sign of His zealotry. It is as if He added to His honor when removing Himself from them. “Blessed” refers to adding on good and honor… And the great sage, the Rambam, explained “From His place” to mean according to His loftiness and His basic role in reality. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
According to the Radak, Yechezkel was prophesizing about Hashem’s Holy Presence leaving the Beis HaMikdash, which led to the destruction of the First Temple. Granted, the Jews did not deserve Hashem’s Presence amongst them with all the miracles that took place daily in the Beis HaMikdash; but why is it considered an added honor for Hashem by acting with zeal to remove Himself from the Holy of Holies? Two wrongs do not make a right! The ideal place for Hashem’s Holy Presence in this world is the Holy of Holies above the Holy Ark, ideally with Hashem’s children following His commands. Why then did the Radak say that by leaving the Jewish people, because they were diminishing His honor, he was then adding honor to Himself?

In reality, the ideal setting for Hashem’s greatness in this world is to rest amongst His children as He did when He initially gave the Torah to us at Har Sinai with all the lightning, thunder, shofar blasts and legions of angels, and as he continued when they erected the Mishkan and eventually the Beis HaMikdash with the Shechina resting above the Aron Kodesh on top of the Keruvim. However, as the Radak concludes, by quoting the Rambam, ultimately Hashem’s greatness and honor is defined by His loftiness and with respect to His basic role in reality, which is in fact a mystery to us, and we can only conjecture using our finite brains.

For this reason it seems very apropos for the haftorah which discussed the Maaseh Merkavah, such a complex concept, to conclude with this pasuk since it is acknowledging how complex the loftiness and very concept and reality in fact is the Almighty, Blessed Be He, King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe, Hashem.

It is also very apropos for Shavuos itself, because we must appreciate more and more the profundity, depth, and magnitude, of the gift Hashem gave us. By realizing and gaining a better recognition of who the author of the Torah, the blueprints of creation and guidebook for life, is, then we can better appreciate how important it is to serve Him with every detail and minutia as He intended when giving us the Torah at Har Sinai.

Good Yom tov,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Bamidbar – Flags of Love

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Flags and banners are used to represent a nation or group of people; a country, state, city, university, or even a sports team. There is usually a lot of symbolism put into making a flag which represents what the group stands for.

This week we start the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. In this parsha, besides the census, Hashem sets up how the Jewish people will travel and encamp in the desert. He also gave each one of them a flag, with the color of the flag corresponding to the stone each tribe was represented by on the choshen of the kohen gadol. Each flag also had it’s own unique emblem; for example Yehuda had a lion, representing his kingship; Yissachar had a sun and moon sewn on their flag because they were experts in astronomy; Zevulun had a boat on their flag representing the sea trade they were destined to do on the coasts of Israel; Menashe had a bull; Ephraim had an antelope; Binyamin had a wolf; etc. Each emblem embodied a unique characteristic about each tribe which was hinted to by Yaakov in his blessings to his children before he did.

The Medrish Tanchuma (Bamidbar, 10) presents a novel reason why Hashem gave each tribe a flag. The pasuk says “Each man by his flag…,” “אִ֣ישׁ עַל־דִּגְל֤וֹ” (Bamidbar 2:2), this is what the pasuk refers to when it says “Let us sing praises for your salvation, and let us assemble in the name of our G-d” “וּבְשֵׁם־אֱלֹהֵ֥ינוּ נִדְגֹּ֑ל” (Tehillim 20:6).  “Let us sing praises of your salvation as it says, “Hashem saved” (Shemos 14:30). “And let us assemble in the name of our G-d,” The Blessed Be He’s name is like our name, and He made for us flags as it says, “Each man by his flag with signs.”   Hashem showed an immense amount of love towards the Jews by making flags just as the angels [had when they came down by the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, which the Jews coveted,] in order to recognize the children of Reuvain, the children of Shimon etc.individually. How do you know this is a show of love? For it says, “He brought me to the house of wine, and his attraction to me [was symbolic of his] love,” “הֱבִיאַ֨נִי֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַיָּ֔יִן וְדִגְל֥וֹ עָלַ֖י אַֽהֲבָֽה” (Shir HaShirim 2:4). Rebbe Abahu said, how do we learn from the pasuk “and his attraction to me was love,” for “He brought me to the house of wine.” What is this compared to? To a wealthy person who had a cellar filled with wine. He entered one day to check on the wine and he found that everything had turned into vinegar. On his way out of the cellar he found one barrel of good wine. He said that this barrel is the most beloved in the entire cellar. So to Hashem created 70 nations but he only enjoyed the Jewish people as it says, “He brought me to the house of wine.” בֵּ֣ית הַיָּ֔יִן 2 yuds equal 20 and the nun equals 50 which all equals 70, referring to the 70  nations and from all of them He only loved the Jews as it says, “and his attraction to me was love.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Medrish is telling us that Hashem gave us  flags as a show of love towards his children so that he can easily recognize them. But why does each tribe need a flag? Also, how does this fit with the parable which had only one love? There was only one barrel of wine which did not spoil, which is the one that the wealthy person cherished. So too Hashem loves the Jewish people more than any other nations of the world because we chose to stay good and accept Hashem’s guide book for mankind, the Torah, to follow and live by it, where as all the other nations chose to reject the Torah and spoil their lives with whatever they chose to do. So why should there be 12 flags? One flag for the Jewish people should be enough for Hashem to show his love and to give recognition of the Jewish people’s unique status?

It would seem that a true show of love is not made through just a general symbolic gesture like giving a gift or banner as recognition of that love; but rather individualizing that love, letting the one receiving the love show his or her shining colors in their own unique way, and capturing that uniqueness by showing how much you appreciate it. That is a better expression of love. Which is why Hashem wanted every tribe, with their own unique personality and character, to have their own unique flag, tailored made for them, so that Hashem will recognize and love them for being the individuals they are.

Later in the medrish it gives another interpretation of the pasuk in Shir HaShirim: “and his attraction to me was love,” Hashem says that even if a person is sitting, involved in Torah, from Torah to Torah, halacha to halacha, pasuk to pasuk, for me this is love and I cherish him, and his attraction to me was love.

The Etz Yosef explains that instead of reading the pasuk, “וְדִגְל֥וֹ עָלַ֖י” the medrish switches the lamed and gimel to read “וְדְִל֥גוֹ עָלַ֖י” which means skipping, this means to say that a person shouldn’t say, “How can I learn Torah if there are many areas which are to hard to understand, and I have to skip them,” Hashem says “Nevertheless I love you.”
What a powerful message of encouragement for of all of us! Even though the Orchos Tzadikim in the Chapter on Remembrance, 5th reminder says, “The fifth thing to remember is the mercy of God, who has shown mercy to him by giving him His pure Torah. Now if a king of flesh and blood had sent him a letter and he read it through and there was something in it that he did not understand, what anguish he would feel because he did not understand what the king was commanding him. And there is no doubt that if there was in the vicinity even a very insignificant person who knew how to explain that which he did not understand, he would hasten to go to him and would not be ashamed at all to inquire. How much more, then, should he be grateful for the Torah of our God (which explains everything).” One might think that if he is having difficulty understanding something of such magnitude he might as well give up then to skip around, that is a disgrace to Hashem and his Torah! Hashem responds I still love you even if you skip around. Do not give up entirely it is better for you to learn what you can and skip the hard part, and I still love you for doing that. Certainly, if one toils and sweats over understanding every detail of Hashem’s Torah, Hashem will be overjoyed but if you do not give up Hashem still loves you for whatever you do learn.

Hashem sets the bar for such detail one must appreciate andhow to express love for another.