Pinchas – Making it Your Mitzvah

Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month, is a special day, or two. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 417) sites the custom for women to refrain from strenuous work, like laundry on Rosh Chodesh. There are those who don’t shave, get haircuts, or cut their nails, based on a decree of Rebbe Yehuda HaChasid. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 419) says there is a mitzvah to enhance one’s meal on Rosh Chodesh. In many high school yeshivos they have a special Rosh Chodesh breakfast. From all this we find that the Jewish people treat the beginning of the month in an extra special manner. 
In fact, according to the Sforno in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas there is a special reason of why this is so. The Torah, discussing the Musaf offering brought for Rosh Chodesh, states: “On your New Moons, you shall bring a burnt offering to Hashem: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs in their first year, unblemished” (Bamidbar 28:11). The Sforno points out “that there used to be a Jewish custom on Rosh Chodesh that made it considered extra holy in some way, as the pasuk in Shmuel Alef (20:19) testifies, ‘Where you hid yourself on the day of the deed.’ This pasuk was referring to the fact that they did not go into work on Rosh Chodesh. This is why the pasuk here associated Rosh Chodesh with the Jews, ‘your head of the months’. We don’t find this by the festivals. It doesn’t say by Shabbos, your Shabbos or by Shavuos, your Day of Bikkurim, or by Sukkos, your Sukkos. The reason for this custom is because it would seem that the success of the Jewish people in this world is in some way similar to the moon, which by itself does not have light accept from what it gets from something else, i.e. the sun.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Sforno that the concept of treating Rosh Chodesh as a special time or day for the Jewish people is a custom that dates back at least to the times of David and Yonatan, son of King Shaul, which the pasuk in Shmuel was referring to; but most definitely even before that. But what was so special about them not working on Rosh Chodesh? They didn’t work on the festivals and Shabbos either, as Hashem commanded, and doesn’t Chaza”l say greater is one who is commanded to do something and fulfills the command then one who is not commanded? Furthermore, we see throughout history how each Yom Tov was treated with extra care, with people going out of their way to get the best lulav and esrog set, beautifying their Sukkah, having elaborate seders on Pesach, etc. etc. So why in fact is Rosh Chodesh so special that Hashem and His Torah, which is not time-bound, foresaw that the Jewish People would decide not to work on Rosh Chodesh and treat it as a special day, any more than Shabbos and all the  Yom Tovim, so that the Torah calls it “Your New Months”?

It is true that one who performs mitzvos because Hashem commanded him to is better than one who voluntarily performs mitzvos, because the one commanded is showing more dedication in following what he was told to do. However, that is not in contradiction with this, because no one was commanded to do anything by Rosh chodesh besides bring a Mussaf sacrifice. Hashem foresaw that because they all personally related to this time and made it very special for themselves to the extent that they chose to take a day or two off from work, depending on how many days Rosh Chodesh was that month and they made it festive and even sang partial Hallel to Hashem then they owned it and it’s  called ראשי חדשיכם, “your New Months” in the Torah.

We can glean from here a very important lesson, for Klal Yisrael as a whole was commended for taking to heart and treating with extra care the time of Rosh Chodesh. It makes sense that on a personal level, of course everyone should treat all mitzvos with the utmost importance and beautify them, but an individual has the ability and should try to find one mitzvah which he can relate to more than any other and make it his, own, make that mitzvah extra extra special, then it will be yours! 

(Parenthetically, in many editions of the Sforno this text is found as a reason why the Jews related personally to Rosh Chodesh more than any other time: “Although prior to the sin of the golden calf the Jewish people’s fate was totally independent of any foreign domination, described as חרות על הלוחות, a kind of absolute independence, freedom engraved on the Tablets (the first set no doubt), (compare Exodus 32,16) as well as Eyruvin 54 and Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 16), once they had sinned they (divested themselves of this privilege, (and) no longer made use of this “Royal crown” at all times as did the other nations, so that they did no longer appear to enjoy this advantage over the other nations of the world.
Ever since that spiritual disaster, the Jewish people could enjoy their original privilege of independence from the restrictions imposed by the fact that one is part of the “laws of nature” only on rare occasions in their history, whereas most of the time they were dependent on “light”, i.e. good fortune, from external sources not under their control. To that extent, their history reflects the situation of the moon with its periods of ascent and decline month after month. When the moon is not directly exposed to the light of the sun it becomes invisible. The expression אין מזל לישראל, (Shabbat 126) means that the Jewish people do not generate light of their own, do not work at being masters of their own fate, but rely entirely on Hashem to guide their fates. They receive this Divinely emanated light when their deeds are pleasing to Hashem.
This is why in the parlance of our prophets Hashem Himself is referred to as: “אור ישראל” Israel’s source of light. (compare Isaiah 10,16 as well as Psalms 27,1 where David refers to Hashem. as אורי וישעי, “my light and my salvation.”)
Whenever the Jewish people are in a state of sin, their sins act as a barrier between them and their G-D so that they are deprived of their source of light. When Isaiah describes their state of being when sinful, he speaks of their G-D hiding His face from them, as Israel walking in darkness harassed by the gentile nations. (Isaiah 59,2).
Whenever the Jewish people’s fortunes are at low ebb this represents a desecration of Hashem’s name, i.e. His reputation, as the gentiles refer to us sneeringly as עם ה’ אלה “are these the ones who describe themselves as Hashem’s special nation?” We can understand what our sages have said in Gittin 58 that whenever the Jewish people are in trouble, Hashem is automatically forced to share their troubles. Having linked His honor to the honor and glory of the Jewish people, He suffers with us, (allegorically speaking). Whenever we suffer, whenever we are in a state of being oppressed, Hashem is described as saying that “the pirate has attacked Me and you simultaneously.”
Seeing that the sin offering presented on Rosh Chodesh/New Moon’s day is an atonement for the Jewish people who are the cause of preventing the light of the moon to shine, or the reason it shines so weakly when it does shine, the sages in our prayers on that day referred to that sin offering as לכפר בעדם זכרון לכולם יהיו תשועת נפשם מיד שונא, “to obtain atonement for themselves. They were to be a memorial for them all, and a salvation for their soul from the hand of the enemy.” This is the reason that this is the only sin offering described as חטאת לה’, “a sin offering on behalf of Hashem.” Presentation of this offering is also in respect of the damage the sinful behavior of the Jewish people has inflicted on Hashem’s image among the gentile nations.
When we read about the dialogue described between the moon and Hashem in Chulin 60, where Hashem is eventually described as saying to the Jewish people “bring a sin offering on My behalf,” (in expiation for My diminishing the light of the moon) what the sage (Rabbi Shimon ben Pezzi) wanted to explain by putting such strange sounding words in ‘Hashem’s mouth’ is that ultimately the reason why the moon was diminished was because seeing it has a kinship with the Jewish people and they did not always live up to their lofty destiny, the moon [as a celestial representative of Hashem Himself, Ed.] therefore has to suffer alongside with them for their shortcomings. Seeing this may not sound quite fair, Hashem allegorically ordered a sin offering to be brought by the Jewish people on Rosh Chodesh/New Moon’s day in order appease the moon.)”

Balak – Destroying the Root of Evil by Storm

 At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Balak, after Bilaam failed to curse the Jewish people, he instead blessed them. Bilaam then tried to destroy them by seducing them to sin. The Torah reports, “Israel became attached to baal-peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Israel. Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Take all the leaders of the people. Hang them before Hashem against the sun and the flaring wrath of Hashem will withdraw from Israel.’ Moshe said to the judges of Israel, ‘Let each man kill his men who were attached to baal-peor'” (Bamidbar 25:3-5).
 A lesson the Ralbag learns from this episode is that as soon as evil begins to sprout it is worthwhile to put in efforts to immediately remove it, without any laziness, so that nothing more will sprout. For this reason, Hashem commanded Moshe to gather together the judges of Israel to immediately kill all those attached to the idol of baal-peor, so that His wrath would rest from among the Jews. He also commanded to do this in broad daylight so that all of Israel will suffer and they will remove the bad from amongst them in totality. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 We see from here that the Torah advocates for the annihilation of evil with speed and alacrity even if it means killing human beings and causing psychological trauma. It is acceptable in order to wipe out the evil among us. But killing is not required; any method that gets rid of the evil, while convincing others to not follow the bad ways is enough to ensure proper success.

But why should stopping the evil come to violence? Isn’t that extreme and sending the opposite message? Especially if it is necessary to be done in broad daylight in front of others. Can’t it cause too much trauma potentially? Isn’t it better to teach morals with proper civility? What about criminal justice reform?

 It is true that Hashem is absolutely and only good, and He advocates for peace at all times. Indeed, one of His names is Shalom, peace. However, Hashem also stands for truth, His signature is אמת, and truth cannot bear within its proximity evil; something which is not good is the opposite of truth, it is a lie. For this reason, anything which is evil should be nipped in the bud and removed as quickly as possible, as soon as it starts, if it can’t be avoided altogether.

However, this logic can easily be misinterpreted and taken into the wrong hands, and evil can use it as an excuse; that they are killing and destroying for the sake of good; so how can this be accepted? For this reason, the Ralbag points out that the Torah emphasizes that Moshe appointed judges, people who are sages, that knew and understood the letter of the law They had higher standards and morals and knew when and how to wipe out evil in the most appropriate way. When having these checks and balances, evil can be removed from among Klal Yisrael and we will have the chance to serve Hashem in the ideal peaceful and honest way which Hashem desires.

Chukas – Microscopic Focus

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In this week’s Torah portion of Chukas, Moshe Rabbeinu commits the sin of hitting the rock which was the ultimate cause for him not being allowed to enter the land of Israel. However, the pasuk says, “Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘Because you did not imbue belief in Me in the eyes of the Jews, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land I have given them’” (Bamidbar 20:12). Why is Aharon also mentioned and blamed? What did he do wrong?

The Medrish Rabba, quoting this pasuk, gives an insight as to why Aharon was punished. “This is what the pasuk says, ‘There is futility that takes place on earth: Sometimes there are righteous men who are treated as if they had done the deeds of the wicked; and there are wicked men who are treated as if they have done the deeds of the righteous. I declare this too is vanity’ (Koheles 8:14). You find that when the snake was cursed, and He said you shall be cursed etc. He didn’t allow him to claim anything, for the snake could have said before Hashem, ‘You told man not to eat and I told him to eat, why should you curse me?’ He did not allow him to claim anything. And Aharon should have claimed, ‘I did not go against Your words why should I die'” (Medrish Rabba Chukas 19:11)? (Click here for Hebrew text.) The Maharz”u sights a Medrish Tanchuma in this parsha (10) which elaborates more on this very matter. The Anaf Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma asks a basic question in belief in Hashem related to why Hashem didn’t allow the snake to make his claim or didn’t claim for him. This is even though there is a concept in Jewish courts called טענינן ליה that the court will make the claim for the litigant, if justified. The question is, that if the all-knowing Hashem knows the snake’s claim, which would make him innocent in court, then why was he guilty? How can the Judge of the world not exact proper justice? The Anaf Yosef gives two answers. One is based on a Yefeh Toar on Breishis Rabba (20), that says that he really deserved to be punished, but he gave some excuse to wiggle himself out of punishment. However Hashem didn’t let him give that excuse, because if He would then Adam and Chava would be punished and he, the perpetrator, the seducer, would not have been punished. Therefore, Hashem didn’t make the excuse for him, since he really deserved punishment for causing the mortality of man. The second answer is based on a gemara in Sanhedrin 29a. We learn from the snake that we don’t make any claims of innocence for one who was proven to be a masis, one who convinces others to sin. So Hashem did not make any excuse for the snake because he convinced Chava to sin, but in order not to allow the snake to make an excuse for himself, which according to halacha would have to be accepted so Hashem immediately sentenced him to his deserved punishment. Normally even if one is sentenced to death, if there is any claim that can reverse the sentence we listen to it. But we learn from this episode that for a masis, one who purposefully causes others to sin, we don’t have any mercy, and don’t allow anyone to claim for him once he is sentenced to death. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Maharz”u on the Medrish Rabba, when explaining the medrish, says that the snake’s claim would have been ‘Why did he leave Your command and go after mine, the words of the teacher and the words of the student who should he have listened to?’  (דברי הרב ודברי התמיד דברי מי שומעים)However, since he was wicked, convincing them to sin, Hashem didn’t allow the snake to make any claim of innocence for himself. The Maharz”u concludes, “And what occurred to the wicked snake occurred to the righteous Aharon.” So, what did Aharon do wrong?

The Etz Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma points out that Aharon is praised for not telling Hashem ‘I did not sin,’ but the reason why he was punished in reality is because he should have protested what Moshe was doing and not have agreed to his action [of hitting the rock twice.] 
 Even if he didn’t stop his brother Moshe Rabbeinu when he could have, does that mean he should be equated with the snake, as if he purposefully seduced Moshe to sin? Not even close! So why was Aharon Kohen Gadol compared to the snake and sentenced to death for his inaction of not preventing Moshe’s mistaken decision to hit the rock?

From here we see a clear proof that the righteous are judged by Hashem very meticulously, on a whole different level than others, since they are held to much higher standards. (ד’ דן הצדיקים כחוט השערה) This case is a clear explanation of this concept since Aharon, a rodef shalom, one who Pirkei Avos says ran after peace, as well as the beloved older brother of Moshe Rabbeinu, who Moshe treated with extreme respect and looked up to, could have said something to Moshe, Moshe would have definitely listened and none of this would have happened so since he didn’t, it literally is as if Aharon convinced him to sin like a masis, and therefore deserved to die without any excuses, because of his high level of righteousness and the standards he was judged on. However, without a doubt in anyone’s mind this was a punishment incurred in this world but in the next world, The Eternal World, Aharon earned a position extremely close to Hashem.

Korach – Famous or Infamous

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 One of the first lessons the Ralbag learns from this week’s Torah portion of Korach is that “one should not get into fights with the gedolim, the leading rabbis of the generation. See what happened to Korach because of his argument with Moshe Rabbeinu a”h, the master of all prophets. “
 This seems to be an obvious life lesson but what was the reason Korach got into this argument? He was within the top 5 of hierarchy behind Moshe and Aharon, and he Chaza”l say he had the fortune but his downfall was that he let jealousy get the better of him. We know how powerful jealousy is, that even someone as great as Korach was, jealousy was still able to rot his heart and create this debacle which swept up many leaders with him. But if jealousy is so strong, how can it be stopped?
 This can be answered through a second lesson the Ralbag learns from this episode. “It’s not worthwhile to be jealous of someone else’s honor and position he has over you. But it is befitting to be satisfied with what the Exalted Hashem has graciously endowed you from this. With this we see that for Korach, because of his jealousy for the position and honor that Hashem gave Aharon, this was reason for him to convince many Jews to rise up with him in a fight that caused him to lose his life and all of them in this world and the next.” (Click here for Hebrew text.
We learn from here 3 approaches that should help a person avoid being swept up by the attribute of jealousy:

  1.  The first obvious reason that one should not let jealousy get the better of him and therefore he should at all costs stay away from jealousy is the results, i.e. punishment that results from this attribute. You might want other people’s stuff, position or honor, but you wind up with nothing. Korach wanted to be famous and he got the fame; Hashem made him infamous (he actually ended up being very famous)! Korach could have been a well-respected Tzadik, doing his role as a levitecarrying parts of the Mishkan, specifically the important position of carring the Holy Ark, since he came from the family of Kehas, which Hashem gave him. He would not necessarily have had the same mentioning as Aharon had throughout the Torah, but Hashem would have given him a very high seat next to His throne in the World to Come for fulfilling his destiny and potential in this world. But instead he made it into the Torah for all eternity with a whole parsha all to himself to remind us of his evil and destructive behavior. Is infamy what Korach really wanted? But that’s the result of jealousy!
  2. This leads us to the next reason to stop a person from becoming jealous, which is definitely more important, that is, the fact that one’s position and honor comes from Hashem. Hashem decides who gets and who doesn’t, so being jealous of what others have won’t help one iota, and it’s not even worth it.  Hashem has a reason for why a certain person gets this position and another gets a different position.
  3. Lastly, a position comes with responsibilities, not just honor. Who says you can live up to the responsibility that the other person’s position has, and on the contrary, you might gain more through the help of the person who is in that position? For example, in this case with Aharon, he might have been the high priest, the number 1 Levite, but the pressure to ensure everything was being done correctly in the mishkan was immense, and if done wrong is punishable by death. Wrong means even with improper intent. Why would Korach want this responsibility for himself; Hashem gave it to Aharon for a reason, because He knew Aharon earned that position, and automatically the honor comes with it. The honor just doesn’t come out of the blue for any random reason. It is earned and Divinely given. Be thankful that the pressures and responsibilities that come with that position is not on your shoulders. Appreciate what you do have, the position you are in, and the fact that people in higher positions can help you with your needs without you needing to do it yourself.

If Korach only looked at what he had and figured out the most of what he can do to fulfill his role in life which was destined by Hashem and understand that we are all in it together to help each other than this infamous episode in history would never have happened and the Jews would have had many more leaders in their own right guiding them on the right path.

Shelach – Expectations of a Perfect Leader

Most of this week’s Torah portion of Shelach discusses the disastrous episode of the spies which condemned a whole generation of the Jewish people to die in the desert after wandering for 40 years, instead of everyone going straight into and inheriting the Land of Israel.
One lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that “it is appropriate for a person to place his trust in Hashem especially when He clearly shows that He is with him in what ever he decides to do. Behold, we all know the bad that happened to the Jews because they did not want to rely on the mission of The Exalted Hashem in inheriting the land and instead decided to send spies there, even though they had already witnessed the awesome wonders that The Exulted Hashem had done for them. They should have realized that the Hand of the Exulted Hashem will not fall short of doing whatever He wants.”

With this basic and baseless lack of trust that the Jewish people showed, at whatever level it really was, how miniscule it must have really been, still in all there is a very important lesson that every leader should learn from Moshe Rabbeinu, which the Ralbag in a different lesson points out. “It is appropriate for the perfect leader to have the strength to be patient with his followers and their blatant negligence in order to direct them to what is good. Behold, we see that it wasn’t enough that Moshe did not get angry at them for rebelling against him for wanting to return to Egypt even though Hashem showered them with favors done through him [Moshe], but [Moshe] also was gracious towards them and fell on his face before them pleading with outstretched arms that they won’t self-destruct by rebelling against The Exulted Hashem. This wasn’t even enough but he also piled on prayer after prayer before The Exulted Hashem that He should overlook their iniquities until The Exulted Hashem answered him and was comforted over the bad which He said He would do to His nation, meaning He did not completely wipe them out but left their children to inherit the land and they themselves did not all die at once.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
A leader is someone who takes, or at least attempts to take, his followers from point A to point B, whether that is physically or spiritually. Whatever goal-minded purpose or mission, a leader inspires, shows, directs, and leads a person or people in that direction. The Ralbag mentioned 3 areas in progression where Moshe went above and beyond and showed that he was the perfect leader:
1. He did not get angry when his followers were not listening to him, even though it was clearly proven without a shadow of a doubt that Moshe was just the messenger of the All Trustworthy, All-Powerful Hashem who was taking care of them, and they certainly should have trusted Hashem who had also proved His love, loyalty, and power towards them.
 2. Moshe humbled himself and begged on his hands and knees for them to not continue with their mistakes, and to repent, and to go back onto the trustworthy path of Hashem.
3. He focused all his energy and strength to pray for them so that they wouldn’t be annihilated for not trusting in, and rebelling against, Hashem.

But shouldn’t this be expected of any leader, even if they are not perfect? Isn’t every leader expected to be selfless and self-sacrificing for the sake of his constituents? What else should he have done if he wasn’t the perfect leader?

It is implicit from here that if Moshe Rabbeinu would not have acted as a perfect leader, then he might have acted out of anger, albeit for good intentions. He was still the humblest of men and surely wouldn’t have felt any slight from them rebelling against him. Rather it must be that because they were rebelling against Hashem, the Honor of Hashem was being slighted; then there would have been just cause to speak out or even take action out of anger, with the intention of instilling fear into them so that they would hopefully leave their evil ways. It might have even worked, at least for a while.

However, we see from here that a truly perfect leader would never use anger, or even the display of anger, to sway his followers to the good; rather the opposite should be demonstrated. Not only was Moshe not angry, but he belittled himself and pleaded with his followers to change, and when that didn’t work, he put in an immense amount of strength and energy into his prayers in order to, at the very least, successfully lessen the punishment. Even though they complained, made some really nasty remarks, and showed an outright lack of trust and interest in following him and Hashem, still in all the perfect leader did not care that his followers didn’t  show any interest in him, and showed a complete dedication towards them.

For that reason, the Ralbag is praising and pointing out that Moshe Rabbeinu was the perfect leader. It’s not surprising if people don’t want to follow you then you’ll just give up on them. There is just so much one can do to try to help others. However, it takes a perfect leader to never give up and to continue to help and be completely dedicated to his or her students, congregants, or even children even though they are showing a total lack of interest in him or her.

Bihaaloscha – Really Feeling Someone Else’s Pain 

At the end of this week’s Torah portion of B’haaloscha Miriam spoke lashon hara (slander), on some level, about Moshe to Aharon. 
The last chapter of the medrish, Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (54) discusses this episode. “The 8th (9th) descent is when Hashem descended upon the Tent of Meeting as it says, ‘And Hashem descended in a pillar of cloud and He stood at the entrance of the tent and He called for Aharon and Miriam, and they both came out.’ Hashem said to him, whoever slanders his friend in secret has no way to heal, all the more so his brother who is the son of his father and mother. Hashem was angry at them and removed Himself from on top of the tent as it says, ‘Hashem was infuriated at them.’ He left and immediately Miriam received spiritual leprosy (tzaraas). Hashem said, if Aharon would also be a spiritual leper (metzora), a high priest with a blemish, may not bring an offering onto the alter, rather he will look at his sister and will feel pained as it says, ‘And Aharon turned towards Miriam.’ Aharon then went to Moshe, said to him, ‘ My master Moshe, siblings only are separated by death… our sister, while she is still alive has been separated from us as if she is dead. Moshe appeased him with kind words and prayed for her as it says, ‘And Moshe screamed out to Hashem saying, G-D please heal her please.'” The Be’ur Maspik adds that the gemara in Shabbos 96a points out that though it sounds like from the pasuk “Hashem was infuriated at both of them” which sounds like they both got spiritual leprosy, yet the gemara qualifies that just Hashem’s wrath was upon both of them. The Maharz”u adds more insight into this medrish, clarifying, that when Aharon saw his sister and was pained, in this way he accepted his punishment for his sin with his pain. This was also the means he atoned for his sin, in the fact that he partnered in her pain.
 It is implicit from the medrish and gemara that Miriam and Aharon deserved equal punishment, and in fact received equal punishment. But for Aharon Kohen Gadol, Hashem wasn’t willing to actually make Aharon a leper because he had to serve in the Mishkan, and a kohen with a blemish may not serve in the Mishkan. So, alternatively, he saw what happened to Miriam and was greatly pained upon seeing the state she was in.

But how is this equal to the punishment Miriam received? Chaza”l say that leprosy is physically quite painful, and the embarrassment Miriam must have felt must have been tremendous. So how does Aharon’s feeling bad for Miriam compare or equate to the pain Miriam was in?

 It must be that when Aharon internalized the state his beloved sister was in and why it had happened, the tzadik that he was, as well as running after peace, caring for every individual in the Jewish Nation, all the more so for his own sister,someone of that sensitivity level has the ability to actually feel the pain a spiritual leper is feeling, as if he himself has that same pain. For that reason the Torah likened that Miriam and Aharon were equally punished.

We see from here the awesome ability and to what extent a person can relate to his fellow. This takes on a whole new meaning to imagining being in his shoes. In fact, it would seem that one can actually be in the other’s shoes!  

Naso – Humility and Humiliation

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The last part of this week’s Torah portion of Naso discusses the dedication of the Mishkan. Each of the heads of the tribe brought a set of offerings at the dedication. The first was Yehuda, (Bamidbar 7:12,13).

The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda. יבוַיְהִ֗י הַמַּקְרִ֛יב בַּיּ֥וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֖וֹן אֶת־קָרְבָּנ֑וֹ נַחְשׁ֥וֹן בֶּן־עַמִּֽינָדָ֖ב לְמַטֵּ֥ה יְהוּדָֽה:
13And his offering was one silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver sprinkling basin [weighing] seventy shekels according to the holy shekel, both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil for a meal offering. יגוְקָרְבָּנ֞וֹ קַֽעֲרַת־כֶּ֣סֶף אַחַ֗ת שְׁלשִׁ֣ים וּמֵאָה֘ מִשְׁקָלָהּ֒ מִזְרָ֤ק אֶחָד֙ כֶּ֔סֶף שִׁבְעִ֥ים שֶׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ שְׁנֵיהֶ֣ם | מְלֵאִ֗ים סֹ֛לֶת בְּלוּלָ֥ה בַשֶּׁ֖מֶן לְמִנְחָֽה:

Rabbeinu Bachye says that the tribe of Yehuda came first for all the things, whether the travels in the desert with the flags, the dedication of the Mishkan, or during war, as well as inheriting the land, and the future redemption (may it come speedily in our days.) By the offerings of the tribes, the Torah writes “his offering,” but by Nachshon (here), who was the first, the Torah writes “and his offering,” the reason being that he would not feel haughty above the others and say ‘I am first before everyone else.’ Therefore, pasuk 13 begins “And his offering,” as if he came after everyone else; and by everyone else it says “his offering,” as if each one was first. For this reason, it does not mention the title of ‘prince’ by Nachshon, but by all other tribal leaders who brought their offering after him they are given the title of ‘prince.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from this Rabbeinu Bachye that in order to avoid any haughtiness coming from the tribe of Yehuda and their leader, Nachshon ben Aminadav, Hashem added an “and,” which implies he was not first and left out his deserved title of prince whereas everyone received their title.

Isn’t this a game? The Tribe of Yehuda and it’s head certainly knew who they were and would always be first; deserving of the kingship, which wound up coming through the Davidic line leading up to Moshiach. So why should one added letter and one less word in the Torah make an impact to subjugate their potential haughtiness, especially if it’s not totally true, they really were the first to bring the offering and he really was a prince like all the other tribal leaders?

However, it would seem that this is not a game. When a person sees he is different from everyone else and the message is a message of inferiority, even though he knows intellectually it is not true, but the “in your face” message can make an impact on a person psychologically, and someone who knows he is number one will automatically be humbled.

If that is the case for someone who is on top, then all the more so a lowly person, who might not have the greatest self-esteem, will be triggered and tormented even by the slightest and most subtle of remarks regarding subjugation, and that will cause great humiliation. Therefore, others have to be very careful what they say or do, and especially to not purposefully hurt someone’s feelings even with what seem to be a very minor joke or insult.

Shavuos – Megillas Rus – Connecting the Dots

  I found a fascinating introduction to Megillas Rus in one of my Mikraos Gedolos on the megillas which I want to share with everyone. (Click Here and Here and Here for Hebrew text.)

“Behold in the days that judges were judging, behold there was a famine in the land” (Rus 1:1). It is mentioned in the Medrish Rabba that 10 famines came to the world: 1. In the days of Adam Harishon… 2. In the time of Lemech… 3. In the days of Avraham… 4. In the time of Yitzchak… 5. In the days of Yaakov… 6. In the days of the judges judging… 7. In the time of Dovid… 8. In the days of Eliyahu… 9. In the days of Elisha… and 10. One will roll out and come to the world in the future… Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachmani said the most important famine was in the days of Dovid. It was supposed to come in the days of Shaul but because he would not have withstood the test it came in the days of Dovid. Rav Chisda bar Rav gave a parable to an attendant who had a box full of bottles and glasses and when he wanted to hang up the box he got a peg and fastened it into the wall to hang the box on it. For this reason all the famines did not come in the days where the people were unstable; rather at times when people were strong and able to stand up to the test at hand.

This medrish split the famines in half. Five were before the Torah was given and from Yaakov until the judges judged there was no famine in the world until the time came for the start of King Dovid’s service to spark and shine. For it is known the famous Chaza”l, ‘I found Dovid My servant. And where was he found? In Sedom.’ It is explicit from here that as long as the seed of Moav had not mixed with the House of Yehuda the light of Dovid was hidden and this reality was not revealed yet. However, in the days of this tzadik, Boaz, who took care of Rus the Moabite, who was the wife of Machlon, only then this reality (the line of Dovid Hamelech with the eventual advent of Moshiach) was revealed in the world.

Therefore, there was a place for the next famine to the rest which will return all the Jews. For this reason, this megilla started with the matter of the famine which was in those days and at the end discusses the lineage and birth of Dovid.

The Megilla is called Rus because all three are connected to each other: 1. The story of Rus eventually marrying Boaz, 2. revealing the roots of Dovid Hamelech’s lineage, and 3. the 6th famine that swept through the land. This connects to the 7th famine in the days of Dovid… where Dovid sought out Hashem in repentance, which then lead to the 8th famine in the days of Eliyahu Hanavi (who will herald in Moshiach). Then came the 9th famine in the days of Eliyahu’s student Elisha, and finally the last famine will be in the days of our righteous Moshiach; in his days the pasuk writes: ‘I will send a famine in the land, but not a famine for bread or a thirst for water but rather to listen to the word of Hashem.’

It’s also brought down in Medrish Rabba of Rus that Rebbe Ze’ira said that this megilla has no mention of purity or impurity, prohibitions or permissibility, so why was it written? To teach us how much good Hashem rewards those who act with kindness. For because Boaz saw the good heart of Rus, that she was imbued with a drive to do acts of kindness, which is one of the 3 signs of a Jew: 1. Merciful, 2. Bashful, 3. Doers of kindness, and Boaz saw in her all 3 attributes… Chaza”l say in a gemara in Shabbos 113b he saw modesty (which stems from the attribute of being bashful) by her, also her great humility when she said ‘I am not like one of your maidservants.’ All of these Boaz saw in Rus and recognized that she was the most fit from all the other women, and possibly she was the female Moabite which was prepared to bring into the world the light of the King Moshiach. For this reason he researched into her and thus the prophet Shmuel wrote at length this megilla to tell us who Rus was and how it came about that Rus was brought into the congregation of the Jews, who brought her on her journey. Therefore this megilla was called Rus to show that the main story was about her.

In the end it gives the account of the lineage from Peretz, the son of Yehuda, until the birth of Dovid and no more, because it also seems this megilla was written in order to trace the lineage of Dovid, in how Hashem orchestrated that Dovid would come out of Rus the Moabite. Hashem declared a famine on the land, and He put into the thoughts of Elimelech to move far away from Beis Lechem Yehuda to the land of Moav. His sons then married Moabite women, and Rus who came back with her mother-in-law, and wound up falling in “levirate marriage” to Boaz, to keep up the name of his family. They gave birth to Oved the father of Yishai, who was the father of Dovid. When Dovid came of age and killed Goliath, and King Shaul promised that anyone who would kill Goliath would marry his daughter, there was a huge argument amongst the sages of Israel if Dovid was permitted to enter the Congregation of Israel since it is written in the Torah that an Ammonite or Moabite may never enter the congregation of Hashem. But then Shmuel Hanavi sent word and poskined that only the males from Ammon and Moav were forbidden but the females were permitted (and Dovid came from a female Moabite), and they accepted this halacha. Since Shmuel saw that the main reason why Dovid was permitted to marry a Jewess was because of what he poskined, and if he would have been dead then they would have invalidated Dovid from marrying into the faith, therefore he wrote this megilla at great length to inform and show the world Dovid’s lineage.

In order that this megilla would not get lost through the years it was set into the holy scriptures of Tana”ch amongst the Kesuvim. Since Shavuos is the day we received the Torah, which is called the Torah of Kindness, and Dovid came from Rus the Moabite, one who was imbued with kindness, and he was born on Shavuos and died on Shavuos, and also the Torah and the name of Moshiach were created together before the creation of the world, and Dovid himself is the anointed one of the G-D of Yaakov, as it’s written ‘and Dovid My servant is a prince of theirs’ – therefore we read this megilla on the holiday of Shavuos.

From this introduction to the Book of Rus we see how Hashem has a master plan throughout the history of the world from before its creation to the very end and to see how it’s being orchestrated and played out with such exactitude and precision is an awesome sight to behold! We just must open our eyes, hearts and mind to see how Hashem’s master plan unfolds itself.

Bechukosai – Yerushalayim: Center of Torah Learning

This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Todd Miller a”h upon the occasion of his yahretzeit this past week and a continued refuah shleima for my father, Moshe Chaim ben Raizel, may he get better soon.

This week we conclude the book of Vayikra. Towards the end of this Torah portion of Bechukosai we find the mitzvah of maaser biheima, tithing of domesticated animals. This is one of three mitzvos that one has to go to Yerushalayim and eat the food that had been separated. The other two are maaser sheini, second tithes of produce, and nata revai, fruit from the 4th year after a tree was planted. A tenth of one’s herd must be brought to Yerushalayim, the blood and chelev, non-kosher fats, were sacrificed on the alter in the Beis Hamikdash and the meat had to be eaten in Yerushalayim by those who brought it.
 The Sefer Hachinuch gives a reason behind this mitzvah (#356): “The root of the mitzvah is that Hashem chose the nation of Israel and desired for the sake of His righteousness that all of them are involved in learning Torah and knowing His Name. In His wisdom He set up this mitzvah so that they will learn to take mussar, for G-D knows that most people are pulled after their lowly physical state, since they are physical, and they don’t give their souls over to the pursuit of toiling in Torah and constant involvement in thereof, therefore He set up with His intellect and at least gave them a central location where everyone knows His words of Torah. Though there is no doubt that everyone sets up their home where they have to earn a living, therefore when every person brings up the tithes of their sheep and cattle every year to the place where people are involved in wisdom and Torah, which is Yerushalayim, the place where the Sanhedrin, high court, those that know knowledge and understand education, and so to tithes of grain are brought there 4 out of 7 years that lead up to shemita, the sabbatical year, as is known that maaser sheni is eaten there, as well as nata revai is also eaten there, therefore the owner of the money that was set aside to redeem and eat these mitzvos, will have a chance to learn Torah or he sends one of his children to learn there while eating from all the produce that must be redeemed. In this way, there will be in every Jewish house a wise person who knows Torah, who learned it with wisdom in every household. Then the whole land will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem. If there would only be one sage in each city or even ten, there would still be many people in each city, especially the women and children who would only visit them maybe once a year, or even if they go to their Torah classes once a week, by the time they get home it goes in one ear and out the other, but if there is a teacher in each and every household who lives there day in and day out evening, morning, and afternoon, who is always being cautious with what they are doing then everyone, men, women and children will be more observant. There won’t be any accidental or purposeful sin found amongst them. They will merit the fulfillment of the pasuk, ‘I will place My dwelling inside you… and you will be for Me a nation and I will be for you G-d.'” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Hashem in His incredibly, deep wisdom set up a system to ensure the continuity of Torah learning on a deep level, with a way for each and every household to be involved and active in such an education and upbringing.  But why does it have to revolve around the element of food to ensure its success? Exactly what is the precise teaching and mussar haskel, lesson in character development, that Hashem was trying to teach us?

Today we see that Yerushalayim is the center of Torah education. Many of our children, post high school, attend yeshivas and seminaries for at least one year and hopefully come back changed with a better foundation in Torah observance and appreciation of the Torah, which will be the basis for the rest of their lives when raising a family. However, to ensure this would be a guaranteed life-changer as the Sefer Hachinuch describes, why couldn’t Hashem create a mandatory draft, a mitzvah for at least one person in every household to spend a few years in yeshiva, with mandatory follow-up conventions and refresher courses in Yerushalayim which would produce the same results as bringing the tithes of livestock and produce, as well as fruits from the fourth year of a tree’s growth, to be only eaten in Yerushalayim in order to have a reason to go there to learn? Why is a connection needed between eating these foods and learning in Yerushalayim in order for the continuity of Torah observance to be a success?

However, as the Sefer Hachinuch points out, in Hashem’s infinite wisdom He wanted to ensure that this plan is done correctly and He knows that people on some level, if possible, would look to find ways to dodge a draft. Therefore, as a moral lesson, knowing the ways the physical human being works, and what he is drawn to, Hashem connected one’s livelihood or means of physical survival with his ultimate success in walking in the ways of Hashem and ensuring that one’s family will also properly perform Hashem’s will. Therefore, Hashem created these 3 mitzvos of maaser sheni, maaser biheima, and nata revai, as means to ensure every Jewish family will send household members to Yerushalayim to learn Hashem’s Torah, the guidebook for life, so that they can then go home and lead their families properly in Hashem’s service. It is interesting to note that most yeshivas and seminaries now a days provide food for their students but it would seem back in the day that the parents would provide the food, i.e. the meat from maaser biheima, and the produce from maaser sheni and neta revai, when they sent their children to yeshiva in Yerushalayim as the Sefer Hachinuch points out here and the Moshav Zekeinim points out in parshas Re’eh (14:23) by the mitzvah of maser sheni.

The lesson here is that to ensure success it is a smart thing to recognize our weaknesses and frailties and figure out how to incorporate them into doing what is right in this way one’s plans will be fulfilled, like in this case by the plan of of ensuring every Jew to be a true servant of Hashem.

Behar – Attitude of “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

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In this week’s Torah portion of Behar we find the mitzvah of supporting the needy. “If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35). The Yefe Toar observes that there are eight terms for a poor person in Hebrew and the one used in this pasuk, יָמ֣וּךְ, is the last one, the lowliest and most impoverished of poor people.

About this mitzvah, the Medrish Rabba brings a pasuk from Koheles: “On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other, to the end that man will find nothing after Him” (Koheles 7:14). The medrish states, “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya opened [his lecture with this pasuk] ‘On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other.’ If bad comes upon your friend see how you can find merit for him and support him so that you can accept your reward. This is what Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya did: When his mother told him to buy a litra of meat he bought two, to give the other one to the poor. This fulfilled the second half of the pasuk, ‘God has made one corresponding to the other,’ Hashem made poor and rich so that they can help each other, therefore Moshe warned the Jews, ‘If your brother becomes destitute’” (Vayikra Rabba, Behar, 34:5)

The Matnos Kehuna points out that the Medrish Rabba in Koheles elaborates more on this medrish. There it says that “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya explained this pasuk in Koheles in terms of the poor and rich. On a good day of your friend rejoice with him. And on a bad day see; see how to support the poor so that you will receive reward through them. This is what Rebbe Tanchum would do, if he would need to buy a litra of meat he would buy two, one for himself and one for the poor. Two bundles of vegetable, one for himself and one for the poor. ‘One corresponding to the other’ refers to poor and rich that help each other out,” (Koheles Rabba 7:30). The Maharz”u in Vayikra Rabba, after quoting the medrish in Koheles, explains the conclusion of the medrish that  the poor take tzedakah, charity, from the rich and in turn the rich get a good reward.
At first glance it seems almost selfish that the reason to help the poor is in order to give yourself Heavenly reward; why does this sound right? Shouldn’t one give charity out of a true feeling of benevolence? Furthermore, why when times are good for another we rejoice with our friend, but in bad times you have to first see what to do, then act? The Rada”l in Koheles Rabba in fact explains that on the day your friend experiences bad tidings, you should see how to do good for him. The word see connotes intellectually looking into, how to do something, as it says, ‘Happy is the one who uses his intelligence for the poor’. Why not also put in effort into making someone happy who is already having a good day?

However, it would seem from these two midrashim that they aren’t just trying to share the secret importance of why it is worthwhile to do chesed and kindly help those who are in need, but rather they are setting up the attitude one should have when helping the needy. It should come naturally to you, just as when you would like something from the grocery store you get double, one for yourself and one for the poor. It’s just part of your shopping list, it’s not an addition, it’s part of your own list, because you are getting for yourself by getting for those in need since you are receiving something when giving to others. I.e. heavenly reward, which is the most important need for anyone in life. This natural attitude even goes as far as for those who are so lowly and destitute that you are turned off from their very presence, still in all, it is inside each and every one of us to be able to have this natural desire to help them, like something part of your own agenda in life.

The Rada”l goes a step further. You don’t necessarily get exactly double of what you get for yourself, you have to put some thought into what you are doing. Make sure you get others what will be beneficial for them; do acts of kindness with intelligence, using your head to think of what they would want, just as you would want to receive what you yourself want.

That is the attitude one should have when helping others who are having a bad day, but those who are having a good day all you need to do is share in their happiness. They don’t need anything else, or in fact probably want something else, because they are enjoying the good that came their way. The best thing for you to do is just to appreciate that good with them. Don’t try to do more for them because that might imply that the good they think they have might not be enough, but in fact it is and they just want you to be happy with it and share it with others.

In fact, it takes a lot of foresight to recognize the good others have and appreciate it with them just as one needs to use his mind to figure out how to help one in need who is having a bad day in the best way fit for him.