Eikev – Formula for Success

Last week, in the Torah portion of Va’eschanan, we read the first paragraph of the Shema. In this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, we read the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21).
The Sforno has a very concise commentary on the second paragraph of the Shema, with what seems to be a clear message about Hashem showing us a formula for success in life: “’If you shall listen… that I will give the rain of your land…’ in a manner that you will find sustenance without pain and will be able to serve Him. And if not, He will give you no rain at all and you will have no food to sustain yourself. ‘And you will perish quickly…’ through famine which is worse than the sword, therefore ‘take heed for yourself…’ ‘And you shall place these My words on your heart’ to contemplate them, ‘and on your soul’ to fulfill them willingly. ‘And teach them to your children…’ to train your children in mitzvos, ‘to speak of them when you dwell in your house…’ so as to speak of them constantly.”
The Sforno is, in a nutshell, telling us that if we make the observance of mitzvos and doing of Hashem’s will the focal point of every aspect of our lives, then we will be met with success.

A point of interest is that it would seem that one needs to be able to first contemplate the mitzvos and then, as a second step, decide to willingly fulfill them. One would think that if someone spent the proper time in deep contemplation or התבוננות over a matter, then automatically he would want to fulfill it or live life by its edicts; why is it a two-step process? The Sforno was not talking about reading over and taking in face value, with just a glance, each mitzvah. To contemplate, להתבונן בם means to delve into each matter. To focus on a subject and get a level of clarity so clear that one sees every angle of the matter at hand. That is the proper method to engage contemplation or reflection. However, if that is  so, why then would one have to actively decide to fulfill the mitzvah after all that contemplation? It is understandable if one first has to choose to fulfill the mitzvah and then learn how to do it; but once a person has an appreciation of the beauty of the mitzvah after much concentration and study, one would think that the drive to fulfill it would be automatic!?

Imagine: a scientist or philosopher, working towards a goal for many years, who finally has a breakthrough which changes the world forever. Of course he believes in all of his research; all the time and effort, the minutia that was delved into (unless of course he is lying to himself and the rest of the world). Therefore it should be automatic that he would live by what was studied and proven for so many years!

It must be that a person has the ability to disconnect from the obvious; it must have been built into the nature of a person, and to their benefit, to need to actively decide to fulfill and run their lives according to all they have learned.

Vaeschanan – Unmistakable Clarity

שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד. “Hear o Israel the Lord is our G-D the Lord is one.” This statement of belief in Hashem is the most famous and important statement in all of Judaism, andit is found in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan (6:4).

The Torah never writes anything extra and warns us to be very careful not to say Hashem’s name in vain. Yet the Daas Zekeinim asks why The Almighty mentioned His name three times in this one pasuk? (See also the Chizkuni on this pasuk. Click here for Hebrew text)

The Daas Zekeinim answers that if the Torah would only have written: “Here o Israel the Lord is one,” (שמע ישראל ה’ אחד) then every nation would have said that their god was the one. When the Torah writes “our G-D” ((אלקינו it is informing us that it is referring to the G-D of the Jews, whereas“The Lord our G-D is one” (שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו אחד) could be interpreted to mean He is one of the many gods, and that  definitely would sound true if the Torah had only written “Our G-D is one” (שמע ישראל אלקינו אחד). However, now that the Torah repeats Hashem’s name three times, it means: ‘Hashem, who is our master, he is unique in mastership and there is no one else like Him.’

It would seem from this Daas Zekeinim that without the Torah spelling out as clearly as possible that Hashem is the only true G-D, Creator and Master of the Universe, then other nations might have a claim that this is untrue.

This sounds a bit puzzling; either we are talking about people who are making a concerted effort to believe in Hashem, which, in that case, there is no need to spell out this whole statement because by going through a logical assessment anyone can acknowledge that it only makes sense there that there is only one Creator of the world, Master of the universe, who has a divine plan for all His creation. And if the Torah is trying to convince others of Hashem, than by just stating it, it wouldn’t help, if they refuse to be willing to accept it. So why, again, would the Torah write extra words, especially if it’s Hashem’s Holy Name, if it doesn’t help any?

It must be that the Torah is talking to people who do understand that there is a concept of Hashem; but it is one thing to acknowledge that it makes sense, but it is a totally different thing to accept it. To accept that there is a G-D who created the world out of the Torah which he Himself created 2000 years before creating the world, and that he then handed over the blueprints of creation to the Jewish People as a handbook to life because we were the only people willing to accept it, and still in all he left the rest of the world with six general commandments to observe, to accept that is a whole different ball game.

That is why the Torah had to spell out without a doubt that Hashem our G-D Hashem is one. There is a big difference between knowing something and accepting it as fact.

Happy Tu B’Av and good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder


Tisha B’Av – A Reason Without a Reason

Tisha B’Av, a day of immense sorrow and crying, is upon us. How did it all start? Why have so many calamities happened to the Jewish People on this day?

The Gemara in Taanis 29a quotes a pasuk in Bamidbar 14:1, regarding the episode of the spies after they gave a slanderous report about the Land of Israel: “’The entire community raised their voices and shouted and the people wept on that night.’ Rabba said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan, ‘That night was the night of Tisha B’Av.’ Hashem said to them, ‘You cried a crying for naught and I will set for you a cry for generations.’”

My Rosh Yeshiva of blessed memory, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, explains, as found in the Chiddushei HaLev on Eichah, that it would appear from this gemara that the Jewish people were punished not only for a lack of faith in Hashem (and the crying was a symbol that they had lacked proper faith), but that they were also punished for crying “a cry for naught.” Meaning, the Jews really didn’t have a proper reason to cry, because Hashem would have saved them and protected them from any harm. That being the case, there was a claim against the Jewish people for crying “a cry for naught,” and it is forbidden for a person to be a “crybaby,” to bemoan and cry for no reason.

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked a major question on this Gemara:why were the Jews punished for crying without reason? In their eyes they had a good reason to cry;they thought they would fall by the sword and their women and children would be taken captive! Even though this was  a mistake, still, in all, according to their logic, when they did not have complete trust in Hashem they had a good reason to cry. They weren’t “crybabies,” and they did not cry for naught?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that the Jewish people were indeed punished for not acting appropriately and crying for no reason since in truth their lives were not in danger. They really had no reason to cry, forif the Jewish people had been on a level of proper trust in Hashem then certainly they would not have acted inappropriately by crying for naught and would not have deserved punishment. So too now, where the Jews were not on a proper level of trust in Hashem, they are punished for crying and they cannot absolve themselves of punishment by claiming they did not have enough trust in Hashem, for the sin of lack of faith cannot be an excuse for acting inappropriately.

Similarly the Chofetz Chaim writes in the introduction to his book (Sefer Chofetz Chaim, lav 6): “That one who speaks and accepts loshon hara or slander also violates the Torah prohibition of ‘Do not profane My Holy Name,’ for he does not have any desire or physical pleasure to speak slanderously which would cause his evil inclination to get the better of him, therefore this sin is considered like rebelling and removing the Yoke of Heaven and one is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name.”
My Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: how it is possible to think that one who speaks loshon hara does not get any benefit from his deed? We see day-in and day-out people enjoying speaking loshon harah!?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that since this benefit stems from a negative character trait [i.e. gaavah or haughtiness], that one who spoke loshon hara cannot have a more lenient punishment just because he benefited from his actions. The reason being is that a negative character trait cannot exempt a person for acting inappropriately, therefore he is judged as if he transgressed without benefiting from it one iota, which is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name and rebelling against Him.

It would seem that an action stemming from a negative character trait like a lack of trust in Hashem or haughtiness is an act without reason. This is because there is no excuse for the sin. If a person was hungry and needed to sustain himself, but his desires got the better of him and he ate non-kosher food, that would be one thing. It is a sin, but not as bad as sinning without reason, because the action at least stemmed from a positive source and the evil inclination just got the better of him and convinced him to sin. But in the case of the Jewish People in the desert, the sin began with an acceptance of loshon hara, and since their crying for no reason did not stem from anything positive or needed, it was therefore judged as  without reason, just as speaking loshon hara is considered a sin without positive motivation since it does not stem from any positive desire or need which therefore deems it a chilul Hashem.

For this reason Hashem gave us a real reason to cry, which can only be rectified by annihilating baseless hatred and loshon hara from our being, in order to bring us closer to the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

Matos and Massei – Simply for the Love of Hashem

This dvar Torah is translated and expanded upon from the Chiddushei HaLev, shmuzzin given by Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim.
This week is a double parsha, Matos and Massei. This week also concludes Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers ). The Haftorah is a special one for the 3 weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, taken from Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah 2:5-8):
“This is what the LORD says: ‘What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.  They did not ask,`Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’ I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, `Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.”

The Radak explains that when posuk vav (verse 6) of Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) says: “They did not ask, ‘where is the Lord,’” they did not think to acknowledge and say to themselves ‘how can we serve other gods and where is the Lord who elevated us?’ Meaning: ‘How did we throw Him, secondary after our bodies and not turn towards him?’

The Radak further explains that in posuk ches (verse 8) the phrase: “The priests did not ask ‘where is Hashem?’” This meant that the kohanim who were before Hashem the entire day and brought offerings before Him should have said to the nation who was worshipping the idol Baal: ‘Where is Hashem that you worship others instead of Him?’”

It would seem from the words of the Radak that if the kohanim would have said to the nation “where is Hashem who took you out of Egypt,” the nation would have stopped worshiping idols.

There is, though, a tremendous question on this. Isn’t it known that in the time of Yermiyahu the Evil Inclination for idols was very strong? Why would anyone think that simply hearing words like these from the mouthes of the kohanim would work to prevent them from worshipping idols?

Rather, we must say that we see from here how implicitly powerful words of love for Hashem are. Even from the strong evil inclination of idol worship it was  possible to be victorious, with mere simple words which served to emphasize the great love Hashem has for the Jewish people, and how good it is when we are in love with Him. This realization is able to inspire a person to be successful over all hardship, to overcome the evil inclination, and to return to the Holy One Blessed Be He.

May we all focus on the abundance of love Hashem has for us and the love we can have for Hashem. In this way we will all merit to be redeemed speedily in our days and to observe Tisha b’Av as a holiday instead of a fast.

Pinchas – The Role of a Leader and His Followers

The dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard 15 years ago from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Jerusalem.

In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas we find out that Moshe will not be able to enter the Land of Israel.
“And Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Go up into this mountain of Avarim, and behold the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered unto the people, as Aaron your brother was gathered; because you rebelled against My commandment in the wilderness of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify Me at the waters before their eyes.’–These are the waters of Merivat-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. And Moshe spoke to Hashem, saying: ‘Let Hashem, the G-D of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.’ (Bamidbar, chapter 27, verses 12-17).”
The Yalkut Shimone points out that the term “spoke” (דבר) is harsh terminology, meaning that Moshe spoke to Hashem with a demanding language. This tone parallels the way in which Hashem spoke to Moshe, as we find many times in the Torah: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying.” This statement means that Hashem spoke to Moshe harshly, to ensure Moshe told the mitzvos to the Jewish People. Yet this is the only place we find Moshe talking this way to Hashem.

Rashi asks: Why does the Torah place this statement after Moshe found out he was going to pass away before entering the Land? Rashi answers, this is to show the righteousness of a righteous person, for they preoccupy themselves with the needs of the congregation before caring about themselves. Rashi implies that in his question he assumed that when a righteous person hears he is about to die he wants to perfect himself therefore Rashi answers that Moshe is not caring about himself rather he is dealing with the congregation.

What was the concern for the congregation? In verse 16 Moshe says “Let Hashem, the G-D of spirits…” Rashi asks why the phrase “the G-D of spirits” is mentioned here. He says that Moshe wanted to be sure a leader was chosen who could deal with everyone’s views and attitudes on their own personal level, a kind of leader that fights in the front lines rather than from a place of safety.

Rashi further points out that for this request Moshe asked G-D in a demanding or urgent manner. Why then does the verse end with the term “saying”? Rashi answers that Moshe was telling G-D I must know myself who will be the next leader. Moshe knew that a leader was integral to the lives of Israel.

Moshe finishes his speech saying “that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” A shepherd cares individually about every single sheep he watches.

HaRav Dovid Leibowitz ztz”l
, the found of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, said that a way to be a leader is not to be concerned about what others will think about you or your salary. Rather one must care about every single person amongst the Jewish people.

This applies to teachers as well. A rebbe has to be sure that he understands his students and that his students understand him.

When The Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz z”tzl, the son of Rav Dovid Leibowitz, who took over the Yeshiva after his father passed, would make his pilpul shiurim (Talmudic discourses) he would be sure to make them in a way that his students would know how to give them over just as he did. This was because if he prepared Torah and tells it over but it is not understood, he might have taken a load off his own back, but his students are now mixed up.

The Torah portion in chapter 28 concludes, after Moshe talking to G-D, with G-D talks to Moshe concerning the sacrificial offerings. Rashi asks, What is the reason for the juxtaposition of this topic with the topic of leadership that Moshe was just talking about? Rashi answers, “Hashem is saying that He must do His share but the Jewish people have to do their share as well.” If the Jews want a leader who will guide them properly they have to do their share to help out the situation.

We have to decide whether we are leaders or followers, and act accordingly.

Balak – The Extent of Free Will

In this week’s Torah Portion of Balak, an unusual encounter takes place between Bilaam and his donkey. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:6) says that ten things were created on the eve of Shabbos at twilight, one of them being the mouth of this donkey. Rashi on that Mishna explains that from the six days of creation it was decreed that the donkey of Bilaam would open his mouth and argue with him. And so the Torah writes: “Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey and she said to Bilaam, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me three times?’” (Bamidbar 22:28).
The Sforno on this verse first explains what “Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey” means: “He gave it the power to speak, similar to ‘Hashem open my lips’ (Tehillim 41:17). All this was in order to arouse Bilaam to repent, by mentioning that from Hashem comes the utterances of the tongue even to those who are not ready [to speak], certainly if one can speak [Hashem] can take away [the power of speech] from one who has the will and is prepared to speak. All this was done in order not to lose a man such as his stature.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Bilaam was the prophet of the non-Jews, which means that he not only believed in G-D but also received messages by way of prophesy from G-D. Yet he still arrogantly tried to curse the Jewish people because he was in it for the money. The Sforno says that Hashem performed the miracle of allowing Bilaam’s donkey to talk to him simply in order to give Bilaam a chance to repent. We see from this how far Hashem goes, even to save such wicked people as Bilaam. Bilaam had such incredible potential to do good and have a positive impact on the world that Hashem even puts into the existence of the world, all the way from the time of creation, the eventuality of Bilaam’s donkey being able to talk to him, just in order for Bilaam to have the potential to repent. Still in all, with all this hype, and with all the knowledge Bilaam had of Hashem and His ways, still he did not repent.  We see from here the extent of the power of free will; ultimately, Hashem grants to every Human Being the ability to choice freely, between good and evil.
The Sforno quotes a verse from Tehillim to show us that the line “Hashem opened the mouth” refers to the power of speech. The complete verse states: “Hashem open my lips, that my mouth declares Your praise” (Tehillim 41:17). The Sforno on Tehillim says that King David, the author of Tehilllim (Psalms), beseeched Hashem to “cleanse me from sin in a manner that I will be fitting to learn and in this way my mouth declares Your praise.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
The Sforno in Tehillim is pointing out a whole new level of Hashem granting the power of speech.  King David, knowing he had some faults in his lifetime, pled with G-D to erase his iniquities after he repented, in order that he could learn with an unblemished heart. Meaning, King David was asking G-D to give him the power of pure speech in order that he could praise Him authentically, in the most sublime manner.

We say this verse in Psalms everyday, three times a day, right before we start our shemoneh esrei in our prayers: “In Hebrew it is ה’ שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתך”.”  Each one of us has the ability to focus on what we say in our prayers when we declare this statement to G-D, and implore Him to cleanse us from our sins, just as King David did, in order that we can learn how to speak to Him face to face with certainty and sincerity. It is a part of our free will to realize this incredible opportunity and to work on ourselves to capitalize on it.

Chukas – Thinking Through Hardship

In this week’s Torah portion of Chukas, Aharon, the beloved Kohen Gadol [High Priest] and brother of Moshe Rabbeinu passes away. The Jewish People mourned his passing for thirty days, and afterwards HaCanaani, King of Arad, attacked the Jewish people because he heard that Aharon had died and that the Clouds of Glory, which surrounded and protected the Jews in Aharon’s merit, had left the Jewish camp. Despite this loss of protection, however, the Jews miraculously won the battle (Bamidbar 20:29, 21:1-3).
The Ralbag teaches us a lesson from this juxtaposition of events: “It is not befitting to be lazy in eulogizing a sage. Rather one should arouse himself to act with alacrity and zeal (זריזות), for this is a benefit to act swiftly in order to reach this perfection in recognizing that which was taken from them, meaning the loss of the sage. For this reason the Torah tells us that all the Jews cried over the loss of Aharon for thirty days and right next to that verse the Torah tells us about the victory over HaCanaani, King of Arad, to inform us that one who act in this way (i.e. acting quickly with alacrity to eulogize a sage) will be rewarded by Hashem.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
At first this does not make sense. Why would one who is mourning need to be told to energize oneself to be quick and act with alacrity, especially for someone as like Aharon HaKohen, who was known by all as one who ran after peace, bringing spouses, friends and fellow Jews back together again, who might otherwise have started a skirmish amongst each other. He was beloved by all and a tremendous loss to the nation; one would think that proper mourning in this instance would be automatic! However that might be true when it comes to just crying  but it is not easy to give a eulogy, especially a proper one which is befitting of a tremendous sage and leader of the Jewish people. It must be then that it is very easy to make up excuses, become lazy, and push off eulogizing, expecting someone else do it, or to not capture the full picture of whom this sage was and the impact he had on humanity. Therefore, the Jews were rewarded for acting with zeal and alacrity to properly eulogize the great sage they had loss and to truly appreciate what was taken from them.

However, if you delve deeper into the matter, it would seem there could have been some sort of claim against them if they had been lazy and not properly eulogized Aharon. They might have even lost the battle against the King of Arad. Why would it be considered laziness to not quickly and properly eulogize Aharon? They were in immense emotional distress over their sudden loss. Isn’t it possible that they simply couldn’t pull themselves together emotionally to the degree necessary in order  to properly eulogize him? Why would that have been defined ass laziness? They couldn’t help it; they were distraught; they couldn’t think straight!

Rather, we must say that no matter what emotional state (obviously short of clinical senselessness) a person is in, one has the capacity to pull  oneself together, to be in control, and to use  one’s intellect to act in the proper manner. It would seem it is even expected of us to do so. That is why it would be laziness to not properly eulogize the sage as quickly as possible, and why the Jews were rewarded for acting with the proper zeal and alacrity to eulogize Aharon as soon as he passed away.

Korach – Superheroes

In this week’s Torah portion of Korach we find an unsuccessful revolt against Moshe and Aharon. While over a myriad of rebels died, the Jewish people complained: “All the congregation of the Children of Israel were muttering to each other the next day about Moshe and Aharon saying, ‘You have killed the nation of Hashem!’” (Bamidbar 17:6). Even so, a few verses later it says: “Moshe says to Aharon, ‘Take the pan and put upon it fire from the alter and place incense upon it and quickly go to the congregation and atone for them, for wrath has gone out from before Hashem; the plague has begun’” (verse 11). Aharon stopped the plague, but not before 14,700 people died, in addition to those who were killed in the revolt of Korach.
The Ralbag learns an incredible lesson about leadership from this episode: “It is befitting for a complete leader to put in [all] his effort to protect his followers as much as he could. Even if they are rebelling against him he should not slack in saving them. For we see that even with the people’s bad character of complaining about Moshe and Aharon over the ill fate of the sinners who stood up against them, which were really their own fault, still in all, Moshe put in every effort possible to save them and to switch their evil intentions. This is even though the people really should not have complained about Moshe in this matter, still, when Moshe saw them rebelling against him which was the reason why the wrath flew out from Hashem to annihilate them, [Moshe] was quick to put in effort to save them. For this reason he commanded Aharon to sacrifice incense quickly in order to remove the plague from the nation.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Ralbag what a true leader, a “complete leader” really is. He has to be a superhero, a man of steel: nothing and no one can phase him – even if they start a mutiny and incorrectly blame all their problems on him. Even if it is not at all his fault, he must be ready and willing to protect his people from whatever harm might come THEIR way, as quickly as possible, even in the case of a plague sent directly from the hand of G-D. That is his role, and it is what is expected and required of him.

However, if one digs deeper into the matter, something quite astonishing can be seen. It would seem that if Moshe had not been their leader, and rather was just someone being picked on who may have had it in his power to save their lives, it would seem that there would not be any claims against him if he had let all of them die out. Indeed, why should there be? Imagine the verbal abuse, the barrage of hurtful words being thrown at him, the innuendos, the people literally ready to lynch him – why should he feel the need to save their lives? Even Moshe, the humblest person in the world who was naturally sensitive to other people’s needs, would have, it seem from this Ralbag, been well within his rights to not have taken action to save them from their own demise. It was only because he was their leader that he was expected, and “it is befitting” for him to do whatever was within his means to save them.

The Ralbag is teaching a lesson to every leader, not just praising Moshe. Leaders are expected to care for his or her people, whatever cost. And every leader has the potential to be a superhero, unfazed by how others judge him or her. It is not so easy; if he or she would not have been the leader, then there would not be the expectation to go so far as to completely look the other way in the face of public scrutiny.  Now that he or she is a leader, however, each leader has the potential inside of themselves to overcome the feelings of hurt and insult in order to act with alacrity and zeal in an effort  to save his or her followers.

Shelach – Reward for a Good Deed

Did you ever think about why Canaan merited having the Land of Israel named after him, as we see in many parts of the Torah?
The Medrish Rabba in this week’s parasha of Shelach (parasha 17, paragraph 3) says in the name of Rabbi Zachai D’shaev: “The Jews said to Hashem, ‘King of the Universe, in many places we find you the land, The Land of Canaan and here (Bamidbar 15:2) you call it the Land of Your Inheritance?’ Hashem said back to them, ‘I swear on your lives that I gave [the land] to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, this could be found in the Torah verses, and sons inherit their father that is why it is called The Land of your Inheritance.’ So why did Canaan merit that the land be named after him, [i.e. The Land of Canaan]? When they heard the Jews coming they evacuated the area. Hashem said, ‘You evacuated the area, the land will therefore be called in your name and I will give you a beautiful land like your land.’ And which land is that? Africa.” (Click here for Hebrew Text)

The Maharz”u on this Medrish points out, based on a Medrish in Devorim (5:14), that it was in fact the people Gergashi, the son sof Canaan, who evacuated their cities and did not put up a fight. The Medrish there says that Yehoshua sent out treaties of surrender to each city. Whoever wanted to leave could leave, whoever wanted to make peace could make peace, and whoever wanted to fight could fight. The people of Gergashi got up and fled and G-D gave them Africa. With the Givonim who decided to make peace, Yehoshua made a peace treaty with them. However 31 kings came to fight with the Jews and Hashem delivered them into Yehoshua’s hands. (Click here fore Hebrew text)

The Maharz”u quotes a different Chaza”l as proof that Gergashi moved to Africa, which says that in the times of King Alexander the people of Africa demanded legal action against the Jews, claiming the Land of Israel which their forefather Canaan once lived on.

Why did Canaan really deserve to have the land named after him? It is not like they had the intention of fulfilling the will of G-D by leaving their homeland. They left because they were afraid of being annihilated by the Jewish People; and it wasn’t even all the children of Canaan who fled, as the 31 kings were also descendants of Canaan. Furthermore, the future generations who fled to Africa later tried to lay claim to the land, in the times of King Alexander. So why did Hashem reward Canaan with the naming rights?

We see from here the way Hashem executes judgment. When a good deed is done, He focuses on the action without any ramifications. The pure essence of their actions, which resulted in a positive favor to the Jewish people, even if it was just one nation out of 33, warranted a reward, in the form of having the name of The Land of Israel called Canaan throughout the Torah, and the present of the entire continent of Africa in place of their homeland.

Hashem rewards all people, Jew and non-Jews, for their good deeds. Imagine what the reward must be for doing a good deed, solely for the sake of Heaven, without any regrets?!

Bihaaloscha – Crutches

Yisro, Moshe Rabbenu’s father-in-law, intended to leave the Jewish people to go back to Midian, but in this week’s Parsha, Bihaaloscha, Moshe asks him to stay: “Moshe said to Chovav son of Reuel, the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moshe, ‘We are journeying to the place of which Hashem has said I shall give it to you. Go with us and we shall treat you well, for Hashem has spoken of good for Israel.’ He (Yisro whose name is also Chovav) said to him, ‘I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’ He (Moshe) said ‘Please do not forsake us, inasmuch as you know our encampment in the desert, and you have been eyes for us. And it shall be that if you come with us, then with the goodness with which Hashem will benefit us, we will do good to you’” Bamidbar, 10:29-32. Ultimately, Yisro parted ways from his son-in-law and the Jewish People.

Moshe gave a reason why Yisro should stay: “you have been eyes for us” (verse 31). The Rabbeinu Bachye elaborates that Moshe intended for Yisro to be a tour guide for the Jewish Nation. But the Rabbeinu Bachye then asks: what would have been the need for Yisro if the Clouds of Glory, signaling direct Divine intervention, were guiding the Jews through the desert? The Rabbeinu Bachye answers that Moshe requested this in order to strengthen the hearts of those amongst them who had little faith, whose hearts would be more comforted and strengthened by a human leader. (Click here for Hebrew text)

The Jews that Moshe was referencing must have been a very small percentage of the population; who could have that little faith after not only witnessing but being a part of all the miracles, glory, and awesome power of the Exodus from Egypt, Splitting of the Sea, and receiving the Torah at Har Sinai? Not only that, but they had also been traveling for some time while receiving food from heaven, fresh water flowing out of a rock, and the Clouds of Glory already guiding them! Yet there seems not to have been any claims by G-D or Moshe against those who did not feel comfortable enough to totally trust the Clouds of Glory, and Moshe just wanted to strengthen their faith in Hashem and their feeling of security by enlisting Yisro, who, knowing the desert like the back of his hand, would fill that void by leading the way through the Wilderness into the Holy Land.

Yet how would having a human, corporeal, tour guide strengthen those who had little faith? On the contrary, one would think that this would lead them to rely even less on Hashem, and more on the person?

However, Moshe in his profound wisdom and with his solid grip on human nature understood that some people require a crutch in order to strengthen their security and trust in Hashem. Just as a person with a broken leg uses a crutches to help him walk, enabling him to get back on his feet. But on the other hand, just as the individual can become too reliant on the crutches, harming his rehabilitation, so too, as in anything in life, there are ideal situations and there is the crutch. One can become reliant on the crutch and never grow out of it, but one can also use the crutch to help him or herself become better and strengthen his or her weaknesses.
It is up to you to choose to use a crutch, when needed, in the proper manner.