Post Archive for June 2009

This is the Law of the Torah Accept the Direction of Hashem

Parashas Chukas begins by describing the process of preparing ashes from a red heifer for use in purifying people from defilement due to contact with the dead. The law of the red heifer is the classic example of a chok – a Torah law whose reason we do not know. In Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8, the Midrash says that the red heifer atones for the sin of the golden calf. I would like, building on the Maggid’s teachings, to bring out a lesson from this Midrash.
We start by considering the motive behind the sin of the golden calf. Following the Kuzari, the Maggid explains that the making of the calf was not, far be it, driven by a desire to engage in crass idol worship. Rather, the Jews were trying to develop a way to connect with Hashem. Moshe went up to Mt. Sinai to have Hashem teach him the means of connecting with Him. But while the Jewish People were waiting for Moshe to come down, the Adversarial Angel (satan) tricked them by showing them the likeness of Moshe’s bier floating in the air.  Having concluded that Moses had died, the people tried to figure out on their own the means of connecting with Hashem, which Moshe was supposed to convey to them. They came up with the lamentable idea of making a golden statue of a calf. Living in a time when people were accustomed to making figures in the likeness of some heavenly entity, the Jewish People’s misguided instinct led them to make the calf. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, the Jews had beheld the Divine Chariot, and they had seen that one of its wheels was in the form of the face of an ox (Shemos Rabbah 42:5). Hence, after concluding that Moshe had died, they decided to make a figure in the form of a calf, to use as a means of worshipping Hashem and drawing close to Him.
The people’s error was engaging in a form of worship that Hashem did not direct them to perform. In effect, they were not content to rely on Hashem’s control of affairs, but instead tried to take matters into their own hands. The remedy for this error was the law of the red heifer – a law that calls for us simply to follow Hashem’s word, without any understanding of the reason behind it.
The episode of Korach parallels the episode of the golden calf. Korach was not a crass person seeking personal glory. Rather, he wanted to draw closer to Hashem, and he felt that the system of appointments that Moshe had instituted (which, in fact, was legislated by Hashem) was unfairly limiting him. He sought the kehunah in order to be able to connect more closely with Hashem. He did not leave matters under Hashem’s control, but instead tried to take them into his own hands. He did not realize that his position, rather than being a straitjacket, was specifically designed as the means through which he could draw close to Hashem to the maximum degree.
As we go through the ups and downs of life, we must submit ourselves to Hashem’s control, and avoid feeling anxiety or discontent about our situation. We must realize that nothing that comes upon us limits from connecting to Hashem; on the contrary, everything that comes upon us is designed to help us draw closer to Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashios Shelach and Korach

A common theme in parashios Shelach and Korach is jealousy and the desire for honor. Korach’s jealousy and desire for honor led him to organize a rebellion against Moshe. The men who went to scout Eretz Yisrael were also tainted with a desire for honor. As the Zohar explains, they understood that upon Jewish People’s entry into Eretz Yisrael, their term of leadership would end. This factor biased their judgment (subconciously) and led them to convey a negative report.
The Maggid, in his commentary on Koheles 4:4-9, expounds on the trait of jealousy and honor-seeking. The passage in Koheles reads as follows:
I saw that all labor and all skillful enterprise spring from a man’s jealousy of his fellow. This, too, is futility and a vexation of the spirit. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. One handful with serenity is better than two handfuls with toil and vexation of the spirit. I then went back, and I observed [another] futility beneath the sun: a lone man, who has no companion, without even son or brother, laboring endlessly. His eye is never sated with riches, and [he never says:] “For whom am I laboring and depriving my soul of good?” This, too, is futility and an evil practice. Two are better than one, for they obtain a good reward from their labor.
The Maggid explains that jealousy comes in three basic forms. The first of these, the which is meritorious, is the zealous drive to execute retribution for a wrong done. The second form is the drive to match what others have achieved. This form of jealousy is ignoble in essence, but is similar (a “brother”) to the meritorious form in that it yields benefits. When a person sees his fellow men acting virtuously toward Hashem and toward others, he becomes jealous of them and rushes to do likewise. The benefits stemming from a person’s jealousy can be referred to metaphorically as “sons.” The third form of jealousy, which is profoundly evil, is the desire to hold a position of supremacy and the drive to do anything and everything in order to achieve this goal.
At the start of the passage in Koheles, Shlomo HaMelech expresses a certain degree of praise for the form of jealousy that involves the drive to match the achievements of others. This form of jealousy, while not the form that is meritorious in essence, is similar to it in yielding benefits. Shlomo then describes the form of jealousy that is evil both in essence and in effect: the jealousy of the man who seeks to stand alone, unrivaled. Shlomo notes that this form of jealousy has no positive facet at all, neither by way of resemblance (“brother”) nor by way of consequence (“son”). Two are better than one, Shlomo says, but the man seized with morbid jealousy seeks to be unique in stature. This type of jealousy is to be shunned and condemned.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashios Behaalosecha and Shelach

This week, the Torah reading is parashas Shelach in Eretz Yisrael and parashas Behaalosecha outside of Eretz Yisrael. Here I discuss an idea that relates to both parashios.
We know that everything we receive is from Hashem, but Hashem has set up a system in which we need to make some effort (hishtadlus) to obtain what He has designated for us. The proper degree of hishtadlus depends on various factors. Often people exert more effort than Hashem’s system requires. Expounding on the events of parashios Behaalosecha and Shelach, the Maggid describes two reasons for such behavior.
The first reason is a deficient degree of faith in Hashem. This fault is what led the Jewish People to want to send men to scout Eretz Yisrael. Sending scouts can be a legitimate step, as indeed it was for Yehoshua and Gideon. But for the generation of the wilderness, who had personally witnessed the great miracles Hashem did in Egypt, it was an excessive step. Given what they had seen, they should have been confident, without sending scouts, that Hashem would enable them to conquer the land.
The second reason is a desire for unnecessary pleasures and amenities. This fault is reflected in the episode in parashas Behaalosecha in which a segment of the Jewish People complained about the manna and pleaded for the delicacies they had enjoyed in Egypt: meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. The section of the Torah on this episode alludes to the fact that the wicked ones of the nation had to venture far from their tents to collect their portion of manna, while the righteous ones found their portion at their door. The Maggid elaborates on this system of dispensation. He explains that the wicked were driven by a desire for gratification, as reflected in their eventual demand for delicacies. This desire led them to excessive hishtadlus: They ventured far from their tents in order to gather extra manna, beyond the amount needed for their sustenance. Hashem punished them by forcing them to venture out just to receive their alloted portion.
Our hishtadlus should be measured: A certain amount of normal effort is necessary, but we must not allow anxiety or desire to lead us to excessive exertion.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

The Elevation of the Tribe of Levi

The first three parashios of Sefer Bamidbar discuss, among other topics, the elevation of the tribe of Levi to a special position of service. Parashios Bamidbar and Naso relate Hashem’s command to Moshe to appoint the Leviim to this position, and the specific duties of each of the three major Levite families. Parashas Behaalosecha relates the ceremony inaugurating the Leviim into their special position.
Hashem tells Moshe (Bamidbar 3:5): “Bring near the tribe of Levi and station it before Aharon the Kohen, and they shall serve [under] him.” Hashem then describes various domains of service. Afterwards, Hashem says to Moshe (Bamidbar 3:11): “And, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the Children of Israel, in place of every firstborn, …, and the Levites shall be Mine.” Bamidbar Rabbah 3:4, expounding on the phase “and, behold,” describes Hashem as saying: “I am now adding to the favor I show them – behold, with joy.”
The Maggid gives the following beautiful explanation of this Midrash. Suppose a man with two sons initially gave the older one a larger portion of his assets, but later decided to favor the younger son instead. He then must deduct from the older son’s portion to give to the younger one. Hashem, however, operates differently. Hashem is unlimited in what He can provide. So when He decides to elevate one group of people, He need not deduct from the portions of the others. He simply gives the chosen group more, while allowing the others to keep all they have. As the Gemara in Chullin 60a says, Hashem gives without taking away.
Initially, while showing favor to all segments of the Jewish People, Hashem granted the firstborn a special measure of sanctity, for they were designated to take charge of the service carried out in His sanctuary. But later the firstborn became unfit for this role, because of their participation in the making of the golden calf, and Hashem transferred the role to the Leviim. Yet, in doing so, He did not detract from what He had given the firstborn. Thus, to this day, the firstborn must be redeemed, because Hashem never took away their sanctity. Rather, He simply raised the Leviim to a still higher level of sanctity. Hence Hashem, so to speak, rejoiced in what He had done – for He had arranged for the Leviim to reap a gain without causing the firstborn to suffer any loss.
David Zucker, Site Administrator