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Shavuos 5770

Exodus 23:22 And when you make the harvesting of your land do not finish off the corner of your field when you harvest and do not gather the (fallen stalks from the) gatherings of your harvesting. Abandon them for the impoverished and convert. I am Hashem your G-D.

This entire chapter talks about celebrating Shabbos and the five annual Jewish holidays: Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Succos.

Shavuos is elsewhere called the holiday of harvesting and Succos is called the holiday of gathering.

The above verse is written in the section that deals with Shavuos. It has commandments that speak about both harvesting and gathering. It also speaks about caring for the needy.

It is the only verse in Chapter 23 that does not directly speak about the holidays. It would seem to be a better fit had it been written elsewhere, in the sections that deal with agricultural laws or charity.

What message is the Torah trying to tell us by writing these laws in the section for Shavuos and not by Succos or elsewhere in the Torah?

The following came to mind.

The Sfas Emes commentary notes that these commandments speak on a very level of charity

When a person comes to the door for a donation, it is the donor's right to decide whether to give and how much to give.

The Torah does not say in this verse that the land owner must give the corner of his field and fallen stalks to the impoverished. Rather, he must abandon them for the poor. That is, he may not stop anybody from taking them and they can take as much as they want. This demands a total negation of ownership and selflessness.

The Torah is an expression of G-D's will and Shavuos is the anniversary of our accepting the Torah. This acceptance demonstrated a recognition of the supremacy of G-D's will.

It is therefore fitting that a commandment that demands the highest degree of selflessness be written by the holiday of Shavuos to remind us of the great achievements of our ancestors when they accepted G-D's will over their own.

Shavuos 5775

This Torah reading always proceeds the holiday of Shavuos. It is thus one of the anchor points for the yearly reading cycle.

It is very likely that something within this reading helps prepare us to properly celebrate the holiday of our receiving the Torah.

What could it be?

The following came to mind.

The census of our Torah reading was done by counting the coins that each person gave,

Everyone gave equally, everyone was counted equally.

A nation is a collection of people.

In some ways, the people of a nation differ by certain qualities and are treated accordingly. In other ways, everyone has equal consideration.

The Torah was given to the Jewish people as a nation.

Given the vast knowledge and complexity that is in the Torah, it is easy to fall into the notion that the Torah belongs only to those who are blessed with scholastic capability. Indeed, the more capable a person is, the more is his responsibility to be personally involved in preserving our knowledge base.

But while not everybody has an equal share of this type of responsibility, in some ways everyone has an equal share to the Torah, an equal connection.

Have a wonderful and joyful Shavuos.

Shavuos 5771

"… And they stood beneath the mountain. Exodus 19:17

The Jewish people received the Torah while they were at Mount Sinai. The Torah writes that they stood under the mountain.

The Talmud provides the following explanation in the name of Rabbo Avdimi, son of Chama son of Chasa (Shabbos 88a)

This teaches that G-D bent the mountain over them like a cask. He said to the Jewish people: "If you accept the Torah then fine. And if not then this is where you will be buried."

This is puzzling because Moshe (Moses) had already asked the Jewish people if they were willing to receive the Torah and they responded, "We will do and we will listen." (Exodus 24:7).

The Tosfos commentary answers that G-D was concerned that the Jewish people would change their minds when they saw the intense fire that accompanied this event.

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory brings the following question in the name of great scholars: Why was the fire needed in the first place? Couldn't G-D give the Torah without it?

He answers that G-D knew that the Jewish people had some very tough times ahead of them. He foresaw the possibility that they would regret their decision when the going got rough.

He points out that the Torah itself gives a person the ability to undo an obligation when extenuating circumstances arise.

For example, if a woman knowingly agrees to marry a man that has certain types of adverse physical or emotional conditions and she later wants out of the marriage because they turned out to be more than she can handle, there are cases when the court can intervene to end the marriage.

Similarly, during some of the extremely difficult times in Jewish history, it would have appeared logical for us to apply this ruling and opt out of Judaism to turn down the stress and survive.

Therefore, by holding Mount Sinai above them, G-D was saying that for the Jewish people in particular, the only alternative to Judaism is death.

But how does this answer the question? Why should have less rights than the stressed-out wife?

We must say the following, bearing in mind that the Jewish people had already said yes to the Torah.

By afterwards imposing the Torah upon the Jewish people, G-D took upon Himself that He would manage history so that that the Jewish people would never have to decide between living as a Jew and something that is worse than death.

That is, G-D would manage history so we would never be confronted with something that was impossible to do, if we sincerely wanted to survive as Jews.

And if the alternative was to die as a Jew or discard Judaism and live as non-Jews, then for us the latter would be worse than physical death.

Torah is life. Have a wonderful Shavuos.

Shavuos 5772

The Ten Commandments begin with: "I am Hashem your G-D who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2)"

Many commentators ask why the introductory commandment addresses the Exodus and not the creation of the world. Why wasn't the first commandment, "I am Hashem your G-D who created the world?"

The Shaar Bas Rabim cites the following answer.

A human being can transform a physical existence into another form but cannot create a physical existence from nothing.

Only G-D can do this.

However, a person can assume a responsibility that appears to be extremely difficult and can succeed despite all odds, through prayer and with G-D's help.

The Exodus was no simple undertaking for no slave ever succeeded in leaving Egypt, much less an entire nation. But we succeeded, through prayer and with G-D's help.

And we know that it is no simple task to be fully compliant with the Torah.

So when G-D came to the Jewish people and posed that they undertake the responsibility of accepting the Torah upon themselves and their future generations, He began with Exodus to remind us that we should not hesitate just because it looks challenging. Just like G-D helped us get out of Egypt, He stands ready to help us fulfill the Torah.

It's up to us to ask for help and to never give up.

One of the tricks of the evil inclination is to push us to be too critical of ourselves, that we're half-empty of virtue instead of half-full.

While we can evaluate specific actions for compliance against the Torah's standards, it is not up to a person to judge whether his or her life is a success or a failure.

The Shaar Bas Rabim ends off with the teaching, "A person can acquire his (eternal) world in one moment." We can succeed, even if time and our past life appear to work against us.

Have a wonderful Shavuos.

Shavuos 5773

The holiday of Shavuos is called the Holiday of Bikurim because it begins the period of bringing first fruits to the Temple.

The Mishnah of Bikurim describes the ceremony, which includes reciting several verses of thanksgiving, delineated in Deuteronomy 26:5 to 10.

The Mishnah says that some bring Bikurim to the temple and recite the verses, some bring but do not recite, and some do neither.

A sharecropper does not bring Bikurim because the Torah says, "… the Bikurim of your land" (Exodus 23:19) and he is not the landowner (Rambam Bikurim 2:12).

However, if a person purchases three trees that are adjacent then he owns the land between them and he may bring Bikurim and recite (ibid 2:13). There doesn't appear to be a difference between whether the purchaser is a man or a woman.

A woman that inherits land may bring Bikurim but does not recite. This is because she cannot say, "… (the fruit of) the land that You gave me, Oh G-D" (Deuteronomy 26:10) (Rambam ibid 4:2). This is puzzling. Why should she be any different than a purchaser?

However, her husband may bring the Bikurim and recite because of the verse, "And you shall rejoice over all the goodness that Hashem your G-D gave you and your household … (Deuteronomy 26:11) (Rambam ibid 4:6). This is even more puzzling. A husband's connection to the land is through his wife. If she can't recite then how can he?

Apparently, the recitation depends not only upon the degree a person is connected to land, but also how the connection came about.

The following came to mind.

An 'Androgynous' is a person that was born with both male and female sexual features.

The Mishnah (Bikurim 1:5) says that this person may bring Bikurim but does not recite.

The Rambam provides the following explanation: This person cannot say, "… the land that You gave me" because the Land of Israel was divided only among pure males. This is what G-D said (in the Torah), " … they shall inherit by the names of the tribes of their fathers (Numbers 26:55). And it is written "… each man according to his numbers …" (ibid 54), until he is a male beyond doubt.

The Rambam could have said that the Androgynous would not have received a share in the land because the land was only given to males the Androgynous cannot prove his/her status. Instead, the Rambam injects the division of the land in his discussion.

Additionally, the Kehati commentary on the Mishnah (1:5) says that women may not recite because the Land of Israel was initially not divided among (both men and) women. He understands this to be what the Rambam means. He does not say which Rambam he is referring to.

Apparently, an association with the process of the way the land was divided has relevance.

The Torah states the following:

"The land may be divided only by a lottery. They shall inherit by the names of the tribes of their fathers (Numbers 26:55).

Some would say that the 'winners' received their inheritance by chance, or luck. But we know that the affairs of mankind are determined and managed by G-D, not 'luck.'

And when we earn enough money to purchase three trees, we did so because G-D gave us the resources and ability to do so. It didn't happen because of our charm, wit, or strength.

And who we marry and what we are destined to own is decreed by G-D some forty days after we were conceived.

The recitation is an acknowledgement that what we have is from G-D and this is reflected by not only what we say but also by the guidelines for who says it.

Shavuos 5774

And Moshe brought the people out of the encampment towards (the appearance of) G-D's (glory). And they stood at the base of the Mountain (of Sinai). Exodus 19:17.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) explains this standing at the base of the mountain to mean that the Jewish people stood under the mountain itself. The Talmud goes on to say that G-D held the mountain over our heads and declared that if we will accept the Torah then all will be good. Otherwise, the mountain will drop down and bury us on the spot.

This is very puzzling.

The Jewish people were asked several days before if they would accept the Torah and they said yes (Exodus 19:7). We have no record of their changing their minds. Why did G-D have to use coercion?

The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) asks that if we were coerced to accept the Torah then why it should be binding upon us and our descendants.

The Talmud answers that the Jewish people voluntarily accepted the Torah upon themselves hundreds of years later, after being saved from the wicked Haman's decree.

This only adds to the puzzle.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary provides the following insight.

History tells us that being and acting Jewish isn't always easy. Our connection to the Torah has only endured throughout history because we were willing to be and act Jewish in spite of all adversity.

The mountain over our heads did not mean that we needed to be forced into to accepting the Torah. Rather, G-D held the mountain over our heads to tell us that we needed to accept the Torah in face of forces that would try to disconnect us.

Some commentators say the Jewish people of that time were willing to accept only the Written Torah but not the Oral Torah. After willingly accepting the Written Torah, G-D used the mountain to get us to accept the Oral Torah.

Perhaps we can understand this to mean that we were only willing to commit ourselves to a clearly written code of behavior that could not be distorted or misrepresented. We viewed the oral portion as a risk that we were unwilling to assume.

Indeed, throughout history we have been subjected to exploiters and they have succeeded in disconnecting those who chose to follow them.

Perhaps the Jewish people of that time were not ready to see that G-D would not abandon us and that He would manage history so that we would not become lost. And for the innocent victims of the falsifiers it is written that G-D "ponders thoughts so that no one will be banished from Him." (Shmuel / Samuel II, 14:14)

The Purim story gave us the insight to see this in retrospect. For it was Mordechai who used the authority given by the Oral Torah to decree a three-day fast that would include the first day of Passover. The fast effectively cancelled for that year the Torah's commandment to eat matzah. But it was the fasting and repentance that turned the tables. G-D went on to save us in a most unusual and topsy-turvy manner.

The experience demonstrated to us G-D's control and His ability to intervene through natural causes at will. It demonstrated that G-D can and will back our connection with the Torah. It moved us to voluntarily accept the Oral Torah upon ourselves.

Shavuos 5778

You shall set up boundaries around the mountain (of Sinai) saying, caution yourselves from ascending the mountain or touching its edges. Whomever touches the mountain will die.

… They may ascend the mountain only when they hear an extended sound of the shofar. (Exodus 19: 12 and 14)

Mount Sinai was a restricted area because of its sanctity. Its sanctity was temporary. We have been permitted to go there for the past thirty-three (plus) centuries. In contrast, the sanctity of the Temple Mount is everlasting. It is still a restricted area even after the temple’s destruction.

Rabbi Ruderman of blessed memory explains that the sanctity of the Temple Mount was enhanced by the action of Jewish people, who built the Temple there. Therefore, its sanctity endured. However, the sanctity of Mount Sinai came entirely from G-D. Its sanctity was therefore temporary.

Rabbi Kulefsky of blessed memory suggests following support for this distinction.

We are taught that we receive a supplementary soul when Shabbos begins. It leaves us when Shabbos ends. We therefore smell fragrant spices during the Havdalah ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbos as a consolation for this loss.

However, fragrant spices are not part of the Havdalah ceremony when the day after Shabbos is a holiday (Pesachim 102b). The Rashbam commentary says that this is because we have a supplementary soul for the holiday and therefore suffer no loss.

The Tosfos commentary notes that we do not use fragrant spices during the Havdalah ceremony of Jewish holidays. If the Rashbam is correct in assuming that we receive a supplementary soul for holidays, we should need consolation at their conclusion. Tosfos therefore concludes that we receive a supplementary soul for Shabbos alone, not holidays.

The Ramban (Emunah and Bitachon 21) writes that indeed we receive a supplementary soul on Jewish holidays. The reason that we do not include fragrant spices during a holiday’s Havdalah ceremony is because that soul doesn’t vanish immediately at the conclusion of the holiday. (In fact, the day that follows every holiday it itself a minor holiday, called Isru Chag – editor.)

In explaining the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov, the Avnei Ezer says that whatever we receive as a free gift from G-D has no permanence. Rather, G-D grants permanence to what we have as a result of our action and accomplishments.

The sanctity of Shabbos was established during Creation. It comes from G-D exclusively every seven days. However, the sanctity of Jewish holidays depends upon the Supreme Court’s decision and declaration of the new month. Since our actions contribute to making the holiday, its effects have an aspect of permanence.

Rabbi Ruderman’s explanation of the difference between the sanctity of Mount Sinai and the Temple Mount is therefore consistent with the Ramban, as explained by the Avnei Ezer.

Wishing you all a wonderful and memorable Shavuos holiday, with a permanent glow to boot.


The holiday of Shavuos is one of the Torah's three pilgrimage festivals.

The Torah charges us to be happy during the holiday but does not say why (Deuteronomy 16:11).

Today we use a fixed calendar and Shavuos occurs on the sixth day of the month of Sivan. At one time the Jewish people used the testimony of witnesses to declare the new month. During that period, Shavuos could have been off by one day or so.

The Oral Torah (Shabbos 86a) records two views for when the Ten Commandments were given. The general view is that it was on the sixth of Sivan but it was on the seventh according to Rabbi Yossi. The Oral Torah says that according to Rabbi Yossi, G-D was ready to give the Ten Commandments on the sixth of Sivan but Moshe added a day, presumably to give the people more time to prepare.

Our holiday prayers refer Shavuos as the "time of the giving of our Torah."

In practice today, Shavuos is strongly linked with the giving of the Torah. Many people spend the entire night studying Torah. We eat dairy foods in commemoration of our ancestors who were charged to have kosher homes and suddenly had to upgrade their kitchens in order to cook and serve meat.

It comes out that the Written Torah charges us to celebrate during Shavuos but does not tell us why, that Shavuos coincides with some timeframe during which the Ten Commandments were given, and this is how it is celebrated today.

This is in contrast to the Passover and Succos, whose dates are fixed on the calendar and whose reasons are clearly stated. Passover commemorates our freedom from Egypt and Succos commemorates G-D's protection and also material abundance.

To explain the mystery of Shavuos, it comes to mind is that you can only expect a person to celebrate over something that he appreciates.

G-D can give us the Torah, which is always relevant and spans all time, but it is up to us to learn to appreciate it.

The holiday of Shavuos is the shortest of the three pilgrimage holidays but is arguably the most significant to all of Mankind.

As Judaism is the foundation stone for religions to which the majority of believers subscribe to, the message of this holiday establishes a basis for the truth for Judaism that is unparalleled. In fact, it sets Judaism apart from every listing in the encyclopedia under "Religion."

Its context is the existence of a G-D who created the world and who continually manages it, including all affairs of Mankind. It teaches that G-D created the world that we know of for a purpose, which is to afford people the opportunity to achieve the greatest happiness, primarily in a world that is yet to come, by making their making the right choices in life against a specific code of behaviors. It teaches that G-D actively manages our affairs and events to continually present each person with tests that match the person so that they can feel as though they earned this happiness.

History of civilization evolved and G-D decided to communicate His will and code of behavior to all Mankind, once and once only. It will be up to Mankind to preserve this transmission to the end of history as we know it.

We well know that everyone is endowed with talents and disabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Some people are physically strong and others are weak. Some are perceptive and cunning and others are naïve and simple-minded. Among us are great humanitarians and among us are cruel people. Among us are people of great integrity and among us are crooks and liars.

History is pretty much the same thing all over again and again. As we have today, some thirty-seven centuries ago we had thugs and con-artists who dominated and manipulated others, some with politics, some with theology, and some with both.

There was therefore a need for G-D to communicate His will to Mankind in a manner that was above question that it was indeed G-D Himself who was making this communication.

If you are reading this on a computer screen then you probably logged into your computer, thereby authenticating to the operating system that you were indeed the user for whom the login and password was made for, that you are you.

Unfortunately, some people have weak computer authentication and are exploited. So we are encouraged to make passwords that would take centuries to crack. And some systems employ biometrics and/or smart cards to strengthen the authentication.

Perhaps we can say that Shavuos is the culmination of G-D's authentication to Mankind, after which there was no doubt that it was indeed G-D who said on Mount Sinai, "I am G-D" and who subsequently transmitted His will through Moshe (Moses).

The strength of this authentication is indeed unparalleled.

430 years prior to the Exodus, G-D told Avraham (Abraham), ancestor and founder of the Jewish people, that his children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, that they will be enslaved and will suffer, and they will endure this for 400 years. G-D will judge the nation that oppressed them and they will afterwards leave with great possessions (Genesis 15:13-14).

This was a coded message from the outset, for it is subject to a wide range of interpretations. Which of his children will be strangers and in which land? Will the slavery last 400 years or maybe only just the exile?

Indeed, only G-D will be able to execute an Exodus from a plight and future that seemed at the time hopeless to Avraham's children. In fact, zealots fabricated their own interpretation of the 400-year redemption and convinced many Jews to bolt out of Egypt some 30 years prior to the Exodus, only to be slaughtered by the Plishtim army on the way.

The period just prior to the Exodus was convincing enough on its own for it was full of miracles that were accurately predicted by Moshe each and every time.

They set a standard that has yet to be met by religions that base themselves on miracles, for these miracles were very public, massive, and were personally experienced by everyone who lived during that time.

The captor turned out to be the greatest empire of the time whose leader didn't wince at the thought of taking on the G-D of the Jewish people.

Putty in G-D's hands, this viscous Pharaoh was given chance after chance to avoid getting beaten up ten times, afterwards sending out the Jewish people with the treasured possessions of his people, afterwards changing his mind and chasing after them, afterwards experienced destruction in a sea that opened up for both nations but that then swallowed up the entire Egyptian army.

The Jewish people, some six-hundred-thousand family heads, embarked upon a journey into a barren and hostile desert with no provisions other than leftovers. They drank water from a stone that rolled along as they traveled. They ate something that rained down from the sky and served as bread. They were accompanied by clouds that sheltered them by day and provided lighting by night.

They stood at the foot of a fiery mountain some fifty days after their Exodus.

They weren't expected to believe that G-D talked to their great prophet, as other faiths have it. Instead, they heard G-D Himself speak to Moshe.

Shavuos is the culmination of, among other things, a process of authentication that could only have been designed and executed by G-D himself. It is also the beginning of a transmission of a truth that became a standard for authenticity in religion.

The authentication is unmatched and it will never be matched. It suggested new meaning on the term, 'faiths,' for they all rely on having faith in the claims of one or more humans who propose / promote / impose them. In contrast, Judaism is based on the personal experiences of those who accepted it upon themselves.

Within this context, Shavuos has the greatest meaning for Mankind, for it provides the strongest possible link we have to our Creator.

Exodus 19:17 And Moshe (Moses) brought the people out from the camp to meet G-D. And they stood beneath the mountain.

The Oral Torah (Shabbos 88a) provides the following teaching in the name of Rav Avdimi Bar Chama Bar Chasa: G-D bent the mountain over the Jewish people in the shape of a barrel and said to them, "If you accept the Torah then fine. Otherwise this will be your burial place."

That is, the Jewish people stood literally beneath the mountain.

This was quite a traumatic experience and many have questioned the need for this to happen as the Jewish people had already agreed to accept the Torah, per verse 19:8.

One answer that I recently heard is that the Jewish people needed to feel and experience some stress to insure that they were aware of the consequences of their choice. That is, they were voluntarily accepting upon themselves an awesome responsibility that will require much energy and attention to fulfill. And, that there will be dire consequences if they do not meet their commitments.

With this in mind we can perhaps derive some insight into our annual holiday calendar. The themes of most holidays and events seem to flow into each other. For example, the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av commemorate tragedies and this gives focus to the consequences of misdeeds and spiritual defect. The high holidays follow when we focus on spiritual restoration and they climax with Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. The celebration of Succos follows immediately and it reflects the restoration of our relationship with G-D. The holiday of Chanukah follows two months later, demonstrating that G-D will never let history put our spirituality in peril. Purim that follows several months later demonstrates that G-D will never let history put our physical existence in peril and that He subtly manipulates history to manage all risks. Pesach, our holiday of birth and freedom follows and brings focus on G-D's control and manipulation of nature to meet His commitments. Shavuos follows to link our freedom with the Torah, for freedom without connection to G-D and His will is meaningless and makes a person a slave to his/her passion.

The next major event on the calendar after Shavuos is the Seventeenth of Tamuz.

From the above we can now better see the link between Shavuos and the Tamuz-Av commemorations.

In general, when undertaking a responsibility, one would expect that the degree of opportunity and the intensity of reward that a person receives from fulfilling this responsibility should be proportionate to the degree of risk that the person assumes.

In our case it most definitely is. While our journey throughout history has been quite hazardous and costly, we are comforted by the assurances of our prophets that we will succeed, with G-D's help.

In literature and in prayer, the holiday of Shavuos is associated with the anniversary of our receiving the Torah.

Shavuos is linked to Pesach (Passover) by a forty-nine day count, each day of which we experienced successive spiritual refinements until we were ready to receive the Torah.

Shavous is day fifty, which should climax seven weeks of our spiritual preparation, representing our success and graduation.

There is some discussion in the Talmud whether we received the Torah on the sixth of the month of Sivan or the seventh. However, everyone is in agreement that the Jewish people left Egypt on a Thursday and that we received the Torah on a Shabbos, a Saturday.

If we left on Thursday then Friday was day one of the preparatory period and the following Thursday would be day seven. If we repeat this six more times then day forty-nine was on a Thursday, day fifty was Friday and Shabbos was day fifty-one.

Since we received the Torah on day fifty-one and Shavuos is only day fifty, why do our prayers reference Shavous as being the time when we received the Torah? It appears as though Shavuos is disconnected by one day to the anniversary of our receiving the Torah.

The following came to mind.

It is easy to connect a person's effort with his/her success. However, we are taught they are not strongly connected. Throughout all of our endeavors, we are charged to put forth effort in a way that should bring success. However, it is G-D who decrees and controls whether our efforts bring success.

We are also taught that when it comes to Torah study, success is truly disconnected with effort. That is, we are rewarded not by how much we accomplish but rather by how much effort we put into our study.

Therefore, it is quite fitting to celebrate our receiving the Torah with our forty-nine days of spiritual preparation and not with the anniversary of our spiritual success.

Reverse Engineering History

If history is the result of a series of accidents then it can't have meaning.

We can only expect to make some sense out of history if we believe that there is an all-powerful and resourceful G-D who actively manages the affairs of Mankind to meet some goal.

Looking back at almost six-thousand-years of history and then looking at the headlines of each day, many people wonder where Mankind is heading.

But let's not wonder. Instead, rely on a great and solid tradition that views history as a process of correction that culminates in a great Messianic Era.

So the Jewish people know where we are all going. However, it is not very obvious how we are all going to get there. What needs to be corrected? As each day passes, are we getting closer or are we getting further from the goal? What were the Jewish people chosen for? Why all the suffering?

Certainly, these answers are hidden in our holy scriptures. Our great writings provide some glimpses of the future. But the detail that is needed to make sense of it all is frankly beyond our reach.

If these questions make you yearn for clarity then read on and consider a novel approach.

The problem with making sense out of history is two-fold. First, it's complex and profound. Second, it's constantly changing. That is, it's a moving target.

To address history's complexity, intuition tells this author to make the assumption that all of history can be abstracted to revolve around a simple principle. That is, you don't have to be a great scholar or a kabalist to derive meaning and strength from history. Rather, G-D must be designing history so that its meaning is accessible to the common man, the building block of a humanity that is headed towards correction and perfection, according to our tradition.

To address the problem of history's rapid pace, I suggest that we simply freeze it and see what sense we can make out of it at that moment. To make the picture complete, if we freeze history today then we must assume that the Messianic Era will commence tonight.

I share with you a snapshot on the meaning of history as I see it. I call this a snapshot because it is subject to change by current events and by my continued study.

The way I see it today, history can be reduced into five words:

I want. But G-D wants.

I submit to you that the first man struggled with this very issue and his failing charted the course of history of his descendants for the next six-thousand years.

I also submit that most history and current events seem to be driven by a small number of people who succeeded in using their talent and position to exploit the masses. Mankind has suffered greatly from despotic politicians and falsifiers of a myriad of religions. And, Mankind has thereby learned the value of submitting man's will to that of G-D, for the alternative is Mankind's self-destruction.

In leafing through the folios of the scriptures we note several attempts to get Mankind in its entirety closer toward perfection. Instead, they come to close to total annihilation by water and they are later dispersed. And so, as history nears its first third, a founder is selected for a future nation that will assume the responsibility and the costs of facilitating history towards its end, thereby reducing risk for the rest of mankind. Everyone else can either join them, ignore them, help them, or try to frustrate G-D's will by opposing or distracting them.

Some four-hundred years later, this people receives a transmission of G-D's will through one man. For the next thirty-three centuries their job will be to preserve this transmission, to always refer to it as a basis for their conduct, to never abuse this trust by trying to redefine it.

This people can rapidly bring the world and themselves to perfection by exerting great effort to insure that each and every member will meet G-D's will in every detail of this transmission, thereby demonstrating the significance of meeting G-D's will. If they fail then they will pay a long and heavy price for their shortcomings, thereby demonstrating the significance of not meeting G-D's will. In the latter event, G-D will manage history so that the price will be finite and it will be paid up in time for the party.

It doesn't appear to this author that the Jewish people took that fast track. And so, as history nears tonight's (or tomorrow night's) Messianic encounter, G-D will redeem a people who don't appear to be all that worthy of being redeemed. But he'll do it anyway simply because he wants to do it, thereby providing the greatest demonstration to date of the importance and power of His will.

It will become quite obvious to all but the hardened accidentalist and/or falsifier that G-D is neither dead, nor is He in jail.

And let us not overlook Mankind's stunning political and scientific progress of the last century and a half. The rights and liberties of the individual are wide-spread, together with personal comfort. And so, each and every person will have unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate their submission to G-D's will. Alternately, some will let these great assets harden themselves to declare a war against G-D Himself.

History is not over until it's over. Hold on and prepare yourself to be totally amazed.

Have courage to read the headlines and to prepare yourself for the future. And if you don't have an Messianic encounter tonight or soon afterwards, you can bet on having another type of encounter within the next 120 years.

Parshas Bamidbar (Numbers 1-4)

Bamidbar (Numbers 1-4)

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel...

Rashi provides the following commentary for 1:1

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar He counted them.

How does being counted show a relationship with G-D? Rabbi Bick of blessed memory provides the following explanation.

The Jewish people are compared to the moon, whose size appears to grow and shrink.

The nature of human beings is such that both as individuals and collectively as a nation, there are times that we appear to be getting spiritually stronger. And there are times that we appear to be backsliding.

G-D counted us by good times, when He took us out of Egypt and when He rested His Divine presence on us.

And He counted us by bad times, after the downfall of the Golden Calf.

In His great mercy and as our Creator, G-D understands, works with the situation, and does not give up on us.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel...

Rashi provides the following commentary for 1:1

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar He counted them.

Rashi in Leviticus 9:4 says that G-D rested His Divine presence upon the Jewish people on the first of Nisan when the sanctuary was erected. Iyar is the month after Nisan. Why was there a delay of one month before the Jewish people were counted?

The Kli Yakar commentary proposes the following explanation.

Outside of Israel we are not required to affix a Mezuzah on the doorpost of a new residence until we have lived in it for at least one month because it takes thirty days to establish residency.

G-D began to rest His Divine presence with the Jewish people in Nissan and counted them thirty days later. This demonstrates that his relationship with the Jewish people was permanent.

I understand the writings of Rabbi Gedaliah Schor of blessed memory to provide another approach.

We have a relationship with G-D as a community and we have a relationship with G-D as individuals. This is because we share a common mission as a community and we also have separate and unique missions as individuals.

The privilege to construct the sanctuary was given to the Jewish people as a whole and the revelation of Nissan was geared to this great accomplishment. As the focus was on the accomplishments of a united community, there was no place for counting individuals. Any counting would have resulted in the number one.

Our relationship with G-D as individuals took on a special meaning once the sanctuary was erected.

We know this from the following verse in Exodus "And they shall make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:8). A teaching on this verse reads that our having a sanctuary leads to G-D dwelling among and within each and every person.

So there were two resting of G-D's divine presence within the Jewish people. One was focused on the community and one was focused on individuals.

Each of us is privileged to have a unique mission in life. This mission was designed and commissioned by G-D. The count in Iyar was of individuals. That everyone was counted meant that everyone and their life-missions were all significant to G-D.

We have a tradition that the sanctuary was hidden away and never destroyed. And the Jewish people have survived through a long and sometimes painful history.

Our relationships with G-D, both as a community and as individuals live on.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel...

Rashi provides the following commentary for 1:1

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar He counted them.

Why did G-D have the Jewish people count themselves if G-D already knows the count because He "counts them at every moment?"

The following came to mind.

The Mishna (Avos 3:18) says that "Man is endeared by G-d and this is why he was created in G-D's image. An additional expression of endearment was made when G-D made mankind aware of the fact that they were created in His image."

Similarly, the request for a census was a way to make us aware of another type of endearment. Experiencing the count by doing it ourselves brought this endearment to a deeper level of consciousness.

Furthermore, this was more than a simple count.

Verse 1:18 states that they "established their genealogy according to their families according to their father's household." Rashi explains that each person provided family records and testimony for their lineage through their father.

The Torah's certification of this count sheds additional light on the endearment of this very special and holy nation. It highlights to all mankind the significance that G-D assigns to people being certain that their fathers are indeed their fathers.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel ..

Rashi provides the following commentary for the first verse:

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment. When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar [i.e. now] He counted them.

Rashi clearly implies that G-D had not rested His Divine presence on the Jewish people and that He was about to.

We find no further ceremony or event in the Torah that obviously marks the beginning of this experience.

The Jewish people experienced the miraculous exodus from Egypt but this doesn't seem to mark the beginning of G-D's 'resting His Divine presence' on the Jewish people. We experienced an awesome revelation at Mount Sinai. We experienced a revelation on the first of Nissan, when a fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrifices of dedication. We began to worship G-D in the sanctuary every day. Yet, none of these glorious events mark the beginning of G-D's resting his Divine presence on the Jewish people.

And, what did occur after this census? The Jewish people left Mount Sinai and began a spiritually perilous their journey to the promised land. And the Jewish people suffered massive casualties as a result of their weakness.

We must then say that this departure from Mount Sinai is what marked the beginning of G-D's resting His Divine presence on the Jewish people, despite the perils and the failings.

It is G-D's will that we be subjected to His tests and He both supports us and encourages through His Divine presence, despite our failings.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel ..

Rashi provides the following commentary for 1:1

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar He counted them.

There are many references in the Torah to close relationships that the Jewish people have with G-D. This Torah reading coincides within a week of the Holiday of Shavous, when the Jewish people received the Torah. We shall therefore discuss a very special relationship that is associated with this very special holiday.

We have a renown book entitled 'Taamei Haminhagim,' or Rationales for Jewish Customs. Paragraph 963 cites from the book Mateh Moshe (section three) that all of the customs we have for a bride and a groom are based on what occurred when the Jewish people received the Torah. During this experience we view, so to speak, G-D acting as the Groom and the Jewish people acting as His bride.

As an example of a custom that is derived from the Sinai experience, the bride and groom stand under a wedding canopy. This is because the Torah states that "the people stood under the mountain (Exodus 19:17)" and the Talmud explains that G-D spread Mount Sinai over the Jewish people (Shabbos 88).

Given this analogy of a marriage, we have a very puzzling disclosure in Deuteronomy 33:2.

And he (Moshe / Moses) said, "G-D came from Sinai, He radiated from Seir to them (the Jewish people), He appeared from Mt. Paran …. The Talmud (Avodah Zara 2b) teaches that this is a reference to the Sinai experience. "What was G-D doing in Seir and Mt. Paran (from which He came to Sinai?) Rabbi Yochanan says, 'This teaches that G-D took the Torah around to every nation and no one was willing to take it, until He came to the Jewish people and they took it.'"

So G-D and His Torah were rejected by nation except the Jewish people. Well, in light of the above analogy, we have a groom coming to the wedding and right before the ceremony he discloses to his bride that no one else wanted to marry him.

Frankly, I would not counsel a groom to make this disclosure. Rather, I would counsel him to make his wife feel lucky that she won out over the competition. You see, marriage has politics and a husband is putting himself into disadvantage by volunteering this information.

The following came to mind.

It is clearly ridiculous to ascribe any political disadvantage to the Groom of our wedding. Disadvantage or not, this 'bride' was willing to give everything and anything to be His 'wife.'

And she did.

However, there is another very important political implication to marriage from such a disclosure and this has great meaning.

If a bride is told that no one was willing to marry her groom then she feels absolutely secure that he will never leave her for another woman.

And we needed this encouragement as we embarked some 3,313 years ago on a challenging and sometimes stressful journey through destiny and history.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, (from) within the Tent of Meeting, on the first (day) of the second month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying.

1:2 Take the count of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel ..

Rashi provides the following commentary for 1:1

Due to their fondness He (G-d) counts them at every moment When they exited from Egypt He counted them. He counted them when they fell by the Golden Calf to know the number of remaining (Jews). He counted them when He came to rest His Divine presence upon them. On the first of Nisan the sanctuary was erected and on the first of Iyar He counted them.

Rashi's words appear to be contradictory. He says that G-d counts the Jewish people at every moment. However, Rashi implies that G-d did not count the Jewish people on at least one occasion, the first of Nisan. In general, could Rashi be telling us that G-d is continually preoccupied with counting the Jewish people? How do we understand this?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps we can read this Rashi to mean that G-d counts the Jewish people at every type of moment.

He counted us by the Exodus, when we began the journey to our greatness. He counted us after the sin of the Golden Calf, when we were at our lowest point. G-d counted us by the moment of greatest achievement, our becoming worthy of having the Divine presence rest in our midst.

1:2 Take the count of all of the congregation of the Children of Israel according to the families of their father's home. (Count them) by the names of all males, by head (count).

This Torah portion of the census is scheduled to be read near the holiday of Shavuos, when we celebrate receiving the Torah from G-D on Mount Sinai.

The Shaar Bas Rabim commentary explains the following relationship between the male census and the holiday. The following is how I understand it.

The census provides a sharp definition for the participants in the census. It follows the father.

Although matrilineal descent is used to define who is a Jew, patrilineal descent is used to define lineage, roles, and responsibilities within the Jewish people.

We are taught that G-D did not create the world nor does He maintain it for His entertainment. Rather, He has specific goals, one of which is to give people the opportunity to earn reward and a life that is so great that it can never be described in terms of the world as we know it.

We are also taught that many a millennia ago, G-D planned to bestow the role and responsibility of being the Jewish people on a group that will earn this privilege.

Avraham (Abraham) merited to be selected as the lead ancestor. G-D made a covenant with him to establish the Jewish people through his seed.

Through the merits of his son Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob), the covenant for the seed of Avraham passed through their line to all of Yaakov's children. They merited to pass the status as the seed of Avraham to their descendants, who endured the Egyptian exile, experience the Exodus and were given the opportunity to accept the Torah.

We are taught that had the Jewish people declined to accept the Torah then G-D would have dissolved the world into oblivion. There is even a teaching this occurred prior to Adam's creation and that world history as we know it is not the first attempt.

With the Jewish people's commitment to observe and protect the Torah, came G-D's commitment to preserve and manage the world and the affairs of mankind, so the Jewish people can succeed.

The authentic, Mount-Sinai definition of Torah practice would have never been able to survive Jewish history without a solid knowledge base.

Note that this definition is critical. The existence of the world is based on what G-D transmitted to Moshe (Moses) on Mount Sinai, not on what some theological con-artist, opportunist, or bully wants it to be.

This knowledge base must be maintained and the Torah assigns this responsibility to men They are commanded to study every aspect of Torah and are expected to work within whatever constraints they have and study Torah at every opportunity.

Without continual Torah study and its support, whatever we gained from Sinai would become lost. Hence we have a link between the male census and the holiday of Shavuos.

But there is more.

Not only is up to men to maintain Torah knowledge, but it is through them that the nation of the Torah is secured, for the seed of Avraham is only from them.

To illustrate, if (Heaven forbid) every Jewish woman marry a non-Jew then we would wind up as a collection of people who are Jewish, fully obligated to keep the Torah, but who are the seed of ancestors other than Avraham.

As this would produce a nation that is not the seed of Avraham, the covenant would lose its relevance because there wouldn't apply to anyone. We would become a nation is other than one that made a commitment to G-D. We would become a nation that is other than the one that G-D made a commitment to back.

Thus, while the definition of who is a Jew hinges on matrilineal descent, the event that we celebrate during the holiday of Shavuos hinges on patrilineal descent.

Perhaps this is what Pharaoh had in mind when he tried to kill all of the Jewish male babies. Had he succeeded and the Jewish women had only Egyptian men to marry, their children could have converted into Judaism but they would have never been able to use conversion to become a descendent of Avraham.

The fact that G-D made this commitment means that He has this on His list of things to manage so that this will not happen on a global scale.

1:2 Take the count of all of the congregation of the Children of Israel according to the families of their father's home. (Count them) by the names of all males, by head (count).

Elsewhere throughout this section, the Torah repeatedly emphasizes the need to make according to the father's family.

Why is this emphasized?

The following came to mind.

Of the many great messages that the Torah has for all Mankind is the statement in Exodus 4:22, "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'G-D says the following: Israel is My first-born son.'"

Without this statement, one would not have a basis to assume that in some manner G-D relates to us as a father does to his child. Without this statement, we would only know to relate to G-D as a servant does to his master (his 'Adon'.)

It comes to mind this parental overlay can only be of maximal value to a person if that person is absolutely certain that his/her relationship with his/father is authentic. Put differently, people will who come from societies where incest is wide-spread will not be able to easily benefit from this theology.

Looking back on the personalities of Yaakov and Aisav (Jacob and Esau) of Genesis, it is perhaps for this reason that Aisav went to an extreme to give honor to his father Yitzchok (Isaac). As mentioned previously, Aisav's family was unfortunately not successful in maintaining clear family lines. Perhaps he foresaw a need to compensate for the incest that was rampant within his own home, hoping that this would also qualify his descendants to have share in the mission that G-D promised Avraham (Abraham).

Exodus 38:12 These are the accounts of the (funds used to build the) Sanctuary..

Exodus 38:25 And the silver (that was collected by) counting the congregation ..

Exodus 38:26 .. (this was the amount that was collected by) counting from twenty years of age and older, for the six-hundred-three-thousand five-hundred-fifty people.

The collection and construction of the sanctuary began after the tenth of Tishrei, year 2449 from Creation. The tenth of Tishrei became Yom Kippur. According to tradition, the construction was completed that same year, on the 25th day of Kislev. Much later in our history, this date was designated as the first day of Chanukah. Thus, we have a count of the Jewish people for a date that is between what we know as Yom Kippur and Chanukah, year 2449.

Numbers 1:1-2 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year of their Exodus from Egypt, saying. Count the (Jewish people)

Numbers 2:32 This is the count of the Children of Israel' six-hundred-three-thousand five-hundred-fifty people.

This count is for a date that is somewhat after the Passover of year 2449. It reflects no change from the previous count. It is highly unlikely that the Jewish people experienced a period of zero-population-growth for a half-year. How do we understand this?

The Medrash explains that the first of Tishrei (our Rosh Hashana) defined the calendar year for determining age. That is, everyone had two birthdays, a physical birthday and a technical birthday. People who were born between the first day of Tishrei 2449 and the last day of Elul 2449 (month twelve from Tishrei) were technically considered the same age. Therefore, the physical population growth was not reflected in the second count.

With this in mind, we may be able to understand a puzzling section in the Talmud.

The generation of the Exodus was sentenced to die during the forty years in the wilderness. The fifteenth day of Av (month eleven from Tishrei) was a major Jewish holiday because they ceased to die on that date. (Taanis 30b)

Rashi explains as follows:

For each of the forty years in the wilderness, an announcement (heavenly?) went forth on the eve of the 9th of Av for everyone to dig a grave. They did so and the people slept in these graves during that night. On the following morning, another announcement went forth and proclaimed that the living should separate from the dead. Those who survived to the fortieth year did not expect to emerge from their grave, but they did. They suspected that they had miscalculated the 9th of Av so they went back to the grave each night until the fifteenth of Av, when they saw a full moon. By then it was physically impossible for it to be the 9th of Av. They knew that they had been spared.

This poses several difficulties.

Moshe and Eliezer counted the Jewish people during the fortieth year.

Numbers 26:63-64 states: Among them, there was no man from the people who Moshe and Aharon the Priest counted in the Wilderness of Sinai. Because G-d said about (those people), "They shall die in the wilderness." And no one remained except Kalev the son of Yefuneh and Yehoshua the son of Nun.

Kalev and Yehoshua had been exempted from the sentence since it was first decreed (Numbers 13:30).

The Torah appears to be telling us that only two people survived but the Talmud appears to be saying otherwise.

Also, why did the people wait for the 9th of Av until mid-month? The Oral Torah (Rosh Hashana Chapter Two) teaches that the Jewish supreme court has final say on the Jewish calendar. On the fortieth year in the wilderness, even if the first of Av had not been the physical beginning of the month, it was technically the beginning of the month because the Supreme court declared it as such. For all matters of Jewish law, the declaration of the Supreme court supersedes the physical alignment of the moon. That is, the technical New Month supersedes the physical New Month.

Now, the forty-year sentence in the wilderness was only against those who were between twenty and sixty. It was proclaimed after the Jewish people had tested G-d ten times. The last test was on the 9th of Av, year 2449.

Let us pause to review some key dates.

15 Nisan 2448 Month seven from Tishrei 2448 Exodus
17 Tamuz 2448 Month ten from Tishrei 2448 Golden Calf
10 Tishrei 2449   The Jewish people are completely forgiven by G-d. Construction begins soon afterwards
1 Iyar 2449 Month eight from Tishrei 2449 Census
9 Av 2449 Month eleven from Tishrei 2449 Sin of the spies, the tenth test. Sentence is passed.
9 Av 2487 Month eleven from Tishrei 2487 Survivors dig their final grave.
15 Av 2487   Survivors realize that they were spared.
7 Adar 2488 Month six from Tishrei 2488 Moshe passes away.  Yehoshua (Joshua) leads the Jewish people over the Jordan soon afterwards.

Now, people who were younger than twenty were exempted from the sentence. We can understand the year twenty as being a threshold for maturity and a corresponding exemption from responsibility.

Among the people that Moshe counted, there was a number of men who were physically nineteen but who were technically twenty, because of the first of Tishrei. Perhaps these were the people who were exempted from the sentence.

Let's take another look at Numbers 26:63

Among them, there was no *man* from the people who Moshe and Aharon the Priest counted.. (emphasis on the word man).

The people in this youngest group were men in the technical sense, but not physically. Perhaps this explains the contradiction, if the decree was against those who were both physically and technically men. Perhaps also explains why they waited until it was physically obvious that the 9th of Av had passed, even though it was technically beyond the 9th of Av.

As an aside, the first chapter of Rosh Hashana provides a listing of technical new years, of which there are four.

1:1 And G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) in the wilderness of Sinai (from) within the Tent of Meeting [the Sanctuary] on the first day of the second month [Iyar] of the second year of their exodus from Egypt.

1:2 Take count of the number of the congregation of the Children of Israel according to the families of their father's home. (Take into account) according to the number of their names, every male by head (count).

1:18 And they gathered the entire congregation on the first (day) of the second month. And they traced their lineage by family back to the household of their fathers. According to the number of names, from twenty years old and upwards, by head (count).

1:47 And the Levites were not counted by their fathers among them.

This is not our first census.

The Rashi commentary of verse 1:1 says the following:

G-d counts the Jewish people at every moment [opportunity] because of their fondness. He counted them when they left Egypt. He counted them after the downfall of the Golden Calf to make known the number of survivors. He counts them (now) when He made His Divine Presence rest on them. The Sanctuary was erected on the first of Nisan, (the first month,) and He counted them on the first of Iyar, (the second month).

An informal count occurred when each Jewish person donated a half-shekel towards the construction of the Sanctuary, some time between the Yom Kippur and the future date of Chanukah.

Even though there are over four months between Chanukah (Kislev) and Iyar, the total counts are identical.

The Medrash teaches that the census was not based on each person's actual birth date. Rather, it was based on the technical birthday, which is the first day of Tishrei (Rosh Hashana). Counting from Tishrei, Kislev is month three and Iyar is month nine.

This implies that no one died between Kislev and Iyar. It also seems to imply that the Levites did NOT donate a half-shekel to the construction of the Sanctuary.

Besides the gesture of fondness, another benefit of this census came to mind.

The informal count of Kislev was of every person. It resulted from each person's donation. It provides a focus on the distinction each Jew has as a person to him/herself.

The count of Iyar mandated a formal trace of ancestry. It added the focus of distinction each Jew has by virtue of his/her great and noble ancestry.

It seems to me that the counting of the nation in this parsha reveals a high degree of diligence which the Jewish people and their leaders exhibited in performing the commandment of G-d.

The commandment to count was given on the first day of the second month while the Jewish people were camped in the Wilderness of Sinai (Num. 1:1). The count was completed while they were still in the Wilderness of Sinai (Num. 1:19). On the twentieth day of that month they left the camp and traveled onward (Num. 10:11).

The counting, then, had to have been performed within twenty days, which is amazing, and here is why.

Six-hundred-thousand plus people were counted and this was done in the presence of Moshe, Aharon, and the twelve elders (Num. 1:41-46). According to Rashi (Num. 1:18), each person needed to establish his identity by bringing documentation and/or witnesses which proved his lineage.

Let's use round numbers.

Let's say that Moshe, Aharon, and the twelve elders worked for twenty hours a day for twenty days straight. This is hypothetical, as they probably did not do any counting during Shabbos. We also can assume that they did not start the count at the beginning of day one, the day that Moshe was commanded. We can also assume that they spent part of day twenty for the move.

Counting six-hundred thousand people in twenty days means that thirty-thousand were counted each day.

There are sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour (3,600 seconds), and 72,000 seconds in twenty hours.

This averages to a bit over two seconds per person ,and the counting was done manually.

There is no indication that they were under any schedule to complete the counting within a specific time period. The only way this could have been performed is with a great degree of coordination, cooperation, and dedication on everyone's part. It indicates the zest with which our ancestors exhibited when performing the commandments of G-d.

1:46 And the entire count [of the Jewish people] was six-hundred-three thousand three-hundred-fifty.

1:47 And the Levites by their father’s tribe were not counted among them.

1:48 And G-D said to Moshe, saying.

1:49 Only do not count the tribe of Levi and do not take their number among the Children of Israel.

Rashi gives two explanations for why the Levites were counted separately.

First, they had special responsibilities in the Temple and “it is appropriate for the Kings’s legion to be counted separately.”

Second, G-D knew that the sin of the spies would evoke a decree and all who were counted would die during the forty years of wandering in the desert. G-D did not want the tribe of Levi to be included in this decree because they did not sin with the Golden Calf.

I assume that the first reason for the exclusion was initially provided, as the sin of the spies had not been committed.

Exodus 38:26 provides the same count of the Jewish people, even though it occurred some eight months prior. It states that the half-shekel coins were mostly used to make the silver footings that held up the Temple’s walls.

It is puzzling that the exclusion of tribe of Levi, enacted because of their virtue, also excluded them from the privilege of having a share in the silver settings that served as the Temple’s foundation.

The following came to mind.

The Medrash P’Sikta states that the perfectly righteous are not permitted to stand in the place of those who sinned but have fully repented for them.

Perhaps it was because the Jewish people fully repented for their shortcomings, they were given the distinction of contributing to that which keeps the Temple stand upright. The silver sockets served as an everlasting memorial of this teaching.

1:52 And the Children of Israel shall encamp, every man in his (tribe's) camp and every man by his (tribe's) banner, according to their legions.

1:53 And the Levites shall encamp around the Sanctuary of the Testimony and there will not be any (of G-D's) fury against the Congregation of the Children of Israel. And the Levites shall keep the guard of the Sanctuary of the Testimony.

The encampment of the Jewish people consisted of three concentric zones. The Tabernacle was at the center, the Levites camped around the Tabernacle, and the twelve tribes camped around the Levites.

Rav Sternbuch provides the following thought about this design.

The tribes were diverse in their mannerisms and ways.

Despite our diversity, we are united in service and worship, reflected by the Tabernacle being in the center.

The glue that holds us together is the Torah. In those days it was taught by the Levites, through which we passed to reach the center.

1:53 And the Levites shall encamp around the Sanctuary of the Testimony and there will not be any (of G-D's) fury against the Congregation of the Children of Israel. And the Levites shall keep the guard of the Sanctuary of the Testimony.

Rashi provides the following commentary:

"And there will not be any fury:" If you do my commandment then there will be no fury. And if not, if unauthorized people will become involved with the service, then there will be fury, as we find by the episode of Korach (where it is written), [17:11] 'for the fury went forth…'"

Korach and his followers were consumed by fire and by the earth. Afterwards, it appears that the Jewish people felt that the punishment that Korach and his followers suffered was too harsh and they blamed Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron) for it. [17:6] And the entire congregation complained on the next day against Moshe and Aharon saying, "You killed (a part of the) Nation of G-D.

The verse that the above Rashi references is written here, after the episode of Korach. It is somewhat related to Korach but not strongly because the fury was directed at the Jewish people, not Korach..

However, there is a direct reference to the term 'fury' in Korach's episode: [16:22] And they (Moshe and Aharon) fell on their faces and said, "G-D, the G-D of the spirits of all flesh! Shall one man sin and you become furious at the entire congregation?"

Why does Rashi cite Korach's episode to reference a fury that is written adjacent to that episode, even though there is another reference to fury in the episode of Korach itself?

The following came to mind.

As 1:53 states, incursions against the guard of the Sanctuary of the Testimony evoke the fury of G-D.

Korach tried to seize the high priesthood and it evoked G-D's fury because this position and role was already assigned to Aharon.

This shows that the responsibility to guard the Sanctuary of the Testimony involves more than just access control. It also involves insuring that the proper people retain the roles that G-D assigned.

Since guarding the Sanctuary of the Testimony was given to the Levites, it follows that they should have the final say on how it should be done.

It then follows that a demonstration by non-Levites against the way the Levites decide to guard the sanctuary is itself an incursion against the guard of the Sanctuary of the Testimony, which can further evoke G-D's fury.

Perhaps this is what Rashi is trying to tell us by citing 17:11 and not 16:22.

Not only must a person be careful to respect the authority that was invested in another, but a person must be respectful when questioning and giving advice to those who are in control.

2:2 The Children of Israel shall set up their camp (so that) each man will be by his (tribe’s) banner according to the insignias of their ancestor’s household. They shall encamp at a distance and surround the Tent of Meeting.

The Medrash says that the heavens opened up to the Jewish people when they stood by Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. They saw that the heavenly beings were organized into groups and each group had unique flags or banners. Upon seeing this the Jewish people wanted to be organized in a similar manner.

The Nesivas Shalom explains the meaning of the tribal banners.

The twelve sons of Yaakov (Jacob) were very great and special individuals. Their descendants who later exited Egypt portrayed and demonstrated the individuality of their ancestors.

Just as Yaakov’s sons were all unique, so were all of their descendants. For G-D placed every person in this world to perform a unique function, to provide his or her unique contribution to a greater world.

The encampment of the Jewish people was a living lesson that it is up to each person to find his or her own mission and path within the context of the Torah and accomplish the goals that G-D set for him/her.

3:12 Behold I took the Levites from the midst of the Children of Israel in place of all first born, the first opening of every womb from the Children of Israel. And the Levites shall be Mine.

3:13 For the all first born are Mine. From the day that I struck all first born in Egypt I sanctified to Me of all first born in Israel, from man to animal. They are Mine, I am G-D.

Rashi explains that the first born were disqualified from serving in the temple when the Jewish people worshiped the golden calf. The first born were replaced by the Levites because no one from that tribe was involved in the worship.

Only several thousand people who worshiped the golden calf, for approximately six-hundred-thousand left Egypt (Exodus 12:37) and this is close to the census count of those who survived (Numbers 2:32).

Of this number, approximately twenty-two-thousand first born survived (3:43). None of these people had anything to do with the golden calf, for if otherwise then they would not have survived (Rashi Exodus 32:20). This number was close to the population count of Levy (3:39).

Given their large number, why were the first born disqualified? Also, Torah mentions that their being spared during the plague of the first born has to do with their having been sanctified. (3:13). Why is this a reason for them to have been sanctified in the first place?

The following came to mind.

Egypt was stricken by an angel of destruction (Exodus 12:23).

The angel was limited in its ability to differentiate between those who are righteous and those who are not. This is why the Jewish people needed to stay indoors during the plague (Rashi Exodus 12:22).

Due to the widespread immorality in the Egyptian society, the ability to identify an Egyptian's first born was assigned to only G-D Himself. (Rashi Number 15:41, Bava Metzia 61b).

Let us assume that just as the angel of destruction is unable to identify righteous people, so was it unable to identify a true first born during the plague.

Let us also assume that despite this limitation, the angel is able to identify that which is sanctified to G-D Himself. (Like, "He may need glasses but he is not blind.")

If true, then this is why the first born were sanctified during the Exodus, from man to animal, so that the angel of destruction would be able to know to keep its hands off.

Now, sanctification is a binary state. Either something is or it isn't. There is no such thing as being partially-sanctified, there is no grey area.

So, although the number of loyal first born males approximated the number of Levites, the misbehavior of their minority disqualified them from service in the temple. This is why the Levites replaced them, for none of their population served the golden calf.

We note in passing that the disqualification from misbehavior had an effect on only what the first born can do, not what they are. They remain sanctified and must be redeemed, down to this day (Exodus 13).

In this light we can understand Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel is sanctified to G-D, the first of His produce. All those who consume them shall be decimated, evil will befall them, says G-D."

3:45 Take the Levites in place of all first-born of the Children of Israel and the Levite's animals in place of their animals. And the Levites shall be Mine, I am G-D.

The Orach Chaim commentary teaches that the declaration at the end of this verse indicates that the Levites will continue in their role of service in the Third Temple, may it be soon and speedily built in our days. That is, just as "I am G-D" is eternal, so will be their role.

The Temple service was initially reserved for the first-born. However, they were disqualified because of their involvement with the Golden Calf (Rashi 8:17).

As the service will be restored to the first-born in the Third Temple, the Torah tells us here that they will not replace the Levites but rather the Levites shall continue to serve as always.

We know that the Torah and its laws are eternal and do not change over time. Rabbi Sternbuch (Shlita) is therefore puzzled over the future admission of the first-born into Temple service, which appears to be a change.

The following came to mind.

The Jewish people had sanctuaries and temples. But in one sense we have yet to have a temple.

"Bring them and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, an abode for Your settling which You have made. (This is) a Temple, Oh G-D that Your hands have established. G-D will reign forever." (Exodus 15:17-18.)

Rashi: The Temple is so precious. While the universe was created with one "Hand", the Temple will be created with both "Hands." And this will occur when G-D will (be recognized by all mankind to) reign forever, in a future that has yet to come, when all Government will be His.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note that the cantoral note in Exodus 15:17's "(This is) a Temple' is zakef gadol. Zakef is Hebrew for erecting something and gadol is Hebrew for greatness in size or significance.)

This is the objective Temple, the one that all mankind is waiting for, whether they realize it yet or not. It has yet to be built and it will be built by G-D Himself, with "both Hands" - so to speak. We are not yet ready for it because we are not yet sufficiently refined.

We could have had this Temple much earlier in our history, had we made the right choices. So instead it looks like we wound up with a refinement process that has and still is taking us through a lot of thumps and bumps.

As great as they were, the other temples were for corrections and refinements.

The exclusion of the first-born from service was itself a correction for their role in the Golden Calf. So perhaps the exclusion was never meant to extend beyond the corrective and restorative period of our history, during the period of the corrective temples and their subsequent destructions.

We're guaranteed that the refinement process is finite. G-D made it that way and He is managing history accordingly. Some day it will be over, quite suddenly and to our pleasant surprise.

Especially at that time, Temple service of the first-born will be very appropriate, for it will represent the uniqueness of the Jewish people being G-D's "first-born" (Exodus 4:22).

In the future that we await, all of Mankind will together serve G-D. The "Religions" section in the Yellow Pages will be non-existent. Among all the peoples, one will stand out as the ones who stuck it out through history with the toughest assignment. They were the first (and only) to say "Yes" when G-D looked for a nation to accept His teaching, to observe it and to preserve it.

Some four-hundred years earlier, Avraham (Abraham) was the first (and only) one to come forth and proclaim G-D's existence and uniqueness in a world that was poisoned by idolatry and theological con artists / thugs / manipulators. G-D put his descendents on a path to be first to come forward. All of Mankind will follow, some thirty-three centuries later, hopefully not more.

Parshas Naso (Num. 4-7)

4:25 And they shall carry the curtains of the Sanctuary and the Tent of Meeting, its covering and the Tachash covering that is on it from above, and the partition of the doorway of the Tent of Meeting.

4:26 And the curtains of the courtyard and the partition of the opening of the courtyard gate which is around by the Sanctuary and the altar and their cords and all of the utensils for their work and all that is made for them (so that) they can work.

Rashi on 4:25 explains that the curtains of the Sanctuary refer to the inner-most layer and those of the Tent of Meeting refer to the next layer of curtains, those which covered the inner-most layer.

We note that the partition by the doorway in 4:25 is associated with the Tent of Meeting while the partition of the surrounding courtyard is associated with the Sanctuary, the inner-most layer of curtains.

This brought the following to mind.

We may be able to say that the layer of curtains that are called the Sanctuary represents the Divine Presence that is said to be dwelling among us and the layer called the Tent of Meeting represents the interface we have with the Divine Presence.

We can speak about two types of realities, that which is absolute and that which is operative. The absolute reality of something is that which it really is. The operative reality is how we must operate in and relate to this reality.

The following is an example.

We are taught that the Divine Presence is everywhere. Relative to G-D there is no such thing as great and small, clean and otherwise.

I heard of distorters who took this to an extreme and saw nothing wrong with holding formal prayer services in filthy places, for G-D is everywhere.

They were functioning in the absolute reality.

Their behavior was inappropriate because we are charged to live in a manner such that some places are fit to hold services and other places are not.

While we can certainly keep the absolute reality in the back of our minds, this must not compromise on behavior which reflects the operative reality.

We can then perhaps associate the inner zones of the temple with the absolute reality and the external, such as the courtyard, with the operative reality. The layers of curtains can also be associated in a similar manner.

In this light, it would be more appropriate to associate the partition of the inner-most zone with an external layer of curtains, those of the Tent of Meeting, as there are no partitions in the absolute reality, best associated with the inner-most layer.

However, from a view that is external and can represent the operative reality, such as from the courtyard, we can speak of a partition to the Sanctuary itself.

5:2 Charge the Children of Israel that they should send out from the camp everyone who is afflicted with tzoraas, everyone who is ritually ineligible due to a zav condition, and everyone who is ritually ineligible due to their exposure with a corpse.

5:3 Send (these people) out, from man to woman, send them outside the camp. So that they will not make their camp. ritually ineligible, where I dwell in their midst.

There is a requirement for someone who has ineligibilities to vacate certain areas. There also appears to be a requirement for the congregation to send such people out of these areas.

If the affected people are supposed to vacate, why does the Torah write a special requirement for the congregation to send them out? Why is this different than the other commandments for an individual where the Torah does not explicitly charge the congregation together with the person?

The following came to mind.

Elsewhere in the Torah, when we sent people out it was for them to do a public service, such as the spy mission of chapter 13.

If not handled properly, the sudden dislocations could cause embarrassment. Therefore, by writing that we must send them out, perhaps the Torah is suggesting that we insure that these people not feel ashamed. Rather, we must emphasize to them the positive nature of the dislocation, that the restricted nature of these areas assists us in having a better focus on the sanctity of the designated areas. Their departure is a service to the public, not a reason for shame. This approach also helps cushion any inconvenience that the dislocation may cause.

5:2 Command the Children of Israel and (have them) send out from the encampments all those who are afflicted with tzoraas, all those who are ritually ineligible because of zav, and all who are ritually ineligible because a dead person.

Rashi notes from the Talmud (Gitin 60a) that this portion was commanded on the day that the sanctuary was erected, the first day of Nisan.

The Torah records the erection of the sanctuary in the Book of Leviticus. This Book, the Book of Numbers, begins with a commandment to count the Jewish people, an event that occurred on the first of Iyar, the month after Nisan.

Why did the Torah write the commandment to send certain people out of the encampments out of chronological sequence, after events that occurred one month later?

The following came to mind.

The scriptures that precede this commandment give great distinction to the Jewish people as a whole and to each and every person in particular.

In the beginning of Numbers, Rashi notes that G-d counts the Jewish people at every moment, because they are dear to him.

The process of counting brought each and every adult male to individually stand before Moshe (Moses) and state his lineage.

The Torah grouped the tribes into units, assigned them positions and flags, and re-stated the counts several times.

The Levites were given a special focus and their own count. They were assigned roles of honor in the transportation of the sanctuary.

As stated, the requirement to evict certain people from the encampments was commanded on the day the encampments were defined, the first of Nisan. There was no time for people to prepare for the eviction. Although the lack of preparation time may have caused some temporary inconvenience, perhaps we can view the delay in announcing this commandment as a demonstration of G-d's reluctance to send anybody away. As such, it was a demonstration of the Jewish people's endearment to G-d.

For this reason, perhaps this commandment was recorded in the Book of Numbers, preceded by several portions that reflect the special relationship between G-d and His Chosen People.

5:2 Command the Children of Israel and [so that] they shall send out from the camp(s) every (person who is) tomay [ritually ineligible] (because of his/her states of) metzorah, zav, and tomay l'nefesh.

The metzorah is popularly translated as a leper. This is a mistranslation according to traditional sources. The conditions that places a person in this state of ritual ineligibility were not of a medical nature but of a spiritual nature. According to tradition, this came upon people with serious spiritual defects, such as those who were not careful with their speech and caused harm to others.

Unlike the zav and tomay l'nefesh, the metzorah is banished from every camp. This person is thus treated like an outcast.

Our Oral Torah provides the following reasoning: The metzorah caused division and separation within society because of his/her negative behavior. The metzorah needs to experience separation and is thus separated from society.

This is the second time in the Torah that we are charged to banish the metzorah.

Leviticus 13:46 He shall be ineligible for every day that he has the affliction, he is ineligible. He shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Why is this repeated?

The following came to mind.

The Ramban provides the following commentary on the verse in our section:

..They shall send out: The commandment to send out the ritually ineligible is provided here, after the erection of the Sanctuary. This is to make the camps more fitting for the Divine presence to abide in them.

The metzorah does nobody any good as long as his/her behavior is in a state of social disrepair. The metzorah must be motivated towards self-improvement.

Perhaps the verse in Leviticus provides a focus on the defect and on the appropriateness of the banishment.

Here, the banishment is mentioned in the context of preparing the camp for holiness. It thus provides the metzorah with a positive goal, that of bringing the person towards holiness.

5:10 The sanctified artifacts of each person shall belong to him. That which each person gives the priest belongs to him.

5:11 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying.

5:12 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, “If a person’s wife strays and cheats him.”

Rashi for verse 5:10 cites a Medrash that reads it to speak about a person who does not give the priest what is rightfully his. If a person does not give tithes to the priest than it will belong to him, meaning that his net worth will be reduced to ten-percent of what it once was.

Rashi’s commentary for 5:12 cites a teaching that makes an association between this verse and those that precede it.

Verse 5:12 continues in the line of thought of 5:10 by saying that if a person does not bring the allotted portions to the priest then may eventually have to bring his wife to the priest for trial as a suspected wife

We are taught to view that that we are caretakers of the abundance that G-D gives us, not true owners. The remaining money that we keep for ourselves is designated to us as much as the charity and mandated gifts are designated by G-D for the recipients.

The message of the unfaithful wife is that if a person focuses on selfishness and distrust of G-D by acting as if all of his money belongs to him then his wife may come to act selfish and with distrust, as if her loyalty does not belong to him.

The Sotah and the "Other Man"

This Torah reading is indirectly anchored to the holiday of Shavuot. I say this because it always follows the reading of Bamidbar and that Torah reading must precede the holiday.

Both Torah readings focus on several distinctions that the Torah gave the Jewish people who had recently left Egypt, received the Torah, and who had just completed erecting a Sanctuary that was authorized by G-D.

We note that the following section in Naso seems to not fit into the flow of discussion.

5:12 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, "Any man whose wife goes astray and acts unfaithfully with him."

The Torah goes on to describe the Temple service that tests a wife who flaunted her husband's warning to remain distant from a certain man and who went into seclusion with him anyway.

She is labeled a "Sotah."

The Torah goes on to describe the tragedy that occurs if she insists on taking the test and had indeed violated the bond with her husband by sharing her intimacy with another man.

Why does the Torah bring this up here?

Now, the occurrence of the "other man" in a free and open society such as ours is unfortunately not as rare as many of us would like.

There is another type of disruptive "other person" that I'd like to introduce. Unlike the Sotah, the context is incest-free. Unlike the Sotah, this relationship can be found in what many would describe as "the best of homes."

I struggled to come up with a name or label for it. The best I have so far is a "notional Sotah."

While classic Sotah uses her body to inject the "other person" into her marriage, the notional Sotah injects an "other person" into a relationship by using language or remarks.

Here is an example. A wife tells her husband: "Why do you have to be like that? Why can't you be like so-and-so?" In this example, so-and-so is the "other person"

Unlike the Sotah, the victims are not restricted to married men, as a husband can thoughtlessly compare his wife to another woman whose house is a bit tidier or who dresses more attractively. In this case, the wife is the victim, the husband is the "notional Sotah," and the "other person" is that lady.

How many husbands have heard from their in-laws that their daughter could have done better? How many husbands have heard this from their wives? And visa versa.

And let's not limited this to occurring between spouses, for you can find a woman castigating her in-laws for not financially chipping in or helping out as much as her own parents do. And what do you think this does to the husband's emotional health when she or her parents say this to him? And visa versa.

How many children have voiced comparisons between their parents and those of someone else? How many children expect their parents to subscribe to their standard of parenting?

And how many parents have voiced comparisons between their children and those of someone else?

How many children have we lost to predators and organizers who tell them that their father didn't act like one?

And these comparisons are sometimes not even between real people.

A wife can be totally convinced that her husband's behavior does not fit the norm. So she demands that he go into marriage counseling to let someone else break the news to him. Here you a merge of the "notional Sotah" with a "notional other man" for this person exists only in concept. And visa versa.

The outrage and suffering of the actual Sotah comes to an end when she dies, for it's between her and her husband. However, damage of the "notional Sotah" can go on for decades; it can destroy entire families, children and all, for countless generations.

What are some root causes?

Surely one is a lack of regard for some basic Torah commandments, such as "Onaas Devarim" (hurtful speech) and "Lashon Horah" (slanted speech against others.)

Our sages say that Lashon Horah kills three people. One is the speaker, another is the listener, and the third is subject of the slander. You may notice, however, that many victims appear to be alive. But appearance is deceiving, for if a child hears and accepts the idea that their father is not their father, to the degree the child believes this, the child has indeed lost their father, no matter which side of the earth he is on.

Another root cause is having an immature model of both human and social reality.

I've come to learn that there is no such thing as the "normal" person. Instead, everybody has his/her own set of limitations, preferences, talents, idiosyncrasies, and background.

Every one of us without exception, young and old alike, is a person in training.

So let's say a husband ends up divorcing his wife and marrying that "other person" who keeps herself looking cool and smelling great. Just like the bliss ended shortly after the first wedding, it will end after the second, as soon as he discovers the baggage that she skillfully kept hidden all along. Welcome back to Hell.

Sorry to the travel industry for saying this, but if you can't manage to carve out some harmony and find happiness where you are right now, then there's no guarantee that you will find it by going somewhere else.

But if you can find a way to accept and manage life with the foibles of someone else then you will have the ultimate source of personal energy. You will be able to accept and manage life with your own foibles. You will stop denying your own flaws and you will then be able to fix them. That's real growth and a lot of power.

And if your spouse gets the message that you accept him/her warts and all, then he/she will come to accept you, warts and all. Now, that's a marriage.

Know, however, that I'm not saying that you can't or shouldn't encourage another person to improve. What I'm saying is to not write anybody off and that you must be very sure and extremely careful how you talk when you try to get someone else to improve.

And I'm not suggesting that you accept the behavior of another person that does not meet specified Torah or social standards. So if your husband is a bank robber then he's got to know that your love of him as a person does not imply your approval or support of his anti-social behavior.

Let's go back to the Jewish calendar and our Torah reading.

Upon conclusion of every Jewish holiday except Shavuos, we have another holiday to look forward to. Not so with Shavuos, for the next events on the calendar are not happy ones for the Jewish people.

Forty days from Shavuos is the fast of seventeen Tamuz, commemorating among other things the sin of the Golden Calf and the smashing of the very tablets we rejoiced over during Shavuos. And we plunge into further darkness a mere three weeks later, when we commemorate the destruction of both temples and other tragedies.

The second temple, which we mourn for down to this day, was destroyed by Lashon Horah.

I suggest that the Torah doesn't want us to wait until day thirty-nine from Shavuos to start correcting mistakes that happened in the past but still manage to trip us up in the present. Just as the actual Sotah looked elsewhere to forge a relationship, and just as the notional Sotah asks why the victim is not like other people, those among us who chose to worship the Golden Calf were saying in effect, "Why isn't our G-D like the other gods?"

So this section in Naso is not of place. Rather, it's a discrete reference to our shortcomings and to the challenges lay ahead as we continue our uphill battle towards perfection.

5:17 And the priest shall take (for the woman who is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband some) holy water in an earthenware vessel and he shall put into the water some of the earth that will be on the floor of the sanctuary.

Rava (Talmud Sotah 17a) said, "Why did the Torah say to take earth for a wife that is under suspicion of being adulterous? By Avraham (Abraham our Father) it states (in Genesis 18): '(I am but) earth and ashes.' If she proves her innocence (by drinking the water without mishap) then she will have a son who is like Avraham our Father. If not (and she was unfaithful) then she will return to her dust (i.e. she will die)."

A woman is not subjected to this ordeal unless she first acts in a suspicious manner and she is formally warned by her husband to stay away from a specific man. If she subsequently disregards this warning and goes into seclusion with that same man then the Sotah trial is mandated.

The Torah places the burden of proof on her and the only way she can prove her innocence is through the ceremony that the Torah prescribes.

The wife has a right to refuse to participate in the trial. However because of the suspicious circumstances, the Torah does not give her the benefit of doubt and her refusal is considered as a confession of disloyalty. She therefore receives a divorce without compensation for the separation.

However, if she agrees to go through with the trial, then once the Name of G-D is erased in the water (5:23) she must drink the water. The water will cause blessing if she is innocent and it will cause her death if she is guilty of incest.

Given these guidelines, one can assume that a significant percentage women who drink the Sotah water are of low character, for they acted in a loose manner with another man to the degree that this provoked suspicion and they subsequently went into seclusion with that same man.

So, even if she is innocent, why should the Torah reward her with son who is as great as Avraham? What is her merit to deserve such a reward?

The following came to mind.

For the guilty women, refusing to drink is the easy way out, for she can justify the refusal by indignation. She can tell her friends and all of society that she is completely innocent, that she is a victim of marital abuse. She will claim that these laws enable her to get herself out of a marriage with a man who distrusts her and is of such a low character as to subject her to public shame. With sufficient talent of verbal persuasion and with enough parental wealth, she can very well return to respectability within her own circles.

However, whether this is ever publicly voiced or not, the question of her innocence will always remain because of her conduct. It will always be justifiable to suspect that this woman crossed the red line and did what should be unthinkable within the ranks of a 'holy nation' (Exodus 19:6).

This suspicion can desensitize other people from immorality. It can contribute to a negative moral climate. It is what Jewish Law calls 'Chillul Hashem,' profanation of G-D's Name.

So, whether the Sotah has high moral standards or not, if she is truly innocent of adultery then her completion of this stressful ceremony and her drinking the Sotah water will definitely avert a Chillul Hashem. It will prove to all that this Daughter of Israel was not unfaithful to the Torah and to her husband. As loose as she may have led her life in the past, she did not cross the red line.

In Genesis 18, Avraham was pleading to G-D so that the city of Sedom should not be destroyed.

Previously in Genesis 14, Avraham refused to accept even a 'thread or a shoelace' from the king of Sedom. At that time he refused to associate his fortune with this wicked person who could later make a wild claim that it was not G-D but he who caused Avraham to become wealthy.

So, Avraham refused to take spoils from a war that G-D caused him to win because he wanted to insure that the miracles would remain a sanctification of G-D's Name, or a Kiddush Hashem. The miracle would thereby maintain a demonstration of G-D's choice of Avraham's lifestyle over that of the king of Sedom which was a Chillul Hashem, the opposite of a Kiddush Hashem.

Perhaps this is the association that the Talmud is trying to tell us and perhaps this is merit of the Sotah who did not commit adultery and remained steadfast to complete the trial.

G-D rewards 'measure for measure.' He never withholds any reward that can be justified.

During the times of our Temple, the Torah provided a couple with a mechanism to manage questions of fidelity.

A husband who suspects the incursion of another man may formally warn his wife to distance herself from that person. If she ignores the warning and if she voluntarily secludes herself with that person, then she invites suspicion. The couple must now separate until she proves her innocence. She can prove her fidelity by drinking the Water of Sotah in the Temple as specified in Numbers 5.

The Torah gives a blessing to a woman who clears herself by this trial. If she was childless then she will conceive (5:28).

This almost happened to one the greatest women in the Bible, Chana.

Her most forceful prayer to conceive a child is recorded in the Book of Shmuel (1 Samuel 1). She said, "If see, You shall see (Oh G-d), the pain of your maidservant.."

Rabbi Eliezer explains the double phrase as follows.

Chana said before G-d, "Master Of The World, if you see (my pain and allow me to conceive,) then fine. Otherwise, You shall see me (in the Temple)." That is, I will seclude myself with another man in the presence of my husband. This will move him to issue me with a formal warning and I will become forbidden to him until I drink the Water of Sotah. I will be innocent and this will enable me to conceive.

Chana gave birth to Shmuel, who later became one of our greatest prophets.

Rabbi Eliezer's explanation is puzzling.

A married woman is forbidden to seclude herself with another man. In fact, today we've extended this prohibition to safeguard proper conduct. In most cases, a man and a woman may not be in seclusion for an extended period.

We know that Chana was a very pious person. How could she have brought herself to drink the Water of Sotah without violating our guidelines?

The following came to mind.

Not every instance of seclusion is forbidden. For example, if a husband momentarily steps out but he is still in the city, a trusted male visitor may enter the home because the husband's proximity discourages misconduct. Also, a woman may be together with a man in a room if the door is open to the public. The possibility that someone may suddenly enter insures acceptable conduct.

Tosfos M'Shantz in Sotah 25a rules that a wife who has been formally warned can become forbidden to her husband if she goes into any type of seclusion with the suspected intruder, even that which is normally permitted.

Thus, Chana could have brought herself into the status of a Sotah while maintaining our standard of conduct.

6:1 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, "If a man or woman makes an expression to take a Nazerite vow to G-D"

6:6 "He shall not come (into contact) with the soul of dead person."

6:9 "And if a person dies upon him suddenly and invalidates the head of his Nazerite (state) then he must shave his head on the day of his purification, on the seventh day he shall shave it."

6:13 "And this is the Torah of the Nazerite on the day that he completes his Nazerite vow. He shall bring himself to the opening of the Tent of Meeting."

In presenting these guidelines, the Torah first lists the laws for a failed attempt to complete a Nazerite vow and afterwards the Torah lists what the Nazerite should do when he successfully completes the vow.

What is the Torah trying to tell us by presenting the failed attempt first?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps this to remind us that the Torah gives credit for failed attempts at achieving spiritual goals.

As with every noble endeavor, we are charged to make every effort to achieve success. However, the actual achievement of success is in G-D's hands.

G-D rewards for care and effort, not for results.

6:23 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and to his sons saying, "This is how you shall bless the Children of Israel. Say to them:"

6:24 'G-D shall bless you and protect you.'

Rabbi Moshe Bick of blessed memory cites the following Medrash for 6:24: "G-D shall bless you" with money "and protect you" from that which damages."

He explains the Medrash as follows.

The Yitav Lev commentary comments on the following verse from Tehilim (Psalms):

He does what those that fear him want, and He listens to their pleadings and saves them (145:19).

The last part of the verse says what G-D does when those that fear Him get into trouble. But nobody wants trouble and if G-D does what those that fear him want then how could they have such problems?

The answer is that some of our problems are caused by having things that we want.

The first part of the verse says that G-D gives them what they want, even if it's not good for them to have. The last part says that G-D bails them out when they find this out on their own.

Rabbi Bick says that we can apply this thought to the following verse, also:

And He will bless your bread and water. And I shall remove sickness from your midst. (Exodus 23:25)

The promise is that we will eat well and we'll have a very good Doctor in case we go overboard.

We now understand our verse. G-D will give us extra money and will protect us in case there are consequences.

6:23 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and to his sons saying, "This is how you shall bless the Children of Israel. Say to them:"

6:24 'G-D shall bless you and protect you.'

6:25 'G-D shall enlighten His face towards you and grant you favor.'

6:26 'G-D shall lift up His face towards you and shall make peace for you.'"

6:27 And they shall place My name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen notes the plural tense in verse 6:23 in the phrase "Say to them". This implies that the blessing is being bestowed upon a group of people.

However, in the Hebrew language of blessings that follow in verses 6:24 through 6:26, the blessings themselves are written in the singular tense. For example, the Torah uses "Yevorechecha" for "shall bless you" and not "Yevorechechem." While both translate to the word 'you,' the first implies the blessing of an individual while the second implies the blessing of a group.

He answers that the Torah is telling us that in order for any blessings of a group to take hold, the group must have harmony and be united. The plural must be singular; the many must be one.

This is reflected in the Medrash: Rabbi Shimon son of Chalafta says, "The only vessel that can contain blessing is peace."

I may add that the notion of peace in our day and age is quite elusive. Some have used the phrase to manipulate others into allowing them have what they want. Others have used it to justify distortions of the Torah that they have fabricated for personal gain. Some justify detractions from the Torah and others justify additions. Both are distortions.

I don't see how we are going to have true peace as long as people try to impose their will upon others.

I don't see how we are going to have true peace until we all sincerely and honestly focus on G-D's will.

We will be there some day.

6:25 May G-D enlighten His countenance towards you and give you grace.

The Medrash provides many readings for this priestly blessing.

May G-D enlighten His countenance towards you: May G-D to enlighten your eyes and your heart in His Torah.

And give you grace: May G-D give you grace in the eyes of other people.

This brings to mind that there are times when have moments of inspiration to better ourselves but we hesitate bringing this to action because we worry about whether friends and associates would accept what we do and who we are.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Torah places a blessing for social acceptance adjacent to a prayer for experiencing spiritual achievement.

7:18 Nesanal Ben Tzuar brought (the dedication sacrifices) on the second day (of dedication).

7:19 He brought his sacrifice …

Rashi notes that the Hebrew form of the above verses do not follow the style of the verses of other tribes who also brought sacrifices. While the other verses are written in a passive form, these were written in an active form.

Rashi provides the following commentary.

As Reuven was Yaakov's (Jacob's) first-born, the leader of that tribe expected to be among the first to offer the dedication sacrifices. He conceded to the tribe of Yehuda (Judah) coming first, probably because Yehudah assumed a leadership role during Yaakov's life. He expected his tribe Reuven to have second place. Instead it was given to the tribe of Yisochor.

Rashi provides two reasons for the ordering. First, the tribe of Yisochor provided that generation with outstanding Torah scholars. Second, the idea of bringing the dedication sacrifices themselves came from leader of Yisochor.

Reuven was given the fourth day. He was preceded by Yehudah, Yisochor, and Zevulun.

We note that only the verses for the tribe of Yisochor were written in the active form. While Zevulun also preceded Reuven, his verses are written in the passive form, just like all of the others. If a younger brother's tribe needed to be written in the active form in order to indicate a need for explaining the break in family order, why wasn't Zevulun's verse also written this form, as he was also younger than Reuven?

The following came to mind.

Yisochor and Zevulun are well known for their great partnering arrangement. Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared the profits with Yisochor so that the members of latter tribe could devote themselves to uninterrupted Torah study (Rashi Deuteronomy 33:18).

Supporting Torah scholarship is so distinctive and significant that Zevulun is mentioned even before Yisochor in the above reference of Deuteronomy.

Thus, once there was a compelling reason for Yisochor to precede Reuven, it became a given for his partner Zevulun to immediately follow, pushing Reuven to slot number four. Probably, Yisochor preceded even Zevulun in this instance because of Rashi's second reason, that their leader was the one who conceived of the idea to bring the dedication sacrifices in the first place.

Especially during this special holiday period, let us strengthen ourselves to either engage in intensive Torah study or to support the Torah scholarship of others.

The parsha concludes the section which deals with the counting of the Jewish people by Moshe and the leaders of the tribes, the structure of their encampment, the roles that the families of tribe of Levi had when traveling, and the requirement to exclude ritually unclean people from the encampment areas.

We then have several sections which seem to deal with diverse topics which include the following:

Taking a false oath in G-d's name to embezzle money from a convert, withholding the Cohen's share of produce (Rashi 5:12) , the unfaithful wife, the Nazarite, the blessing of the Cohen, and the donations of the leaders.

Rashi (5:12) connects the withholding of the Cohen's gifts with the section of unfaithful wife. A person who does not bring that which rightfully belongs to the Cohen will come to bring his wife to the Cohen to determine her loyalty in marriage.

Rashi does not provide explanation on how the other sections relate with each other.

The following came to mind.

Giving and taking appear to be a common thread. We also see hands being frequently referenced, that which is used for giving and taking. The embezzler takes some else's money unlawfully. Next comes the person who does not give the Cohen his rightful share. The husband gives his wife over to the Cohen for testing. The offering is placed on her hands. The Nazarite also has the offering placed on his hands. At the conclusion of his Nazarite period he is expected to give additional offerings. The Cohen lifts his hands to give a blessing to the Jewish people. The leaders donate wagons which are used to help the Levites. The parsha concludes with their gifts for the dedication.

The Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) focuses initially on the individual and on specific segments of the Jewish people. Each person is counted, made to feel important. The Levites are given specific roles. The camps are segregated. All are not equal.

Individuality is a gift that be misused, that can corrupt. A person can become deluded with self-supremacy. A person can come to believe that he is entitled to everything, that theft is acceptable and can even use the name of G-d to steal. He can cheat the disadvantaged convert, a person who needs acceptance. He can come to cheat the privileged Cohen, a person who should be esteemed. He is the center of the world.

In his mercy, G-d seeks to correct the errant person.

G-d has many ways to accomplish His goals. The Torah provides one of many ways that G-d works to correct the embezzler. In this instance, He uses the wife.

The person begins to suspect her of disloyalty. She may in fact be innocent, but G-d imposes a 'spirit of suspicion' even though she is faithful (5:14).

His most cherished friend has found someone else more worthy and of value for attention. His ego is crushed.

He must now come on to the services of the Cohen in order to repair his marriage and his life. He can't handle this on his own, he needs other people, he feels the dependency, he is no longer at the center of all existence.

She is proven innocent. She is compensated for the ordeal by being blessed with children (5:28). The marriage is repaired and the person is on his way to repairing his personality, symbolized by the Nazarite.

The Nazarite is able to temporarily abstain. He and his personal pleasure are not supreme. Upon conclusion of his vow he is able to donate.

The errant person is returning to the way G-d designed him to be.

He stands before the Cohen, who lifts up his hands for the blessing. He is able to receive a blessing in the name of G-d, which he formerly used as his means of theft.

The leaders of the Jewish people were concerned with the Levites. They donated wagons to help the Levites carry the heavy building materials

The corrected person is now concerned for the welfare of his fellow man, also He seeks to lighten the load of others.

The leaders of the Jewish people are honored by donating the Dedication offerings. They act as individuals, but also in a cooperative manner, in unison (Rashi, 7:85 and Medrash).

The person is now able to balance his individuality with his role in society.

B'ha'aloscha (Num 8-12)

8:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying.

8:2 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and say to him, "When you make the lamp (flames) rise up, the seven lights shall shine towards the face of the Menorah."… you shall kindle the lights (of the Menorah) and make them ready for re-lighting.

Why was the menorah written adjacent to the (sanctuary's) inaugural sacrifices of the tribal leaders? This is because Aharon (Aaron) was distressed that neither he nor his tribe participated in the inaugural sacrifices. In recognition of his distress, G-D told him that his (share) was greater than theirs, for Aharon will light and clean the menorah's lamps.

In what ways were Aharon's (Aaron's) responsibilities greater than those of the tribal leaders?

The following came to mind.

Leaders are responsible primarily for policy execution, administration, and control.

This includes ensuring that there are adequate resources for education and that its goals are achieved.

Understandably, not every leadership role includes being an educator.

Aharon was the leader of the Tribe of Levi. But unlike the other tribal leaders, he was also an educator.

Success comes easy for some students and other students may struggle. An educator must work with both types

Like his service with the Menorah, Aharon worked with people who were at the edge of enlightenment and made them shine. And Aharon got people who suffered from burn-out back into shape, preparing them to shine again.

8:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying.

8:2 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and say to him, "When you make the lamp (flames) rise up, the seven lights shall shine towards the face of the Menorah."

Rashi provides the commentary from the Medrash.

Why was the menorah written adjacent to the (sanctuary's) inaugural sacrifices of the tribal leaders? This is because Aharon (Aaron) was distressed that neither he nor his tribe participated in the inaugural sacrifices. In recognition of his distress, G-D told him that his (share) was greater than theirs, for Aharon will light and clean the menorah's lamps.

The Ramban's commentary says that this Medrash is a reference to the Chanukah miracle of the Second Temple. This miracle was brought about by Aharon's great descendents and this reference was his consolation.

The Ramban lists many other things that would have consoled Aharon, such as his role as the high priest and his tribe being selected for service in the temple.

Now, the tribe of Levi was set apart in many ways. In fact, just prior to the inaugural sacrifices there was a collective donation of six covered wagons by the other tribes and G-D decreed that these wagons should be used in the service of the Levites. Why wasn't Aharon distressed when his tribe was not among the donors?

Furthermore, why does Rashi list the cleaning of the Menorah in Aharon's consolation? This section deals with lighting the Menorah, not with its maintenance.

The following came to mind.

The twelve tribes derived great benefits from the spiritual wellsprings of Levi by supporting them. Levi was spared from the distractions of working the fields so that they could devote themselves to serving the spiritual needs of their brethren, which included teaching, judging, and temple service.

This was a partnership. The tribes shared their material wealth with Levi and Levi shared their spiritual wealth with their brethren.

It was therefore well understood why Levi was not among the donors of the covered wagons.

However, the inaugural sacrifices were another matter, for they charted the spiritual course for all sacrifices that followed. Given this spiritual overtone, we can begin to see why Aharon was very concerned by the exclusion.

In its most successful forms, a mentorship relationship transforms the recipient into the likeness of the mentor. Lesser forms of success provide superficial results.

Perhaps Aharon hoped that he and Levi would partner in the inaugural sacrifices to chart the course for the temple services that they would perform, that of being in complete partnership with the rest of the tribes. While there would be three physical classes, the priests, Levites, and the tribes, the partnership in the inaugural sacrifices would eliminate the risk of there also being separate classes on the spiritual plane, thereby providing the greatest potential for the highest levels of mentorship.

If true, then why was Levi excluded? If Aharon was distressed over potentials for spiritual fragmentation and castes then how did the Chanukah miracle provide him with consolation?

Perhaps a comparison of the two periods in history can shed some light on this, that of Aharon's and that of his Hasmonean descendants.

Aharon lived in a period of great spiritual and material wealth for the Jewish people. The Second Temple period of the Hasmoneans was a short flicker of light in a history that would grow darker for the Jewish people by the moment, up to the period of the Messianic era.

Perhaps this was contained in the message for Aharon from the Menorah and Chanukah.

The Jewish people were beginning their journey through a history that would span extremes of both wealth and poverty, both material and spiritual. They therefore needed to be prepared for them both, so we have two distinct types of inaugural events, that Aharon's generation and that of the Hasmoneans.

As the Levites were to become economically dependent on the rest of the nation, it was not appropriate for them to participate in an inauguration that would prepare us for spiritual success in periods of abundance. Rather, their moment would come much later in history, when the Jewish people needed preparation for their awesome reversals. For those periods, only the tribe of Levi would be able to meet the task, for they were most experienced in achieving spiritual success despite hardship and disadvantage.

Perhaps Rashi alluded to this by his reference to both lighting and cleaning the Menorah.

The contributions of Aharon and the tribe of Levi to the tribes were indeed greater than that of the tribes to Aharon and the Levites. The latter needed material wealth which history didn't always afford them with. However, Aharon, Levi, and those who fill similar roles today can nurture the Jewish people in every phase of history, be it that of enlightenment or that of dealing with exhaustion and burn-out.

8:2 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and say to him, "When you rise up the lights (of the Menorah), the seven lights shall (be turned to) shine towards the center branch of the Menorah."

This verse follows a section that describes the gifts and sacrifices that were offered by the Noblemen to initiate the sanctuary.

Rashi provides the following reason:

Aharon was distressed when he saw the initiation offerings and realized that neither he nor his tribe participated.

G-d told him, "By your life, your share is greater than theirs because you kindle and prepare the Menorah's lights (to be lit)."

A person has many periods of distress throughout his/her life. Why is this particular distress of Aharon disclosed by the Torah? Could it be that Aharon was distressed merely because he was not 'part of the club'? Why did G-d reveal Himself to Aharon in order to relieve the stress? The Torah seems to be talking about lighting the candles. Rashi injects the preparation of the candles into G-d's response. Why?

Actually, without the Rashi that follows we would not even know that preparation for the lighting is in this section at all.

In the next Rashi, he provides a reason why the Torah refers to lighting the Menorah with the words, 'rising the lights.' The verse could have been written as follows: "When you light the Menorah, the seven lights shall (be turned to) shine towards the center branch of the Menorah."

"When you rise up the lights:"

Lighting is referred to as rising because the flame rises, (By this choice of words, the Torah is) providing instruction that he must light (the wick) until (it catches and) the flame rises by itself.

Our Rabbis also derived from here that there was a platform in front of the Menorah that the Cohen (priest) stood on when he prepared the lights.

The Rabbis derive the existence of a platform. Why do they associate the platform with preparing the lights and not with kindling the lights? Their focus is on the platform. Yet, preparing the Menorah's lights is the focus of G-d's response to Aharon, not the platform. Why?

Why is a platform needed to the degree that is must be formally addressed in the Torah? The Menorah was only eighteen hand-breadths tall. A Cohen of average height should be able to prepare the lights without needing a platform. Finally, how do the Rabbis read the platform into this verse?

As we frequently ask, what is the Torah and what are our sages trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

We are taught that the initiation offerings of the Noblemen was the product of Divine inspiration. Each Nobleman decided on his own what should be brought and their offerings turned out to be quite complex. In the previous section, Rashi explained the significance of each component. To everyone's amazement, they all showed up with the same set of gifts. Furthermore, in the previous section, Rashi showed us the significance of the sums of the components across the Twelve Tribes.

Aharon was the head of the Tribe of Levi. No one from the Tribe of Levi, Aharon included, received this Divine inspiration. We now understand why Aharon was particularly distressed. He was very concerned with what G-d was trying to him by inspiring the Noblemen of the other Twelve Tribes, to his exclusion.

Now, the Hebrew word for Nobleman is Nasi. This root letters for this word convey lifting up. The Nasi is a person whose status has been elevated. The Nasi is on a social and political platform.


The first three Hebrew words in this section are "B'haaloscha Es Haneiros" which we translated as "When you rise up the lights." The Hebrew word, "Es" is frequently translated as "with." According to the Rabbis second derivation, these words may be better translated as: "When you rise up with the lights." That is, G-d provides Aharon and his descendants with a platform upon which they can elevate themselves in a manner that is similar to the great Noblemen of the Jewish people.

The Rabbis associate this platform with preparing the lights.

The initiation sacrifices that were offered by the Noblemen were also a form of preparation, except that it was for the sanctuary service. The Torah refers to it with a derivation of the Hebrew word, "chinuch," which also means training and education.

Are you still in the dark?

The Menorah is frequently referenced as a symbol for the Torah. The Cohen and the Levites are frequently referenced as our Torah teachers.

Perhaps the Torah is trying to get us to better show appreciation our Torah teachers, especially those who prepare the candles, those who prepare our children for responsible Jewish adulthood.

My children attend a Jewish day school. The institution has a practice of seating the teaching staff on the dais at the annual dinner, together with those noble people who provided significant financial support to the school.

This section is today read during a period when many people are ending the school year and who may be preparing for the next. Let it serve to remind us of the need to intensify our efforts to care for the needs of Torah education and particularly the needs of our precious teachers.

Here are some suggestions.

  • Investigate the extent to which your communal charity organization is supporting Torah institutions, regardless of the orientation.
  • Investigate the degree to which teacher salaries encourages them to remain in this tough field, especially those with growing families.
  • Teachers sometimes suffer from burn-out and they need to be recharged. Investigate the degree that your school is concerned with burn-out. Is it even on the organizational agenda?
  • Investigate the security that our teachers are provided for their years when they will no longer be able to serve our children.
  • If there is a dispute between a teacher and the institution, investigate the issue and its fair resolution to your own satisfaction.
  • Most important, assure that the Jewish educational and environmental needs of your own family are adequately met. The significance of this greatness that G-d provides the Cohen for teaching others is of no comparison to the greatness that you owe yourself and your family for assuring that your children have a proper Jewish environment. Let's do what we can for our kids. Growing up Jewish isn't always easy. If they're not going to a Jewish Day School., reconsider.

"Why was the section of the Menorah placed after the section of the presidents of the tribes and their offerings for the Temple dedication?

Aharon was concerned that neither he nor his tribe, the Tribe of Levi, participated in the offerings.

G-d said to Aharon, 'Your share is much greater, because you light the Menorah and prepare its lamps.'" (Rashi 8:1)

In what way are the Menorah and the Temple offerings similar so that we can understand how lighting the Menorah is greater?

The following came to mind.

The Menorah and its light symbolize the Torah.

Both the Torah and the Temple serve to unite the Jewish people. However, the Torah is a much greater force.

We lost the precious resources of the Temple some nineteen-hundred years ago. We have many different synagogues and prayer books.

However, having a common Torah has served to unite the Jewish people throughout our thirty-three centuries of history. No matter where we go in the world we study and refer to the same great basis.

8:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying.

8:2 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and say to him, "When you make the lamp (flames) rise up, the seven lights shall shine towards the face of the Menorah."

The Oral Torah (Menachos 86b) teaches that the Menorah has the distinction of providing testimony to the entire world that the Divine Presence rests with the Jewish people. Rava says that the testimony comes from the 'western' lamp, for the lighting began with its flame and the daily lighting process completed with it.

Note the quotation mark around the word, 'western,' which will be soon explained..

Specifically, all of the Menorah's seven lamps were filled with the same amount of oil and were lit towards evening, at about the same time. Up through and including the tenure of the high priest Shimon the Righteous, the fuel ran low or was exhausted by morning, when all but the two east-most lamps were cleaned and prepared for the next day's lighting ceremony. Towards evening, the five lamps were lit from the flame of the 'western' lamp which had been burning throughout the entire day. It was then extinguished, both eastern lamps cleaned, and re-lit. Thus, the lighting began with the flame of the 'western' lamp that had been burning for almost twenty-four hours and this lamp completed the lighting ceremony for it was cleaned and lit last.

This sounds a bit confusing because we began the discussion with the 'western' lamp but put focus on the eastern lamps. This is why the word 'western' is in quotes.

Our tradition is according to the view that the Menorah's lights were positioned from east to west. Since the entrance to the Holy chamber was in the east and the Holy of Holies was in the west, the two lamps on both ends of the Menorah were either furthest or closest to the Holy of Holies from all the other lamps. For clarity, let us number the lamps from one to seven, with the east-most lamp being number one and the lamp closest to the Holy of Holies being lamp number seven.

One would assume that the 'western' lamp was the lamp that was closest to the Holy of Holies, lamp number seven. But this was not the case. In actuality, this 'western' lamp was the lamp that was adjacent to the east-most lamp and this special lamp is number two. For that matter, lamps three through seven also qualified as being termed a 'western' lamp for there were lamps to their east as well. However, the miracle only occurred with lamp number two.

Why was lamp number two given this distinction?

Also, there were many other miracles in the Temple. For instance, twelve loaves of bread rested on the table that was opposite the Menorah. The loaves were piping hot when they were set on the table during Shabbos and remained hot the entire week until they were removed on the following Shabbos. No sterno, electric warmers, or other source of heat accounted for this other than a miracle Also, every priest who performed the incense ceremony on the inner altar of this Holy chamber became wealthy. Also, the Ark that was in the Holy of Holies defied the laws of measurement and space. From each side of the room that it was in, the distance from that side to the Ark always measured half the width of that room. It was as if the Ark took up no space in the room, despite the fact the Ark was centered in the room and it measured two and a half cubits from side to side.

The Oral Torah delineates other miracles, also, Why then was the miracle of the Menorah singled out as providing testimony that the Divine Presence rests with the Jewish people?

Before providing further explanation, I must state that while having the Divine Presence rest with the Jewish people is a great distinction, this does not imply that G-D is not interested with the rest of humanity for if this would be the case then civilization as we know it would have ceased to exist long ago. Of the many purposes that these demonstrations serve, one is to inspire the rest of humanity to think hard and take lesson from the reasons that they occurred, hopefully moving everybody to realize that there is a Creator, a Manager, standards, goals, a past, a future, and role models. They are meant for spiritual opportunity, providing us all with access to strengths that can change our eternal destiny during the short period called life when we can change our eternal destiny.

However, if these lessons merely serve to incite jealously and hatred then I suggest that they are being wasted and are actually destructive to the reader's eternal destiny, for those who spend anger at the Jewish people, are effectively engaging themselves in combat with All-Mighty G-D who so decreed that these distinctions should be.

Take the example of a king who has special forces and sends them on missions that put them in harm's way. Say the king compensates them in many ways, one of which is by assigning then special honors. Now if a person is jealous of these honors and he/she vents this jealously by throwing throws rocks at the soldiers, then this person is effectively throwing rocks at the king, thereby destroying his relationship with him.

And detractors should know that the Jewish people are completely harmless and are absolutely no threat because we have no agenda of domination or imposition and we have never hurt G-D so He can't bear a grudge against us and take it out on us or on anyone else.

Having said this, the following came to mind.

We are taught that as the keepers of the Torah, we are bearing Abraham's light of monotheism and ethics throughout history, a light that G-D began with Abraham at the dawn of a new world of spiritual opportunity for mankind, and that this light will shine through the entire course of history as we know it and into the Messianic era.

The process of history is then managed by G-D in a manner that is similar to the cycle of the Menorah's western lamp, represented by Abraham and his spiritual heirs. It is with these people that G-D began the process. And G-D will use these people to complete the process. This is perhaps why the miracle of the western lamp is singled out as bearing testimony to G-D's Divine presence resting with the Jewish people, for without it, we would never have survived the thrills and spills of the past thirty-three centuries of our painful history.

Now, you can certainly expect the Divine Presence to rest with a people who are angels. However, we know (and have been amply told by those from within and by those from without) that we are not a nation of angels. We're not that bad either, but we're just not angels. So what happens to our Divine Presence and associated protection during periods when we slip up? Are we doomed because we can't always act like angels?

Well, had G-D saw a need to give His Torah to angels then I'm sure that He would have done so. In fact, we have a tradition that the angels actually complained to G-D when He announced his intention to give His Torah to humanity. Tradition tells us that they gave Moshe (Moses) quite a scare when he ascended towards Heaven to receive the Torah. In the end they conceded for obvious reasons.

So what do we do? How's this all going to work out?

Perhaps the answer is reflected by our lamp number two. With respect to the east-most lamp number one, lamps two through seven all qualify as being relatively closer to holiness for they are all west of that lamp and are closer to the Holy of Holies. And of these six lamps, our lamp number two is the furthest away from Holy of Holies.

The miracle that occurred with lamp number two demonstrates that the miracle is not dependent on the degree of proximity to the Holy of Holies,

It therefore also reflects that our having the Divine Presence rest on us is not dependent on our behaving like a nation of angels.

This implies a guarantee that our protection will endure throughout our history despite the ups and downs of our spiritual achievements. However, this does not imply that our behavior has no effect on our affairs, and our painful history bears this out.

We can now understand why the Divine Presence resting with the Jewish people is symbolized by the miracle of the Menorah and we also can understand why lamp number two was selected to carry the miracle.

In closing, perhaps we can also note that while this same message would have been expressed by having the light of the east-most lamp endure, the miracle occurring with lamp number two symbolizes that while the Jewish people may not always be as close to the holy of holies as they would like to be, they will never be completely dissociated from it either.

8:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses), saying

8:2 Speak to Aharon (Aaron) and say to him, 'When you bring up the (flame of) the lamps (of the Menorah), the seven lamps shall shine towards the (center) face of the Menorah.

The Menorah is a candelabra with seven shafts, each with a lamp on top. It had a central shaft and there were three branching shafts to the left and three to the right. Verse 8:2 instructs Aharon to position the lamps on the branching shafts so that they shine towards the central shaft.

The Seforna commentary suggests that the shafts on the left and right are symbolic of the collective nature of Torah study and observance.

The branches on the right represent those who dedicate their life to preserve Torah knowledge through their study.

It is widely recognized within the Jewish people that we can not afford to let these people become distracted by making a livelihood. Therefore, those who are not on the front lines of Torah study have both responsibility and the privilege of insuring that they are supported. These people are symbolized by the branches on the left.

Here are the Seforna's words:

All seven (lamps of the Menorah) shall radiate and project the influence of the light On High towards Israel. They shall teach a lesson that as the light of the (lamps) on the right and the light of those on the left are facing and focused towards the light of the central shaft, which is the main (part) of the Menorah, that it is fitting that the intentions of those (people) who are on the right, who are engaged with the life of eternity and those on the left who are engaged with life of the moment who assist those on the right … that (their intentions) should be to fulfill the will of G-D in a manner that they will together achieve His intentions. Together they will uplift His Name as is demonstrated in the Torah, "And the entire nation answered together and said, 'We will do all that G-D spoke (Exodus 19:8),'" meaning that between us all we will fulfill His intentions.

I believe that the following observations are noteworthy.

Both those on the right and those on the left must work to maintain their focus.

Both those on the right and those on the left have the distinction of being on the same Menorah.

Both those on the right and those on the left are equally radiating light.

8:11 And Aharon shall waive the Levites, a waiving before G-D from the Children of Israel. And they shall work (in) the service of G-D.

Rashi notes that there are three references to waiving the Levites in this Torah reading.

One reference is above, a waiving before G-D. This refers to the Levite family of Kehas. G-D's name is associated with this waiving because they carried the holy vessels, such as the Ark.

Another waiving is in verse 12 where is also says that there will be a 'waiving before G-D.' This refers to the Levite family of Gershon. G-D's name was associated with this waiving because the family of Gershon carried the curtains and the clasps and these items could be seen in the Holy of Holies.

The third reference to waiving is in verse 15. This refers to the Levite family of Merari. They carried the boards and posts. It does not associate G-D's name with that waiving.

This is puzzling because the boards and posts that Merari carried were also visible in the Holy of Holies. If G-D's name was associated with Gershon's waiving because they carried items that could be seen in the Holy of Holies, then why wasn't it associated by Merari?

The following came to mind.

The inner layer of curtains that Gershon carried consisted of ten separate curtains that were sewn together into two sets of five each. The two were connected by silver clasps, which could be seen in the Holy of Holies. The inner-most group of five was visible in the Holy of Holies and was also visible from the outside.

The boards that Merari carried were held together by rings and rods. They were made to come apart for transport. The posts stood up individually. Some boards and posts were visible in the Holy of Holies and others were not.

A major focus of the sanctuary was unity, to unite the Jewish people together and also with G-D.

Perhaps the name of G-D was associated by Gershon because the items that they carried were more connected with each other than what Merari had. Another reason for the special recognition was that the curtains that were inside being visible from the outside served to connect the Jewish people with Holy of Holies.

8:15 And the Levites can come afterwards to serve in the Tent of Meeting (Temple) ...

8:16 For they are given, given over to Me from the Children of Israel in place of .. every first born of the Children of Israel I have taken them to Me.

The Sefurno provides the following commentary for 8:16.

"For they are given, given over to Me .." They caused themselves to be given over, for they gave of themselves for the purpose of serving me, as it states (when Moshe - Moses called for loyalty after the sin of the golden calf) '.. Whoever is for G-d should come towards me. And all of the sons of Levi gathered towards him.' (Exodus 32:26).

Every member of the tribe of Levi responded to this demonstration of loyalty.

Out of a population that contained six-hundred-thousand males from age twenty and up, Exodus 32:28 records that approximately three-thousand people were convicted of idol worship.

There were indeed many righteous and innocent people from the other eleven tribes that had nothing to do with the golden calf and one must assume that they also gathered towards Moshe. Why was only the tribe of Levi singled out and rewarded?

The following came to mind.

With the exception of Levi, every tribe contained some members who were guilty of worshiping the golden calf. Only the tribe of Levi was flawless.

We see from here the significance and value of the individual, for the disloyalty of even one member of a tribe disqualified the entire tribe from serving together with Levi in the Temple.

We find a similar occurrence in the Book of Yehoshua (Joshua) chapter seven where it states in verse one: 'And the Children of Yisroel transgressed the ban and Achan son of Carmi, son of Zavdi, son of Zerach of the Tribe of Yehuda (Judah) took (for themselves) from the banned (property). And G-D became angry with the Children of Yisroel.'

Here, the entire nation was blamed for the weakness of an individual.

It is startling to see the degree of collective perfection that is expected from the nation of the Torah.

Yet, we are not to be discouraged. We are taught that through collective and accumulated merits and through the purge of Jewish history and through our own accomplishments in recognizing G-D's domination, we will some day achieve that which is foretold, "And your entire nation is righteous, a budding of My planting, the work of My hands to be proud of. (Yeshia / Jessia 60:21).

May this be fulfilled speedily in our days.

8:15 And the Levites can come afterwards to serve in the Tent of Meeting (Temple) ...

8:16 For they are given, given over to Me from the Children of Israel in place of .. every first born of the Children of Israel I have taken them to Me.

From the time of the Exodus, the first born were given spiritual distinction and set apart for service in the Temple. The Oral Torah teaches their role in the sin of the Golden Calf disqualified them from this distinction and the Levites, who did not participate in this sin, were their replacement.

When the first born were initially chosen, the Torah does not say they were given over to G-d from the Children of Israel. Why is this said about the Levites?

The following came to mind.

The following verses were said to the Jewish people just prior to their receiving the Torah:

"And now, if you will fully listen to My voice and guard My covenant then you will be a treasure from all the nations, for the entire Earth is Mine. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation .." (Exodus 19:5-6)

Throughout history, detractors have claimed that prior sins forced G-d reject the Jewish people and that G-d chose them in our place.

So as not to make the sanctification of the Levites appear as though G-d was replacing the Jewish people, perhaps the Torah made a special point of involving the Jewish people in this sanctification, saying that the Levites were given by the Jewish people for service in the Temple.

The Jewish people can and have been exiled. Clouds of extinction can and have hovered over them. Specific roles within the Torah can be shifted from one group to another within the Jewish people. However, the Jewish people as a whole can not and will never be replaced.

8:24 This is for the Levites: From age twenty-five he shall come to be part of the legion in service for the Tent of Meeting.

Rashi cites the Talmud (Chulin 24a) that notes a discrepancy between the minimum ages that are stated for Levite service. Here it says twenty-five but 4:3 states that the minimum age is thirty. The Talmud answers that a Levite came to study at age twenty-five but didn't begin his duties until age thirty.

The Kehas family was given the charge to carry the holy vessels.

Why does the Torah require a new Levite to study five years to learn for what appears to be a task to pick up and carry things?

The following came to mind.

We are charged to enhance the quality of our service. Fulfilling a commandment by rote is of significantly less quality then performing it with feeling and appreciation.

It should take five minutes to learn how to move a piece of furniture. However, we give the Levite five years to learn about what he is moving and why before he even gets near it.

May we all take this as a lesson for how we are to approach Torah observance.

9:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert in the second year of their exodus from the Land of Egypt in the first month, saying.

9:2 And the Children of Israel shall perform the Passover sacrifice in its appropriate time (which is on the fourteenth day of the first month).

The events at the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) occurred in the second month of their second year.

This event is recorded later in Bamidbar, in its third Torah reading and it occurred earlier, on the first month. Rashi notes that this section was moved here, out of chronological order, because it does not reflect well on the Jewish people. The issue was that this was the only Passover sacrifice that they performed throughout their entire forty years in the desert.

It sounds like the G-D wanted to make this section less obvious to a reader out of respect to the Jewish people.

This is very puzzling.

Also, given the high visibility of every verse and letter in the Torah, it's hard to see how moving this section helps to conceal it.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz, of blessed memory suggests that moving this section away from the beginning of the Book of Numbers can make a difference, as one has more enthusiasm and focus when he begins to study something new.

The difference that this factor can make to the reputation to those who left Egypt, as minor as it appears to be, was enough to justify the move.

His approach teaches the high degree of sensitivity that exists in Heaven.

9:2 And the Children of Israel shall perform the Passover sacrifice in its appropriate time (which is on the fourteenth day of the first month).

9:3 Perform it in its right time, on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of this month. Perform it with all of its statutes and laws.

9:6 And there were men who could not perform the Passover sacrifice on that day (because) they were made ineligible by (their handling) a corpse. And they came near to Moshe and Aharon on that day.

9:7 And those men said to him, "We are ineligible because of a corpse. Why should we be disqualified from bring the sacrifice of G-D in its right time together with the Children of Israel?"

9:8 And Moshe said to them, "Stay and I will hear what G-D will command about you."

9:9 And G-D said to Moshe, saying.

9:10 "Tell the Children of Israel, saying: 'If a man is made ineligible because of a corpse or is distant (from the place of sacrifice), whether with you or your generations, and makes a Passover sacrifice for G-D.'

9:11 'They shall make it on the fourteenth day of the second month in the afternoon. They shall eat it with matzah and bitter herbs.'

9:12 'They shall not leave it over until the (next) morning and they shall not break a bone (while eating). It shall be done with all of the statutes of the Passover sacrifice.'

9:13 'And (regarding) the man who is eligible and is not in a distant place and refrains from performing the Passover sacrifice, that soul shall be cut off from its people for he did not perform the sacrifice of G-D in its proper time. That man shall bear his sin.

Why wasn't the consequence of non-compliance written adjacent to the verses that gave the initial commandment to perform the Passover sacrifice, which are verses two and three?

Perhaps the need to warn about non-compliance was more applicable for a future generation, as we see from verses six and seven that people demonstrated great zeal about fulfilling this commandment, as they demanded an explanation why they were excluded.

Perhaps writing the warning of non-compliance with the verses of the initial commandment would have suggested that there were people in that generation who needed it, which was not so

If so, then this could be a reason for writing the warning after the people demonstrated their sincere desire to perform the Passover sacrifice.

9:18 And I threw myself down before G-D as I had done (before,) like the first time, (for) forty days and forty nights. I did not eat bread and I did not drink water. (I did this) over the entire sin that you committed, to do that which was bad in the eyes of G-D, to anger Him.

We know through Rashi that were three sets of forty days.

Moshe (Moses) ascended Mount Sinai on the sixth of Sivan and descended forty days later with the first set of tablets on the seventeenth of Tamuz, to find people worshiping the golden calf.

He ascended again on the next day, the eighteenth of Tamuz.

And it was on the morrow and Moshe said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. And now I (must) ascend towards G-D. Perhaps I will (be able to) find atonement for your sin."(Exodus 32:30)

He descended after another forty days on the 29th of Av, when G-D accepted the Jewish people back again. G-D told Moshe, "… Carve out for yourself two tablets like the first ones and I will write on the tablets those words that were on the first ones, which you broke." (Exodus 34:1)

Moshe ascended on the first of Elul and was there for the third and final forty day period, ending on the tenth of Tishrei. That day became celebrated from then on as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Rashi writes that G-D accepted the Jewish people on that day back with joy, telling Moshe, "I forgave as you have said."

Asks, Rashi: And how do we know that G-D accepted the Jewish people back with full desire?

"And I stood on the mountain like the first (days), forty days and forty nights. And G-D listened to me then, too, G-D did not want to destroy you." (Deuteronomy 10:10)

The first forty were like the last forty, both with desire. We infer, concludes Rashi, that the middle forty were a period of anger.

Rashi said that G-D accepted Jewish people back on the 29th of Av, meaning that He forgave us. Why didn't that day become Yom Kippur? What was the purpose of the third set of forty days? What changed between the 29th of Av and the tenth of Tishrei.

G-D does not change so it must have been us. After repenting for forty days, between the 18th of Tamuz and the 29th of Av, what more did we do?

Rabbi Hoberman of blessed memory writes the following:

Upon Moshe's first descent, on the 17 of Tamuz, we were in deep trouble.

He later remarked, "For I was terrified over the (Divine) anger and fury that G-D had against you to destroy you. And G-D listened to me then, too" (Deuteronomy 9:19).

During the subsequent second set of forty days, the focus of our repentance was to be saved from destruction. This was a repentance that was based on fear. Our focus was on ourselves.

And when Moshe came down and told us that we were off the hook we could have celebrated and that would have been it.

But by then given all that we were put through and our background, we were relieved but not happy.

We had grown out of having a Producer-Consumer relationship with G-D. We realized that not only had we let ourselves down, we let G-D down, too.

We went on to repent a second time, another forty days. Only this time it was based on a relationship, out of love and not fear. It was based on 'us,' not 'me.'

This is what made the final day into a Yom Kippur.

10:9 And on your day of happiness and during your festivals and on the beginnings of your months you shall blow with your trumpets over your olah offerings and peace offerings. And it shall be a remembrance for you before Hashem your G-D. I am Hashem your G-D.

What is being remembered? It's probably not just the trumpet blast but rather some merit that is related to trumpet blasts. What is it?

The following came to mind.

We find the following a few verses earlier.

9:17 And according to the cloud rising up from above the tent and (so) the Children of Israel travelled. And in the place where the cloud would rest there the Children of Israel rested there.

10:2 Make for yourself two trumpets from silver, make them hammered out. And they shall be used for you to call the congregation and for the camps to travel.

10:5 And you shall make a blast and the camps who are settled on the east shall travel.

10:6 And you shall make a second blast and the camps who are settled on the south shall travel. They shall make a teruah blast for their travelling.

Everyone knew that it was time to move on when they saw the cloud rise upward. However, they did not actually begin their travel until Moshe issued the signal with his trumpet.

Perhaps our ancestor's deference to their great teacher Moshe was the merit that G-D remembers whenever we sound the trumpet.

10:9 And on your day of happiness and during your festivals and on the beginnings of your months you shall blow with your trumpets over your olah offerings and peace offerings. And it shall be a remembrance for you before Hashem your G-D. I am Hashem your G-D.

Rashi provides the following commentary: 'I am Hashem your G-D:' [This is a reference to G-D's kingdom.] From here we learn [to recite verses of] G-D being a king together [with verses about G-D] remembering [man's deeds] and [verses about] blowing the shofar [horn], as it says [here], 'and you shall blow,' which is [about] shofar [blowing and it says here] 'for a remembrance' which is [a verse about G-D] remembering. [The verse] I am Hashem your G-D [follows as a verse about G-D's] kingdom.

Kingdom, remembering, and shofar is a set of concepts that is today reflected in the Rosh Hashana prayers.

It is noteworthy that these concepts are mentioned in the reverse order in the above verse.

What is the Torah trying to tell us by doing this? The following came to mind.

Rosh Hashana is the annual day of judgement, when G-D decides the fate of every individual, every community, and Mankind as a whole. As we view G-D in this role as the supreme authority, the King of Kings, during Rosh Hashana the theme of kingdom is mentioned first. Shofar is last because the shofar is only a means for us to proclaim His supremacy.

The above verse is about celebration and our natural response is an open display of joy, symbolized by the sound of the horn. Perhaps this is why the concept of shofar is mentioned first.

If left undirected, joy can reinforce a person's ego and his will to dominate. Thus, joy can somewhat undermine a person's spiritual maturity. Unmanaged, joy can become unsafe.

And so, the Torah suggests that we associate our moments of joy with the concept of G-D's kingdom. This reminds us that G-D's supreme will is that which caused the event that made us rejoice. This makes our expressions of joy both meaningful truly safe. It enhances this experience to greater and deeper levels within ourselves.

10:29 And Moshe (Moses) said to Chovav son of Reuel the Midianite, father-in-law of Moshe, "We are travelling to the place about which G-D said, 'I shall give it to you.' Come with us and we will do well with you, for G-D spoke (to do) good for Israel."

The Meshech Chochma commentary explains that the good Moshe is talking about is that G-D was giving the lands of the Canaanite nations to the Jewish people.

This was promised to the forefathers.

Giving the land to the Jewish people implies that G-D was taking the land from the Canaanites.

We note that Moshe spoke only about the gain of the Jewish people and not about the loss that the Canaanites would sustain.

The commentary says that this was deliberate because while G-D never rescinds a promise that brings good, He could rescind a prophecy that brings bad.

Giving the land to the Jewish people is bad to the Canaanites. So G-D could have retracted the promise He made to our forefathers.

The Meshech Chochma then says that Moshe did not speak about evil that would befall the Canaanites because had they not continued to act corruptly then G-D would have given them another land to live in.

The Meshech Chochma commentary is known to be very terse and very deep.

This commentary is very puzzling, because the Meshech Chochma implies that the two events are not connected but indeed they are. For if G-D gives the land to the Jewish people then the Canaanites would have to leave, which is exactly how the Meshech Chochma concludes. How could he then say that "Moshe did not speak about evil that would befall the Canaanites?"

And in general, how could G-D make a promise to the forefathers at the expense of the Canaanite nations?

I suspect that the answer lies in an understanding of the very nature of the Land of Israel.

I also suspect that the Meshech Chochma provides the answer in his concluding words, "…had they [the Canaanites] not continued to act corruptly then G-D would have given them another land to live in." We just have to understand what he means.

Leviticus 18:25 states, "And the land shall not vomit you (out) by your defiling it in the manner that it vomited the nation that preceded you."

Rashi likens this to a person who is sensitive and eats something that disagrees with his stomach. Similarly, the Land of Israel cannot contain people who act corruptly and the land ejects them.

Leviticus 18 says that the Canaanites cohabited with close relatives, men cohabiting with men, and they cohabited with animals. They also burned their children to 'gods.'

By Moshe's time, the Canaanites were so corrupt that a miracle was needed to keep the land from ejecting them. Frankly, given their record it would have been unreasonable to expect G-D to intervene and do a miracle for them.

We actually see this in the promise that G-D made to Avraham (Abraham): "And the fourth generation shall return here because the iniquity of the Emorites will not be completed until then (Genesis 15:16)."

So had the inheritance of the Jewish people been linked through prophecy to another prophecy of doom that hinged solely upon Canaanite misbehavior, then the inheritance could have been rescinded and G-D would have never undertaken to make it a promise.

However, due to both the behavior of the Canaanite people and the nature of the land, Abraham was promised a land that would have been emptied of its inhabitants anyway.

Moshe did not speak about an evil that would befall the Canaanites that was correctable and that would have reversed the course of history, for they were well over the brink.

It was up to the Canaanites to choose their ultimate fate. Indeed, the Meshech Chochma cites a tradition that one nation left voluntarily and they settled in Africa.

The rest decided to resist and were destroyed.

10:32 And when you [Yisro / Jethro] come with us, (with) the good that G-D will do with us we will (use it to) do good with you.

Yisro was a not a descendent of the Patriarchs. He was therefore not qualified to receive a share in the Land of Israel when it was later divided among the Children of Israel (Numbers 26:53).

Rashi references a teaching that Moshe was telling Yisro that he will be settled in Yericho (Jericho) if and when he decides to relocate to Israel.

Yericho is about seventeen miles from Jerusalem.

Yericho was unique in that it was not among the lands that were divided. Instead, it remained common property of the entire nation.

This was done for the following reason.

The Temple was to be built in a place that G-D would later choose (Deuteronomy 12, 14, and 15). The Jewish people did not know until several hundred years later that the chosen place was Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

As the Temple needed to be built upon common property, Yericho was not included in the original division so that it can be used to compensate the owner of the land upon which the Temple would be built.

Yericho was therefore available for Yisro and his descendents to live there.

Perhaps the plan was to give Yisro's descendents enough time to intermarry within the Jewish people so as to minimize the hardship of not being land owners, for many would join families that did own land.

Besides not being among the divided lands, Yericho was unique in other ways.

The Talmud teaches that the people in Yericho were able to hear the High Priest in Jerusalem bless the Jewish people. They also heard the sound of the Temple doors opening. Their brides never needed perfume because of the aroma from the Temple incense was so strong. And the scent even made their goats sneeze (Yoma 39b).

Why did G-D perform these miracles for the inhabitants of Yericho?

Rabbi Yisochor Frand provides the following explanation.

It's hard to come up with a full compensation for those who inherited the site of the future Temple because they would relocate and be would be distant from this great and holy place.

G-D therefore made life in Yericho reflect somewhat life in Jerusalem so that the inhabitants would know that G-D appreciated their relocation and personal sacrifice.

11:26 And two men remained in the camp. The name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Madad'

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following detail about their family history.

Eldad and Madad were the sons of Elitzafan Bar Parnach. Their mother was Yocheved daughter of Levi, also Moshe's (Moses') mother. They were born during the time that she was divorced from Amram, Moshe's father.

We know from the Medrash that Amram divorced Yocheved some time after she gave birth to Aharon (Aaron) and Miriam. He felt compelled to do this because of Pharaoh's policy of genocide. Amram ruled that Jewish people should cease from bringing children into the world during this dark period in their history. Because of the great esteem and reverence that everyone felt towards him, his divorce of Yocheved served as a role model to the nation and every couple separated.

Subsequently, Amram reconsidered, based on observations that his little daughter Miriam made. She noted that the difficulties made by his decree were greater than those of Pharaoh's. Pharaoh's edict affected only boys while his act affected unborn children of both sexes. Also, Pharaoh's decree took a person away from this world while Amram's act affected eternal destiny, as no one would have the opportunity to pass through this world in order to obtain a share in the next world.

Amram remarried Yocheved and she gave birth to Moshe.

Some eighty years later, Moshe would take pen in hand and record the following verse for all posterity:

Deuteronomy 24:4 Her (the divorcee's) first husband, the one who sent her away, may not take her again to himself for a wife once she was defiled, for this is an abomination before G-d. And you shall not bring sin to the Earth, that which Hashem your G-d is giving you for an inheritance.

How on Earth could Amram have remarried Yocheved?

I have an even greater question.

What made Amram and Yocheved so worthy to have Moshe for a son? If we could only know even a part of this secret, perhaps we may have great children, too.

The following came to mind.

The remarriage is not a strong concern because this commandment is one of the 607 that were mandated from Sinai and on. Prior to Sinai, people were only required to keep the Seven Commandments of Noach. The learned and pious kept the rest of the Torah on a voluntary basis. Prior to Sinai, one was permitted to overlook one of the 607 if there was a strong reason to do so. This is how Yaakov (Jacob) was able to marry two sisters.

Amram was a very learned and pious person. He was one of the few people to die without ever having commit a sin. We can be certain that he kept all of the 613.

He had a strong reason to remarry Yocheved, as this marriage served as a role model for the entire generation, demonstrating that it was proper to continue with family life. It caused the repair of family life on a national level.

The detail on Eldad and Medad sheds new light on Amram and Yocheved's character.

Yocheved's consent to marry Elitzafan was a public act of defiance against the greatest person in her generation. She opened herself to becoming a national outcast. This did not deter her. She knew that she was right. The Jewish nation is based on family life and this must not cease.

Such determination! Such strength of conviction!

Amram's remarriage to the woman who publicly defied his decree, and based on the logic of his three-year-old daughter, also shows greatness of character.

Such humility! Such love of truth!

Does this remind you of someone?

12:6 And He (G-D) said (to Aharon and Miriam), "Please listen to My words. If you will have prophets then I G-D will appear to them in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream."

It is a rare and awesome privilege for the person to whom G-D speaks.

When G-D rebuked Aharon and Miriam for their remarks about Moshe, why did He first beg them to listen to His words?

The following came to mind.

We are taught that Aharon and Miriam were not aware of Moshe's uniqueness. This is why they were surprised to learn that Moshe separated from his wife, for they expected Moshe to share the same standards of every other prophet.

When we want to say something to a great person we may beg that he/she grants an audience. However, when we want to talk to a peer we will typically expect the courtesy that he/she listens to what we have to say.

Prior to revealing Moshe's uniqueness and greatness, G-D prefaced His words with a plea to those who were not aware of this but who themselves were deserving of distinction because they are human beings, as everybody is unique and has potential greatness.

Shelach (Num 13-15)

This Torah reading describes the events that led up to the disastrous decree against Jewish people whereby those who were between twenty and sixty years old were condemned to die in the desert over the next forty years.

It appears that this was evoked because they did not demonstrate sufficient trust in G-D.

We are taught what trust in G-D is and what it is not.

Trust in G-D does not mean that things will always turn out as we want them to. This is because we do not know what is best for us.

Rather, trust in G-D means that G-D wants only the best for us and He has the resources to make this happen, as long as we let him and don’t give up. This means that things will turn out for the best as G-D knows it and that G-D is actively managing our affairs to ensure that this is what will happen.

It is for this reason that there is no room for despair, for that which G-d wants to occur will indeed occur, regardless of how things look at the present moment.

A number of commentaries are puzzled over why the Jewish people wanted to send spies, given that G-D told them that the land was good, He was leading the way, and that G-D had been fighting their battles.

One approach that I heard is that the evil inclination packaged the issue into a meritorious act, as he frequently does to trick us into doing the wrong thing.

It has been asked, given that G-D is concerned with all of our needs and takes responsibility for meeting them, why must we work for a living?

The answer is that going to work is a tax that we must all pay as a result of Adam's sin. It tests us because this makes it appear as if our success is directly related to our efforts when indeed it isn't. Rather, it is G-D who decrees and controls success. Those who fail are vulnerable to take ethically and spiritually compromising approaches to making a living. Those who pass will not swerve from Torah guidelines, even when it appears as though they are going to suffer economic loss by doing so.

Therefore, sending spies appeared to some people as a Torah obligation to spend some effort in order to live in the Promised Land.

Another approach that came to mind is that they expected the spies to extol the virtues of land. Perhaps they saw spiritual advantage in this because it would increase their desire to enter the land, thereby evoking a deeper sense of gratitude to G-D upon entry.

13:2 Send (ahead) for yourselves men and they will spy out the Land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel ...

The words, “for yourselves” suggest that sending spies before the conquest was not a commandment. Rather, it’s optional.

Indeed, it was not a commandment writes Rashi. This was our idea. And we can see this in Deuteronomy 1:22.

When Moshe (Moses) requested guidance on sending spies, G-D responded as follows: “I told them that it [the land] was good (Exodus 3:8). (I swear) by your lives that I will give you an opportunity to be misled by the words of the spies who will try to make you not inherit it.”

When the spies came back with a distorted report, their response was: … “Isn’t it not good for us to return to Egypt (and not continue on to the Promised land?” (14:3)

The faithful spies Yehoshua (Joshua) and Calev tried to steer them back, but were unsuccessful. They said, "... the land that we went through for spying is very very good (14:7).

We note in the words of the unfaithful spies that they never actually said that the land was bad.

Apparently then, everyone agreed that the land was good. The issue was whether it was good for the Jewish people to go there.

But what viable alternative did they have except to move forward? If they returned to Egypt, what were they going to do there?

The Alshich commentary says that they wanted to return to Egypt and resume the exile, but only for another one-hundred-ninety years. This is because G-D told Avraham (Abraham) that his descendants would be “… strangers in a land that was not theirs. And they will serve them and afflict them for four-hundred years. And afterwards they will go out … “ (Genesis 13:14-15).

They had already been living in Egypt for two-hundred-ten years (Rashi Genesis 42:2) and proposed that they needed one-hundred-ninety more.

That may sound absurd. But we are taught that sin is only possible when absurdity enters a person’s mind and it is then up to the person to make the right choices.

Why did the Jewish people think that it would have better for them to get in another one-hundred-ninety of slavery before entering the Promised Land?

I suspect that they realized that the enslavement served to refine them, making them more capable to sustain a life that is on a high spiritual level. They felt that G-D cut that process short because in Egypt they did not maintain the spiritual backbone to remain there any more than two-hundred-ten years without becoming assimilated. However, now that they had the Torah, they were no longer in danger of becoming assimilated.

Were they to go on and enter Israel without the extra refinement, they would need extra mercy and miracles from G-D to succeed. They didn’t want that. They didn’t want to have the worry that a day may come when they would not merit G-D’s mercy and miracles.

Unfortunately, they made the wrong decision, and that’s when our worries began, with a capital ‘W’.

We demonstrated a lack of trust that G-D can be and is indeed with us. He is to us like a father and would never propose that we do something that is bad for us. The land was good and going there was indeed our best choice.

For over thirty-three centuries we paid dearly for this mistake. And during our sometimes painful and scary history He has been with us like a father, keeping us going and on track for a great future.

This is one of the corrective messages that our exile provides.

Had we realized this back then, we would have never opted to return to Egypt. May we soon experience the completion of this lesson.

13:2 Send for yourself (some) men and they will spy out the Land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel…

Rashi provides the following commentary:

Why is the section of the spies written adjacent to the section of Miriam (and her shortcoming with Lashon Hara - evil or slanted speech)? Since she was punished because of evil/slanted speech that she spoke against her brother and these wicked people (- the spies) saw this and did not take a lesson.

The Mizrachi commentary notes that Korach, the next Torah reading, is also written out of order.

Numbers 33:18 states that Jewish people camped first in Chatzeros and afterwards in Risma. Rashi's commentary on Deuteronomy 1:1 says that the episode of Korach occurred in Chatzeros, the first encampment. Rashi's commentary on Numbers 33:18 says that the spies were sent from Risma, the second encampment. So Korach's episode occurred before the spies according to chronology but the Torah wrote it afterwards.

What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

The spies were guilty of speaking slander and the people were guilty of both listening to the slander and planning a rebellion against Moshe (14:4-10).

It is very disappointing that Korach's rebellion had just occurred and despite him being destroyed in a very dramatic manner, the Jewish people still contemplated making another rebellion against Moshe.

They paid bitterly for their mistake. They repented and earned G-D's forgiveness.

So out of G-D's love for the Jewish people and to show the sincerity of His forgiveness, perhaps the order was shifted to focus blame on the spies who caused the downfall and shifted again to soften the criticism against the Jewish people.

13:2 Send for yourselves men and they will tour the Land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel. One man, one man per tribe of his fathers, every prince within them.

The Sefurno commentary notes the difference between this account of the story and that which is later written in Leviticus where it states, "And all of you came near to me and said, 'Let us send men and they will search out the land .." (Leviticus 1:22).

The people who suggested the mission also offered to manage it, which included their selecting the spies. However G-D wanted certain people to be the spies and He directed Moshe (Moses) to send the princes of each tribe.

The Sefurno says that G-D did not want common people to be sent on this mission because they may not adequately perceive the splendor and goodness of the land that G-D was about to give the Jewish people.

In the end, the land was praised to the people and its goodness was never disputed as it is later stated, ".. the land is very, very good" (14:7). The disputes revolved only around whether the risks involved in capturing the land and residing in were too great and whether it was therefore in the Jewish people's best interest to continue on with the plan or to abandon it and return to Egypt.

The Sefurno notes that the praise of the Land of Israel served their needs for when the Jewish people realized their error, they really wanted to enter this wonderful land and this desire helped them confess their lack in trust of G-D, thereby providing them opportunity for full repentance. Had they not been sufficiently impressed with the splendor of the land then they may not have sufficiently repented. In the end, their full repentance, together with their death in the desert provided them with a full atonement.

Why was it safer to select the princes of the tribes over people who were not in a position of leadership? Specifically, why would the princes be in a better position to see the beauty of the land over anyone else?

The following came to mind.

We are taught the following: Who is honored? He who honors others. (Avos 4:1).

Leadership demonstrates the ability for one to recognize the value of others, as this recognition is critical to the ability to sincerely give others honor.

Given the many limitations of humanity and the complexity of social relations it is quite easy for someone to be distracted away from fully recognizing and appreciating the virtues and the value of his fellow.

Thus, leadership demonstrates the ability to rise above the temporal smokescreen of human foibles and to see the greatness of each every person, enabling the leader to sincerely feel his fellow's worth, enabling the leader to sincerely assign honor to his fellow, and thereby providing the leader with the esteem that he/she receives in return.

The mission of a spy does always not afford luxury accommodations. The spies of our story had to endure many types of stress and they provided many distractions from perceiving the goodness of the land.

It was therefore the leaders who were least at risk, for they had already demonstrated their ability to perceive goodness with an environment that provided distraction from doing so.

13:2 Send for yourself (some) men and they will spy out the Land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel…

Rashi provides the following commentary:

Why is the section of the spies placed adjacent to the section of Miriam (and her shortcoming with Lashon Hara - evil speech)? Since she was punished because of evil speech that she spoke about her brother and these wicked people (- the spies) saw this and did not take a lesson.

From Rashi's words it appears that this section does not belong adjacent to that of Miriam. However, it does appear to be placed in proper sequence with the historical flow of events, as per Numbers 33:17-18:

33:17 And they (the Children of Israel) traveled from Kivros Hataavah and they camped in Chatzeros.

33:18 And they traveled from Chatzeros and they camped in Risma.

Per Numbers 11:35, the episode with Miriam occurred in Chatzeros. Per Rashi of 33:18, the episode of the spies occurred in Risma.

So, the portion of the spies appears to be written according to the proper sequence of events. Why then does Rashi imply otherwise?

The following came to mind.

Rashi's source appears to be the Medrash Tanchuma.

Here is what the Medrash says:

What is written above? [12:1] And Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe. Afterwards it says [13:2] 'Send spies for yourself.' This is what is meant by the verse [Yeshiah (Isaiah) 44:18] 'They knew not and they did not understand, for they were closed up from seeing with their eyes, from perceiving with their hearts.' What did He see to say the episode of the spies after the episode of Miriam? Because it was foreseen by G-D that they will come and say evil speech against the land. So G-D said, 'They shall have no excuse by saying that we did not know the punishment of evil speech.' Therefore G-D put these matters adjacent so that everyone shall know the punishment of evil speech. So if they seek to use evil speech they should be able to take insight from what happened to Miriam. And still they did not wish to take lesson. For this it states, 'They knew not and they did not understand, for they were closed up from seeing with their eyes, from perceiving with their hearts.'

The Medrash says, 'G-D put these matters adjacent.' These words suggest to me the possibility that G-D caused both episodes to occur one after the other. That is, G-D made Miriam's downfall occur right before the episode of the spies so that the spies could take lesson from the consequences.

Our tradition strongly asserts that every person has free-will to do right and wrong. We also know that G-D is all-knowing. According to our sages, we don't understand how G-D can have foreknowledge of a person's sin and yet still hold the person accountable. Part of the reason for our inability is that we have no grasp of how G-D thinks and perceives. We must simply accept these concepts as a matter of faith.

So, Miriam had free-will to speak against Moshe and G-D knew that she will do it.

It seems reasonable to me that G-D can decree when a person does something without interfering with free-will. That is, although a person has freedom to choose whether he/she will do something, the timing of the act may be subject to G-D and He can time it to facilitate managing the world and humanity.

If this is true then we can better understand these verses and the Medrash.

We can also take lesson of the seriousness of evil speech and the discord that it causes. The sin of the spies and its consequence was engineered to be done in a manner that there was no way out for mercy and understanding.

Our tradition teaches that G-D's attribute of reward is far greater than that of punishment, no less than 500 times greater. If G-D intervenes when a person a self-destructive act, how much more can we rely upon His help when we try to do virtue.

13:30 And Calev (Caleb) focused the people towards Moshe (Moses) and said, "Go up we will go up (to the Land of Israel) and we will inherit it for able we are able to (do) it."

What is meant by the doubled phrases? The Shiras David commentary suggests the following reading.

The Egyptians allowed the Jewish people to leave, had a change of heart, and decided to pursue them.

With a roaring sea in front of them and an angry Egyptian army at the rear, Moshe pleaded to G-D for help. G-D responded, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall travel (forward into the sea.)" (Exodus 14:15).

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin of blessed memory says that the Torah is teaching us to never give up when life confronts us with what appears as an insurmountable obstacle. Rather, we must always leave some room for G-D to make a miracle.

This is especially true when the welfare of the Jewish people appears hopeless. It is up to us to maintain our trust that G-D that will never abandon us.

Nachshon jumped in, got very wet, and then the water disappeared just before it reached his mouth.

The power of his trust was so great that it split the sea apart.

Similarly, all we needed to do was to begin ascending a mountain to begin the conquest and G-D would help us succeed. That is, if we go up then G-D will help us to remain up; G-D will help us be able.

14:1 And the entire congregation arose and sounded their voices. And the nation cried on that night.

That night was the ninth of Av.

It has since been declared a solemn fast day because of the many tragedies befell the Jewish people on that day throughout our history.

Of the many, the Mishnah lists the decree of wandering in the desert for 40 years, the destructions of both temples, the capture of the city of Betar, and plowing up the temple grounds (Taanis 26b). We also know that the Spanish Expulsion and World War One occurred on that fateful day.

The Talmud says that G-D remarked, "You cried for no reason. This will become a day of national mourning (Taanis 29a).

14:37 And the men who spoke slanted speech against the land died in a plague before G-D.

The spies died on the seventeenth of the month of Elul. The Shulchan Aruch suggests that we fast on that day (Shulchan Aruch 580:1-2).

Why should we fast for their deaths if we already fast for the tragedy that they caused?

Perhaps this is because we were receptive to their slanted speech. Not only are we forbidden to speak in a slanted manner, we are also forbidden to listen and believe slanted speech.

Also, had we been shown more confidence and respect to Moshe (Moses) all along, they would not have dared to try and discourage us from listening to him.

With great sensitivity we assume some degree of responsibility for their deaths so we fast when they died, also.

14:9 Only do not rebel against G-D and you, don't fear the people of the land for they are given over in our hands. Their might is gone and G-D is with us. Do not fear them.

The entire episode of the spies is very puzzling.

Why did Moshe (Moses) send out spies to see if the land was good or bad (13:9)? Was it up to us to select a land to live in? Didn't G-D already tell him that the land was flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17)?

The spies were great people, hand-picked by G-D. How could they turn around and say that it was too difficult for the Jewish people to overcome the inhabitants (13:31)? Were the inhabitants any mightier than the Egyptian Empire? If G-D helped the Jewish people walk out of Egypt then why wouldn't He help them take over the Promised Land?

How could the people believe the spies? Hadn't they witnessed the great miracles of the Exodus? Weren't they eating food that came down from the heavens each and every day?

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary offers the following approach.

We live today within the natural world. While it appears that we are governed by natural rules, we believe and know that G-D is in the background and is orchestrating nature and humanity towards the goals He established for us all.

Moshe wanted the Jewish people to conquer the land and even live there in a manner that would be obvious to them that everything was under G-D's control.

It was therefore fitting to portray the conquest as being very difficult. In this way, our success in conquering the land and living there would bring out G-D's mastery.

However, the people imagined that there were high behavioral expectations if they lived on this level of reality. They did not have confidence that they could continually live up to the challenges. Indeed, they had just witnessed the punishment of those who complained (11:1) and those who desired (11:33).

They opted to live in ways that were familiar, to lay low for safety and security.

They didn't trust that G-D loved them and would not put them under unreasonable jeopardy.

Yehoshua and Kalev were telling them in 14:9 that G-D didn't expect the Jewish people to live like angels. Rather, they would merit G-D's protection and bounty if all they did was refrain from rebelling against G-D and orient their lives around the Torah.

14:15 (If you, G-d) kill this nation as one person [at one time] (then) the nations who heard (about) your reputation will say:

14:16 (It was out of) a lack of ability to bring this nation to the land that He swore to them (so) He slaughtered them in the wilderness.

14:20 And G-d said, "I forgive, just as your words."

The Medrash Tanchuma adds that G-d looked into the future and saw that the other nations of the world will someday say 'Just as your (Moshe's /; Moses') words.

Perhaps this refers to the way some nations chose to relate to the misfortunes that befell the Jewish people throughout history. Rather then attribute misfortune to behavioral shortcomings, these nations choose to attribute it to a lack of G-d's capability.

Frequently, the Torah links physical fortune to behavior. Twice daily in the Shema prayer, we associate even the rainfall with how we meet the Torah's standard of conduct.

Yet, we find some association between our behavior and G-d's ability. This is how the Kabalistic literature explains Tehilim (Psalms) 68:35: "Give strength to G-d'"

How do we understand this?

The following came to mind, from what I've been taught.

We really don't know what it mean that G-d can be given strength. Nevertheless, in whatever way we can relate to this concept, G-d can do anything he wants, regardless of His 'strength'.

In our Al Hanisim prayer, recited during Chanukah, we say that G-d gave the mighty (Greeks) into the hands of the weak (Jewish nation). If He did this for us, He can surely do this for Himself, if and when He wants to.

Those other nations corrupted this concept and adopted the perspective that G-d's ability is completely linked to the behavior of Mankind, that He is unable and/or unwilling to transcend.

Not true.

When G-d chooses to transcend, it a great demonstration of His power.

For example, if the Jewish people are unable to muster enough strength and merit to bring on the Messianic period, then G-d will make it happen anyway.

15:2 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, "When you come to the land of your settlements and I am giving you."

15:3 And you make a sacrifice to G-D, be it an Olah offering, or one to satisfy a vow, or a donation, or during your holidays. To make an offering as a appeasement to G-D, from the cattle or from the sheep.

15:4 The one who brings the offering shall also bring a meal offering of one issaron (measure) of fine flour, mixed with a fourth of a hin (measure) of olive oil.

15:5 And a fourth of a hin (measure) of wine (for a libation) shall you make for an Olah or for a slaughtered offering. (You shall bring this when the offering is done,) with each sheep.

This section is written adjacent to that of the sin of the spies and the Sefurno commentary makes the following observation.

Until the sin of the golden calf there was no need to supplement our sacrifices with a libation. We know this because the sacrifices that were brought prior to the sin did not list any libation, as we see from Exodus: 24:8 "And he sent the youth of the Jewish people and they offered Olah and slaughtered sacrifices. (They were) peace offerings to G-D with bulls."

The sin of the golden calf caused the need to bring libations for communal sacrifices, such as the daily continual offering.

However, the sin of the spies caused the need to bring libations for the sacrifices of the individual.

We see from the Sefurno that the sin of the golden calf reflects a shortcoming of the community while that of the spies reflects shortcoming of individuals.

The Torah reflects recovery and consolation from the consequences of sin. Just as these two spiritual low-points during this period differed in scope, so did their reconciliation.

In Exodus 34:10, after the sin of the golden calf, it is written, "And He (G-D) said, 'Behold I am establishing a covenant. I will do wonders before all of your (Moshe's/Moses') nation, (occurrences) that have not (yet) been created throughout this earth or throughout all of the nations. And all of the nation that you are in will see the action of G-D that it is awesome, this that I do with you.'"

This consolation is at the national level.

In our portion, Numbers 15:2 it states, "When you come to the land…" The commentaries note that Moshe had just told them that they will not enter the land and yet the Torah writes as though they will.

The Orach Chayim commentary explains this verse in two ways.

First, the entrance of their children will be on behalf of their parents who died in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering.

Second, the Torah promises that the people of this generation will eventually enter the land and this will occur when the dead will be revived.

We find a similar pattern in the Torah in Deuteronomy 11:21 where it states, "So that your days and the days of your children will increase on the land that G-D swore to your ancestors to give to them." It is a historical fact that G-D gave the Land of Israel to the descendants of those who left Egypt and yet the Torah writes that G-D will give the land to our ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). This is because G-D will give them the land in the future, when they return to life. Here too, the Torah is promising a generation that is about to become lost that they will some day be restored and they will receive the land that they yearned for.

The Torah reflects reconciliation and consolation in even the darkest moments of our history.

15:2 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, "When you come to the land of your settlements and I am giving you."

The Daas Zekainim commentary provides the following insight:

Why was this portion written adjacent to the story of the spies? When the Jewish people heard G-D's decree (that they must remain in the desert for 40 years) they said, 'Woe is to us! (Maybe we will keep doing wrong things and we will never get into the (promised) land! So G-D tells them (now) that they will definitely enter the land at the end of 40 years.

And this is exactly what happened.

Today we are in exile and we have been in this state for over nineteen-hundred years. There is no obvious end in sight.

I take from the above Daas Zekainim that it is not in the cards for the Jewish people to remain in a limbo state for an indefinite period.

"G-D's salvation can occur within the blink of the eye."

15:28 And the Kohen (priest) shall make an atonement before G-d for the soul who sins in error, its sinning in error, and it shall be forgiven for it.

15:29 There shall be one Torah for you, the citizen within the Children of Israel and the convert, for one who acts in error.

15:20 And the soul who acts with a high hand [sins openly, on purpose], from the citizens or the converts, (this is an act which) blasphemes G-d. And that soul shall be cut off from among its nation.

15:21 For it derided the word of G-d and disregarded His commandment. That soul shall be cut off, cut off, (when) its sin (remains without repentance) within it (until death).

The Sefurno commentary relates this section with that of the sin with the spies, recorded earlier in this portion.

.. blasphemes G-d: The person has no atonement in this world until he dies, even if he repents during his lifetime out of fear from receiving a severe punishment for the act. Therefore, the repentance that the Jewish people did was of no help to rescind the harsh sentence that they received. The is reflected in the following verse: "And you returned and cried out to G-d and He did not listen to your voice…" (Deuteronomy 1:45)

I understand the Sefurno to be telling us that a person can either receive an atonement or not, depending on whether the person repents. Even if a person repents and receives an atonement, a full atonement may require something beyond repentance. At times the lack of atonement will linger throughout the person's lifetime on this earth.

The Talmud (Yoma 86a) provides the following detail, related by Rabbi Elezar Ben Azaria in the name of Rabbi Yishmael:

If a person does not comply with a commandment to do something and afterwards repents, then he/she does not move from that spot without an atonement. If a person does something he/she is not supposed to do and afterwards repents, then repentance begins the atonement, but a trace lingers until Yom Kippur. If a person disregards a commandment that carries a penalty of being spiritually cut off or if it is a capital crime, then both repentance and Yom Kippur begin the atonement but a trace lingers until the person undergoes some suffering. However, repentance, Yom Kippur, and suffering can not provide an atonement for one who acted in a manner that disgraced G-d's name (Chilul Hashem). While they all have an effect, a lingers until the person dies.

I have been taught that causing people to respect G-d and His Torah can provide an atonement for Chilul Hashem.

Getting back the Sefurno, these verses section teach us something about the sin of the spies.

There are other sections between this and the sin of the spies.

Right after the account of the spies, the Torah commands us to enhance our sacrifices with libation offerings. Afterwards, the Torah charges us to give the Kohen a portion from our bread dough - challah. These prior verses must carry a message about the sin, too. What could it be?

The Talmud (Yoma 89b) continues the discussion about repentance and provides additional context for the Sefurna's teaching.

Says (Rabbi) Resh Lekesh, "How great is repentance, that a sin that is performed on purpose becomes down rated to a sin that was done accidentally …" Is this so? Didn't (the same Rabbi) Resh Lekesh say, "How great is repentance, that a sin that is performed on purpose is transformed into a virtuous act . . ." There is no contradiction. It depends on how the repentance was done. If the repentance was done out of love then a sin that was done on purpose is transformed a virtuous act. If the repentance was done out of fear then the sin is just down rated.

From the above we learn that every sin needs an atonement and that repentance is instrumental in achieving atonement but at times something more is needed.

The Sefurna relates these teachings to our verses, which provide a hint to why the Jewish people didn't achieve a full atonement even though they cried out for forgiveness. Had we repented out of our love for G-d, rather than out of distress for the punishment, then we would have received a full atonement.

The verses between this section and the account of the sin reflect G-d's love of the Jewish people. Specifically here, G-d records his desire for the Jewish people to enhance their offerings. Also, G-d records his desire for us to give challah to the Kohen, increasing our bond with a group of people who teach us to become closer to G-d.

So, the Jewish people demonstrated a shortcoming in their feelings of love towards G-d. Yet, G-d records His unwavering love for the Jewish people.

15:22 And if you make a mistake and do not perform all of these commandments, which G-D told Moshe (Moses).

15:23 All that G-D commanded you by the hand of Moshe from the day that G-D commanded you and on, for all your generations.

15:24 And it will be, if it was done by (mistake through) the eyes of the (leaders of the) congregation by accident then all of the congregation shall do an olah sacrifice (with) one bull that is the offspring of cattle for an appeasement offering and its meal offering and its libation as specified, and one goat for a sin offering.

The Oral Torah explains that the verses in this section are talking about the sin of idolatry.

15:22 teaches that the severity of this infraction is likened to transgressing the rest of the Torah in its entirety (Horious 8a).

15:23 teaches that recognizing idolatry as a valid form of worship is likened to denying the Torah and all of the prophecies that were made throughout Jewish history.

15:24 discusses an act of idolatry that was performed because the high Jewish court mistakenly ruled that it was permissible but was later discovered that it was forbidden.

It is noteworthy that this topic is recorded in the same Torah reading as the sin of spies.

The sin was an astonishing infraction and it had awesome consequences. It was also engineered by leaders of the congregation.

Together they should serve as a reminder that no matter how much greatness we achieve, we can never rest on our laurels and assume that we will never be implicated in the worst of deeds. The evil inclination renews itself every day (Kidushin 30b). It has a job to do and will not relent until we die (Avos 2:4). People have been misled in the past and those who are misled may be held accountable if they could have been more vigilant.

15:30 And the soul who acts (- commits idolatry) high handedly, be it the native or the convert, is scorning G-D. That soul shall be cut off from among its people.

15:31 For he denigrated the word of G-D and broke His commandment. That soul will surely be cut off, its sin remains.

The Oral Torah teaches that these dire consequences will only occur if "its sin remains," that the person never felt genuine remorse and did not repent during his lifetime.

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following reading for 15:31

For he denigrated the first commandment that G-D commanded at Mount Sinai and annulled the commandment of circumcision. He will be cut off in this world and this person will be cut off in the world to come for he will give an accounting of his crime on the great day of judgment.

It is noteworthy that the Targum relates being cut off in the next word with having to give an accounting of the transgression. Without this reading, one would think that being cut off means that the person would be eternally ostracized or imprisoned, thereby being cut off from society in the next world. The latter sounds more serious than just having to give an accounting of a serious misdeed.

The following came to mind during a reading of Avos (Ethics of our fathers) 4:22.

The last part of this Mishnaic teaching states the following:"… and some day you will be compelled to give a judgment and an accounting before the King, King of Kings."

A Judgment follows an accounting, upon which it is based. Why then does this Mishna list the accounting first?

Surely, the awesome and painful consequences of misdeed must compensate for any perceived or felt benefit that the transgressor experienced. However, perhaps a more serious aspect of the Divine justice is the damage that he/she is responsible for in his/her relationship with G-D. Perhaps this is why the Mishna lists first the judgment and then the accounting, for this may indicate that we will have to present before G-D Himself what the judgment was and then how it was fitting for what we did. In the next world, the latter may very well be considerably more painful and damaging.

The idol worshiper will be "cut off from among its people." This may suggest that the person will be among people, only cut off. That is, given the seriousness of the misdeed, the person will be unable to have the relationship with G-D that we will all need, enjoy, and treasure in the next world. Instead, the person will be stunted, an eternal cripple.

Again, the Oral Torah teaches that the dire consequence will only occur if "sin remains," that the person never tried to repair his relationship with G-D during his lifetime.

Idolatry is an extreme infraction.

The Mishna suggests that we will some day recognize the significance of the minor infractions that some of us may carry on into the next world. This is why it is so important to repent on the day before we pass on. And since we don't know which day it will be, we need to do this every day.

15:30-1 And the person (soul) who does (a sin) with an uplifted hand (on purpose,) (whether he/she is from those who are) citizens or converts, (then this person) vilifies G-d and this soul shall be cut off from its people. Because (this person) disgraced the word of G-d and disregarded His commandment, this soul will (therefore) be cut off (in both this world and the next) (as long as the) sin (remains) in (the soul and the person does not repent.)

15:32 And the Children of Israel were in the wilderness and they found a person cutting down wood on the Shabbos (Sabbath).

Rashi on 15:32 provides the following commentary:

This brought shame to the Jewish people. The entire nation kept the first Shabbos. This person came along and broke the second Shabbos.

We know from Rashi that this episode occurred during the first year of the Exodus. The Book of Numbers opens with a commandment that was given on the second year. Why was this story written here, in the Book of Numbers, and not in the Book of Exodus?

The following came to mind.

The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel provides the following narrative for 15:32:

The Children of Israel settled in the wilderness. They were given instruction about Shabbos but they were not told what the penalty was for breaking Shabbos. A person from the House of Joseph arose and said the following. I'll go and cut branches during Shabbos. Witnesses will see me do it and they will tell Moshe (Moses). Moshe will seek instruction from G-d and they will judge me accordingly. In this manner, the penalty for breaking Shabbos will become known to the entire House of Israel.

Some people need the threat of a penalty to keep them in line. For others, the word of G-d is sufficient. The latter is a more desirable attitude for our relationship with G-d and for keeping our Torah obligations.

Perhaps this is a reason why this episode was placed after this verse:

15:31 Because (this person) disgraced the word of G-d and disregarded His commandment, this soul will (therefore) be cut off (in both this world and the next) (as long as the) sin (remains) in (the soul and the person does not repent.)

The parsha begins with the story of the spies who misled the Jewish people, causing them to lose their confidence and faith, and the resulting loss of opportunity for many to reach the Land of Israel. Tragically, all but the very young and very old were condemned to die in the desert. Out of six-hundred-thousand men who left Egypt, only two reach the Holy Land thirty-eight years later, Yehoshua (Joshua), and Kalev (Kaleb).

Towards the end of the parsha we find the story of a person who violated the Shabbos by collecting wood and his punishment for the desecration.

The Medrash notes that this person meant well.

Due to the nation's failure and the resulting condemnation, many in this generation became despondent, near ready to give up Torah practice.

The wood collector wanted to commit a Torah crime and get punished for it to demonstrate the need to maintain Torah practice, showing that we are still obligated to keep the Torah.

To make this point he lost his life.

This illustrates the old adage that "The end does not justify the means."

I believe that there is a far deeper lesson to be learned.

Leviticus 24:12 contains the story of another individual, a person who cursed with the name of G-d and was punished for it. He lost his life, also.

This second person simply lost self control. He had no intention of doing anything positive.

Rashi there says that both events occurred on the same day.

So, had the wood collector not desecrated the Shabbos, the need to demonstrate consequence for not keeping the Torah would have been met by someone else anyway.

We must carefully follow the Torah, our instructions for living. We can't let ourselves be tempted away from Torah practice by perceived gains, no matter how great they may be. G-d actively manages the world and cares for its needs. If the Jewish people needed a demonstration, the wood collector should have told himself that this is G-d's problem, not his.

The wood collector died in vain because his cell mate was destined to serve this need anyway.

Not only do we say that the end does not justify the means, but we must assume that G-d will take of the end.

The Haftorah reading for Shelach describes the journey of the agents that Yehoshua sent to scout the Land of Canaan prior to its conquest.

They were being pursued by local authorities who learned that these spies were in their midst.

They secured boarding at an inn that also served as the base of operations for a harlot named Rachav.

Upon realizing who they were, Rachav provided them with the information they were seeking.

She also helped them escape by lowering them down the city wall with a rope from her window.

As Rachav did this she asked G-D for forgiveness as in the past she had used this very rope, window, and wall for illicit purposes for her clientele. She was now using them to help the Jewish people.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand provides the following explanation.

Many of her clientele were married and were ashamed to visit her openly. They used the rope, window, and wall to visit her in secret.

This one demonstration of decency impressed her over time and she finally saw value in helping the Jewish people, who were all charged with living on a level of decency, as described in the Torah.

Perhaps we can also say that this impressed her with the value of having a permanent relationship with another. This brought her to value the eternal relationship that the Jewish people have with G-D.

Her repentance was accepted and she was rewarded. Her family was spared during the conquest. She rose to such a level of piety that she eventually merited to marry Yehoshua, himself.

Rabbi Eliezer Hakapor said, "Jealousy, desire/lust, and honor take a person out of the world." (Avos 4: 21)

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory observed in our Torah reading an allusion to these three pitfalls. They are in chapter 15 and are written together.

Verses 22-31 talk about transgressing the sin of idolatry.

Verses 32-36 talk about transgressing the Shabbos (Sabbath).

Verse 37 and on talk about clothing, specifically tzitzis.

We can associate jealousy with flawed faith, transgressing Shabbos with lust and desire, and honor with how we are dressed.

We can understand this as follows.

Two people enlist in the army. One is trained to drive a tank and the other is trained to be an airman. The tank driver is allocated a tank and the airman is given an airplane. This is determined by their talents and how they can best serve their own needs and the needs of the army. It is unreasonable for the airman to be jealous that he did not get a tank and for the tank driver to be jealous that he did not get a plane.

Similarly, G-D gave each of us a unique mission. He manages the world so that we will have whatever we need to fulfill it. The person who drives a Mercedes is given what he needs to fulfill his mission and the same for those who drive Toyotas.

It is only through a weakness in being steadfast with these central principles in Judaism that jealousy can take hold in a person, hence the connection to flawed faith.

To many it appears that the more one does, the more one has. Shabbos is restraint and therefore appears to be costly, hence the connection to achieving desire, to having more. The strange thing is that those who observe Shabbos wind up having more with their 'less' than those who transgress Shabbos have with their 'more.'

Clothing evokes honor. Rabbi Yochanan viewed his clothing as being vehicles for honor (Sanhedrin 94a). Tzitzis do not follow any trends of style and they point downward, hence the connection to honor/humility.

A good number of people have been launched out of this world and into orbit by the space program. I sometimes wonder if mankind would have ever had a space program without pushes from jealousy, desire, and honor.

15:38 Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzis (fringes) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a t'cheles (colored) thread on the fringe of each corner

Rashi says that the eight threads of the tzitzis symbolize the eight days that Israel waited from when they left Egypt until they sang song at the Sea of Suf (15:41).

Rashi wrote earlier that the Jewish people sang by the sea on the morning of the seventh day. (Exodus 14:5) This appears to be a contradiction.

The Sifsei Chachamim commentary explains Rashi's count as follows.

The Jewish calendar normally treats nightfall as the beginning of each day. That daytime follows the night is reflected in the story of Creation where it states, "… and it was evening and it was morning, one day." (Genesis 1:5)

However, laws for sacrifices treat daytime as the beginning of the day. This explains why we may eat from the Todah offering in the evening even though it must be eaten within the same day of offering. (Leviticus 7:15)

The Jewish people slaughtered and roasted the Passover lamb in the afternoon of fourteen Nissan. They ate the offering at night, the fifteenth. They left Egypt on the morning, which is day one for their exit and day two from the sacrifice. They sang by the sea on the morning of the twenty-first of Nisan, day seven from their exit and day eight from the sacrifice.

Rashi in Exodus counted from the Exodus and Rashi here counted from the sacrifice.

While this explains the discrepancy, we would like to understand the significance of counting the days in different ways.

The following came to mind.

We are taught that the number six represents the physical world, which is bounded in six directions (right, left, front, back, up, and down).

The number seven represents the spiritual dimension of reality. This is one the many messages that Shabbos tells us.

But both physicality and spirituality are bounded by rules that G-D decreed, which many call nature.

The number eight represents that which is above nature. Events occur because G-D wants them, regardless of any rule. It represents the ultimate supremacy of G-D's will.

There were no less than three aspects to our Exodus. One was physical. Some people stop right there and view the Exodus with the same significance as what President Lincoln did when he freed the slaves.

But there is more.

The Exodus involved ritual. It injected a unique dimension of spirituality into its participants, who raised themselves above mere physicality.

Furthermore, you may recall that the plagues brought Pharaoh to propose that the Jewish people offer sacrifices in Egypt, instead of leaving for three days.

Moshe (Moses) responded, "… It is improper to do this, for we will slaughter the deity of Egypt before their eyes. Won't (the residents of Egypt) stone us (to death for doing so)?" Exodus 8:22

And yet, despite the constraints of human nature and the associated risks, the Jewish people took lambs, the deity of Egypt, held onto them for four days, openly slaughtered before their eyes to G-D despite great risks, and then walked out of Egypt on the next morning.

This was an act above nature. It represented far more than a dimension of spirituality. It was the transformation of a people who had been subjugated to the will of mortals for two-hundred-ten years to a people who were now totally committed the will of G-D.

It was the consecration of a nation of slaves into a nation of G-D. It echoes somewhat to consecrating a sacrifice, hence the link to way we count days for sacrifices.

And eight days later they were transformed into a people who were at such heights that even their household help experienced a level of prophecy that the prophets did not achieve (Rashi Exodus 15:2).

Korach (Num 16-18)

16:3 And they assembled against Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron) and they said to them, “You’ve had enough. For the entire congregation is holy and G-D is within them. Why then are you taking a position of leadership over the Congregation of G-D?”

16:32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed then and their households …

16:33 And they and all that were with them dropped down into the void while still alive …

17:5 … and there shall no longer be (a group) like Korach and his congregation …

The Mishna in Avos (5:17) says: What is (an example of) a disagreement that is for the sake of heaven? It’s the disagreement of Hillel and Shamai. What is (an example of) a disagreement that is not for the sake of heaven? It’s the disagreement of Korach and his group.

The wording of this teaching is puzzling.

Hillel and Shamai had differences of opinions and both parties are named. However, Korach’s conflict was not between himself and his people. Rather, it was between himself and Moshe (Moses). It should have referred to the disagreement between Korach and Moshe/Aharon instead.

Some commentaries say that this wording alludes to the fact that there is always conflict in a group whose members are driven by self-interests.

Others say that Moshe’s name was not mentioned because he was driven by sincerity, selflessness, and truth.

Another commentary explains the difference says that the reason Moshe was not mentioned is because he tried to make peace.

We see from this commentary the importance of seeking peace, for had Moshe just defended himself and not sought to reconcile the differences, he would have been associated with the conflict even though he was a victim of Korach’s unjust aggression.

16:4 And Moshe listened (to Korach's words of rebellion) and he fell (down) on is face.

Rashi (from the Medrash Tanchuma): Moshe fell down because of Korach's contention. This was the fourth strike against the Jewish people. They sinned by the Golden Calf and Moshe prayed for them, "And Moshe entreated"( Exodus 32:11). They sinned by complaining and Moshe prayed for them, "And Moshe prayed" (Numbers 11:2). They sinned by the spies and Moshe prayed for them, "And Moshe said, Egypt ill hear (the news of your killing them)" (Numbers 13:13). Moshe's hands are now weaken by this contention.

This can be likened to a prince who committed a crime against the throne. His close friend speaks to the king and obtains a pardon. This happens two additional times. By the fourth time the friend's hands are weak. How much further can I impose upon the king. Perhaps he will no longer listen.

Rashi and the Tanchuma both count one transgression and prayer from Numbers 11. However, there seem to be two! Right after 11:2 there begins a second incident in 11:4 when the common people craved for food, G-d became angry (11:10), Moshe sensed that it was inappropriate (ibid.), and it appears as though Moshe prayed for them. After G-d gave him a vision of the punishment which will befall the Jewish people, Moshe says, "And if this is what you are doing to me then please kill me, if I have found favor in your eyes, and let me not see my evil (11:15)."

Why didn't Rashi and the Medrash include this other incident in their count? Korach should have been strike five.

The following came to mind.

Perhaps Moshe was not praying that the craving people should not be punished. Maybe they needed to be disciplined. Rather, Moshe's words were his personal reaction to the situation. His love of the Jewish people knew no bounds and he loved even the lower elements, the cravers. Even though punishment was appropriate and needed, he could not bear to see it happen.

Another thought came to mind.

The incidents which Rashi and the Tanchuma enumerate all relate to infractions that were committed by leaders. Aharon bore responsibility for the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:35). The fire by the complainers destroyed the leaders who overstepped their bounds by Mount Sinai (Rashi, Exodus 24:10). The spies were all leading figures (Numbers 13:2). Korach and his followers were leaders (Numbers 16:2). In these four incidents Moshe imposed upon G-d (the king) on behalf of leading people (the princes).

Transgressions of common people are serious, but are most severe when leadership sins.

16:7 (Moshe / Moses said) "Do this: Take fire-pans, Korach and his entire congregation" (of two-hundred-fifty people).

16:8 "And put fire in them and put incense on them before G-D tomorrow. And it will be that the man that G-D will choose, he will be the holy one."

Rashi reads this to mean that only he will be the holy one. Only that person will remain alive and the other people will perish.

And this is exactly what occurred.

16:35 And a fire went out from G-D and consumed the two-hundred-fifty people who offered incense.

Considering that both Aharon (Aaron) and Korach were involved, the odds of survival were one in two-hundred-fifty-two.

Given this, it was foolish for them to get involved. Why did they do it?

The Shiras David commentary provides the following explanation.

Misbehavior always has a consequence, unless the person repents. Usually, the consequence is suffering and sometimes even death.

The Rambam says that in extreme cases, a consequence can be that Heaven makes the person unable to reason and repent and he dies as a result of his sin (Teshuva 6:3).

Their involvement in Korach's rebellion was a flagrant disrespect of Moshe. It was a public denial of Moshe being an honest intermediary with G-D. It undermined confidence in the truth of the Torah that was transmitted through Moshe.

They became swept up in the movement, made unable to repent, and they perished in the act of rebellion.

16:15 And Moshe was very upset and he said to G-D, "Do not pay attention to their offering." "I never took one donkey from them and I never did evil to any of them."

On Moshe's statement that he never did evil to any of them, the Sefurno commentary explains this to mean that in his role as a judge, litigants never came before Moshe in a way that he would assign liability to any one party.

This is puzzling because a judge must render a judgment. If nobody is every assigned liability then nobody would ever receive compensation and due justice.

The Shiras Dovid commentary explains the Sefurno to mean that in rendering judgments, Moshe always took time to explain the rationale to both parties in such a clear manner that the party who was liable always understood and appreciated the decision and never felt wronged or misunderstood.

16:15 And Moshe was very upset and he said to G-D, "Accept not their offering. I took not one donkey from them and I never wronged any of them."

The commentary Derech Sichos provides the teachings of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and offers the following insight.

The Ramban's commentary says that Moshe was pleading that G-D should not accept the prayers of the rebels.

Korach's faction was promoting the notion Moshe was distorting what G-D told him and that he made up parts of the Torah.

Despite the attempt to do a selfish and heinous disservice to the Jewish people and mankind throughout all generations, Moshe felt the need to obstruct their prayers.

We take from here an example of the greatness of a person's prayer, no matter who he or she is.

16:15 And Moshe was very upset and he said to G-D, "Do not pay attention to their offering." "I never took one donkey from them and I never did evil to any of them."

Rashi cites the Medrash Tanchuma that provides the following comment about the donkey.

Exodus 4:20 records that when Moshe went to redeem the Jewish people: "And Moshe took his wife and sons, he mounted them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And he took the staff of G-D in his hand"

Moshe is stating here, in Numbers 16:15, that he did not submit a claim against the Jewish people to collect compensation for the donkey, even though he was entitled to it.

This Medrash is very difficult to understand.

Moshe is standing in the heat of rebellion during which he is being publicly insulted and accused of pursuing self-interest. Why and how could he be recalling a claim for carfare at this time?

The following came to mind.

We must first ask: To whom is Moshe speaking?

It is difficult to say that he is telling this to the crowd that is standing around to see who will emerge victorious. Surrounded by enemies, some would like nothing better than to hear such a statement from him, which they would twist and ridicule.

It's is difficult to say that he is telling this to G-D, who is all-knowing and aware of Moshe's honesty and innocence.

So perhaps Moshe is saying this to himself. But why did he need to recall this seemingly insignificant detail?

Critics accused his appointing Aharon as high priest and claimed that he was acting out of self-interest. While this was nonsense, as Aharon's appointment was by direction from G-D, this great man left no stone unturned in his continual stride towards self-perfection.

To continue on and assert his position, perhaps he felt compelled right at that time to recall and scrutinize every single interaction he had with the Jewish people. After all, perhaps their complaint was a sign from heaven that he acted in a selfish manner at some other time, which to him would be disqualifying.

He therefore did an instant and thorough recall of every opportunity for self-interest and came up with nothing.

He was not satisfied until he came upon an instance for which he could have claimed compensation and didn't.

Exodus 4:20 doesn't say that Moshe himself rode a donkey. Perhaps he felt strong and felt no need for one. However, his wife had just given birth and he needed one for her and his young children. Rather than bill the Jewish people for this most necessary family expense, he simply absorbed it.

Perhaps this calmed his apprehension and gave him the confidence he needed at that time to manage the Jewish people through this disturbance.

16:20 And G-D spoke to Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron) saying.

16:21 Separate from the midst of this congregation and I will consume them in a moment.

16:22 And they fell on their faces and said, "G-D, G-D of the spirits of all flesh, should it be that one person does sin and you become furious at the entire congregation?"

16:23 And G-D spoke to Moshe saying.

16:24 Arise from around the encampment of Korach, Dasan, and Aviram.

Moshe and Aharon's argument is so compelling that it is difficult to understand how the entire congregation was in jeopardy in the first place.

The Ramban writes in his commentary that indeed the entire congregation was liable.

Initially, the Jewish people distanced themselves from Korach's rebellion. However, after demonstrating his resolution by taking up his fire pan, Korach succeeded in convincing the Jewish people that the case he was taking up against Moshe was both his and theirs.

Traditionally, the first-born had been the ones who led family rituals and this was the custom among the Jewish people. Indeed, the first-born serviced the introductory sacrifices at Mt. Sinai (Rashi Exodus 24:5).

However, they were afterwards disqualified because some were involved in the sin of the Golden Calf. From that time on, the only ones who were eligible to hold office were Aharon's descendents and the Levites.

Korach claimed that he sought to remove these disqualifications and to restore the service back to the original order. Perhaps he argued that the disqualifications were never intended to be permanent.

This approach appealed to the Jewish people to the degree that they were no longer repulsed by his demonstration. Instead, they stood as spectators to see if indeed G-D would take his side.

However, the change in their attitude implied that in their view, either G-D had been over-reacting or that Moshe's authenticity in presenting G-D's will through his prophecy was flawed.

This made them also liable.

In his defense of the Jewish people, Moshe plead that only Korach should be punished, for only he took action. His act was one of active rebellion; while at worst the Jewish people rebelled only by their thoughts. Korach alone should pay for both what he did and for what he caused others to do.

It is still puzzling that the Jewish people considered Korach's case to be valid.

I take this to be an example of how the evil inclination gets people to sin. At times it packages an act of sin as an act of virtue.

For all we know, the people may have viewed this as an opportunity to show G-D how much they valued the ability to perform service in the temple. Being aloof to Korach was deemed to reflect a disregard for having this privilege.

However they were wrong and were almost destroyed.

They lost sight of the value G-D places in harmony and peace among his children.

Surely, achieving peace is not a rationalization for overlooking an outright rebellion such as Korach's. However, it does compensate for the pursuit of privilege, even that of serving G-d.

People sometimes lose sight of this during board meetings of religious institutions.

The Ramban further writes that those who seek Divine mercy will seek to focus responsibility on the minority to save the rest of the community from punishment.

In verse 16:22 Moshe sought to implicate just one person, Korach.

Verse 16:1 introduces the rebellion and lists four instigators. The Oral Torah teaches that On son of Peles dropped out of the rebellion. This leaves Korach, Dasan, and Aviram. Moshe tried to appease Dasan and Aviram in 16:25 but they snubbed him.

The Oral Torah teaches that Dasan and Aviram were Moshe's critics and adversaries from the time that he was a youth. They were the ones who denounced him to Pharaoh and caused him to flee Egypt. Later, after Moshe was appointed the redeemer, G-D told him that those who sought his life had died in the figurative sense and that it was safe for Moshe to be in Egypt and engage Pharaoh. The Oral Torah teaches that those who sought Moshe's life were Dasan and Aviram. It was they who later publicly denounced Moshe for making the lot of the Jewish people worse. It was they who tried to show Moshe up by leaving over their portions of the Manna.

We note that despite the negative relations and experiences and despite the heat of the crisis, Moshe in his greatness refrained from including them in his implication and proposed to G-D that only Korach be held accountable.

16:23 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses), saying.

16:24 Speak to the congregation saying, 'Go away from the surrounding of Korach's, Dasan's and Aviram's homes.'

16:25 And Moshe rose up and went to Dasan and Aviram. And the elders of Israel went behind him.

The Medrash provides the following commentary:

Even though Moshe heard (the instructions) directly from G-D, he did not tell (the Jewish people) to go away (from Korach's home) until he went (to them) and warned them.

The Medrash does not tell us why the warning was necessary.

Aharon's (Aaron's) priestly role was assigned to him by Moshe. Moshe did this by direct instruction of G-D.

Korach demanded this priestly role. In doing so, Korach and his group were demonstrating a theory that not everything that Moshe said in G-D's name was actually from G-D.

If they doubted that G-D told Moshe to appoint Aharon, why would they believe Moshe when he told them that G-D was very displeased with their demonstration.

Korach and his rebellious group were already condemned for destruction by G-d. They doubted the authenticity of Moshe's word. What, then, was the worth of Moshe's warning? What could it have accomplished?

The following came to mind.

Rashi provides the following commentary on this verse:

"And Moshe rose up.." He thought that they would show him with (some) respect. However, they did not.

What does Rashi mean? Why did Moshe try to elicit this gesture from them, and why at this time?

Perhaps, since he was foretold by G-D of Korach's destruction, Moshe tried to give them one last opportunity to obtain a merit that could save them and the best merit was demonstrating some regard for Moshe.

Perhaps the reason that the Medrash provides for Moshe's visit, the warning, was actually just a context that Moshe needed in order to approach Korach and try one last time to elicit some positive response.

Despite the deep personal insult, Moshe tried his utmost to spare Korach from destruction.

12:3 And Moshe the man was the most humble of all the people who were on the face of the earth.

16:26 And he (Moshe - Moses) spoke to the congregation saying, "Please move away from the vicinity of the tents of these wicked men (Dasan and Aviram) and do not touch anything that they own, lest you become stricken by their sins."

The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel provides the following narrative commentary:

And he spoke to the congregation saying, "Please move away from the vicinity of the tents of these wicked men who are guilty of capital crimes from days of youth in Egypt. They publicized my secrets when I killed the Egyptian. They made G-d angry by the sea. In Alush they negated the day of Shabbos'."

Dasan and Aviram were Moshe's adversaries for quite some time. They now openly sought to remove Moshe from power.

It is interesting to note that Moshe omitted one of their confrontations.

Pharaoh made life unbearable for the Jewish people right after Moshe's initial arrival to redeem them. Pharaoh stopped supplying straw for making the bricks but he didn't reduce the production quota. The Jewish officers were beaten because of the slack and they went to plead their case. Pharaoh cited the aspirations for redemption and he refused to let up on the pressure.

Exodus 5:20-21

And they met Moshe and Aharon standing to meet them as they left Pharaoh's presence.

And they said, "May G-d appear himself to you and judge you for ruining our spirit'"

Rashi comments that Dasan and Aviram were among those who were beaten by Pharaoh. They were the ones who blamed Moshe for the catastrophe.

Now that Moshe was listing all of Dasan and Aviram's mischief, why did he omit this encounter?

The following came to mind.

Dasan and Aviram were wicked people. They were wicked. They were also people.

When judging a person, Heaven takes a person's distress into account. (Talmud Bava Basra 15b).

In the midst of Moshe's tirade that Dasan and Aviram well deserved, in the midst of trying to quell their rebellion, Moshe had the self-control to omit an encounter which was caused by their distress.

16:30 But if G-D will make a new creation and the ground opens its mouth, swallowing them with all that they have and they descend to the world below while still alive then you shall know that these men have provoked G-D.

The Talmud records the following statement from Raba Bar Bar Chana:

"I was travelling and that Arab merchant said to me: 'Come and I will show you the swallowed-up people of Korach.' I went and saw two openings in the ground from which smoke was out. He put wool that was soaked in water on the tip of his spear and moved it over the area. It burned up. He said, 'Listen. What do you hear?' I heard them say the following, 'Moshe is true and his Torah is true and we are liars.' He said, 'Every thirty days Hell brings them to this spot, like pieces of meat that are cooking in a pot.'"

Korach was the ancestor of the illustrious Shmuel (Samuel) the prophet. The Medrash says that Korach was granted a vision of the greatness that was destined to come from him. The Medrash says that this foreknowledge gave him confidence to make his foolhardy and selfish rebellion against Moshe (Moses).

It's been over thirty-three centuries since Korach and he has yet to come to rest.

Commentators say that the following verse refers to Korach. It was said in a prophetic vision by Chana, mother of Shmuel.

G-D puts [people] to death and makes alive. He brings [people] down to the world below and brings up. (Shmuel I 2:6)

Here is a Medrash that makes reference to the end of Korach's ordeal.

When the gates of the Temple sank into the ground [during the destruction] they came near Korach and he grabbed onto them. They (the people with him) immediately believed and said, 'Just as these gates will rise up from the ground [at the end of days], we will also come up with them.' Thereupon, they were made keepers of these gates until they come up.

The Medrash states, "Great is peace. Discord is abhorred."

Perhaps we can understand Korach's ordeal as being an object lesson for all mankind. His suffering serves to discourage others from getting making discord that is based on selfish motives. The end of days will bring harmony and peace to mankind and we will no longer need his lesson. As such, his suffering will no longer serve any purpose and will end.

16:32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed then and their households …

16:33 And they and all that were with them dropped down into the void while still alive …

17:5 … and there shall no longer be (a group) like Korach and his congregation …

The Nesivas Shalom commentary notes this unusual response to Korach's rebellion. I understand his explanation as follows.

Korach challenged the basis of Moshe's (Moses') rule as leader and Aharon's (Aaron's) appointment as high priest. He claimed that Moshe's rule was self-appointed and that he used personal discretion to make his brother the high priest.

Until then, nobody proposed that Moshe was doing anything other than what G-D commanded him to do.

By challenging Moshe, Korach was undermining the trust that the Jewish people had in Moshe. Furthermore, it opened up for consideration the notion that a Torah leader is entitled to make decisions for personal gain, whether it authentically represents G-D's will or not.

This undermined the basis of the Torah, for if Moshe could inject personal preferences into decisions that represent G-D's will, then so can anybody else. It suggested that the Torah is a mixture of what G-D wants and what a person wants. And as people and their desires vary, we would wind up with numerous versions and distortions of the Torah, Heaven forbid.

The response to Korach's rebellion was a statement that the Torah that Moshe taught us is precisely the same Torah that G-D him.

In another approach, the Nesivas Shalom notes that discord frequently reflects the existence of a destructive form of selfishness.

The Torah states, "You are children to Hashem your G-D" (Deuteronomy 14:1). As one takes this profound statement to heart one comes to realize that just like a parent wants harmony in his family, so does G-D desire harmony within the Jewish people. And just like it is upsetting to a parent when his children are fighting over personal preferences or gain, so does G-D not want us to be in selfish conflict.

The Talmud notes that a disagreement that is unselfish and that is done in sincerity for the sake of discovering truth is acceptable and even praiseworthy. Such were the disagreements between the schools of Hillel and Shamai.

In contrast, those who believe in G-D and His Torah and yet act in a way that reflects a selfish disregard for the virtue of harmony are disregarding the notion that we are "children to Hashem." Perhaps we can understand the disagreement of Korach and his fellow in this light, that it undermined a key aspect of the Jewish people being a nation of G-D.

Life is all about connecting with G-D and His will, as reflected by the Torah. The more a person is into his self, the less he is able to connect with G-D. And the more a person is able to manage his ego and place less emphasis on his self, the more he is able to connect with G-D, to respect the preferences of others, and to live in peace with others.

17:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying.

17:2 Speak to Elazar son of Aharon (Aaron) the priest so that he should pick up the fire pans from the enflamed area and that he should scatter the fire away, for they became holy.

17:3 The fire pans of those who sinned with their life. They shall make thin metal plates from them that will cover the altar, for they brought them before G-D and they became holy. They shall be a sign for the children of Israel.

The Torah specifies a number of signs and memorials. Besides the altar covering, a measure of manna was kept as a memorial. Aharon's staff that blossomed was another.

Both the manna and Aharon's staff were stored before the Aron (ark), in the holiest of places. The altar covering was in the courtyard, out of the building. Also, the altar of Moshe was replaced by that of King Shlomo (Solomon) so the altar became obsolete together with its covering.

The altar covering was a memorial to the consequences of Korach's contention and rebellion. Perhaps the differences between the memorials of the manna, staff, and altar covering reflect the disdain that the Torah has towards strife.

17:5 … And there shall no longer be the likes of Korach and his party.

Korach stirred up a rebellion against Moshe (Moses).

Many authorities view this verse as a prohibition against making controversies and arguments.

If the purpose of this verse is to prohibit controversy, why didn't the Torah explicitly forbid it?

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory provided the following answer.

The Mishna says, "Every disagreement that is for the sake of heaven will endure. Every disagreement that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure. Which disagreement was for the sake of heaven? The disagreement between Hillel and Shamai. Which disagreement was not for the sake of heaven? The disagreement of Korach and his party." (Avos 5:17)

Some controversies are permitted and others are forbidden.

Hillel and Shamai's sought to arrive at the truth. Korach and his party sought personal gain.

G-D expects us to seek truth and understands that this may entail working it out with someone else who does not share our opinion.

The Mishna cites a controversy between individuals as an example of a positive controversy. The counter-example, Korach and his party, refers to a multitude. This is because controversies that involve self-interest tend to pull more people into the fray.

17:6 On the next day the entire congregation of the Children of Israel were in an uproar against Moshe and Aharon saying, "You have killed (great people from) the nation of G-D."

Korach had staged an unsuccessful rebellion against Moshe and Aharon. G-D came again to demonstrate that He sided with Moshe. Korach and his followers were swallowed into the Earth alive. Two-hundred-fifty sympathizers were killed by a heavenly fire.

Just one day before, Moshe and Aharon were the victims of an assault against their reputation and authority. And today they are being castigated for the deaths of those who assaulted them.

It is a known fact that Korach and his followers were great and respected men from the nation of G-D.

Perhaps Moshe could have prayed that G-D come to his defense in a manner that would avoid loss of life.

So saying that Moshe killed great people from the nation of G-D can be construed as a "true statement."

Then again, staging an open rebellion against a national authority is a capital crime. And if Korach was able to come as far as he did in his rebellion, and so quickly at that, then the rest of the people obviously needed a powerful jolt to get them back into line and behind Moshe, who is merely G-D's messenger.

Rashi in the Talmud (Yoma 44a) has a description for the above "true statement:" It's Lashon Horah.

Many translate Lashon Horah as "Evil Tongue." I like to use the term, "Slanted Speech."

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is thickly covered in Lashon Horah. I wish that I could say that it comes only up to our noses.

Just sit down in on a session in the United Nations and hear how they talk about the State of Israel.

In how many newspapers, newscasts, websites, and magazines can you find some bashing?

Unfortunately, the malady infects spouses, parents, children, teachers, employees, employers, neighbors. Name most any role in society and you'll find it.

A saintly mentor once yelled at us: "The tongue is so Hefker! (Ownerless)."

Lashon Horah is not a human weakness that we are all entitled to "innocently" engage in at times. Rather, its serious stuff.

Sotah 42b says that the "Lashon Horah gang" receives no audience with G-D in the Next World. Arachin 16a gives a huge list of consequences. Do a search in the Medrash on Lashon Horah. It's awesome.

We are taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Lashon Horah.

If this is the first time you have even heard of Lashon Horah then you owe it to yourself to check out the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation at

Getting back to our Torah reading, G-D's response to the above lapse into Lashon Horah was swift and severe: "Separate yourselves from this congregation and I will consume then in a moment." (17:10)

Moshe and Aharon had to think and act fast as the Angel of Death was charged to start killing. Moshe told his brother to quickly light some Ketores (Temple incense) and that stopped the plague. Unfortunately, fourteen-thousand-seven-hundred people were dead by the time Aharon got to the Angel of Death. (See Rashi for further details).

Ketores is indeed very special.

When Moshe was on Mount Sinai, the Angel of Death revealed to him that Ketores can stop a plague.

Ketores plays an important role in the daily service in the Temple. The priests made a special lottery for the privilege of lighting it. Priests who won the lottery were disqualified from entering it for the rest of their lives, to give the others a chance to be winners.

But the most highlighted role for Ketores was for Yom Kippur, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and lit the Ketores before the Ark of the Covenant. Nobody was allowed to be even in the building when he went inside.

What did this great and sublime service accomplish during this great and sublime Day of Atonement?

The Talmud (Yoma 44a again) says that it atones for … you guessed it .. LASHON HORAH!

It says, "Let that which is done in seclusion come and atone for that which is done in seclusion."

Maybe the way to get people stop speaking Lashon Horah against Jewish people and what we stand for is for us all to stop speaking all forms of Lashon Horah.

If we don't stop it then why should G-D cause others to stop it?

Enough said.

17:6 On the next day the entire congregation of the Children of Israel were in an uproar against Moshe and Aharon saying, "You have killed (great people from) the nation of G-D."

17:9 And G-D spoke to Moshe, saying.

17:10 Move up from this congregation and I will destroy them in an instant. And they [Moshe and Aharon] fell on their faces.

17:11 And Moshe said to Aharon, "Take this fire pan and put fire from the altar on it and put ketores powder (on it) and go quickly (in)to the congregation and atone for them, for fury came forth from G-D. The plague has begun.

17:12 And Aharon took just as Moshe said and he ran into the congregation and behold the plague began (to afflict) the people. And he put the ketores power (on the fire) and he atoned for the nation.

17:13 And he stood between those who died and those who were living and the plague stopped.

Rashi provides the following commentary for 17:13

Aharon grabbed hold of the angel and he forced (the angel) to stop (killing). He (the angel) said, "Let me do my mission!" Aharon responded, "Moshe commanded me to stop you." The angel replied, "I am G-D's messenger but you are (just) the messenger of Moshe, (a human being so my mission should take priority over yours)." Aharon responded, "Moshe doesn't make anything up on his own. Whatever he says is from G-D. (And) if you don't believe me then G-D and Moshe are (standing) by the Sanctuary. Come with me and ask."

This is absolutely amazing.

Given that G-D sent the angel of destruction and then rescinded the decree, why didn't G-D Himself tell the angel to stop? Why did Aharon have to grab onto an angel who was busy killing people? That's downright unsafe! And from the Angel's viewpoint, Aharon was interfering with his mission. Yet he seems so polite and agrees to 'stroll' over to where G-D and Moshe are 'standing' and he seems to ask G-D if He really wants more people to die and G-D says no. This just doesn't make sense.

The following came to mind.

Some of the things that Moshe said weren't popular. Some of the things weren't politically correct. He told the Jewish people that they would die in the desert. He made his brother the High Priest.

The focus of Korach's rebellion was that Moshe said and did things on his own, not from G-D.

This is false.

Moshe's Torah is the basis of the Jewish religion and it is not man-made. Every word comes directly from G-D.

Korach's downfall should have been sufficient proof for the Jewish people. Yet they felt that G-D's harsh reaction towards Korach's company had something to do with Moshe's anger against Korach. This is what is meant by their accusation of 17:6.

This was also false. Rather, Korach's downfall and the destruction of his company were completely decreed by G-D. Moshe was personally transparent throughout the entire episode.

Now Aharon seizes an angel of G-D who is doing what G-D directly told him, to kill people. Aharon tells the angel that Moshe wants the killing to stop and this terrifying and furious angel does a double-take. To me, this is an open and necessary demonstration to the Jewish people that whatever Moshe says is true and that it comes directly from G-D.

The basis of Jewish religion is very unique.

Korach instigated an open rebellion against Moshe (Moses).

His accusations and tactics were outrageous.

He charged that Moshe's appointment of his brother Aharon (Aaron) as Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was done for personal reasons. He sought the office for himself. He insinuated that some of Moshe's teachings did not come from G-d. He moved two-hundred-fifty distinguished leaders to rebel. Those who joined him publicly impugned Moshe's personal conduct by charging their wives to avoid being in seclusion with Moshe. They came to mock parts of the Torah. Korach's speech stirred the entire nation to attend a confrontational meeting with Moshe and Aharon.

Korach's conduct brought tragic consequences to himself, his family, and to his followers. They all perished in a miraculous and dramatic manner.

We are therefore surprised by the way the nation reacted to Korach's destruction.

17:6 On the next day, the entire congregation of the Children of Israel protested against Moshe and Aharon, saying, "You caused the death of (people who are a part of the) Nation of G-d."

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel says that Moshe and Aharon were condemned to death by them.

How do we understand this? Aharon was a victim of Korach's jealousy. What role did he have in Korach's destruction?

The following came to mind, based on what I've been taught.

The closer a person is to G-d, the more G-d demonstrates the significance of the person's feelings.

For example, the Medrash teaches that Serach, daughter of Asher, was granted an exceptionally long life because of her role in aiding Yaakov (Jacob) to realize that Yosef (Joseph) was still alive. She helped cushion the shock when the news broke to her one-hundred-thirty year-old grandfather.

The people assumed that Korach's behavior caused Moshe and Aharon to feel distress. They felt that the rebellion could have been miraculously put down in a less destructive manner. They went to assume that G-d chose to destroy Korach because Moshe and Aharon did not pardon Korach for their personal feelings of distress. Therefore, the congregation held Moshe and Aharon responsible for the tragic loss of life.

The people were wrong.

Perhaps Moshe and Aharon had automatically pardoned Korach. Or, more likely, due to their greatness, neither Moshe or Aharon felt any personal distress from the encounter, despite the outrages that were perpetrated against them.

Korach rebelled against the leadership of Moshe and preached that "The entire community is holy and G-d is in their midst, (so) why do you (Moshe and Aharon) raise yourselves above the Congregation of G-d." (Numbers 16:3). He and his followers were destroyed.

Immediately afterwards, the Jewish people file a complaint against Moshe. They say, "You have killed (people from) the Nation of G-d." (Numbers 17:6)

It was explained to me that the people faulted Moshe for Korach's death because Moshe could have proven his point without resorting to the catastrophic demonstration.

Immediately, G-d sends a plague which kills thousands of people.

The Targum Yonasan associates this destructive force behind the plague with the Mount Sinai experience.

How can we understand this plague and what is the connection with Mount Sinai?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the Sinai experience refers to the sin of the Golden Calf.

It was explained to me that there was a rationale behind the Golden Calf, a method to this madness.

At Sinai, the people looked to Moshe as their intermediary between themselves and G-d. Moshe's delay helped lead them to believe that he was dead. They thought that the Golden Calf would be an acceptable replacement. To them at that time, Moshe's role was so critical that replacing his loss justified the molten image. They were punished severely, but the good intention protected them from a greater tragedy.

Korach implied that Moshe was not essential.

To a small degree, the complaint against Korach's destruction reflected a thesis that Moshe's loss would not have been catastrophic. The people were thus exposed to additional punishment for the Golden Calf.

18:20 And G-D said to Aharon (Aaron), "You will not inherit in their land and you will not have a portion among them. I am your portion and inheritance within the Children of Israel."

The verse references an inheritance and a portion. What meanings do each carry? What is the difference between the two?

Rashi says that receiving portions does not refer to inheritance but rather to receiving a share in the spoils of war.

Perhaps we can entertain both referring to inheritance with the following thought.

There is a commandment to bring first fruits to the temple. The Torah delineates verses of praise that are to be recited during the ceremony (Deuteronomy 26:5-10). The Oral Torah (Mishna Bikurim 1:1) teaches that some people have the commandment to bring the first fruits and they are also charged to recite the verses. Others have the commandment to bring the first fruits but they do not recite the verses. Others do not have the commandment at all.

The Oral Torah (Bikurim 1:5) teaches that a woman has the commandment to bring first fruits but she does not recite the verses. This is because the land was divided only among the males (Numbers 27:3) and the verses reference the land "that You gave me (26:10)." Since women were not included in the division of the land, they can not say the words "that You gave me" so they can therefore not recite the verses.

Now this is very interesting, because Numbers 27 provides guidelines for inheritance. It clearly states that a woman can obtain land as an inheritance if her father had no sons. Since a woman can inherit land from her father, why can't she reference the land as something "that You gave me?"

The wording in the Kehati commentary on Bikurim 1:5 suggests a clarification by his stating that women do not recite the verses because the land was not divided into portions for women.

Perhaps this reflects a practical difference between receiving land through inheritance and receiving land through division of portions. Although women did receive land through inheritance, since the land was divided into portions for men but not for women, they can not reference a land that G-D gave them and this is why they do not recite the verses.

The Hebrew word for inheritance is 'Nachala.' This has similarity to the word, "Nachal" which is a stream, a flow of water. Inheritance implies an automatic flow of ownership from ancestor to descendent. If there is only one heir then there is no need for division. In this case, ownership comes from the relationship and is not personalized for the heir. However, when more than one heirs are involved then there is a division of portions. The process of ownership is not automatic and each portion is personalized for the heir that receives it.

So, the only process that relates a woman to the ancestral transfer of land to the Jewish people that occurred several thousand years ago is that of inheritance, which was not personalized for any specific person, but was rather a global process, an automatic flow of ownership.

The recitation of verses during the Bikurim ceremony that relate a person to that transfer can only be made by a person for whom it is possible to receive the land through a division of portions, for this becomes more of a personal gift and can be better related to the phrase, "that you gave me," emphasis on the word, 'me.'

It is interesting to note that a husband can bring his wife's Bikurim offering to the temple and he can also recite the verses. This is derived from the verse, "And you shall rejoice with all of the good that G-D gave to you and to your home (Deuteronomy 26:11). Our sages teach that the words, 'your home' refers to a person's wife. Within the context of the above discussion, perhaps one can say that while a wife's ownership of land is automatic, the marriage caused the man to have her as a wife was not. Rather, marriages are made in heaven (Talmud Moed Koton 18b). Since the fruits are from a land that was received through a relationship that is personal, that of G-D giving a wife to a husband, he qualifies to recite the verses.

Most men within the Jewish tribal family received land through both inheritance and through division. Some women received land through inheritance. Priests did not receive any land through either means. Rather, G-D states to the priest that "I am your portion and inheritance within the Children of Israel."

Our land provides more than just a physical link to our ancestors. Its value is not merely sentimental. Rather, it should serve to provide a spiritual link, to make us aware of the morals and values of our great ancestors, helping us direct our lives to their noble lifestyle.

In telling the priests that they have no inheritance or portion, perhaps the Torah is telling them that they don't need the land as much as the rest of the Jewish people, that they have sufficient spiritual resources within themselves to link back to our great ancestors whether they have land or not.

To a less degree, perhaps we can say the same for women, for it is well known that they excelled in their love of our ancestral land. It is because of this that they were exempted from the decree of death in the wilderness during the forty years prior to our entrance into the land.

So while a man needed both an inheritance and a portion to sufficiently link him with the ancestral lands, a woman needed only an inheritance.

18:20 And G-d said to Aharon (Aaron), "You will not take an inheritance in their [the Jewish people's] land and you will not have a portion (in the spoils of war) among them. I am your portion and inheritance among the Children of Israel.

This verse seems to be saying that the gifts designated for the priests are a cause for them not receiving a portion in the Land of Israel or in the spoils of war.

Why can't they receive both?

The following came to mind.

We are taught that the pursuit of a livelihood is not just a process for physical survival. Rather, a chief function and perhaps its main purpose is to provide a person with a means to learn to focus and rely on G-d. The sometimes remarkable circumstances that bring good fortune or financial relief have made many people realize that there is a G-d who is fully aware of everything that occurs in this world, that He is quite resourceful, clever, and He truly cares for them.

While earning a livelihood can define a path towards greatness, it is not without hazard and it has distracted many people from distract from spiritual accomplishment.

The priests have a special mission. They are gifted with special resources and they have their own path towards greatness.

By not giving them a portion in the land or spoils of war, perhaps the Torah hopes to focus the priests on a path towards greatness that is more direct and with less distractions.

Chukas (Num. 19-21)

19:2 This is the statute of the Torah that G-D commanded saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you [Moshe / Moses] a perfect red heifer, one that has no blemish, one that never had a yoke put upon it."

Rashi's commentary on this verse focuses on the 'statute of the Torah.' He says that the evil inclination and the nations of the world single us out saying, "What is this commandment and what is its rationale? Therefore, the Torah references the laws of the red heifer with the term, 'statute.' It is a decree and it is not for us to think about it.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary initially understands Rashi to be saying that the Torah forbids us to think about the reasons for this law.

This is interesting because Rashi later provides an extensive list of rationales for many of the laws of the red heifer.

Furthermore, the Medrash says that King Shlomo (Solomon), wisest of all men, tried to understand the law of the red heifer and he gave up. He writes, "I said (to myself), 'Let me become wise.' But behold, it is beyond me." (Koheles / Ecclesiastics 7:23).

How could Rashi give reasons for these laws if King Shlomo himself said that he couldn't?

Also, says the Chamudei Tzvi, if the Torah doesn't want us to delve into the reasons for this law then instead of writing 'This is the statute of the Torah,' it should have said 'This is the statute of the red heifer.'

To answer, there is nothing wrong with seeing how we can relate our lives to these laws. This is why Rashi proposes reasons.

However, there is an issue about whether we are allowed to assign reasons for the Torah's laws. For by assigning reasons to the Torah's laws, we make those laws dependent upon them. And whenever circumstance makes those reasons irrelevant, the Torah's laws can become the same.

G-D is the author of the Torah. We are taught that G-D used the Torah as a design document for creating the world. And it is my understanding that G-D uses the Torah as a basis for His managing the world, including the affairs of mankind.

Therefore, in a world where the will of G-D is supreme, it is incorrect to say that the Torah is dependent upon circumstance. Rather, it is circumstance that is dependent upon G-D's will, as projected by the Torah.

The evil inclination promotes the notion that the will of mankind is supreme, not G-D's. And those who have yet to recognize the centrality of G-D's role in the world also struggle with not assigning reasons to the Torah's laws. This is what the Medrash is telling us.

Besides taking issue with whether is right to assign reasons to the Torah, we can question whether humanity is even capable of doing so.

For Judaism teaches that G-D is infinite, beyond our comprehension and control.

As the Torah is an expression of G-D's will and a product of His infinite intelligence, whatever reasons that do exist for the Torah's laws are likely to be shrouded in a complexity that is beyond our ability grasp.

This is how we can understand what King Shlomo wrote in Koheles.

19:2 This is the statute of the Torah that G-D commanded saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you [Moshe / Moses] a perfect red heifer, one that has no blemish, one that never had a yoke put upon it."

The Torah uses the term "chok" to describe a commandment whose reason is not humanly understandable.

The Rashi commentary for this verse says that the Torah is reminding us to observe this and similar commandments despite remarks from critics who take us to task for adopting Torah behavior whose reason we can not explain.

However, Rabbi Bick of blessed memory notes, Rashi in his commentary after verse 22 provides reasons for the details of this commandment. This appears to be a contradiction.

There, Rashi says in the name of Rabbi Moshe that the red heifer comes to atone for the golden calf. He provides the following parable: Think of a king who has a maid and her young child soils the palace. The king decrees: "Let the maid come and clean up the mess of her child." Similarly, as a calf was involved in causing a downfall, it is only fitting that a heifer be used to atone for it.

This is also puzzling, notes Rabbi Bick, because Rashi in Exodus 15:25 writes that G-D gave the commandment of the red heifer to the Jewish people for study prior to their arriving at Mount Sinai, which was well before the sin of the golden calf.

How could we have been given a commandment whose reason is to atone for a sin which we did not yet do?

I understand Rabbi Bick's explanation as follows.

Imagine the following scenario: A commercial airline company is short a pilot and in desperation they pull someone at random off the street to fly the next 747. He doesn't know the first thing about flying a plane. They give him a short orientation briefing, several books about flying, and shove him into the cockpit of a plane that is loaded with three-hundred passengers.

Could this happen in this country? If you think that this could occur, then the next time you board a flight you would have every right to demand to see the pilot's credentials.

But nobody does this!


This is because we all have faith in the system that the Government and the airline industry set up and monitor to ensure our safety.

Every person I know assumes that those who run and control the system all know what they are doing and they care about our welfare. Millions of passengers board airplanes on faith and blind trust.

One of the many expectations we have as human beings is to achieve consistency.

We stood by Mount Sinai and waited for Moshe (Moses) to descend by a certain time and he didn't.

Maybe we misunderstood what Moshe said and we are one day off.

Not all of us were willing to wait. Instead, the evil inclination convinced some people it was not the right time to continue behaving on faith and blind trust. Rather, we need take control of the situation and do what makes sense to us right now.

Some panicked and pressed for a replacement that would act as our intermediary to G-D in Moshe's place. And as there was no human being alive who could fill his great shoes, they went for a golden calf thing.

The only way this could begin to make sense is to entertain the notion that G-D is not fully behind us, that he is not fully aware of everything that we need, and that he can not always deliver. Given all that transpired over the past year to the Jewish people, this was insanity at best and heresy at worst.

Had the same people who went for the golden calf lived in our times, I would bet that they would have trusted the FAA and the airline industry. But they failed when it came to trusting G-D. They were inconsistent and this brought catastrophic consequences.

We were given the commandment of the golden calf prior to Sinai to teach us to have faith in G-D and His system. When we failed, the commandment became our atonement. Prior to this failure the commandment had no humanly understandable rationale. Our actions merely added one. Thus, both questions are answered.

19:2 This is the statute of the Torah that G-D commanded saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you [Moshe / Moses] a perfect red heifer, one that has no blemish, one that never had a yoke put upon it."

Rashi provides rationale for the laws of the red heifer by linking some of them to be a correction for the sin of the golden calf.

And yet, the commentaries note that the Torah labels the red heifer a "chok" because its laws contain the following inconsistency.

Whoever has a role in making the ashes of the red heifer becomes ineligible from partaking in sacrificial foods and from entering the temple area until he immerses himself in a mikvah and waits until nightfall.

However, the ashes themselves are used to make someone eligible who himself/herself became ineligible through direct or indirect contact with a corpse.

Thus, the red heifer makes eligible those who are ritually ineligible and it makes eligible those who are ritually ineligible.

It is for this reason that the red heifer is labeled a "chok," a statue.

Rashi says that the Satan and the rest of the world taunt the Jewish people who observe this commandment despite the inconsistency.

So the laws of the red heifer contain both rationale and mystery.

We are taught that the key to its mystery was revealed only to Moshe (Moses). We are also taught that it will become revealed to the Jewish people during the Messianic Era. Until then we will remain in suspense

The Be'er Yosef commentary provides an explanation for this suspense and the following is my understanding of his words.

A mere forty days after receiving the Torah and while still at the foot of Mount Sinai, Jewish people failed and worshipped the golden calf.

While the vast majority did not participate in actual worship, there was a general attitude that nation needed a golden calf to facilitate their interface with G-D. Moshe had bought them up to this unique relationship and provided this interface but his delay made many people suspect that he had passed away. Rashi in Exodus says that the Satan even orchestrated an apparition of angels carrying what appeared to be Moshe's coffin up towards heaven.

The ensuing panic created a climate for some people to demand that a substitute interface be made and some went so far as to worship it.

For the majority of the Jewish people, their failure was not so much the golden calf itself but rather the panic itself.

We failed to realize that G-D was in total charge and control, that he actively manages the affairs of mankind, and that he would never abandon us.

Moshe was indeed very important and if he was dead then G-D would have taken care of finding a replacement, should we have needed one.

Instead, we failed to see how much G-D is taking care of us, how much he loves us, and how much he can and will do for us. So we panicked, lost our sense of judgment, and tolerated something that was not fully consistent with the instructions that G-D gave us.

We are taught that the Jewish people at Mount Sinai rose to Adam's level prior to his sin and became immortal. The golden calf undid this achievement and we became susceptible to death.

The new mortality provided a context for the red heifer to undo the ritual ineligibility that ensued from contact with a corpse.

The correction for our choice to act inconsistently is to live with an inconsistency in the very laws that we added a new relevance to.

And we acted inconsistent out of a panic that should not have been.

We are taught that another consequence of the sin of the golden calf is that the Jewish people became destined to be subjugated to four great empires and the resulting terrifying journey through their long and painful history.

The end of days will bring with it an understanding of not only keys the red heifer but Jewish history itself. We will come to see that G-D's management of history was totally consistent with the greatness and loving-kindness that we know he has. We will see that everything was for the good. We will see how much G-D took care of us, how much he loves us, and how much he did for us.

So we will no longer need to live with the inconsistency and mystery of the red heifer and it will become revealed.

19:2 This is the statute of the Torah that G-D commanded saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you [Moshe / Moses] a perfect red heifer, one that has no blemish, one that never had a yoke put upon it."

Rashi cites the following Medrash for "and they shall take for you:" This (red heifer) will always be associated with your name, as the red heifer that Moshe made in the desert.

The Kli Yakar commentary questions the significance of this distinction.

He answers that there is a rule that the fulfillment of a commandment is only associated with the person who completes it.

The Medrash teaches that the red heifer is atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

Now, as Moshe began the atonement by smashing the golden calf, this red heifer can be understood as the completion and this is why Moshe's name is associated with it.

The Talmud (Sotah 13b) points out the seriousness of taking on the fulfillment of a commandment and abandoning it mid-way. It attributes Yehudah's losing his wife and two sons to his not following through with saving his brother Yosef.

Clearly, Yehudah's wife had no share in this shortcoming because they were married after Yosef was sold into slavery. And a Medrash teaches that his sons died as a punishment for moral misbehavior.

Apparently, G-D gave him a wife who was destined to have a relatively short life and G-D gave him two children about whom it was foreseen that they would engage in misconduct, all in reaction to his not carrying a commandment through completion.

The Talmud in several places (i.e. Yevamos 121b) teaches that the heavenly court subjects great people to immense scrutiny. I understand this to very much work in their favor because to the degree that their shortcomings are meticulously addressed, so are their accomplishments, thereby acting as a sort of multiplier for this court to justify the extreme and awesome happiness that these great and righteous people will experience for all eternity. And conversely, the more a person's judgment needs to be dulled, perhaps the less room the heavenly court has to overact to the good that a person does.

So, perhaps we can view this family tragedy as one that it fitting for someone of Yehudah's stature. People of significantly less stature may very well be able to hope that they would not be subject to such a misfortune in reaction to not completing a commandment.

Still, how can one understand the connection between partially fulfilling a commandment and a family tragedy such as this?

We can perhaps understand this within the context of the following Mishna (Avos 4:12): Rabbi Eliezer son of Yaakov says, "One acquires a heavenly advocate for each commandment that he fulfills."

Perhaps the starting a commandment without following through to its completion results in the creation of a heavenly whose life is stunted. Perhaps this is how we can relate to the tragedy in Yehudah's family, which was also stunted.

19:2 This is the statute of the Torah that G-D commanded saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you [Moshe / Moses] a perfect red heifer, one that has no blemish, one that never had a yoke put upon it."

The Oral Torah (Mishna Para chapter three) provides many fascinating insights and aspects about the ceremony of the red cow.

From Moshe (Moses) to the end of the second temple only seven red cows were made. The one that Moshe made lasted through the beginning of the second temple, when Ezra made the second one in history.

From the second red cow and on, every high priest funded the construction of a great bridge that connected the Temple Mount with Mount Olives for the procession to the place where the ceremony would take place. The bridge was constructed in a way to shield the participants from contamination of an obscure grave. A double array of arches spanned the bottom of the bridge to form this shield. The arrays were offset, with the domes of the lower array supporting the pillars of the upper array. As only the domes provided this shield and not their supporting pillars, if a pillar in the lower array happened to be constructed over an unmarked grave, the dome of the upper array would provide the required shield.

The High Priest was contaminated in a minor way right before the ceremony. This was done to demonstrate our belief in the Oral Torah, with the following background.

There arose a sect that denied the veracity of the Oral Torah. Instead, they took it upon themselves to derive Jewish law directly from the Written Torah. According to their interpretation, the High Priest was required to be ritually pure in every way in order to perform the ceremony. According to them if a High Priest was not ritually eligible at the time of the ceremony but his ineligibility would be restored by nightfall then the ceremony needed to be postponed.

However, according to our Oral Torah, a teaching we received from Moshe in parallel with the Written Torah, a person with this type of minor ineligibility was not disqualified. Therefore, they would defile the High Priest in a manner that would require him to ritually immerse himself and wait until nightfall. After the defilement, the High Priest performed the ritual immersion and then continued on with the ceremony. This demonstrated our belief in the Oral Torah, which did not disqualify a High Priest with this type of ineligibility.

To the unschooled, the intentional defilement could suggest that precautions for other ritual defilements were not needed for the red cow or its ceremony. To offset this impression, certain laws were enacted that suggested a very high standard of purity.

Specifically there were neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were specially built to shield the residents from defilement of an obscure grave. Expectant mothers volunteered to give birth and raise their child in this neighborhood, forming a cadre of children who could have never have been ritually defiled by a gravesite. When the High Priest who made the red cow needed the ritual sprinkle of water and ashes from a preceding red cow, the children who never left the neighborhood since birth would draw the water and perform this sprinkling. To get the water, they left their area and rode on flat boards that were carried on the backs of oxen and that continued the shield. The water was drawn and contained by stone cups that could not become defiled.

19:6 And the priest shall take a (stick from a) cedar tree, a hyssop (twig), and a crimson [worm colored] thread and he shall cast them into the burning of the cow.

It its discussion of the process of making the purification ashes, the Medrash says the following: “If a person views himself in a light that is lofty, like the cedar tree, then he should adjust his self-image to the level of a lowly worm.”

The Nesivas Shalom elaborates on the Medrash’s tips for growth and self-development, as follows.

This portion begins by citing the names of both Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron).

The official garb for Aharon, the high priest, was elegant, portraying glory and greatness. On the other hand, Moshe was known as the humblest of all humans.

Sometimes, the evil inclination tries to use either loftiness or humility to undermine a person’s development.

If a person thinks too much of himself then he will not see a need to grow. If a person thinks too little of himself and his capabilities then he can lose confidence, become discouraged, and give up.

It’s our job to maintain a balance and the right response to thoughts that can take us off track.

Furthermore, a person can be manipulated into sin by false negativity. And loftiness can be leveraged loftiness to a person’s spiritual advantage.

Negativity can bring a person sin, because that’s where he imagines he is and he shuns inconsistency.

On the other hand, loftiness can bring a person to view sin as being inconsistent, unacceptable and inappropriate, given his great spiritual stature.

This is how we can understand the episode with Yosef (Joseph) and Potiphar’s wife.

It says, And she grabbed him by his garment (‘beged’) … (Genesis 39:12).

The Hebrew word ‘beged’ has the same letters as ‘bagad’, which means rebellion. She tried to undermine Yosef’s defenses by saying that he has had failings before. She tried to get him to focus on the inconsistency of not misbehaving.

His response to her prodding was: “There is no one (employee) in this household greater than I …” He focused on the inconsistency of his doing misbehavior.

We are in a constant state of war, beginning when we emerge into the world and ending when we leave it. Our adversary has tremendous, angelic power. Our Ally has greater power and eagerly waits our call for help, anytime and any day. He gave us tools. It is up to us to use them to our advantage. The stakes are great, eternal.

20:1 And the Children of Israel, all of the congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month. And the nation settled in Kadesh. And Miriam died and was buried there.

20:2 And there was no water for the congregation. And they gathered up to Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron).

The commentators note a connection between Miriam's death and the lack of water.

The Jewish people never experienced a water shortage throughout most of their forty-year journey through the wilderness. Instead, G-D provided them with a miraculous stone that rolled alongside and produced an abundant water supply. The stone disappeared shortly after Miriam's death.

The Kli Yakar commentary writes that the lack of water at this time was a punishment for not sufficiently eulogizing Miriam. As the people did not sufficiently feel her loss, G-D removed the stone to demonstrate that it was through Miriam's merit that this water supply had been given to the Jewish people.

In providing direction for the eulogy of a great person, the Talmud cautions us to not be lazy.

What does being lazy have to do with eulogizing?

Miriam's well was restored in the next chapter in a most amazing manner.

21:15 And the pouring of the valley, that (which) turned (towads) Ahr and (it) leaned on the border of Moav.

21:16 And from there (they went) to the well, this is the well where G-D said to Moshe, "Gather the people and I will give them water."

What happened with this valley? What was this leaning all about?

Rashi cites the teaching that the Jewish people needed to pass through a very narrow and deep valley that was bordered by tall and rocky cliffs. The Emorites seized this strategic advantage and secretly hid their armies in caves that were embedded in the cliffs, ready for a surprise attack. As the Jewish people approached the pass, the mountain on the far side lurched (leaned) forwarded, like a maidservant rushed towards her approaching mistress. This sealed up the pass in a way that the protrusions that were on each side of the pass jabbed into the caves, crushing the soldiers who were waiting inside for the ambush.

The Jewish people never knew of the danger and they did not know about this miracle So G-D brought the well up through the crevices and the water flushed out the dead soldiers. The Jewish people then recognized the miracle and they burst forth in a song of praise.

21:17 Thus did the Israel sing this song, "Rise up Oh well, praise it."

The song begins with the same the Hebrew words as the song by the sea, which they sang when they were saved from the Armies of Pharaoh.

If the removal of the well was a punishment for not properly eulogizing Miriam then why was the well restored?

What other connection can we make between this song and that of the sea?

The following came to mind.

One can derive a lesson from the life of every person. A eulogy is a time to delve into the person's live and discover the person's greatness, especially when the loss involves a great person. It is a time for diligence, not laziness.

We are taught that the episodes the Torah records about a person are a representative sample of the person's life.

The episodes about Miriam are rare. Of note are the following verses in Exodus that describe her role by the splitting of the sea:

15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the tambourine in her hand. And all of the women went out after her with tambourines and dances.

15:21 And Miriam answered to them, "Sing to G-D…."

Here we see Miriam as a teacher, making other people aware of and appreciating G-D's miracles.

If an emphasis on this aspect of Miriam was missing during her eulogy then perhaps this is why the well returned in a manner that made people aware and appreciative of G-D's miracle by the mountain pass.

Perhaps the well was taken away and restored in a manner to compensate for our not taking advantage of an opportunity to learn and to give honor to a great person.

G-D speaks to us in many ways.

20:2 And there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled against Moshe (Moses) and against Aharon (Aaron).

20:5 And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this bad place. It's not a fit place for sowing, nor for setting up fig (trees), vineyards, and pomegranates. And there is no water to drink.

If there was a dire need for drinking water, why did the people complain that they couldn't plant any vineyards? Would they have been able to plant grapes or pomegranates, they would have died before they could quench their thirst with fruit juice.

20:6 And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying.

20:7 Take this stick and assemble the congregation, you and Aharon, and speak to the rock before their eyes and it will give its water. And you shall bring water out of the rock for them. And you shall give water to the congregation and their flocks.

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following translation / commentary for 20:7.

Take the stick of miracles and assemble the congregation, you and Aharon, and while they are watching, you both shall use the Great Name of G-d to bring an oath against the rock and it will give its water. And if it refuses to bring forth water then you alone shall hit it with the stick in your hands. And you shall bring water out of the rock for them. And you shall give water to the congregation and their flocks.

Why would the rock disregard this most solemn oath?

The following came to mind.

We believe that the amount of money a person earns, together with all of the resources that he/she needs, are pre-destined each year during Rosh Hashana.

Still, a person is charged to make some effort to acquire resources.

It is very difficult to properly fulfill this obligation. If a person puts forth too much effort then this may indicate that the person is relying on his/her effort, rather than on G-d. If a person appears to be acting out of desperation, if a person figuratively 'grabs onto a straw' then it may indicate the significance the person places on his/her efforts towards achieving goals and the corresponding frustration when he/she is unable to do something sensible and significant towards achievement.

Given the great spiritual consciousness our ancestors, perhaps they desired to put forth some effort in order to obtain drinking water. Although somewhat inappropriate, perhaps they would have indeed planted fruit trees for the juice in order to fulfill the obligation to demonstrate some effort towards obtaining resources. I say that this is somewhat inappropriate because this particular effort appears to be an act of desperation.

If true, then perhaps G-d wanted to demonstrate the futility of a person's efforts towards achieving his/her goals.

The greatest action a person can take is to use the Great Name of G-d towards achieving his/her goals. Perhaps for this reason, G-d wanted the rock to ignore the oath that was said in His name.

20:7 And G-D spoke to Moshe saying.

20:8 "Take the staff and gather the congregation, you and Aharon (Aaron) your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes and it will give its water. And you will bring out water from the rock for them and you will give to drink the congregation and their cattle."

A miracle occurred, water emerged from the rock, and the people drank it.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of blessed memory cites a story from the Talmud (Taanis 24a) which suggests that the water should have been forbidden.

There are people who always hide from charity collectors.

There was once a person about which the reverse was true, that the charity collectors always hid from him.

One day, that person went shopping for his daughter's wedding.

He caught sight of charity collectors and noticed that they were trying to hide. He ran after them and insisted that they tell disclose what they were collecting for.

They responded they were collecting to marry off a pair of impoverished orphans.

He swore by the Temple service that their cause had precedence over the expenses for his daughter's wedding and gave them his savings, except for one coin. He purchased some wheat with that coin, returned home, and tossed it into the granary.

His wife later asked their daughter what her father purchased for the wedding. She responded that he tossed it into the granary.

She went to the granary and found that there was so much inside that she could not open the door and wheat was pushing through the hinges.

When he learned of his miraculous wealth he took an oath that his daughter was entitled to only that amount of money which would be given to girl who is impoverished and needs wedding expenses. He donated the balance to the Temple.

His rationale, according to Rashi, was that it is forbidden to derive personal benefit from something that is produced through a miracle.

Rashi cites another teaching in Taanis as the source of this prohibition.

A person should never deliberately put himself in danger and say, "A miracle will be performed to save me from danger." First, it is up to Heaven to decide whether miracles occur. And if a miracle does occur then he will pay for it by having his merits deducted (Taanis 20b).

Given this prohibition, how could the Jewish people drink from water that was miraculously extracted from the rock?

The Chavatzeles Hasharon commentary provides the following explanation, according to my understanding.

G-D usually sustains us through natural causes that He wills and manages. A person is forbidden to obtain personal benefit by forcing a miracle, even if it comes from extreme piety and scholarship.

However, if G-D decides on His own that we need to be sustained through a miracle so that we can learn of His greatness then we may derive personal benefit from it.

20:7 And G-D spoke to Moshe saying.

20:8 "Take the staff and gather the congregation, you and Aharon (Aaron) your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes and it will give its water. And you will bring out water from the rock for them and you will give to drink the congregation and their cattle."

20:9 And Moshe took the staff before G-D as he was commanded.

20:10 And Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation in front of the rock and told them, "Will the rebels please listen. Can we bring out water from this rock for you?"

20:11 And Moshe raised his hand and hit the rock twice with his staff. And much water came out and the congregation and their cattle drank.

20:12 And G-D said to Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron), "Since you were not steadfast (in your belief) in Me to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel, you will therefore not bring this congregation to the land that I gave them."

This infraction appears to be so significant that Moshe was not given the opportunity to pray to G-D to reverse His decision (Leviticus 3:26.).

The commentaries offer numerous explanations about the infraction. Some say that Moshe was supposed to speak to the rock but he instead hit it. Others say that he was indeed supposed to hit the rock but the problem was in the way he spoke to the people.

The following came to mind from a reading of the Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel.

20:8 "Take the staff of miracles and gather the congregation, you and Aharon your brother, and while they are looking, mandate the rock by oath with the Great Name (of G-D) to give its water. And if it refuses (to do so) then you alone shall hit it with your stick that is in your hands and you will bring out water from the rock and you will give to drink the congregation and their cattle."

20:11 And Moshe raised his hand and hit the rock twice with his staff. The first time some drops of blood came out and the second time much water came out and the congregation and their cattle drank.

How is it that G-D could entertain a question whether the rock would or would not respond to an oath that was made in His name?

Now, we are taught that everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven. That is, everything we do and experience is the result of G-D's decision that it should occur, with one exception. G-D does not pre-determine the outcome of our free-will choices to do good or otherwise.

Perhaps the response of the rock was dependent on how the Jewish people would react to Moshe's question, "Can we bring out water from this rock for you?" Would everyone respond, "If this is G-D's' will then of course!" If all would not have responded with this level of clarity in belief then Moshe was to hit the rock, indicating that some of the Jewish people were defective in their convictions.

Perhaps because it depended on the level of their confidence in G-D at that moment, G-D did not specify the outcome and provided a contingency plan so that the people would see their shortcoming and they would also get the needed water.

Given the situation, Moshe's assignment could have made some people face their shortcomings, resulting in their shame.

Perhaps this is why the rock began to bleed, indicated that it needed to be hit because all of the Jewish people would not have risen to successfully meet this challenge.

Now, just about nothing could stop our great leader and teacher Moshe from coming to the defense of the Jewish people, even if it meant having his name erased from the eternal Torah (Exodus 32:32).

And while he did help us recognize our defects, we must assume that he would never want to have a role in bringing them out!

I therefore wonder how much this was a test for Moshe and Aharon or whether it was basically a foregone conclusion that they would fail, thereby providing a reason to keep them from entering the Land of Israel with the survivors of the Exodus that he led (Rashi 20:12).

You see, Moshe dearly wanted to enter the land with them (Deuteronomy 23:23). However, we are taught that given his greatness, his entrance would have precluded the possibility of the destruction of the Temple, which in turn served to minimize the human casualties of that disastrous period in our history.

Also, of all the people he helped to redeem, an entire generation was missing, save for two lone survivors. His entrance would have been both thrilling and heartbreaking.

We are also taught that Moshe's burial outside of the Land of Israel will enable those who were not interred in the holy land to be brought back to life in the end of days. Finally, we are taught that in the end of days Moshe will indeed enter the land, together with all of those who were lost the desert.

Thus, preventing Moshe from entry would save Jewish lives, would benefit untold millions of our people, and would set the stage of a glorious entrance to the Land of Israel that is befitting Moshe.

The Torah of Moshe states that Moshe did not sufficiently believe in G-D. This boggles the mind. The Torah in numerous places brings out deficiencies of the people that Moshe led.

When Moshe finally leads those who were lost in the desert into the Promised Land, will the documentation of his 'lack' of faith give him distress? Or, will it enable those who he leads to feel less ashamed? Will it help Moshe and his people hug each other?

At this time, only the Author of the Torah and Great Architect / Manager of human history knows the answer to this question.

20:12 And G-D said to Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron), "Since you were not steadfast (in your belief) in Me to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel, you will therefore not bring this congregation to the land that I gave them."

20:13 These are the waters of conflict where the Children of Israel had conflict with G-D and He was sanctified through them.

20:14 And Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom..

20:17 Let us please pass through your land. We will not go into fields and vineyards and we will not drink the water of wells. We will travel on the royal highway, we will not veer to the right or to the left until we cross over your boundary.

It is noted that although Moshe's death was contingent upon the Jewish people entering the Promised Land, this did not deter him from trying to get his people there.

We find the following in Leviticus 3:

3:23: And I (Moshe) pleaded with G-D at that moment, saying.

3:24 G-D, Oh L-ord, You started to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand. For what power is there in the heaven and earth that does like Your acts and might.

3:25 Let me please cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Yarden (Jordan river), this good mountain and the Lebanon.

On verse 3:23, Rashi says that the moment Moshe was referring to was when he conquered the lands of Sichon and Og. The success gave Moshe hope that the decree against his entering the Promised Land was annulled so he prayed for entry.

The victories over Sichon and Og occurred after the encounter with Edom. Thus, we see that Moshe did not pray for himself immediately that the decree should be annulled.

The Oral Torah teaches that nothing stands in the way of prayer. Elsewhere we find Moshe responding to heavenly decrees against the Jewish people with immediate prayer.

Why didn't he respond similarly when a heavenly decree was made against him? Why did he instead opt to first take action and try to move the Jewish people into Israel?

The following came to mind.

The Oral Torah (Yuma 86a) categorizes sins by what is required for their atonement. The most severe category is Chilul Hashem, which refers to reducing the respect that others have in G-D.

The Talmud states that the combination of repentance, Yom Kippur, and suffering is not sufficient for Chilul Hashem and that full atonement only comes with the person's death.

We are also taught that the reverse of Chilul Hashem, causing people to respect G-D, can compensate for Chilul Hashem to the degree that atonement can be achieved prior to a person's death.

Since Moshe's act of hitting the rock was considered a loss of opportunity for sanctifying G-D's name, perhaps his first reaction was to try and compensate the Chilul Hashem by demonstrating a selfless drive to get the Jewish people into the Promised Land, despite the personal ramifications.

21:5 And the people spoke against G-d and Moshe (Moses), "Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and there is no water. And, we feel discomfort from the light bread [the manna]."

21:6 And G-d sent the burning snakes against the people ..

21:7 And the people came to Moshe and they said, "We have sinned, for we spoke against G-d and you. (Please) pray to G-d and He will remove the snake(s) from us." And Moshe prayed for the people.

21:8 And G-d said to Moshe, "Make for yourself (the figure of) a snake and put it on a pole (ness). And it will be, whoever will be bitten will see it and will live."

The people were sustained by manna and they had water from the rock of Miriam. Why did they complain?

The Darash Dovid commentary explains that they did not want their sustainment to depend on miracles. They assumed that these miracles depended on their level of merit and righteousness and they would starve if they slacked off.

The snake is the only creature that never has concerns about food.

But this came by way of a curse, not as a blessing. G-D told the snake that enticed Chava (Eve) and said, "You will eat earth all the days of your life (Genesis 3: 14)."

If the snake has no continual need to connect to G-D in order to live then it's unlikely that it will ever do so.

This is a message behind the snake.

And the people mistakenly assumed that G-D had shifted the burden of their sustainment on them, as if He no longer needed or wanted to be responsible for them.

G-D does not do this.

Moshe put the snake on a pole. The Torah uses the Hebrew word 'ness' which also means a miracle.

The snake was held up by a pole; the snake was held up by a miracle.

It's easy to fall into the conclusion that nature and our good efforts sustain us. While not obvious to the casual observer, everything about our lives depends on G-D's continual will, sometimes called a miracle.

Both what the people had been eating all along, what the snake eats every day are dependent on miracles.

21:5 And the people spoke against G-d and Moshe (Moses), "Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and there is no water. And, we feel discomfort from the light bread [the manna]."

21:6 And G-d sent the burning snakes against the people ..

21:7 And the people came to Moshe and they said, "We have sinned, for we spoke against G-d and you. (Please) pray to G-d and He will remove the snake(s) from us." And Moshe prayed for the people.

21:8 And G-d said to Moshe, "Make for yourself (the figure of) a snake and put it on a pole. And it will be, whoever will be bitten will see it and will live."

The snake benefited those who were bitten. Yet, the wording of 21:8 says that it was for Moshe. The Oral Torah makes no mention of Moshe having been bitten by the snakes.

Also, what are the psychological dynamics behind the numerous times that the Jewish people complained against Moshe's having them out of Egypt?

Perhaps the figure of the snake was to Moshe's benefit because these complaints could cease. Thus the snake was also for his benefit.

How? Why?

This is the second time we find the people looking at something that Moshe held up high.

During the war against Amalek, Moshe held up his staff.

Exodus 17:11 And it was, when Moshe raised (up) his hands (then) Yisroel prevailed. And when he rested his hands (then) Amalek would prevail.

The Oral Torah (Mishneh, Rosh Hashana 29a) compares both events. It questions how the hands of Moshe being up or down could make a difference to the outcome of the battle. It also questions how could looking up at the figure of a snake restore a person's health.

The Mishneh answers, "When the Jewish people looked up and committed their hearts to G-d then they were saved/healed."

The Mishneh focuses on the people committing themselves to G-d, not their looking up to G-d for help. Why?

The following came to mind.

It is very easy to commit oneself to G-d and stand ready to do anything He commands when a person accepts and internalizes the fact that G-d is the source of life, food, health, really everything.

Perfecting one's faith and outlook can take lifetime. During the interim, a person is prone to credit himself or other people for achievements and a person is prone to blame others for setbacks. This is a ploy by the evil inclination to reduce our sense of commitment to G-d.

The experience of the snake helped us to better focus on the true Source of our fortunes. In turn, it became easier for us to commit ourselves to G-d's will. Within the higher level of faith, the complaints against Moshe ceased.

Numbers Chapter 19 describes the sacrifice of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer. This service is understood to be an atonement for the Sin of the Golden Calf.

20:1 And the Children of Israel, all of the congregation, arrived at the wilderness of Zin on the first month, and the nation settled in Kadesh. And Miriam passed away and was buried there.

Rashi's commentary for this verse cites the Talmud in Moed Katan 28a:

[Rav Ami said,] "Why was the death of Miriam written adjacent to the section of the Parah Aduma? (This teaches us how the death of a righteous affects the world.) Just as sacrifices atone, the deaths of righteous people also atone."

The Talmud asks why the story of Miriam was written adjacent to the section of Parah Adumah. I would have asked the question in the reverse.

The events of the Torah from the story of Miriam and onward follow in time-sequence. However, the section of Parah Adumah was implemented shortly after Aharon became the High Priest, which occurred in the Book of Leviticus, one book ago. One would therefore not expect to find the Parah Adumah in the Book of Numbers. It appears that the story of Miriam is in its proper place, not the Parah Adumah. Why does Rav Ami in the Talmud poses the question in the reverse? What is he trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

The Sin of the Golden Calf was so serious that it almost destroyed the Jewish people. (Exodus 32:10)

The Medrash (Shemos Raba 32a) says the following about the affair:

Had the Jewish people waited for Moshe (Moses) and had they not done this act, then ' the Angel of Death would not have had any power over them.

Kabalistic sources understand this to mean that the spiritual experience of receiving the Torah raised the Jewish people to the degree that they gained the immortality that Adam lost when he ate from the forbidden fruit.

While G-d forgave and even provided us with a means of atonement, to date we have never been able to regain this former status.

So, had we passed this test, then history would have certainly turned out quite differently.

Judaism teaches that Man is not a victim of history. Rather, to some degree, Man is the author of history. Although not very obvious, human events are affected by the degree that we remain loyal to G-d, by the degree that we follow His instructions for living.

From this perspective we can see how the story of Miriam depends on the Parah Aduma and therefore follows it.

Without the atonement, represented by the Parah Adumah, there would not have been a Jewish people and Miriam would have passed away long ago, together with everyone else. The effects of the sin lingered on and Miriam lost the immortality that she gained when we received the Torah.

Perhaps this is what Rav Ami is hinting to by the way he poses his question, "Why was the death of Miriam written adjacent to the section of the Parah Aduma." Miriam's life and her death were caused by the Sin of the Golden Calf and the atonement. They are a frame of reference.

Not only did these events effect Miriam, they effected the course of Jewish history. Perhaps the rest of the Torah follows the Parah Adumah in time-line sequence to reflect this teaching.

21:27 Therefore the rulers shall say, "Let us come to Cheshbon, let the city of Sichon be built and established."

Cheshbon became the capitol city of King Sichon after he conquered the region from the Amon and Moav nations.

It was heavenly policy that the Jewish people were not permitted to seize lands of the Amonites and Moavites. But G-D wanted the Jewish people to have some of those lands. He therefore moved Sichon to conquer the area so that the Jewish people could afterwards take it from him, as he was an Emorite and did not come from Amon or Moav.

We can assume that Sichon celebrated his victory. However had he known that his victory over Amon and Moav was only a means for the Jewish people to later obtain the land by defeating him, Sichon would have never celebrated the conquest.

The word Cheshbon in Hebrew means a calculation. We could say that Sichon made a miscalculation, thinking that the victory was very good for him when actually it was not.

The evil inclination tries to get a person to sin. Sometimes, it succeeds by getting the person to focus on the advantages of sinning and to overlook the losses incurred from misbehavior.

In this light, the Talmud homiletically reads our verse as follows: Let those who rule over their biases say, "Let us make a calculation." That is, let us all make the universal calculation of what one loses from doing a good deed and weight it against that which one gains. And let us also calculate what we gain from doing a misdeed and compare it to that which we lose by doing it. (Bava Basra 78b)

Rav Sternbuch writes that we can apply this lesson to what happens in a person's life.

What we may view right now as a misfortune may actually become a turning point that will later bring great benefit. One should therefore never despair or lose hope when suffering a downfall because what may look as being bad may turn out to be very good.

Balak (Num 22-25)

22:4 And Moav said to the elders of Midian, "The congregation [of the Jewish people] will now lick up all of our surroundings just as the ox does with the vegetation of the field." And Balak son of Tzipor was king of Moav at that time.

Rashi cites the following Medrash to explain the reference to the way an ox eats: "No blessing comes from that which the ox licks up."

I believe that this refers to the fact that the ox uproots the grass that he eats and nothing remains to replenish it.

The Jewish people were about to enter the Holy Land and replace the neighbors of Moav and Midian. What void would this make? What would not be replenished by the conquest? What was bothering Moav and Midian?

I suspect that this has to do with the culture that the Jewish people were charged to uproot.

Following the prohibitions of having incestuous, bestial, and homosexual relationships the Torah writes, "And you shall not follow the traditions of the nations that I am expelling from before you for they did all this and I abhorred them." (Leviticus 20:23)

And, following the prohibition of imitating their religious behavior the Torah writes, "Do not do this to Hashem your G-D. For all of the abominations that G-D hates they did for their gods. They even burned up in fire their sons and daughters for their gods."

The Canaanites were steeped in immorality. Having children was no longer the purpose for couples living together. Rather, the sensual pleasure which G-D designed to be a means to help motivate mankind to raise families became the end. And the end, which was the children themselves, became something expendable, fodder for the fires of the temples that matched their decadent lifestyle.

The nations of Moav and Midian were not as corrupt as the Canaanites, but they were apparently not that far behind, so perhaps this is why they bemoaned the imminent loss of the Canaanites.

22:5 And he [King Balak of Moav] sent messengers to (the prophet) Bilam son of Beor … saying, "Behold there is a nation that went out of Egypt. Behold it covers the view of the land and is settling opposite me."

Balak hired Bilam to curse the Jewish people and G-D manipulated the curses into blessings. Thereupon Bilam advised Balak to impair G-D's relationship with the Jewish people by bringing them to sin. With his advice, parents of the Moav and Midian nations donated their daughters to entice Jewish men into incest and idolatry.

We are taught that Bilam was an authentic prophet of G-D. Albeit a non-Jew, the level of his prophecy was comparable with that of Moshe (Moses)

We are also taught that Bilam was not a moral person. Why did G-D rest His Divine presence on him?

Rashi says that G-D did this to prevent the rest of the nations from complaining for not having authentic prophets of their own to lead them towards righteousness. He notes that prior to Bilam, the nations had moral standards and safeguards but Bilam came along and corrupted them.

The Medrash, which in part may have been Rashi's source, answers this a bit differently. It says that G-D withheld Divine inspiration from the nations because we see how much damage Bilam was able to accomplish by having it.

If G-D wanted to demonstrate the need for being selective with imparting Divine inspiration then why did He use a wicked person such as Bilam to show this? For all we know, perhaps a saintly person from the nations would have provided their people with proper guidance and spiritual salvation. And perhaps that person would have experienced only spiritual growth.

The following came to mind.

G-D is fair. He judges us according to the resources that He gives us. If He gives us less then He expects less and if He gives more then He expects more.

G-D manages the world and our resources so that we have only ourselves to blame for any spiritual shortcomings. G-D does this to ensure that if we succeed then it is completely to our credit and our reward will be totally justified.

If leaders mislead then it is up to us to work around them.

Had the parents of Midian not cooperated with Bilam and had they not discarded the innocence of their own daughters then for all we know they would have merited more Divine assistance, instead of being later destroyed.

Linking failure of the community or nation to a lack of proper spiritual leadership is a ploy to shift blame away from ourselves and pin it on G-D.

While Rashi focuses on leadership, the Medrash seems to focus on the individual.

Bilam was among the most spiritually depraved of his generation. But he was the best qualified to bring home the point that enhanced spiritual powers does not provide an advantage when a person is judged, for only more is expected from the person that has them.

And indeed they are potentially a great liability for the additional capability only enables the wicked to do more damage that he/she must later pay for.

So withholding prophets from those nations did not put them at a disadvantage.

And G-D ensures that the degree of spiritual enhancement that each of us are blessed with will match our ability to handle both them and their consequences.

22:9 And G-D came to Bilam and said, "Who are these people that are with you?"

Rashi says that G-D said these words to give Bilam an opportunity to make a mistake.

That is, one could interpret G-D's question as a way to begin a dialog with Bilam. It suggests that something is amiss and indeed it was. For Moabite and Midianite agents came to solicit Bilam's curse against the Jewish people and Bilam should have known that G-D did not want this to happen. In this light, G-D was telling Bilam that he should have refused the request outright instead of inviting them to stay and give the proposal an opportunity.

Or, the question could be interpreted as a revelation that there were things in this world that G-D does not know about and he needed information from Bilam to know what was going on. In this light, Bilam could entertain the notion that he can curse the Jewish people when G-D was not looking, which is ridiculous.

We find Bilam persisting as the story unfolds. He apparently went for the second interpretation.

Why did G-D give Bilam the opportunity to make a mistake?

The following came to mind.

The purpose of our lives on this earth is to earn eternal greatness and happiness in the next world in accordance with the way we choose to behave.

G-D manages our lives so that we are provided ample and balanced opportunities to either succeed or fail.

The fact that Bilam thought that he could work around G-D puts him in the light as an arrogant, corrupt, and overly ambitious person. It is easy to see that he viewed the emergence of the Jewish people as a threat to his theological empire.

The Talmud notes that the Midianite agents disappear from the story as soon as Bilam proposes that they wait overnight for G-D's response. This indicated that Bilam was dependent on G-D's will. They simply gave up on the notion to have Bilam curse the Jewish people because "can a father ever hate his son?" (Sanhedrin 105a).

Although he was an authentic prophet, Bilam he did not see and accept what was obvious a lay person.

This itself was a test for Bilam, which he failed.

The intent in giving him another opportunity to make another mistake was possibly in response for this failure, as a second chance to succeed.

G-D did not give up on the abnormally wicked Bilam. And we can learn from this that He is not going to give up on us.

22:22 And G-D was angered that he [Balak] went [with Bilam’s officers] …

G-D gave Balak permission to go in verse 20. Why was G-D angry that he went?

The MHRA’Y commentary says that G-D told him in that verse to “Arise and go with them …” The wording implies that Bilam should travel in a dignified manner. This is so that it shouldn’t appear as a cheapening of the fact that G-D rests His Divine presence on him. Bilam should have therefore rode on a horse, not on his donkey.

This is very puzzling, writes the Tzeda LeDerech commentary. Riding on a donkey is a symbol of humility. Moshe (Moses) himself rode on a donkey, so did Avraham (Abraham), and so will the Messianic King.

The following came to mind.

Bilam wanted to work for King Bilam and curse the Jewish people. He basically asked G-D two times, in verses 12 and 20. The first time G-D said no and the second time He said yes.

We can understand why G-D said yes the second time. This reflects a teaching that Heaven guides a person in the way that he wants to go, whether it’s good for him or not. In Bilam’s case, his going to curse the Jewish people caused his downfall and destruction. But what gave him the nerve to persist?

Bilam is known for his negative character traits: An inflated ego, an evil eye, and a huge appetite. Therefore, when G-D first told him to not go with Bilam’s messengers, it was easy for Bilam to twist the reason as an issue that had to do with prestige. By G-D saying ‘Do not go with them,’ Bilam it took to mean that the people Balak sent to make the offer were only unofficial messengers, not royal officers of the court. This is why Balak responded by sending another delegation that was ‘more numerous and had more prestige’ (verse 15).

Bilam’s only defense for persisting to nag G-D for permission to work for Balak was a dreamed-up reason for G-D initially saying no. He played the notion that was because the first delegation didn’t match his dignity as G-D’s prophet. Travelling with lowly messengers would appear as a cheapening of the fact that G-D rests His Divine presence on him.

But if indeed Bilam was sincerely trying to protect G-D’s reputation (as ridiculous as this sounds), then why did he ride on a donkey instead of a horse?

Balak had another agenda with his donkey, for he had a special (read corrupt) relationship with his donkey. He therefore preferred taking his donkey as a personal companion on the trip. This, despite the fact that it could cheapen his presentation to others as G-D’s prophet. Apparently, being close to his donkey mattered more to him. Then again, it was all a baloney ruse that he used to justify the nagging.

At any rate, his choice exposed the inconsistency.

22:28 And G-D opened the mouth of the donkey. And it said to Bilam, "What did I do to you for which you hit me three times?"

22:29 And Bilam said to the donkey, "It was because you mocked me. If I only had a sword in my hand then I would have killed you by now."

Rashi's commentary says that the angel killed the donkey so its presence would not remind people that this lowly animal mocked Bilam with its decisive arguments. This serves as a lesson that G-D sympathizes with a person's feelings and dignity.

This brings to mind another related teaching.

Chapter three of the book of Daniel documents the confrontation of Babylonian emperor Nevuchadnetzar with three great men, Chania, Mishael, and Azaria (Shadrach, Mechach, and Avad-Nego). They were the only Jews that refused to bow down to his statue despite his decree that those who disobeyed would be thrown into a fiery furnace. They persisted, where thrown into the furnace, and emerged unscathed.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 93a) quotes Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chanilai who states that Jewish people who yielded were later shamed by the Gentiles who said, "Having such a G-D, how could you prostrate yourselves to an image?"

The Talmud then asks why these three are no longer mentioned in the scriptures. Rabbi Yochanan said that they emigrated to Israel. Other opinions state that they died. One says that they "drowned in spittle."

The Marsha's commentary connects the latter opinion with the teaching that Jewish people were put to shame by the Gentiles, so to speak they were spit on. Had the three remained in this world then they would have served as a reminder to this shame. G-D therefore felt that it would be better for all involved if they transitioned to the next world so He transition them to the next world.

These teachings remind us of the degree of significance that Torah's value system places on human dignity, regardless of the victim and regardless of the consequences.

22:28 And G-D opened the mouth of the donkey. And it said to Bilam, "What did I do to you for which you hit me three times?"

22:29 And Bilam said to the donkey, "It was because you mocked me. If I only had a sword in my hand then I would have killed you by now."

The Medrash (Genesis 67) provides us with the following teaching:

"And Aisav (Esau) said in his heart … and I will kill Yaakov (Jacob) my brother" (Genesis 27:41). The wicked are controlled by their heart as it says, "The decadent says in his heart" (T'hilim / Psalms 14:1), "And Aisav said in his heart," "And Yeravam said in his heart" (Melachim I/ Kings I 12:26), "And Haman said in his heart" (Esther 6:6).

However, the righteous control their heart as it says, "And David said to his heart" (Shmuel I / Samuel I 27:1), "And Daniel placed it on his heart" (Daniel 1:8). They are (to some degree) similar to their Creator (as it states in Genesis 8:21) "And G-D said to His heart."

This Medrash came to mind while reading the above verses.

A normal person would have snapped out of his anger and frustration upon hearing his donkey pose a question.

Bilam's pride, arrogance, and hate were so deeply imbedded in his personality that this spectacle made no impression on him at all, until of course he saw that an angel was about to kill him.

22:12 And G-d said to Bilam (the evil prophet), "Do not go with them. Do not curse the (Jewish) nation because they are blessed."

22:20: And G-d came to Bilam in the night and said to him, "If these people came to call you (for your personal benefit) then arise and go with them. However, you may only do that which I tell you."

22:21 .. and he went with them.

22:34 And Bilam said to the angel of G-d, "I have sinned, because I did not know that you were standing against me on the way. And now, I will return (home and not continue further on this journey) if this (mission is) evil in your eyes."

22:35 And the angel of G-d said to Bilam, "Go with these people, just speak only that which I tell you to say." And Bilam went with the officials of (King) Balak.

Bilam's mission caused his own destruction.

G-d terminated Bilam's prophetic relationship (Rashi 24:14) Bilam was later killed in battle by the Jewish people (31:8).

Rashi provides the following commentary on 22:35 from the Medrash:

(Heaven) leads a person in the way that they want to go.

It came to mind the degree that the above verses illustrate this concept.

G-d initially told him not to go in 22:12. Then in 22:20, G-d gave him conditional authorization. G-d finally commanded Bilam to go in 22:35.

It is rare for G-d to issue behavioral directives for a single person.

It seems that Bilam's attitude and behavior turned a Divine personal prohibition into a Divine personal commandment.

If the heavens can be 'overturned' to this degree in order accommodate a person who seeks to go against G-d's will, how much more can a person expect G-d to assist him/her in fulfilling His will!

22:22 And G-D became angry because he (Bilam) went (with them). And an angel of G-D set itself up to oppose him during the journey. And he was riding on his donkey, accompanied by his two aids.

The Ramban in his commentary says that G-D expected Bilam to have told Balak's emissaries that he will be unable to curse the Jewish people. Furthermore, he should have told them that if he goes to Balak then G-D may even charge him to bless them.

However, Bilam gave them the impression that he would be able to do whatever Balak wants. This was misleading, for had he disclosed these constraints then they would not have persisted that he come.

The Ramban adds that Bilam's response promoted a misconception that later tainted G-D's reputation in their eyes. Since they initially thought that G-D granted their request for Bilam to curse the Jewish people, when Bilam would later be unable to do so, they would think that G-D fluctuates and can change His mind. In reality however, this is unthinkable for ".. the Eternal One of Israel does not deal falsely, nor does He reverse (His decisions), for He is not a human being to be subject to (the possibility of a wrong decision, thereby requiring a) a reversal (Shmuel / Samuel I, 15:29.

Given this Ramban, how could anybody hope that his prayers to G-D would be of benefit? Since G-D decrees beforehand what should happen to a person, if a person's prayer causes an upturn then it would indicate a reversal.

The following came to mind.

First, we are taught that G-D wants us to establish a relationship with Him through prayer. Therefore, we can assume that any decree of misfortune is conditional on the person not praying to have it reversed.

Second, we are taught that G-D's judgments are based on a person's spiritual assets and liabilities at the time of the judgment. If a person later improves himself then his status changes and is considered a different person so that the previous judgment is no longer relevant for him.

In either approach, Heavenly decrees on individuals can fluctuate because they are partially based on actions or nature of humans that themselves can fluctuate.

However, decrees that can cause the destruction of the entire Jewish people are very different. Given the commitment that G-D gave to our ancestors, such decrees will simply not happen. Instead, in the worst case G-D will manage history to avert the necessity of making these decrees.

"For G-D will not cast off His people, neither will he forsake His Heritage" (Tehilim / Psalms 94:14).

Bilam's attempt to destroy the Jewish people through his curse was therefore unthinkable. His behavior that suggested the contrary was therefore a desecration of G-D's Name.

G-D's commitment was for a complete destruction of the Jewish people. However, there is no commitment for a partial destruction. Therefore, throughout our painful history there have been a number of mini-Bilams who were successful. But they themselves will be destroyed, as Bilam was.

"Sing, oh nations, the praise of His nation for He will avenge the blood of his servants. And He will return vengeance to His enemies. And He will atone for His people and land (Deuteronomy 32:43).

22:28 And G-D opened the mouth of the donkey and it said to Bilam, "What have I done to you that you have hit me three times?"

22:29 And Bilam said to the donkey, "Because you jested with me. Would I to have a sword in my hand then I would have now killed you."

22:30 And the donkey said, "Aren't I your donkey that you rode on me from the time that you existed until today? Have I been accustomed to do this (type of thing)?" And he [Bilam] said, "No."

22:31 And G-D uncovered Bilam's eyes and he saw an angel of G-D standing in the road with his sword in hand. And he [Bilam] knelt and he bowed.

The commentators remark that the donkey's rebuke put Bilam to shame.

The Sefurno provides the following commentary on 22:30.

Bilam, you should have taken note of my behavior. Since I am normally obedient and only now did I deflect from the road, you should have taken this as a sign that you will not be successful. Although the Torah forbids divination, or making decisions on the basis of omens, one can use events to take a sign towards success.

The Torah in Leviticus 19:26 states, "Do not practice divination."

We understand this to mean that a person is forbidden to make a decision on the basis of an event for which there is no practical and obvious connection to the decision.

For example, if we leave our house and notice rain clouds in the sky then there is nothing wrong with going back inside to get an umbrella or canceling the trip because we don't want to get wet. However, if a black cat crosses our path and someone says that this is an bad omen for the journey then it is forbidden to cancel the trip just because of the cat, as this is divination.

It is interesting to note that Jewish law doesn't require a person to be oblivious to events that seem to indicate that heaven is trying to tell us something. According to the Sefurno, it is for this reason that Bilam was taken to task by his donkey.

We believe that a person is in control and therefore responsible for every decision that involves choice to do a right or a wrong.

For all other decisions and actions, we believe that everything is in the hands of Heaven. We can therefore not influence the outcome of a business venture as success or failure is up to G-D.

As G-D is in total control of most events, the Torah recognizes that Heaven may be trying to tell a person that his approach will not succeed.

The Talmud (Chulin 95b) states the following in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Eliezer: "A house, a child, and a wife. Even though there may be no divination, there can be a sign." Rabbi Elezar says, "This is if it happened three times, per the verse in Genesis [where Yaakov (Jacob) bemoans to his children], 'Yosef (Joseph) is gone and Shimon is gone and you want to take Binyamin (Benjamin) [away also?].'"

Rashi provides the following commentary:

"Even though there may be no divination:" It is forbidden to divine and to rely on divination.

"There can be a sign:" It's still a sign to some degree. For if a person is successful in his first business venture after he builds a house or has a child or gets married then it can be taken as a sign that he will continue to be successful. And if not then he should not make a habit of going out too much because of the concern that he will not succeed.

"Three times:" That he succeeded or that he did not succeed.

We note a difference between taking an event as merely a sign and taking an event as being a prediction. We take events as signs, not as predictions. A person can ignore a sign but should not ignore a prediction.

We see that it is possible and permissible for a person to view continual setbacks as an indication from Heaven that his approach will not succeed and that he will need significant spiritual merit to overturn the decision.

Bilam's donkey broke away from the travel route three times. Bilam was taken to task for venting his anger on the donkey, for by blaming the animal he showed that he viewed this as an act of a wayward donkey and not as a message of Heaven.

22:33 "And the donkey saw me (the Angel with sword drawn) and turned away these three times. Had it not turned away from me then I would have killed you and let it live."

This was not an ordinary donkey. First, it was able to speak. Second, it was so intelligent that Bilam had no answer to the reprimand it gave to him.

Rashi notes that the donkey was killed. Had the donkey lived then people would have been able to point to it and say that this was the animal that refuted Bilam. G-d has pity on a person's self-respect.

My teacher, Horav Dovid Kronglass ZT"L added that this donkey was particularly distinguished in that it was one of ten items that G-d made immediately prior to the first Shabbos, during the seven days of creation (Mishna Avos 5:8 and Targum Yonasan 22:28). Yet, to protect the dignity of Bilam, G-d had this rare animal be killed.

Also, Bilam was no ordinary person. He was particularly corrupt and immoral. Also, Bilam was seeking to curse the Nation of G-d at the time the donkey was killed.

All of this did not make a difference. Even though Bilam was doomed and deserving of just punishment, he is still a human being and G-d is concerned with his self-respect.

We can use this as a lesson to give more significance to the self-respect of our fellow man.

".. and let my end be like theirs (the Jewish people)" (Numbers 23:10)

I've heard this explained as follows.

Bilam very much wanted to die like a Jew and have a share in their eternal destiny. However, he didn't want to pay for this privilege by living like a Jew before his death.

He wanted his cake and he wanted to eat it. He got neither.

23:1 He (G-D) does not stare at (the) sin of (one who is among) Yaakov (Jacob) … Hashem his G-D is with him …

The verse seems to imply that a sin can be considered be insignificant, to not matter to G-D. The Nesivas Shalom commentary points out that the Talmud teaches us otherwise.

If one says that (Heaven) disregards sin, then his life will be disregarded (by Heaven) (Bava Kama 50a).

The Nesivas Shalom reconciles these teachings as follows.

Our verse does not say that G-D overlooks sin. Rather, that G-D does not stare at sin. And this is because "Hashem his G-D is with him."

Indeed, every action of a person has significance, whether it's for the good or otherwise. But the significance can vary both with the action and the way it is done.

Our verse speaks about people who are always thinking about G-D, even when they have moments of weakness and succumb to passion or emotion.

The significance of a misdeed is reduced if it truly bothers a person when he's not doing the right thing, that G-D is nevertheless "with him." While he may be changeable, the person knows that G-D is unchanging and he does not adjust his beliefs to make them consistent with his misbehavior.

G-D is always aware of our actions, G-D always looks, there is always accountability. However, when a person maintains his belief and connection with G-D, even when sinning, G-D does not "stare" at such misdeeds, as the verse says, and the consequence of the misdeed is reduced.

The speaker of our verse is Bilam, a highly complex and very wrong individual who assumed that G-D was not on top of everything that went on in this world. And just like he thought that G-D was not always with him, his moral behavior demonstrated that was he was not always "with G-D."

Upon seeing the way the Jewish people in the desert lived, he realized that they were indeed always "with G-D," even when their actions were inconsistent with their realizations.

23:10 "… May my soul experience the death of the upright and may my end be like (those of the Jewish people) …"

The Rabbeinu Bachya commentary notes that this verse provides a reference to the teaching that while a person's body can and does die, the person himself continues to live, only in another realm.

We call this the Realm of the Neshamos and the first part of this verse speaks to this.

Furthermore, we are taught that life in this realm is a temporary state and that all but the extremely wicked will be re-united with a new version of their body and revived, back again in this world. The second part of this verse speaks to this.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) provides a parable to explain why we must come back.

A king appointed a lame person and a blind person to guard his orchard.

The lame watchman saw the luscious fruit but was unable to maneuver and it was too high for him to get at it. The blind watchman also wanted some fruit but he could not see where it was.

They realized if the lame watchman got on the blind watchman's shoulders then he could direct him where to go so that they he can pick fruit for them both.

This arrangement worked perfectly they gorged themselves on the king's fruit trees.

The king returned, noticed the missing fruit, and suspected that the watchmen were the culprits.

The lame watchman explained that he could not have eaten the fruit because he was too crippled to get at it.

The blind watchman said that he could not have eaten the fruit because he couldn't see where the trees were.

The king was clever enough to realize what happened.

So he ordered the lame watchman to climb on top of the blind watchman's shoulders and he ordered his staff to whip them both.

Similarly, when a person stands in judgment in the afterlife, the soul can absolve itself of responsibility for misbehavior because only the body can do anything in this world. And the body can absolve itself of responsibility because it was the soul that provided its life force.

So we therefore need to come back in this world for a final judgment, be it for reward or for punishment.

Nothing in this world is permanent, even death.

23:13 And Balak said to him, "Please come with me to another place where you will see it [the camp of Jewish people]. You will see only a part of it, not all of it. And curse (them) for me there."

The wicked Bilam was brought by Balak to curse the Jewish people. Why was it important that he see only part of them?

The following came to mind.

We are taught that G-D guaranteed the Jewish people that they will survive throughout history. While we are not immune to misfortune, we will never be totally destroyed. So perhaps Bilam focused on destroying only part of the Jewish people for he knew that his curse would be nullified had he tried to destroy them all.

The following also came to mind.

In every group of people you will usually find people who are good and people who aren't. Sometimes you find more of the good and other times the reverse. This is true of every group, including subsets of the Jewish people.

As a whole, the Jewish people were held in high esteem by even their enemies, for their lower elements are more than compensated by those who are upright. Perhaps this is why Balak didn't want to present Bilam with the entire nation.

23:18 G-D is not a man, who can be devious. Neither is He a son of Adam, who can change His mind. Would He say (something) and not do it? Would He speak and not fulfill it?

King Balak brought the wicked Bilam to curse the Jewish people. Instead, Bilam's prophecy blessed the Jewish. Balak asked him to try again and overriding the blessings.

Bilam began his second prophecy with the above verse.

In his Chayeh Moshe commentary, Rav Moshe Bick of blessed memory reads Bilam's words to mean that G-D never takes back a promise to do something good.

The Rashbam and Chizkuni commentaries read Bilam's words to mean that G-D would not cancel the blessings because the Jewish people did not sin between the first and second prophecies.

The Shiras Dovid commentary understands the Rashbam and Chizkuni to imply that G-D could indeed cancel a promise to do something good if those who were promised no longer deserved it.

Although the commentaries appear to be divergent, perhaps we can use both readings to better understand what Bilam was trying to say.

Now, the only prophet about whom we have first-hand knowledge of his veracity was Moshe (Moses).

All other people who claim to be G-D's true prophet are either telling the truth or they are falsifiers and con artists.

The Torah provides the following guidance to help us identify a true prophet:

The prophet who speaks in the name of G-D and the word (that he says) does not happen or does not come about is a word that G-D did not say. The prophet spoke brazenly. Do not fear him (Deuteronomy 18:22).

The Shiras Dovid commentary says that the reason G-D never cancels a blessing a prophet gives is to back the veracity and reputation of His holy messengers so that we should listen to them.

While it is a Torah truth that Bilam transmitted some of G-D messages, he wasn't exactly a holy messenger. And listening to his advice got the Midianites into so much trouble that the Torah commanded the Jewish people to just about destroy them.

So there was no reason to back Bilam's veracity and reputation. There were no negative consequences had Bilam's prophecy been undermined. Perhaps this is how the Torah wants us to understand Bilam's words and this is what the Rashbam and Chizkuni commentaries are telling us. In truth, had the Jewish people sinned then Bilam's blessing could have been revoked.

But Bilam wouldn't want Balak to know that the blessing could have been revoked because he was a low-life and there was no reason for G-D to back him.

Perhaps we can apply Rav Bick's approach to say that Bilam wanted Balak to understand his words to say that G-D was backing him and the blessings were irrevocable, like those of G-D's reputable messengers.

23:19 "G-D is not a man that would be false, nor the son of a human who would change his mind …"

The Rashbam commentary understands that Balak wanted Bilam to retract the beautiful prophecy that he just made about the Jewish people.

Bilam's response to Balak is above. He is saying that G-D would never retract His blessing in such a short timeframe because the Jewish people did not sin from the time that he last blessed them.

This is puzzling because are taught that a prophecy that foretells benefit is never retracted (Rambam Fundamentals of Torah 10). This should prevent a retraction no matter how long ago the prophecy was made.

The Shiras Dovid commentary provides the following explanation.

The Torah commands the Jewish people to believe the prophets that G-D sends (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

But history is full of false prophets, con artists that are persuasive, have magnetic personalities, and are great orators. Without guidance, we have no way of determining whether a person is genuine or a fake.

The Torah therefore guarantees us that a beneficial prophecy that does not come true will indicate falsehood (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). That is, G-D will always back His prophets to enable us to fulfill the commandment to believe what they say.

Balak thought that Bilam's blessing could be retracted because the Jewish people had no commandment to believe in Bilam, as he was not sent. As G-D had no reason to back Bilam's prophecy, He could retract it without disturbing the system of belief in prophets.

Bilam's response is that even if G-D could and would retract the prophecy, there was no reason for Him to do so because as Jewish people had not sinned.

24:3 And he proclaimed his parable and said, "So says Bilam son of Beor, and so says the one whose eye is open."

Rashi reads this to mean that Bilam's eye socket was open, as he lost an eyeball. He references the Talmud (Nidah 31a) where it states that Bilam lost an eye as a punishment for thinking that G-D gazed at people when they procreated.

Bilam came up with this notion in his first prophecy. He prophesized that G-D counts the 'rovah' of Israel which, Rashi says, refers to procreating (23:10).

It appears from the Talmud that G-D asks, 'When will a seed come forth from which a righteous person will be born?' Bilam said to himself, "How could One who is holy and whose attendants are holy stare at such things?"

Our verse begins Bilam's third and final prophecy.

Assuming that he lost his eyesight during the first prophecy, why didn't he mention it in the third prophecy and not the second?

We note that Bilam does indeed mention eyesight in his second prophecy, saying that G-D 'does not see perversity in Israel' (23:21).

Could the delay have been because there was something in the third prophecy that brought his own loss to his attention?

Of his many flaws, it appears that Bilam denied that G-D was all-knowing. We see this in Rashi's commentary. In 22:9 G-D asked Bilam, "Who are these people who are with you?" The intention was to open up a conversation. However, Bilam took this to be a clue that G-D doesn't always know what's happening. He therefore began to search for a moment when G-D wasn't 'looking' so that he could curse the Jewish people.

Perhaps we can use this to understand what Bilam was thinking when he proclaimed in his second prophecy that G-D does not "see" perversity in the Jewish people. That is, assuming G-D needs eyes to see and they can't be everywhere, they have perversity but G-D has yet to see it.

With this we can perhaps understand how Bilam could view himself as a prophet of G-D, which he indeed was, and yet sleep with his donkey in the dark of the night (Sanhedrin 105b).

The following verse describes how and when the third prophecy came to Bilam.

24:3 And Bilam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes. And (then) a spirit of G-D came upon him.

Rashi says that Bilam was touched when he saw that the Jewish people arranged the doorways of their tents in an alternating pattern so that people would not peer into their neighbor's home. This moved him to consider not cursing the Jewish people. And the 'spirit of G-D' came upon him at that moment.

He could have viewed the timing as a coincidence. Or, it may have brought him to consider that G-D actually knows his thoughts, something that a pair of eyeballs would not pick up.

It is interesting to note that he claims in a later verse that he knows what G-D thinks (24:16).

24:3 And he proclaimed his parable and said, "So says Bilam son of Beor, and so says the one whose eye is open."

Bilam's father was Beor. In Hebrew this is normally written 'Bilam Ben [son of] Beor. However here it's written 'Beno [his son is] Beor', which suggests that Bilam's father was also his son.

We find a similar construct earlier in the same Torah reading where Bilam addresses King Balak, whose father was Tzipor.

32:18 And he raised his parable and said, "Arise (King) Balak and listen. Give me your ear, son of Tzipor.

The Hebrew for son of Tzipor is 'Beno Tzipor', not 'Ben Tzipor.'

The Medrash notes this in the following teaching that is cited by Rashi.

Both men were greater than their fathers. Balak Beno Tzipor implies that his father was like a son to him with respect to monarchy. Bilan was greater than his father with respect to prophecy.

Why is this significant? What is the Torah trying to tell us by making this point?

Many great people were greater than their parents. Is there something wrong with that? Moshe (Moses) is the master of all prophets. He was greater than his father and yet the Torah does not put any focus on this. Why?

The following came to mind.

There are two approaches to theology: Investigation and invention.

We are taught that Judaism consists of the former. Some 3300 years ago there was a series of Divine revelations to Moshe. For the rest of history, Torah scholars have been using whatever written and oral clues they have to determine that which Moshe taught us over 3300 years ago.

Now, a browse through a listing of religions in an almanac reveals a set of religions that are mutually exclusive with each other. Since the religions in this set can not all be true, it follows to the objective reader that throughout history there have been falsifiers, people who used their talent and resources to fool their fellows into adopting a religion that they fabricated.

Many of us alive today bear witness to the broadcasts when the followers of the 'Reverend' Jim Jones partook in their last suicide orgy. We today have learned to brace ourselves for bad news when a comet rolls by. The exploitations and outrages of many ancient religions are now well documented by the historians and archeologists.

The approach of the falsifiers and fabricators is that of invention. Ancestral heritage and transmission has no relevance to those who fit the profile of the egotistical power and pride monger.

When selling himself to Balak, perhaps the 'great' theologian Bilam focused on Balak's superiority over his father and now his own superiority. Just as Balak used his talent to manipulate people, so can he offer this service to the king.

For the Torah scholar, in contrast to the fabricator, historical adjacency to the source can be more of an asset than talent. Superiority over parents bears considerably less significance.

24:14 And now I [Bilam] am going (back) to my people. Come, I will advise you (what to do and I will also tell you) what this nation [the Jewish people] will do to your nation [of Moav] in the end of days.

Unable to harm the Jewish people with his curse, Bilam sought their destruction by giving advice to their enemies.

The advice that Bilam gave Balak is recorded in the Oral Torah (Sanhedrin 106a).

Bilam started off by saying that the G-D of the Jewish people hates lewdness. He then advised them to set up stalls to sell wares to the Jewish people. When a man came to purchase something, an old woman at the stall gave one price but a young and attractive woman gave a much lower price and suggested that he browse through the wares that were inside. Once inside, she offered him some wine and tried to incite passion. Those who were overcome were not permitted to satisfy the passion without first doing an act of service for the Ba'al Peor idol.

Unfortunately, a number of Jewish people succumbed and serviced Ba'al Peor.

25:3 And Israel (became) attached to Ba'al Peor. And G-D became angry at Israel.

Many Jewish people died because of this attachment to Ba'al Peor.

Bilam's introduction to his advice, that G-D hates lewdness, is of questionable relevance.

He did need to justify Moav's and Midian's unprecedented national campaign for harlotry which succeeded in recruiting thousands of debased young women.

But, since Bilam's objective was to destroy Jewish people by their committing idolatry, why should G-D's partiality against lewdness make a difference? Did Bilam think that G-D had human foibles and that this partiality could make G-D mad so that He would warp justice against the Jewish people and that more would be killed?

Deuteronomy 32:4 (G-D is) the Rock, His acts are complete for all of his ways are justice. (He is a) G-D of steadfastness with no corruption. (He is) righteous and straight.

There is no room for preference and partiality in G-D's judgement and Bilam, who was a prophet, should have known this. Why did Bilam mention this partiality?

The following came to mind.

A person is judged by what he/she does and how they do it. Quality of an act of virtue or sin (G-D forbid) is very much taken into account.

Those who succumbed knew that G-D hates lewdness. Their awareness of this fact and the performance of idolatry within this context served to add to the seriousness of their offense of idolatry. So to speak, they felt that they were 'letting G-D down' even more. It added to the edge of their sin.

This serves as a reminder of the importance of 'adding to the edge' of everything we do, including acts of virtue. This brings to mind the practice that many people have of giving charity during the prayer service. Besides being a virtue in and of itself, charity serves to enhance the context and quality prayer.

Bilam has several sets of encounters with Heaven. Twice he has three encounters. In one it is with an angel of G-d and in the other it is with G-d, Himself.

With the angel and the first encounter, Bilam starts out by riding on an open road. His donkey sees the angel with his sword drawn but Bilam doesn't see it. The donkey swerves off the road to avoid the blade of the angel's sword. In the second encounter, Bilam is on a narrow path which is between two walls. The donkey swerves and hits a wall, smashing Bilam's leg. In the third encounter, the passageway is so narrow that the donkey can't dodge away from the angel, so it just hunches down and sits in on the ground.

Furious, Bilam beats the rebellious donkey.

Thereupon, G-d opens the mouth of the donkey and it reprimands Bilam for his behavior.

G-d finally allows Bilam to share his donkey's vision. The angel kills the donkey.

We thus have three events followed by a talking beast which is killed by a sword.

In the second set, G-d provides Bilam with prophetic experiences during which Bilam's curses against the Jewish people are turned into blessings.

Since both sets consist of three events, are they related?

Next, Balak King of Moav sends two sets of agents to commission Bilam's services to curse the Jewish people. Bilam tells the first set that G-d (Hashem) does not permit him to get involved.

The second time around, Bilam is given permission. When Bilam arrives, Balak questions Balam's initial refusal. Bilam responds that he can only say that which G-d (Elokim) permits him to.

Bilam uses another name of G-d, Elokim instead of Hashem. Why?

In fact, these two names of G-d are used in certain contexts. There must be a pattern. What is it and how does it relate to the story of Bilam?

Finally, what makes Balak persist and push three times for a curse? Why doesn't he learn a lesson after the first failure?

The following came to mind.

Man is a finite being and he must relate to G-d, who is infinite and whose essence is beyond human comprehension. We relate somewhat to G-d by what we perceive that He does in this world. That's the best we can do. We ascribe names to certain aspects of behaviors and we even have a name for G-d's Supreme will, somewhat referring to His essence. However, we believe that these names do not actually describe to us what G-d really is.

The name Elokim implies regulation, justice, structure, power. Creation of the world and the laws of nature are described with this name.

The name Hashem implies G-d's supreme will. He is above regulation.

During Bilam's time, the nations of the world were familiar with the name, Elokim. Knowledge of the name of Hashem was new and this is how we understand Pharaoh's remark to Moshe, "I do not know Hashem." (Exodus 5:2)

Bilam is a theologian and perhaps our parsha reflects his teaching Balak about G-d.

Also, perhaps Bilam seeks to use his knowledge to manipulate G-d, as if a person can do such a thing. Perhaps our parsha reflects G-d teaching Bilam about His supremacy.

Also, perhaps the donkey's encounter with the angel is a reflection of what will happen to Bilam.

We begin a detailed analysis with Numbers 22:38 when Bilam initially tells Balak that he must be careful to say only that which Elokim permits him. Bilam starts with a name of G-d which Balak understands. However, if needed he can cover his tracks and use the name of Hashem, and this was perhaps why he used this name with Balak's messengers.

In Numbers 22:41, Balak takes Bilam somewhere to pronounce the curse. Balak disregards Bilam's excuses. He starts out implying that it is man, not G-d who is in control. This can perhaps be reflected by Bilam's first encounter with the angel, where he started out on the main highway, unconfined.

In Numbers 23:3, Bilam tells Balak to wait by the sacrifice. It is during daylight and Bilam is unsure whether he will have a prophetic experience with Hashem. Rashi notes that Bilam's uncertainty is based on experience, since it had been G-d's custom to appear to him only at night, indicating to us a stealthy relationship. However, Bilam is counting on the name of Hashem, which is above regulation and custom. Bilam would be much more comfortable with an encounter with the name Elokim, which implies a structure that he can understand and therefore perhaps manipulate. He would have no basis to present an argument under an encounter with Hashem, as it implies G-d's will and there is no argument against a will.

We are taught (Rashi Numbers 22:9 and other sources) that G-d helps those who help themselves. He helps those who want to Heaven to get there and He helps those who want Hell to get there, too. Therefore, G-d in the name of Elokim appears to Bilam. The Hebrew for this encounter suggests that it was somewhat accidental. Bilam presents an argument (Rashi 23:4). Hashem, not Elokim provides Bilam with prophecy. Perhaps Bilam chooses to view thia as a weakness, as though, Heaven forbid, G-d as Elokim could not deal with Balam's argument.

Upon his return to Balak, Numbers 23:12, he now references the name Hashem.

Balak learns that man is not in control.

However, perhaps it is possible to get the curse by playing one name of G-d against the other, much like the theology of the Greeks and Romans whose gods engaged in power plays. He tells Bilam to give this a try.

Perhaps the nature of next encounter is thus reflected by the two walls between which the donkey stood.

Hashem, not Elokim, appears to Bilam.

So to speak, Bilam has now only one leg to stand on. Perhaps this is reflected by Bilam's donkey who put one of his legs out of commission.

Upon returning to reveal the prophecy, Balak asks Bilam what Hashem told him, poking fun at Bilam's weakness. (Rashi 23:17) Frustrated, Bilam tells Balak to stand up on both feet and give honor to the prophecy of G-d. (Rashi 23:18). He gives the second blessing.

They try one more trick, as if it's possible.

Perhaps Bilam can invoke an encounter with the name Elokim and even justify a curse by making a direct reference to a sin of the Jewish people. Thus, Balak uses this name of G-d when making the suggestion to try a third time, Numbers 23:27.

Bilam turns his face towards the desert. Rashi, 24:1 and Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel say that he began to focus his attention towards the sin of the Golden Calf, done in the desert.

Bilam gets his encounter with Elokim, Numbers 24:2.

In the parting words, G-d tells Bilam to say, "Those who bless you (Jewish people) are blessed, and those who curse you (Jewish people) are cursed."

It's no use. Furthermore, curse them and you're cursed.

Remember the donkey who gave up and sat down in his tracks.

Balak has finally learned about G-d and His supremacy. He says, "Hashem has kept you from (receiving my) honor."

The story is not over. Bilam provides Balak with another type of service and gives him advice on how to cause the Jewish people to sin (Rashi 24:14 from the Talmud). Perhaps this is reflected by the donkey who opened his mouth to speak after the three encounters with the angel.

Bilam is killed by the sword, Numbers 31:8. The angel killed the donkey with his sword, also.

Pinchas (Num 25-30)

25:10 And G-D said to Moshe (Moses) saying

25:11 "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon (Aaron) the priest brought back my fury (that was focused) against the Children of Israel and I did not destroy the Children of Israel in my zealousness."

25:12 Therefore proclaim, "Behold I give him My covenant of peace."

25:13 "And he and his children shall have an everlasting covenant of priesthood because he was zealous for his G-D and (thereby) atoned for the Children of Israel."

Pinchas assumed the role of a zealot and responded to an outrage that was done by a tribal leader. By killing the perpetrator, Pinchas stopped a deadly plague that was sent by Heaven in response to the outrage (numbers 25:6-8).

Zealots are usually condemned. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Pinchas would not have been told to do this, had he asked leadership for detailed guidance (Sanhedrin 82a).

Pinchas' reward was a "covenant of peace," which meant eternal life (Zohar). Some say that Pinchas became Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet, whom we are all waiting for to herald the Messianic Era.

Mankind suffers so much from zealots. What was so unique about the zealousness of Pinchas?

My understanding of the Nesivas Shalom's explanation is as follows.

Run-of-the-mill zealots respond to feelings of outrage. They have some cause or ideal that is very significant to them. Their feelings are so intense that they are willing to lose their lives over it. They respond to personal pain; It is all so deeply personal.

The Torah testifies that Pinchas was different. He was totally into the pain of the Jewish people who were shocked at what was taking place. He acted with full intention to restore peace, not to inject violence.

The Nesivas Shalom commentary notes that the Torah makes it a point of tracing his lineage back to Aharon (Aaron), the great peace-maker, to reinforce this point.

Not everyone is put together to act with such selflessness that he can fully intend to bring peace while being a zealot. Even one iota of personal satisfaction makes an act of zeal worthy of condemnation. This is why our leaders are instructed to not advise anybody to act in zeal.

Pinchas was a rare person and may we all merit to soon greet him.

25:10 And G-D said to Moshe, saying.

25:11 "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the priest returned my fury (that was sent) against the Children of Israel and I did not destroy the Children of Israel in my zealousness."

25:12 Therefore proclaim, "Behold I give him My covenant of peace."

The Medrash adds that Pinchas is entitled to reward by law.

The commentaries are puzzled over why the Medrash feels that is necessary to make this point. What is it trying to tell us?

In fact, says Rabbi Moshe Bick of blessed memory, it may surprise you to know that G-D will bestow great reward to us for fulfilling the Torah because of His great loving kindness, not because He is obligated to do so.

To understand this, consider the following.

A very charitable and wealthy person took up the plight of homeless person who had no resources. He gave him an allowance for food and lodging and paid the bills at a building supply store so that this homeless person could build his own house on a parcel of land that the benefactor gave him.

I ask you the following questions. Is the benefactor obligated to pay this person for the labor to build that house?


If the benefactor told the homeless person to build the house, would he be offended if that person chose not to listen to him?

He would probably not be offended.

It may surprise you to know that we are that homeless person. We are dependent on G-D and He is independent. He has no needs. He has no benefit if we listen to Him. He loses nothing if we do not fulfill his commandments. The reason He gave us commandments is so that we can later feel that we earned the reward He plans to give us. We build our own greatness by following the Torah and we are so very fortunate for this opportunity.

So why is what Pinchas did any different than what we do? Why was he entitled to a reward by law?

The answer is that had Pinchas not killed Zimry then the Jewish people would have been destroyed and G-D would have lost His treasure.

So Pinchas was entitled to be compensated by law, not just from G-D's loving-kindness and this is what the Medrash is trying to tell us.

25:10 And G-D said to Moshe, saying.

25:11 "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the priest returned my fury (that was sent) against the Children of Israel and I did not destroy the Children of Israel in my zealousness."

25:12 "And therefore say, 'Behold I am giving him My covenant of peace.'"

There are views that Pinchas became Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet), who ascended to heaven during the historical period of the kings of Israel and who was blessed with eternal life and is still alive, waiting for permission to announce our redemption, may it occur speedily in our days.

We find Pinchas in the Book of Yehoshua (Joshua 22). The Oral Torah teaches that he was functioning during the period of Yiftach the Judge (Eliyahu Rabbah 12a).

Eliyahu emerges several hundred years later in the Book of Kings II.

It is puzzling that such an outstanding and experienced person seems to disappear and that others who would appear to be less qualified than him are leading the Jewish people in the interim.

What came to mind is that perhaps he retired from leadership because the stress of being a leader interfered with the Covenant of Peace that G-D promised him.

During the interim, we expect that Pinchas continued to study Torah, he taught and advised others, and he lived a life of full Torah observance.

Ask anyone who sincerely and truthfully observes the Torah as it has been practiced for the last thirty-three centuries. Over time, the energy from Torah observance becomes felt and one feels a transformation into higher levels of awareness, perfection, and peace.

I may assume that the same happened to Pinchas.

Initially a student and grandson of Aharon, he eventually became the elder of his generation and assumed a leadership position. He retired when it became strenuous and interfered with his peace of mind, But he continued his upward climb towards perfection by simply studying Torah and observing it until he was able to handle being a leader with absolutely no emotional strain, at which point he re-emerged.

In this light, his ascension to heaven was simply a more pronounced transformation, which can very well happen to anybody, given enough opportunity and time.

So, given our own starting point with respect to Pinchas', with sustained good health and resources and of course a continual life of Torah, I wouldn't be surprised if they sent for us a in chariot of fire after a few thousand years because by then we would probably have outgrown the world and life as we know it.

25:10 Pinchas son of Elazar, son of Aharon (Aaron) the priest turned back my anger from being against the Children of Israel when I activated My jealousy against them and (his actions saved them so that) I did not destroy the Children of Israel in My Jealousy.

25:11 "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the priest returned my fury (that was sent) against the Children of Israel and I did not destroy the Children of Israel in my zealousness."

25:12 "And therefore say, 'Behold I am giving him My covenant of peace.'"

25:13 "And he and his children shall have an everlasting covenant of priesthood because he was jealous for his G-D and (thereby) atoned for the Children of Israel."

Had Pinchas not killed Zimri then the Jewish people would have been destroyed.

Initially, only Aharon and his four sons were selected for priesthood. Pinchas, Aharon's grandson from Elazar, was not granted priesthood until this episode, almost forty years later.

While verse 25:13 appears to say that Pinchas entered priesthood at that time, the Talmud (Zevachim 101a) notes that Pinchas is not referenced as a priest until some fourteen years later, in the book of Yehoshua (Joshua) (22:30).

Rav Elazar says in the name of Rabbi Chanina, "Pinchas did not enter priesthood until he killed Zimri (25:8)." This matches verse 25:13 but does not explain why he was not referenced as a priest until much later.

Rav Ashi says that he did not enter priesthood until he made peace between the tribes. This occurred in the book of Yehoshua when he was instrumental in averting a civil war.

The Talmud says that according to Rabbi Chanina, the reference in Yehoshua tells us that his children were not yet aligned to becoming high priests until that time. The Talmud also says that according to Rav Ashi, verse 25:13 is only saying that Pinchas is blessed with priesthood, but not that he actually took office at that time. He was not installed until much later.

Tosfos explains that although he was eligible, did not take immediately office because he was not accepted by some of the Jewish people because he killed Zimri, despite the necessity.

I note that despite the suggestion and resulting expectation from G-D that Pinchas assume priesthood, the relationship between Pinchas and all of the people that he would serve justified delaying the process.

Also, I note that there was no way for Pinchas to know in advance whether he would ever be given the opportunity to take the role of a peacemaker, which opened the way for him to take office. It was apparently more important for him hope for this opportunity and live with the possibly of forgoing priesthood for himself and his descendants than to take advantage of the moment and assume office.

25:10 Pinchas son of Elazar, son of Aharon (Aaron) the priest turned back my anger from being against the Children of Israel when I activated My jealousy against them and (his actions saved them so that) I did not destroy the Children of Israel in My Jealousy.

Rashi's commentary says that the Scriptures made a special point of mentioning Pinchas's lineage back to Aharon. This is because there were people who appeared to be making insulting remarks about his lineage because Pinchas was also a descendant of Yisro (Jethro) who was a former priest to idolatry.

Given that the Jewish people were in spiritual peril from Zimri's uprising, such a remark would have only put them in greater peril. Why did they make this remark, which appears as if they were siding with Zimri?

It is very difficult to understand Zimri's uprising. An awesome number of people had just experienced what seems to be the worst possible spiritual downfall and committed a capital offense. Rashi in 25:5 states that one-hundred-seventy-six thousand men were seduced into incest and idol worship by harlots from Midian. Given the possibility of incurring Divine wrath from such a downfall, why would Zimri publicly take another harlot?

An amazing recount of his uprising is recorded in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 82a).

Zimri was the leader of the tribe of Shimon (Simeon) and a large number of members were involved in this infraction. They came to Zimri and demanded that he take action to avert their death sentence. Zimri found a Midianite woman named Kazbi who was on the prowl to ensnare none other than Moshe (Moses) himself. He argued that he was greater than Moshe and demanded that she submit to him. He then took her by her hair and went before Moshe. He called out to Moshe, "Son of Amram! Is this woman permitted to me or is she forbidden? If she is forbidden then who permitted you to take Yisro's daughter (Tziporah) for a wife?" He then stamped out of the courtroom and went to his tribal area, where he publicly went into seclusion with Kazbi. Pinchas followed him, found them in the act, and killed them both.

Zimri wanted to avert the death sentence for some of his tribal members who were seduced by Midianite women. Why did he think that his backtalk to Moshe and his outrageous conduct with Kazbi would be of help? Was this merely a show of force?

Why did he violate her?

What sense did his argument make? True, Tziporah and Yisro came from Midian. However, Moshe married Tziporah before the Torah was given, when there was no demarcation between the nations. She and her father later converted to Judaism together with everyone else and they adopted a new nationality. There was absolutely nothing illegal or unethical about Moshe's relationship with Tziporah. Unlike Kazbi, their identity was Jewish, no longer Midianite.

Also, why did Zimri refer to Tziporah as Yisro's daughter and not as a Midianite woman? Why should his argument help for Kazbi, who was a Midianite woman but was not Yisro's daughter?

The following came to mind.

There is a fascinating record of an encounter between Rabbi Gamliel and a Roman General named Agriphus in the Talmud (Avodah Zara 55a). The Maharsha's commentary provides a very enlightening explanation.

Agriphus posed the following question to Rabbi Gamliel:

"It is written in your Torah that 'Hashem your G-D is a consuming fire, a jealous G-D (Deuteronomy 4:24).' A sage can only become jealous of another sage. A powerful warrior can only become jealous of another powerful warrior. A rich person can only become jealous of another rich person. Therefore, how could G-D become jealous of another G-D? Your own Torah therefore indicates that there are other deities and they are on a level that is competitive with your G-D."

Rabbi Gamliel responded with a parable. Suppose that a married man took another wife (in periods and cultures where polygamy was not discouraged). The first wife may not be in a position to complain if the new wife came from a better stock or was better qualified in some way. However, if the second wife was inferior in every way then she would have a justified complaint against her husband. Therefore, G-D is understandably upset when people turn to any form of idolatry, for they are all a form of theological abyss.

In light of this Talmudic excerpt we can perhaps now understand Zimri's approach.

Zimri adopted Agriphus' position.

He tried to claim that while idolatry was not to be condoned, any extreme reaction of the Jewish people against idolatry and idol worshippers could be taken as an acknowledgement that there are theological powers other than G-D. Therefore, executing almost two-hundred-thousand people for being seduced into idolatry was an act of profanation against G-D's Name.

In this light, he felt that it would be a meritorious act to violate a Midianite woman for this would show that they and their theology had no significance. He meant to demonstrate that the best response to the spiritual downfall was to not respond.

But he was wrong and Rabbi Gamliel provided the counter-argument.

With this approach we can now understand his encounter with Moshe.

He countered that if we are to go to an extreme and distance ourselves from idolatry, then why did Moshe marry the daughter of an idolatrous priest? One would expect the righteous son of the righteous Amram to be more selective and go to an extreme and disqualify anybody from that family. Obviously, Zimri agued, it is inappropriate to discriminate against idolaters for this would imply that their theology had some validity. It must have been for this reason that Moshe himself took Tziporah for his wife. If so, then why are we going to kill so many people for their temporary lapse into idolatry?

This is perhaps why Zimri referred to her as the daughter of Yisro and not as a Midianite woman.

Zimri glossed over the fact that when Moshe first came to Yisro, the latter had been an outcast from his society because Yisro abandoned and renounced idolatry (Rashi Exodus 2:16).

In this light, connecting Pinchas through his lineage with Yisro could be taken as a complement. That is, he was best qualified to respond in an extreme manner to Zimri's innovation and kill him for this showed that even a blood relation with a former priest of idols bears no meaning when it comes time to demonstrate against idolatry.

Perhaps then the people who made remarks about Pinchas' lineage had no intention of insulting him. They may have intended to make this compliment.

However, their remarks could have also been taken as an insult so the Torah made a special point of adding that his lineage was also linked to Aharon.

This is why we were never faulted for associating Pinchas with Yisro.

25:11 Pinchas, son of Elezar, son of Aharon [Aaron] the (High) Priest, took away My anger from the Children of Israel when he acted zealously to redress my grievance in their midst. And I (therefore) did not destroy the Children of Israel due in my grievance (with them).

From this verse it appears that it is possible for G-D to decree the total destruction of the Jewish people.

From a verse in Leviticus it appears otherwise:

26:44 And still with this, their being in the land of their enemy I have not detested them, nor abhorred them to destroy them, to waive My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-D.

26:45 And I will remember the initial covenant that I took them from the Land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations to be for them a G-D, I am Hashem.

Do these verses contract each other?

The following came to mind, based on what I have studied.

Stakes are raised and lowered in accordance with the capabilities that G-D provides. The more capabilities G-D provides a person or a people, the greater are the consequences, for either accomplishment or destruction, G-D forbid.

At the doorstep of their entrance into the Promised Land, surrounded by miracles, and with Moshe (Moses) at their helm, the Jewish people were at a lofty and unprecedented level of spiritual capability. Their potential for catastrophe matched their potential for success.

Potential for achievement is severely curtailed by the painful exile that Leviticus describes. However, it is the very same exile that preserves the Jewish people, for they will never be totally destroyed in that state.

If not for Pinchas, the Jewish people would have been destroyed.

It is a matter of faith that his arrival was not a random historical occurrence. Rather, G-D manages people and history in many ways to avert destruction.

25:12 Therefore announce, "I [G-d] give him (Pinchas) My Covenant of Peace."

We are taught that this refers to a covenant of protection against the Angel of Death. That is, Pinchas will never die. Our tradition teaches that Pinchas became Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet and in some form he is still with us today.

It is also a matter of faith for us that the day will come when the Jewish people, together with all Mankind, will achieve perfection. The long-awaited end of our current exile will occur. We will again be on the doorstep to great achievement. But it then follows that we and all of Mankind will also be vulnerable to destruction.

The concluding verses of our scriptures provide the following glimpse into the future:

Behold I will send before you Eliyahu the Prophet, before that great and awesome Day of G-D.

And he will bring the heart of the parents back onto the children, and the heart of the children back onto their parents, lest I come and wipe out the Earth. (Malachi 3:23-24)

Again we see G-D managing history to preserve us. It is no coincidence that Pinchas/Eliyahu is selected for this mission, for he merited to do this before.

Perhaps by this selection, G-D will be telling us that we have no reason to fear the long-awaited capabilities achievements that will come with the future redemption. The transition will be sudden and dramatic, but He will support its success, He will support us.

May it be G-D's will that this happens very soon.

25:11 Pinchas, son of Elezar, son of Aharon [Aaron] the (High) Priest, took away My anger from the Children of Israel when he acted zealously to redress My grievance in their midst. And I (therefore) did not destroy the Children of Israel due in My grievance (with them).

25:12 Therefore announce, "I [G-d] give him My Covenant of Peace."

The Torah defines standards for appropriate behavior. The Torah recognizes a wide range of roles that a person may need to take on, even that of a zealot.

The Oral Torah records that Pinchas kept to this standard when his feelings of outrage were required to be turned into action and he killed Zimri. Furthermore, the Oral Torah records that G-d performed a number miracles to enable Pinchas to do this.

Pinchas risked his life to kill Zimri. Had G-d not performed miracles for him then he would have been killed, himself.

His act averted further casualties.

Pinchas was rewarded with priesthood. The Oral Torah teaches that the Covenant of Peace that was granted to Pinchas meant immortality, piece of mind from the Angel of Death.

Sometimes, a person is presented with a responsibility to stop the negative behavior of another person, such as with Pinchas and Zimri. Other times, a person is presented with an opportunity to encourage the positive behavior of another person.

The Oral Torah teaches that "the measurement of good is greater than the measurement of penalty."

The great reward that Pinchas received should serve as our motivation.

There is plenty of negativity in our world. However, there is also plenty of good.

Until responsibilities to stop negative behavior present themselves, let us seek out the good that people are doing and lets give them encouragement.

25:13 And he and his children shall have an everlasting covenant of priesthood because he was jealous for his G-D and (thereby) atoned for the Children of Israel.

Both Pinchas and Korach were cited for jealousy.

Korach of last week's Torah reading was jealous over the priesthood. He died, together with his family and the 250 people that he persuaded to join his cause.

Pinchas was jealous for G-D and he was granted priesthood for himself and all descendents. Additionally, he was granted immunity from the angel of death.

This reflects a Torah teaching that there is no such thing as a bad character trait.

Any character trait, including jealousy, can be channeled to do good. Any character trait, even kindness, can be channeled for destructive purposes.

It is the responsibility of every person to manage the mix and intensities of character traits that he/she is born with to ensure behavioral, emotional, and intellectual compliance with the standards that the Torah specifies.

26:1 And it was after the plague

And G-D said to Moshe (Moses) and to Elazar son of Aharon (Aaron) the priest, saying.

26:2 Take the count of all the congregation of the Children of Israel …

In verse 26:1 the Torah inserts a space in the middle of the text, similar to what is shown above. This indicates some sort of break.

Yosef (Joseph) had two sons, Menasheh and Ephraim. Menasheh was the first-born.

In its earlier record of the census, the Torah lists Ephraim before Menasheh (1:32-37). Here the Torah lists Menasheh before Ephraim, in their natural birth-order (26:28-37).

What message can we take from these two observations?

The following came to mind.

Rashi in 26:5 notes that the Torah inserts letters from G-D's name around the names of every family that is listed in the census. This indicates G-D's testimony of the authenticity of lineage in every family. Although the Egyptians controlled their work-life, they were unable to control Jewish women and father any Jewish children, save for one.

A generation later, the Jewish people had just experienced a failure when one-fifth of their eligible men succumbed to enticements of the daughters of Midian and Moav.

Here, the Torah is telling us that this downfall was not a departure and change in behavioral standards, but rather it was an exception.

A group within the Jewish people failed, not the nation as a whole.

Perhaps to provide emphasis to this point, and to also provide encouragement to the majority who remained loyal to their ancestor's standard of conduct, the Torah inserts a break between the plague, which punished the offenders, and the census.

In line with its testimony on the purity of each family, the Torah lists the children of Yosef in their natural birth order. And we can also note that it was Yosef himself who withstood the enticement of his master's wife and whose conduct serves as a great example.

26:1: And it was after the plague. And G-D said to Moshe and to Elazar son of Aharon the priest, saying.

26:2 Take the count of the congregation of the Children of Israel from twenty years old and above according to the household of their fathers, all those from Israel who (are eligible to) go out to war.

Rashi provides the following commentary:

This is likened to a shepherd whose flock sustained casualties from a wolf attack and he counts them to know how many survived.

Not every shepherd does this.

When disaster of any type occurs, some people focus only on the magnitude of the disaster and loss.

We must always keep in mind that misfortunes are designed by heaven to correct the spiritual and character flaws that we inflict upon ourselves, both as individuals and as a society. The purpose of tragedy is focused on the refinement and growth of those who survive and on the correction and/or merit of those who did not.

We must never lose our positive attitude; no matter how great are the losses we sustain.

Also, this Rashi brings to mind another of his teachings.

Moshe was charged some thirty-nine years ago to count the previous generation. The very first Rashi in the Book of Numbers says, "Because of their endearment (to G-D), He counts then at every moment …"

That generation was endeared and is all but gone. Yet, G-D is still counting the next generation of the Jewish people to know how many have survived the most recent tragedy.

This demonstrates G-D's interest and concern for His people, even when they need to be punished. It displays an interest that transcends every generation and all of Jewish history.

26:2 Take the number of the (people in the) congregation of the Children of Israel..

Rashi (Numbers 26:1) gives two reasons for the census at this time.

The first reason has to do with the tragedy in the preceding section when twenty-four-thousand people died because they associated themselves with idolatry through their relationship with the daughters of Midian. The need to count is like that of a shepherd whose flock was attacked by wolves and who wants to know how many sheep remain. Thus, G-d who is our shepherd asks for the census.

The second reason has to do with the impending loss of Moshe as our leader. Here, Moshe is the shepherd. Just as the Jewish people were counted when they were given into his charge, they were also counted at the end of his duties, when he returns the 'flock' to their Master. Thus, the census was for Moshe, also.

Why does G-d need us to count for Him?

Also, according to the first reason, the shepherd who experienced this mishap would want to know both how many sheep were lost and how many remained. Why was there no commandment to count the number of people who died, also?

The following came to mind.

G-d does not need us to count for Him. The commandment to count was for either those who were counted or it was for the one who did the count.

According to the first reason, the counting precedes a tragic loss when a great number of people were lost spiritually, as well as physically. The entire episode of the daughters of Midian was very disappointing at this time in our history. The request for the census which immediately follows the loss demonstrates G-d's love and concern of the Jewish people and provides the survivors with encouragement to carry on.

According to the second reason, the count was for Moshe. Perhaps it was a gentle but necessary act to help him grow accustomed to the fact that his charge will soon be over.

26:5 Reuven, the first born of Israel, the children of Reuven (formed the following families:) Chanoch (formed) the Chanochi family, of Palu (he formed) the Palui family.

Rashi notes that in the dozens of verses that follow, the names of the familes are written with unusual grammatical construct.

Let's take Chanoch. The typical and simple way in Hebrew to say Chanoch's family is "mishpachas Chanoch." Instead, the Torah cites Chanoch by name and then adds "mishpachas HaChanochi." By doing so, the Torah adds two extra Hebrew letters to each family name, a 'Hey' at the beginning and a 'Yud' at the end.

Elsewhere these two letters are very distinguished, because they can be used to spell one of the names of G-d, 'Yud' followed by 'Hey'.

Rashi provides the following insight:

(Background note: Our tradition assigns Jewish identity by matrilineal lineage whereas ancestry is based on patrinlineal descent.)

Every Jewish man traced his ancestry back to the twelve sons of Israel.

The nations of the world couldn't see how the Jewish people could do this with any degree of certainty and the nations therefore viewed the trace with mockery and scorn.

Given that the Jewish men were helplessly enslaved by the Egyptians, and over a long period of time, how could these later generations be certain that some of their natural fathers were not Egyptian? The Egyptian slavemasters were capable of seizing the wives as well as the husbands.

Therefore, G-d in His Torah attached two letters of His Holy Name to the names of the Jewish families, attesting that the ancestor of every man was Jewish, not Egyptian.

The Book of Numbers begins with an ancestral trace that occurred some thirty-eight years prior to this trace. Why does the Torah certify their lineage at the end of the forty years in the desert, instead of the year after their separation from Egypt?

Also, the census at the beginning of Numbers mentions just the names of the tribes. However, this census adds another level of detail and mentions the names of the families within the tribes.

The following came to mind.

We are put here to be tested in many ways.

The Jewish people of that period experienced extremes of life. They lived through abject slavery and full freedom, great poverty and then forty years of great wealth. In and of themselves, each environment imposes unique tests for family loyalty. Freedom and wealth is especially stressful when it follows slavery and poverty.

Thus, the certification has greater significance by being recorded at the end of the forty years.

As the tribes camped separately throughout the forty years, G-d's testimony on the additional intra-tribal family detail attests to their full compliance with the Torah, our instructions for living.

This also sheds light on the nature of downfall with the Midianite women, recorded in the previous weekly Torah reading. We can now better view this as an isolated event, the result of Midian's plot to entice and defile our finest Jewish men. This is why G-d later commands a military campaign against them.

27:12 And G-D said to Moshe (Moses), "Ascend this approaching mountain and see the land that I gave to the Children of Israel.

This verse is adjacent to a section that deals with the inheritance of the land of Israel.

Rashi provides commentary on this adjacency and his source appears to be the Sifri.

The Sifri says the following:

Moshe rejoiced when he entered the inheritance of (the tribes of) Reuven and Gad. He said that (it appears to me as though) the vow (of G-D that banned him from entering the land) was annulled. He began to pour (out his) plea before G-D (so that he be permitted to enter the land.)

This is like a king that decreed that his son may not enter the door of his palace chamber. He [the king] entered the (outside) gate and his son was (walking) after him. He entered the yard and his son was after him. When he got to the entranceway he said, 'My son, from here and further on you may not enter.'

Also, when Moshe entered the inheritance of (the tribes of) Reuven and Gad. He said that (it appears to me as though) the vow (of G-D that banned him from entering the land) was annulled. He began to pour (out his) plea before G-D (so that he be permitted to enter the land.)

Can we not make the following inference: If Moshe who was a great sage, father of the wise and father of the prophets, he did not hold back from prayer even though he knew that the decree (against) him was made, how much more so should an ordinary person (not hold back from prayer.)

The Sifri says that Moshe prayed to overturn G-D's decree and that we should pray if we are in the same situation.

The Sifri does not explain why the prayers of a mere mortal should make any difference in such a dire circumstance.

Human resistance is worn down by pleas and nagging. How can we understand that we have to get G-D to change His decision? It is inconceivable that a human can 'wear down' G-D's resistance. Moshe, 'father of the prophets,' knew clearly that he will not enter the land. Why did he pray?

The following came to mind.

When we plead and nag a fellow human, in effect we are seeking to manipulate.

It is possible for a human to manipulate a fellow human. However, a human can not manipulate G-D. If prayer to G-D was merely an act of manipulation, then prayer would be futile.

However, prayer to G-D is not an attempt to manipulate Him. Rather, it is an opportunity for a person to make a transformation.

Each time we pray, we demonstrate our belief in G-D and our belief in His ability to grant our request. Thus, the act of prayer, is an act of faith. According to the frequency and intensity of prayer, it changes the person who prays. The transformation is subtle and is many times not visible over the short term. But it occurs.

A person's transformation provides G-D with the opportunity to re-evaluate His decree, for the context in which it was made no longer exists. This transformation provides G-D with the opportunity to do that which He wants to do, which is to bestow the highest degree of kindness upon a person. In this light, a person can cause G-D to overturn His decree.

This puts the Sifri's inference in a different light.

If such an accomplished person as Moshe never lost an opportunity for self-improvement through prayer, how much so should an ordinary person not keep himself from prayer.

27:15 And Moshe (Moses) said to G-D, saying.

27:16 (May) Hashem, G-D of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man (to lead) over the congregation.

Rashi cites a Medrash that talks about Moshe's request. I understand that Medrash in the following way:

Moshe requested something from G-D that the community needed to have, which was a leader to replace him. We note that he appears to be stating an expectation from G-D rather than making a request from G-D. We derive from here that one who seeks the needs of the community is standing on strong grounds.

But why did Moshe chose to make this request after he taught the laws of inheritance?

G-D had just told him that the daughters of Tzelafchad would inherit their father. Moshe thought to himself: "Now was the time to seek my needs from G-D. Now that we know that daughters inherit, it is only right for my sons to inherit my honor."

G-D responded to him, "The one who cares for the fig tree can eat of its fruit (and the guard of his master shall be honored)." (Proverbs 27:18)

Your sons were engaged in their needs and were not sufficiently engaged in the study of Torah.

Yehoshua did a lot to serve you. He showed you much honor. He would arise early and stay late in your study hall. He arranged the benches and spread out the mats.

As he served you with all of his energy, it is only fitting that he serves the Jewish people, for he shall not lose his reward.

The Medrash began by stating that Moshe made the request to meet the needs of the community. It then went onto say that Moshe was seeking to satisfy his own needs. This appears to be a contradiction.

Rabbi Yisochor Frand notes that it is uncharacteristic of Moshe to pay attention to his honor. In 12:3 it states that "And the man Moshe was the most humble of all men on the face of the earth."

The following came to mind.

A lack of awareness of one's own greatness and honor is not an outcome of humility. Rather, it indicates both cognitive and emotional maladjustment.

G-D chose to transmit His Torah through Moshe. Moshe therefore realized that the reputation of the Torah as perceived by other people relied to some degree on his own reputation as a person.

One of Moshe's great attributes in being our teacher is his transparency. The very basis of the Torah relies on the fact that Moshe faithfully transmitted it verbatim, adding or detracting absolutely nothing. The fact that he never sought or derived any personal gain only enhances this role and the way that his teachings are accepted. It adds integrity.

It is natural for people to care for the needs of their family members. The laws of inheritance gave Moshe reason for him to be concerned that some people may chose to view him as being insensitive to the needs and expectations of his own family. He may have been concerned that people would later criticize him as taking on the responsibility for trading off the needs of his family for the needs his transparency.

Moshe did not want to take responsibility for having some people view him in a negative and critical light, for this could impair their bond with the G-D's Torah. He needed G-D to make this decision for him.

He never took any action to ensure that his children would inherit his mantle of leadership,

But satisfy a public need for him to demonstrate care for his family he planned to ask this of G-D on behalf of his family.

G-D knows our thoughts responded before Moshe was able to ask.

Moshe demonstrated that he was a sensitive parent and that he thought of the needs and expectations of his children.

The request for his own needs was therefore a request for the needs of the community.

Chapters 28 and 29 describe the national sacrifices of our calendar year.

It is interesting that sin offerings are required for every holiday.

The Talmud says that the purpose of these sin offerings is to atone for people who unintentionally defiled the sanctity of the temple area by being there when they were there ‘tomay’, in a state of ritual ineligibility.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the atonements of the holiday sin offerings are for an extreme level of unintentional defilement. They are for people who weren’t aware that they were ‘tomay’ when they were in the temple area and they are still not aware of the defilement (Shavuos chapter one).

What message is behind these narrowly defined sin offerings?

The following came to mind.

Some of us are scholars and some of us are unlearned.

During the temple era, everybody tried to purge themselves from ritual defilement by going to the mikvah (ritual baths) and using the ashes of the Parah Adumah (red heifer).

Yet, because the laws of ritual defilement are complex and subtle, it is more likely that only scholars succeeded in achieving and maintaining ritual purity than those who are less learned. And of the many laws of ritual purity, a state of impurity can be transferred from one person to another by physical contact.

The Jewish people unite in joy during the holidays.

Perhaps these sin offers were mandated to help us unite in as many ways as possible. Without them, it is possible that some scholars may prefer to keep away from the proximity of those who are unlearned, who may think that they are ritually cleared when they are actually not.

28:30 (Bring during the holiday of Shavuos) one goat for a sin offering to atone for you.

The Talmud (Shavuos 2a) says that the sin offerings that are brought during the holidays are meant to atone for an accidental defilement of the sanctuary or sanctified objects. More specifically, they are for when one currently has no knowledge that a defilement occurred and also had no knowledge of the defilement at the time that it happened.

Besides the sin offering that is specified in above-referenced verse, Leviticus 23:19 also prescribes a sacrificial goat offering for the holiday of Shavuos. The Talmud (Zevachim 6b) states that this is for a second sin offering in addition to the one prescribed in our Torah reading.

The Talmud questions the necessity of two sin offerings, for if one is sufficient for atonement then why must another one be brought? The Talmud answers that the second offering is brought to atone for sins that may have been committed immediately after the first sacrifice. The second sacrifice atones for that which was inadvertently committed between the sacrifice that preceded it.

The requirement to bring a double-coverage sin offering is unique to Shavuos. Why isn't it repeated during the Pesach and Succos (Passover and tabernacles) holidays?

The following came to mind.

A person's state of ritual purity can not be measured or detected. It is achieved by following a prescribed set of actions. It can be lost by circumstance. It is achieved by conscious actions and it can be lost inadvertently, by accident.

The holiday of Shavuos is also the anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Receiving the Torah meant accepting obligations the undertaking of a solemn and awesome set of responsibilities, among which is this obligation to maintain a state of ritual purity when entering the sanctuary or handling sanctified objects.

The subtlety in maintaining ritual purity and the consequences of defiling that which sanctified could very well discourage a G-D fearing person from having anything to do with the sanctuary, thus avoiding risk of accidental defilement.

It is therefore during the holiday that is associated with receiving the Torah that we are charged to bring the double-coverage sacrifice, telling us that the G-D and His Torah only expect us to do our best.

This message holds true for all the commandments. The obligations and consequences of every commandment, including ritual purity, are not meant to intimidate us from trying to keep them.

28:30 (Bring during the holiday of Shavuos) one goat for a sin offering to atone for you.

The holiday of Shavuos is also the anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The Minchas Shai commentary notes that while all of the holidays require the offering of a goat as a communal sin offering, the Torah writes the sin offerings for Shavuos and Yom Kippur in a unique manner. For most holidays, the Torah adds the word 'and' to its introduction for the sin offering. For example the offering for Pesach (Passover) is prescribed in 28:22 as, "And one goat for a sin offering to atone for you." However, the Torah omits the word, 'and' for the sin offerings of Shavuos and Yom Kippur.

As Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, we thus see an association between anniversary of our accepting the responsibility for observing the Torah and the theme of atonement.

The Talmud (Zevachim 6b) brings this out in another way.

Besides the above-referenced verse in Numbers 25, Leviticus 23:19 also prescribes a sacrificial goat offering for the holiday of Shavuos. The Talmud states that this is for a second sin offering in addition to the one prescribed in our Torah reading.

The Talmud questions the necessity of two sin offerings, for if one is sufficient for atonement then why must another one be brought? The Talmud answers that the second offering is brought to atone for sins that may have been committed immediately after the first sacrifice. It notes the need for a constant flow of communal sin offerings but the Torah does not mandate this because of the financial burden that this would impose on the community.

Now, the Torah is not prescribing remediation for a community that is on a rampage to do sin. Rather, the Talmud also states there that the atonements of these holiday sacrificial goats are exclusively for incidents when a person unknowingly entered the Temple area while he/she was in a state of ritual impurity and the person to date is unaware of his/her ineligibility. That is, these offerings were required for sins that people tried not to do and never knew that they committed them.

We thus learn that every sin needs correction and atonement. Every one of our actions has significance. We also see G-D's understanding and compassion, that the imposition of atonement for unconscious sin is shouldered by the community and not by the individual and that this burden is minimized.

The Minchas Shai commentary also points out that the association of Shavuos with Yom Kippur suggests that the shouldering of responsibility for upholding the Torah, which we accepted on Shavuos, brought an extra measure of G-D's helping hand and compassion along with it, represented by Yom Kippur.

Matos (Num 30-32)

30:2 And Moshe (Moses) spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying, "This is the matter that G-D commanded."

Rashi cites a Medrash that makes the following observation:

Our prophets prefaced many of their statements with the phrase, "Koh Amar Hashem" (Such is what G-D said/commanded.) Moshe was the only prophet that used different terminology, prefacing many of his statements with the phrase, "Zeh Hadavar … (This is the matter that G-D said/commanded).

The commentaries (Ze'ev Yitrof/Shiras David from the Maharal, and others) explain the difference as follows, according to my understanding.

The normative prophetic experience provided the prophet with knowledge/concepts that were internalized, processed, and then expressed to others by the prophet in his/her own words.

As such, the words we heard from the prophets were subject to how the prophet transformed them.

Therefore, they prefaced their words with, "Such is what G-D said/commanded."

Nevertheless, the Torah expressly commands us to listen to and obey their words, "… You shall listen to his words" (Deuteronomy 18:15). It doesn't matter what they heard/experienced. We must follow what they tell us to do.

Moshe was the only one who transmitted G-D's Torah to us.

To establish our receiving the Torah on the firmest possible foundation, the prophetic experiences for this transmission included the actual words themselves. Moshe was merely re-stating the words that he heard and nothing was expressed in his own words. It was as though G-D was "speaking from the throat of Moshe."

As such, only Moshe prefaced many of his words with "This is the matter that G-D commanded."

30:2 And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying, “This is the matter that G-D commanded.”

This verse introduces the laws of making a voluntary vow that causes something to become forbidden. For example, a person can make a vow to make apples forbidden.

The Torah also provides mechanisms for getting certain types of vows annulled.

We note that the heads of the tribes were singled out in our verse. We derive from this, writes Rashi, that the Torah empowers outstanding scholars to annul vows.

Rashi also cites a Sifri Medrash that takes note of the phrase, “This is the matter that G-D commanded.” Other than Moshe, we find no prophet who prefaced their words with this phrase. Rather they begin with, “G-D says as the following.” This is because Moshe is the master of all prophets.

Rabbi Bick, of blessed memory suggests the following connection between these two concepts, that of empowering Torah scholars to annul prohibitory vows and that Moshe’s teaching is supreme.

A religion that is based exclusively upon the teachings and views of human founders is subject to the whims of those who control and perpetuate the religion. It is totally subject to human politics and redefinition.

Judaism is unique in that it is based on a Divine revelation that was experienced by millions of people at one time, who survived the experience, and accepted as full truth a written record of that experience which became bound together with a body of guidelines for living.

The Judaism that has successfully survived over thirty-three centuries of sometimes difficult history is one that is able to trace every nuance back to that which Moshe said or to that which is truthfully consistent with what he said, based on what we know he said.

There is no room for innovation and adjustments for new times and popular tendencies, for these guidelines came from G-D who is above time, Who is as much aware of the future as He is of both past and present.

Unfortunately, no human organization is above abuse, including the clergy. Over the years we had our share of people who empowered others with oratory skills, magnetic personalities, and superficial Torah knowledge who in turn led others away from authentic Judaism.

The process of annulment of vows by a Torah scholar includes subjectivity.

To remind us of the need to always expect truthful traceability from our spiritual leaders to the teachings of Moshe, the Torah therefore associates in one verse laws that are include subjectivity together with a reference to the supremacy of Moshe’s teachings.

The parsha presents four main categories of vows.

The first is that of a young unmarried woman in her father's home. The Torah gives her father the ability to release her from certain types of vows. He uses the 'hafara' mechanism and simply says 'Mufar Lechi,' which annuls the vow from that point in time and on.

The second category is that of a married woman. For certain types of vows the Torah gives the husband the same mechanism of annulment as that which the father has.

The third category is that of a betrothed woman. In this case, both the father and the husband share the 'hafara' mechanism.

Everything else falls into the fourth category. A Torah sage or a council of three learned people can annul most vows. Their mechanism is 'hatara,' where they determine that the person regrets having made the vow. Instead of saying 'Mufar Lechi,' they say 'Mutar Lechi/Lecha.' Because of the person's regret, this annulment works retroactively, from the time the vow was made.

Why are there two types of mechanisms? Why doesn't the Torah assign the mechanism of 'hatara' to the father and husband?

The following came to mind.

'Hafara' requires no investigation into the vow. 'Hatara,' however, requires investigation and regret. By giving the father and husband the mechanism of 'hafara,' the Torah does not place them in a position of having to determine that their daughter/wife made a mistake.

30:2 And Moshe (Moses) spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying, "This is the matter that G-D commanded."

30:3 "If a man makes a vow (of abstinence) to G-D or if he takes an oath to forbid something on himself then he may not break his word. He must act according (to the words) that came from his mouth."

30:4 And if a woman makes a vow (of abstinence) to G-D and she forbids something on herself during her youth while she is in her fathers house.

The Seforno provides the following insight.

Leviticus 19:12 states, "And you shall not swear falsely by My name and denigrate the Name of your G-D." This commandment is for a man. A man may not break his word for doing so will denigrate G-D's name. However, since a woman can be dominated by others, such as a father or a husband, she will not be guilty of denigrating G-D's name if her vow is waived by her father or husband.

Anyone's vow of abstinence can be annulled by a Jewish court or by a Torah sage. Additionally, a woman's vow of abstinence can be waived by a father or husband.

The Seforno compares swearing falsely with a vow that was waived, not with a vow that was annulled.

I assume that this is because when a Jewish court or Torah sage annuls a vow, they must determine whether at the time the vow was made, the person had full knowledge of the basis of the vow. They determine whether there was a fact that the person did not consider and had this been taken under consideration then the person would have never made the vow. Since they deal with the basis under which the vow was made, if they succeed in finding such a fact, their determination removes a root cause of the vow, making it as if was never made in the first place.

However, the waiving of a woman's vow uses a different mechanism. The Torah gives the father and the husband an ability to make a vow be no longer binding. They do not uproot the vow. Rather, the vow is in effect up to the time that they exercise their option.

Thus, the Seforno compares only the false oath to the vow that was waived, since both took effect.

Now, I don't believe that the Seforno meant to exclude a woman who uses G-D's Name to swear falsely and steal money. This is also a denigration of G-D's name.

However, we still need to understand the relationship between a false oath, made by either a man or a woman, and a vow of abstinence that a woman took and was subsequently waived by her father or husband.

The case of the false oath involves a person who uses G-D's name to steal money through the court system. The case of a woman's vow involves a person who uses G-D's name to impose a personal restriction.

We can easily see how using G-D's name to steal is an abuse and therefore a denigration of His name. However, how do we understand the release of a vow of abstinence as being an abuse of G-D's name?

I suspect that the comparison between the two reveals a Torah ethic that may be new to many people. We simply do not appreciate the spiritual significance of human speech.

Human speech is not merely the product of the vibration and movement of body parts. Rather, it has sanctity and this comes from the greatness that G-D instilled into Mankind.

This is reflected in Genesis 2:7, "And G-D formed the Man (from) earth from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life and he Man became a living being." The reading of the Targum Unkulus for the phrase "living being" is "a speaking being."

Given the great significance of human speech, the Seforno therefore needs to assure a woman whose vows are waived that the release of her vow is not a denigration G-D's name.

30:2 And Moshe (Moses) spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying, "This is the matter that G-D commanded."

30:3 If a man utters a ‘neder’ (to prohibit something on himself using the name of / to) G-D or if he utters a vow (to do something or to) make a prohibition upon himself (and not do something then) he may not nullify his words. He must do what came out of his mouth.

Rashi provides the following commentary on 30:2.

"This is what (G-d commanded)": In his prophecies, Moshe used the statement, "Thus says G-d" and so did the other prophets. Moshe went further and used the statement, "This is what G-d commanded."

Why is this significant?

The following came to mind.

A main principle of our faith is that no one, even a true prophet of G-d, has the authority to add to the Torah of Moshe or to detract from it.

During only one period in our history, G-d transmitted His Torah in detail and Moshe was the sole recipient of this transmission in full.

Moshe taught us that which he heard from G-d. Thus, the Torah is called "The Torah of Moshe" (Malachi 3:22). From the time of Moshe and on, we have been preoccupied with preserving and mastering the Torah of Moshe.

Every authentic Torah ruling must be fully consistent with the Torah of Moshe.

We have today a huge knowledge base of written documents which we can use to verify that rulings are consistent with the Torah of Moshe. Torah scholars also use this knowledge base to derive rulings for cases that are not explicitly specified.

Thus, authentic Torah rulings are those statements that, to the best of knowledge and with full intellectual honesty, are what Moshe said or are they are statements that Moshe would have said, had he been asked.

Perhaps the Torah is reminding us of this principle by reserving for only Moshe the statement, "This is what G-d commanded." From then on, our prophets and scholars have only the right to say, "This is what G-d commanded us through Moshe."

There are six-hundred-thirteen commandments. I see significance in this statement and its vital message being written by this particular commandment.

Of the six-hundred-thirteen commandments, three-hundred-sixty-five are prohibitions.

For example, the Torah of Moshe forbids the Jewish people to eat shell fish.

The Torah of Moshe does not forbid us to drink a normal glass of pure water.

This particular commandment tells us that a person can make an utterance to cause this water to be forbidden to himself or to others.

Perhaps Moshe's unique statement, "This is what G-d commanded" is written here to remind us that although a person can add to list of things that are forbidden, a person has no intrinsic right or ability to do so. Rather, the person must bear in mind that the authority to do so comes from the Torah of Moshe, not from imagined self-supremacy.

The same can be said for the commandments of prophets after Moshe.

We are taught that an authentic prophet can command someone in the name of G-d to do almost anything, except to worship another faith.

We are charged to fulfill the commandments of authentic prophets. The basis for this is a statement in the Torah of Moshe, "you must listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15)."

Without this authorization from the Torah of Moshe, a prophet would have had no right to command another person in the name of G-d to do something. Without this authorization from the Torah of Moshe, a person would have had no right to listen to any prophet other than Moshe.

This is why we can disregard anyone's direction to follow another faith. This is why a prophet who makes such a commandment is by definition a false prophet.

30:3 If a man utters a ‘neder’ (to prohibit something on himself using the name of / to) G-D or if he utters a vow (to do something or to) make a prohibition upon himself (and not do something then) he may not nullify his words. He must do what came out of his mouth.

A vow can be made obligate a person to do something or to not do something.

The following are some of the many laws that pertain to vows.

1. Breaking a vow requires atonement, which may be lashes or bringing a sacrifice.

2. A vow to do something or to not do something cannot take effect on top of an earlier vow that obligates him to do or to not do the same thing. For example, if a person makes a vow to drive to Cincinnati on the next day and he doesn’t then he needs atonement. However, if he makes this vow two times, one right after the next, and he doesn’t fulfill it then he needs only one atonement. This is because the second vow did not take effect.

With the above rule, it is interesting to note that if someone makes a vow to fulfill a Torah commandment then this vow does not take effect. This is because we all are previously obligated by the vow that we took by Mount Sinai many years ago to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments. It’s a case of a vow trying to take effect on top of an earlier vow, which has no effect.

The Talmud provides the following discussion about vows: Rabbi Gidel said in the name of Rav, “How do we know that we may take a vow to fulfill a commandment? We know this from the following verse: ‘I took an oath and I will fulfill (it) to guard your righteous laws (Tehilim / Psalms 119:106).’ But aren’t we already under a vow from Mount Sinai (to fulfill commandments? How can this vow have any significance?) Rather, this (verse) comes to teach us that a person is permitted (to use a vow) to motivate himself (to fulfill commandments)” (Nedarim 8a).

The discussion is puzzling and begs explanation.

The Steipler Goan suggests the following.

The Talmud is not speaking about someone who is lazy and wants to use a vow to stimulate himself and do what he is supposed to do. Rather, it’s speaking about someone who is afraid that he will dream up a bogus reason why he is not obligated to fulfill a certain commandment, such as to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.

Because he knows when push comes to shove that he is prone to rationalize, it is meritorious for him to seize the moment while he is still thinking clearly and make a vow to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.

Fast forward to Passover and it’s time to eat matzah. Sure enough, a reason comes to our friend’s mind why he is not obligated by the Torah to eat matzah.

Now, either this is a valid reason or it isn’t. If the reason has no validity then he must eat because of the Torah commandment to eat matzah on the first night of Passover.

But if the reason is indeed valid, then the commandment does not apply. But if the commandment doesn’t obligate him, then the vow has room to take effect and he must eat matzah to fulfill his vow.

His vow protects him from rationalizing away a commandment and this is what the Talmud in Nedarim is referring to.

31:1 And G-D said to Moshe (Moses), saying.

31:2 Exact vengeance for the Jewish people against the Midianites. Afterwards you will be gathered to your people.

31:5 And a thousand from each tribe were given over (to wage war) from the thousands of Israel, twelve thousand in battle gear.

The phrase 'given over' implies that the induction was done with reluctance. Indeed it was, says Rashi, as the Jewish people knew that Moshe would leave this world after this war.

Rashi says:

This shows the greatness of the leaders of Yisroel (Israel), how endeared they are to Yisroel. Previously, Moshe said to G-D, "They are about to stone me" (Exodus 17:4). But once they heard that the timing of Moshe's death hinged upon waging this war they did not want to participate until they were forced to.

Rashi's words are a bit puzzling, remarks Rav Sternbuch. The reaction of the Jewish people shows their greatness, that they valued Moshe's contributions. Why does Rashi write that it shows the greatness of their leaders?

He answers that there are many factions within a nation.

Moshe's observation in Exodus was made in response to the behavior of people who feared that they would die from thirst. The Torah refers to them as the "Ahm," the public. The people in our verse are labeled "Yisroel," those with refined behavior.

The public can be swayed by politicians who always say what they want to hear, not always what the public needs to hear.

Moshe was not a politician. He was not the public's mommy and he did not follow them. Rather, he was a leader in the full sense and stood up for what was right. He always said whatever was true and needed, letting the chips fall where they may.

Rashi is telling us that it wasn't just our greatness that we recognized Moshe. Rather, it was his greatness that earned the respect and endearment of the enlightened among us.

31:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying

31:2 Exact vengeance for the Jewish people against the Midianites …

31:3 And Moshe spoke to the people saying, "Arm men from amongst you as an army. And they shall go against Midian to take G-D's vengeance from Midian.

31:6 And Moshe sent them to battle, a thousand (soldiers) from each tribe, they and Pinchas son of Elazar the priest.

The Talmud (Sotah 43a) says that Pinchas officiated as the anointed priest for war, as required per Deuteronomy 20.

We are taught that there are two types of war, obligatory (milchemes mitzvah) and discretionary (milchemes reshus).

The Shiras Dovid commentary cites references that discuss whether this particular war was obligatory or discretionary. He also cites references that discuss whether an obligatory war needs a priest that is anointed for war or whether the requirement is exclusive to discretionary wars.

The Shiras Dovid also cites a Netziv commentary that understands one of the Ramban's explanations to mean that G-D did not command Moshe to declare war against the Midianite people. Rather, Moshe declared war to fulfill G-D's commandment to take vengeance against the Midianite people. Therefore, this can be viewed as a discretionary war.

His may approach help explain the apparent ambiguity among the commentaries.

The Jewish people are explicitly commanded in several places throughout the Torah to wage war against the wicked Canaanites. That war is clearly referenced in our studies as an obligatory war.

By the Midianites, if G-D wanted Moshe to declare war then why didn't he explicitly command him to do so, just like war against the Canaanites?

Perhaps we can understand this by recognizing that these two wars had different objectives.

The objective of the wars against the Canaanites was eradication. Their radically immoral behavior caused them to decay beyond repair, in G-D's judgment. G-D therefore decided that it was best for both them and the rest of mankind to either go into exile or become destroyed. In several places the Torah exhorts the conquering soldiers to be thorough.

However the objective of any action against the Midianites was vengeance.

The degree and quality of achieving this objective can be affected by how the soldiers felt towards the wicked Midianites. The way the vengeance took form was affected by the depth of their feelings of indignation and outrage.

As it is far easier to expect a person to do something than to feel a certain way, perhaps this is why G-D did not explicitly tell Moshe to wage war against the Midianites.

Instead, G-D left it up to Moshe to assess that His commandment to take revenge against the wicked Midianites would be best fulfilled by waging war against them. This served as a signal for the soldiers to emotionally prepare themselves to feel and show outrage.

In this light, the war against the Midianites had aspects of both a discretionary war and an obligatory war.

Also, in this light we can better understand why Moshe was upset when the leaders spared the lives of the same Midianite women that caused the downfall of many of their comrades through their seduction.

31:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying

31:2 Exact vengeance for the Jewish people against the Midianites …

31:3 And Moshe spoke to the people saying, "Arm men from amongst you as an army. And they shall go against Midian to take G-D's vengeance from Midian.

Verse two states that the revenge was for the Jewish people and verse three says that it's G-D's.

I assume that they are one and the same, for the depraved Midianites were responding to an ideology of civility that comes from G-D and implemented by the Jewish people.

Some thirty-three centuries ago we chose to uphold and represent the Torah. Those who do not want to be confined have tried to frustrate G-D's planning by either attacking, disrupting, or attempting to transform the Jewish people.

The Hagaddah says that "They rise up in every generation to destroy us, and G-D saves us from their hands."

It's a price we pay for the privilege of being G-D's children, His chosen nation.

G-D responds and will respond.

He responds in this world. As a people, we recover, we continue on, and we even thrive. The villains that organize against us become historical artifacts.

G-D will respond in the next world. We will be eternally compensated. The villains will meet eternal suffering and destruction.

31:1 And G-D spoke to Moshe (Moses), saying.

31:2 "Take the revenge of the Jewish people from the Midianite nation. Afterwards you will be gathered to your people (i.e. you will pass away)."

The Baal Haturim offers the following commentary:

Since he saw the (immoral) act of the Midianite woman and did not act as a zealot for G-D's name, his death was therefore dependent upon the vengeance against the Midianites.

This appears to be a criticism against Moshe.

The Medrash in the Torah reading of Balak cites the following criticism:

Zimri grabbed the woman by her hair and brought her to Moshe.. He said, "Son of Amram, is this woman permitted to me or not?" "No," he replied. Zimri responded, "Then what about the Midianite woman that you took for yourself?" (Moshe's wife Tzipora was from Midian. However Moshe married her prior to the giving of the Torah and she also converted to Judaism.) Moshe's hands became immediately weak and he forgot the law (that a person who publicly lives with a gentile can be killed by a zealot.) … This is similar to a princess who adorned herself for the wedding canopy and then had an affair with another man. The hands of her parents and relatives became weak. …. And since he (Moshe) was sluggish, it says "And no man knew his burial place." This teaches that a person must be fierce as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and powerful as a lion to do the will of his Master. From here we learn that G-D is meticulous to the hairbreadth with the righteous.

The Medrash says that the lack of an identifiable grave site for Moshe was the consequence of his lethargy. The Baal Haturim cites a different consequence. Why isn't the Baal Haturim consistent with the Medrash?

The following came to mind.

The Medrash in our Torah reading gives Moshe a great compliment.

Rav Yehudah says, "Moshe could have lived for many years because G-D made his death dependent on taking revenge against the Midianites. Moshe's reaction was praiseworthy. He said, "Should the revenge against the Midianites be delayed just so that I can live?"

While the Medrash in Balak cites Moshe's lethargy, it also teaches that the underlying cause for his non-reaction was his love of the Jewish people.

Here we see that Moshe was willing to take rapid action against Midian even though it cleared the way for his own death.

Perhaps, the opportunity to take swift action against the Midianites at this time was provided to Moshe by G-D in this manner so that he would have an opportunity to correct his inaction by Zimri's downfall.

If true then perhaps we can read this message into the Baal Haturim's commentary: "Since he saw the (immoral) act of the Midianite woman and did not act as a zealot for G-D's name, his death was therefore dependent upon the vengeance against the Midianites."

Perhaps the Baal Haturim was not offering an alternate consequence.

The greatest law-giver was also the greatest law-keeper.

31:8 And they [the Jewish soldiers] killed the five kings of Midian over the (bodies of their) slain (soldiers): Evi, Reken, Tzoor, Chur, and Reva. And they killed Bilam son of Beor by the edge of the sword.

The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel’s reading of this verse teaches that Tzoor, the third king in the list, was Balak.

Balak was the king of Moav. He hired the wicked Bilam to curse the Jewish people so that he could attack them. When that proved unsuccessful, he took Bilam’s advice and recruited the women of Midian and Moav to ensnare Jewish men.

Our verse provides an interesting example of Divine vengeance for someone who starts up with the Jewish people and tries to harm them physically or spiritually.

Balak was killed while he was back in his homeland, together with all of his people and peers.

The Torah distorted his name.

In one of the prophecies in verse 24:17, Bilam tells Balak that a staff shall arise in Israel and destroy the great people of Moav. Rashi says that this is a reference to King David. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105b) teaches that David descended from Balak through his illustrious great-grandmother Russ, (Ruth) a Moabite convert.

The episodes that spawned from Balak’s plotting caused the elevation of Pinchas. It was he who led the battle that destroyed Balak’s civilization. Also, Midrashic sources teach that Pinchas eventually transformed into the great prophet Eliyahu, who will herald in the messianic times, the anti-culture of Balak’s bestial way of life.

31:8 And they [the Jewish soldiers] killed the five kings of Midian over the (bodies of their) slain (soldiers): Evi, Reken, Tzoor, Chur, and Reva. And they killed Bilam son of Beor by the edge of the sword.

Bilam lived in Aram but happened to be in Midian at the time.

Rashi says that he went there to collect his consulting fee, as he gave them the idea to ensnare the Jewish people so that G-D would want to destroy them.

Rashi adds that at the time he was leaving Midian and he decided to come up to the Jewish soldiers and advise them against attacking Midian. They responded by killing him.

We know that Bilam was once Pharaoh's advisor and was not a stupid person. Why did he do this? Why didn't he run the other way upon seeing the Jewish armed forces?

The Targum Yonoson Ben Uziel provides the following anecdote to Bilam's final moments.

When the wicked Bilam saw Pinchas the Priest chasing him, he activated a magic power and he soared into the air. Pinchas immediately pronounced G-D's name and he soared into the air after him. Pinchas grabbed him by the head and brought Bilam back down to the earth. He took out his sword and was ready to kill him. Bilam began to plea with Pinchas and promised that he will not curse the Jewish people for the rest of his life. Pinchas responded with the following. Aren't you Lavan the Aramite who tried to kill our ancestor Yaakov (Jacob)? Didn't you afterwards go to Egypt in an attempt to destroy his descendents? When we left Egypt, didn't you contact the Amalekite nation to have them attack us? Didn't you try to curse the Jewish people? And, when you saw that you G-D would not allow you to do so, didn't you advise the wicked king Balak to seduce the Jewish men with their daughters and twenty-four-thousand Jewish people died from this mischief? I can therefore not afford to keep you alive. He immediately took out his sword and killed him.

Given his record, it is astonishing that Bilam tried to pacify Pinchas by merely promising that he will not curse the Jewish people.

The Targum Yonoson Ben Uziel of verse 23:10 provides another insight in to Bilam's thinking.

He says the following on Bilam's words: "Let my soul die the death of the righteous and let my end be like them."

The wicked Bilam said the following: "If the Jewish people kill me by the sword then I was foretold (through prophecy) that I will have no share in the world to come. However, if I die in a manner of true people, of natural and non-violent cause, then I hope that my end will be like the lowest of them."

So this monster had some hope of having an afterlife in paradise. And afterwards he went and gave evil advice to Balak which succeeded in the destruction of twenty-four-thousand people.

The Sefurno in verse 23:3 gives us additional cause to wonder about Bilam's sanity. After having Bilam arranging the altars so that he could perhaps curse the Jewish people, he went away in solitude in order for G-D to appear to him because this is what happened when G-D first appeared to Moshe (Moses). So, Bilam was planning for a heavenly encounter on the scale of those the righteous Moshe experienced. Given his record, made him think that he was deserving of such an encounter?

The following came to mind.

The Targum tells us that Bilam was Lavan and we know that this person was the master of all deceptions. He was able to detect and manage misinformation. He kept track of the information that people did not know and he exploited their lack of knowledge.

It was only natural for a person committed to misinformation to fall into the trap of thinking that he could do the same with G-D.

Rashi says this outright.

Verse 22:9 states: "And G-D came to Bilam and said, 'Who are these people with you?"

Rashi comments that G-D said this to deceive Bilam. Bilam assumed that G-D was asking him about his visitors then G-D didn't actually know the answer. That is, it is possible for events to occur in this world that G-D doesn't know about (G-D forbid). Bilam therefore decided to continue with his plan to curse the Jewish people because perhaps he could catch G-D off-guard.

(A commentary to Rashi says that G-D acts with a person in a manner that the person acts with others. So, since Bilam deceived others, G-D spoke to him in a manner that can allow Bilam to become deceived by his own misconceptions. He also notes that G-D will typically enter conversation with a human being by asking a question the He already knows the answer to. This is how we understand G-D's asking Adam, "Where are you?")

So, Bilam's theology included a Great and Mighty G-D that created the universe. This was also a G-D that managed affairs of mankind. This was a G-D who was a judge and who had a code of justice. However, Bilam banked under the false assumption that this was not a G-D who was continually all-knowing. He bet his afterlife on the assumption that this was a judge that sometimes lacked witnesses.

Given that G-D visited him despite his wickedness, he assumed that G-D did not know about his evil record and intentions. This is perhaps why he hoped for a decent afterlife. This is perhaps why he planned to experience a Mosaic encounter with G-D.

This is why he tried to give the Jewish soldiers bad advice. This is why he hoped to pacify Pinchas.

So, if G-D Himself did not know that he was a monster then surely neither the Jewish soldiers nor would Pinchas know about that either.

And so, at the very end of his life, Pinchas the priest of G-D informs Bilam that it was he who was living under misconception, not the Jewish people and surely not G-D.

After reading the record we had on Bilam, Pinchas said goodbye to him.

31:8 And they [the Jewish soldiers] killed the five kings of Midian over the (bodies of their) slain (soldiers): Evi, Reken, Tzoor, Chur, and Reva. And they killed Bilam son of Beor by the edge of the sword.

This is our final encounter with Bilam. We were introduced to him several weeks ago in the Torah reading of Balak. Bilam was the soothsayer who tried to curse the Jewish people.

The Oral Torah teaches that Bilam had the same prophetic opportunities and resources as Moshe (Moses).

We are taught that he was gifted with these unique opportunities to enable him to uplift the spiritual level of the nations of his time. It was crucial for such a person to emerge at that period in history when each nation was given its only opportunity to elect to accept the Torah upon itself. Every nation needed to be given a fair chance.

According to the Oral Torah, Bilam masterminded the campaign to ensnare Jewish men into idol worship through the seduction of the daughters of Midian and Moav.

Bilam was an evil person. Why then was he selected to be a spiritual mentor?

The following came to mind.

The Targum Yonoson Ben Uziel on this verse says that Bilam was also Lavan (Laban), father-in-law of Yaakov (Jacob).

We know from the Book of Genesis that Lavan had a very close familial relationship with Yaakov, which gave him many opportunities for interaction with this great and righteous person. It was in Lavan's company that Yaakov built his great and pious household.

Thus, of all people outside of Yaakov's immediate family, Lavan was afforded the greatest opportunity of all Mankind for spiritual growth through his close interactions with Yaakov.

While not documented anywhere in the Oral Torah, perhaps part of the reason for Lavan's degeneration was due to the morally degenerative level of society around him.

The Jewish people at the time of the Torah giving had the advantage of their close relationship with Yaakov during their early formative years. However, they were disadvantaged by being downtrodden and enslaved. Also, Moshe their mentor was never afforded the opportunity of having a close and intensive relationship with a spiritual giant such as Yaakov.

On the other hand, Lavan's exposure to Yaakov made him eminently qualified to lead the other nations to spiritual greatness, had they been more ready for it themselves.

31:11 And they [the Jewish soldiers who destroyed Midian] took the spoils ['shalal'] and booty ['malkoach'], of captives and animals.

31:12 And they brought to Moshe, to Elazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Children of Israel the 'shevi,' the 'malkoach,' and the 'shalal' to the camp, to the plains of Moav by the Yarden (the Jordan river) ( near) Yericho (Jericho).

Rashi explains that the term, 'shalal' refers to clothing and jewelry. 'Malkoach' by itself refers to captives and animals. However, when the Torah writes, 'shevi' together with 'malkoach,' as in 31:2, then 'shevi' refers to captives and 'malkoach' refers to animals.

Rashi in 31:32 points out that the soldiers kept the clothing and jewelry. These items were not included in that which was divided and distributed among the Jewish people.

It is curious that the Torah combines human and animal booty in verse 31:1 and that this is listed after 'shalal,' clothing and jewelry. One would expect more deference for the human beings who were in captivity.

Also, why wasn't the clothing and jewelry shared with the rest of the people, together with the captives and animals?

The following came to mind.

Midian was destroyed for their decadent behavior as an object lesson for mankind. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) elaborates on the encounter with the daughters of Midian and teaches that this nation detached their daughters from conventional moral decency and natural innocence and instead set them up as harlots in order to first seduce Jewish men and then to entice them into idolatry.

31:1 addresses what Jewish soldiers in the field did immediately after they destroyed the nation of Midian. Perhaps a focus that their mission was a response against animalistic behavior provided them with the emotional energy they needed to carry it out. If true, then we can better understand why the human captives were combined with the animals and they were listed last.

31:2 talks about what happened afterwards, when they returned to the camp, to civilization. At that point already, the captives are listed first and they are not lumped together with the animals.

The clothing and jewelry belonged to morally depraved people. Perhaps taking possession and attiring oneself with this booty could serve to associate some degree of normal humanity to the former owners. In turn, this could serve to defuse some of the outrage against Midianite behavior that the wearer would be expected to feel.

It is perhaps for this reason that only the soldiers shared in this booty because their involvement and witnessing the destruction of the Midianite civilization shielded them from downplaying immoral behavior of this nature.

Masei (Numbers 33:36)

33:1 These are the journeys of the Children of Israel …

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary says that a number of commentaries view this verse as a hint that the Jewish people will eventually go into exile.

It provides the following explanation.

Commentaries also provide the following teaching:

The Jewish people sinned with the word "these" (… these are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from Egypt - Exodus 32:4); they were punished with the word "these (… our eyes darkened from these [events] - Eicha 5:17); and they will be consoled with the word "these" (… who are these who soar like the clouds - Yeshiah / Isiah 60:8).

We are taught that idol worship was a factor in G-D's decision to destroy the first temple and that the second temple was destroyed because of strife and discord. And both destructions led to exile.

The verse in Exodus is part of a snapshot of the sin of the Golden Calf.

The link between idolatry and exile is obvious.

The Chamudei Tzvi says that the verse also reflects strife. He does this by citing a teaching that understands it to mean that the Jewish people wanted many gods (Talmud Sanhedrin 63a).

There was not just a single break-away group that wanted to worship idols.

Rather, there were a number of factions, each one promoting their own solution to Moshe's (Moses') replacement, each one pushing different gods, each one saying "These should be your gods."

The winner was the group that imposed their opinion the hardest, the ones that used the most force. Aharon cooperated only after they murdered his nephew Chur (Exodus 32:5, Rashi).

Now, clouds consist of tiny individual droplets. They coalesce together, float around together, merge with other clouds, and even disappear together, all following natural laws.

We need to do a better job of uniting ourselves around the laws of the Torah, as they truly are, not as we want them to be. And we need to stop shopping around for opinions that match personal preferences or opinions.

The more we inject our individuality and impose personal preferences in how we practice Torah and deal with others, the more we are at risk to argue.

The more we desist, the closer will the end of the exile be in sight. And then we will soar like the clouds.

32:2 And they said, "G-D commanded my master to give the land to the Children of Israel through a lottery as an inheritance. And my master was commanded by G-D to give the inheritance of Tzelafchad our brother to his daughters."

32:3 And if they become wives to one of the (other) tribes of children of Israel (then) their inheritance will reduce the inheritance of our ancestors and will increase the inheritance of the tribe that they will marry and (this) will reduce from the lottery of our inheritance.

Why was there such an emphasis on the lottery? Why was the potential loss of a few parcels of land of such concern to the leaders of their tribe?

The following came to mind.

The Sefurno commentary in 34:2 states that the lottery was reserved exclusively for the lands that were on the other side of the Jordan.

The lottery that was done to divide the Land of Israel among the Jewish people was miraculous and Rashi describes the process in 26:54.

The names of the twelve tribes were placed in one urn and boundaries of the twelve tribal parcels were placed in another. As the head of one tribe approached to take his lottery from both urns, Elazar the high priest announced results beforehand, naming both the tribe that would be picked from the urn of tribes and its boundary. Sure enough, the leader picked the name of his tribe and the boundary that Elazar announced. And if this wasn't enough, the lottery pieces themselves miraculously called out the results.

Perhaps the lottery was part of the fulfillment of the many verses in Genesis where G-D promised our ancestors that He will give the land to their children, for the lottery was done with Divine inspiration and direct intervention.

There have been many challenges to our claim of this land throughout history.

Perhaps they leaders of the tribe of Menasheh felt responsible to preserve the outcome of the lottery as it applies upwards to every generation back to Yaakov's twelve sons so that the gift they were receiving directly from G-D would show no deflections, in honor of both the Giver and the recipients, thereby emphasizing the legitimacy of our ancestral inheritance.

Indeed, in 31:6-9 G-D reflected back their desire and commanded the women who lived in that generation and who also inherited lands to marry only within their tribe, thereby maintaining the chain of inheritance back to our great ancestors.

33:3 And they traveled from Ramsis (Egypt) on the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. The Children of Israel left on morrow of Passover with the High Hand (of G-D) before the eyes of all (the people of) Egypt.

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel reads the words, "left on the morrow of Passover" in the following manner: (they) left after their eating the Passover sacrifice."

Besides being referenced in time by a date on the calendar, it is interesting that this great event is reference only by the Jewish people eating the Passover sacrifice. No reference is made to any of the things that are of great and long-term benefit to the Jewish people, such as our obtaining freedom from slavery.

This brought the following to mind.

A written document reflects that which is of significance to the author. The Author of the Torah is G-D Himself.

To the people of the Exodus, freedom from slavery was a very dominant theme. However, this was secondary to G-D. The slavery and subsequent freedom were all a means to an end, which is the enhancement of mankind's relationship with Him, bringing those involved to higher states that makes them more able to receive the great and eternal goodness that He will eventually bestow.

The Passover sacrifice was not a typical offering. It forced the Jewish people to extend themselves in several ways. First, since sheep were a major deity in Egypt, their taking the animals for slaughter put them at risk of offending the general population. But they did this anyway because this is what G-D commanded. Furthermore, the men had to qualify themselves by circumcising prior to eating the sacrifice. And they did so, despite the physical discomfort and besides the shame that they felt for not being circumcised in the first place, which was an ancestral commandment for them.

It was these extensions that brought those involved to a higher consciousness and actualization of G-D and our relationship with Him. Therefore, they were of greater significance to the Author of these verses and perhaps this is why they were mentioned above all.

35:2 And Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys. And these are their journeys according to their goings forth.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary takes note of the duplication in this verse and the reversal in the duplication. Why does it mention the goings forth first in the beginning of this verse and last at the conclusion?

He provides this answer from the Abarbanel.

Those who merit the final redemption, will have an experience that is similar to those who merited the first redemption. They will traverse the same wilderness, will be sustained by Manna, and will drink water from the travelling well.

Thus the duplication and reversal hints to us that those who were the first to go forth and emerge from an exile blazed the path for those who will be the last to go forth from an exile, at the conclusion of this great phase of history.

May this occur speedily in our days.

35:25 And the congregation shall save the (accidental) murderer from the hands of the blood redeemer. And the congregation shall return him to his refuge city where he fled. And he shall live there until the death of the high priest who was anointed by the holy oil.

The laws of an accidental murder apply when some negligence was involved.

Rashi in Exodus (21:13) writes of an accidental murder that occurs by Divine providence. He offers a case when a person kills someone by accident and does not exile himself. Assuming that he was never identified as being responsible, Rashi writes that G-D will cause him to be in the same place as another person who killed somebody on purpose but was never brought to justice. The accidental murderer will be on a ladder and the intentional murderer will be under the ladder. He will fall from the ladder by accident and kill the intentional murderer. This will occur in full view of others, leaving him no choice but to go into exile.

If exile only applies when a person fails to exile himself for a previous accidental murder, how was the sentence of exile applicable for first murder itself?

As stated in the above verse, the exile ends when the high-priest dies.

The Talmud (Makos 11a) discusses the role of the high priest in the accidental murder. It says that the mothers of the priests ensured that the accommodations in the cities of refuge were adequate. This was so that the residents would not pray that their sons should die. The Talmud asks why Heaven would allow the high-priest to die because of such prayers. The Talmud answers that Heaven would assigns some responsibility to the high-priest because he should have prayed that an accidental murder would never occur during his tenure.

The Mishnah on the next page states that if the high-priest dies during the court proceedings and the next high-priest is appointed before the proceedings end, then the murder goes into exile until the new high-priest dies. The Talmud appears to assign responsibility to the second high-priest because he should have prayed that nobody be found guilty of accidental murder during his tenure.

How do we understand these unusual guidelines? The following came to mind.

Involvement in an accidental murder in which some negligence is involved may very well be a message from Heaven in response to not behaving in a manner that exhibits concern and care for the welfare of others, such as aggressive driving.

It is a message to both the murderer and society.

Exile a in comfort that is generated out of concern for the welfare of the high-priest's life is itself corrective for the accidental murderer, for it was a lack of concern of the welfare of others that brought on the calamity.

The extreme to which the high-priest is held accountable itself provides a corrective role model for the accidental murderer, whose attitude of compromise and laxity was an underlying cause, no doubt.

35:25 And the congregation shall save the (accidental) murderer from the hands of the blood redeemer. And the congregation shall return him to his refuge city where he fled. And he shall live there until the death of the high priest who was anointed by the holy oil.

The Torah provides atonement for the accidental sin, here for murder and in Leviticus where the correction for lesser infractions is through sin offerings.

With clarification from the Oral Torah we know that there is a recognized variation in the degree of the accidental murder and this has implications on the fate of the accidental murderer.

Using the analogy of a woodcutter, if the head of the axe accidentally flew off during the upswing and struck someone then this is deemed a pure accident and the woodcutter does not have to go into exile. However, if the head flew off while he was bringing the axe down to make a cut then he is liable because his focus is more on the path of the axe head.

The Talmud (Yoma 38b) teaches that Heaven helps people and protects them from accidental sin if they demonstrate through their actions that they don't want to sin.

This appears to contribute to the need for atonement for the accidental sin because the person did not sufficiently demonstrate to Heaven his/her commitment to be distant from the sin that was done.

I would assume that the accidental murderer was not someone who used people for target practice, only that he was very careful to not hit anyone. Rather, the accidental murderer may very well have been an outstanding citizen who merely took a relaxed approach to safety measures once in a while. Maybe he/she was not always careful with speech and caused others to be embarrassed. Maybe the person was a driver who frequently focused on meeting schedules at the expense taking precautions when behind the wheel.

The above verse tells us that the accidental murderer's tenure of residence in the city of exile is dependent on the life of the High Priest. We are taught that the High Priest's mother took a special and active interest in the welfare and comfort of the residents so that they would not pray for the death of her son.

This association is meaningful and rehabilitative, for the accidental murderer who was not sufficiently careful in the welfare of others is cared for by a person who very much wants someone to be protected from death.

We also see a degree of Heaven's measurement and correspondence in the accidental murderer's penalty.

We believe in the afterlife. Just as the victim went to live on, but only in a different place and manner, so must the accidental murderer go to live in a different place and manner.

35:25 And the congregation shall save the (accidental) murderer from the hands of the blood redeemer. And the congregation shall return him to his refuge city where he fled. And he shall live there until the death of the high priest who was anointed by the holy oil.

Rashi provides the following commentary on "until the High Priest dies". The High Priest comes to make the Divine Presence dwell within the Jewish people and to lengthen their days. The murderer comes to remove the Divine Presence from the Jewish People and to shorten their days. It is (therefore) not befitting for him (the murderer) to be before the High Priest. Additionally, this is because the High Priest should have prayed that this particular misfortune should not have occurred to the Jewish People during his lifetime.

Rashi appears to be giving two reasons for the murderer's release being dependent on the death of the High Priest.

How do we understand Rashi's first reason? Why won't this issue remain a concern during the tenure of the succeeding High Priest?

Also, why does Rashi provide two reasons?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps Rashi's first reason focuses on the succeeding High Priest and the second reason focuses on the High Priest that died.

If true, then perhaps Rashi in his first reason is telling us that the Torah didn't want the succeeding High Priest to begin his office while there were murderers among the Jewish People.

Perhaps this reason, together with the fate of exile, is sufficient to atone for the sin of accidental murder to the degree that those in exile lose the status of being a murderer. Thus, there are no accidental murderers when the succeeding High Priest assumes office. Rashi's statement, "It is (therefore) not befitting for him (the murderer) to be before the High Priest" refers to the second High Priest. Perhaps the second reason provides insight into the link between the duration of the murderer's exile and the lifetime of the first High Priest.

36:5 And Moshe (Moses) commanded the Children of Israel with authorization from G-D saying, "The tribe of the sons of Yosef (Joseph) are correct."

36:6 "This is what G-D commands the daughters of Tzelafchad saying: 'You may marry anybody who is good in your eyes. However, you should only marry (someone) from the tribe of your fathers.'"

36:7 "And an inheritance of the Children of Israel shall not be moved from one tribe to another (through a daughter inheriting land and then marrying someone from another tribe…."

36:11 And Machla, Sirtza, Chagla, Milka, and Noah married the children of their uncles.

Verse 36:6 first says that Tzelafchad' daughters were free to marry anybody and then it says that they may only marry within their own tribe. Is this a clarification or is this a contradiction?

Verse 36:11 tells us who they married. Why is this important? What messages is the Torah trying to tell us by recording this for all eternity?

The Talmud teaches that these women were both wise and righteous (Bava Basra 119b). It says that the timing of their request demonstrated their wisdom and their marrying cousins demonstrated their righteousness.

How did their marrying cousins demonstrate righteousness?

Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel that the daughters of Tzelafchad were permitted to marry anybody, regardless of tribe. We know this from verse 36:6 which says that they "may marry anybody who is good in your eyes." The verse does go on to say that "you should only marry (someone) from the tribe of your fathers." This implies that the restriction of an inheriting daughter applies to them. However, we have a teaching that G-D did not command them to marry within their tribe. Rather, the commandment for women in that generation to marry within their tribe applied only to other woman, not to them. They were indeed excepted from this restriction. The second half of verse 36:6 was just advice that G-D was giving them, that they should only marry someone who was appropriate. (Bava Basra 120a).

The Talmud answers our first question. Verse 36:6 is not contradictory. Neither is it providing clarification. Instead, G-D is giving them advice.

This answers our first question but gives us other questions.

Why were they excepted from the commandment? Why did G-D give them advice? Why was this advice recorded for all eternity?

The following came to mind.

There was only one incidence in the history of mankind when G-D overtly gave a person no choice whom to marry: Adam and Eve. For the rest of us, G-D does this covertly because we must own this decision.

People marry human beings, not angels. Some of us become conscious of this after the wedding and others realize this beforehand. The other party behaves differently when tired, has their own personal needs and interests, etc.

This is therefore important for the health of a marriage that people have a role in choosing their spouses. Even in circles when parents make the match, couples can still find resources and use ingenuity to opt out.

G-D put us here to make decisions for ourselves. G-D put us here to work things out for the sake of making peace and harmony. Blaming parents or others for marriage problems is frequently (but not always) a weakness, a cop-out.

The restriction for an inheriting daughter came about because the elders of the tribe of Yosef raised valid concerns.

Had the restriction applied to the daughters of Tzelafchad the leaders of their tribe would have inadvertently put them at risk. Should their spouses later exhibit behavior that was less than angelic, they could come to blame their leaders for what they perceive as a bag of life-long woes.

The fact that G-D Himself was openly involved in the matter only exacerbated the risk. This is perhaps why G-D could only give them advice, not a commandment.

Perhaps we can see from what transpired that matrimonial harmony and how these women would relate to their leaders was more important to G-D than the future of a few parcels of land. Perhaps this is why G-D granted this one exception.

Under the same circumstance, many would have felt relieved by being excepted to a restriction. They would have said, "Thanks, G-D" and would have then gotten on with their lives, marrying whomever they wanted.

But these women were different.

They knew very well that G-D loves us like nothing else in the universe can. They knew that G-D wants only the best for us and that He knows what is best for us like nothing else in the universe can.

So they listened to His advice and followed it.

And they probably loved their husbands in a way that nobody else could, for their husbands provided them with an opportunity to demonstrate their love of and confidence in G-D.

This sheds a new light in the significance of their choice. This is perhaps why the Talmud states that the choice demonstrated their righteousness.

36:11 And the daughters of Tzlafchad (who were) Machla, Sirtza, Chogla, Milka, and Noah were taken by their cousins into marriage.

The Medrash Rabah (Pinchas 21:11) says that they were righteous women in that they only married men who were befitting.

It is a bit puzzling that their righteousness was associated with the choice of who they married.

Now, the Torah does provide marriage guidelines and, for example a woman may not marry her brother. Were they being singled out for simply complying with these guidelines? I'm sure that the vast majority of those who read this are compliant. Why don't we find other people singled out by the Medrash for similar praise of righteousness?

The Medrash goes on and remarks on the timeliness of this event.

It states that the reason that G-D made this happened during Moshe's fortieth and final year of leadership was to help him preserve his humility.

As background, in preparation for receiving the Torah the Jewish men were commanded by G-D to separate from their wives for several days (Exodus 19:15). The restrictions were lifted for everyone but Moshe, (Deuteronomy 5:27-8) who needed to be ready every moment for a Divine encounter. His separation lasted almost forty years.

The Medrash says that the episode with Tzlafchad's daughters gave Moshe an opportunity to know about people who were not personally commanded by G-D to refrain from marriage but yet did so for an extended period, thereby helping him preserve his humility.

This is very puzzling.

Some commentators state that the court appearance of Tzlafchad's daughters in Numbers 27:1-5 occurred in the second year from the Exodus. It appears from this Medrash that the women refused every marriage proposal for thirty-eight years because every man was not sufficiently befitting for them. A cursory interpretation can give the impression that the women were acting out of pure vanity. It is unlikely that such behavior would put them in a light to make a positive impression on Moshe.

The following came to mind.

Perhaps they were not acting out of vanity. Rather, their behavior was an example of extreme righteousness and loyalty.

Rabbi Akiva teaches that the person in Numbers 15:32 who gathered wood on Shabbos was none other than Tzlafchad their father. The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel provides his warped reasoning, which was to press Moshe into asking G-D to clarify the precise type of death that this capital crime incurs. He paid for the answer with his life.

He was obviously not a bad person and the punishment more than compensated for the misdeed.

The Torah teaches that punishment is corrective and (I assume except for the most heinous of crimes) it entitles recipient the restoration of his/her dignity.

We see this in Deuteronomy 25:3, where after receiving a court-ordered sentence of lashes Rashi notes that prior to that verse the person was described as being wicked and now that he received that which was due the Torah calls him our brother.

Perhaps the underlying motive of Tzlafchad's daughter's continual refusal to recognize anybody as being sufficiently fit for them was to preserve the honor and dignity that they insisted was due to their late father. In their eyes, their consideration of a suitor with the slightest character flaw could be taken as an indication that they were desperate to marry because of that which their father had foolishly done.

If true, then this could indeed rival Moshe's personal sacrifice of separating from his wife for forty years.

But these women finally found men who they could marry without compromise. And it was somewhat of a personal Divine commandment that they do so. And it took another encounter in Moshe's court by no less than the leaders of their tribe and the story was even written up for eternity in the Torah.

Just another one of those successes of the Great Matchmaker.

Return To Forethoughts And AfterThoughts



In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H


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