Death of Aharon the Rebbe

Parshat חוקת describes the last year in the desert. We learn of the deaths of Miriam and Aharon. And we learn of the personal battle between Moshe Rabbeinu and his slaying of the giants, Sichon and Og and annexing their territories. This area is known today as the Golan Heights.

The passing of Aharon was particularly moving. The nation saw Moshe, Aharon, and Elazar ascend the mountain known as הור ההר. When only Moshe and Elazar came down from the mountain without Aharon, the people asked where he was. It was extremely difficult for them to accept that the beloved Aharon was no longer among them.

Rabbi Soloveitchik compared this scene to separating from a revered rabbi. When a “Rebbe” plays a major role in his students’ life and he is no more, it seems insurmountable to continue life without the rebbe’s influence. They don’t want to accept his departure.

Aharon was missed by the entire nation because of his love and devotion to them. But he will also be remembered as the first Rebbe having to painfully say good-by to his Talmidim. Shabbat Shalom

חוקים

Parshat חוקת is known for it’s discussion of the חוק known as פרה אדומה. This is the most difficult Halacha in the Torah to understand.

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that חוקים are unintelligible, enigmatic, and mysterious. He equates חוקים with certain laws of physics, or the speed of light, or that water freezes at thirty two degrees. We must understand that the reason for Mitzvot are beyond our grasp. We cannot know Hashem’s motivation for Mitzvot.

The Rav goes on to say that we have no right to explain חוקים but we have a duty to interpret them. One should ask, “What does this Mitzva mean to me?” How do I understand this in terms of my service to Hashem?

The point here is that we can still look for a way to make the Mitzva look meaningful.

Only Moshe Rabbeinu understood this Mitzva. Shlomo HaMelech admitted that this alluded him. Nevertheless, we do need to find a way to beautify the Mitzvot.

King, Kohein Gadol, Kohein

The Gemara in מסכת תענית speaks about the special role of certain individuals in Jewish life. It mentions the king, the Kohein Gadol, and the regular Kohein.

Because of their special tasks, it was important that they looked respectful.

The king had to get a haircut every day. The Kohein Gadol, every Thursday in time for the changing of the guard each Shabbat. The regular Kohein had to get a haircut once a month.

This was learned from the Nazir, who usually took on the Nazir period for thirty days when he would cut his hair.

The Gemara goes on to say that Kohanim need to be on call nowadays for the rebuilding of the third Temple. Therefore, they should keep their hair short and they should refrain from drinking wine. The Temple could appear at any time, and the Kohanim need to be ready to jump in and do their priestly duties. May it come speedily.

Stay Away from Glory

The Haftarah from last week’s Parsha, discussed שמואל הנביא and his admonition of the עם when he was about to appoint a king.

Shmuel viewed the request for a king as a personal challenge of his leadership. He reminds the people that he attempted to serve the people faithfully. Like Moshe Rabbeinu, he mentions that he did not even take one donkey for his personal use as one of the perks of his lofty position.

Pirkei Avot warns אהוב את המלאכה ושנא את הרבנות, love the work, but hate the glory. We are to learn to shy away from seeking fame, glory, and honor.

Even our greatest leaders, Moshe and Shmuel, had their positions challenged, where they were forced to defend themselves of ridiculous accusations, to justify their positions of leadership.

Priestly Gifts

After the מחלוקת with קרח ended, we are taught about some of the twenty-four special gifts that were given to the Kohein.

There were ten gifts given to the Kohein on the premises of the Beit Hamikdash.These were limited to items related to sacrifices or Temple services. They were given parts of sacrifices offered on the altar. They were also given the לחם הפנים, the showbread, that needed to be eaten on Temple grounds.

There were four gifts given in Jerusalem. Included here were the ביכורים, the first fruits, as well as the בכור, the first born male animal.

There were five gifts in ארץ ישראל, such as תרומה. And there were five gifts given anywhere. Among these last gifts, were the coins of פדיון הבן.

The Kohein only served two days a year. His group from his geographical location known as משמרות, served only two weeks a year. The Kohein served one day during each of the two weeks.

Therefore, his primary role was educator of the people. He needed these gifts to help with his sustenance.

No Controversy

Shavua Tov. We learn from פרשת קרח the dangers of מחלוקת,controversy. Pirkei Avot tells us that there is such a thing as מחלוקת לשם שמים, an argument for the sake of Heaven.

This refers to Hillel and Shamai. They had disagreement in their attempt to properly interpret the Torah. They served together as the heads of the Sanhedrin. It is possible that their students had unpleasant disagreements but not Hillel and Shamai themselves.

Korach, on the other hand, was not motivated by holy intentions. He convinced himself that he was justified in questioning the authority of Moshe and Aharon. He really believed that what he was doing was for the good of the people.

What we can learn from all of this is that the best policy is to run away from מחלוקת. Rarely does anything good come from controversy. Harmony and Jewish unity is a far greater aspiration than discord and fighting.

Judaism Needs to Make Sense

Rabbi Soloveitchik equates Korach with those Jews who have trouble embracing Judaism because to them, certain Mitzvot do not make sense. This is why he mocked such Halachot as Mezuza and Tzitzit are foolish. (He asked about a house full of ספרים needing a Mezuza. Or, why should a garment that is entirely made of Techelet require fringes?)

We are to understand that we are to accept the Torah as truth even if certain things do not make sense. We call this עבודה שבלב, worship of the heart.

The תורה שבעל פה, the Oral Law, is not based on logic. It is based on ongoing tradition that began on Sinai as to how the Torah is to be interpreted. It is more faith oriented than logic oriented.

Each person experiences Hashem in his own way. We are never to assume that we have the ability to be smarter than the G-d given system handed down at Mount Sinai.

Korach justified his rebellion because of his need to have Judaism make sense to him. We must not make the same mistake. Shabbat Shalom

Challenging Moshe’s Authority

Rabbi Soloveitchik introduces the קרח rebellion as being the first time since יציאת מצרים that Moshe Rabbeinu’s authority was challenged. Even by חטא העגל, they were upset that Moshe had not returned on time. They still never doubted that he was the true leader.

Korach felt slighted when Aharon was elevated to the position of כהן גדול. He also accused Moshe of wanting to be king of Israel. And all of this, despite the fact that Korach was the wealthiest man in the world.

The Rav clarified that Moshe never saw himself as king. He was the ultimate “Rebbe”. He saw his role as the teacher of Torah to the עם. This is why he was known as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe, our teacher.

A great deal can be learned from the Korach rebellion. The main point is to be careful not to use religion as the justification for one’s personal aspirations. People fool themselves into thinking they are acting in a righteous manner when it is honor and glory that they seek.

Be Normal

There is a Talmudic statement of בטלה דעתו אצל כל אדם. This means that one’s own opinion or view is canceled opposite every person.

This subject came up regarding one who makes a whole meal out of wine. There are those who would claim that they are totally full from such consumption. Nevertheless, he would not say ברכת המזון because this is not the “normal” thing to do. We would call this, בטלה דעתו אצל כל אדם.

Perhaps we can learn from this how important it is to maintain some sense of normalcy in the way we practice our Judaism and conduct our lives.

Extremism is not good for Jewish unity. While uniqueness is important and each individual does need to reach his full potential, we still need to act in a uniform way. The Book of Judges prefaces bad tidings with the words איש הישר בעיניו, that each person did what was “right in his own eyes.” Chazal and Judaism want us to “be normal.”

Rachav the Convert

The Haftarah last Shabbat discussed the story of the spies sent by Yehoshua to Jericho. We are introduced to their host, רחב הזונה.

It is fascinating to hear the words of Rachav. She is totally in awe of the achievements of the Jewish people and the G-d of Israel. She fully realized that Hashem is the true G-d and the people of Jericho are in total fear of Hashem’s hand.

The Midrash tells us that Rachav later converted to be part of עם ישראל. Yehoshua was so impressed by her sincerity that he decided to marry Rachav.

Today we also witness great numbers of non-Jews who see Hashem’s hand as He rebuilds the House of Israel. They realize that the fulfillment of numerous prophecies in our time, is a clear proof that Judaism is the only true religion.

I don’t believe that there has been as many conversion candidates as their are today, since the time of the Temple. Like Rachav, they want to embrace the one true religion of the world.

Crying for Nothing

Another point made in Parshat שלח is the idea of בכיה של חינם, crying for nothing. It was the night of the ninth of Av, that the nation cried that entire night after hearing the evil report of the spies.

Hashem said, “You cried a crying for nothing, now I will give you a reason to cry.” Tisha B’Av became the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.

The שערי תשובה speaks of נרגנים, or complainers. It describes people who are full of negativity and self-pity. They live a life of feeling sorry for themselves and seeing that everyone has it better than them.

The tragedy of this attitude is that such people will have a difficult time coming to שמח בחלקו, being happy with one’s lot in life. The key to finding happiness and peace of mind, is learning to be happy with all of Hashem’s gifts, and he is given all that he needs.

We must learn that one must be careful not to cry for nothing. Hashem might give us a real reason to cry.

Comfort Versus Spirituality

Parshat שלח addressed the issue of the place of ארץ ישראל in connection to one’s Judaism. While it was clear that the purpose of the exodus was to bring ALL of the Jewish people into the Land of Israel, somehow this obvious point is often overlooked.

The issue today as always boils down to the question of materialism versus spirituality. Israel was one of those things acquired through difficulties. Those difficulties involved being able to live as comfortably in other lands just like Israel.

Today this is dramatized even more when Western countries enjoy so much affluence. If a person wishes to be true to his ideals, and is seeking a more meaningful life, he will choose Israel. If he compromises for the sake of the “easier” life, he will choose not to live here and justify this by finding flaws with our little country.

This is the painful truth with very few exceptions. Sometimes it needs to be said. Parshat שלח is a good opportunity to do so. Shavua Tov.

ציצית

Parshat שלח ends with the Mitzva of ציצית. There appears to be three different messages learned from this commandment.

The first idea focuses on the word, וזכרתם, that we must remember. The wearing of ציצית is meant to be a constant reminder that we are Jews with a special mission and special expectations. We are to strive for holiness in the way we live our lives.

The second message comes from the mention of יציאת מצרים, our exodus from Egypt. Rabbi Soloveitchik says that this is designed that we accept עול מלכות שמים, the yoke of Heaven. It is also a reminder that Hashem rules the world.

And the final point is related to the blue Techeilet combined with white on ציצית. Again, the Rav explains that White represents clarity, purity, and forgiveness. The Blue, which is likened to the sea and the sky, is only vaguely grasped. It represents the enigma of the Jewish people. It is difficult to understand why we have lived so long in the Exile and how we survived. Blue is to remind ourselves that we surrender to Hashem and we are not meant to understand all that takes place around us. We must rely completely on Hashem. Shabbat Shalom

Hashem’s Strength

There is a great deal learned in the manner Moshe Rabbeinu prayed to Hashem for forgiveness for the sin of the spies. The key Pasuk comes from the words, ועתה יגדל נא כח ה׳, “And now, Hashem’s strength should be made great.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik reminisced that as a boy his Chabad Rebbe would cry when he would speak about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. It took the Rav about a year until he understood why.

The above Pasuk taught that it is the task of the Jew to increase Hashem’s strength. Israel must reveal Hashem’s existence to the world.

The Rav’s boyhood realization was that although Hashem is Omnipotent, He cannot act alone. We must teach the world that there is a G-d that the world must be subservient to.

Today, according to Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, the numerous fulfillment of prophecies in our times, attests to Hashem’s existence. Instead of intellectually trying to prove Hashem’s existence, Rav Eliyahu simply lists the prophecies and how they have been fulfilled. There cannot be a doubt that Israel of today is what makes Hashem’s strength increase.

The People and the Land

Parshat שלח discusses the tragedy of the sin of the מרגלים. Rabbi Soloveitchik said that the connection between last week’s Parsha and this week’s, is that Miriam failed to see the סגולה, specialness of Moshe Rabbeinu and his prophecy. The spies equally failed to see the סגולה of ארץ ישראל.

The Rav goes on to describe the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel as a kind of marriage. This relationship began a love affair between the people and the land.

Moshe’s intention in sending the spies was like the groom needing to check out the bride before the marriage. Their sin was that they rejected the bride. They did not feel the specialness and holiness of the land. Yehoshua and Calev did feel this excitement and connection.

Unfortunately, today there are numerous Jews in the world who have rejected the bride. Somehow they do not feel that their Judaism is missing anything, despite having little or no connection with the land.

Thankfully, there are over six and a half million Jews who feel this connection and love the land passionately. They have chosen to live here.

Let us hope that the Jews of the Galut will wake up and accept the bride and come home to Israel.

Respect for Torah Scholars

The Rambam lists two of the 613 Mitzvot related to the treatment of the תלמיד חכם, Torah scholar.

The first is called L’Hedavek B’Yodav, to cleave to those who know Him. The Rambam explains that we are commanded לדבקה בו, to cleave to Him. The way we cleave to Hashem is by being close to the תלמיד חכם. We should help him in business and we should try to have our sons marry the daughter of a תלמיד חכם, and our daughters should marry a תלמיד חכם. We should be close to the תלמיד חכם and thirstily learn from them.

The second Mitzva is titled, “L’Chabed M’Lamdeha V’Yodeha”, to respect Torah teachers and those that know Him. We are commanded to show respect to our Rabbi/Talmid Chacham, even more than to our parents. The parents bring us into this world, and the Rabbi brings us into the next world.

Therefore, we need to take great care in showing respect to the Torah scholar. We are to stand before the Rebbe and take care not to contradict him in a disrespectful manner.

It is probably not so well known that these two Mitzvot exist. We should take great care to observe them.

Animal Rights

There is a debate between the Rambam and Ramban in connection with the laws related to treatment of animals.

The Rambam felt that all laws of the Torah are גזירת המלך, a decree of the King. They are not רחמים, teaching to be merciful, because if that were the case, we would not be allowed שחיטה,ritual slaughtering, and we would not be allowed to eat animals altogether.

The Ramban disagrees and says that all laws in the Torah related to animals, are specifically for the purpose of teaching רחמים.

The Ramban said that the intellect of an animal is not it’s driving force. However, there is an instinctive love between a mother animal and its offspring. They feel pain like a human, if their babies are harmed in any way. Such an awareness is designed to make us more compassionate human beings.

Kindness and mercy are characteristics that separate the Jew from the rest of the nations.

Sanhedrin

Parshat בהעלותך introduces us to the idea of the סנהדרין. Moshe Rabbeinu is frustrated with the rebelliousness of עם ישראל. He tells Hashem that the burden of leading the people is very difficult.

Hashem’s solution is that Moshe gather seventy of the holiest men of Israel.

The סנהדרין existed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until 358 of the Common Era. They were a legislative body that decided crucial matters of Jewish law and enforced the Torah as the law of the land.

They helped keep the Jewish people united. It was beneficial to have one body that were accepted by all. Their authority was never questioned.

Each tribe had its own סנהדרין קטן of twenty-three members. They were allowed to exercise capital punishment if severe Torah law was violated.

After 358, when the סנהדרין disbanded, a set calendar was made for the Jewish people. The tragic part of the story was that once there was no longer a סנהדרין, Judaism lost its single authority. The Jews in the Galut, followed their leaders in their respective communities. Jewish unity was never the same when there was no longer a סנהדרין. We look forward to its re-establishment.

Hoarding and Greed

The incident at קברות התאווה where the people complained about lack of meat and watermelon, was very telling. Hashem answered their request by sending the quails.

It was bad enough that they were unappreciative of Hashem’s kindness in the desert. The מן provided them with all of the nourishment that they needed. But what was worse was the way they collected the quails. Rabbi Soloveitchik comments that they gathered the שליו in piles and acted like mad men.

Judaism hates hoarding, avarice, and greed. People who believe that security comes with amassing wealth are nothing but fools. The sin of קברות התאווה was one of greed and desire. The important lesson here is that our real security comes only with our complete reliance on Hashem. Anything else is vanity of vanities. Shabbat Shalom

Aharon and the Menorah

Parshat בהעלותך begins with the commandment to light the Menorah. The Ramban comments that Aharon was a little despondent after seeing that each of twelve tribes were honored to make sacrifices at the dedication of the Mishkan,

Aharon was concerned that perhaps he was unworthy for his part in creating the Golden Calf. He is assured that he is in Hashem’s good graces. Not only is he given the exclusive Mitzva to light the Menorah but there will be a special holiday in the future where his descendants will save the Jewish people. The story of the Maccabees and his special Mitzva were meant to give Aharon special recognition.

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that Aharon demonstrated tremendous humility. He allowed himself to be insulted and struck with stones. He guarded sanctity with self sacrifice and unbounded love.

Aharon was similar to Rachel who helped her husband, Rabbi Akiva. Because of all of this, Aharon was rewarded with Chanukah.