Jealousy

This week we read פרשת קרח. We are told that קרח was the richest man in the world. There is even an expression used in spoken Hebrew, עשיר כקרח, as wealthy as קרח, to describe a very rich person.

The message here is that we be warned of how horrible the מידה of קנאה, jealousy, can be. One who allows himself to be jealous of another person, removes from himself the possibility of ever being happy. His obsession with another person, consumes him. His own wealth and success is of insignificance to him. All that matters to him, is what this other person is doing.

Korach is a prime example of this. He had wealth and prominence, but could not stand seeing his cousins, Moshe and Aharon, having a higher position than him.

If one has a tendency towards jealousy, he needs to really work on himself to overcome it. He must learn to be happy with his own lot in life. This is the way to achieve happiness and contentment.

Don’t Rely on Miracles

Rabbeinu Bechaye takes the story of the spies as an opportunity to explain the concept of אין סומכים על הנס, that we are not allowed to rely on miracles.

We are obligated to do our part בדרך הטבע, through natural means. Hashem will then step in and make things happen.

There is another term associated with this idea. This is what is known as השתדלות. This comes from the word, להשתדל, to try. It is a further emphasis on our responsibility to do our part בדרך הטבע, to act within nature.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that man was created in a natural way, so that we act within nature. Despite all of this, the Jewish people are considered למעלה מן הטבע, above nature. Our very existence defies all logic and the rules of nations. Yet we somehow with Hashem’s help have survived.

In short, we have our responsibility to do our part in nature. And Hashem will do his part above nature.

Spies and Job

There is a big discussion in the Gemara in בבא בתרא on 15a, concerning איוב or Job. There are questions as to whether or not he was Jewish, when he lived, or did he ever live at all. Some believed that the story of Job was more of a parable with lessons to be learned.

Our Parsha, שלח, takes the opinion that איוב lived during the time of the exodus from Egypt. He was considered a great, non-Jewish leader, who died exactly when the spies were on their fateful mission.

The hint to all of this comes when Moshe tells the spies to check if היש בה עץ, are there any trees. Obviously, there were trees, but this was a hint to Iyov, who came from ארץ עוץ.

Moshe was asking if there was someone there whose years were as long as an old tree. Iyov lived to 210. Hashem kept the inhabitants distracted with Iyov’s funeral. But sadly, the spies twisted this to report that the land devours its inhabitants, as they saw funerals wherever they went.

We must always look for the positive in every situation and see how Hashem has our best and protection always in mind.

לשון הרע

Another theme of פרשת שלח is the danger of speaking לשון הרע. Chazal say that although בני ישראל tested Hashem ten times, it was the לשון הרע that they spoke, that sealed their fate. Because of this particular sin, they were prevented from being able to enter Eretz Yisrael.

It is also written in the Gemara in ערכין: “Come and see how great is the sin of לשון הרע. If the מרגלים, who brought a bad name on wood and stone, where the Torah says they spoke badly about the Land, one who brings a bad name on his friend, how much more is this damaging!”

It is a good idea to be reminded from time to time that we pay attention to what we say. Words can be damaging and we cannot take them back.

This lesson is to be learned from Miriam as well as from the spies. Speech is a gift that we must not abuse.

Visiting Graves of the Tzaddikim

Shavua Tov. We read today of the sin of the spies and how only Kalev and Yehoshua remained strong in their mission. They also spoke well of Eretz Yisrael.

A small detail is brought along the way of telling the story. The Torah says that Kalev stopped by at the holy city of Chevron, to pray at the grave of the patriarchs and matriarchs at מערת המכפילה. In essence, he was the first to pray at קברי צדיקים, the graves of the righteous.

In recent years, this practice of visiting the graves of saintly Jews, has become more widespread. One needs to be very careful not to turn this into עבודה זרה. We must follow the example of Kalev as to how to pray by these graves.

It is not the grave we are praying to. We are beseeching the holy individual’s buried there to pray on our behalf.According to Kabbalists, it is even a more auspicious time to pray on the Yahrtzeit of these people. Their souls come down and are more receptive to our requests for them to pray on our behalf.

In any case, visiting such graves is not meant to replace our praying directly to Hashem. It is simply an attempt to get a little help from the righteous who have departed.

Appreciating Israel

This week’s Parsha discusses the tragic story of the spies who despised the Land of Israel. There is one basic message that all must learn.

Eretz Yisrael is one of the most precious gifts that Hashem has given us. We must cherish it and we must appreciate it. And we must never speak a negative word about Israel. This is the lesson to be learned from the spies.

The overall makeup of the Jewish religion has three parts. There is תורת ישראל, עם ישראל, and ארץ ישראל. The Torah, the people, and the Land are all interspersed. The intention of Hashem to take us out of Egypt was to bring the entire Jewish nation to the Promised Land. For a Jew to live anywhere but Israel, is not natural. We flourish as a people when we are in our land.

We are actually supposed to feel passionate about Israel and marvel at its beauty. The Rabbis have such statements as אוירה דארץ ישראל מחכים, that the air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise. They also אין תורה כתורת ארץ ישראל, there is no Torah like the Torah of Israel.

Parshat שלח is really one where we must take stock and recognize the special place Israel is supposed to have in our lives. Shabbat Shalom

Humility

A very important Pasuk in the Torah, is a simple one. It reads, והאיש משה עניו מכל אדם, that “the man, Moshe, was the humblest of all men.”

We learn that there is a direct connection between greatness and humility. The greater the person, the more humble he is. The smaller the person, the more conceited he is.

Moshe Rabbeinu knew G-d more intimately than any other human being. The more he learned about Hashem’s awesome power, the more he realized his own smallness. Compared to Hashem, regardless of man’s achievements, they were insignificant.

The Ramban explained this idea to his son in אגרת הרמבן. He wrote that by controlling our anger, we are able to achieve humility. And humility is the key to all good things. It will lead to love of G-d, and will allow one to be שמח בחלקו, happy with his lot in life.

We must always remind ourselves to attribute our accomplishments to Hashem’s kindness. We must never get carried away with ourselves. Our emphasis should be to achieve humility. For humility is the key to all good things.

Blessed Rain

The Gemara in בבא בתרא 25b, discusses Israel’s climate and rainfall. When the Torah discusses the blessings that will come to the Jewish people, we are told that rains will come from אוצרו הטוב, from Hashem’s good treasure.

The Gemara goes on to explain that there is a big difference when Israel is fulfilling the will of G-d and they are dwelling in the land. When both of these things happen, that the Jewish people are living in the Land and fulfilling the will of Hashem, the good rains come.

It follows that even when the Torah is observed outside of Israel, but the Land is desolate of Jews, there will not be the same blessings.

It is clear that the ideal situation for the Jewish people is that they observe the Torah and live in Eretz Yisrael. When this happens, we will merit Hashem’s blessings. We will then fulfilling the ultimate purpose of the Jewish people.

Waiting Six Hours

An interesting Halacha is learned from the case of the שלו, quails. The Torah describes how the people were punished for asking for meat.

The Pasuk then says, והבשר עודנו בין השיניים, and the meat was still between their teeth. This was followed by their ultimate punishment.

There is an argument among the Rishonim as to why we wait six hours between meat and milk. One opinion is that we wait six hours because it takes that amount of time for the food to be removed from our teeth, as learned from the above Pasuk.

The other reason is that it takes six hours for food to be digested. The practical difference is in a case where a mother chews meat for her baby to soften food. According to the opinion regarding digesting food, the mother would not be “Fleishig or בשרי”, but according to the opinion about food between the teeth, she would need to wait six hours.

Aharon and the Menora

There are two opinions regarding the Menora and Aharon. Last week’s Parsha ended with the twelve נשיאים offering sacrifices during the first twelve days of the functioning of the Mishkan.

According to Rashi, Aharon was disappointed that he had no role to play in the dedication ceremonies. Hashem comforts him by saying that his role is greater. He will be charged with the task of permanently lighting the Menora that will bring light to the world.

The Ramban wrote that Aharon was comforted by Hashem when he was told that his descendants would bring honor to the Jewish people during the Chanukah  story.

According to either opinion, Aharon was comforted.

Request for Meat

Shavua Tov. In today’s Parsha, we read of the people’s complaining about wanting meat and that they were not satisfied with the Manna from heaven.

Moshe Rabbeinu asks where will he be able to find meat to feed all the people. The various commentators discuss this comment made by Moshe. Some were of the opinion that there was real concern that there would not be enough cattle to supply the nation.

The Yalkut Shimoni rejects this answer because it does not jive with the request of the two and a half tribes who asked for land on the other side of the Jordan, due to their abundant cattle.

The Yalkut answers this by saying that the complainers knew that there was enough meat to go around. They complained for the sake of complaining. And they were really challenging the strict rules of family purity.

Moshe’s question of where will he find meat, was really an expression of frustration. He was saying in frustration, that there was no way in pleasing these people. They will always find a reason to gripe.

The solution was to establish a Sanhedrin to help Moshe deal with a tough nation.

G-d’s Enemies

In פרשת בהעלותך, we have the description of the ארון קדש traveling by itself in a miraculous fashion. The holy ark literally flew on its own and cleared the path of snakes and scorpions.

When Moshe saw the ark traveling, he said, קומה ה׳ ויפוצו אויביך וינוסו משנאיך מפניך. He asked for Hashem’s glory to rise and that His enemies should be scattered.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that G-d’s enemies are those who question the truth and validity of the Torah. They mock the authenticity of the Torah.

Rashi wrote that the enemies of Hashem are those who hate the Jewish people. Simply put, the Jew haters are saying, “Jew, you are nothing. And your G-d is nothing.”

We likewise pray that the mockers of Torah and the Jew haters be scattered from Hashem’s Presence. Shabbat Shalom

Prophecy

One of the basic principles of Judaism as explained by the Rambam, is that there is such a thing as prophecy. There was a period of 1000 years from יציאת מצרים to forty years into the second Temple period, where prophecy existed.

A great deal is learned about the specifics of prophecy from פרשת בהעלותך. We are taught that some received prophecy by way of a dream. Others, by way of going into a trance. But the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu was higher than any prophet that ever lived. He remained in a state of complete consciousness. He spoke with Hashem as two people would hold a conversation with one another.

This was the reason that Moshe separated from his wife. He needed to be on call at all times to hear the word of Hashem. Others needed to work hard to be on a level to be able to receive prophecy. Moshe maintained that level at all times.

When Mashiach comes, all will receive prophecy. We look forward to that day but in order to get ready, we should work at elevating ourselves spiritually.

The Role of the Levi

We learn in these Parshiot, the special role of the לוי. In the desert, the לויים were divided into three groups. Each had a special task in carrying the Mishkan when it was dismantled.

Gershon was the oldest of the three brothers. He carried the curtains and coverings. Merari carried the beams, and Kehat had the most important job. They were in charge of the seven holy vessels.

In the Temple, the Leviim also had three different tasks. Some of them were charged with playing musical instruments as part of Temple service. Others who were blessed with good voices, were the singers during Temple service. And a third group were charged with guard duty.

In short, we see that each Levi had his special תפקיד, or job. Each of us also his special תפקיד. Hashem gives each of us their own special talents and abilities. We are charged with the responsibility of achieving all that we can in serving Hashem with these talents and abilities. It’s not always easy to know what our תפקיד is, but it’s our job to find out what that תפקיד is.

Priestly Blessings

Parshat נשא discusses ברכת כהנים, the Priestly blessing. There is a special commandment for the Kohanim to bless the people of Israel. This is a positive commandment fulfilled in Israel around 450 times a year.

There is something magical about this blessing in that the שכינה, Divine Presence, is found in the fingers of the Kohein when he blesses the people.

The fifteen words of this blessing are so special that there is an additional prayer one can say during this blessing, in order to nullify a frightening bad dream.

A Kohein is meant to be a lover of peace as Aharon exemplified by his actions. A Kohein should be liked by his community. If he is hated, it is considered dangerous for him to give this blessing. Chazal were concerned that he will receive so many curses that could potentially harm him.

The Sefardim do ברכת כהנים outside of Israel, while the Ashkenazim in Chutz L’aretz only do this on holidays. Another reason why living in Israel is special. You get blessed by the Kohanim every day!

Hashem and Torah are Truth

Shavua Tov. Now that Shavuot is behind us, we should be approaching the summer with a renewed resolve. We should feel inspired and grateful for the greatest gift; the Torah.

We must be constantly be reminded of the truth of Torah and the path of Torah.

The Rambam writes in הלכות יסודי התרה that אין אמת כאמיתתו, there is no like His truth. And we say in Tanya that Torah and G-d are one and the same.

How fortunate are we with our lot. We are living in Eretz Yisrael and we feel Hashem’s Presence. May we show added determination to reaffirm this commitment by studying Torah with greater intensity.

Jewish Values

The major theme of Shavuot to be clearly understood, is that the values and morals that we possess, must be Torah values.

One must never think that he is capable of being kinder, more righteous, or more just, than the laws given in the Torah as explained by our Sages.

We say that the Torah possesses חכמה אלוקית, a certain Divine wisdom. This wisdom comes from a G-d who is perfection.

One must never doubt that the Torah could ever be outdated or no longer applicable in our times. A perfect G-d has the capability of writing a book that is applicable for all times.

The Torah represents truth and all that is good and sacred in the world. Our values must come only from the Torah. This is the important message of Shavuot. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

Our Special Destiny

The ספר התודעה speaks about the special mission of the Jewish people over the generations. When Moshe first asked the Jewish people about their responsibility, they responded with נעשה, we will do.

The second time they were asked, they answered with נעשה ונשמע, we will do and we will hear. This latter declaration referred to the observance of the actual Mitzvot.

The first declaration of נעשה, is described as יעוד, or the special destiny of the Jewish people. Israel accepted their role of teaching the world morality. They were also told that they would be different from all of the other nations. Their special role would not be easy. It was likely to come with hatred and persecution.

We see today how needed we are in fulfilling our destiny. The world needs to learn about Hashem and the Torah. We must make Hashem King of the world. Hashem’s laws are the ones that will help make the world a better place. A system of justice that is not focused on G-d is destined to fail and be perverted. This is a very central idea of Shavuot. We affirm once again that we will live up to the challenge made to us on Mount Sinai. We must not falter in fulfilling it.

A Rebbe Is Like a Father

A final point from last week’s Parsha worth mentioning. The Pasuk says, ואלה תולדות אהרון ומשה, “And these are the generations of Aharon and Moshe.” The Torah proceeds to discuss the sons of Aharon.

The Gemara asks why Aharon’s children were attributed to Moshe, when he was their uncle and not their father.

An important principle is learned here about the relationship between a Rebbe and his students. We learn from here that one who teaches Torah to his students is as if he gave birth to them.

Put simply, your father brings you into this world, and your Rebbe brings you into the next world. This explains why a good and devoted teacher, views his students like his children.

פדיון פטר חמור

In last week’s Parsha, we have a reference to the Mitzva of the redemption of a first born donkey by a lamb. This is called פדיון פטר חמור. It is a ceremony that is still done today.

There is a Bracha recited, and the holiness that the first born donkey had, is transferred to the lamb. Even though donkeys are non-Kosher animals, they are rewarded because they helped carry the riches of Egypt on their backs during the exodus.

The Parsha noted that when the Leviim were chosen to replace the first born in the Temple, the בהמת הלויים, the animal of the Leviim, replaced בהמתם, their animals (plural).

Quoting the beginning of מסכת בכורות, it was learned that one lamb of the לוי, was able to redeem numerous פטר חמור’s of the other tribes. It was because of the text where the לוי’s animal was written in singular, and the animals of the other tribes, was written in plural.