Parshat Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar discusses life in the desert for the Jewish people. This fourth book of the Torah is also referred to as חומש הפקודים, the book of numbers.

In this Parsha, we have a census of the males between the ages of twenty and sixty. The initial total was 603,550 which decreased a bit after various sins and punishments.

The Levites (Netanyahu announced last night at Mercaz Harav that he is a Levi) were counted separately according to their three families of Gershon, Kehat, and Merari. The של״ה הקודש pointed out that the Kohanim were counted together with the Kehat family. The connection was that both the Kohanim and Kehat were chosen to carry the Holy Ark in the desert.

This explains more clearly why Korach felt that the Priesthood should be shared. He was more closely related to Moshe and Aharon than the other families of Levi.

There is a great deal of symbolism to the struggles of our ancestors in the desert. We are to learn from their mistakes and realize that staying close to Hashem and putting our absolute trust in Him, is the path towards happiness and success. Shabbat Shalom.

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Yom Yerushalayim

In Judaism, the matter of הכרת הטוב, appreciating the good, is of great importance. To be a כפוי טובה, an ingrate, is considered to be a very negative character trait.

With this in mind, I am surrounded by the singing and celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim, literally right outside my door. Thousands are on their way to the Kotel proudly waving their Israeli flags with singing and great joy and enthusiasm.

Some of us remember the miracle of the Six Day War. This was probably the greatest open demonstration of the "Hand of G-d" since the splitting of the Red Sea. What took Joshua seven years to do, the IDF with Hashem's help, did in six days!

There is an expression that when one is standing next to a mountain, he does not realize how high it is. We are still living through numerous mountainous events every single day.

As we mark fifty years since the reunification of Jerusalem, we must never take it for granted. We must express abundant gratitude to Hashem for this miracle and all of the daily miracles He sends our way.

יום ירושלים שמח

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In Parshat Bamidbar, we are acquainted with the term תפקיד. The three families of the Levites, each had his special assignment, or תפקיד. The Kehat family was given the task of carrying the sacred vessels during the travels in the desert.

The Gershon and Merari families dealt with carrying the curtains and beams used in the Mishkan.

Every person has his תפקיד in life. The philosophy of Mussar is that each person has to one day answer if he achieved his ultimate purpose in this world. Every individual is given certain G-d given abilities that he is meant to use to the fullest.

We are not in competition with anyone except ourselves. As is written in the Book of Job, אדם לעמל יולד, meaning that man was meant to struggle. He is to attempt to achieve all that he is capable of.

On a Kabbalistic level, it's written that if man is lazy and shirks his responsibility and does not fulfill his תפקיד, he may have to come back in another גילגול, incarnation, until he gets it right.

Especially with Shavuot coming where we receive the Torah anew, it is a good time to do some serious soul searching to see if we are truly fulfilling Hashem's reason for putting us here in this world.

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On Giving Charity

Being charitable, is a top priority in Judaism. We are always expected to open our hearts to the less fortunate and try to ease their burden. Particularly, Hashem has no patience for one who is cruel to the orphans and widows. The Torah says that such a person will have his own sons become orphans and his wife will become a widow.

Nowadays the situation with charity has gotten out of control. No longer is there shame in asking for charity. The Talmud speaks of knocking on doors for help as the last resort for one in a desperate situation. It was never meant to become a profession as it is today.

For this reason the late Rav Elyashiv זצ״ל paskened that the rules of the game have changed. He said that there are three levels of Tzedaka and each entitles us to a different response.

The first has to do with the beggar on the street. We do not have to give as they assume we are likely to say no. The second group is the Beit Knesset or Beit Midrash. For these people, we have the option of giving or not. But for the third group who knock on the door of our homes, we must respond with at least a small gift.

All of this came about when asking for charity became so common and has been abused. May we always open our hearts to the truly needy.

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עבד כנעני

The concept of עבד כנעני was mentioned in this week's Parsha. This refers to a non-Jew who takes upon himself the status of Canaanite slave with the knowledge that he becomes the permanent property of his Jewish master.

It is also required that he accept all of the Mitzvot that a woman observes. He goes through a one year trial period. After it is clear that he understands what is expected of him and he convinces all around him that he will diligently keep the commandments, he is accepted. He undergoes circumcision and Mikve.

In the event he is freed, either because of an injury sustained, or his master frees him for a Mitzva, he becomes a complete Jew with his freedom.

The עבד כנעני is viewed as one who desires to observe Mitzvot. For this reason, he goes free immediately if his master takes him out of Israel and prevents him from observing the laws that can only be observed in Eretz Yisrael.

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The Sound of Rustling Leaves

Shavua Tov. In today's double Parsha, we had the תוכחה, or the rebuke. Moshe Rabbeinu makes it clear that there will be great reward for the observance of the Mitzvot and severe punishment for the violation of the commandments.

There is a frightening Pasuk in the תוכחה that uses the words, קול עלה נדף, which means the sound of rustling leaves. Moshe is warning that there will come a time that you live in such fear that you will always feel that someone is chasing you. You will run away in fear when the sound you are running from is only the sound of rustling leaves.

We must thank Hashem every day that we live in a time where Jews are free to practice their religion all over the world. And, even more importantly, the doors to Eretz Yisrael are open to welcome any Jew that wishes to come here. Nearly half of our people are here. We need to pray that the other half gets here soon.

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One Sin Leads to Another

One of the themes of the Parshas this week is how one sin leads to another. In Pirkei Avot we say עבירה גוררת עבירה, that one sin drags us into more sins.

The Parsha begins with the laws of the Sabbatical year. If one does not keep שמיטה, he will begin to be impoverished to the point that he will be forced to sell his movable objects. When he uses up this money, he will have no choice but to borrow money with interest, which is forbidden. If he remains stubborn and does not do Teshuva, he will continue to fall financially to the point that he's forced to sell himself into slavery. The only one willing to hire him, will be a non-Jewish master, who is likely to oppress him. All of this began because of the lack of faith of refusing to follow the Shmitta laws.

The message of the Parsha is clear and simple. If we observe the commandments and work hard to do what is right in the eyes of Hashem, all will be good for us and we will receive abundant blessings. Shabbat Shalom

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Securely in our Land

It is interesting that the Parshiot of בהר-בחוקותי always fall around Yom Yerushalayim. Each Parsha mentions the idea of וישבתם בארץ לבטח, that you will live securely in your land. The commentary of the Rabbis to these verses is that בארץ אתה יושב לבטח ולא בחוצה לה, that in your land you live securely but not outside of the land.

This idea is also the basis for how Jews are to behave while living in the Galut. Jews are to keep a low profile and are to be careful not to flaunt their wealth and arouse the jealousy of the nations where they live.

It must be further emphasized that we are to act like guests when we are living among the nations. History has taught us that we can never be sure when we have worn out our welcome and are no longer wanted.

We must be reminded that the only home for the Jews is in Israel. This is why ultimately, in Israel we live securely but not outside of Israel.

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Money- A Test of Faith

The classic question asked by Rashi regarding פרשת בהר, as to what does שמיטה have to do with הר סיני? Aren't all of the Mitzvot given on Mount Sinai? And the classic answer is that just as Shmitta was given on Mount Sinai, so, too, were all Mitzvot given on Mount Sinai. In other words, the Torah chose Shmitta as an apparent random example of a Mitzva given on Mount Sinai.

It seems that this is an incomplete answer. The question still remains as to why Shmitta, the Sabbatical year, was randomly chosen as the example of a law given at Sinai.

The real answer seems to be that the test of a Jew's true faith is in his wallet. Leaving the land fallow in the seventh year, and trusting completely in Hashem takes a great deal of faith. Our view of money, in general, also requires faith. Do we trust Hashem to reimburse us for the charity we give? Are we prepared to walk away from a business deal that promises great profits but is borderline ethical, because it is more important to do what is right in the "eyes of G-d?"

Shmitta is the example of a law given at Sinai to remind us that we must always rely on Hashem- especially in money matters.

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Keep Your Word

The Rambam in ספר המצוות, elaborates on the obligation for one to be careful to fulfill what comes out of one's mouth. Initially, we take this as referring to various pledges that we might make.

There are times that we make a vow or an oath that we must be certain to fulfill. This is equally true of monetary commitments in the form of charity  that we must also be sure not to forget to pay as soon as possible.

The Rambam also speaks of another type of speech. He refers to how careful we must be to keep our word. When we say we are going to do something, we must do it. We must never mislead people.

In a business transaction, we must give the other party the benefit of the doubt if what we said might be misunderstood. It is better to even take a loss of money, rather than have our good name compromised. We should be careful to make ourselves clear so that there not be any misunderstandings. Guarding our mouths poses a much bigger challenge than we might realize. It is a major test of faith.

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Collective Impurity

A little known fact related to Temple service involves a situation of collective defilement for coming in contact with the dead. Particularly with the קרבן פסח, it would still be offered and eaten, if the majority of the Jewish people were טמא מת.

What is unusual about the Pesach sacrifice is that it is also permitted to eat from that sacrifice even in a state of ritual impurity.

There is an incident mentioned from the Tanach where King Chizkiyahu was  confronted with such a problem. He was reprimanded for electing to postpone the offering of the Korban Pesach to Pesach Sheini a month later.

This does not really have ramifications for today but it is interesting to see how important it was to continue Temple service under surprising conditions such as the masses having contracted the ritual impurity that comes from having come in contact with the dead.

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Lag B'Omer

Shavua Tov. Tonight is Lag B'Omer which is a happy day in the Jewish calendar. It is the day that the plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva ended.

It is also the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who authored the Zohar, the main book of Kabbalah. It was his wish that this day be one of celebration and joy. The bonfires were to be viewed as Yahrtzeit candles for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

It was also a custom to go out with bows and arrows on this day. The word for bow and the word for rainbow is the same, קשת. Because of Rabbi Shimon's holiness, there was never a rainbow in his lifetime. Hashem never had to consider destroying the world because Rabbi Shimon was in the world. Therefore, on Lag B'Omer there began the custom of bows and arrows.

The count for ספירה is obvious.

The Kohein

Parshat Emor is filled with over sixty out of the 613 Mitzvot. A big focus of the Parsha are the laws that are unique to Kohanim. They are to keep themselves in a holier state than the rest of the population.

One of the laws of the Kohanim comes from the word וקידשתו. It is a positive Mitzva to sanctify the Kohein. We do this by calling him up first to the Torah, he is asked to lead the benching, and he is offered food first at a meal. We are really supposed to be careful not to ask a Kohein to provide services for us.

In the Beit Hamikdash, a Kohein was not permitted to serve if he had a מום, a physical blemish. The Rambam lists a possible 140 blemishes that would prevent a Kohein from doing the Avoda. The Temple needed to be very elegant and holy at the same time. A physical blemish could be a distraction to the sanctity of the moment.

Although a Kohein with a מום could not serve, he could still eat the parts of sacrifices allotted to the Kohanim. He was also able to enjoy the twenty-four gifts given by the Torah to the Kohein.

It was and is a great honor to be a Kohein. Probably the most special aspect of the Kehuna, is the ability to bless. The Rabbis say that the Shechina, Divine Presence, passes through the fingers of the Kohein, when he blesses the people each day. May you all be blessed with a Shabbat Shalom!

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Kiddush Hashem

This coming week's Parsha, Emor, has the positive commandment of Kiddush Hashem and the negative commandment of Chilul Hashem, against desecrating the name of G-d.

Obviously these two commandments are extremely important and needs some explanation.

The Rambam views Chilul Hashem as the most severe sin and the most difficult to atone for. Only one's death brings full atonement because a Chilul Hashem can make Hashem look bad.

It should be our goal to sanctify G-d's name in all that we do.

The classic example brought in the Talmud describes the ultimate Chilul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem. If one studies Torah and serves Torah scholars, but his business practices are corrupt, and he does not speak kindly to people, what is said of such an individual? Woe to his father and teachers who taught him Torah. See how corrupt are his ways. This epitomizes Chilul Hashem.

But one who does the reverse and is honest and treats people properly, of him it is said that Hashem is glorified through him. He is a walking Kiddush Hashem. We must strive to sanctify Hashem's name in all that we do.

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וחי בהם

It is always important to know the source of a specific Mitzva. An example of this comes from the words in אחרי מות where it's written ״וחי בהם״, that we are to live by the Mitzvot and not die by the Mitzvot.

Two important rules come from these two words. The first is the concept of פיקוח נפש, that if someone is in danger, one may violate certain commandments such as Shabbat and Kashrut.

The Talmud in מסכת סנהדרין quotes Rav Yochanan who describes an important vote among the rabbis in the city of Lod. It was there that they came out with the ruling regarding Kiddush Hashem based on the words, "וחי בהם".

They ruled as follows: All of the sins of the Torah, if one threatens a Jew with death or violation of the Mitzva, he should violate the Mitzva, and live. However, if the same threat is made regarding murder, idol worship, or immorality, one should allow himself to be killed rather than violate. Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d's name, outweighs the וחי בהם when otherwise, it would be a חילול ה׳, a desecration of Hashem's name.

A great deal of very significant Halacha is learned from those two words, וחי בהם.

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Flying Jews of Israel

At the end of both Parshiot, we have the same Pasuk that says ולא תקיא הארץ, that the land should not vomit you out. Based on this, the Rabbis say that the holy land of Israel cannot tolerate unworthy individuals who do not act in a way that is worthy of meriting being able to live here.

This also is the reason why it's written that anyone who lives in Israel is a Tzaddik. If the land did not reject him, it is a sign that he is worthy of partaking in the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. This worthiness gives the Israeli Jews, the title of Tzaddik.

There is a strange Midrash that says that in future times, the Jews who struggled to live here and remained, will be rewarded in that they will be able to fly! When other immigrants come out of necessity in order to escape and survive, they will also want to fly. The Midrash continues and says that because they were "weighed down" with materialism that prevented them from coming, they are still grounded. They are not on the same level as their brothers and sisters who disconnected themselves from the comforts of the Galut, in exchange for the sanctity of what Israel offers.

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קדש עצמך במותר לך

The Talmud in Yevamot 20, says, קדש עצמך במותר לך, sanctify yourself with what is permitted to you. This continues the theme of Parshat Kedoshim of making ourselves holy because Hashem is holy.

The Rambam expands on this idea by saying that it's actually forbidden not to partake of that which is permitted. We are encouraged to marry, to wear nice clothes, and to live in a nice home. This is learned from the Nazir who has to offer a sin offering for the period he did not drink wine or cut his hair.

The point of the Rambam is that we elevate all that we do. We don't eat just to eat. We eat to be rejuvenated so that we will better be able to serve Hashem. The same is true with sleep or exercise that it is for the purpose that we are better able to serve G-d.

A student once told me that he brushed his teeth not only to have clean teeth. He brushed his teeth so that his mouth would be fresh and clean when he offered praises and thanksgiving to Hashem. This is how we explain קדש עצמך במותר לך.

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קדש עצמך במותר לך

The Talmud in Yevamot 20, says, קדש עצמך במותר לך, sanctify yourself with what is permitted to you. This continues the theme of Parshat Kedoshim of making ourselves holy because Hashem is holy.

The Rambam expands on this idea by saying that it's actually forbidden not to partake of that which is permitted. We are encouraged to marry, to wear nice clothes, and to live in a nice home. This is learned from the Nazir who has to offer a sin offering for the period he did not drink wine or cut his hair.

The point of the Rambam is that we elevate all that we do. We don't eat just to eat. We eat to be rejuvenated so that we will better be able to serve Hashem. The same is true with sleep or exercise that it is for the purpose that we are better able to serve G-d.

A student once told me that he brushed his teeth not only to have clean teeth. He brushed his teeth so that his mouth would be fresh and clean when he offered praises and thanksgiving to Hashem. This is how we explain קדש עצמך במותר לך.

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A Lesson from Flies

Shavua Tov. A theme of today's Parsha, is to strive for holiness and to try to separate from materialism and strive for spirituality.

The של״ה הקודש says that the reason why the Shunamite was so impressed with the Prophet Elisha was that she noticed that no flies came near him while he was eating his food. She, therefore, created for Elisha a special upper chamber with a bed, table, and lamp. Elisha ultimately revived her son who apparently passed away and brought him back to life.

The של״ה הקודש tells us that if we notice flies are attracted to us, it could be a sign that one is too much focused on materialism and he needs to work on his spirituality. It could also mean that one has too much גאוה, haughtiness, and he needs to work on his ענוה.

While screens are a good way to keep away flies and this is a strange commentary, we should still try to gain from the message.

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Submitting to Hashem

I counted seventy seven Torah laws in the double Parsha of אחרי מות-קדושים. This is more Mitzvot than on any one Shabbat during the year. This number is according to the של״ה הקודש. I haven't checked to see if Torah Tidbits agrees.

The end of the second Parsha seems to sum up what our overall attitude is supposed to be regarding Halacha. Rashi brings the concept of גדול המצוה ועושה משאינו מצוה ועושה, that it is a higher level to observe a Mitzva we are commanded, more than a Mitzva we are not commanded.

Rashi brings a proof of this from a statement of Rav Elazar Ben Azaria, a Tanna. "One should not say that my soul detests the flesh of the swine. But it is preferred that he says he would love to eat pork. But the only reason he won't eat it, is because we are commanded against it.

We must remember that our observance of the Torah comes from our submission and surrender to Hashem's word over what we might think is right and work. As it says in Pirkei Avot, we must make our will coincide with Hashem's will. Shabbat Shalom.

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