The Greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu

We learn about the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu from another aspect when he is told to take vengeance against the Midyanim. He is told that once he does this, he will die. One would think he has the perfect excuse to stall so that he could live longer. Nevertheless, Moshe did not hesitate in fulfilling Hashem's wishes even though it hurried his own demise. Moshe taught us that fulfilling the word of G-d takes priority over all else.

We also learn how devoted Moshe was to עם ישראל by asking Hashem to find a worthy successor. He said that Israel's future leader should actually lead. Rashi says that such a leader should be the first to go out to battle instead of those kings who send their army to fight while they remain comfortably in their kingdoms.

The new leader should be one who understands the people and their whims. He needs to realize that there are many differing personalities among the people, and each needs to be reached in their own way.

Moshe's devotion to G-d and the Jewish people show why Moshe was the greatest man that ever lived.

Significance of Refraining from Meat

A final interesting point explained by Rav Shmuel Eliyahu is the prohibition against eating meat during the nine days. The standard explanation is that the Rabbis have a statement, אין שמחה אלא בבשר ויין, real joy comes with wine and meat. This is why we are actually commanded to eat meat on the holidays in order to increase the joy we are supposed to feel at that time.

It would certainly make sense that refraining from eating meat decreases our happiness. This is appropriate during this period of mourning.

Rav Eliyahu offers a different explanation that meat represents קרבנות, the Temple sacrifices. In the desert, the only meat eaten had to be part of a קרבן. During the pilgrimage festivals, people offered a קרבן חגיגה, that allowed the contributor to take some of the meat of the sacrifice and eat it at home. This applied even to non-Kohanim.

The קרבן פסח had to be eaten by every Jew on Seder night and it involved the consumption of meat. Rav Eliyahu's point is that we should associate meat with the בית המקדש and קרבנות. By making such an association, our refraining from eating meat is directly connected to the loss of not having a Beit Hamikdash.

Therefore, when one agonizes the loss of eating meat during the nine days, he is really agonizing over the loss of Temple service and the קרבנות.

Remembering Our Temple

Rav Shmuel Eliyahu also pointed out that one of our obligations during this period of "the three weeks" is that we are not to have היסח הדעת, taking our mind off of, the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, certain activities during this time are inappropriate.

Rav Eliyahu gave an example of staying in a fancy hotel during this period. The luxury of the place will take a person's mind off of remembering our holy Temple.

We are also reminded of the tragedy of this period when we see how the Temple Mount continues to be defiled. The Rav spoke of how sad he was when he saw Arab youth playing soccer on this holy site. It reminded him of Rabbi Akiva who saw jackals on the place of the Beit Hamikdash. Rav Eliyahu made a statement that was not politically correct. He said that we continue to have "animals" defiling our Temple Mount. This knowledge alone should make us realize the loss that we should be feeling at this time.

We should find comfort in knowing that this defilement is also a sign of our coming redemption.

Serious Jew Hatred

Rav Shmuel Eliyahu raised the question why Moshe Rabbeinu was told to take revenge against the Midyanites and not the Moabites. After all, both sent beautiful women to seduce the Jewish men and get them to worship idols?

The Rav said that the actions of Midyan proved that they hated the Jews more than the Moabites. The Midyanites were so eager to get the Jews to sin, that they sent a princess by the name of כזבי בת צור. Her father was the king of Midyan.

Balak, on the other hand, would not allow his daughter to be given over to harlotry. He did have some morals. This is why the attack was against Midyan exclusively. Watch out for Jew haters who will stop at nothing to harm the Jews. Shavua Tov

Pinchas and His Miracles

The idea that Pinchas killed both Zimri and Cozbi at the same time with one spear is a highly miraculous feat. The Meam Loez actually lists twelve miracles that occurred at that moment when Pinchas successfully ended the plague.

He was able to kill them while they were still together. If they were separated, he would not have been allowed to kill them.

The second miracle was that neither Zimri or Cozbi protested when Pinchas came. Had they screamed, other Shimonites would have saved them.

Several of the miracles involved the spear itself. The spear was able to hold two people without breaking. It even lengthened on its own.

It was also miraculous that Pinchas exhibited such physical strength to do such an act.

Two final miracles were that they did not expire until they were taken out of the camp so that Pinchas, a Kohein was not defiled. And the last miracle was that their blood congealed and did not drip downwards.

Some say the מלאך המות came the men of Zimri's tribe that prevented them from hurting Pinchas.

We all know the story of Pinchas but maybe were not aware the extent of his heroic act and how he was helped from above. We must always be aware of Hashem's miracles and acknowledge them. Shabbat Shalom

Reincarnation

The subject of גלגול נפשות, or reincarnation, is very prominent in this week's Parsha, Pinchas. It is a very controversial subject as true "Litvaks", or Lithuanian Jews, emphatically rule out that such a possibility exists.

Some dismiss reincarnation because it is way beyond our comprehension, while others simply do not believe in it.

The Chassidic and Sephardic Jews who are more connected to the mystical, do accept the notion of גלגול נפשות. It is difficult to ignore it when the subject appears over and over again in Midrashim and classic Jewish literature.

The general accepted idea is that Pinchas and Eliyahu Hanavi were the same soul. It says clearly, פנחס זה אליהו. The Haftarah for this week is about אליהו הנביא and both by Pinchas and Eliyahu the word קנאה, zealotry, is used. They were both zealous in fighting for the honor of Hashem.

The של״ה הקודש goes even a step further. He says that the soul of Pinchas left him when the tribe of Shimon came after him for killing their leader, Zimri. At that point the souls of Nadav and Avihu were still hovering and they entered Pinchas and restored life to him. They got their wish and on a soul level, later became the Kohein Gadol.

Generally, we are careful about Midrashic literature. If studying it increases one's faith and closeness to Hashem, study it. If, on the other hand, it confuses, leave it for now and perhaps coming back to it at a later time will provide the desired effects.

17th of Tammuz

Today we begin the period known as בין המצרים, or "the three weeks." The Hebrew translation means, "between troubles." We begin with a fast day and end with a fast day.

This first fast is called שבעה עשר בתמוז, the 17th of Tammuz. On this day, five calamities occurred: The sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the two tablets, the daily sacrifice known as the תמיד, stopped being offered in the first Temple, ( the Kohanim could not find available sheep for the offerings.) the walls of Jerusalem were breached in the second Temple, Apustumus-the-wicked, burned the Torah, and an idol was placed in the Sanctuary.

We say סליחות today and עננו in Shmone Esrei. We start a period of mourning that increases as we remember the destruction of our two Temples. The peak of this mourning is on Tisha B'Av, when we act as if we are actually sitting Shiva.

We are promised that שבעה עשר בתמוז and תשעה באב will one day turn into days of celebration. May those days come soon.

Those that Bless You Will be Blessed

In Parshat Balak, it is the third time in the Torah that we are taught the idea that, "those who bless you will be blessed and those that curse you will be cursed."

This is more of a warning to the nations of the world. If they treat the Jewish people well, it will be good for them. If they don't, they will suffer severely. Even though Hashem sometimes sends the nations to punish Israel, if they are too zealous in carrying out their mission, they will suffer.

The treatment of Am Yisrael in Egypt is a case in point. Because they made us suffer in a cruel way, they were doomed to perish in the Red Sea. The Rambam points out that the Egyptians who did not want to oppress the Jews, could have refused.

On the other hand, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik זצ״ל, once said that when Gentiles show kindness towards Israel, we are to treat them kindly by not taking interest from them. Rav Soloveitchik included Evangelical Christians as an example of Gentiles showing kindness, even though they have an agenda.

This Pasuk of, "those who bless you will be blessed and those that curse you will be cursed," has great relevance even today.

A Nation that Dwells Apart

Among the curses that turned into blessings by Bilaam, is the Pasuk, הן עם לבדד ישכון ובגוים לא יתחשב, "they are a nation that dwells apart and are not considered among the nations."

This is clearly a blessing for עם ישראל that we are meant to be different from all of the nations of the world. The Rabbis explain this verse to mean that when the Jewish people rejoice, nobody rejoices with them. When the Jewish people mourn, the other nations rejoice.

We are never to forget how special it is to be Jewish and that we are part of a special יעוד, destiny, that we also accepted at Mount Sinai. We are to teach the world what real morality is and we are to lead by example. We are called "the people of the book" and we are also meant to show the beauty and depth of our Torah and its laws.

It's strange that this unique role that the Jewish people have was pointed out by the Gentile, Bilaam. Often we are woken up by non-Jews who remind us of how special it is to be Jewish. Our Parsha gives us another such example.

Walk Humbly With Hashem

Shavua Tov. The Haftarah for today ends with an important message. The Prophet Michah deals with the question as to what is Hashem's definition of Good. The translation is as follows: What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d.

The Hebrew for "Walk humbly" is והצנע לכת, adding the idea of צניעות in all of the ways that we conduct ourselves. It seems that this צניעות is the ingredient that binds one's good traits. Even when we are doing acts of kindness and justice, they should be done in a quiet, modest kind of way.

This is what is necessary for our Mitzvot to bear fruit. We quietly go our way trying to do what is right in the eyes of G-d without seeking honor and recognition. This is Hashem's definition of Good. Humility, ענוה, and not haughtiness and conceit, גאוה.

All is For the Best

The של״ה הקודש points out that Parshat Balak is teaching the idea that מעז יצא מתוק, "Out of the strong, came something sweet." This was a riddle connected with Samson and referred to honey that comes from bees, where one needs to be strong to get to it, but when he does, he is left with sweet honey.

The Midrash says that Hashem tells Bilaam, לא מדובשך ולא מעוקצך, not your honey and not your sting. Again, there is the analogy of a difficulty followed by something positive.

There is a third quote from the Midrash that says that Achashveirosh's removal of his ring and giving it to Haman, did more to encourage Teshuva than all of the words of the prophets combined.

We are to be reminded that it is often necessary to go through difficulties in order to appreciate the good that follows. When Hashem disciplines us, it is for our benefit. This is also the idea of turning the curses into blessings. We must have the faith to realize that all that Hashem does is for our good. Shabbat Shalom

Anti-Semitism

Parshat Balak seems to address the issue of anti-semitism. We see how Nations made an alliance against Israel that was motivated by their common hatred of the Jewish people. Bilaam was hired by Balak to curse Israel. Bilaam did not need much convincing as our rabbis tell us that he hated the Jews even more than Balak did.

Many people have a problem with the general rabbinic statement that עשו שונא את יעקב, Eisav, representing the Gentile, hates the Jew.

Jews are often accused of being paranoid in that we blame everything on anti-semitism. Aside from being justified in having that sentiment based on our long exile, we are cautioned to keep our eyes open, regardless of what appears to be very cordial relationships with non-Jews. And too often we refuse to accept this reality and are later proven wrong.

The only real hope is that in times of the Redemption, the nations of the world will not only change their attitudes about the Jews, but they will show real remorse for how we were treated throughout our history. Let us hope we are in that period of time.

Lessons from Death of Aharon

A great deal can be learned about the death of Aharon. It was referred to as מיתת נשיקה, or, the "kiss of death." It was a very sweet and calm departure from this world to the place where he was "gathered unto his people", who awaited him in עולם הבא.

What comforted Aharon as he left this world, was the knowledge that everything he lived for would be carried on by his children. He merited seeing his Priestly garments being placed on his son, Elazar.

Aharon was able to leave this world peacefully as he clearly made his mark on the world. The Torah tells us that the people mourned more for Aharon than Moshe, because Aharon was a lover of peace. He always found ways to create harmony between individuals.

At funerals in Israel, the Chevra Kadisha recites the Mishna from Pirkei Avot: מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך, that one must know from where he came and to where he's going. When one understands what is important on this world and what is not, and when one's priorities are straight, he understands how temporary this world is and the permanence of the next world. Such a person will merit the מיתת נשיקה of Aharon.

Oblivious to Miracles

A story from the Parsha that often is overlooked is called, "שירת הבאר", the song of the well. It is a celebration of a miracle where the Jewish people were saved from great tragedy.

The incident is only alluded to indirectly in the text of the Torah. The Jewish people were traveling along a little river with high mountains above them. The enemy was above them in the mountains and they were "sitting ducks" below, unaware of the danger above them.

Hashem, in his mercy, brought the two mountains together and crushed the potential attackers. The Jews realized what had happened when they noticed all of the corpses in the water. They sang praises to G-d when they realized what had transpired.

The message for us is that we, too, are often oblivious to Hashem's protection and miracles each and every day. If we were more aware, we would be much more calm and at peace knowing just how well we are being looked after by Hashem.

Yiftach

The Haftarah of yesterday's Parsha was all about יפתח הגלעדי, one of the judges of Israel. He was not considered such a saintly person. We say יפתח בדורו כשמואל דורו. Yiftach was the leader in his generation and he was like the Prophet Shmuel in his generation. This means that we get the leaders that we deserve.

If the generation is on a high level, they will get Shmuel. If not, they get Yiftach.

The connection with the Parsha also proves that no deed goes unnoticed. Yiftach rebukes the Emori for their cruelty to עם ישראל when they were in the desert and were not able to pass through their land.

Yiftach was given the task of destroying the Emori, both as punishment for what they did in Moshe's time and for their general evil behavior that made them one of the Seven Nations needed to be removed from our holy land. We must never forget that in the end, there is justice.

Protection

Shavua Tov. Today's Parsha discusses both the death of Miriam and the loss of water in the desert, and the death of Aharon and the loss of the ענני הכבוד, the Clouds of Glory in his merit.

The ענני הכבוד represent the idea of Hashem's constant protection. In the desert, these magical clouds were a source of literal protection from any enemy of Israel.

The Torah says that when the כנעני heard of Aharon's death, he saw it as an opportunity to attack Israel. The Talmud in Rosh Hashana says that the כנעני was a euphemism for all evil. This included Satan, עין הרע and יצר הרע, and throw in עמלק for good measure.

The message is that Evil saw an opening to come and try to harm עם ישראל when there was a breach in protection with the loss of the ענני הכבוד. We must learn from this to constantly insulate ourselves with the proper thoughts and action and eliminate all negative thinking. If we don't, we leave ourselves open for bad stuff, חס ושלום. Be strong and we will keep Evil far away from us.

Moshe's Sin

The sin of Moshe hitting the rock and not speaking to it, is mentioned in the Parsha. There are many interpretations as to why he was punished so severely that he was not allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael.

The simple explanation is that Moshe did not listen to Hashem's instructions and could have sanctified Hashem's name, but did not. Desecrating the name of G-d is very severe.

The Rambam says that the main sin was that Moshe allowed his anger to overtake him. One who gets angry is as if he has no faith in G-d. Many say that conquering anger is possibly the most difficult negative personality trait to overcome.

The Kli Yakar says that at the beginning of the forty years in the desert, Moshe was commanded to hit the rock because the people were a tough generation as they were used to being slaves. However, the generation were a "pampered" generation where all of their needs were taken care of. Moshe showed by his behavior that he could not lead the people into Israel. He needed to adjust to the new personality of the people by being kinder and more gentle.

All of these reasons give us something to think about in applying to today. We must sanctify Hashem's name and conquer our anger. And our leaders must understand the nature of the people in order to lead them. Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Chukat

This week's Parsha, Chukat, seems to have as one of its themes, the concept of a חוק. Unlike the משפטים, that we view as rational laws, such as murder, stealing, and adultery, the חוק is very difficult to understand.

The של״ה הקודש suggests that we begin with the premise that תורת ה׳ תמימה, the Torah of Hashem is perfect. Rabbi Aharon Rakefet likes the following quote: The Torah is perfect. Those who practice it, are not.

We are asked to show our faith by observing specifically those Mitzvot that we don't understand or comprehend.

There is a Midrash that says that Satan chose four commandments in particular to mock and belittle: The notion that one is forbidden to marry his sister in-law at one time, and at another, namely יבום, he is commanded to marry her. The second is how irrational Shaatnez is where one cannot mix wool and linen. The third is the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, where the goat is thrown off a cliff carrying the sins of the people. And the fourth is the פרה אדומה, the Red Heifer mentioned in the Parsha.

This Parsha reminds us that we must view all Mitzvot as גזירה היא מלפני, it is a decree before Hashem, and we must observe all of the Mitzvot with perfect faith.

Power of a Woman

A final point learned from Korach, is the power of a woman. The Rabbis say, הכל בידי אשה, all is in the hands of a woman. She has the biggest influence over her husband. If she is a righteous woman, her husband will be righteous. If she is evil, her husband will become evil.

The examples were from the wife of Korach and the wife of און בן פלת. Korach's wife incited him to rebel against Moshe and Aharon. The wife of און, convinced her husband that he had nothing to gain by joining the rebellion. She saved his life.

The most moving story was when Rabbi Akiva returned home with 24,000 students and was greeted by his wife, Rachel. He told his students, שלי ושלכם שלה, "all that I am and all that you are, is because of her."

The Aguna 2

There is a second type of Aguna mentioned in Halacha. This is a woman left stranded by her husband who refuses to release her by giving her a גט. Usually this is done because of bad feelings and trying to cause his wife pain.

Obviously, this behavior is frowned upon by the Rabbis. The husband can make a conditional גט which becomes official when the condition is fulfilled. For example, he can ask for money in order for him to divorce her. (A woman is allowed to make her marriage conditional that her husband also do something to make it worthwhile to marry him.)

Beit Din may get involved to "encourage" the husband to give a Get. This is a tricky situation because on the one hand we say if they literally beat him up to convince him to give the גט, we are helping him overcome his יצר הרע. His evil inclination is what is preventing him from doing the right thing. But, on the other hand, they need to be careful because a "Get Me'useh", written with force against the husband's wishes, is not valid.

The best solution is to learn how to get along and stay married. Divorce seems to bring out the ugly side of people. The Aguna problem is a serious one indeed.