שבת חזון

This Shabbat is called שבת חזון because the Haftarah begins with the words, חזון ישעיהו, the vision of Yeshayahu. It is read with the sad tune of Eicha and speaks of the rebelliousness of the Jewish people. Even the animal knows its master, but Israel did not know Hashem.

This is the time on the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av that we are to reflect on the reasons why both of our Temples were destroyed. The first Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins of idol worship, immorality, and murder. The second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred among Jews.

These first two reasons are well known. But there is a third lesser known reason. The Rabbis say that the main offense of עם ישראל was that עמדו דיניהם על דין ולא לפנים משורת הדין. This means that they acted according to the strict letter of the law and not beyond. As Jews, we are meant to be people of Chessed. We are supposed to be giving far beyond what is expected.

When everyone is a stickler to only do the minimum expectation, such a society cannot exist. These are the lessons of Shabbat Chazon. Shabbat Shalom.

Soul, Body, Property

The של״ה הקודש notes that the three Parshiot of Matot, Masei, and Devarim, always fall during the three weeks. Any period of mourning is meant to be one of introspection. Each of these Parshiot have its own special message.

All of the commandments are meant to help us perfect our souls, our bodies, and our property. This is what we mean when we say in Shema, בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאודך, that refers to loving Hashem with our souls, bodies, and possessions.

Parshat Matot discusses vows as a means of getting closer to G-d spiritually. Masei discusses murder and cities of refuge that imply caring for the physical body. And Devarim discusses caring for one's property by appointing judges who will enforce the laws regarding property disputes.

All of this is a reminder of the עבודת נפש, the soul work that we are each required to work on. We can improve in spiritual matters, physical matters, and how we deal with our possessions.

Aliya and Driving Out Our Enemies

The Mitzva of making Aliya is alluded to at the end of Parshat מסעי and again in Parshat דברים. In מסעי it's written, והורשתם את הארץ, "And you shall inherit the land." And in דברים it's written, עלה רש, "Go up and inherit it.״ The Ramban says that it is a positive commandment to settle in Israel.

The section in מסעי comes with a warning. In במדבר 33:55, it is written,"But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those of whom you leave, shall be as pins in your eyes and as thorn-hedges at your sides. And they will harass you upon the land in which you dwell."

Obviously, we cannot say that the Torah is racist, G-d forbid. Nevertheless, the purity of the land must be maintained. Ultimately, only those who achieve גר תושב status by observing the Noachide laws, are permitted to be here. Those who do not will not be allowed to remain. We must remember that the Torah is the epitome of righteousness and perfection. Removing the impurities that defile our land, is the most merciful act one can do.

Defeat the Yeitzer

The Messilat Yesharim makes an interesting analogy between a doctor and the medicine he prescribes and the Yeitzer Hara and its antidote.

If a doctor knows that there is only one medication that can cure his patient, the patient must listen to his doctor. If the patient thinks that he knows better and he takes a different medication, he will certainly hurt himself and might even die.

The same is true of the Yeitzer Hara. Hashem created it in order to test an individual's faith. The Yeitzer is very powerful and is capable of destroying an individual. Hashem created only one antidote to the Yeitzer, and that is the study of Torah. The Talmud tells us  that if we are tempted by the Yeitzer, we are to drag it into the Beit Midrash. Only Torah is capable of neutralizing it. If someone believes that he can choose another means of weakening the Yeitzer by anything other than Torah, he will fail. The New Morality or Liberalism will not succeed in this battle. The only cure is designating definite time periods for the study of Torah. Good advice from the Messilat Yesharim.

Shirking Resposibility

The condition proposed by the two and a half tribes of Reuvein, Gad and half of Menashe made with Moshe Rabbeinu, was met with resistance. Initially, Moshe was very upset with what he had heard.

When these tribes suggested remaining on the other side of the Jordan River, Moshe said the following: האחיכם יבואו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה? "Will your brothers go off to battle, and you will remain here?" This is a very powerful Pasuk in two ways.

Moshe is concerned that that such action by these tribes will demoralize the nation. The pain of the report of the spies and what it did to the Jewish people was fresh in Moshe's mind.

And secondly, this is a Pasuk that cries out for the ages. Jews from all over the world must know that they must not sit back and let other Jews do their work for them. This certainly applies today with the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael and with the IDF defending Jews all over the world. They are doing their share in bringing honor and pride to our people. But those that shy away from their responsibility, would do well to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu's admonishment. "Shall your brothers go off to battle and you remain here?"

הגעלת כלים טבילת כלים

Shavua Tov. Today׳s Parsha discusses the war with the Midyanites. The interesting aspect of this battle was that an important Halacha was learned that we continue to observe today. It concerned the spoils of war that were taken by the Jewish people.

The people came to Moshe and asked what they were to do with the pots and pans and cooking utensils that were once used by the Midyanites. They were taught both the rules of הגעלת כלים, purging utensils in fire, and the rules of טבילת כלים, dipping such utensils made or used by a non-Jew in a Mikva or natural body of water.

The Rabbis explained that fire has a special characteristic. In Talmudic terms, it say that אש משאב שאיב, fire is able to draw out that which is absorbed in the walls of the utensils.

The case of טבילת כלים is considered an אסמכתא, that which is learned indirectly by way of a story. When one is asked how we know that we must dip utensils in a Mikva, the answer is כלי מדין. An אסמכתא is still considered prohibited by the Rabbis, but is the strongest rabbinical law since it is based on a story in the Torah.

Keep Your Word

There are two instances in this week's Parshas that emphasize the importance of keeping one's word. The first section discusses the nullification of vows. The Torah begins this section by telling us to be careful not to לא יחל דברו, that one should not make his words חולין, or profane his words. The Torah goes on to say, ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה, that one should be careful to watch what comes out of one's mouth.

This certainly applies when one makes a vow. In קהלת it is written, טוב שלא תידור משתדור ולא תשלם, that it is better not to make a vow than to vow and not fulfill it.

The second part of the Parsha deals with the two and a half tribes who wished to stay on the other side of the Jordan. Moshe makes a condition with them that they can keep that land if they keep their word and fight with the rest of the nation.

So we see the importance of being careful to keep one's word and fulfill whatever a person says he's going to do. Words are very powerful and are capable of doing great harm. This is why the Mishna says, סיג לחכמה שתיקה, a fence for wisdom is silence. Shabbat Shalom

Galut

Many do not really understand the term, "Galut". We translate the word to mean, "exile", but its significance is far greater than we realize. During the period of the "three weeks", we are supposed to reflect on the curse or punishment known as Galut.


The Jewish people had a very special role that we were meant to fulfill in an ideal society. All of the Jewish people were meant to live in the Land of Israel. Each Jew was connected to his particular tribe, and each tribe was allocated their own parcel of land to settle.


The law of the land was the Torah and its implementation was left to the holy scholars of the Sanhedrin. The priests and Levites had their specific task in serving as the spiritual leaders of the people. Tithes were given by the nation to support these spiritual leaders as well as the poor.


The Temple in Jerusalem was a source

of pride to the entire nation. The temples of Solomon and Herod were visited and admired by the nations of the world. There truly was a time when the prophecy of Ezekiel was fulfilled: "You will be My people and I will be your G-d.


The tragedy that led to our banishment from the land, was due to our turning away and violating G-d's covenant to strictly adhere to the commandments. A people who were well versed in the Torah, began to be ignorant and apathetic of the sacred laws and tradition given from G-d to Moses.


Our Galut has lasted nearly 2000 years. Jews were scattered among the nations where they were usually unwelcome. Most of the years of our Galut involved suffering and persecution in every way imaginable.


The countries that welcomed us and treated us kindly, brought a different curse. This was the plague of assimilation and intermarriage that runs rampant in the world today.


The only good that could be said of our Galut is that individual Jews made their mark in setting a great example of exemplary morality and scholarship. Despite the hardships and challenges, we miraculously survived. This was only due to the meticulousness of each generation to remain steadfast in transmitting the Torah and its laws to children and grandchildren.


Today we see another fulfillment of prophecy when we were warned: "Behold a famine is coming to the Land. It is not a famine of bread and water. It is a famine of listening to the word of G-d."


The ignorance of the majority of the Jews of the world is astounding. When once every Jew knew the Five Books of Moses by heart, even the most basic concepts allude most Jews.


In the long run, the affluence that Jews have known, does not spell Jewish survival. The rebuilding of the House of Israel with a return of over six and a half million Jews, is certainly a reason for hope and optimism.



However, until all Jews return to their roots and realize how precious our religion is, there is the necessity to pause and reflect on this very painful and bitter Galut. We must learn its lessons and pray that G-d returns the glory we once had with the rebuilding of the third Temple speedily in our days.

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.