Friday, July 03, 2020

every individual counts

Chazal (Taanis 9a) tell us that the mon fell in Moshe's zechus, the be'er came in Miriam's zechus, and the ananei ha'kavod came in Aharon's zechus.  Miriam died -- no more be'er.  Aharon died -- no more ananei ha'kavod.  We read about what happened as a result in Chukas.  Yet, Chazal tell us that the be'er returned and the ananim returned because Moshe was left.  His zechus alone was enough to merit all three gifts.  

Everyone asks: if Moshe's zechus alone was enough to warrant Hashem giving us mon, the be'er, and the ananei ha'kavod, then why at first did the latter two come only in Miriam and Aharon's zechus?

Chasam Sofer answers that each of these three leaders of Klal Yisrael taught us a different lesson.  Moshe taught us the power of Talmud Torah.  Aharon taught us the power of avodah.  Miriam taught us the value of chessed.  (Interestingly, the Torah makes it very clear to us just how important Moshe and Aharon's contribution was.  Only Aharon could wear special bigdei kohen gadol and do avodas Yom haKippurim.  Every parsha in the Torah is a testimony to Moshe's role as teacher of Torah.  But what do we really know about Miriam?  Rav Bakshi Doron writes in his sichos that the greatest chessed is that which is done quietly and without fanfare, that which does not call attention to the neediness of the recipient or to the role the giver plays.  This was Miriam's contribution.  It deliberately remains hidden behind the scenes, as all great chessed should.)  For 40 years in the desert each one inculcated these midos in Klal Yisrael.  After 40 years of Klal Yisrael learning about the power of avodah from Aharon, Moshe could bring back the ananim.  After 40 years of learning about chessed from Miriam, Moshe could bring back the be'er.  However, at the start of the journey, before Klal Yisrael absorbed the lesson of Aharon and Miriam's life, Moshe's own zechus would not have been sufficient.   

The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo offers a different answer, one that we can take heart in for our own avodah. 

The gemara (Taanis 21b) writes that there was a plague in Sura, but the town where Rav lived was spared.  Everyone thought that the reason they were not affected by the disease was, of course, the zechus of Rav.  The townspeople all had a dream and it was revealed to them that this was not so.  To spare the town from disease was too small a thing to warrant being pushed off because of Rav's zechus.  Rather, the reason they were spared was because of a certain person who would lend out his shovel and spade to the chevra kadisha to do burials. 

Maharasha asks the obvious question: Yesh bichlal masayim manah!  If sparing the town required only minimal zechuyos, so few that even the chessed of just lending a shovel was enough, then certainly Rav's great zechus should have been sufficient.  Why was it revealed that davka Rav's zechuyos had NO part in the matter?

We see from this gemara an amazing yesod: Hashem makes space for the little guy.  Yes, of course Rav's zechus would have been enough to space that town.  But Hashem decided that that was not Rav's role in life.  His role was bigger and better things.  Hashem decided that sparing that town would be the role a simple guy who was willing to lend out his shovel would play in life.

There are tzadikim, talmidei chachamim, roshei yeshivos, greater than you and me.  So what does Hashem want need us for?  What's our contribution?  How is my drop of davening, my drop of learning, making any difference? 

"Ani a'avir kol tuvi al panecha," Hashem tells Moshe.  I'll reveal everything to you, you have the greatest zechuyos.  However, "V'chanosi asher achon v'richamti es asher aracheim," and Chazal add "afilu aino kadai."  My chassadim and rachamus come into the world not just because of you, Moshe.  I choose to use other vehicles as well, even those who are not so worthy.  Even if all the good they do is lending out a shovel for a burial.  I want their avodah too, and have therefore chosen to direct hashpa'ah specifically in their merit and not yours.

Hashem's chessed is not just in the gifts he gives us, but in the opportunities he gives us.  What each one of us does is important.  The mon, the be'er, the ananim could have have come b'zechus Moshe from day #1.  But Hashem deliberately chose to direct his hashpa'ah through Aharon and Miriam so that they too could have a zechus in sustaining Klal Yisrael. 
So too, Hashem carves out a role, a mission, for each individual, an accomplishment that rests on his/her specific zechuyos to the exclusion of what even greater people might accomplish. 

No one else, no matter how great, can make up for your accomplishing what Hashem wants from you. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

misplaced derech eretz

Despite knowing that it was not what Hashem wanted, Bilam still saddled his donkey and went to curse Bnei Yisrael.  The pasuk (22:22) tells us that he did not travel alone:

 וְהוּא֙ רֹכֵ֣ב עַל־אֲתֹנ֔וֹ וּשְׁנֵ֥י נְעָרָ֖יו עִמּֽוֹ

The Midrash Rabbah (Rashi quotes a similar derash) comments on why this detail is mentioned:

 זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ שֶׁהַיּוֹצֵא לַדֶּרֶךְ צָרִיךְ שְׁנַיִם לְשַׁמְּשׁוֹ וְחוֹזְרִים וּמְשַׁמְּשִׁין זֶה לָזֶה.

Derech eretz -- for a chashuv person to go out without two others to escort him would be like an important person going out without his tie on, or without his shoes shined.  (I don't know whether to be happy or sad that these these days no matter who you are you can go outside in your pajamas and no one will give you a second glance.)

It would be a peleh if we had not seen similar things not so long ago in our history.  Here we have someone going to commit genocide and he is worried about the niceties of derech eretz, that he should not be seen as not comporting himself properly on the trip!

Friday, June 26, 2020

united we stand

1. Yesterday we discussed the idea that Korach thought his greatness was a product of his ability, but in reality he was like the cows that carried the aron and were able to sing shirah -- whatever gifts he had were a bracha that stemmed from the role he filled, not from any innate talent.  Some meforshim explain that this is the idea behind the Midrash's question, "Korach, who was one of the carriers of the aron -- how did he fall into the stupidity of this machlokes?"  Why does the Midrash stress in its question that Korach carried the aron?  Chazal tell us that the aron was "nosei es nos'av."  A casual observer who saw the aron being carried might have thought it took great strength, but in reality it took no strength at all. The aron carried itself, and shlepped along those who were "carrying" it for the ride.  Korach should have known from first hand experience that in life sometimes it seems that we are doing the driving, but in reality, we are just being carried along for the ride.  Just like his ability to carry the aron was not due to his great strength, so too, he should not have assumed his ruach ha'kodesh or any other talent he had was because he was better than anyone else, but rather was just a gift from Hashem.

2. Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi.  Rashi comments that the Torah omits tacking on "ben Yaakov" at the end because Yaakov did not want his name associated with Korach's rebellion.

We all know that Levi is "ben Yaakov" even if the Torah doesn't mention it explicitly, so what did Yaakov accomplish by davening that his name not be mentioned?  (See Maharal in Gur Aryeh that we discussed back in 2009, and last year we discussed R' Baruch Sorotzkin's approach, but there is always something new to add : )

The Midrash on our parsha writes as follows:

(משלי יח)אח נפשע מקרית עוז ומדינים כבריח ארמון, זה קרח שפשע בתורה שהיא עז, שנאמר: (תהלים כט)ה' עוז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום.

Korach is called a "poshei'a ba'Torah."  What are Chazal trying to tell us?  Shem m'Shmuel asks: Isn't anyone and everyone who commits an aveira a "poshei'a baTorah?"

My wife this week on her blog made an interesting observation.  Korach claimed  "Ki kol ha'eidah kulam kedosham."  It sounds very noble, echoing the words we heard by mattan Torah, "V'Atem tihiyu li mamlechos kohanim v'goy kadosh," but there is one important difference, and this difference gets to the very heart of what Korach got wrong.  At Har Sinai we were called a "goy kadosh" in the singular.  We were united -- one people, k'ish echad b'lev echad.  Korach, however, saw us as "kulam kedoshim," in the plural -- every one is holy, but it's every man and woman to him/herself.  

Every chotei is a poshei'a in the sense that there is a system of law, but the chotei chooses to disregard the rules.  That's not Korach.  Korach is poshei'a **baTorah** -- he is undermining the system itself.  Torah was given not to a collection of individuals, but to a single entity called Klal Yisrael.  Torah itself unites us with Hashem as one -- oraysa, KB"H, and Am Yisrael is one unit.  Without unity, the whole system falls apart.

"VaYikach Korach" -- "ispalig" the Targum says.  Korach set himself apart.  Korach's message was the antithesis of unity.

What Korach set out to do deliberately many other people do out of ignorance, laziness, etc.  Your average American Jew who lives somewhere in Anytown, USA and spends Saturday at the mall or eating out in some treif restaurant identifies more as an American, a New Yorker, etc. rather than as a Jew.   They don't feel as one with the hassid in Williamsburg.  They wont interfere with what others do -- kulam kedoshim, you do your holy thing, I'll do mine -- but to feel like one with them?  Sorry, not happening.

What Yaakov Avinu, the amud haTorah, davened for was that no matter how far you check out of Klal Yisrael, no matter how much you try to separate yourself, whether by choice, like Korahc did, or by not knowing any better, there should be a little bit of him left within that can never be totally severed.  There should always be something that remains apart from machlokes.  That little something is the spark that can lead to return.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

shogeg does not apply to midos

Rashi quotes from Chazal that Korach was led astray because he saw b'ruach ha'kodesh that Shmuel haNavi would be among his descendants.  R Shteinman asks in Ayeles haShachar that if so, Korach was shogeg and should have been judged more leniently (Maharasha on Sanhedrin 110 holds this is in fact why Korach was neither from those burnt or those swallowed by the earth.  The pashtus, however, is that he was the ringleader and more guilty than others, not less.)  

I don't understand the question.  Shogeg usually means there is necessary and sufficient conditions to cause a sin in error.  If you think you are allowed to water your lawn on Shabbos, that error alone is sufficient to cause chilul Shabbos.  There being a Shmuel haNavi who is shakul k'Moshe v'Aharon does not seem to be a sufficient condition in and of itself to cause any rebellion.  It may have caused Korach to feel confident in his chances of success, but is that enough to warrant his being called shogeg?  Maybe R' Shteiman just meant that there are mitigating circumstances here.

R' Shteinman answers that the sin of Korach stemmed from midos ra'os.  You can claim shogeg when it comes to doing a maaseh aveira like chilul shabbos or not putting on tefillin, but when the sin is one of bad midos, all bets are off.  A person has a responsibility to double and triple check to make sure they are acting properly and therefore there is no claim of shogeg.  

How is it that a rasha like Korach was zocheh to see b'ruach hakodesh that Shmuel would come out of him?  See the Tiferes Shlomo, and we once discussed a R' Tzadok on this (here and here).  The Shem m'Shmuel quotes the gemara's derasha (A"Z 24) that the oxen that carried the aron back after it was captured and then returned by the Plishtim sang shirah.  These oxen were certainly no more brilliant than other oxen and were not otherwise capable of speech.  It is the role they served as carriers of the aron that made them special and gave them special power.  Korach was also one of the bearers of the aron.  It was the role that he served that elevated his soul to where he could catch a glimpse b'ruach ha'kodesh of the future.

R' Shteinman (I dont know why I keep coming back to his sefer this week) comments on "boker v'yoda Hashem es asher lo" that Moshe's message was that even though originally avodah was supposed to be done by the first born, the election of the kohanim and the election of Aharon in particular should not be viewed as an accident of history, but rather as an inevitable outcome built into the laws of creation, much like day and night are built into the laws of creation.  It is an immutable fact, not a historically conditioned conclusion.

Aharon and Korach are the perfect foils for each other.  Korach thought he was great man, but in fact his greatness was not inherent in his character but was rather a product of the circumstance of his being a carrier of the aron.  Aharon, in contrast, was in fact a great person.  It was not the role of kohen gadol that made him who he was, but rather it was who he was that caused Hashem to choose his as leader.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

silence is not always golden

This article by Dennis Prager is a must read.  Prager talks about the test American Jews and Christians face given what is going on around us -- the test of whether we will speak out or whether we will remain silent.  Two short paragraphs to whet your appetite.
America is being taken over by violent mobs; a vast amount of destruction and stealing has taken place (with little police intervention and the apathy of our political leaders). Why aren’t all clergy delivering thundering sermons about the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”? Does it now come with an asterisk?
A central part of a major American city has been seized and occupied by people who hate America and its values, including its Judeo-Christian values. Heard any clergy (aside from some evangelical Christians) speaking out against it?
Where indeed is the voice of our clergy?  Rather than speak out in protest, they have in the past endorsed candidates whose values are antithetical to all we believe in.  For example, one of the few things the two factions of Satmar agreed on is their endorsement of Bill DeBlasio.  "Bill De Blasio Gets Agudah Leadership' Endorsement" reads this Yeshiva World headline.  What exactly did they find appealing about this man?  Was it his stance on LGBTQ issues?  Abortion?  His anti-police rhetoric?  His support of a far left progressive/socialist agenda?  What possible benefit does DeBlasio bring to the table that would outweigh his stance on these items?  What is the price for our principles?  Just standing in the same 4 amos with this man is the chilul Hashem.

Our leaders and clergy have been steamrolled over and they are only first starting to wake up to the damage that has been done.  Agudah now has two lawsuits pending in NY State, one regarding reopening summer camps, one regarding more fully reopening shuls.  I will be very surprised if either lawsuit succeeds.  You can't put the cat back in the bag!  The time for action was on day #1, when Cuomo closed down the shuls, when DeBlasio was threatening to permanently close down any place of worship that reopened.  Even if you thought shuls should close, it should have been on our own terms -- not dictated by government.  Not by allowing the state to usurp our right to free worship.  Our leaders surrendered without even a whimper, without firing a verbal shot, with their powder still dry.  We were told to be good citizens and comply with the law.  No one told the protesters looting in Manhattan to be good citizens and comply with the law, did they?  But that's what we are told by leaders of our community.  That's why the NYC Police have time to come to Williamsburg to put locks on playgrounds while mobs loot and destroy the rest of the city -- because they know we are good citizens and won't fight back.  That's why firecrackers can go off all night in our neighborhoods and the police will do nothing.  Given the choice of taking action and risking your life or your career or doing nothing knowing full well that the Jews wont protest, can you blame the police for sitting on their hands?  We are good citizens and wont make a fuss.  It will all blow over, don't make waves, follow the rules, or it will be a chilul Hashem.  I say feh to such rhetoric.

The chilul Hashem is our silence in the face of all that is happening around us.

Dennis Prager again:
Religion doesn’t have all that much impact on most religious people. During comfortable times, it provides two essentials to a happy and fulfilled life — community and meaning — but when tested, it often fails like an umbrella that fails to expand just as it starts to rain.
We are in the middle of a thunderstorm and our umbrella is worthless.

the "segulah" of ketores

The parsha tells us that Aharon tried to stop the plague that came upon Bnei Yisrael as a punishment by offering ketores.  Rashi comments 17:13

יעמוד בין המתים וגו׳ – אחז את המלאך והעמידו על כרחו. אמר לו: הנח לי לעשות שליחותי. אמר לו: משה צוני לעכב על ידך. אמר לו: אני שלוחו של מקום, ואתה שלוחו של משה. אמר לו: אין משה אומר כלום מלבו אלא מפי הגבורה, ואם אין אתה מאמין, הרי הקב״ה ומשה אלא פתח אהל מועד, בא עמי ושאל, וזהו שנאמר: וישב אהרן אל משה וגומ׳

The malach ha'maves did not want to stop, claiming that he was doing G-d's shlichus and Aharon was only doing Moshe's shlichus.  Aharon had to show the malach that Moshe did not initiate this tactic of offering ketores of his own accord -- everything that Moshe said came from Hashem.

R' Shteinman asks: Rashi two pesukim earlier tells us that at mattan Torah the malach ha'maves revealed to Moshe the secret that ketores stops a plague.  So why now was the malach putting up an argument?  Why was the malach not responsive to the segulah of ketores?  

We learn from here an important yesod: a segulah is not a magic trick.  The ONLY way to stop the midas ha'din is by a kiyum mitzvah, by doing the ratzon Hashem.  

The malach said to Aharon that true, ketores has the power to stop a plague, but in this context its being offered is not a kiyum of ratzon Hashem.  To the contrary, he, the malach, is carrying out Hashem's command and Aharon was just doing Moshe's shlichus.  Aharon had to prove to the malach that his offering was in fact a mitzvah as well, that it was a fulfillment of ratzon Hashem, and then it worked to stop the plague. 

Don't put your trust in magic tricks!  Don't think that by mumbling through saying the parsha of ketores, even if you do it from a klaf, then you will be immune from illness or magically cured.  The best segulos are Torah, tefilah, mitzvos, teshuvah. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a worthwhile trade-off

Rashi comments on "shelach lecha" that Hashem told Moshe that he already said that Eretz Yisrael is a fantastic country and no more should be needed, but if the people demand spies and Moshe wants to send them, then the choice is his.  

It seems from Rashi that the sending of spies shows a lack of bitachon.  Ramban asks: if that is the case, then not only are the people guilty of not trusting Hashem's promise, but Moshe is guilty as well, as in Parshas Devarim the Torah tells us that he also thought sending spies was a good idea, "va'yitav b'einay ha'davar."

Ramban answers:

ויתכן, כי משה בעבור שידע כי היא שמנה וטובה, כמו שנאמר לו: אל ארץ טובה ורחבה וגו׳ (שמות ג׳:ח׳), בעבור כן אמר להם שיתנו לב לדעת כן, כדי שיגידו לעם וישמחו ויחליפו כח לעלות שם בשמחה.

Moshe did trust that the land was good and fantastic, exactly as Hashem said.  That belief in Hashem's promise is precisely why he thought sending the spies was a good idea -- let the people see for themselves just how good Hashem is going to make it for them, and then they will be happy and excited to enter the land.

R' Zilberstein (in NIfleosecha Asicha) points out that we see from this Ramban the tremendous importance of doing a mitzvah b'simcha and with hislahavus.  Even if sending the spies showed a lower level of bitachon, even if it carried with it certain risks, the net result of being able to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha'aretz with greater joy made it a worthwhile trade-off.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

seeing is believing

In response to the cheit ha'meraglim Hashem tells Moshe that (וְכׇל־מְנַאֲצַ֖י לֹ֥א יִרְאֽוּהָ (14:23 all those who rebelled will not get to see the land, with the one exception of Kaleiv,  וְעַבְדִּ֣י כָלֵ֗ב עֵ֣קֶב הָֽיְתָ֞ה ר֤וּחַ אַחֶ֙רֶת֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וַיְמַלֵּ֖א אַחֲרָ֑י וַהֲבִֽיאֹתִ֗יו אֶל־הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣א שָׁ֔מָּה וְזַרְע֖וֹ יוֹרִשֶֽׁנָּה.  

Sefas Emes asks (5645): What do you mean, "Not see the land?"  The 10 bad spies already saw the land -- they spent 40 days there touring in order to report back to Moshe!

There are people who come to Eretz Yisrael on vacation and they spend their time in its wonderful restaurants, seeing the "historic" sights, etc.  Hard to believe, but even your Yankel or your Rivkah for whom you are spending 20k+ for them to go to yeshiva or seminary and grow in avodas Hashem might be found late on a Thurs night in some bar in Yerushalayim or some other hangout.  Or maybe they are taking the opportunity to try something they would never get to do at home, like scuba diving or parasailing, or who knows what.  They are seeing the land, they are enjoying the experience!  

Says the Sefas Emes, if that was what you came to Eretz Yisrael to see and do, then you haven't really seen Eretz Yisrael.

Sure, the meraglim saw the land in the same way that we see mountains, valleys, trees, people.  But that's not what Eretz Yisrael is all about.  To see Eretz Yisrael means to see the pnimiyus of the land, to see a place that is governed by direct hashgacha, to see a place that has einei Hashem focussed on it 24x7.  If you want restaurants, museums & bars, historic sites, you can go to Paris, go to England, go elsewhere.  Eretz Yirael has all those things too, but those are just icing on the cake so you wont be deprived.  The ikar, however, is to see and experience ruchniyus.  Kaleiv went to Chevron -- a cemetery! -- and still came back giving a glowing report because he was not seeing graves in his travels, he was seeing kedusha.  The other meraglim saw and brought back the most beautiful fruits, but they saw nothing in it because if you are blind to the kedushas ha'aretz, then in truth, there is nothing to see.

Baruch Hashem I think for the most part, kids who spend a year in Eretz Yisrael do sense that there is something special about it beyond the not so wonderful things they can do and see while out from under their parent's eyes.  V'techezena eineinu b'shuvcha l'Tzion.  We have to learn how to look at things correctly.

2) וִיהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֔וּן וְכָלֵ֖ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֑ה חָיוּ֙ מִן־הָאֲנָשִׁ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם הַֽהֹלְכִ֖ים לָת֥וּר אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ

This entire pasuk (14:35) seems unnecessary, as the previous pasuk told us וַיָּמֻ֙תוּ֙ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים מוֹצִאֵ֥י דִבַּת־הָאָ֖רֶץ רָעָ֑ה בַּמַּגֵּפָ֖ה, that those who spoke bad about Eretz Yisrael died.  It should be obvious that Yehoshua and Kaleiv who were not guilty of speaking against the land were not punished.  

Chazal explain that the "chayu" here means that the Yehoshua and Kaleiv got the portion of land in Eretz Yisrael that the meraglim would have been entitled to.  Various other meforshim (e.g. Netziv, Kli Yakar) offer different answers as well.  I want to highlight the Ohr haChaim's approach:

ויתבאר על פי מה שאמרו במס׳ בבא בתרא (קכא:) תניא יאיר בן מנשה נולד בימי יעקב, והקשו ממה שמצינו שנכנם לארץ דכתיב ויכו מהם אנשי העי כשלשים וששה איש וגו׳ זה יאיר בן מנשה ששקול כרובה של סנהדרין, ותירץ רב אחא שלא נגזרה גזירה לא על פחות מכ׳ ולא על יותר מס׳ עד כאן. והנה ממה שלא תירץ הגמרא שיאיר היה צדיק גמור הראת לדעת כי צדקת הצדיק לא הצילתו מהגזרה ההיא, והוא מאמר הכתוב ויהושע וגו׳ חיו וגו׳ פירוש טעם שחיו הוא להיותם מן האנשים ההולכים לתור היא שעמדה להם, אבל אם לא היו מהתרים והיו נשארים בכלל ישראל היתה באה הגזירה גם עליהם הגם שהם צדיקים גמורים לצד שהיו למעלה מעשרים כשיצאו ממצרים ולמטה מס׳.

He writes that it is only because Yehoshua and Kaleiv had the extra zechus of being among the spies and not being influenced by them that they escaped punishment.  However, had they not been among the spies, then despite their tzidkus, they would have still been subject to the gezeirah of death in the midbar.  When the klal is punished, then personal tzidkus is not enough.