Summer Issue
 


Summer Issue           11 Sivan-29 Av 5765              June 18-September 3, 2005             Vol.14 No.38


In This Issue:

Parshiot:

Beha'alotcha

Shlach

Korach

Chukat

Balak

Pinchas

Matot

Masei

Devarim

Vaetchanan

Eikev

Re'eh

Writers:

Rabbi Ezra Wiener

Ben Katz

Mr. Sam Davidowitz

Stewart Doberman

Gavriel Metzger

Shmuel Reece

Rav Daniel Feldman

Ari Pruzansky

Ariel Caplan

Avi Wollman

Mitch Levine

Ariel Herzog

Chanan Strassman

Chaim Strassman

Rabbi Darren Blackstein

Jesse Dunietz

Avi Levinson

Jacob Schulman

Etan Bluman

Rabbi Chaim Jachter

 

 

Beha'alotcha

I’m Humbler!
by Rabbi Ezra Wiener

Parshat Behaalotcha states (12:3), “VeHaIsh Moshe Anav Me’od MiKol HaAdam,” “And the man Moshe was very humble, [more] than every man.” Yalkut Shimoni on this Pasuk comments that although Moshe was humbler than all men, he was not as humble as the Avot. This Midrash is not only puzzling due to its sharp contrast to the simple interpretation of the Pasuk, but also due to the fact that Chulin 89a states explicitly that Moshe was humbler than Avraham. The Gemara learns this from the fact that Avraham refers to himself as dust and ashes (Bereshit 18:27), while Moshe uses the phrase (Shemot 16:8), “And what are we?” Avraham at least described himself as a substance with some, albeit very little, value. Moshe, on the other hand, considered himself absolutely worthless. How, then, are we to understand the Midrash that credits the Avot with a higher level of humility?
R’ Yisrael Salanter explains that both Moshe’s humility and that of the Avot were due to their understanding of the greatness of Hashem. It was not something that they had to work toward with any degree of effort, but rather an automatic response to the Creator and His Hashgachah over the universe. Moshe reached a degree of closeness to and understanding of Hashem that the Avot did not reach. We learn this form the beginning of Parshat Vaera, where Hashem informs Moshe (Shemot 6:3), “UShemi Hashem Lo Nodati Lahem.” Hashem only appeared to the Avot “Bekail Shakai” (ibid.), but not with His four-letter Name, as He did with Moshe. Moshe’s level of humility was greater in “quantity” than that of the Avot simply because his level of understanding of Hashem was greater and automatically evoked a greater sense of humility. On the other hand, the Midrash is teaching us, the “quality” of the humility of the Avot was greater than the “quality” of Moshe’s humility. Relative to their level of understanding of and closeness to Hashem, the humility of the Avot was in fact greater.

A Fitting Replacement
by Ben Katz

In Parshat Behaalotcha, Aharon HaKohen is appointed to the task of lighting the Menorah. He was so overjoyed that according to Mefarshim, even though he had the right to forward the mitzvah to others, he kept it for himself all his life. He had an intense connection to this Mitzvah over all others, which is ironic considering that he was given this mitzvah only as a kind of consolation prize.
When all the other heads of the tribes were giving their inaugural gifts to the Mishkan, Aharon felt left out because he could not give one himself. To make up for this disappointment, he was given the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah.
One might wonder, though, how these two Mitzvot could be comparable. How are the inaugural sacrifices the same as the lighting of the Menorah? We can answer that both were commandments from Hashem (see 7:11), and both were involved with the functioning of the Mishkan.
What made this Mitzvah so special that Aharon kept it all his life? Ramban points out that this Mitzvah was going to be an inaugural mitzvah later, in the story of Chanukah. This Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah was not just a one-time Mitzvah, as the offerings were. It had an unlimited time frame, and this was what Aharon appreciated about it and why he valued it so much.
Aharon wanted to give an offering of his own, but instead he held his needs in abeyance and offered others’ sacrifices, as Hashem asked. This kind of selflessness earned him one of the most valuable Mitzvot of the Mishkan.

Shlach

Knots and Twists
by Mr. Sam Davidowitz

When I was asked to write an article for the summer edition of Kol Torah, I immediately signed up for my Bar Mitzvah Parsha, as this will year will mark twenty years since my Bar Mitzvah. Truthfully, my memories of my Bar Mitzvah are rather hazy, as was my tone-deaf style of reading the Torah. The easiest parts of the Parsha for me were the first Aliyah, because it is basically a list of names, and the Maftir, because it is the last paragraph of the Shema. While the story of the spies is the center of the Parsha, the Pesukim regarding Tzitzit are the most intriguing to me. I have always been fascinated by the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, yet it is very difficult to verbalize what it is about these seemingly simple strings that has been captivating us for thousands of years.
There is currently a resurgence in the seemingly continual debate regarding the proper source of the dye that is to be used for the Techeilet. Though some Rabbanim have come up with proofs, there are so many variables that it is quite difficult for Poskim to come to a solid conclusion. This is important not only on a Halachic level, but also on a symbolic level, as the message of the Tzitzit is incomplete without the Techeilet strings. The Techeilet is a reminder of Hashem’s presence, as it “resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles Hashem’s holy throne” (Menachot 43b). The majestic quality of the blue of the Techeilet strings is a constant reminder of the sovereignty of Hashem and the interconnectedness of the heavens (“sky“) and the earth (“sea“).
While the source of the Techeilet is a very intriguing and worthy debate, it might be important for us to take a step back to look at the remaining white strings. The color white is a regular or standard color. Perhaps the way that the Techeilet string is intertwined with the remaining strings shows the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael. Again, emphasizing the inherent connection between the heavens (Hashem) and the earth (Bnei Yisrael) is a foundation of the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. After all, the Tzitzit are supposed to remind us of the Mitzvot—more specifically Hashem’s Mitzvot, as the Pasuk (Bemidbar 15:40) uses the possessive form, “Mitzvotai,” “My Mitzvot.” This emphasizes the principle that the Mitzvot are not merely a list of legal or moral concepts, but are a set of guidelines inextricably linking us to Hashem. Observing Mitzvot out of habit is not the point; one must be aware that each Mitzvah is not just one act unto itself, but is a piece of a spectacular and wondrous, divine puzzle. Every act that we do is like a twist of the string on the Tzitzit; every knot is an advance along the way on a divine path.
The wearing of Tzitzit is also a link between modernity and the world of the Torah. Wearing Tzitzit today forges a link between us and the figures in the Torah. We can connect with our ancestors through the wearing of Tzitzit in a way that cannot be forged through any other Mitzvah. Biblical figures expressed their Kavod and Ahavah for Hashem through sacrifices, something that many in the modern world have difficulty fully identifying with. So many things have been altered, yet the Mitzvah of Tzitzit remains.

Meraglim: A Reassurance of Mashiach
by Stewart Doberman

If asked, “What were the worst sins that the Jews ever committed?” most people would probably answer “Meraglim and Chet HaEigel.” Certainly, the sin of the Meraglim, the highlight of much of Parshat Shlach, deserves to be on this list, since it caused the untimely deaths of approximately 600,000 people and prevented Bnei Yisrael from entering Eretz Yisrael for thirty-eight years. However, Chet HaMeraglim (or at least the sending of the spies itself) can also be looked to nowadays for a positive message: it may hint to the coming of Mashiach.
The path that Moshe commanded the Meraglim to follow is seemingly bizarre. Bemidbar 13:17 states, “Moshe sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and he said to them, ‘Ascend in the south and ascend the mountain.’” Rashi comments on this Pasuk that the Negev was the inferior part of Israel. Moshe commanded the Meraglim to start there because that is the custom of merchants: to show the bad merchandise first, and the better merchandise at the end.
One of the core tenets of Judaism is the belief in a Mashiach. This Mashiach will save the Jews from all oppression and take us back to the great heights that we previously reached. The manner in which Hashem brings the Mashiach to save us is very similar to the ways of merchants and the way in which the Meraglim traveled the land of Israel. Hashem first causes oppression and battles, which is the inferior part of our existence, but they will end with the help of the Mashiach – the better goods, so to say.
This connection between Meraglim and Mashiach, though subtle, is very encouraging. The subtle hint which Moshe dropped in the Torah helps us get through all perilous times, including the current intifada. Also, the fact that Mashiach is hinted at by one of our worst sins shows that Hashem will never forget about us or abandon us, no matter how far we stray.

Korach

Blurring the Lines
by Gavriel Metzger

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat on Daf 119b states: “Rav Yitzchak said: Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they made no distinctions between people of low stature and those of high stature.” Yoma 9b, though, attributes the Churban to “baseless hatred,” or Sin’at Chinam, between Jews.
The Be’er Moshe finds these statements unharmonious and possibly contradictory. No distinction between great and regular people emanates a sense of unity, with people having minimal differences on the social ladder. This would seemingly show that the people respected each other and formed a sense of equality, disproving the theory that there was hatred and spite amongst the communities!
A deeper understanding of these statements of Chazal reveals that this is not the case. In fact, when a group considers small people on the same level as great people, they lose their sense of respect for the Gedolei HaDor and those who are truly great, as Korach and his Eidah did. Korach and his followers claimed that Moshe and Aharon discriminated against the masses when choosing leaders. He complains (Bemidbar 16:3), “Ki Kol HaEidah Kulam Kedoshim…UMadua Titnas’u Al Kehal Hashem,” “The entire nation - everyone is holy…why do you raise yourselves above Hashem’s congregation?” Korach blurred the lines between the leaders and the commoners, forming a group that did not recognize its true place on the social ladder. This Eidah would try to defend its position as a fight for social justice, causing strife and hatred among the Jews, who would now be brought into the Machloket.
Korach spoke up, not trying to achieve unity, but rather attempting to spark a fire within the nation to overthrow the leadership and take over. Korach was selfish and jealous of his own cousins, bringing fighting and friction into the camp he claimed was entirely holy.
Korach’s actions emphasize the need to observe the commandments of Kavod HaRav and Kibud Av VaEm. When no one respects those who have influence and power, both spiritual and political, the population falls into a tailspin of chaos and disarray without true guidance. Conversely, when everybody respects their elders and those with authority, Bnei Yisrael can achieve unity and camaraderie, the exact attributes that will help quicken the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

Making Peace With Our Enemies
by Shmuel Reece

Parshat Korach teaches us the importance of making peace. First we see that Moshe tried to make peace with Korach, even though Korach wanted Moshe’s job and leveled inappropriate criticism at Moshe Rabbeinu). Second, Moshe attempted to make peace with Datan and Aviram, even though he already had a history of previous disputes with them (Chazal tell us that they are the ones who tell Pharaoh that Moshe killed the Egyptian). We would think that after this, Moshe would not even want to make peace, but Moshe nevertheless exerted his best efforts to reach a peaceful settlement. First Moshe sent messengers for Datan and Aviram, but they refused to come. Then Moshe, waiving his honor, went himself to Datan and Aviram. To demonstrate the importance of Shalom, even the Zekeinim followed Moshe on his second try.
The Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin discusses this concept. Reish Lakish learns from here than one must not be stubborn in a quarrel. This idea is based on Rav’s statement that one who is firm and does not give in while engaged in a dispute violates a Lo Ta’aseh, a negative commandment. The source for this is the Pasuk (Bemidbar 17:5), “VeLo Yihiyeh CheKorach VeChaAdato,” “And let him [i.e. anyone] not be as Korach and his followers.”
Furthermore, the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:16) says that a Machloket LeSheim Shamayim, an argument fought for the sake of heaven, will endure, but an argument not for the sake of heaven will not last. The Mishnah’s example of a long-lasting dispute is that of Hillel and Shammai; the example brought of a dishonorable debate is that of Korach and his company.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments that both Hillel and Shammai were looking for the truth and the proper understanding of the questions they were studying. Both sides of their arguments are still studied by people today who wish to fully understand the truth of those topics. Rav Kehati adds that Hillel’s and Shammai’s discussions established Halachot as they are observed today. On the other hand, Korach only wanted personal power and glory, and the subject of his Machloket is not touched today.
Midrash Shmuel notes that the Mishnah does not include Moshe’s name along with Korach, since Moshe was actually acting for the sake of heaven. All the Mishnah says is “Korach and his congregation;” all 250 people had their own agendas, and they only agreed to argue against Moshe.
We see from here that it is always important to make peace with everyone, even one’s enemies. It is fine, even a good idea, to discuss or debate when looking for the truth, when trying to better understand the Torah, as this is for the sake of Shamayim. However, we should not argue when only motivated by greed.

Chukat

Holy Cow
by Rav Daniel Feldman

Keriat HaTorah, for the most part, is a rabbinical obligation. The one exception generally noted is the reading of the Parsha of Amalek before Purim (according to many explanations of the Rosh in Masechet Berachot). However, many Rishonim, such as Rashba (Berachot 13a), have included another reading as a biblical obligation: Parshat Parah, which appears originally in Parshat Chukat and is traditionally read right after Purim. This notion is also quoted in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 146 and 685).
This is a somewhat puzzling assertion, as it is unclear where exactly in the Torah we find a commandment to read Parshat Parah (see Magen Avraham, O.C. 685, and Aruch HaShulchan 685:7). Such a gaping hole has led some authorities (such as the Vilna Gaon) to maintain that the entire reference is actually a scribal error, and the reference was not to Parshat Parah but to “Parshat Purim,” another name for the Parsha of Amalek that shares Parshat Parah’s initials. Others, hesitant to label as error a statement found in numerous Rishonim, offer innovative theories to explain the source. (See, for example, Meshekh Chokhmah and Torat Moshe, as well as Responsa Divrei Yatziv, Orach Chaim 288).
One theory that is put forward (see Artzot HaChaim of the Malbim, Hilchot Tzitzit, and Responsa Arugat HaBosem, Orach Chaim 205) concerns those select concepts and commandments that the Torah has distinguished with an imperative of “remember” (the Zechirot). Authorities differ as to the precise count of these precepts, but they include prominently such concepts as Amalek, Shabbat, and the exodus from Egypt. And indeed these three find Halachic expression: we remember Amalek through the special Keriat HaTorah, Shabbat through Kiddush on Friday night, and the exodus through its mention twice a day in the third paragraph of Keriat Shema.
However, one concept that appears to deserve inclusion seems to lack Halachic representation. Regarding the Cheit HaEigel, the Torah commands: “Remember, do not forget, how you angered Hashem, your God, in the desert” (Devarim 9:7). If so, why does no ritual or reading commemorate the incident of the golden calf? Should there not be an implementation in Jewish practice of this obligation?
Therefore, it is suggested, perhaps this indicates a source for a biblical obligation of Parshat Parah. Chazal perceived a linkage between the Mitzvah of Parah Adumah and the sin of the golden calf. As Rashi says, “Let the mother come and clean up the soiling of the child.” The adult cow symbolizes the parent, and in atoning for Cheit HaEigel, it is “cleaning up” the mess of the calf.
Within that understanding, it may be posited that the sin of the calf is indeed commemorated, albeit in an indirect manner. Rather than directly evoke the disgraceful episode of the golden calf, we chose a less embarrassing path, reading about the commandment that atones and not about the transgression that incurred guilt.
Such a reading would reflect back on the very nature of the obligation of remembering the calf. The focus is not on the sin, but rather on the path back from impurity. The Torah wishes to impress upon the psyche that even in the aftermath of egregious moral failing, the route of return remains open.
However, there were those who assumed a different theme in this commandment of remembering. Some suggest that we are told to constantly recall the instance of the calf as a cautionary measure. At the time of the sin, the Jewish people were on an extremely high level of spirituality, so close to the occasion of the giving of the Torah. At such a time, one may believe himself invulnerable to temptation or moral error, protected by a bubble of holiness. The incident of the calf must always be remembered to warn that no one is protected in that manner, and that descent to sin can happen whenever inadequate care is taken.
If that is the theme, then, it would seem that using the Parah Adumah as a reminder would be an ineffective method. It may represent atonement, but the message of spiritual vigilance would be lacking.
However, it might be suggested that even this motif is present in the Parah Adumah. We are well aware of the central paradox of this commandment. At the same moment that it confers purity upon the impure, it incurs impurity on to the purifiers. From a straight logical perspective, this is confounding: is the Red Heifer a vehicle of purity or of impurity?
It might be suggested that this is precisely where the warning of Parah Adumah lies. At times, one may feel that he is on such a high level as to be invulnerable from stumbling. This could have been the mentality of the Jews at the time of the golden calf; at such a point in history, how could they sin? We are bidden to constantly remember this incident in order to remind us that no one is absolved from the responsibility of personal vigilance.
In its own way, the Parah Adumah makes this point as well. If one is involved in a religious activity, in a rite of purification, it might be assumed that one is insulated from any spiritual failing. Yet we find that even this activity contains the elements of impurity. The message is clear: no context or activity is a spiritual guarantee; it is only through constant, careful, self-awareness that one can ensure that his behavior is actually a true expression of the Ratzon Hashem.

Only Human
by Ari Pruzansky

Parshat Chukat, the Torah relates the story of Miriam’s death. Rashi raises the question of why Miriam’s death is recorded next to the description of the system of Parah Adumah, the process of purification from contact with a corpse. He answers that just Parah Adumah and similar Avodot and Korbanot atone for man’s sins, so too, the death of a Tzadik atones for people’s sins.
This Rashi seems quite strange. How can one person’s death atone for another’s sins? This whole idea seems to resemble the belief of the Notzrim, who say that the death of one man atoned for all humans’ sins. What is the idea here?
In order to answer our question, we must first understand another question: what is atonement? Perhaps atonement is when a person is comfortable with the fact that he is human and makes mistakes. The reason why Korbanot atone for a sinner is because if he merely performed plain Teshuvah, he might never feel closure on the issue. But the final step of Teshuvah, a Korban, produces Kapparah and enables the person to move forward and progress, rather than constantly dwelling on his past Aveirot. Similarly, the concept of Mitat Tzadikim is that when a Tzadik, a most perfected and righteous person, passes away, it comforts man to think that even such a great person is a human being and that he too is subject to death. This causes the sinner to feel a certain comfort with his own imperfections and humanity, reaching a higher level of Kapparah.

Balak

A Separate Holiness
by Ariel Caplan

In Bilam’s blessings of the Jews in Parshat Balak, Bilam proclaims the oft-quoted and just as often debated Pasuk (Bemidbar 23:9), “Ki MeiRosh Tzurim Er’enu, UMiGeva’ot Ashurenu, Hen Am Levadad Yishkon, UVaGoyim Lo Yitchashav,” “For from the tops of mountains I see [the Jewish nation], and from hills I gaze at it. Behold! It is a nation that shall dwell alone, and among the nations it shall not be considered.”
The second half of the Pasuk is generally understood to refer to the unique identity of Bnei Yisrael as an entity separate from all other nations. The first half, however, is subject to some debate. Pshat-oriented Mefarshim such as Ramban and Rashbam will explain that Bilam was literally looking at the nation from a hilltop – a logical approach, as such a position would allow him to take in the entire picture and see the Jewish nation as a whole. Such a perspective would allow Bilam to make sweeping statements about the nature of the entire Jewish people. But how can we explain the interpretation of Drash-oriented Mefarshim such as Rashi, who interpret it as a reference to the Avot and Imahot (i.e. the strong foundations of the Jewish people)? Why would Bilam go from talking about our ancestors, who were quite involved with the outside world (e.g. Avraham’s encounters in Mitzrayim and Eretz Pelishtim, the Eishel, Yaakov’s time with Lavan, etc.), to a statement of how separate we are?
To find an answer, we must first look at the next Pasuk: “Mi Manah Afar Yaakov UMispar Et Rova Yisrael, Tamot Nafshi Mot Yesharim UTehi Achariti Kamohu,” “Who has counted the ‘Afar’ of Yaakov or set a number to the ‘Rova’ of [Bnei] Yisrael? May my soul die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his.” Ramban and Ohr HaChaim (and possibly several other Mefarshim, as some of them are somewhat unclear on this point) understand the second half of the Pasuk as referring to the end of Bnei Yisrael, which is to inherit Olam Haba. Since Pasuk 9 begins with the foundation of the Jewish people and Pasuk 10 ends with our ultimate goal, we can say that what comes between the two represents some aspect of the entire span of Jewish history.
The first part of the middle section, “Hen Am...,” is a description of how we relate to the nations of the world. Throughout our history, our enemies have capitalized on our being different and separate, often using it as a reason to arouse hatred against us, as Haman did (see Esther 3:8). Even so, we must realize the value of our separateness. There is no profit in trying to assimilate and gain recognition among the nations. “Levadad Yishkon” – it is only alone that we are able to live securely, but “UVaGoyim Lo Yitchashav” – if we try to mix in among the nations, we will not be considered anything special. If so, our retention of a distinct identity is indeed a foundation of our survival. History has shown that whenever we try to assimilate, we disappear or suffer persecution, but when we establish strong communities and a strong identity, we are able to survive and flourish.
Another important pillar of Judaism can be found in the first half Pasuk 10. Rashi explains Afar as referring to the Mitzvot we fulfill with dust, the lowliest of all materials. We have the Mitzvot of not plowing with an ox and a donkey, not planting Kilayim, the dust of the Parah Adumah, the dust that the Sotah consumes – and that list is just scratching the surface (no pun intended). Rashi then explains Rova as referring to the offspring that emerge from marital relations (he relates Rova to Revi’ah, mating, usually used in the context of animals but occasionally used to describe humans). Both of these are demonstrations of how we take items or actions that seem like things we should not even address and infuse them with Kedushah. We take dust and elevate it to a Cheftzah Shel Mitzvah, and we take an action that other religions frown upon and turn it into the Mitzva of Peru URevu. This idea applies to whatever we do; by following Halacha, we turn our everyday lives into expressions of spirituality.
Returning to our original question, we can answer that the mention of the Avot is juxtaposed to the description of our identity because the Avot serve as a paradigm of how to establish relationships with the outside world while maintaining our identity. The Avot were not rich and politically powerful people who happened to have their own religion; they were Ovdei Hashem first and foremost, and when they needed to deal with an Avimelech, a Pharaoh, or a Lavan, they used the principles and values of the Torah as the guideline every step of the way.
Many people think it is a great Kiddush HaShem when someone has a high-powered job or has great achievements in the secular world and still manages to have a great attachment to Torah and to Judaism. However, someone with this attitude is in fact distorting the fundamentals of Judaism. We do not “manage” to have Jewish life “in addition” to a secular career. Instead, we view everything through the prism of Torah and Mitzvot, using the body of Halacha as our guide in choosing a career and carrying out our secular responsibilities. A surgeon in a hospital or a scientist looking for a cure for cancer is engaged in Pikuach Nefesh, a social worker is performing psychological Chesed, and anyone blessed with children in Yeshiva is earning money to fulfill VeShinantam LeVanecha. When we have the right intentions, we can turn even the mundane actions in our lives into spiritual pursuits.
The same applies to our general relationships with Nochrim. As we have already noted, we can only be successful if we are careful to maintain our identity and remember that we are a separate nation with our own collective goals. A true Kiddush HaShem is created when someone imbues everything he does, even in the secular world, with the Torah’s philosophies. Our religious and secular lives are not separate; instead, we strive to make a good impression of Torah and Torah-true life by following Halacha in our dealings with Nochrim. If we are seen as people who make no compromises in following Torah law and who therefore respect and deal fairly with everyone, we will be fulfilling our goal of showing the nations of the world the truth and uprightness of Torah. We will thereby fulfill our ultimate goal of being an Or LaGoyim and merit a Mot Yesharim and Olam Haba, an ending to our story of which even our enemies are forced to say, “UTehi Achariti Kamohu!”

Pinchas

Down with the Dictionary
by Avi Wollman

Parshat Pinchas contains a very counter-intuitive event. Pinchas has just killed Kozbi and Zimri as they are cohabiting, for which Hashem now rewards him: “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Priest, returned my anger....therefore I am granting him My covenant of peace" (Bemidbar 25:11). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peaceful as “devoid of violence or force.” It does not seem like Pinchas’ actions meet these criteria at all! How is such a promise deemed a proper reward for Pinchas? Why is he given a “Covenant of Peace” when he has done what many would consider to be the ultimate act of violence?
The Netziv relates that Hashem rewarded Pinchas that his act of murder would have no permanent effect on him. The Netziv points out that everything one does has an effect on person whether he knows it or not, whether for the good or for the bad; however, Hashem assured Pinchas that He would not let the killing have an effect on him, since he did it purely LeShem Shamayim. R’ Aharon Kotler ZT’’L comments that the word peace is often misinterpreted as it was above by Merriam-Webster. In actuality, it means doing what is necessary to attain such a lack of violence or force. Yes, Pinchas may have committed an act of bloodshed, but ultimately he brought about “peace” between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael and stopped the plague from devastating the camp.
Most of us, however, are not Pinchas, and most of us do not do every action LeShem Shamayim. What we do makes a strong impression on us and the rest of our lives, and we do not have Hashem’s promise that it will not have such an effect. Now, as the summer approaches, many us will be exposed to new things and try activities that we would not otherwise do during the regular course of the year. This often leads people to believe that since they are out of their regular environment, what they do may not affect them. However, says the Netziv, this is not true. Bad choices affect us and our personalities in negative ways. Had Pinchas not been granted this Bracha by Hashem, his murder of Kozbi and Zimri would have affected him detrimentally too, which is why it was so necessary for Hashem to assure him this would not be the case.
A friend of mine was talking with a graduating senior who expressed concerns regarding the year of Torah study in Israel, worried about the “flipping out” and the “brainwashing” that might occur. However, as one of my Rabbeim, Rabbi Wiener, often likes to point out, it is not that one gets brainwashed in the year of Torah study in Israel, but rather that being in an environment where everyone is learning and spending time doing Mitzvot has a tremendously positive effect on a person. Our choices affect us, whether for better or worse. We must make sure to make the right decisions to better our lives and bring about peace.
And someone call the folks at Webster’s; their dictionary is in need of some revamping.

Matot

The Thought Counts
by Mitch Levine

In its discussion about Nedarim, Parshat Matot states (30:6), “VaHashem Yislach Lah, Ki Heini Aviha Otah,” “Hashem will forgive her, for her father had restrained her.” Rashi says this is talking about a woman who takes upon herself a Neder Nazir, but this woman’s father or husband overhears her and cancels it without her knowledge. (Many Poskim say that since it says “Aviha”, it is only referring to a father and his daughter, and not a husband and wife.) Rashi continues and says that if the woman transgresses and violates her Neder by either drinking wine or coming in contact with the dead, she requires Hashem’s forgiveness, even though her father cancelled her Neder.
The immediate question on Rashi is: if the woman’s Neder has already been invalidated, why does she need to ask for Hashem’s forgiveness?
An answer to the question on Rashi is that even though her father nullified her vows for her, she was not aware of that fact, and she still went ahead and violated the Neder. Although the daughter technically never committed a sin, she still had sinful intentions in her mind when she acted, and that itself requires Hashem’s forgiveness.
We can see from here that even sinful intentions without an actual sin require forgiveness. Surely, then, one who actually does sin must ask for Hashem’s forgiveness as well. Conversely, one who intends to do a Mitzvah, even if he is unsuccessful, will certainly be rewarded.

Masei

A United State
by Ariel Herzog

Parshat Masei begins with an accounting of the different places Bnei Yisrael stayed throughout their travels in the desert, beginning with the exodus and ending with their encampment on the east bank of the Yarden. According to Rashi (to 33:1), the travels are divided into three different sections. The first section goes from the exodus to the sin of the Meraglim, the second is from the Meraglim to the death of Aharon, and the third lasts from the death of Aharon to the Yarden.
Throughout Sefer Bemidbar a major theme, if not the most important one, is the transition from the generation leaving Mitzrayim to the generation that will enter Eretz Yisrael. One can understand Rashi’s division by explaining that until the Cheit HaMeraglim, Bnei Yisrael were still considered the old generation leaving Mitzrayim. From the Meraglim until the death of Aharon is the transition, and after the death of Aharon is the new generation that will enter Eretz Yisrael.
It is apparent throughout Sefer Bemidbar (as expressed in much detail by Rabbi Jachter, following the Netziv’s introduction to Sefer Bemidbar, in his Chumash Shiurim this year) that the new generation acted on a higher level than the previous generation. But if Rashi is saying that once Cheit HaMeraglim occurred, all of a sudden Bnei Yisrael started the transition, what is the story of Korach doing between the Meraglim and the death of Aharon? Also, what are the laws of the Parah Adumah doing between the two incidents?
According to Rav Yoel Bin Nun (as he explained in a Shiur he delivered this year at TABC), the laws of the Parah Adumah are there in place of the thirty-seven years in the desert that the Torah does not record. He says that the Parah Adumah was presented here to strengthen Bnei Yisrael while they were dying in the Midbar and life was difficult. Just like one can become purified even in the worst state of impurity, so too could Bnei Yisrael be renewed even in the worst state of depression.
This explanation of Rav Yoel Bin Nun is very nice, but it does not explain what the story of Korach is doing between the Meraglim and the death of Aharon. We can circumvent this problem with Ibn Ezra’s opinion that the Korach incident took place before Cheit HaMeraglim, while Bnei Yisrael were still in Midbar Sinai. Hence, the Parah Adumah is really the only recorded section of the middle years, so we can interpret it as representing the purpose of these years.
However, Ramban and other Rishonim disagree with Ibn Ezra and claim that the Korach story occurred right after Cheit HaMeraglim, just as the Torah recorded it. According to this, the placement of Korach does not seem to make any sense. Bnei Yisrael commit the Cheit HaMeraglim, which will cause them to wait forty years in the Midbar, and we now expect a change between old generation and new generation. It does not make any sense that right after Bnei Yisrael receive this punishment, a bunch of rebels come out and continue making a mess.
Rashi explains in the beginning of Parshat Korach that when the Torah says that Korach “took” (Bemidbar 16:1), it means that he took himself to be separate from the rest of the nation. In contrast, the Pasuk right before the death of Aharon says (20:22), “And they traveled from Kadesh, and Bnei Yisrael came, all of the nation, to Hor Hahar.” Rashi explains that the Torah had to add the words “all of the nation” to show us that they were complete and ready to enter Eretz Yisrael. The incident of Korach is there to show us the status of Bnei Yisrael right when the transition started, and the Torah’s description of our unity shows us what Bnei Yisrael were like at the end of the transition. In the very beginning of the transition, Bnei Yisrael were still a nation with problems and fights even amongst themselves, but when the new generation arose, they were whole and united, ready to enter the land.
Perhaps with this we can understand a different explanation of why the Parah Adumah is located where it is. One can say that it resembles the transition. There is a famous concept regarding Parah Adumah, which is that it “purifies the contaminated and contaminates the pure.” Perhaps Hashem is telling us that this nation, which is now impure, will become purified by the new generation, and the old generation will become impure and be replaced by the pure.
This summer, the Israeli government is planning to evacuate Jews from parts of Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately, this has caused much conflict amongst the Jewish community. If this is how we are living, then we are obviously not ready to enter the land. The Jewish nation must go into Eretz Yisrael together and not separated by massive internal battles. It would be the worst tragedy if civil war would Chas VeShalom start, for Hashem had to destroy an entire generation of Am Yisrael due to disunity. On the other hand, if we go into Eretz Yisrael together as one nation under God and His Mitzvot and Torah, we will have risen to the level of the generation entering Eretz Yisrael and will live together without conflict.

Devarim

Insufficient Sins
by Chanan Strassman

In Parshat Devarim, Moshe begins to deliver his final farewell to Bnei Yisrael. He rebukes them for doing sinful things by taking them on a trip down memory lane. One of the great “attractions” on Moshe’s trip is the sin of the spies, when Bnei Yisrael decided (unanimously) to send spies into the land of Israel before entering. The actual sin that Moshe is reminding them of is that spies returned with a negative report slandering the Holy Land, causing the masses to whine and fret.
Rav Shimon Schwab makes an interesting observation: These spies were important men such as Calev and Yehoshua; clearly they were not a bunch of randomly picked loafers. And what exactly did these spies say to Bnei Yisrael that upset them so? The Pasuk tells us they claimed to have seen “a people greater and taller than we, cities great and fortified to the heavens, and even the children of giants have we sent there” (1:28). Would men of such high prestige tell an outright lie? Surely there must have been some truth to their claim!
Rav Schwab explains that in fact there was more truth to the spies’ claim than meets the eye. The Gemara (Sotah 9a) teaches, “Hashem does not exact punishment upon the nations of the world until the time of their exile, and He does not exact punishment upon man until his measure is full.” This means that people are not punished or driven out of their lands until their sins are too numerous and awful for Hashem to tolerate. This might explain why many areas of Israel had yet to be conquered when the Jews began to settle the land during Sefer Yehoshua – these inhabitants had not yet deserved in Hashem’s eyes to be conquered. Thus, when the spies said there were “cities great and fortified to the heavens,” Rav Schwab argues that they meant the nations were still protected by Hashem in that they had not yet sinned enough to be conquered – a true statement in light of the Gemara in Sotah.
We see a similar theme in the Pesukim describing Bnei Yisrael’s preparations to battle Og, king of the Bashan. Hashem told Moshe that he should not be afraid to fight against Og (B’midbar 21:34). Why would Moshe have been afraid of Og? The issue of his colossal size (Og being a giant and all) should have been of no concern; Hashem had defeated formidable enemies many times in the past! We may answer, based on Rav Schwab’s approach, that Hashem assumed Moshe would be concerned about Og’s previous good deeds, which earned him such a long life, and that he would worry that Og would be unbeatable on these deeds’ account. (According to the Midrash, Og was old enough to have survived the flood of Noach’s generation by holding on to the Ark.) Thus, Hashem reassured Moshe that he need not be afraid and that Og was perfectly vanquishable.
Hashem is not quick to punish. If even people as repugnant as Og and the pre-Bnei Yisrael inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael are spared destruction for quite some time, how much more so must He offer a priceless chance to members of His nation to repent.

But Everyone’s Doing It!
by Chaim Strassman

In the beginning of Sefer Devarim, Moshe recounts the incident involving the spies’ slandering Eretz Yisrael. Moshe explains that all of Bnei Yisrael ran to Moshe and requested the sending of spies. When the spies returned, Bnei Yisrael went crazy, once again running to Moshe, this time asking why he had been lying to them about Eretz Yisrael. We all know the rest.
The exact wording Moshe uses to describe the manner in which Bnei Yisrael approached him is (1:22), “Vatikrevun Eilai Kulchem,” “And you all came near to me.” Moshe could have simply said, “Bnei Yisrael came to speak to me,” so why does he say it in this manner, which implies a disorganized, excited mob?
Kli Yakar answers our question by comparing Bnei Yisrael’s actions here to their reaction to Matan Torah. At Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael were so relaxed that they overslept! This contrasts with Bnei Yisrael being overly wild and enthusiastic by the incident of the spies. However, the opposite should have been true. Bnei Yisrael should have been enthusiastic and excited for Matan Torah, but instead they were sleeping. This showed that they did not care about the spiritual part of the Brit Bein HaBetarim. When it came to the physical aspect of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, the land, Bnei Yisrael cared too much. Through this contrast, we see that Bnei Yisrael neglected to give the Torah the respect it deserved. Therefore, when Moshe said “all of you,” he was implicitly rebuking Bnei Yisrael for not giving the Torah the proper respect.
Another reason for the strange wording might be a result of the Cheit HaEigel, the sin of the golden calf. While Moshe was on Har Sinai, the people had the audacity to build an idol! After all the trouble this sin caused, anyone who led us to participate in the sin died. When Moshe said that all of the Jews wanted the spies, and all of the Jews came crying to him, he was commenting on how even after the Cheit HaEigel they could sin again. Moshe had thought the people would have learned their lesson, but he saw he was mistaken. Hence, when Moshe said “all of you,” he was rebuking the Jews for going downhill – not only did they fail to learn from Cheit HaEigel, there was also the added element of everyone participating.
Moshe’s emphasis on the fact that all of Bnei Yisrael were so enthusiastic and united in their sin serves as an important lesson to us. Very often we see that everyone else ignores a certain Halacha or Mitzvah, and we are very tempted to simply go along. In situations like these, it is vital that we stand strong in our beliefs and do not just follow the crowd. Only if we learn from past mistakes and make our own decisions will we be able to improve ourselves and Klal Yisrael as a whole.

Vaetchanan

A Hope and a Prayer
by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

Parshat Vaetchanan contains what many would consider to be the most famous and perhaps meaningful verse in our theology, the Shema. One would imagine that such an important verse would carry with it a clear message, free from the normal array of opinions that accompany other verses. This is only partially true. While this verse does carry with it the clear message of Hashem's unity, it also carries with it many ways for this message to be taken.
Rashi explains that the Shema tells us that at this time in history, only our people recognize that Hashem is God (“Elokeinu”). There will come a time when the whole world will come to this realization and accept that Hashem is the One true Deity. Rashi seems to understand the Shema primarily as a message of hope for the future. Being the chosen people may be a privilege, but the inherent loneliness is troubling. Ideally, Hashem should enjoy the worship of all people; it would seem a lack of honor to give Hashem anything less. Indeed, this verse has become a prayer that represents the eternal hope that we all have for a time when all mankind can unite and, in turn, reflect the unity of Hashem.
Whereas Rashi entertains a worldview based on the Shema, the Sforno tells us that the Shema is a statement containing truths which must be deeply contemplated. The Shema is a message to Bnei Yisrael urging us to accept Hashem as the Creator upon whom all existence depends. Since all existence stems from Hashem, He is the only one to whom it makes sense to pray. With this idea in mind, we can then contemplate the unique quality of Hashem as the only being responsible for all existence, thereby testifying to His singularity. There is no other being like Him and His unity cannot be matched. We see, according to the Sforno, that the Shema contains personal ideas of religious depth that must be meditated upon and analyzed over and over as we accept the yoke of Hashem's kingdom. As a vehicle for prayer, this verse is crucial in our attempt to connect with the Almighty and to feel His presence.
While these are only two opinions about the functionality of the Shema, we can readily see that the Shema is meant for us to use, not only in a personal way, but also in a way that helps us have more positive contact with the world around us. May we all merit to focus on this verse in our davening and experience the contributions it can make in our lives.

The Man Moshe
by Jesse Dunietz

One of the primary themes of Moshe Rabbeinu’s speeches in the beginning of Sefer Devarim is the need to avoid and eliminate all Avodah Zarah. Time and time again, Moshe reiterates the great threat that Avodah Zarah poses to the nation and the dire consequences of succumbing to it (see, for example, 4:25-40, 5:10-15, 6:2-4, and 6:15). In Parshat Vaetchanan, Moshe devotes a very long section to this topic (4:12-24), emphasizing the absence of any image at Har Sinai and detailing all the myriad forms of Avodah Zarah which Bnei Yisrael must spurn. Towards the end of this section, he adds, “VaHashem Hitanaf Bi Al Divreichem, VaYishava Levilti Ovri Et HaYarden…VeAtem Ovrim ViRishtem Et HaAretz…,” “Hashem became angry with me because of you, and He swore that I would not cross the Yarden…but you will cross and inherit the Land…” (4:2-22). This seems to be a total non sequitur, especially in light of the fact that the next Pasuk returns to the original topic of Avodah Zarah. Why do we have this apparently random insertion?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that Moshe is calling attention to a subtler-than-usual potential pitfall of Avodah Zarah. It is clear from various passages in the Torah that Moshe’s inability to enter the Land results from some sin he performed, although the details of this sin are extremely vague in the Pesukim. The entire reason, claims the Meshech Chochmah, that Hashem has chosen specifically this punishment is the potential for Bnei Yisrael to deify him. The old generation, the Dor Hamidbar, always treated Moshe as a plain human being, without hesitating to complain to him or even challenge him. (Though the latter is clearly not a good thing, it certainly does demonstrate a particular attitude.) These people saw with their own eyes the miracles that the man Moshe performed in Mitzrayim and thereafter, so they know exactly what Moshe did and did not do, and perceived the less-than-Divine nature of their leader. The new generation, however, is at risk of turning Moshe into a living myth; they have no experience with Moshe the man, only Moshe the supernatural leader, the “Ish HaElokim.” This problem will only be reinforced by the stories of the extraordinary miracles he performed in the past. Therefore, there is a significant risk that they will regard him as some sort of independently powerful supernatural being – effectively making him an Avodah Zarah. To avert this problem, Hashem decrees that the punishment for Moshe’s sin will be his inability to enter the Land with them. Moshe then reminds the nation of this issue here in his discussion of Avodah Zarah: as he continues in the next few Pesukim, Bnei Yisrael must not “forget the covenant of Hashem…and make…any kind of statue” (4:23), including any deification of Moshe himself. By pointing out that he was actually forbidden to enter the Land because of the issue of Avodah Zarah, Moshe powerfully underscores the immeasurable importance of this concern.
The Meshech Chochmah’s explanation seems slightly difficult. Very rarely does anyone become a legend in his own lifetime to the extent that he actually becomes an Avodah Zarah. Indeed, it is after a great leader’s lifetime, when the leader is no longer present to renounce any such claims of divinity, that he is most likely to be idolized. When Moshe would die, all that would be left of him would be the stories about him. Moshe the man would completely disappear from sight, and the new generation would see even less of his human aspects than they would if he led them into the Land! If anything, Moshe’s exclusion from Eretz Yisrael compounds the problem, not solves it!
I would like to suggest that the cause and effect here are in fact the reverse of the Meshech Chochmah’s interpretation. In some way, Moshe’s earlier sin, whatever it was, showed his inability to lead the new generation of Bnei Yisrael (see Rav Moshe Lichtenstein’s Tzir Vatzon and the comments of other Acharonim, such as the Netziv, about this issue). As such, he cannot be the one to lead them into Eretz Yisrael. But this generates the problem raised by the Meshech Chochmah – in his absence, Moshe will become the stuff of legend, possibly even a godlike figure. Moshe is apparently worried about the same issue as was Yaakov Avinu, who, according to the Midrash and Rashi (to Bereshit 47:28-31), did not want to be buried in Mitzrayim for fear of being deified and worshipped. Perceiving this danger, Moshe warns Bnei Yisrael now, in the midst of his other exhortations against Avodah Zarah, that they must avoid this snare, too. He is emphasizing not just the severity of Avodah Zarah, but the necessity of recognizing Moshe’s own true status. He is not a superhuman or a god, and he wants to make it perfectly clear to Bnei Yisrael before he parts with them that they must never mistake him for such.
If this explanation is correct, Moshe’s message here fits quite nicely with the theme of the rest of Sefer Devarim. Throughout the Sefer, Moshe is trying to prepare Bnei Yisrael for life without his constant guiding presence. He must teach them everything they need to know for a successful life in Eretz Yisrael in which Moshe will no longer be around to teach and guide them, a point which Ramban makes on this very Pasuk. As part of this preparation process, Moshe must also warn Bnei Yisrael of all the potential pitfalls of Avodah Zarah (another idea the Ramban mentions here), including the risk of worshipping Moshe himself.
Regardless of which interpretation of Moshe’s message is more correct, Moshe displays tremendous leadership skills here. He is extraordinarily sensitive to the needs and concerns of the people he leads, preparing them in every way possible for his leave-taking and its consequences – even when it involves pointing out his own mistakes and limitations. He plans thoroughly and carefully for every aspect of the nation’s continuance after his departure. Moshe is truly the (human) paradigm of sensitive, effective, and foresighted Jewish leadership.

Eikev

Corrective Troubles
by Avi Levinson

Parshat Eikev states (8:5): “Ki Ka’asher Yeyaser Ish Et Beno, Hashem Elokecha Meyasrecha,” “Just like a father is ‘Meyaser’ his son, Hashem, your God, is ‘Meyaser’ you.” What exactly does Meyaser mean?
Artscroll translates Meyaser as “chastise.” This would mean that the word Meyaser is related to Yisurin, trials and travails. This is based on Ramban, who states that through these trials and travails, we will better appreciate what we do have. Just as Hashem caused us various difficulties in the desert to make us better appreciate Eretz Yisrael, so too we must realize that any difficulties we encounter in life have some ultimate purpose as well.
The Sforno takes a somewhat different approach. He relates Meyaser to Mussar, rebuke. Just as a father rebukes his son in order to help him become a better person, Hashem rebukes us in order to make us better people. The translation in the JPS Tanach takes this approach, translating Meyaser as “discipline.” This translation would fit with a different use of the root of Meyaser in Parshat Vaetchanan. There the Torah says (Devarim 4:36): “Min Hashamayim Hishmiacha Et Kolo LeYasreka,” “From heaven, He let you hear His voice to be ‘Meyaser’ you.” In that Pasuk, the translation given by Ramban does not fit very well; Hashem did not let us hear His voice to cause us pain or force us through difficulty. The translation as “rebuke” fits better into that Pasuk. The Sforno in fact says in his commentary to Devarim 4:36 that Hashem rebuked us to make us better and to raise us to the level of prophecy.
Rav Hirsch relates the root of Meyaser (Yud Samech Reish) to the root of the word “Vayitzer,” “And He formed,” used in Parshat Bereishit (Yud Tzadi Reish), referring to how Hashem created and formed Adam from the Earth. Rav Hirsch comments that both roots mean taking something loose and unformed and giving it shape and character. The definition of Meyaser is that Hashem forms us and give us direction, just as a father forms and directs his child. Mussar helps us take our potential and turn it into real achievements.
Rav Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb combines these approaches. Hashem does not give us trials and tribulations to cause us pain, Chas VeShalom. The point is to direct us from whatever incorrect path we were on, and to move us onto a proper path. By giving us Yisurin, Hashem is in effect also giving us Mussar. Whenever we suffer difficulties, we must remember that Hashem is really sending us a message that we have to take Mussar and change our direction.

Guilty?
by Jacob Schulman

In Parshat Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues to review with Bnei Yisrael the events that happened in the desert following Yetziat Mitzrayim. In recalling the events of Cheit HaEigel, Moshe talks about something that was not indicated in the Torah’s initial version of the story. Specifically, the Pasuk reads (9:20), “Hashem became very angry with Aharon to destroy him, so I also prayed for Aharon at that time.” In Sefer Sh’mot, while the Torah certainly describes Aharon’s involvement in building the Eigel, it explains that Aharon only did so out of desperation. He was trying to buy time. The implication there was that he was not held accountable for his involvement. In Parshat Eikev, however, it seems he was held accountable, and Moshe had to pray for his survival.
The Hertz Chumash explains that Aharon’s guilt was as a leader of Bnei Yisrael. When Moshe went up to Har Sinai, he put Aharon and Chur in charge. Although Aharon did nothing wrong on a personal level, as the leader of Bnei Yisrael he was responsible for their actions. Instead of Aharon leading the people away from Cheit HaEigel, the people led him. He failed as a leader.
If this is the case, it is very hard to understand how the punishment for Aharon’s failure would be his death. How could Hashem think of killing him now, yet later make him Kohen Gadol? Rashi explains that that Hashem was not considering killing Aharon. Instead, He planned to destroy Aharon’s lineage by killing his children. Moshe’s prayers saved two of Aharon’s children, Elazar and Itamar, though they were not able to save Nadav and Avihu.
Rashi’s explanation still leaves one question. Why does Rashi link the death of Aharon’s sons to the Cheit HaEigel?
Perhaps Rashi is bothered by the fact that Aharon’s guilt is only mentioned in Eikev, not in Shemot. In Eikev, Moshe is trying to make Bnei Yisrael understand the severe consequences of their own actions. Their actions at Cheit HaEigel brought guilt not only upon themselves, but also upon Aharon, who was otherwise innocent. Their actions had tragic consequences: the deaths of two of Aharon’s sons.
Moshe’s message to Bnei Yisrael, and to us today as well, is to be aware that our actions often have consequences well beyond ourselves. As part of the Jewish people our actions affect all of us. If we sin, we bring trouble to Jews everywhere. However, if we follow the Torah and stay away from sin, we will bring Brachah to Klal Yisrael.

Re'eh

More than Money
by Etan Bluman

Parshat Re’eh teaches us a very valuable lesson about Tzedakah. The Torah (15:7) says, “Ki Yihiyeh Vecha Evyon MeiAchad Achecha VeLo Tikpotz Et Yadcha MeiAchicha HaEvyon,” “If there be among you a needy man, one of your brothers…you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your needy brother.”
There are many points in life when we will be faced with a poor person who kindly asks for Tzedakah. This Pasuk tells us that Hashem expects us not to harden our hearts when confronted by a poor person, but rather to help him out and give him some money (although that doesn’t mean that we should completely empty our pockets when giving Tzedakah).
Tzedakah is the one of many ideas from Parshat Re’eh that has to do with respecting someone else’s needs. The next Pasuk (15:8) says, “Ki Fatoach Tiftach Et Yadcha Lo, VeHa’avet Ta’avitenu, Dei Machsero Asher Yechsar Lo,” “Rather you must open your hand to him, and lend him sufficiently for whatever he needs.”
There is a story about Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker Rebbe) that illustrates the Torah’s message in these Pesukim. There was once a Jew who wore a Streimel and went to the Kotzker Rebbe’s house, portraying himself as a rabbi. Over the course of Shabbat, The Kotzker Rebbe treated his guest with complete honor and respect. Many of the Kotzker Rebbe’s students knew this guest and told the Rebbe that he was a regular person who dreamed a lot. The Kotzker Rebbe’s students could not understand why the Rebbe treated his guest with such respect despite the fact that he was a fraud. The Kotzker Rebbe replied by quoting Rashi to Pasuk 8, who says that when it comes to giving someone whatever he needs, even if it means to give him a horse to ride or a servant to help him, one should give it to him. The Kotzker Rebbe said that the fact that this man went to great lengths (getting the right clothing and acting) to get the respect of a rabbi meant that he emotionally needed that kind of respect. He therefore played along with his visitor’s ruse as a form of Tzedakah.
This story about The Kotzker Rebbe truly shows how far one should go to respect someone’s needs, whether they be material respect, such as money, or just basic emotional respect, treating someone the way he or she deserve to be treated. I believe that these two Pesukim are together for a reason. Although both basically say the same thing, with the first in the negative sense and the second in the positive sense, they are needed to complement each other and express an important message. We should not harden our hearts to the needs of others, but rather we should give whatever they need, material and emotional. In addition, we should not give as a form of pity; Tzedakah is an expression of respect for others, and we must be careful to give in a way that addresses the specific needs of the person in a manner that preserves his or her dignity.


Staff at time of publication:

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The Kol Torah summer issue has been dedicated by the Kol Torah staff in honor of outgoing editors-in-chief Willie Roth and Ely Winkler, whose tireless efforts on behalf of Kol Torah made it all possible. Special thanks as well to our other staff members who are graduating this year.

 


This publication contains Torah matter and should be treated accordingly.