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Summer Issue

30-18 Sivan-Elul 5767

June-September 16-1, 2007

Vol.16 No.34

In This Issue:

Korach

Personal Attack?

by Shlomo Klapper

In Parashat Korach, Datan and Aviram charge Moshe with usurping power. In his response, Moshe claims, "Lo Chamor Echad Meihem Nasati," "I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs" (BeMidbar 16:15). Why did Moshe feel compelled to deny having taken even a single donkey? Would anyone accuse Moshe of breaking into somebody's stable to steal a donkey?! Rashi explains that Moshe sought to make it perfectly clear that his personal benefit was not part of his agenda. When Hashem told him to return to Egypt to save the Jews, he did not take anyone's donkey nor did he expect to be compensated for his expenses. Moshe was never interested in personal gain.

Rav Moshe Feinstein offers a fascinating perspective. He wonders why Moshe was fearful of taking anything from anyone. As king of Bnei Yisrael (see Ibn Ezra to Devarim 33:5), he was entitled to impose taxes on the people or even make use of their property! The answer lies in a fundamental difference between Moshe and other Jewish kings. When one's rule is the result of having been appointed king, he may feel free to seize the people's property at will. However, Moshe's rule was based on his Torah knowledge and Hashem's will; he was never appointed. Torah may never be exploited for one's personal benefit. Therefore, Moshe refused to take anything from anyone.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz of Mir sees in Moshe's reaction an important lesson in introspection and self-critique. Datan and Aviram accused Moshe of seizing power for himself. Although their criticism was rooted in falsities, Moshe felt compelled to examine whether their words contained even the slightest bit of truth. He could have brushed the whole ordeal off as nothing more than a vicious invective, a baseless attack on his character. Yet he gave thought as to whether he had ever abused his position for any sort of personal gain. His careful examination yielded that he had not. According to Rav Yisrael Salanter, this readiness to engage in self-assessment based upon the criticism of one's enemies is reflected in the words of King David, "When those who would harm me rise up against me, my ears have heard" (Psalms 92:12). People are often unable or unwilling to accept criticism. We create all types of self-defense mechanisms. When others offer even constructive criticism, we rationalize that the person doesn't understand our situation and is mistaken in his assessment of us. Worse yet, we attribute their comments to jealousy or resentment. This even occurs when the critic is a close friend. When he is an enemy, his remarks are totally discredited since his motives are "undoubtedly" biased.

It takes a great man to differentiate between the critic and the criticism. Although the critic may be an enemy, a great man will not negate his criticism. We would do well to listen, even when our enemies speak, since they might be saying something that is worth hearing.

Return and Repent

by Shmuly Reece

The Torah tells us that Korach and his fellow rebels were swallowed alive by the earth. However, we are also told (in Parashat Pinchas) that the sons of Korach did not die. The commentators differ in their understanding of this situation. Some commentators imply that Bnei Korach sank into the ground but remained "alive," perhaps to this day. Perhaps they are still singing; Sefer Tehillim has a few chapters attributed to Bnei Korach in which they prophesied. Others commentators, such as Ramban, explain that since Shemuel HaNavi descended from Korach (as stated explicitly in Sefer Divrei HaYamim), Bnei Korach must have been spared completely. Additionally, the Torah still refers to the family of Korach after this episode, implying that some part of it survived.

Korach also had 250 people with him in his rebellion. The commentators explain that these included Korach's servants, other parts of his family and perhaps other, unrelated members of Bnei Yisrael (see Rashi to BeMidbar 16:1 s.v. VeDatan).

Finally, the Torah tells us that those who witnessed the ground swallowing the group fled "LeKolam," "To their voices" (16:4). Most classical commentators explain this strange phrase to mean that Bnei Yisrael fled away from the voices of Korach's men. In a similar vein, Rashbam explains this to mean that they ran from the sound of the earth trembling. Iturei Torah quotes Rav Chanoch of Alexander who, in a more homiletical explanation, suggests that Bnei Yisrael ran to the "voice" of prayer with which Yitzchak had blessed Yaakov. When they saw the terrible punishment being inflicted upon Korach's group, they prayed that they themselves be spared.

Sefer Al HaTorah explains that Bnei Yisrael were teetering back and forth between Moshe and Aharon on one hand and Korach on the other. When Korach and his group were swallowed up, Bnei Yisrael went running to find the reassuring voices of Moshe and Aharon. On the other hand, Targum Yonatan elucidates that Korach and his group screamed from below, "Hashem is righteous and the words of Moshe, His servant, are true. We are wrong."

Based on this suggestion of the Targum Yonatan, we can understand a comment by Rav Reuven Margalios, cited in Iturei Torah. Rav Margalios observes that Moshe did a great kindness to the rebels by allowing them to be swallowed up alive, thereby affording them the opportunity to do Teshuva. According to Targum Yonatan, Korach and his fellows in fact did Teshuva by acknowledging their sin. We see the tremendous trait of kindness Moshe had. He gave those who sought to depose him the opportunity to do Teshuva. We should not be implacable and unforgiving, but should rather learn from Moshe to always allow those who have wronged us to repent.

Who's Boss

by Michael Rosenthal

In Parashat Korach, Moshe tells Korach and his followers to prepare a pan of incense which will be used as a test to determine if Moshe and Aharon are the proper leaders of Bnei Yisrael. A subtle problem is created by this suggestion. Moshe seems to be using excessive force in dissolving Korach's rebellion. Instead of trying to peacefully put down the rebels, Moshe chooses an approach which will lead to death of those who oppose him. Why does Moshe deal so harshly with Korach?

This issue can be solved by comparing Moshe's situation to a teacher's reaction to misbehavior after a long period of vacation. The students aren't used to the rules of a classroom when they return from the vacation, and therefore the teacher "overreacts" to the first class disturbance by sending a disruptive student to the principal, even for a minor infraction. This reestablishes the rules of the classroom and reminds the students who is in charge. Similarly, Moshe must "overreact" when dealing with Korach by telling him to bring the incense. Moshe uses Korach as an example, a necessary sacrifice, in order to establish order and prevent future rebellions. If Moshe would have dispersed the rebellion in a different, softer manner, Bnei Yisrael wouldn't have learned that this type of behavior is unacceptable and might have continued to question Moshe and Aharon. Therefore, Moshe's "excessive force" was actually the perfect amount of force, and his "overreaction" was simply the necessary action that had to be taken, as unfair to Korach as it may seem. Whether this type of situation occurs in a classroom or elsewhere in life, we must understand that sometimes drastic action is called for.

Chukat

A Hard Lesson

by Benjy Lebowitz

In Parashat Chukat, Hashem punishes Moshe and Aharon for the seemingly minor sin that they committed at Mei Merivah. Hashem says to Moshe and Aharon, "Yaan Lo HeEmantem Bi LeHakdisheini LeEini Bnei Yisrael Lachein Lo Taviu Et HaKahal HaZeh El HaAretz Asher Natati Lahem," "Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of Bnei Yisrael, you will not be able to lead this congregation into the land that I gave them" (BeMidbar 20:12). Given the severity of the punishment, one would assume that Moshe and Aharon committed a capital crime. However, they seem to have committed only minor crimes. The Meforshim struggle to find what they did wrong, and no clear consensus has emerged, an indication of how small the sin must have been. Why did Hashem come down so hard on them and ban them from entering Eretz Yisrael?

The reason is because the greater a person is and the closer he is to Hashem, the less he is spared from blame and punishment. Throughout Tanach, we see many cases in which a great person is severely punished for a minor sin. For example, when Avraham asked, "How shall I know that my descendents will receive Eretz Yisrael?" (Bereishit 15:8), Hashem replied, "You shall surely know that they will become strangers in Mitzrayim" (ibid 13). The similar phraseology ("know") indicates that Avraham was punished for his relatively minor mistake of questioning Hashem. Also, David HaMelech's wife Michal, who criticized David for dancing in public in front of the entire nation, was punished for her remark by not having children (see Shemuel II 6:20-23). Additionally, since Chizkiyahu showed the Babylonian people the Luchot inside the Aron, his descendents were taken captive by the Babylonians (see Melachim II 20:12-19).

Immediately following Hashem's announcement of Moshe and Aharon's punishment, the Pasuk states, "Heimah Mei Merivah Asher Ravu Venei Yisrael Et Hashem VaYikadeish Bam," "These are the waters of strife because Bnei Yisrael quarreled with Hashem, and He was sanctified by them." Rashi queries as to how Hashem was sanctified by the episode of Mei Merivah. Rashi answers that the extreme punishment meted out against Moshe and Aharon showed Bnei Yisrael that Hashem punishes even the greatest Tzadikim. This understanding strengthens everybody's Yirat Hashem. No matter who we are, we should be careful in what we do because everyone is punished for wrongdoings.

Mistaken Correctness

by Tzvi Zuckier

At a certain point during the episode of Moshe hitting the rock to quench Bnei Yisrael's thirst, Moshe says to Bnei Yisrael, "Shimu Na HaMorim HaMin HaSela HaZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim," "Listen now, you Morim, will we bring forth water for you from this rock?" (20:10). Rashi presents two interpretations of the word Morim. Either it means "Sorvanim," "wayward ones," for Bnei Yisrael sinned by telling Moshe to hit any rock, not just the one which Hashem commanded him to hit, or it means "Shotim," "fools," and that Bnei Yisrael had attempted, through their demand, to "teach their teachers" how to act in a crisis. The Admor Re'eim MiGur, cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, wonders why Rashi put the two seemingly disparate explanations that Bnei Yisrael were fools and that they attempted to teach their teachers in his second answer. Why didn't he present them as separate answers? (This is not an issue in the Roma and Alkabetz editions of the text of Rashi in which they are in fact divided into two answers.)

The Admor answers his question beautifully. He says that "They taught their teachers" is the reason why Bnei Yisrael are fit to be called fools, and therefore it is part of that explanation. The reason that their attempt to teach their teachers warrants the appellation "fools" is that when someone thinks he can teach his teacher, he thinks he is better than everyone. He thinks he knows better than the one whose very specialty is teaching! Someone with such an idea is quite clearly a fool. The Admor cites a Pasuk in Mishlei with a similar idea: "Ra'ita Ish Chacham BeEinav Tikva LaKesil MiMenu," "Have you seen a man who is smart in his eyes - a fool has more hope than he" (26:12). This Pasuk shows that when someone thinks that he is always correct, he is on a lower level than a fool. Thus, we see that someone who thinks he can teach his teacher, who by extension must think he's smarter than everyone else, is given the status of a fool or worse.

We must be able to control our desire to be haughty and to always think we are correct. While it is occasionally necessary to settle on a single explanation when trying to understand a passage in the Gemara, Tanach, Meforshim, etc., we must do so only after carefully evaluating others' positions. If, after doing so, we still think we are correct, that is fine (as long as the explanation is tenable within the greater framework of the Torah). However, if we always think we are correct about different issues without looking into those matters deeply and exploring them from their roots, we may Chas VeShalom stray and be considered wayward and foolish.

Balak

Cognitive Complications

by Rabbi Scott Friedman

Every Parashat Balak, I revisit an experience which was truly life-altering. While working as a dorm counselor in a Yeshiva in Israel, I was in charge of waking the students in the morning and learning with them at night. There was one specific student whose sincerity and realism affected my life forever. I remember staying up to all hours of the night debating and inquiring together on the various Jewish issues which bothered this student. One of the main questions which troubled him and me was: If Judaism is the correct way to live, why haven't the great geniuses and intellectuals of the rest of the world recognized it? How could I possibly embrace a reality that people much brighter and wiser than I did not? We brought our dilemma to a truly wise Rav, with whom I still speak consistently, and his response took me aback. He told me that although I would like his answers to this and other related questions, my friend, the student, would not. I asked him how he could make such a bold statement without even knowing either of us. His answer was, "You (referring to me) came to get answers, and you (my friend) came to ask questions." The Rav then went on to answer our question. However, my friend was changed from that day on. He told me in tears, "You know, my whole life I've lived a certain way in belief that I was in the right, but I never really realized that I never really did care about the answers. It was always about asking a question that I never would allow to be answered, and finally someone made me see through it."

This story is significant because it explains so much of the answer to our question. My friend simply would not allow his questions to be answered. Psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance. When people feel that what they want, what they are capable of or what they are is different from what is true, they will bend the truth or call it relative or subjective in order to make themselves feel better and remove their dissonance or anxiety. In his book Intellectuals, historian Paul Johnson writes of many famed and even revered intellectual giants who lived their lives in the most unethical ways. One such person confessed:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do... For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.

-- Aldous Huxley, "Confessions of a Professed Atheist," Report: Perspective on the News, Vol. 3, June, 1966, p.19. [Grandson of evolutionist Thomas Huxley, Aldous Huxley was one of the most influential writers and philosophers of the 20th century.]

Aldous Huxley honestly explains the capacity for the intellectual giants to be ethical or moral midgets. I realized that we all have our desires, and greater intellect does not always (and often does not) lead to greater moral character. Rebbe Nachman once told a story of a sophisticate and a simpleton. The sophisticate is much smarter than the simpleton, and he wants the world to know it. The simpleton has no such desire and is content with being simple. The sophisticate feels bad for the simpleton who will always be mediocre. The simpleton is very happy for the sophisticate and only wishes him well. The sophisticate travels around the world lecturing and amassing great wealth and fame. When he returns as an older man to the town in which he grew up, he finds his old friend the simpleton in a mediocre size house with mediocre possessions yet greatly beloved by his large family and the town as a whole for his acts of kindness. We see from here that great intellectual capacity or greatness in anything is as much a handicap as a blessing. Greatness very often comes with a great ego; along with simplicity come simple pleasures and happiness. Wealth of any kind is not always what is seems to be.

In Parashat Balak, Balak sends messengers to Bilam asking him to curse the Jewish people. Bilam responds that he must first ask Hashem. Hashem tells Bilam three things: "Do not go with them, do not curse the nation, for it is a blessed people" (BeMidbar 22:12). Bilam told Balak's officers, "Hashem will not let me go with you" (22:13). Balak took Bilam's hint and sent even higher-ranking officers to ask Bilam again. After again asking Hashem, he is told that he may go on condition that he say exactly what Hashem instructs him. We know that Hashem is actually very angry at Bilam and is going to send a Malach to harass him on the road. Clearly, even Bilam, who was a prophet, could recreate what Hashem wanted and what was true in order to fit his own agenda. Why did Balak send higher-ranking and officers? Because of Bilam's arrogant response, "I cannot go with you." Bilam considered himself very important and completely ignored the second and third statements of Hashem. When Balak saw that Bilam's ego needed to be rubbed, he responded accordingly.

All people have flaws, and it's very hard to be honest with ourselves about them. We are much better served recognizing and accepting that we are human than recreating a world of illusion that will eventually lead us astray.

Pinchas

Desert Divisions

by Mr. Moshe Glasser

One of the more interesting Midrashim regarding Keriat Yam Suf surrounds the nature of the tunnels through the crushing waters of the Reed Sea. The Midrash records that twelve separate tunnels were crafted through the water, one for each tribe. Why wasn't one sufficient? Do we really need to be that divided?

As my Rebbe, Rabbi Zvi Grumet, pointed out, the need for multiple tunnels was a clear reference to the disunity of Bnei Yisrael. While they had come together enough to leave Egypt, the Chumash and Midrashim are full of references to events and issues with the Jewish community of the time which displayed many problems with unity and a difficulty coming together. The true story of the Midbar is the end of such tribalism, forging twelve Shevatim into one nation - the difference between NATO, a loose economic and military alliance with members still independent among themselves, and various states within the USA, all overseen by one federal government.

One of the most telling statements of this difficulty is in the first census, found in Parashat BeMidbar. First, we are given a list of Nesiim, each seemingly a head of state within the Jewish people. Then the Shevatim are further divided into Degalim, groups that are clearly arranged to avoid conflicts between Shevatim. For example, Shimon is placed under Reuven so Shimon won't have to be subservient to Yehuda, a younger brother.

Once we arrive at the second census here in Parashat Pinchas, almost all of these issues are gone. While new Nesiim are selected, they are discussed later, outside the context of the census, and seem to be more along the lines of mayors or bureaucratic functionaries. Gone are the Degalim, the need to subdivide the Shevatim into larger divisions to facilitate movement or other national needs - they can simply walk together. The natural leaders - Reuven, Yehuda, Ephraim, and Dan (as the oldest of the maids' children) are mixed into the count with everyone else, rather than distinguished through the larger political arrangement.

Building a nation is hard work. Turning slaves into free men and women does not happen overnight. It takes a long view to make it happen, and the willingness to put up with tremendous difficulty before the goal is accomplished. But, as in all societies, we can acquire small glimpses of the political and social reality of life in the Midbar through the census taking. The goal of reforming this society of slaves and tribes into one of unity and solidarity is one that we, in our own time of division and difficulty, should take to heart.

Thanks A Lot

by Doniel Sherman

Bilam, unable to curse the Jews directly, decided to weaken Bnei Yisrael spiritually by causing us to sin through immorality. He believed that if Bnei Yisrael lost their spiritual bond with Hashem, He would stop protecting them. Therefore, he advised Moav to send its daughters to act promiscuously with Jewish men and entice them to worship Baal Peor. One of the tribal chiefs, Zimri ben Salu, was enticed by Cozbi, a Midianite princess, and acted licentiously in front of the elders of Bnei Yisrael. Pinchas zealously defended Hashem's honor by killing Zimri and Cozbi.

Hashem tells Moshe to wage war against Midyan in response. Such a command is puzzling. Although Midyan participated in Bilam's plan, it was Moav which started the entire problem by hiring Bilam. Why does Hashem command that Midyan be fought and Moav left alone? Rashi answers that although Moav instigated the fight with Bnei Yisrael, it had a justified reason in doing so. Am Yisrael was located in Moav en route to Eretz Yisrael. Consequently, it was understandable that the Moavim were afraid. Midyan, on the other hand, had no reason to interfere with Bnei Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael had no plans to pass through Midyan on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Their participation in Bilam's plot was purely malicious. This is why the command to fight was directed at Midyan and not at Moav.

Moshe's response to Hashem's battle command, though, is quite startling. Instead of preparing to lead the battle himself, he appoints Pinchas to lead the war. How could Moshe seemingly disobey Hashem's command by delegating authority to another?

Tosafot answer that Moshe was teaching us a crucial lesson. Since Moshe lived in Midyan for several years, it would not have been proper for him to fight against Midyan. HaKarat HaTov, Moshe shows, supersedes Hashem's command, because ingratitude contradicts the Mitzvah of VeHalachta BeDrachav, following in the ways of Hashem. Thus, Moshe's appointing Pinchas to battle Midyan accomplished the task Hashem had set forth while still allowing Moshe to maintain his sense of gratitude towards a nation that sheltered him in his youth. It is important to recognize the good others do for us, even if that other happens to be an enemy.

-Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner

Matot

Speech Has the Power

by Chaim Metzger

In the beginning of Parashat Matot, Moshe begins his exposition on the laws of vows with the phrase, "Zeh HaDavar Asher Tzivah Hashem," "This is the matter which Hashem has commanded." On the spot, Rashi, quoting Sifrei, comments that this unusual construction, as opposed to the standard "Koh Amar Hashem," "Thus says Hashem," uttered by so many of our Neviim, comes to teach us that Moshe experienced a higher form of Nevuah than did other prophets. How does "Zeh HaDavar" indicate a greater level of Nevuah? Furthermore, why does the Torah first point this out in the context of the laws of vows?

The Sefat Emet differentiates between the two types of prophecy. Amirah refers to narrative, while Dibbur connotes influence and causation. Koach HaDibbur connects the prophet and those hearing his words. To most prophets, Hashem communicated with dreams and riddles, while Moshe could "see" the message of the Nevuah. His higher level of connection is signified by a phrase using the Dibbur form of prophecy. Similarly, there are two levels of human communication: informational and instrumental. The paradigm of human speech that has a tangible, instrumental effect is a Neder, a mere utterance which creates a full-fledged prohibition upon the avower. By using "Zeh HaDavar" specifically in regards to Nedarim, the Torah is teaching us that we have the ability to elevate our powers of communication to the level of Moshe Rabbeinu's unique prophecy.

We should be careful not to abuse our power of speech, be it through Lashon HaRa, profanity or swearing falsely or in vain. This is an important lesson that should be applied whether we are talking on the phone, text messaging, chatting with friends or e-mailing, because words, no matter the medium, have great power and should not be misused.

-Adapted from Torah Insights by Emanuel J. Adler

Masei

Month of Two Faces

by Rabbi Ezra Wiener

In Parashat Masei, the Torah repeats the story of Aharon's death first described in Parashat Chukat. The Pasuk states, "VaYaal Aharon HaKohen El Hor HaHar Al Pi Hashem VaYamot Sham BeShnat HaArba'im LeTzeit Bnei Yisrael MeiEretz Mitzrayim BaChodesh HaChamishi BeEchad LaChodesh," "And Aharon the Kohen ascended Hor HaHar as per the word of Hashem and he died there in the fortieth year since the exodus from Egypt on the first day of the fifth month" (BeMidbar 33:38). The mention of Aharon's date of death is unique. Many commentators note that in general we are not told the date of any of our great leaders' deaths. Why are we told the date (Rosh Chodesh Av) of Aharon's death?

Rav Yechiel Reuven Mandelbaum, in his Sefer Dudaei Reuven, suggests that Hashem is hinting to the future designation of Chodesh Av as the time of mourning for the destruction of the Batei Mikdash. The death of Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol, represents the cessation of the Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash. Just as our great spiritual leader who helped atone for our sins passed away during Chodesh Av, so too Av will mark the loss of atonement through the Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash.

On a positive note, we are told that in Chodesh Av we will one day celebrate the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and the return of the Avodah therein. The Gemara in Perek Cheilek finds a reference to Techiyat HaMeitim in the Pasuk, "UNtatem Mimenu Et Terumat Hashem LeAharon HaKohen," "And you shall give the Terumah of Hashem from it to Aharon the Kohen" (18:28). The Gemara wonders how Bnei Yisrael would ever give Terumah to Aharon; the command to give Terumah applies only in Eretz Yisrael, which Bnei Yisrael entered after Aharon's death! The Gemara therefore explains that Aharon (as well as others) will one day be resurrected, whereupon Bnei Yisrael will give him Terumah. The third Beit HaMikdash will be built, and Aharon will resume his position as Kohen Gadol. May we merit seeing this Gemara fulfilled in our time.

Punishing with Love

by Gilad Barach

The first Pasuk of Parashat Masei states, "Eileh Masei Bnei Yisrael," "These are the trips of Bnei Yisrael" (BeMidbar 23:1). Why does the Torah devote nearly 50 Pesukim at the conclusion of Sefer BeMidbar to a list of all of the places to which Bnei Yisrael traveled in the Midbar? Is this supposed to be a mere logbook?

Rashi poses this question and offers two answers. The first, in the name of Rabi Moshe HaDarshan, is that if one pays attention to the nature of the travels listed, he will find that Hashem was very merciful to Bnei Yisrael, even in the 40 year period in the Midbar that was their punishment for the Cheit HaMeraglim. Out of the 42 locations in which Bnei Yisrael camped, 14 were in the first year in desert, before the decree of Cheit HaMeraglim was issued, and 8 were after the death of Aharon in the final year. That leaves only 20 trips in the 38-year core of Bnei Yisrael's time in the Midbar. Even though Bnei Yisrael's stay in the wilderness was a punishment, Hashem showed mercy and allowed them to stay in a single location for an average of almost two years apiece.

Rashi's second answer, in the name of Rabi Tanchuma, is in the form of a Mashal. A king's son was ill, so he and his father traveled to a foreign land where the son was successfully healed. Upon returning, the king lovingly pointed out places that he remembered from the first half of the trip. "Here we slept. Here we felt cold. Here you had a headache" (Tanchuma 3). The Nimshal is that Hashem loves Bnei Yisrael, so He records in His Torah all of the places to which He traveled with Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar. Both of Rashi's answers demonstrate the love and mercy that Hashem had for Bnei Yisrael, even while carrying out their punishment.

Ramban, quoting Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, takes this one step further. Not only is the love apparent because Hashem reminisces, and not only is the love apparent because He was lenient in punishing us, but even everyday life in the Midbar shows how much Hashem was caring for us. The Torah lists the specific locations so that we, future generations with no direct connection to the Dor HaMidbar, can confirm for ourselves that the places they lived were not at all hospitable places. All of these places had no wells, no source of food and many dangerous animals. Yet Hashem fed and protected Bnei Yisrael. Even when traditional food would have sufficed, Hashem provided Bnei Yisrael with the miraculous Mann. Even when they could have walked from location to location like regular people, Hashem flattened the way for them and enclosed them in the Ananei HaKavod. When we look at Masei Bnei Yisrael from this vantage point, the love Hashem had for His nation is more apparent than ever.

I believe that this message, repeated and elaborated upon by so many of the Midrashim, can show us how to better understand our current situation. The current Galut has been long and difficult for our people. It seems as if Hashem has turned His back on us and there is no hope. Masei Bnei Yisrael can show us otherwise. At the pinnacle of Hashem's rage towards Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar, Hashem sentenced them to 40 years of aimless wandering and the death of the entire generation. Even so, He showed compassion, to the extent of providing constant miracles for them, in order for them to most comfortably endure His sentence. In our lives, Hashem has not abandoned us. The everyday miracles we call nature continue to sustain us. With a mere glance at the world around us, it becomes apparent that Hashem continues to provide for us, even in our time. May we all be Zoche to earn the constant support which we are so mercifully provided and to see the coming of Mashiach and the end of our own seemingly aimless trek in the wilderness of Galut.

Devarim

A Blessing of Rebuke

by Shlomo Klapper

Parashat Devarim opens with Moshe rebuking Bnei Yisrael for their sins (see Rashi). Moshe knew of the spiritual challenges that Bnei Yisrael would face upon entering Eretz Yisrael and feared that they would approach these challenges complacently, confident in their ability to resist the alien influences of the Canaanite land. Therefore, he admonished Bnei Yisrael that they had failed before and might fail again unless given the proper motivation. Moshe intended his admonition to awaken a spirit of vigilance and self-scrutiny within the nation, which he hoped would protect Bnei Yisrael in the years ahead. To spare Bnei Yisrael embarrassment, Moshe merely alluded to all of their sins, veiling his reproach in terms only they would understand. However, Moshe later speaks openly about the sins of the Meraglim, the twelve spies, and the Cheit HaEigel, the golden calf! What compelled Moshe to make a contradiction between his subtle and open rebukes of the same sins?

Rav Ovadiah of Bartenura explains that upon hearing Moshe's admonition, the Jewish people repented wholeheartedly, at which point speaking openly about their sins was not a problem. Ramban expresses a similar idea regarding the brothers of Yosef, who also repented upon hearing of their sins. Imrei Elimelech expands this idea by quoting the Talmudic dictum that when one repents out of love for Hashem, like Bnei Yisrael did, all of his intentional sins are converted into merits. Moshe made a deliberate and explicit mention of Bnei Yisrael's misdeeds to inform them that their former sins could be used as a springboard to attain new spiritual heights.

Others understand Moshe's use of allusion in rebuke not as an attempt to spare Bnei Yisrael from shame, but rather as a sign of the Jewish people's sensitivity to sin. A perceptive, sensitive person needs little reminder of past wrongdoings, and a mere hint suffices to recall the sin to conscious memory. A less sensitive person, however, requires a lucid, explicit, clear admonition. Similarly, a major event in one's life can be recalled to mind with the subtlest of reminders, while an incident of minor importance requires a blatant reminder. The fact that Moshe merely alluded to Bnei Yisrael's sins testifies to the extreme sensitivity of the Jewish people, whose abhorrence and loathing of sin was such that even the slightest of reminders sufficed to bring them to repentance. Rav Yosef Nendik notes that upon receiving Moshe's rebuke, Bnei Yisrael did not attempt to deny their sins; instead, they were willing to face up to their acts and take the necessary remedial steps to rehabilitation. A wise man once said, "The Sages teach, 'Dai LeChakima BeRemiza,' 'For a wise man, and allusion is sufficient.' But what is to be done for one who is not wise? For the fool, even a sledgehammer might not do the trick! He still may not understand what you are talking about!"

Generally, the purpose of rebuke should not be to shame the sinner; rather, rebuke should be used to make people aware of the emptiness of life when it is devoid of Hashem or Torah. Rav Michael Ber Weissmandl, who lived before the invention of the computer, reached into the hidden codes of the Torah and found a very interesting support for this idea. If a person begins from the letter Bet in the word Devarim and counts six hundred thirteen letters, he finds a Reish. Another six hundred thirteen letters later is a Chaf, and yet another six hundred thirteen letters later is a Hei. These letters, when combined, form the word Berachah. Clearly, the function of Moshe's rebuke was to transform acts of wickedness into a source of blessing for everyone involved. When we fulfill the Mitzvah to reproach others for their misdeeds, we must similarly make clear that we intend only the best for the sinner. If rebuke is given in this fashion, it is very likely to succeed.

VaEtchanan

The Jewish Shabbat

by Dani Yaros

In Parashat VaEtchanan, the Aseret HaDibrot are listed for a second time. In its description of the Mitzvah of Shabbat, the Torah offers two unique reasons for why this Mitzvah has to be kept. In Parashat Yitro, the Torah commands that Klal Yisrael should remember Maaseh Bereishit, the creation of the world, and should therefore keep Shabbat. In Parashat VaEtchanan, the Torah says that we must keep Shabbat in order to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim (Devarim 5:15). Why does the Torah offer two different reasons for this Mitzvah?

Many assorted reasons are given for this query. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim explains that in Yitro, the Torah is stressing the special Kedushah of Shabbat, perhaps connoting the Mitzvot Asei, positive commandments, of Shabbat. Conversely, in VaEtchanan the Torah stresses the need to rest from constructive labor on Shabbat in order to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim. The Ibn Ezra extends this latter point of the Rambam and explains that because the Torah (5:14) just forbade working non-Jewish slaves on Shabbat, the Torah elucidates that the reason for this is "Because you were slaves in Egypt." On the other hand, the Ramban maintains that the two reasons given for Shabbat supplement each other. The Pasuk in Yitro explains that Hashem created the world and therefore Klal Yisrael must listen to Him, while in VaEtchanan the Torah proves that not only did Hashem create the world, but also that He remains involved in the world during every second of every day.

Perhaps a third explanation could be offered. There is an additional famous discrepancy between the Aseret HaDibrot listed in Parashat Yitro and those listed in VaEtchanan. In Yitro, the Pasuk states, "Zachor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKadesho," "Remember the day of Shabbat to make it holy," while in VaEtchanan the Pasuk states, "Shamor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKadesho," "Guard the day of Shabbat to make it holy." Chazal explain that the difference between "Remember" and "Guard" is that the former refers to the Mitzvot Asei of Shabbat while the latter refers to the prohibition (Mitzvat Lo Taaseh) to engage in constructive work on Shabbat. One could suggest that the nature of the Mitzvot Asei of Shabbat is to actively mold a bond with our Creator, Hashem. Perhaps the case could be made that non-Jews also have such a requirement to feel a connection to Hashem paralleling their Mitzvah of believing in Hashem (and not worshipping idols). Therefore, the Torah in Yitro presents the universal reason why one must keep Shabbat (i.e. that Hashem created the world), a reason that applies to Jews and non-Jews alike. Conversely, non-Jews do not have a commandment to rest for one day out of the week and learn Torah while reflecting on the previous week. In fact, the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat states that if a non-Jew keeps Shabbat, he has violated an Aveirah with a punishment of death. Therefore, while describing the Issur Melachah of Shabbat, the Torah lists a reason for keeping Shabbat that applies to Jews alone, namely, that Hashem redeemed us from being slaves in Mitzrayim.

Eikev

Affluenza

by Avi Levinson

In Parashat Eikev, Moshe recounts some of the travails Bnei Yisrael endured during their forty year sojourn in the desert. One test described is, "HaMaachilecha Mann BaMidbar… Lemaan Anotecha ULemaan Nasotecha LeHeitivecha BeAcharitecha," "He (Hashem) feeds you Mann in the desert… in order to afflict you and test you to do good for you at the end" (Devarim 8:16). It is incongruous that the Mann, the heavenly food which miraculously descended daily in front of Bnei Yisrael's tents, is a test. How is this apparent benefit a test? Rashi suggests that the test of the Mann was whether Bnei Yisrael would keep all the difficult laws which pertained to it. No Mann could be left overnight, yet the people could never be completely sure if more food would be available the next day. This was a taxing test of Bnei Yisrael's faith in Hashem.

Seforno, however, takes the opposite approach. He maintains that the test was whether Bnei Yisrael would remain righteous despite knowing that all their food, without fail, would be miraculously provided by Hashem. Seforno states that when Bnei Yisrael were freed from the constraints and distractions of tending to their physical needs, they were charged to continue to improve themselves and not to be complacent in their comfortable positions.

Seforno's understanding of the test of the Mann is reminiscent of Chazal's dictum, "One who upholds the Torah in poverty will eventually merit upholding it in prosperity. And one who ignores the Torah in prosperity will eventually be forced to ignore it in poverty" (Avot 4:9). If Bnei Yisrael would fail to keep the Torah during the relative affluence of the idyllic Midbar existence, they would eventually be constrained to ignore the Torah due to the physical hardships of toiling for food.

Something that most people share is a lack of free time. Our lives are hectic, with work, families, school or whatever else saps our time. Setting aside a fixed time for Torah study seems to be nearly impossible. However, the Mishnah enjoins us not to despair. If we can uphold the Torah when we are "poor" in free time and show Hashem that we really care about His Torah, He will grant us additional time to continue our study. Conversely, we must try our best not to squander free time. For many, especially students, the summer is a time for vacation and relaxation. There is absolutely no problem with relaxing, but we dare not neglect our sacrosanct obligation to learn Torah, so that we are not forced to neglect Torah when we have little free time.

Holy Haughtiness

by Daniel Weintraub

Parashat Eikev describes what will happen when Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael. It depicts the beauty of the land in great detail. The Pasuk states that when Hashem brings the Jews into the land, "VeAchalta VeSavata UVeirachta Et Hashem Elokecha Al HaAretz HaTovah Asher Natan Lach," "You will eat and you will be satisfied, and you will bless Hashem, your God, for the good land which He has given to you" (Devarim 8:10). This seems to be an eminently logical commandment. Yet just a few Pesukim later, the Torah repeats practically the same thing, formulated in the negative, "Pen Tochal VeSavata UVatim Tovim Tivneh VeYashavta UVkarecha VeTzonecha Yirbeyun… VeRam Levavecha VeShachachta Et Hashem Elokecha," "Lest you eat and be satisfied, and build good houses, and settle, and your cattle and sheep and goats will increase…and your hearts will become haughty and you will forget Hashem, your God" (8:12-14). Why would the Pasuk have to repeat the same thing in both positive and negative forms? It's like saying, "Remember to tie your shoes, lest you forget to tie your shoes." Why do the Jews need the same idea twice within two Pesukim of each other?

The answer is fairly simple. If the Jews aren't repeatedly warned about forgetting Hashem, they will forget about him quickly due to the human trait of haughtiness. This trait is so bad that Hashem felt the need to tell us repeatedly to stay away from it. The Gemara (Sotah 4b-5a) states, "Any person who is haughty is as if he served idols, as if he denied God, as if he participated in immorality and as if he built an altar [to idols]." This demonstrates just how bad the trait of haughtiness is. But this raises another question. Why did God give man a trait that is so bad that he is (virtually) never allowed to use it?

The answer can be seen by observing Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was on a very high level; he spoke to Hashem quite often, Hashem performed miracles through him and he saved an entire people from becoming spiritually wasted, yet he never bragged about it. In fact, the Torah testifies that Moshe was the most humble person alive (BeMidbar 12:3). Yet he must have felt some haughtiness, though he certainly kept it below the surface. After all, he was only human, albeit a very special human. Moshe probably had a very strong sense of haughtiness, but he was able to use it in the service of Hashem. He trained himself so well that anytime he even thought that he might have possibly done something great, he would immediately turn his thoughts to Hashem. He focused all of the energy that his body would normally exert on haughtiness into gratefulness. The point of haughtiness is to serve as a benchmark for feelings of gratitude to Hashem for everything He has given us.

The same should be done with every bad trait. We have to be able to channel "bad" traits for use in furthering our good traits and our service of Hashem. The Rambam says that every negative trait has its place in the world. We just have to learn how to use them for good.

Re'eh

Testing Hashem

by Ilan Griboff

When discussing Maaseir, the Pasuk in Parashat Re'eh uses double language, "Aseir TeAseir" "You shall surely tithe" (Devarim 12:22). The Gemara (Taanit 9a) derives from this repetition, "Aseir Bishvil SheTitasheir," "Give Maaseir so that you will become rich." In fact, the Gemara states that one can even challenge Hashem to see if He keeps His promise in this regard.

The Chatam Sofer notes that this is the only case in which the Torah allows a person to challenge Hashem. It is also the only Mitzvah that we are allowed to do specifically to gain the reward promised. The reason is that in regard to the Mitzvah of Maaseir, the Torah combats the Yeitzer HaRa (Dibra Torah KeNegged Yeitzer HaRa). People naturally want to be rich and don't want to give their money to others. The Torah therefore allows people to give from their wealth specifically to become even richer. Although at the beginning a person gives just to get money, the hope is that eventually he will give because he is devoted to Hashem. We see this from the next Pasuk, which states, "Lemaan Tilmad LeYirah Et Hashem," "So you will learn to fear Hashem." The Mitzvah involves a learning process. One is allowed to test Hashem because in the end, he will learn to do the Mitzvah out of a desire to serve Hashem.

Another explanation of this reward may be understood in light of the celebrated Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (4:1), which states, "Eizehu Ashir? HaSameiach BeChelko." "Who is rich? One who is content with what he has." When the Gemara teaches that a person gets rich by giving Maaseir, it may mean that he will come to appreciate what he has, and therefore will be considered rich. If we can learn to appreciate what we have, then we will merit seeing the coming of Mashiach and will be able to bring Maasrot to the Beit HaMikdash.

The Power of Giving

by Yitzchak Richmond

The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 4a) teaches that if someone proclaims, "I am giving this Sela (coin) to Tzedakah in order that my children will live or that I will merit Olam HaBa," he is considered a full-fledged Tzadik. Tosafot pose a question on the Gemara's statement. First, doesn't this violate of the principle established in the Mishnah, "One should not be [in his Avodat Hashem] like a servant who serves his master in order to receive reward" (Avot 1:3)? After all, the man is giving Tzedakah only in order to receive reward. Similarly, the Gemara (Taanit 9a) teaches that one may give Maaseir intending to get rich, based on the Pasuk in Parashat Re'eh, "Aseir TeAseir," "You shall surely tithe" (Devarim 14:22), which the Gemara interprets as, "Aseir Bishvil SheTitasheir," "Give Maaseir so that you will become rich." Doesn't this Gemara also violate the principle stated in Masechet Avot?

The Oneg Yom Tov answers that the principle set forth in Avot applies only to Mitzvot that one is absolutely obligated to do. Giving Tzedakah is unique in that there is no definite obligation to give any specific Tzedakah. When one volunteers, there is certainly a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Therefore, when one is volunteering, as in the case of the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah, he may make stipulations. The same applies to giving Maaseir. Rashi notes that unlike Bikkurim, which must be given in all cases, Maaseir is required only if one wishes to eat the produce. Therefore, when one is separating Maaseir before he eats, he technically is doing so voluntarily. Consequently, the Gemara teaches us that one may tithe in order to become rich.

The Oneg Yom Tov further explains another unique characteristic of Tzedakah, namely, that one may give charity to test Hashem. For instance, if one is entangled in a certain undesirable situation, he may pledge Tzedakah on condition he be extricated from his plight. The reason why one normally may not test Hashem through the fulfillment of Mitzvot is because although one gets reward for engaging in Mitzvot, his reward may be withheld from him if he commits an Aveirah. This may lead one to conclude that there is no reward at all, an erroneous, heretical miscalculation. However, nothing will ever get in the way of our reward for Tzedakah, so it is permissible to test Hashem through charity.

Tzedakah is a hallmark of our Torah and our people. With knowledge of the power of charity, may we all merit performing this Mitzvah in the best possible way.

Shoftim

The Universal Problem-Solver

by Gavriel Metzger

The various requirements and guidelines for dealing with legal matters are the prevalent topics within Parashat Shoftim. However, even the greatest of law officials cannot come up with the proper solution for every case, and the Torah offers a solution for such a problem, stating, "Ki Yipalei MiMecha Davar LaMishpat…VeKamta VeAlita El HaMakom Asher Yivchar Hashem Elokecha Bo," "If a matter of judgment is hidden from you…you shall rise up and ascend to the place that Hashem, your God, shall choose" (Devarim 17:8). But how can a mere trip to Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash provide the solution to every ambiguous case that a judge may encounter? If the answers become so clear only in Yerushalayim, why are there Batei Din elsewhere?

The Mishnah remarks, "Ein Lecha Davar SheEin Lo Makom," "There is no matter that does not have a place" (Avot 4:3). The Chesed LeAvraham explains that the world was created through and operates along the lines of the concepts in the Torah. The fact that the world is split up into different parts with varying boundaries echoes the patterns of the Torah and its assorted divisions into Parshiyot and subsections. The Chesed LeAvraham continues to elucidate that Torah and the physical world become intertwined even closer if one considers the fact that every item from the Torah is relevant to a certain scenario or place. Therefore, it is possible that someone may stumble across a section of the Torah that he may never fully understand until he reaches a specific physical place, whereupon the matter will suddenly become perfectly clear to him. Apparently, that issue must have had some sort of relevance or connection to that exact place and no other, which is precisely the intention of the vague Pasuk in Parashat Shoftim. "When a matter of judgment is hidden from you" and one does not quite know as to which place he must venture to locate the solution, "You shall rise up and ascend to the place that Hashem, your God, shall choose," namely, Yerushalayim. The center of the entire world, Yerushalayim, and specifically the Beit HaMikdash which is located within it, contains an unparalleled amount of Kedushah and uniqueness that, if harnessed properly, can supply the answer to any sort of query. The overwhelming strength of the presence of Hashem in the holy city serves as a virtual panacea for unresolved matters, despite the fact that the answer may in fact be located elsewhere as well.

The Chesed LeAvraham's approach to this idea in the Parasha reminds us once again of the awe-inspiring greatness of Yerushalayim, the holiest city in the world. The notion of finding the answers to one's problems in Yerushalayim is prevalent in the mindset of millions of Jews, and many indeed travel there in pursuit of truth. Jews turn towards Yerushalayim three times a day in prayer. It is this unparalleled holiness which makes Yerushalayim the eternal epicenter of Judaism.

Ki Teitzei

Remember Me

by Gilad Barach

In Parashat Ki Teitzei, the Torah states, "Zachor Eit Asher Asah Hashem Elokecha LeMiriam BaDerech BeTzeitechem MiMitzrayim," "Remember what Hashem your God did to Miriam on the way after you left from Egypt" (Devarim 24:9). The Pasuk refers to the episode recorded in Parashat BeHaalotecha in which Miriam and Aharon said Lashon HaRa about Moshe, a sin for which Miriam was afflicted with Tzaraat and sent away from Bnei Yisrael's encampment for seven days.

Rashi believes that the Torah intends for us to always think of this event so that we will not say Lashon HaRa for fear of its consequences; it is not a Mitzvah, but rather a reminder. Ramban disagrees with Rashi and maintains that this is a full-fledged Mitzvah just like remembering Shabbat. What exactly is this Mitzvah? Ramban says that we should constantly remember that Miriam, who was talking seemingly innocently about her brother whom she loved, privately with Aharon, still got Tzaraat for it. According to Ramban, this Pasuk is a concrete commandment, not a suggestion or a word to the wise. Oddly enough, it appears as if Ramban argues with Rashi but in effect says the same thing. Doesn't Ramban ultimately agree with Rashi's basic idea that this Pasuk is designed for us to better ourselves in regards to Lashon HaRa by learning from Miriam's experiences?

In reality, there is a slight difference between the two opinions. Ramban's opinion is easier to understand - learn from Miriam and don't say Lashon HaRa. Rashi, on the other hand, reasons that if one does not want to get Tzaraat, he should not say Lashon HaRa. Rashi interestingly words this advice as if the Torah is striking a deal with Bnei Yisrael. However, even according to Rashi's opinion, the Pasuk (and Miriam's episode in general) offers strong motivation for people to abstain from any sort of Lashon HaRa. The punishment of Tzaraat is a very severe, life-changing experience. One who gets it is literally ostracized from his family and community for at least a week and is at everyone else's mercy in terms of slander. He is made into an easy target for shaming by the community. The punishment is the ultimate Midah KeNegged Midah, since it publicizes him in his lowest state. Even if one were to think of Rashi's "deal" as more lenient than Ramban's Mitzvah, the Pasuk is still emphasizing a powerful dissuasion from speaking Lashon HaRa. May we all remember what happened to Miriam and use this knowledge to increase our sensitivity to others and use our speech only for good.

Ki Tavo

Some Fruit

by Rabbi Josh Kahn

Of Torah, Am Yisrael and Bikkurim, Bikkurim is clearly the outlier. The common denominator, however, is that the Midrash at the beginning of Sefer Bereishit (parts of which are quoted in Rashi) states that the world was created for each of these items. While the importance of Torah and Klal Yisrael doesn't need to be elaborated on, the inclusion of Bikkurim, bringing the first fruit to the Beit HaMikdash, seems out of place. What is the important message conveyed through the Mitzvah of Bikkurim which alone would have warranted the creation of the world?

Summarizing some of the details of Bikkurim sheds insight into the broader message imbedded in this Mitzvah. A person would take the first fruits he grew, bring them up to the Beit HaMikdash, stand in front of a Kohen and recite a paragraph recorded in the Torah entitled "Arami Oveid Avi." This paragraph, well-known to us because it is the centerpiece of the Maggid section of the Seder on Pesach, is a brief summary of the fulfillment of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, beginning with Yaakov's travel to the house of Lavan and culminating with this person standing in the Beit HaMikdash. What is the significance of this recitation at this particular occasion? Furthermore, the Meforshim (see Rashi, Ramban and Kli Yakar) discuss the ideal type of Kohen to whom one should bring the Bikkurim. The Torah allows us to bring the Bikkurim to whichever Kohen happens to be doing the service in the Beit HaMikdash, but the Kli Yakar emphasizes that we might have a "Hava Amina," an initial thought, that we should be required to bring the Bikkurim specifically to a Kohen who is a Talmid Chacham. Why would there be an emphasis on bringing the Bikkurim to a Talmid Chacham specifically?

The process of bringing Bikkurim to Hashem may symbolize a broader sense of religious service. By bringing his first fruits, the farmer recognizes that the blessings that have been bestowed upon him ultimately come from Hashem. The first fruit he grows, upon which he rejoices, must be dedicated to Hashem. This process should remind us of an obligation to recognize each blessing bestowed upon us as a gift from Hashem.

Internalizing this crucial message may provide an insight into the details of Bikkurim previously mentioned. A person brings each gift, physically or figuratively, that has been bestowed upon him, and recites Arami Oveid Avi. He recalls where he comes from and the legacy that has been provided for him. He stands in the Beit HaMikdash and reflects upon his forefathers. But he also looks in front of him and ideally will see a Kohen who is a Talmid Chacham. This Kohen represents the present leader in Bnei Yisrael, someone who has accomplished incredible feats in the study of Torah. After reflecting on the past and present, he looks to the future and hopes to become a Talmid Chacham himself. The way to accomplish this inspiring goal is to take those gifts which have been bestowed upon him and dedicate them to the service of Hashem.

This fusion of past, present and future is the powerful message of the Bikkurim. As the Mishnah states, "Know from where you came, where you are going and in front of whom you will ultimately give a full accounting" (Avot 3:1). This challenge is the reason the world was created; to enable each and every one of us to fulfill his potential by elevating the mundane gifts he is given into the realm of Kedushah. There is no object that was created for no reason. The message of Bikkurim is to take everything we can and use it to properly serve Hashem.

Easier Does It

by Moshe Aharon Poleyeff

The beginning of Parshat Ki Tavo deals with the laws of Bikkurim. When one goes to Yerushalayim to offer his Bikkurim, he recites a passage that begins, "Arami Oveid Avi VaYeired Miztraymah VaYagor Sham," "An Aramean (Lavan) tried to destroy my forefather (Yaakov), and he descended to Egypt and sojourned there" (Devarim 26:5). At first glance, these two incidences do not relate to each other. What does Lavan's attempt to destroy Yaakov have to do with Yaakov's descent to Miztrayim? Why does the Torah juxtapose these two events?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that in Sefer Bersheit (32:5), Rashi comments that despite all the trials and hardships to which Yaakov was subjected in Lavan's house, he nonetheless remained steadfast in his commitment to Hashem. Had he never experienced Lavan's house and the spiritual and physical trials it presented, Yaakov would not have willingly taken his family to Mitzrayim. Although Yosef was the Mishneh LaMelech, had great power in Mitzrayim and did not waver from his devotion to Hashem, Yaakov would not have wanted to expose his family to the lifestyle there, thereby taking a chance that other family members would not remain committed to Hashem like Yosef did.

Hashem wanted Yaakov to enter Mitzrayim of his own free will and not to be forced there as Yosef was. It was therefore necessary for Yaakov to spend time in Lavan's house to be assured that he could handle and overcome attempts to destroy his family. Later on, Yaakov would then agree to descend to Mitzrayim since he had already overcome hardships in his life. Thus, Lavan's attempt to destroy Yaakov was necessary before Yaakov could voluntarily go to Mitzrayim. Therefore, those two events are connected by the Mikra Bikkurim ceremony.

The Netziv (TABC Talmid Gabi Wiseman is a nephew of the Netziv) offers another explanation. The Gemara (Pesachim 87b) comments that when the first Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, our ancestors were destined to be exiled to Aram. However, when Hashem saw how cruel the Arameans were, he exiled Bnei Yisael to Bavel instead. This same idea applied to Yaakov with Lavan. Avraham's descendants were destined to be exiled, as the Brit Bein HaBetarim had promised. Yaakov's 22 years spent in Aram could have been the start of the 400-year exile (see Rabbi Jachter's article on this topic available at www.koltorah.org). However, when Hashem saw how poorly Lavan treated Yaakov, He decided to send him down to Miztrayim to begin the exile there. Thus, these two incidents are recorded in the same Pasuk because the Galut in Mitzrayim is a direct result of Yaakov's suffering at the hands of Lavan.

The Netziv's explanation teaches us a powerful lesson. Although it may have appeared that Yaakov suffered needlessly at Lavan's hands, that suffering actually eased the much longer exile in store. Hashem always has a plan; nothing happens accidentally. With true Bitachon in Hashem, we will be able to weather any hardship with the knowledge that it is for our ultimate good.

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