Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Chukas

       The reason why Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to enter Eretz Yisrael is a well-known story found in this week’s parshah. In this week’s parshah, Parshas Chukas, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to draw water from a rock in the desert for the Bnei Yisrael to drink. Moshe then hits the rock and water flows out. Afterwards Hashem tells Moshe that both he and Aharon cannot enter Eretz Yisrael since, “יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל“since you did not have faith in me to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Bamidbar 20:12). The pasuk does not say specifically how Moshe and Aharon were guilty of this, so Rashi explains that Moshe was supposed to speak to the rock instead of hitting it. His speaking to it would have shown Bnei Yisrael that just as an inanimate object reacts to Hashem’s commandments, so should we humans.
       However, the explanations do not end there. Nearly every commentator goes into great detail to determine exactly how these great men sinned and how they were even confused as to what Hashem’s purpose was in the first place. The explanation I would like to discuss this week is that of the Ohr HaChaim. He brings a medrash which says that Moshe and Aharon committed four sins. They were: that Hashem did not tell them to hit the rock and they did, that they were supposed to allow Bnei Yisrael to choose whichever rock they wanted for them to bring the water out of and they didn’t, that they said to Bnei Yisrael, “הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם“can we draw water for you from this rock?” (20:10), which sounds as if they were saying that Hashem couldn’t do it, and finally, that they changed from what Hashem had told them to do. Let’s examine each of these one by one.
       While instructing him how to draw the water, Hashem tells Moshe to bring along his staff. Asks the Ohr HaChaim, if Moshe was not supposed to hit the rock, then what was the purpose of the staff? He answers that by looking at the pasuk you see that the staff was not there to be used actively. The pasuk says, “קַח אֶת הַמַּטֶּהוְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע“Take the staff…and you [Moshe and Aharon] should speak to the rock” (20:8). The staff was known as a symbol of Hashem’s permission, so when Moshe did something while holding the staff, it showed that he was doing it under Hashem’s direction. Here too, the staff was not needed to perform the actual deed but rather for everyone to see that Moshe was operating under Hashem’s command. In order to clarify this to Moshe, Hashem told him specifically in the same pasuk that he should speak to the rock. Not realizing this was Moshe’s first mistake. This was also his second mistake since he changed from exactly what Hashem had told him to do.
       In that same pasuk, Hashem tells Moshe, “וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן הַסֶּלַע“You shall bring forth for them water from the rock” (ibid). How come the pasuk needs to mention the rock by name twice in the same pasuk? The pasuk could have simply said that he will bring forth water and we could have inferred that he meant from the rock? The Ohr HaChaim explains that what this second mention does is separate it from the first mention, meaning that really Moshe could have used any rock that Bnei Yisrael asked him to use, but instead he used the same rock that had been used as a well the entire time they had been in the desert (known as the Well of Miriam). This cut off the potential for a bigger sanctification of Hashem’s name amongst Bnei Yisrael.
       Finally, when Moshe and Aharon are about to hit the rock, they say, “שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם“Listen now, rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” (20:10). This sounds as if they are saying that water could not be brought out from this specific rock which shows a complete lack of trust in Hashem. All together, these four reasons sound like fine testimony to Moshe and Aharon’s sin.
       Still, how can we end here? How can we end off by saying that Moshe and Aharon were guilty of multiple cases of rebellion and lack of trust in Hashem? How could it possibly be true? The Ohr HaChaim says that we have an obligation to explain exactly how these two great men could have made these mistakes and how they were not really rebelling.
       He explains that Moshe knew that there were two possible explanations for needing the staff, either to hit the rock or, like we explained, to show that he was doing this with Hashem’s permission. At this point two things came to Moshe’s mind, first off, the fact that in Mitzrayim he had used the staff to actually perform miracles many times. Secondly, the way we explained earlier that Hashem mentioned speaking to rock at the same time as he mentioned the staff, Moshe learned it the exact opposite. He reasoned that Hashem’s instructions were to speak to the rock, but that hitting it was also necessary to bring the water out. Also, since the rock cannot hear, Moshe figured that it wouldn’t make any sense for speaking to be enough. (Perhaps this is why Rashi explained the way he did. See the first Paragraph.) This also explains the second mistake since Moshe did not think he was changing anything from what Hashem had told him.
       For Moshe’s third mistake, the Ohr HaChaim explains that Moshe was not sure if Hashem meant for him to hit the same rock or any rock he felt like. In order to err on the side of caution, he decided not to try out a new rock but to instead stick with the one they had already used during their time in the desert. Also, even if he could have hit a different rock, Hashem does not make new miracles for no reason and Moshe did not see any reason why Hashem would make a new miracle in this case and cause a second rock to become a well. This will answer up for Moshe’s last mistake.
       Even though we can understand now what Moshe and Aharon were thinking at the time, they still made a mistake. The reason they were punished is because in some cases, you are not supposed to be cautious, instead, you have to take a chance that may result in an even larger Kiddush Hashem. If Moshe and Aharon had done what they were supposed to do, the faith that Bnei Yisrael had in Hashem would have been so complete that it never would have been lost. However, since they didn’t, they were punished that they could not enter Eretz Yisrael. Why this specific punishment? Because if Moshe would have gone into the Land, he would have built the Beis Hamikdash and a Beis Hamikdash built by Moshe could not be destroyed. Both Batei Mikdash were destroyed because of the sins of Bnei Yisrael, but if they would have been indestructible, Hashem would have had to punish the nation itself. Because Bnei Yisrael entered the Land with less than perfect faith levels, Moshe was unable to enter with them.
       We see from here clear evidence that even at a time of great sorrow, like when we heard that our greatest leaders, Moshe and Aharon, would not come with us into Eretz Yisrael, Hashem is still looking out for our best interests. Let’s use that fact to help us improve our own levels of Emunah, and hopefully bring about the day of an indestructible Third Beis Hamikdash!

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Korach

       Parshas Korach deals with the story of a group of people, led by Korach, who rebel against Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach’s complaint was that a nation like Bnei Yisrael where each person was considered holy, did not need to be led by one person. Neither did they feel that it was right that only one person could be the Kohen Gadol, since the entire nation was on a high enough level that they could enter the Kodesh Hakedoshim (Holy of Holies) like Aharon HaKohen did. Korach was wrong, but even if he was right, the Mishnah in Avos (5:20) tells us that Korach’s argument was  שלא לשם שמיים, not for the sake of Hashem, but rather for his own personal glory.
       In order to show that he was acting only on Hashem’s wishes, Moshe tells Korach that he and each of his men should prepare a Ketores (incense) offering to be brought the next day, and that Hashem will accept the one of the correct party. That night, the pasuk tells us, “וַיַּקְהֵל עֲלֵיהֶם קֹרַח אֶת כָּל הָעֵדָה“Korach assembled the entire congregation against them” (Bamidbar 16:19). Directly after that, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon, “הִבָּדְלוּ מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה הַזֹּאת וַאֲכַלֶּה אֹתָם כְּרָגַע“Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant” (16:21). Moshe and Aharon then daven to Hashem that He should spare the group since why should many be killed for the sins of one man. Who is this congregation that we are referring to in both pesukim? If it is Korach’s congregation, then why do Moshe and Aharon ask they not be killed when they know they will be killed the next day for bringing a Ketores, for which the punishment of an undeserving person bringing one is death? And if it is referring to the rest of the nation that until this point was not involved in Korach’s dispute, they have not yet done anything wrong that would warrant their deaths!
       The Ramban explains that in Pasuk 19, Korach went and spoke to the rest of the nation, not his own people. Until this point, the general public had followed Moshe, however, that night Korach went out and told them that he was leading this rebellion not for his own honor, but for the honor of the entire nation, that they should all be able to be Kohanim. He was able to convince them which resulted in the entire nation being guilty of rebelling against Hashem and not trusting in his Navi, Moshe. Because of this, Hashem was ready to destroy all of them immediately, but Moshe and Aharon were able to save them by saying, “הָאִישׁ אֶחָד יֶחֱטָא וְעַל כָּל הָעֵדָה תִּקְצֹף“if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation?” (16:21).
       The Kli Yakar explains that while Hashem was only referring to Korach’s group, Moshe and Aharon thought that he was referring to the entire nation! He learns this from the way they refer to Hashem in the pasuk as “אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת” which Rashi explains that this term refers to Hashem’s knowledge of the innermost thoughts of every man. Moshe and Aharon were appealing to Hashem that He did not have to punish everyone as he knew exactly which people were guilty and which ones were not, as well as the fact that the entire sin stemmed from Korach so why should everyone be punished for it.
       According to this, we still have our question of why did Hashem want to kill Korach’s group now, didn’t He want to set an example the next day when they brought the Ketores? Perhaps this is because since Korach was now inciting the entire nation against Hashem. Because he was getting innocent people involved, Hashem decided to kill him now and not wait for the next day.

Shabbat Shalom!

It's great to be back! Looking forward to a great Summer of AIMeM Divrei Torah! 

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Friday, June 15, 2012

No Dvar Torah this week

Sorry, but there is no Dvar Torah this week. We will return, B"H, next week for Parshas Korach.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Beha'aloscha

       The first Rashi in this week’s Parsha, Beha’alotcha, asks why does the Torah juxtapose the Parsha of the menorah at the beginning of this week’s parsha with the Parsha of the Nesi’im from the end of last week’s parsha? Rashi answers that when Aharon saw the contributions of the Nesi’im to the Mishkan, he was saddened at the fact that he and the rest of Shevet Levi were not able to participate in the contributions. Hashem responds by telling him not to worry, his portion is greater than theirs because he will light and set up the candles of the menorah.
       The Ramban asks a question on this Rashi: Why did Aharon get so depressed? Isn’t he the only one that can do the service of Yom Kippur, the one who goes into the Kodesh Hakedoshim which is as close to Hashem as one possibly can get? Isn’t his tribe the one that was entrusted with leading the service of Hashem in the Mishkan and many other aspects? He had so many opportunities to serve Hashem, what made him so upset about this one Mitzvah? One may think the answer to this question would be that Aharon was upset because the contributions of the Nesi’im were voluntary, while his jobs were commandments. This cannot be true because then Hashem’s promise to him that he will light the menorah, which is also a commandment, would not appease him. The Ramban leaves this question unanswered, but explains based on a Medrash Rabba that Hashem was telling Aharon that his portion is significantly greater because korbanot are only brought when the Beit Hamikdash is still standing, while the candles will always be, “אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ “, shine towards the center of the Menorah.
       The Ramban then asks, isn’t the menorah also no longer lit since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed? He answers that the candles that Hashem is referring to are the candles of the miracle of Chanukah which we light nowadays even without the Beit Hamikdash.
       The Kli Yakar asks on this point of the Ramban: Weren’t the candles of Chanukah also discontinued for a period of time after the Chashmonaim? He answers that the difference between the candles and the korbanot, is that when the candles return was brought about through miracles, unlike the korbanot which did not come back at all.
       Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman offers a possible answer to the Ramban’s unanswered question of what exactly upset Aharon. He brings down a story of the great Vilna Gaon who right before his death, grabbed onto the strings of his tzitzit and began to weep uncontrollably.  He explained to those around him that it pained him so deeply to think that once he left this world, he would no longer be able to fulfill any mitzvah in Olam Haba (The World To Come), even a simple one such as tzitzit. Rabbi Ruderman explains that so too Aharon loved every single mitzvah, and even though he had many other privileges that no one else received, he still could not stand that he was not able to fulfill this one mitzvah together with the Nesi’im. We see from Aharon HaKohen and the Vilna Gaon such an intense love for each and every Mitzvah, that their inability to fulfill even just one upset them.
       R Shniur Kotler asks that according to this, what was Hashem’s response to Aharon to make him feel better? He answers that Hashem explains to Aharon that he was given a portion in every mitzvah. The Pasuk says, “כי נר מצוה ותורה אור“for the candle is the mitzvah and the Torah is the light” (Mishlei 6:23). We see a clear comparison of a candle to a Mitzvah and the Torah to light. Therefore, when Hashem commanded Aharon in the lighting of the menorah he was in essence giving over to him the role of leadership in terms of Torah learning. This can also be seen from the pasuk “כִּי שִׂפְתֵי כֹהֵן יִשְׁמְרוּ דַעַת וְתוֹרָה יְבַקְשׁוּ מִפִּיהוּ“for the lips of the Kohen should safeguard knowledge, and people should seek teaching from his mouth” (Malachi 2:7). Each and every mitzvah is represented by a candle, and each and every candle must be lit from the fire of the Torah. Through this, we see that Aharon really did take part in every mitzvah, and furthermore, Hashem tells Aharon that he will get the Mitzvah of the Menorah which represents Torah and will last forever.
       We should all be zoche to value and enjoy each and every mitzvah like our great ancestors and understand the power that Torah has on our lives as well.

Shabbat Shalom!


Lior Goldstein lives in Boca Raton, Florida. He studied in Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem for two years and is currently studying in Lander College for Men in New York. I would like to thank Lior for once again filling in for me.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Nasso

I would like to thank my good friend, Lior Goldstein for filling in for me this week.  

I would like to thank Yosef Segal for the opportunity to contribute to his already amazing blog and to my chavrusa Jeffrey Mally for helping me come up with this Dvar Torah.

This week’s parsha, Parshas Nasso, deals with many exciting topics as it discusses Nazir, Sotah, the individual contributions of the Nesi'im to the Mishkan, as well as the story of Shimshon in the Haftorah. What I would like to focus on is the connection in this week’s parsha between a Nazir and a Sotah.

There are many life lessons that can be learned from the parshas of Sotah and Nazir but one I would like to highlight is the gemara in Sota (2A) which states "כל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה יזיר עצמו מן היין".” This translates as "anyone that sees a Sotah 'bekilkulah' should refrain from drinking wine." Rashi on the gemara defines "bekilkulah" as her public disgrace and embarrassment". What Rashi is referring to is the punishment of the Sotah as she is publicly undressed, her jewelry is removed, her hair is uncovered and she endures other humiliating punishments in front of the entire crowd in the Beis Hamikdash. The obvious question is that if you see this Sotah in her disgraceful state why does the gemara need to advise anyone who sees this to abstain from wine? Is the spectacle of seeing the Sotah disgraced not enough of a deterrent? Once you witness the woman’s embarrassment it is seemingly much less likely that you would ever commit such an act as you are well aware of the consequences.

The Benayahu writes three words that might offer an answer. He explains that anyone who sees the Sotah should refrain from drinking wine because it is "nogeah lo yoter", it concerns him more. Possibly the Benayahu is explaining that the gemara is trying to teach us an otherwise seemingly contradictory idea. For all the people seeing the Sotah in the Beis Hamikdash, it might have never even been a part of their reality. To them it might have seemed to be something so far-fetched that it was never a possibility. For example, when a child grows up with abusive parents, as much as they may hate their situation and their parents, statistics show that these kids are more likely to be abusive parents. The reason for that is because these children have already witnessed and experienced abusive behavior and now see that behavior as an option in dealing with situations. Kids who have not been exposed to it, however, don’t consider it an option at all. Just the same, once a person has been exposed to the Sotah, even if they witness the degrading consequences, it nonetheless becomes “nogeah lo yoter”, a part of their reality and is now more applicable to them.

The remaining question is that if this is true, why should we allow others to witness the disgrace of the Sotah? The reason why we allow them to see it in the first place is as a deterrent, so if according to the Benayahu it then becomes a part of their reality and is then more likely to occur, why would we allow people to come watch? Just the opposite, we should do it in private and avoid publicizing what occurred! In order to answer this question we must look at what the gemara advises us to refrain from. The gemara could have offered other ways to avoid ever committing this horrible act. So why then did the gemara choose wine? Possibly the gemara is teaching us that although the idea of Sotah entered your realm of possibility, the fact that you saw this woman humiliated still served more as a deterrent. On the other hand, drinking wine causes one to lose their inhibitions and it is at that time that those negative things that became a part of your reality are more likely to occur. In a sober state we can make rational decisions not to engage in negative behavior but these behaviors cannot be controlled when one is intoxicated. The gemara therefore warns that anyone who sees the Sotah "bekilkulah", "יזיר עצמו מן היין", should refrain from drinking wine. Once the behavior of the Sotah became a part of your reality, you must be extra careful to avoid wine so as to ensure that you are in control of your actions. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Lior Goldstein lives in Boca Raton, Florida. He studied in Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem for two years and is currently studying in Lander College for Men in New York. He is a first time contributor to Ancient Ideas For the Modern Mind.  

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