Friday, June 27, 2008

The Good, The Bad & The Holy

If the 250 men who brought Ketores were in error ( as seen by their subsequent death ) why does Hashem not command that the shovels they used be destroyed ?

The Alshich tells us that the answers lies in a clear understanding of a complex subject : dedication to Hashem.

At the extremes, dedication is simple - either you are completely dedicated, submitting yourself entirely to the cause, or you are completely undedicated - uncaring and apathetic. The complexity lies somewhere in the middle - can you be dedicated to a cause but too hung up on your own prejudices to leave behind your own agenda ? Yes, you can be.

The incense shovels used represented exactly this type of dedication to Hashem. They were well intentioned - they sought only to serve Hashem and His glory - but they couldn't get past their own hang ups ( namely, that they should be doing the serving and not Aharon HaKohen ).

Yes, the intentions were noble - that is why we see that the shovels get preserved as part of the mizbeach itself! No, their action was not free of sin - that is why they are forever known as the shovels of those men who sinned ( see Bamidbar 17:3-5 ).

And what about us ?

This lesson is instructive to us in two ways :
1. We should always recognize the good and holy intentions in others - even if they come with baggage.
2. We should be ever vigilant of our own actions - we should never be satisfied with just performing a mitzva, we should scrutinize our motives until we can be sure that we are not bringing any impurity and personal gain into the equation.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Taking Tree

Why was the parsha of the meraglim written next to the parsha of Miriam ? To emphasise the wickedness of the meraglim - they saw Miriam punished for slander and failed to take notice.
( Rashi Bamidbar 13:2 Quoting the medrash Rabba )

The Maayan Beis Hashoeva poses the following question : Why did we have to wait until someone was punished for slander to take notice ? Isn't it enough that it's an issur ? He answers by making a distinction - yes, it's an issur to speak lashon hara against a person - and for that we need no precedent for anyone to take notice of - but against a land ? That is not as straight forward and for that we would require a precedent to teach us the wrongness of the action.

But how does the example fit the case ? Miriam's slander was regarding a person ?!

Rav Schwab answers that Moshe was not affected by the lashon hara as a regular person might be. A normal person may be hurt or offended by negative comments made against them - it's only normal. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, was exceedingly humble - he wasn't offended by others' judgments of him - he was too busy trying to live up to his own intense self scrutiny ( this is the true meaning of humilty - not mistaken low self esteem ). Therefore Miriam - who spoke about Moshe, who was unaffected, may have seemed not to have been guilty - if not for the divine judgment upon her.

So Miriam's case was one where the recipient is not affected directly by the slander. This does serve as an adequate precedent for the case of the spies - since the land they spoke of also remained unaffected by their slander.

And if we ask what is wrong with slandering the unoffended ?

Well, we have two paths in life - we can be givers or takers. Those who heal or those who hurt. It almost doesn't matter what effect our actions have on others - but in order to solidify these actions within ourselves - we need to perform them. Should we be compassionate to someone who doesn't/can't feel it ? Well -if we are then we are a compassionate person - and that is as worthy goal as any.

Hatzlacha !!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Mount Of Destruction

The mishna in Pirkei Avos ( sixth perek - which isn't really part of the tractate - but that's another discussion ... ) recounts that a heavenly voice emanates from Har Chorev and warns ... "Woe to people who take part in the degradation of the Torah".

The degradation that is being referred to is those who forsake the Torah for other, more mundane, pursuits and leave the Torah forlorn - so to speak.

This is why Har Sinai is described by one of it's other names - Har Chorev - or the mountain of Churban, destruction. You see, when the Torah was given to the world - it represented a great gift - Hashem's very wisdom encapsulated and distilled in a manner that is now accessible to mere mortal man. However with that gift came the potential for great destruction - if we ignore the Torah or fail to accord it proper respect - we are culpable for a great wrong.

So why accentuate the negative ? Why stress the potential destruction rather than the great possible gain ? The Maharal explains that the negative makes a stronger impression than the positive. Hatred is more felt than love. While at first glance this may seem disheartening - it is really a potentially great point of chizzuk.

We were entrusted with the ticking time bomb of monumental proportions. Not only is the potential gain, if we properly honor and study the Torah, great - but the very fact that Hashem put that specific ball in our court is perhaps the greatest testament to His divine faith in us.

Take heart ! We are Hashem 's chosen nation - chosen, not only to proclaim Hashem's name in this world , but also to guard this world from the destruction that would follow if we ignore our noble calling.

Hatzlacha !!