Friday, June 29, 2012

We Are All Rocks

Moshe Rabbeinu is commanded to speak to the rock and it will bring forth water. Instead, as we know, he hits the rock and the requisite water comes out [Bamidbar 20:7-11].
What message were bnei yisrael meant to take from the rock ? That even one who feels that he is barren like a rock can burst forth with a huge amount of torah. How does this happen ? Moshe was meant to illustrate to us that just hearing the word of Hashem and His firm command is sufficient. Instead, we understood that we must get hit and only then will we be cognizant of our potential to bring forth torah.
But Hashem's original message still stands. Let us crane our ears and seek out the dvar Hashem – when we hear it, truly hear it, then we, too, will be a wellspring of torah.
Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Holy Blossoming Staff, Aharon!


Following the episode with Korach, Hashem gives Moshe instructions on how to avoid another vote of 'no confidence' in Aharon as Kohein Gadol. Each tribal prince is to send in their staff and Moshe will place the staves, along with a staff for Aharon, in the oheil moed.
Aharon's staff is 'chosen' by Hashem – this fact is displayed prominently by having the staff blossom, flower and grow fruit (almonds).
Why would a flowering staff be the message that Hashem wishes to send to the princes ? Hashem could have had the words "Kohein Gadol" appear on the staff instead.
Rav Hirsch suggests that the almond's message is a clue to the nature of a true kohein. The almond is the first tree to flower and give fruit, so too, the kohein, is the first to stand up and declare allegiance to Hashem. Alacrity (zrizus – quickness) is the hallmark of the kohein, as is fitting when one considers the Master that he serves.
There can be another message hinted to in the flowering staff. The Princes may have harbored secret desires to serve in a kohanic capacity. Hashem is telling them that this notion is best left unfulfilled. The symbol of the authority of the princes is the staff. It was these staffs that the princes used to dig a channel of water from Miriam well towards their tribe's encampment. But, ultimately, a staff is an instrument of discipline. The harsh, unyielding staff represents the princes' responsibility to enforce the law. How effective would a flowering fruit tree be in broadcasting authority?
But broadcasting authority is not the job of a kohein. A kohein is meant to focus all of his energies on performing the service, b'ahava, with love. A kohein is not an authority figure to be feared, he is a spiritual icon to be emulated.
By using the staves and causing Aharon's staff to blossom, Hashem is emphasizing this message. He is telling the princes, Aharon does not outrank you, he merely has a different role to fill.
And what can we implement from this ?
We are all meant to be a "nation of priests and a holy people". Let us resolve to implement the koahnic alacrity in our service of Hashem.
Let us also internalize this idea of independent roles. Aharon brought the ketores incense every day. It had a mixture of several spices, one of which was foul smelling. The Shem MiShmuel teaches that the reason that Korach and his band were challenged to bring the ketores was to check if their claim was sincere. They claimed that the entire nation was holy – and shouldn't require an appointed priest. If they truly believed in the acceptability of all Jews their ketores would have been accepted, since it is made up of a variety of spices, just like the nation. They, however, harbored feelings of elitism, and didn’t really believe that "the entire nation was holy" – therefore, their ketores was unacceptable.
We should focus on this idea as well, especially while saying the parasha of the ketores in davening. There are many types of Yidden. As those who wish to see the ketores brought once again, we should remember to love them all.
Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Show Me The Dough

Following the incomprehensible national tragedy of the meraglim, the Jewish people receive two mitzvos. One of them is the requirement to separate a portion of every significant batch of dough that they prepare and give it to a kohein. This portion is called challah.
(It is for this reason that the braided loaves, traditionally used on shabbos, are called challah. During the week, regular bread from the local baker was procured. In honor of shabbos, Jewish women were eager to fulfill this special mitzvah and would make sure to bake at home to be able to separate challah from the dough. )
Why does the mitzvah of challah follow the sin of the spies ? Because performing the mitzvah of challah is actually a kappara for it. Hashem is not in the business of punitive punishments. If He punishes you – it is for corrective purposes !
With the sin of the meraglim, they, and all who believed them, displayed a tremendous hubris. They were particularly haughty and high and mighty when referring to the conquest of the land. Even though they did not think it could be done, that was only because they couldn't do it. Implying that under other circumstances – they could ! This was the underlying sin of the spies – not just discounting Hashem's promise, but assuming that we, alone, are solely responsible for our successes, without a thought to Hashem.
Part of our constant effort to recognize Hashem's role in our prosperity is the system of tithes. We bring the first of everything to the kohein. Bikurim, terumah, maaser beheima, even our first born sons – all go to the kohein (as a proxy of Hashem). This is to drill into us that all comes from Hashem, and we are simply the beneficiaries. What happens when this system in not enough?! What happens when, despite these safeguards, we are still possessed with the mistaken idea that we create and achieve?!
Hashem has to increase the dosage.
Until now, dough, which represents human achievements, didn't need to be tithed, as long as it was made with tithed ingredients. Presumably, if I know that I may only use foods upon which I have already declared G-d's ownership and mastery, I'll continue to acknowledge that mastery, even when the result of my efforts is qualitatively better than the raw ingredients themselves (like bread).
But, when the people are consumed by delusions of grandeur, when they imagine that they themselves are would-be conquerors – and only in this specific case are they thwarted, Hashem instructs them in the proper corrective procedure. From now on, says Hashem, you must acknowledge that even your own efforts (represented by the dough) only exist with a healthy dose of divine assistance. If you do that, you will hopefully phase out the hubris and delusions that brought about the sin in the first place.
Perhaps this is also why challah is associated with shabbos. By refraining from any constructive activity for an entire day, we are not only declaring our dependence on Hashem during this day, but rather, during all the days of the week.
May we all be zocheh to see the guiding, helping hand of Hashem in all of our endeavors, and may He see our humility and bring us the moshiach, speedily in our days, amen.
Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 08, 2012

To Lead Or To Follow ?


When Eldad and Meidad receive the gift of nevuah they are still "in the camp" and have not made their way to the Oheil Moed [see Bamidbar 11:24-29]. Yehoshua is incensed by their prophetic pronouncement that he will lead the people after Moshe Rabbeinu's death.  Moshe's reaction, however, stands in stark contrast to all other breaches of conduct that are mentioned in this week's parasha (the people who desired meat, the complainers about family life, those who ran away from Har Sinai, etc'…) Moshe hears this news and isn't fazed at all. No condemnations, no chastisements. Why not ?

In truth, we must first determine why Yehoshua was so upset. He felt that even if the prophecy of Moshe's demise and his succession was correct, it shouldn't be publicized "in the camp". Moshe still has plenty of time to lead the people and telling the nation that he has 'one foot out the door' could only undermine him. This is also why Yehoshua only suggests a jail sentence, a punishment that is at beis din's prerogative. If they were indeed false prophets, Yehoshua would have called for their heads!

Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, still has a lesson or two to impart to Yehoshua. Completely unperturbed by this seeming insubordinance, Moshe tells Yehoshua that there is a lesson in Jewish leadership he must never forget. It's not about the image you sell to the people and it's not about effective management of your human resources. A Jewish leader is still just a messenger. A messenger of Hashem. And if that is the message that Hashem chose to prophetically share with Eldad and Meidad, then it must be the right thing to say. Wouldn't it be great, waxes Moshe, if Hashem's spirit could rest on each one of the people in such a direct fashion ? Essentially, teaches Moshe, the grandest lessons would come straight from Hashem with no earthly emissary intervening at all.

Apparently this lesson made its mark. There is no further discussion regarding Eldad and Meidad's "infraction". And Yehoshua, who does succeed Moshe eventually, is actually referred to as being the 'moon' to Moshe's 'sun'. And there is no greater expression of a mere messenger of reflected light than that.

What lesson can we glean from this ? We are all leaders at one point or another, whether in our families or our peer group. We must never forget that it isn't our wishes or desires that govern our 'leadership' overtures, it is only one goal, our service as G-d's messengers to His people.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 01, 2012

From Whom Do We Take ?


Tucked in between the details of the specific responsibilities held by the Leviim and the laws of the sotah and the nazir, is the cornerstone of any atonement or forgiveness, the mitzvah of viduy. The pesukim briefly describe an action of wrongdoing and state that, as part of the restitution process, the sinner confess his sins. The Sefas Emes posits the following question. Why is the universal mitzvah of viduy (confession) listed here? The answer (that he credits to the Chiddushei HaRim, his grandfather) is the nature of the sin with which viduy is linked.

The Torah (Bamidbar 5:6)refers to the sinner as one who "misappropriates" or "embezzles" something from Hashem. Only by reading the commentaries, do we understand that the underlying sin here is theft. Why should theft be the paradigm misdeed that the Torah uses to teach us how to do teshuva? Because there is something of theft in every sin we do.

The Chiddushei HaRim explained that all of our abilities, every sling and arrow in our arsenal of achievements, were given to us for one purpose – to serve Hashem. By misusing our G-d given abilities and straying from the proper path, we are, de facto, embezzling these powers from Hashem, since we aren't using them towards their intended consequence.

Additionally, we can consider another reason why the misdeed of theft is used as the paradigm to instruct us in the specifics of teshuva. Without proper cognition of our sin, we can never hope to attain forgiveness and repentance. We might erroneously consider simple restitution a fitting teshuva for the crime of theft. By performing viduy, we are acknowledging that the action, in and of itself, was wrong – not just its consequence. Since the action itself was a crime against G-d ( as well as a crime against the man from whom we stole ) we must ask His forgiveness as well. We begin this process by confession.

May we use all our many talents and strengths for the service of He who bestowed them upon us and may we constantly recognize that all our actions have a direct import to our Grand Maker up above.

Hatzlacha !!