Friday, July 27, 2012

The Deepest Well


"בעבר הירדן בארץ מואב, הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמור" [דברים א:ה]
"In the Trans-Jordan, in the land of Moav, Moshe undertook to explain this Torah saying …" [Devarim 1:5]

Why does the Torah stress where Moshe was when he went to explain the entire Torah ?
Additionally, Rashi (quoting the medrash Tanchuma) teaches us that this explanation was a translation into all existing 70 languages. Since the Jews did not speak these languages - why would the Torah need that sort of explanation ?
Finally, why would the Torah use the word "be'er - באר" which means to explain or elaborate if it really meant to translate ("letargem - לתרגם") ?

The Torah is more than just a book of laws, and it is certainly more than a recording of the Jewish people's earliest history. The Torah is a crystallization of the divine wisdom and the secrets of the universe. It is the physical manifestation of the eternal and all powerful G-d reaching out and making a concrete contact with us - His frail, mortal creations. Thusly, it is the moral and spiritual compass by which all actions must be judged and all ideas should be evaluated.

Moshe Rabbeinu knows that his time is almost up – he will soon pass and his people will be lead by the capable Yehoshua. But Yehoshua did not ascend Mt. Sinai. He did not speak with G-d "face to face" ( see – Bamidbar 12:8 meaning - in a direct mode of prophecy). He couldn't convey the depths of the Torah to the people with the same familiarity that Moshe could. So Moshe, our Rebbe, undertook to give one, last, encompassing, review class.

It is said that the key to a culture is its language. From simplistic examples – like how the Eskimo have 37 different words for snow – to more complex themes suggested by a rhythm that is present or not in a particular language. Moshe Rabbeinu knows that the Jews were heading into the "promised land" – but that they were also entering a different chapter in their national character. Until now they all sat in the tent of Torah. From now on – many of them will work. Commerce, agriculture, civics – these will take up much of their energy and focus. It is likely that in the course of these pursuits they will rub shoulders with the nations of the world. Lest they be misguided into thinking that another culture and another language "has the right ideas about life" Moshe Rabbeinu beats them to the punch. Every foreign language is first "neutralized" by rendering all of its words through the purity of Torah. The translation is not there for the Jews to learn from (they don't even speak the language!) it is there to take the foreign"ness" from it. In this way Moshe is performing the final preparations to sending his beloved students on their way.

That's also why the Torah uses the term "be'er". A "be'er" is a well. To paraphrase an old adage – if you give a man a drink he will not be thirsty today, but if you dig him a well – you will have vanquished his thirst permanently. Moshe is setting up the wellspring of wisdom that the Jewish people will need to draw from repeatedly. The analogy of a well is particularly fitting. The deeper you dig it – the clearer the water and the more reliable the well – no matter how bad the drought. By preempting the inter-culture mingling for all seventy nations – Moshe is digging a very deep well indeed.

And what can we take from this ? We can take heart – no matter where we find ourselves – no matter what our nisyonos are – the Torah has been there first – and it's there to help us. Also, no matter how tough the going gets – the well is deep enough for us to find water – we just gotta dig a little deeper.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, July 13, 2012

To Lead Is Not To Follow


When Moshe Rabbeinu is discussing his own replacement with Hashem, he describes the job requirements.
[במדבר כז:יז]"אשר יצא לפניהם ואשר יבא לפניהם ואשר יוציאם ואשר יביאם"
"(A man) who will go out before them, and come in before them, who will lead them out and lead them in …"[Bamidbar 27:17]
The redundancy is striking. If he will lead the people, whether out to battle or into the promised land – isn't it a given that he, himself, will go out or in ? Why the emphasis ?

But the answer is exactly that, and it serves as a reminder for both us simple folks and our holy Jewish leaders themselves. There is nothing that a gadol b'yisrael would reqire of others that he is not willing / able to do himself. First, a Jewish leader should go out or come in – before the people – in full view of the people (and sadly, of their criticism, too). Only afterwards is he fit to lead them anywhere.

Going out and coming in are also two opposite actions. A true Jewish leader knows when to employ either activity – there is no "one hit wonder". And there is no such thing as a single minded approach. Sometimes, Hashem requires our leaders to know how to pull in both directions (simultaneously, even !!).

These two lessons are great to take to heart – not just to bolster our faith and appreciation for our holy and multifaceted chachamim, but primarily to keep in mind. At some point and in some fashion, we are all Jewish leaders. We must be willing to first put ourselves out and only afterwards lead others. We must also have a sense of balance and duality. To quote Willie Nelson : "Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em"

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Holy Tents, Holy People


Anyone can be holy inside a temple. Priests do it all the time. What impressed Bilaam more than anything about the holy Jewish people was that they were holy even in their homes.
"How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings (or tabernacles) Israel." [Bamidbar 24:5]
Let us endeavor to channel this holiness – the one we are so distinctly known for. How ? By dedicating a portion of all of our energies to service of Hashem. When we say "thank you" we do it to increase shalom, Hashem's presence. When we do an act of kindness, we do it in recognition of the divine image that we were created. And obviously, when we bring Torah and Teffilah into our homes and our daily lives – we are demonstrating that even after 3,500 years – if Bilaam were to see us now – he would utter the same blessings.
Hatzlacha !!