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Parashat Matot - Mas'ei
In "Sefer Hayessirah," the ancient work on Kabbalah, it is written that this month, the month of Tammuz, is related to the letter "het" and the human being's sense of vision. The Kabbalists therefore taught that in this month in particular one must be especially careful not to sin by seeing forbidden sights, and maintain the sanctity of his eyes. For good reason, perhaps, the Satan places so many stumbling blocks before us in this regard during the month of Tammuz. Similarly, it seems that for good reason during this month we read Parashat Matot, which tells of the special atonement offering of the generals of Benei Yisrael. Although they waged battle against Midyan specifically to avenge the immodesty and seduction, leaving the confines of the Israelite camp involved significant spiritual danger. In the end, "nobody was missing," meaning, no one committed any sins in battle. Yet, the generals felt compelled to bring an atonement offering for their improper thoughts. Recall that these men belong to the "generation of wisdom," who studied directly under the leadership and guidance of Moshe Rabbenu himself. They went out to fight a war specifically ordained by the Al-mighty and led by Pinhas. Nevertheless, they understood the spiritual dangers outside the camp, and needed atonement.
The great Kabbalist, Rav Meir Paprish zs"l ("Kav Hayashar," 40) tells the story of an eighteen-year-old yeshivah student in Sefat who was the nephew of Rabbi Yehoshua the physician z"l. Once, the Ar"i zs"l looked at the boy and said to his father, "The evil spirit has taken over your son - he requires remedies at once!"
The father replied, "Heaven forbid that he has the evil spirit! The only problem from which he has been suffering is chest pains, which he has been experiencing for the last two years. When the pain surfaces, Rabbi Yehoshua the physician cures him. The pain then generally returns some time later."
"You will see," responded the Ar"i, "that what I say is true."
Indeed, several days later, the spirit appeared and began overtaking the boy. The Ar"i was informed of what happened, and he asked the spirit how it chanced upon the young man. The spirit answered, "When I was in Rome, I lived with a certain poor man who lived on charity. He could not afford the most basic necessities, including food. He once asked me for bread, and I refused. Right there in front of me, he died of hunger. The Heavenly Court therefore decreed that I should die just as I caused the death of this poor man. Sure enough, a few days later I was attacked by thieves and they killed me. After my death, I came upon this young man."
The Ar"i ordered the spirit not to bring about any harm upon the young student, to which the spirit replied, "If you want me to leave the young man, one condition must be met. Upon my departure, the young man may not look upon a woman for three days. Should he violate this stipulation, I will kill him." The spirit left, and the Ar"i ordered that it be ensured that the boy does not leave the Bet Midrash, since the spirit waited in ambush to kill the boy should the condition be violated.
In the meantime, however, the great gadol of the generation, Rav Hayyim Vital zs"l, left the Bet Midrash in order to prepare for the Rosh Hodesh celebration he generally conducted, and he left Rabbi Yehoshua the physician in his place to oversee the boy. Rabbi Yehoshua had to leave to take care of a certain missvah that arose, and the student was thus left alone in the Bet Midrash. His mother and aunt came to the Bet Midrash to see the boy, and they went over to kiss him. At that moment, the spirit returned to the boy and strangled him to death.
Rabbi Meir Paprish zs"l concludes, "One must thus recognize the severe punishment for looking at foreign women. Look at what happened to this boy who looked only at his mother and aunt - how much more dangerous it is to look at strange women! Regarding this our Sages say (Avot 1:5), 'Whoever speaks a lot with a woman brings about evil upon himself.'"
Perhaps we should add that this student sat and learned Torah in the Bet Midrash, and the women were dressed modestly as was the practice in the earlier generations. Their dress was modest enough that they could enter the Bet Midrash of the Ar"i. What can we say about someone leaving the Bet Midrash and encountering women who are not dressed modestly! Who knows how much evil one can bring upon himself.
Rashi explains this pasuk, which refers to one who took a vow, as meaning, "He shall not make his speech mundane." Hazal learn from here the obligation to carefully guard one's tongue from all prohibited speech. In this context, we tell the following story that we heard firsthand: A certain woman suffered terrible pains in her eye, and the doctors discovered that a main blood vessel had burst. The eye was in grave danger, but even the best-trained doctors were hesitant to operate given the risk involved. After much ambivalence, a certain professor agreed to perform the surgery and scheduled a date for the operation. The woman turned to a prominent rabanit to receive her blessing, and the rabanit recommended that she begin learning two halachot regarding the laws of forbidden speech each day. This study, said the rabanit, serves as an effective "segulah" for protection in all matters. The woman accepted upon herself this study program, and when she came for the operation the doctor was amazed to discover that the blood vessel had become closed on its own - a medical miracle of the first order! Baffled, he accompanied the woman to the rabanit to hear about the remarkable remedy she had prescribed. The rabanit said, "I personally know of hundreds of cases of miraculous salvation attained through the merit of regular study of the laws of forbidden speech.
In truth, however, I don't see any miracle in this; after all, the ssadik from Manchester guaranteed overt miracles for those who study two halachot of forbidden speech each day!"
The Wonders of The CreatorThe King of the Birds
The eagle was crowned by Hazal with the title, "king of the birds" (Hagigah 13b). It ranks among the largest and most impressive of all birds of prey. As it hovers around in the highest altitudes of the heavens searching with its razor-sharp eyes for its prey, its "kingship" becomes manifest to one and all. Researchers who study the lifestyle of eagles have discovered some remarkable facts about the habits and conduct of the king of birds. In one particular study, scientists observed a couple with a young newborn eagle that had just emerged from its egg. The parents spent the majority of the time searching for food. The mother, whose flight is especially impressive, returned to the nest and landed quietly and gently on the edge of the nest so as not to disrupt her young's sleep. A short while later, once the chirping is heard, the mother sprang into action. She brought to the young eagle the carcass of a wild chicken and partially removed its feathers.
She then placed one foot on the carcass, holding it down tightly, and then with her beak she tore off a piece of meat and fed it to the young.
Interestingly enough, the mother chose specifically the most delicate portions of meat found in the carcass, such as the liver, to feed her young.
When the chick was fully satiated, the mother, like so many mothers throughout the world, finished the leftovers and cleaned the nest. She then took off once again, returning shortly thereafter to look after the newborn.
Once in a while she would clean the nest from the flies and insects that attempted to disturb the chick's rest. Once in a while the father eagle would also arrive, dragging the carcass of a rabbit or some other small animal it managed to hunt. After it placed the food in the nest it took off again. Apparently, the responsibility of actually feeding the young belonged exclusively to the mother. The small eagle spends its first month of life the way many babies do, sleeping, eating and making noise (chirping). In its seventh week, it begins trying out its wings and fingernails with which it has been equipped.
Anyone who marvels at the devotion of the mother eagle to her young must remember that although we find examples of good character among some animals, these qualities are imbedded by the Al-mighty within their natural, instinctive behavior; the animals have no choice to act any differently.
Humans, however, acquire their good qualities through intense engagement of their intellect, through effort and conscientious decisions. Hashem therefore gave Am Yisrael many missvot, in order that they earn merit, as Hazal teach us, "The Al-mighty wanted to bring merit upon Israel; He therefore gave them a lot of Torah and missvot."
The Golden ColumnRabbi Yaakov Abuhassera zs"l
Our parashah opens by warning about the gravity of the sin of violating vows. Indeed, the pasuk in Kohelet teaches us, "It is preferable not to vow then to vow and not pay." In this light we may appreciate the following story involving the great ssadik Rav Yaakov Abuhassera zs"l. When he was staying in the city of Tangier, a barren woman came before him asking for a berachah that she conceive. The ssadik blessed her that she be granted a baby boy. The woman was so overjoyed at having received the ssadik's blessing that she brought him as a gift a new coat. The coat had sat on the hanger in her home for some time, and she did not know that moths had eaten several holes in the cloak. She presented him with the gift, and Hashem fulfilled the ssadik's blessing and the woman conceived.
Meanwhile, the ssadik returned to his city, and one Friday he took out the cloak in order to wear it in honor of Shabbat. He saw the holes and was dismayed. At that moment, the woman in Tangier miscarried.
The woman was utterly distraught. Immediately after Shabbat she set out on her way to see the ssadik, whose blessing had been only half effective.
She came before him and he asked sternly, "Tell me please, did I ask you for a coat in exchange for my blessing, that you presented me with a coat that had been eaten by moths?"
The woman was shocked, and with tears running down her face she promised Rabbi Yaakov that she had no idea that the cloak had holes. She profusely apologized and asked the ssadik forgiveness. The ssadik saw her sincerity and blessed her once again. Indeed, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy and raised him to Torah, marriage and good deeds.
Similarly, a person who does not properly fulfill the missvot required of him can excuse himself by saying that his evil inclination got the best of him, he was engulfed by all types of pressures that led him to his mistakes.
True, this does not excuse him entirely, but at least the anger against him will be softened. However, if one takes the initiative and accepts upon himself a vow, he has no excuse. No one forced this obligation upon him.
If he initiated this obligation, then he bears the responsibility of carrying it out to its fullest.
The Reward for a MissvahA continuing saga
Flashback: The sacred ssadik, Rav Semah Sarfati zs"l, the rabbi of Tunis, woke up in the middle of the night to recite Tikkun Hassot but could not find his lighter. He took his candle outside into the storm and went to the bakery next door. The Arab worker heard the knocking, woke up, lifted the heavy iron bolt that locked the front door, and lit the candle for the ssadik. The rabbi thanked him and headed home, but the wind came and blew out his candle. He returned to the bakery to light the candle, only to have the wind blow it out a second time. This repeated itself over again until the worker lost his patience and had the rabbi hold the heavy iron bar so that he realize how heavy it was. The rabbi apologized for the inconvenience and blessed him that he should have the same weight of gold as that of the heavy iron beam. Soon thereafter, the worker was offered a mysterious job that would pay him five times the salary he received in the bakery.
The worker asked his employer for some time off, and his employer agreed to a two-month vacation. The stranger gave him some money as startup payment and told him to meet him in the square downtown at daybreak.
The mysterious stranger met the worker at dawn and they walked through the silent city streets until they arrived at a series of narrow, windy alleyways. The worker wondered silently, what am I getting myself into?
Why did I agree to join this total stranger? Why would he be willing to pay me so much money?
At one of the alleyways, the stranger finally opened his mouth to speak: "We are getting closer, and it is forbidden for you to identify the location. I must now blindfold you."
And so the stranger blindfolded his new employee and led him along as if he was blind. They walked for a while, and it seemed to the worker that they were walking in circles and back and forth in order that he lose his sense of direction completely. Suddenly, the stranger stopped and the sound of the jingling of keys was heard. The worker then heard the creaking of a gate as it opened. The two walked together along a smooth path and then up a staircase; only then was the blindfold lifted. The worker found himself in a dim, large apartment.
"Come," ordered the stranger, as he led the worker down to the cellar.
The worker looked up and lost his breath in astonishment. Innumerable gold coins sparkled from within the openings of the bags that filled the entire cellar.
The stranger said, "Now you understand why I must maintain total secrecy.
You must remain in this house and not leave until your work is complete.
I will lock the door, and each day I will come in to bring you your food."
"But," replied the worker, "you haven't yet told me what my job is."
....to be cont......
From the Wellsprings of the Parashah
"Moshe was angry at the military officers"
The Torah relates that Moshe became angry at the military officers upon their return from their victory against Midyan over their having kept alive the women that had previously seduced Benei Yisrael. Immediately thereafter, we read Elazar's instructions to the people regarding the laws of "hachsharat keilim," the proper procedure for making the utensils taken from Midyan suitable for use by Benei Yisrael. Why were these instructions given by Elazar, and not by Moshe Rabbenu himself? Rashi explains that since he became angry, he forgot the laws of "hachsharat keilim." An obvious question arises. Was Moshe not justified in getting angry?
Should he not have reprimanded the officers who brought back alive the women who led to the death of twenty-four thousand people among Benei Yisrael?
Rabbi Hayyim Kafusi Ba'al Haness zs"l, in his work "B'or Hahayyim," explains that the anger itself was not the source of the problem. Hashem Himself becomes angry, as well, as the pasuk says in the context of Aharon and Miriam's sin, "Hashem became angry at them." We are bidden to follow the ways of Hashem, and we, too, must therefore become angry over inappropriate behavior. However, when Aharon and Miriam sinned, Hashem first told them of their mistake and only then expressed His anger. Here, by contrast, Moshe first became angry and only thereafter informed them as to the reason behind his disapproval. For this mistake, of becoming angry before identifying the sin, Moshe Rabbenu was punished.
Another question that calls our attention from this parashah is why the generals decided to let the women live. The Siftei Kohen zs"l explains that they actually brought the women to the camp to execute them there. They wanted to first sanctify the Name of Hashem by showing His immense power, which enabled twelve thousand soldiers from Benei Yisrael to defeat such a massive nation, which included thirty-two thousand girls under the age of three. Such a large nation - and Benei Yisrael defeated them without a single casualty!
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that the Midyanites' sin included two elements. First, they harmed Benei Yisrael physically, as they caused the death of twenty-four thousand people. But additionally, the Midyanites caused considerable damage to Benei Yisrael's soul, leading them to "zenut" and idolatry. The Al-mighty instructed Moshe, "Avenge Benei Yisrael's revenge from the Midyanites," that they should kill the Midyanites in revenge for their having brought about the plague that killed twenty-four thousand people of Benei Yisrael. Moshe, however, told the people, "to place Hashem's revenge upon Midyan," stressing the sin committed by the Midyanim against the Al-mighty through their luring Benei Yisrael to sin, thus causing the Shechinah to distance itself from Benei Yisrael. As revenge for the death caused by Midyan, the pasuk tells us, "They waged battle against Midyan, as Hashem had commanded Moshe, and they killed every male." Meaning, they set out to war for the purpose that Hashem had commanded Moshe, namely, to avenge the physical calamity of the plague.
Therefore, they killed only the males. Moshe, however, criticized the generals: "You let the females live! They were the ones that were for Benei Yisrael. to bring about a sin against Hashem." He refers here to the element of the seduction to sin, as Hazal teach us, "The one who lures one to sin is worse than the one who kills." Since the sinning itself brought about the plague, Moshe argued, the generals should have sought to avenge the very source of the plague, the women who lured Benei Yisrael to sin.
Significantly, however, as the Hid"a zs"l notes, Hazal did not actually claim that Moshe became angry. Their exact words are, "ba lik'lal ka'as" - he came to the area of anger - and "ba lik'lal ta'ut" - he came to the area of mistake. Meaning, Moshe Rabbenu did not err in a ruling of halachah.
He did not issue an incorrect ruling, but rather forgot the halachah, which approaches - though does not constitute - error. Correspondingly, his "anger" was not real anger. Rather, it was a leaning in the direction of anger, to which Hazal refer as "k'lal ka'as," the general area of anger.
It was only because of Moshe's unique stature that the pasuk refers to his response with the term "vayikssof," which implies anger. In truth, however, his anger did not involve actual wrath.
The following story was told by a Torah scholar who delivers a regular Gemara class to a group of hardworking Jews who come to quench their thirst for Torah after work. Their ages range from thirty to eighty - may they all live to 120!! One day, as the scholar came to deliver the shiur, one of the participants greeted him outside the door with a special request: "I convinced several youngsters to come and take part in the Gemara class. I have no doubt that the shiur will be interesting, but I would like to ask you to afford them special attention. The youth are our future, and the streets are seductive and luring youngsters away. They must be attracted to Torah lovingly, with warmth and understanding, that they follow the sacred Torah rather than the culture of the street!"
This occurred not in Yerushalayim or Benei Berak, but rather in one of the cities in the greater Tel-Aviv area. The lecturer greeted the new participants warmly and was overjoyed by their addition to the class. The youth are indeed our future, the continuation of the golden chain of our tradition. But the lecturer also knows that the longtime participant who brought in the children is a regular reader of Ma'ayan Hashavua, and he wishes to transmit a message to him through this pamphlet. Actually, he wishes to send a message not only to him, but to the parents of those precious youngsters, as well as scores of other Jewish parents: a weekly or even daily Torah class itself is not a sufficient barrier blocking the forces of permissiveness, cynicism, and contempt for religion of our society that extinguishes any spark of warmth and spirituality they find. The powerful society scorns such basic values as manners, good character, respect for tradition, honoring parents and respecting their authority.
Perhaps we may compare this phenomenon to a car that has both leg and hand brakes. Either one of them can stop the vehicle independently. A train, however, requires a fundamentally different, more powerful braking system.
If one would try to stop a train with standard car brakes, the train would continue along at the same speed.
A mature adult is also influenced by his surroundings, he, too, is impacted by all that he hears and sees. The routine, mundane life around him undoubtedly has an effect. However, given his age, maturity, and life experience, he is already set on a path and headed towards a certain direction. One Torah class may perhaps suffice to enlighten his path and steer him towards a Torah life.
The lives of youngsters, by contrast, are stormy. So many different forces influence them, and the mold in which they have grown are flimsy and unstable. Marked turnarounds in attitudes and behavior are to be expected.
Considering the destructive forces that yield so much power, one Torah class does not suffice. They require a supportive Torah environment, a group of friends and classmates that do not use vulgar language, are not accustomed to rampant, unrestrained permissiveness, who fulfill missvot, and in whom are entrenched deep-rooted faith. They need an educational system that can combine general studies - language, mathematics, and computers - with the treasures of the siddur and the spiritual wealth of our heritage - Tanach, Midrashim, Mishnah and Gemara. They need this not only to become Torah scholars - though why not? - but in order that they grow rooted in faith, attached to their ancestral heritage, devoted to their parents, and emerge as adults with fine qualities and character.
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
Produced by Cong. Bnai Yosef and the Aram Soba Foundation - translated from Ma'ayan Hashavua in Israel
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