Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

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Parshas Matos

How to Serve G-d

Moshe Rabbenu's end is near. G-d gives him one last command...

"Avenge the Children of Israel of the Midianites. Afterwards, you will be gathered unto your people." (31:2)

And Moshe spoke to the People, saying "Arm men from among you for the army." (31:3)

Rashi comments that though G-d told Moshe Rabbenu that with this mitzvah, you will be gathered unto your People, he proceeded to fulfill this mitzvah without delay, and with joy. Rashi deduces this from the fact that the verse immediately following describes how Moshe Rabbenu called the nation to arms, to do battle against Midian

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, 22:6) explains that despite G-d's promise: As I was to Moshe, so I will be to you (Yehoshua, 1:8), Yehoshua lived ten years less than Moshe. Because unlike Moshe, Yehoshua procrastinated in defeating the thirty-one kings of Cana'an - as is implied in the verse, "For many years, Yehoshua battled against these kings." (Yehoshua 11:18)

Several questions are in order. First, how does "For many years, Yehoshua battled against these kings" imply that Yehoshua procrastinated in his war efforts? This verse seems to imply just the opposite - that Yehoshua was commendably steadfast in the war against the thirty-one kings. Second, while Moshe was told that the battle with Midian would be his last task on earth, we find no such statement made to Yehoshua. What basis is there for the Midrash's assumption that Yehoshua thought he could live longer by dragging out the war? Finally, how can we even imagine that Yehoshua - the faithful disciple of Moshe, and his chosen successor - would permit self-interest to interfere with fulfilling the commandments of G-d?

When commanded to avenge Midian, Moshe Rabbenu did so, wholeheartedly. Knowing that his death would follow immediately upon fulfilling this commandment had no effect on his joyous alacrity to do the Will of G-d

Yehoshua, too, served G-d with all his heart. His motivation was to do the Will of G-d; personal concerns never interfered with his role of leader of Israel. Still, when Yehoshua was told"You will inherit (the Land) for them" (D'varim, 31:7), the memory of how his teacher Moshe had waged war and then died, entered his subconscious. And when he fought the thirty-one kings, there was an imperceptible wavering in the purity of his devotion. And, as the Midrash infers from the verse "For many years, Yehoshua battled against these kings," the war was prolonged

This Midrash ends with Shlomo haMelech's observation "There are many thoughts in a person's heart, but it is G-d's counsel which will endure." (Mishlei, 19:21). G-d's counsel will endure, if it 'alone’ is in our heart, unaccompanied by any other notions - conscious or subconscious. (Sfas Emes, Matos 5650)

It is not enough to do the right thing. We must try to do the right thing for the right reasons. Any hint of an ulterior motive - even a subconscious one - detracts from the purity and effectiveness of our deeds


The Sfas Emes’ grandparents, the Chidushei haRim, zt"l, and his wife Feigele, o"h, had sixteen children. Except for three daughters, all of them died in their parents' lifetime, leaving them the burden of raising many orphaned grandchildren. Before the Chidushei haRim, zt"l, passed away, he told the Rebbetzin several names of suitable matches for their remaining grandchildren.

The Rebbetzin's unselfish devotion to her husband continued after his passing. She arranged all the marriages her husband had mentioned. Before marrying off the last grandchild, Shlomo, she said, "I know that after this marriage, I will leave this world. But I don't want to delay his wedding by even one day". When the week of shevah brochos ended, Rebbetzin Feigele passed away


“Gleaned From the Sfas Emes” - excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of “The Sfas Emes Haggadah” (Targum Press) and “Kasheleg Yalbinu”, a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.


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