JUNE 4-5, 2004 16 SIVAN 5764
"And the Jewish people were like complainers." (Bemidbar 11:1)
Whenever the Torah tells us about the shortcomings of the earlier generations, we must keep in mind that they were much greater than we could even imagine, and as such, much more was expected from them. We may never compare ourselves to them; we can only learn from events in their lives and apply it to our own level.
Having said this, we read in the perashah how the Jewish people were punished back to back by fire and by plague. They asked for meat in an incorrect way, and this led to their suffering greatly through the very meat they asked for. The amazing thing, which is very instructive, is that the whole chapter begins with the words, "And the Jewish people were like complainers." The Rabbis point out that they really didn't start to complain, yet by taking on an attitude of whining and groaning, even in a very subtle manner, they brought out all the terrible misfortunes. We see from here how important a positive attitude is, and how a nagging attitude can be detrimental. Even when one doesn't actually complain, yet talks in a bitter manner, this can bring out the negative in people and lead to a host of problems. Let's think positively and talk in an upbeat way, focusing on the good rather than the negative. You'll be amazed at the results! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"This is the form of the Menorah" (Bemidbar 8:4)
Our perashah begins with the misvah that Hashem gave to Aharon the Kohen. He gave him the beautiful misvah of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan every day. After designating Aharon as the one who lights, Hashem told Moshe how to build the Menorah. Rashi notes that the words "this is the form of the Menorah" teach us that Moshe had difficulty in building the Menorah so Hashem showed Moshe exactly what the Menorah should look like. The word "this" means to tell us it is as if Hashem pointed out to Moshe the form with His finger.
Rabbi Nissan Alpert brings a great analogy to describe what Hashem did. Once, two people were given the materials to build a house. Neither had any experience in carpentry or building. The first one went to a master builder to learn the skills that were required. After he learned everything he needed to know, he built his house. The second one began on-the-job training, meaning, he took his own materials and started building, making mistakes along the way, cutting the wood too short or too long and learning the skill by trial and error. By the end he also became a master builder. The only problem was that he used up all of his building materials in order to learn. Now that he was skilled, he had nothing to build with.
This is the way it is with life. We have a limited amount of years on this earth, and we have a lot of work to do with our years. We just don't have enough years to learn the right way of life through trial and error. By the time one learns the way of life it is already time to leave. Therefore, Hashem gave us the Torah, the manual of life. Hashem says, this is the way. Don't use up your years in trial and error. The Menorah, which gives light, represents the light and knowledge of Torah. Moshe was having difficulty envisioning clearly the way to go. Hashem pointed with His "finger," to show his the way to build the Menorah, the way of life, saying to Moshe, "This is the way to go." Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"On the day the Mishkan was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan. Then in the evening, there appeared something like a fire on the Mishkan and remained there until morning. This is the way it remained..." (Bemidbar 9:15-16)
As stated in the pasuk, this is the way it has remained throughout our history, a cloud hovering during the day, and a fire-like apparition by night. When a man is at the pinnacle of success, and the rays of the sun shine upon him with bright light, he must be aware that he is not immune forever. Life is a big circle which goes around bringing with it moments of great joy as well as moments of sadness and distress. Shelomo Hamelech says in Kohelet (7:14), "On a day of goodness be good and on a bad day reflect." The Ibn Ezra explains that this means, on a day when things go well and everything is successful a person must anticipate the inevitability of bad times. Good deeds and charitable activities are shields and protectors from punishment and mishap. In contrast to this, when it is bleak and cloudy, when misfortune and misery seem to overcome us, we must not despair, but reflect and place our trust in Hashem; that the shine of His Eternal Light will guide us through the darkness and desperation. The Shema which is recited twice daily, in the morning and night, represents and transmits one message: whether it is morning and the sun is shining for man, or it is evening and everything is clouded with darkness, always remember "Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." He grants success and prosperity, and He also gives strength to overcome moments of travail and despair. These symbols were reflected by the Mishkan, the cloud hovering by day and the fire shining by night. The symbols of the Mishkan should always be in the hearts of every Jew. (Peninim on the Torah)
Question: Why is Viyhi Noam recited in Arbit of Saturday night (after the Amidah)?
Answer: In this verse we ask the Creator to bless "ma'aseh yadenu, the work of our hands." It was recited by Moshe when the Mishkan was built. Since the end of Shabbat represents the beginning of the work week, we ask for the same blessing. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
This week's Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
Our perashah begins with a description of the daily lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan. In this haftarah, the prophet Zechariah has a vision of a Menorah. Next to the Menorah were two olive trees which provided a continuous supply of oil. This was to symbolize that Hashem provides for all of our needs at all times, even though we sometimes do not see it.
"The people were complaining in a bad way in the ears of Hashem." (Bemidbar 11:1)
Rashi explains that the people really had no reason to complain. They only wanted an excuse to distance them from Hashem so that they would not be obligated to follow all of His commands. This is often the underlying motive when people voice complaints or criticism against their fellow man. As long as someone feels that he has a valid complaint against his friend, he is able to disregard any obligations that he may have toward him.
Also, a person who has a tendency to complain about his situation fails to appreciate all that he has. By focusing on what he is lacking, he prevents himself from enjoying all that he is blessed with. One who has a positive attitude, though, will lead a much happier life, content with what Hashem has given him, and knowing that everything is for the best.
Question: How many things have you complained about, either verbally or just in your mind, in the past hour? On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with what you have right now?
The following letter is about a parent who was fortunate enough to see his everlasting love make a difference. The son who had "gone off" writes about his transformation and return - all because his father refused to give up on him.
"Until a few years ago, I did not take anything seriously. Having graduated from yeshivah high school, I was undecided what to do. I was neither interested in continuing my Jewish education nor was I ready to begin college right away. I thought I would just drift around for a while and then get a job. Regrettably, during this time, I fell in with a group of like-minded fellows who were not Orthodox. At first, I figured that they would not influence me, but I was dead wrong. It did not take long before I became like them: no interest in Judaism. Shabbat and kashrut were something of the past. Indeed, my entire life became a haze: no direction, no meaning, no value.
"My parents were devastated. While they did not expect me to become a Rabbi, they certainly did not expect this. As well as having destroyed my life, I was on the way to destroying my family as well. It got to the point that, due to the adverse influence I was having on my younger siblings, my father asked me to leave the house. When I moved out, I said some cruel and vicious things to my father. I can remember him standing silently by the door, with my mother crying at his side.
"A year went by, and I had no contact with my family. I missed them very much, but I was afraid that if I contacted them, it would be viewed as a weakness on my part.
"One morning, I was shocked to find my father standing outside the door to my building. He looked at me with tired, worn eyes and asked if we could talk. I only nodded. We walked to a corner coffee shop where we sat down to talk. My father opened up. He said that everyone missed me and that, despite my absence, I had been on their hearts and minds every moment that I was gone. I saw the hurt in his eyes. He told me how my mother agonized over what had happened, blaming herself for not having been there for me. He had one last request - no lecture, just one last favor. He wanted me to drive with him to Monsey, New York, to recite Tehillim at the grave of a certain saddik. I looked at him incredulously, and then he began to cry. Bitter tears streamed down his face as he asked me to please grant him this one request. As far removed as I was from Judaism, I was still moved by his request.
"I told my father that that day was impossible, because I had plans to go with my friends to Atlantic City that night. I would go with him another time. He reached across the table and took my hand in his, looking at me with his tear-streaked sad face. He said nothing - just stared and wept. I felt my own eyes begin to water, and - rather than have him see me cry - I just agreed to meet him later on that day.
"I made the necessary apologies to my friends. Atlantic City would have to wait. Later that day, I drove with my father up to the cemetery in Monsey. We did not talk much during the trip. I remember getting out of the car with my father and following him to one of the graves, where he gave me a Tehillim. We did not stay long. We talked as much on the return trip as on the way in - very little.
"My father dropped me off and walked me to my apartment building. I will never forget the words he told me that day. He said that regardless of what had occurred between us, and no matter what might happen in the future, I was always going to be his son, and he would always love me. I was emotionally moved by his words, but I did not manifest the spiritual inspiration that he hoped would occur that day. I shook my head at his words, and we parted company.
"The next morning, I woke up to some shocking news. On their return trip from Atlantic City, my friends were involved in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer rig. They did not survive. Had I not gone with my father, I would have been in that car.
"As I write this letter, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I made a berit milah for my firstborn, today. My father was sandak, and as he held my son on his lap, our eyes met, and we smiled. It was as if we had finally reached the end of a long journey.
"We have never talked about that trip to the cemetery, nor did I ever tell my father about my friends' untimely death. I just walked into their home that evening and was welcomed with open arms. No questions asked, no accusations, no answers. I just know that, sitting here late at night with my son in my arms, I will try to be the father to him that my father was to me." (Peninim on the Torah)
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