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SNAKE IN THE SKY by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And it came to pass if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the copper serpent, he lived." (Bemidbar 21:9)

Our perashah focuses on the children of Israel after traveling in the desert for forty years. As a result of their weariness, they speak out against Hashem and Moshe. A plague breaks out. The people come to Moshe admitting their sin against him, and ask him to pray for them. Moshe forgives and prays for the people.

The plague consisted of poisonous serpents that were biting the people, and the people were dying. Hashem instructs Moshe to make a copper replica of the snakes, and place it on a pole. Hashem said that whoever looks at the snake will live. The Mishnah explains that by looking up, the people would realize that it's all from Hashem, and would pray to Hashem to heal them.

The Oznayim LaTorah learns from this an interesting insight. We see that even though they admitted their sin and Moshe prayed for them, this was not enough. The people also had to pray for themselves. It wasn't enough to awaken Moshe's heart. They had to be inspired on their own as well.

Many times, great rabbis are requested to pray for others, and this is a correct thing to do. But, most of all, Hashem wants the heartfelt prayers of the person in need. In addition to this, it is crucial that the person believe that prayers are heard by Hashem, and that they have the power to help. If a person really feels that he has Hashem's attention, he will be inspired to pray on his own. May Hashem continue to hear our prayers for all good things, Amen. Shabbat Shalom.

DEAD OR ALIVE by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"This is the Torah, if a person dies in a tent..." (Bemidbar 19:14)

The sages learn from this pasuk that the Torah only lasts with those who die over it. This seems very hard to understand, since the Torah is intended for the living, as it states (Vayikra 18:5), "And you shall live with them (the commandments)."

The Hafess Hayim gave the following analogy to explain this point. A successful merchant was always very busy taking care of customers who came to his store, to the point that he had no time for Torah study. After many years, he noticed that his hair was starting to turn gray, and he realized that he was getting older. He started to think about his mortality, and was concerned that he wasn't making the most of his years. He therefore decided that he would go each morning to shul to pray with a minyan and to study Torah for a couple of hours after tefillah.

When he arrived late to the store, his wife who helped him in the store was frantic. She was concerned that more people would have come to the store if he were there, and she felt that they were losing customers. He calmly told his wife, "What would I do if the Angel of Death came to me and told me that my time in this world was up? Could I tell him that I can't go yet since I'll miss out on customers? Obviously, if I were already dead I would not be able to come to the store. Therefore, each day, let us imagine for a couple of hours that I have already died. In this way, I will be able to study Torah each day."

This, said the Hafess Hayim, is what the sages are advising us. You might be very busy and feel that you do not have any time to study Torah. But if you will just view yourself as if you were already dead, morbid as it may sound, you will find the time to study Torah which gives life to those who study it.


"This is the decree of the Torah." (Bemidbar 19:2)

Rashi explains that the word ej (hok) means decree, a law which the Torah requires us to accept without question because human minds are not capable of understanding it. We may ask, then, why does the Torah go out of its way to point out that this particular law is the decree of the Torah, suggesting that it is the Torah's only, or most important, decree? Many of the commandments fall into the category of decrees, which are beyond our comprehension. Such laws as sha'atnez and kashrut are above rational human analysis. If so, why is the law of parah adumah (the red cow) singled out to be called the decree of the Torah?

One answer is that the laws concerning the parah adumah are paradoxical. On the one hand, when the mixture is sprinkled, the defiled person becomes cleansed. On the other hand, those who are involved in the preparation of the parah adumah become defiled.

The people appointed to prepare the parah adumah may rationally argue, "Why should we become defiled for the sake of those who were not careful to avoid contact with a corpse?"

Through the statute of parah adumah the Torah is teaching that a Jew must help another Jew even if it requires sacrifice. This is "Hukat HaTorah - a basic principal of Torah" and though we may not easily comprehend it, we must practice it in our daily lives. (Vedibarta Bam)


"And Israel sent messengers to Sihon..."(Bemidbar 21:21)

In this narrative, the Torah relates how Moshe requested Sihon's permission for the Israelites to pass through his land. He promised Sihon that nothing would be touched and no one would be harmed. Sihon's response was swift and emphatic. He not only prohibited their entry, but he subsequently waged war against them. This reaction is puzzling! What fear gripped Sihon that caused such terrifying concern, catalyzing his immediate attack on the Jews? They were not his enemies. It was not their desire to ravage his country. They were basically peace loving people who wanted access to their promised land.

Harav Chaim Zaitchik, z"l, suggests that Sihon's fear was of a sub-conscious nature. He feared the spiritual influence the Jewish people would have on his nation. In short, Sihon feared the truth. To expose his barbarian people to the refinement, nobility and good character traits which are paradigmatic to Torah Jews was a "dangerous" gamble to take. Therefore, Sihon painted a gruesome picture of B'nei Yisrael. They were slaves who rebelled against their masters, the Egyptians. This "ungrateful" people went on to destroy and pilfer their host nation, destroying anyone who crossed their path. Were he to allow B'nei Yisrael to enter his country, his people would come face to face with reality. Perhaps man's greatest apprehension is the fear of the truth.

Sihon was gripped by the fear that his people would be "trespassed" by B'nei Yisrael. The jealousy and consequent self-depreciation were more than he could handle. his people's self-esteem would suffer irreparable damage, confronting the truth that B'nei Yisrael were not as he had represented them. The false propaganda with which he attempted to indoctrinate his people was to be exposed by B'nei Yisrael. This was Sihon's greatest fear. He must stop B'nei Yisrael's entry into his land at all costs.

It is not at all surprising that a similar situation exists in our own times. There is an amazing rate of return to the Torah way of life. Many people are finally acknowledging the reality of their misguided perceptions. After years of alienation from Torah, they are embracing the true Jewish way of life with increased fervor and deepened commitment. Other people embrace the same misconceptions which have been responsible for so much of our suffering. They advocate that these be used as the remedy to the Jews' problem in today's complex society. It must be our goal to adopt the truth of the Torah in every aspect of our lives, as individuals and as a society. Indeed, there is no substitute for the truth. (Peninim on the Torah)

Pop quiz: Which nation attacked Bnei Yisrael after Aharon's death?
Answer to pop quiz: Amalek dressed as Canaanites (see Rashi 21:1)

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