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Pop Quiz: Where was B'nei Yisrael's longest encampment in the desert?

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"All her pursuers overtook her in narrow straits" (Eichah 1:3) As we get closer to Tish'ah B'Ab we feel the sadness of our great loss. The holy Temple in Jerusalem had a splendor and a glory, which reflected on the glorious position of our people in the world. The world has seen during the Holocaust how the Jewish people were treated in a way that made the Jew appear less than human. If that is the way we appeared in our downfall then we could only imagine how great we were at our high point. Our great Sages teach us that extreme as our downfall is, the opposite extreme is our greatness.

Despite our sadness there is a hint of goodness. In Eichah it says, "All her pursuers overtook her," meaning that the Jewish people were caught and captured by their enemies. Our Sages teach that the word "rodfehah is a compound word meaning "rodef Hashem" - that anyone who runs after Hashem to feel close to Him will catch up to Him during ben hamesarim, during the Three Weeks. Rav Gedalia Schor brings a parable: If one wants to speak to the king in his palace it is almost impossible. He is very heavily guarded. However, if the king leaves the palace you might catch a glimpse of him. You might even be able to speak to him. During the Three Weeks, not only did the Jews go into exile, but so did Hashem. However, you might ask, isn't it a time of Hashem's anger? Maybe we should stay away now while He is angry! But no, the opposite is true. Hashem destroyed the Temple out of love and mercy towards us. Hashem's anger is backed up by love and mercy like a father to a son. The final redemption will be more miraculous than the Exodus from Egypt. May we all merit to see it soon, Amen. Shabbat Shalom.


"These are the things which Moshe spoke to all of Israel" (Debarim 1:1)

Rashi cites the Sifra that in this section, Moshe rebuked the Jewish people before he died, and he listed all the places where they transgressed. Out of respect for the people, Moshe only hinted at their transgressions and did not mention them explicitly.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman commented on this that a person who is sincerely interested in self-improvement and growth only needs a slight hint that he has done something wrong in order to realize that he needs to improve. Such a person looks for opportunities to make positive changes in himself and uses his own ability to think to fill in the details when someone gives him a hint that he has made a mistake.

Many people try to avoid hearing any criticism at all. Even if someone explicitly tells them that they have done wrong, they find all kinds of rationalizations to deny the criticism. But when you truly want to become a better person, your goal is overcoming faults. You appreciate it when someone points our ways you can improve. A person who is interested in becoming wealthy will utilize any tips and suggestions he hears if he thinks they will be financially beneficial. In the same way, utilize any tips and suggestions that can be spiritually beneficial.

(Growth Through Torah)


"Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us in Horeb saying, 'you have dwelt long enough by this mountain. Turn around and journey and come to the Emorite mountain and to all its neighboring places'" (Debarim 1:6,7)

Rashi explains Moshe's statement as follows: You have received a great reward for dwelling by this mountain. You have made a Mishkan, a Menorah and the various appurtenances. You have received the Torah and appointed a Sanhedrin, officers of thousands and hundreds. Now you should go forth into the neighboring nations. This statement seems enigmatic. One would think that after lauding their great spiritual accomplishments, Moshe would now proceed to explain to them the profound intricacies of the Torah and the various codes. Instead, the Torah relates a geographical description of the neighboring countries!

Harav Aharon Bakst infers a valuable lesson from this pasuk regarding the essence of Torah. One might think that after having mastered the profundities of Torah and ascended to a sublime spiritual plateau, the only propitious place for him to live is in the seclusion of the desert, isolated from people. In the desert where communal responsibilities and interactions with others are not demanded of him, he will find the tranquillity to continue his Torah study and enhance his spiritual development. This is a misconception of Torah philosophy.

Indeed, the Torah was given in the desert, but this is not to preclude its integration into everyday mundane matters. The Torah guides and inspires, influences and maintains every aspect of our lives. The Torah teaches us how to live among people, how to relate to others, and with whom to associate. It teaches us how to live within the framework of society.

By virtue of our adherence to Torah and misvot, we maintain our dignity and self-respect among the nations of the world. For this reason, the Torah tells us to take our Torah out of the desert and demonstrate to the world what it means to be a Jew! Take the Torah and live with it, so that your wisdom and knowledge, your pride and honor are displayed before the entire world.

(Peninim on the Torah)


"Turn yourselves northward" (Debarim 2:3)

Why was it necessary to tell B'nei Yisrael to "turn yourselves northward"? The essential instruction was that "You will be passing through the boundary of your brothers, the children of Esav, and you shall not provoke them."

The descendants of Esav are very jealous of the descendants of Ya'akob. They contend that everything the Jews possess actually belongs to them, because it was stealthily acquired by Ya'akob for scheming to receive Yitzhak's blessings, which were really intended for their ancestor, Esav. Therefore, they despise the Jewish people and seek ways to take their possessions.

Unfortunately, many Jews at times forget that we are in exile, and at the mercy of the secular world. Hence, they "flash" their wealth in the eyes of the gentiles, provoking their wrath. While the Jews indeed deserve the affluence Hashem has given them, they must be careful not to exhibit it before the eyes of the nations.

The word "vbupm (safonah) - northward" can also mean "hidden." Hashem told Moshe to tell the Children of Israel, "Since you are coming into the boundary of the land of Esav, it is important to remember "turn yourselves safonah - go in the direction of safun - hiding and concealing your success and wealth. Do not arouse their animosity, hatred and jealousy.

One who recites the Amidah should face east. However, the Gemara says, "If one desires to become rich, 'yaspin' - he should turn toward safon (northeast)." Since the word safon does not only mean 'north' but also 'hidden,' possibly the sages are alluding that if one wants to be rich, 'yaspin' - he should act modestly and not flaunt his wealth in the eyes of the public. For by doing this he may invite unwanted predators, who will take away his wealth, or the "evil eye" which may have an adverse effect on his wealth. (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to pop quiz: Kadesh - they were there for 19 years.

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