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PROMISES, PROMISES by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"When a person makes a vow to Hashem." (Bemidbar 30:3)

When do people most frequently make a vow or an oath? When they become angry. Out of anger, they swear that they will or will not do something, or that something should be forbidden to them. But anger is not the proper motivation for a vow or an oath. Rather, the vow should be "to Hashem." That is, if a person sees that his negative impulses might lead him to transgress, then out of a calculated, willful decision, it is permitted to make a vow or oath that will motivate him to refrain from transgressing. In general, however, one should abstain from making any vows or oaths. Indeed, even when one gives charity, one should get accustomed to say, "Beli neder - without a vow."

The same actions can be done with various motivations. Depending on your motivation, the act will either be a manifestation of a loss of control or an elevated act of self discipline. When you impulsively do or say things out of anger you are the servant of your temper. On the other hand, when you decide that doing something can be spiritually harmful for you, and therefore you are willing to set up self-restraints, you are becoming the master over your impulses. Shabbat Shalom.


"The children of Reuben and Gad had abundant livestock. [Moshe told them] 'Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your livestock.'" (Bemidbar 32:1,24)

Moshe and the Jewish people conquered land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The land of Israel was on the west side of the Jordan. The land on the east was lush and green, perfect for grazing. The tribes of Reuben and Gad requested this land as their portion, promising to fight the wars of conquest in Israel and only afterwards, return back to these lands. Moshe agreed. However, implied in the way they asked, they showed the importance of their money over their children. It is hard to believe that they actually meant that, since any average person today feels that children come before money. Since we are speaking of that great generation of Israel in the desert, they must have meant something else.

Rabbi L. Scheinbaum of Peninim suggests that they really put emphasis on the money for the benefit of the children. Some people have the best interests of their children in mind, and those "best" interests are financial in nature and not spiritual. He brings a great analogy to drive the point home.

There was once a man who crossed the border daily between one country and another. He always passed through with the same item - a wheelbarrow filled with dirt. The inspectors suspected that he was smuggling something through, but although they tried, they were not able to find any contraband. They searched the wheelbarrow, they sifted through the dirt, and always came up with nothing. At wit's end, and unable to contain his curiosity, one inspector asked the "smuggler," "On condition that I will not punish you, I ask you to inform me what it is that you have been smuggling across the border." After receiving all assurances regarding his clemency, the "smuggler" responded, "Simply, I have been smuggling wheelbarrows across. While you have been looking through the dirt, you unwittingly ignored the most blatant and obvious thing - the wheelbarrow!"

Let us not miss the wheelbarrows of life. The most important thing we can give our children is an appreciation of the finer things in life, which is the love of Hashem and the Torah, because that lasts forever. Shabbat Shalom.


"Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered unto your people." (Bemidbar 31:2)

Many lessons can be learned from the pure heart of Moshe Rabenu. Hashem commanded him to wage war against Midian, after which he would pass away. Still yet, Moshe did not delay for a moment, but rather he immediately gathered an army and sent them out to war. Moshe saw that defeating Midian would not only bring vengeance for B'nei Yisrael, but it would also avenge the honor of Hashem.

If this was such an important misvah that Moshe refused to put it off, even to prolong his own life, why did he send Elazar and Pinhas to lead the army instead of going himself? Our Rabbis teach that since Moshe lived in Midian for forty years when he was staying with Yitro, he felt that it would not be proper for him to bring any harm to it. This shows us the great importance of hakarat hatob - showing appreciation to one who does a kindness to another. Even though this was such a great misvah that Moshe was ready to end his life in order to perform it, he still refused to physically have a hand in the defeat of Midian because of the kindness they had done for him.

This seems surprising. Of what importance can the kindness Midian had done for Moshe be compared to the great tragedy they had brought upon B'nei Yisrael? They lured many of the people to worship abodah zarah which led to a plague that killed 24,000 people. Must Moshe still acknowledge the kindness they had done to him years earlier? Yes. One must always remember what another person has done for him, regardless of how circumstances may have changed later on.

We also see that when the army returned victoriously from the war, Moshe got angry at them because they violated his order and instead of killing the Midianite women also, they brought them back as prisoners. As a result of his anger, Moshe forgot a halachah. Our Rabbis teach that one who gets angry causes his wisdom to leave him. People have a tendency to justify their anger in various situations, but we can see from this case that the result is the same nevertheless. Moshe's anger was completely justified in that the army was commanded to take vengeance on the Midianites for leading them to sin, and it was actually the women who led them to sin. It is obvious that they did wrong by not wiping them out. Still yet, Moshe's wisdom temporarily left him at the moment of his anger. We can learn from this that the fact that anger causes a lessening of a person's wisdom is not a punishment, but is simply a natural result of the anger. It makes no difference whether the anger was justified or not. Here Moshe got angry even though their failure to fulfill his command actually prolonged his life. Obviously he had no self-interests in his anger, but he was only concerned about the honor of Hashem. Still yet, he suffered the consequences of his anger. (Yalkut Hamishai)


"Arm from among you men for the military." (Bemidbar 31:3)

Rashi comments that the word "men" denotes "righteous men." These were the type of individuals chosen to wage war against the Midianites. After stating their successes in battle, the Torah states that the soldiers brought all the spoils to Moshe. Rashi comments: This teaches us that they were honorable and righteous and were not suspected of robbery to send forth their hands to take from the booty without permission. This statement seems superfluous, since the Torah had previously made note that those chosen to serve as soldiers were righteous people.

To understand this, we must analyze the effects of war on an individual. Participating in war is a great test of a man's character, since war can bring out the very worst in an individual. Take note of the moral decline which whole nations experience following their involvement in war. Now imagine the individual soldier who was on the actual battlefield. When he faces the enemy, he must muster all his courage, quell his faintheartedness and gird himself to face the enemy. By war's end, if he was once viewed as gentle and compassionate, he has now been transformed into a callous and insensitive person. This transformation will affect all of his other character traits. The men who left for battle against Midian were righteous, but what effect had the war had on their personality and character? Were they changed into uncaring, selfish and corrupt individuals, or had they maintained an awareness that their bloodshed was solely in fulfillment of Hashem's will to avenge the nation of Israel from those who had lured them to sin? When they did not participate in the spoils of war, they illustrated their righteousness. Had they been corrupted, they easily would have rationalized that they were entitled to the spoils of war. That they did not proved they were the same individuals who were worthy of being chosen. We must be aware that when spiritual dangers are great, we must intensify our personal vigilance and maintain a higher degree of spiritual involvement. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Aharon the Kohen went up to Hor Hahar at the word of G-d and died the fifth month on the first of the month." (Bemidbar 33:38)

The passing of Aharon is first recorded in Parashat Hukat. Why is there no mention there of the date?

Aharon passed away on Rosh Hodesh Ab, which is in the middle of the three week period between Shib'ah Asar B'Tamuz and Tish'ah B'Ab. His passing was a very sad event and the entire Jewish community mourned. Parashat Mas'ei is always read in the middle of the three weeks, and very close to, or on Rosh Hodesh Ab. Therefore, it is appropriate to indicate the date of his passing in this perashah.

It is particularly appropriate as we recall the passing of Aharon to reflect upon his love for his fellow man and endeavor to emulate him. We should love peace and pursue peace, love our fellow creatures and bring them near to the Torah.

One of the primary causes of the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash was sin'at hinam - baseless hatred and animosity. Through true ahabat Yisrael we will speedily merit its rebuilding. (Vedibarta Bam)


Mrs. Epstein was waiting in line at the butcher shop, and when at last her turn came two youngsters entered the store. "You won't mind waiting a few more minutes, will you, Mrs. Epstein?" the butcher asked. "I'll be done with these kids in a moment."

She did mind, as she was very tired, but didn't say anything. She watched as the butcher proceeded to gather up chicken legs, gizzards, necks and other leftover parts, weigh the entire mess and scoop it all into a bag. He handed the bag to the children, and the older of the two said, "Please put it on our account."

Mrs. Epstein was appalled. Didn't the butcher earn enough without having to charge obviously needy people for the garbage he would have discarded? Too weary to engage in a heated discussion, she allowed the issue to pass...until the following week, when precisely the same incident transpired. "How can you do such a thing?" Mrs. Epstein demanded of the butcher.

"I'll tell you," the butcher replied. "Their mother had been a good customer for many years, when suddenly her husband fell ill. He couldn't pay his bills, mine included, but I couldn't allow a family with nine children to starve, could I? I carried them for month after month, until their account stretched back over three years. It was a tidy sum, and I couldn't afford to carry them much longer. So I started saving all the trimmings that would normally be discarded, and I'd give it to them for Shabbat. Each week, they tell me to put it on their account, and each week I...don't. Oh, sure I weigh it and make a show of entering the amount in my book, but only to maintain their dignity."

Tears welled up in Mrs. Epstein's eyes - tears of pity for the needy family and tears of shame for misjudging the kindly butcher. She opened her purse and pulled out her checkbook. "I want you to send two chickens to them at once," she said, "not only today, but every Friday. But you must never reveal my identity to them." The butcher happily complied, and knowing Mrs. Epstein was a woman of very modest means herself, charged her well below the wholesale price.

But the story doesn't end here. When Mrs. Epstein related her tale to a friend, that friend also withdrew her checkbook, anxious to participate in this beautiful misvah. "It's funny you should do that," Mrs. Epstein said, "because this story actually took place a number of years ago, and everyone to whom I've related it has reacted in an identical fashion. Baruch Hashem, I now have nineteen families whom I supply with Shabbat chickens, and countless anonymous people who generously share my misvah with me. And all because of my failure to judge my fellow man favorably!

All too often, failures like Mrs. Epstein's do not have such positive results. Our sages have affirmed that the way one judges his fellow man is the way G-d will judge him. This, along with the fact that it is a positive commandment from the Torah, should be sufficient incentive to judge others favorably. Inevitably, observance of this misvah also makes for a happier life. (A Midrash and a Ma'aseh by Hanoch Teller)

Pop quiz:How many Jewish soldiers died in the war against Midian?
Answer to pop quiz:None.

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