JERSEY SHORE TORAH BULLETIN
PARSHAT MATOS - MASEI
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.
PUT THE WHEELBARROW BEFORE THE DIRT by Rabbi Reuven Semah
"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.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
"Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites;
afterwards you will be gathered unto your people." (Bemidbar
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)
REAL MEN DON'T...
"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 there...in the fifth month on the first of the month." (Bemidbar
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.
A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT
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
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
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
Answer to pop quiz:None.