JULY 28-29, 2000 - 26 TAMUZ 5760
by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Then Israel sang" (Bemidbar 21:17)
When the author of the Sefat Emet was a young boy, he stayed up all night to learn Torah, and by the time the morning prayers came, he had dozed for a few minutes and he came a little late to the minyan. His grandfather, who was a great Rebbe and was in charge of bringing him up, began to rebuke him for being late to shul. He said to him, "If this is your attitude now, what will happen when you get on in life; if you want to succeed you can't be lazy, etc."
The young grandson took the rebuke with his head lowered to the ground and didn't try to defend himself. After the grandfather left, the boy's study partner, who had learned with him all night, exclaimed, "Why didn't you defend yourself and tell him that you were up all night and that's why you were late?" The youngster, who succeeded his grandfather and became a big Rebbe himself later on in life, told his friend, "I learned this from the perashah of Matot. When Moshe rebuked the tribes of Gad and Reuben for wanting to inherit the land on the east of the Jordan, he suspected them of wanting to shirk their responsibilities and of not wanting to fight with the rest of the Jewish people. After Moshe finished his speech they answered that they were not intending to abandon the Jewish people, but were planning to fight with their brothers. We see from here that they did not interrupt Moshe while he was rebuking them because when someone points out our faults, especially someone who cares for us, we should listen rather than object and defend ourselves. This way even if we were right this time, we would have learned something for the future."
This is true today as much as back then. Whenever our loved ones or our friends say anything to us, we become defensive and sometimes even take the offense against them. We should realize that every rebuke or criticism can be helpful in our development if we open our minds and hearts and listen! Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Moshe was angry at the soldiers...who returned from war" (Bemidbar 31:14)
In perashat Matot, the Torah tells us of the war between Israel and Midyan. Midyan caused a tremendous catastrophe to befall our people, by bringing immorality into our camp. Hashem therefore commanded that we go to war against Midyan. At the conclusion of the war, the Torah, in the verse above, refers to the soldiers as returning from the war, but a few verses later (verse 21) it describes them as coming toward war.
The Yitev Lev explains this discrepancy with a famous teaching of the Hobot Halebabot. The Hobot Halebabot relates a story of a pious man who once admonished soldiers returning triumphantly from battle. "You may have returned victorious from this war, but the primary war is the continuous conflict every individual has between himself and his yeser hara, and that still looms before you." The Yitev Lev says that when Moshe Rabenu saw the soldiers returning from the war with Midyan, he noticed that they were returning proudly, with the attitude that the battle was over. This attitude upset him.
Therefore, Elazar reproached the soldiers, in the later verses, telling them that they were really coming toward war. They should realize that they were only returning from the minor war. The more important war was still to come. The soldiers knew that they must be on guard during the battle that they shouldn't see anything indecent among the immoral Midyanites, but they felt that once they returned to their homes they were safe and did not have to be on guard. Elazar therefore warned them that even though the bad was no longer obvious, their minds had absorbed the bad thoughts and feelings from wartime and these impurities still had to be purged.
My friends, we know that the battlefield today is the street. The morality level is extremely low. However, we sometimes feel safe at home. Today there is a new intruder that is affecting our minds and the minds of our children. It is the indecent music that is being played and heard in the parties of our community. Our young children are coming home with a new form of filth that is polluting their minds. Let's be on guard, raise our voice in protest to ban this intruder from our homes. Shabbat Shalom.
"And Eliezer the priest said to the men of the army who were coming to the war: This is the statute of the Torah...but the gold and the silver" (Bemidbar 31:21,22)
This section of the Torah deals with the koshering of vessels that were previously used for unkosher food. It was imperative to remove any unkosher food that was absorbed in the vessel before using it for kosher food. First it was necessary to clean out the vessels very well and to remove any rust. Then the vessels were koshered by the same method as they were previously used. If they were used directly on the fire, they needed to have direct contact with fire to render them fit to be used. If nonkosher food was cooked in them with boiling water, they now needed to be immersed in boiling water to remove what was absorbed.
The Hafess Hayim commented that the same applies to purifying people from their spiritual impurities and defects. First a person must remove the "rust" of his transgressions by means of repentance; regretting what one has done wrong and accepting upon oneself not to continue doing those things n the future. Afterwards, he needs to be careful that the positive actions he does to replace the negative behavior will be on the same level as the negative things he has done. So if he was enthusiastic and energetic in doing wrong, he should now have similar enthusiasm and energy when doing good. Moreover, he should now use what he has erred with to make amends. If he has used his ability to speak to relate lashon hara, he should now utilize speech for studying Torah. If he has done much wrong in his life, he should presently make a special effort to engage in a large amount of misvot. (Growth through Torah)
"You shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge shall they be for you, and a murderer shall flee there, one who takes a life unintentionally" Bemidbar 35:11)
Undoubtedly, there were more people making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, than slayers running to cities of refuge. Why were there signs on the crossroads showing the ways to the cities of refuge (see Makkot 10b) and no signs showing the way to Jerusalem?
One of the reasons why crime has become so rampant in our times is that the media continuously reports it. The constant publicizing of crimes plants in some people's minds the idea that crime is glamorous and exciting. If a "gag order" were imposed on reporting crimes and violence, and if the media would only report good deeds, undoubtedly, our society would be much safer.
Similarly, it is inappropriate for an unintentional murderer to continuously ask for directions while fleeing to a city of refuge, since people might begin to talk about having met a murderer. Talking about crime can encourage some feeble minded people to perpetrate crime; therefore, signs are put up to eliminate the need for the murderer to talk to people and the possible consequences which such conversation might produce.
Making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, by contrast, is a very important misvah. Our Rabbis intentionally did not instruct the putting up of signs so as to make it necessary for the people to have to stop and ask directions and, thus, get into conversations about the misvah of aliyah leregel - pilgrimage. In turn, the people they had spoken to would relay to their family and friends their pleasant conversations with travelers going to Jerusalem to be close to Hashem. Such reports would arouse in the hearers the desire to also perform misvot and become closer to Hashem. (Vedibarta Bam)
Answer to Pop Quiz: Forty two.
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