by Daneal Weiner
Last week the Midianites had sent their daughters out to whoredom (kind of like in America where it's called a “university education”). In the first of this week’s DDOOUUBBLLEE
Hashem tells Moshe to tell Israel to avenge themselves against the Midianites, to go to war, and after this last command is fulfilled Moshe will die. When Moshe tells Israel to ready themselves for war he says it’s in order to avenge Hashem! Why does Moshe change G-d's wording and why is his life dependant on this last mitsva?
An answer to the first question is that Moshe did not want Israel to forego going out to war. If he told them to avenge themselves then they could have passed on their honor in order to keep him alive. Now that it is Hashem's name they are avenging they are ready to fight at once. A second answer (still the first question) is that Moshe is saying that the Jews would be nothing were it not for our relationship with Hashem. We represent Him. If a Jew does something wrong, it's not "Shame on you!" It's, "Chilul Hashem!!!" So, it is never our own honor on the line but the honor of Hashem.
To answer the second question we'll take the scenic route beginning with the Yad Yechezkel by Rabbi Yechezkel Levinstein. He brings down a midrash which states, "Moshe says to Hashem, 'The uncircumcised and the idolaters and the heretics would not chase after us were it not for Your Torah and mitsvos that You have given us.'" R. Levinstein notes that this midrash was used by Maimonedes in his famous letter offering words of fortification to a terribly oppressed Yemenite community. He uses it to say that the nations are jealous of us! Incredible!!
I always understood that our enemies did not want the moral responsibility that we represent in the world. Hitler, y"sh expressed that very idea himself. That doesn't sound like a case of jealousy. Isn’t it that moral aspect of our Torah and mitsvos which is the reason they chase us, meant by the midrash? Wasn’t that what was meant when our Sages said ‘Sinai’ sounds like ‘Sina’ which means hate!? But if Maimonedes say the midrash means their jealous it must be so.
The Yad Yechezkel is saying don't be fooled! Not by their words and not by their actions. What appears on the surface is not what is at the root! It just occured to me, Hitler y'sh, was also trying to creat a master race. How could he if there already was one, le'havdil elef alfai havdalos?
Wherever there are Jews there will be non-Jews harboring a jealousy but how will it emerge? It may emerge as hatred. R. Levenstein goes on to explain what this awareness we need to take to heart as well. What actions will emanate from us if we harbor jealousy within our own hearts of our fellow Jews?
Rabbi Zev Leff looks at the 10th Commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbors wife, man servant, maidservant, ox or donkey." The Torah lists the wife and the donkey in one fell swoop! Where's a feminist when you need one? What nerve is that to equate a woman with donkey??? Rabbi Leff explains that the Torah is teaching that jealousy isn’t because you want something to serve a purpose or to fill a need. Then certainly there would be a difference between a woman and an animal. The Torah is describing a jealousy of objects just because their someone elses! That’s all that matters. He has them, I want them! So who cares what it is, if it walks around the house or sits in the barn! Why should he have it? From the perspective of the jealous one it really doesn't matter if it’s his neighbor’s wife or his donkey. The want is all the same want! And it's entirely destructive!
More frightening is a Gemorah in Pesachim which says that the hatred of an am ha'arets- an ignorant Jew to a Talmid Chacham- Torah Scholar could be far greater than that of a gentile to a Jew!!! A Rabbi Joung explains this Gemorah with the following parable. If someone wants to catch a train and they get to the station and find out that they're a half hour late, their anger is tempered. What could they do? They really never had a chance. But if he gets to the station and he is just a minute late... now he is mad! He was so close! The soul of the gentile to the soul of the Jew is worlds apart. Their jealous of our Torah but what will they do with it? The soul of the am ha'arets is very close to the soul of a Talmid Chacham.
A soul is a potential. The greater the potential for achieving spiritual heights is directly proportionate to the potential to sinking to animalistic lows. I once read a survey of the 5 most famous people ‘in the world'. The results were 1)Moses 2)Jesus 3)Freud 4)Marx 5)Einstein. Obviously, this survey wasn't taken in Turkey or China. Still, all 5 individuals had major affects on world history and all 5 were Jewish. Only Moses used his potential wholly and totally to the side of good. Jesus and Marx killed countless millions. Einstein ‘s brilliance was used for good and evil. And as for Freud... take a look at California...'nuf said. No, wait...
I once heard Ms. Christy Hefner speak about her empire of shmuts (at a Jewish function, of course). It was very amusing to hear her willingness to be a vehicle for the moral decay of Western civilization as ‘good business'. It was even more amusing when she commented that California was Playboy's testing ground for new products. I thought to myself, with all the rainstorms, mud slides, earthquakes and brush fires that California gets, apparently Someone else is using it for a testing ground as well. Now ‘nuf said.
So a root of all evil is jealousy. How it manifests itself is another story. When Yaakov left Lavan and was about to meet Eisav he prayed to G-d for protection (Breishis 32:12) "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." He didn't fear Eisav just as an ‘enemy' but first and foremost as a ‘brother'. Yaakov knew there were many nations and temptations waiting for Israel and they could do damage either way. Demographically speaking, 5 million people over 50 years should grow into 14 million. There were 5 million Jews in the U.S. after the Holocaust. 50 years later there are 6 million. Our enemy Eisav killed 6 million. Our brother Eisav killed 8 million.
Now Moshe is just across the Jordan and he knows it’s his job to see that Israel is prepared. Their final test would be the war against Midian. The Ohr HaChaim explains that Midian represents physical lusting. They have to be seen as that evil and be destroyed. Moshe would then know Israel is ready to cross the Jordan and then his job as leader would be over.
According to the Midrash Tanchumah, Moshe rounded up 12000 soldiers to fight in the foreground, 12000 more to guard the arms provisions in the middle ground and another 12000 soldiers to pray in the background. Our Sages tell us that not one single Jew was killed in this war. That's 12,000 Jews against every male of Midian! Those 12000 who prayed did a great job!!!
Pinchas was appointed to lead the war against Midian. Usually this is the role of the High Priest. Why Pinchas? One answer, the most simple; one who starts a mitsva should finish it. Pinchas committed the first act of avenging G-d by killing Zimri and Cozbi, the Midianite princess. Another answer brought by the Sha'arei Aharon is that Moshe let Pinchas avenge his great grandfather Yoseph! How so? The brothers sold Yoseph to Yishma'elim who then sold him to Midianites! Although Rashi tells us these Midianites were selling fragrances because G-d watches out for his righteous, I can assure you Yoseph was not enjoying the fragrant ride. He was pleading for his life!, "You know who I am? I'm the son of Ya'akov, the grandson of Abraham! Surely you heard about my father's wealth!? Take me home and we'll buy your entire stock! He'll give you 10x market value! We'll give you great rewards! You can all be rich!!"
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyways, his pleading fell on deaf ears. These Midianites had a Jew and they preferred to sell him into slavery rather then be handsomely rewarded giving him his freedom. Yoseph's descendant was given the opportunity to avenge his grandfather’s honor.
The Maharal says to this, "Ancient history! Old news! Who remembers it?" It had nothing to do with events around the man but the man himself. Joseph, every day, 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, for yeeeeeeears had to fight off the advances of Potiphars wife. Joseph stood for morality. He stood for defeating ones physical desires which the Ohr Hachaim said is exactly what Midian represents. We saw how well Pinchas upheld his Grandpa's values. Pinchas was THE man for this job.
And speaking of advances, let's move on. In
is listed the 42 camping sights of Israel while in the desert. Rashi says that even though they were sentenced to 40 years of wandering, don't think all they did was wander. One place they were in for 19 years! Another opinion says these sights represent 42 stages in a persons life. (Don't ask, I don't know) Rav Osher Reich points out that little paragraph everyone shmears just before Lecha Dodi is 42 words long. The first letters of those 42 words make up a 42-letter name of G-d. (Don't ask, I don't know.) The Rabbeinu B'chayai who says that there were sparks of holiness in those 42 locations in the desert and Israel had to go get ‘em. The actions of the fathers are a portent for the children. In exile, when the Jews will be scattered across the globe we will be picking up sparks of holiness from all corners of the world.
If you've been on your toes, you probably have a question, not to mention a cramp. A place deserted of all sanctity has sparks of holiness? Remember the city of Sodom? It too was so evil and unholy that it had to be destroyed and yet it was the birthplace of the messianic line! (On the mother's side.) Commentaries say that it is the incredible holiness within which is the very attraction for the unholiness to converge on it. As we said, the greater the potential for sanctity, the greater the potential for evil.
The Rabbeinu B'chayai also says that just as we journeyed through the desert after the first redemption, so too will we with the mashiach in the final redemption. That will be the final test. Those who have the faith will drop everything, wallets, car keys, insurance policies, 401K's, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-I-n-g and follow the mashiach into the desert. A midrash on Megillas Ruth says we will again receive the mon from Heaven and water from the rock. (That's good because we just left everything behind.) The Midrash Tana D'Vay Eliyahu says the mishkan was put in hiding and is being saved till that future time. My chumash Rebbe, Rabbi Fox asks, "But isn't the mashiach going to build the third Temple? Why do we need the Mishkan?" Now the answer is clear. "It must be for this rendezvous in the desert!" And since there will be a 3rd Temple as well, perhaps this is why the Otser Acheres HaYamim who also says that the mishkan will again be used, adds, it will only be a place of prayer and not for sacrifices. I love it when all the pieces come together!
Masai opens that “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journey at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth." Why the repetition of journeys and going forth and why is only the first "by the bidding of Hashem"?
Even with the 42 stops connoting the exile, the thrust of the parsha is talking about redemption. This is the Matos-Masai combo. Matos is exile and Masai is redemption. The first ‘going forth' and ‘journey' in the verse is about the past redemption and the second is referring to the one which will begin any day now. Why is only the first ‘by Hashem's bidding'? Pesach was all G-d’s doing. We didn't deserve it. That won't be the case with the final redemption. That's the final test. We are going to have to turn our backs on our own modern day Egypt and head into the desert. For right now all we have to do is head into Shabbos.
Ideally, when Shabbos comes, we are supposed to drop everything work related and enter into Shabbos like we just quit our last job and are starting a new job on Sunday. Now I see how that's good practice for the aforementioned test of dropping everything and heading into the time that's yom shekulo Shabbos- when every day is like Shabbos! I love it when all the pieces come together! Especially a piece of chala, of chicken, of kugel, of kishke....Shabbot Shalom!