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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Chukas

This is the teaching regarding a man if he will die in a tent, whoever enters the tent and whatever is in the tent will be contaminated for seven days. (19:14)

In a lecture on the topic of hasmadah, diligence in Torah study, Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, once cited the Talmud in Berachos 63b in which Chazal say that Torah is sustained only in he who kills himself over it. This is derived from the words, "This is the Torah: A man who dies in a tent", referring to the ohalah shel Torah, the tent of Torah. In order for the Torah one studies to become integrated into his essence, he must literally be willing to give up his life for it. The material benefits of this world -- with its worldly pleasures -- are of no value to this person. He is like a corpse who does not sense these pleasures.

Rav Chaim related a story of a wealthy man who was so engrossed in his business activities that he had little time for spiritual pursuits. Indeed, he had no time for tefillah b'tzibur, communal prayer with a minyan, quorum, and limited time and energy left at the end of the day to study Torah. As the years went by and he became older and wiser, he came to realize that he would soon be summoned to meet his Maker. He would have to give an account for neglecting to pray and study in accordance with Hashem's wishes. He decided to alter his daily schedule to provide for minyan attendance and Torah study. Every day he would leave his home early in the morning, daven, and then study Torah. A few hours would elapse before he left for work.

Undoubtedly, arriving at the office three hours late did little to endear him to his customers, and especially to his wife who would slave in the store alone. When his wife questioned him as to his whereabouts, his response was simple but abrupt. He was busy with other very important things. After she pestered him for a number of days, she decided that she would follow him and see for herself how he was spending the time away from the store. She followed him discreetly and -- lo and behold -- she discovered that he was "wasting" their hard-earned money to study in the yeshivah. This was simply not right. "Have you taken leave of your senses?" she asked. "Do you realize how much money we are losing every day? Moreover, you owe it to your regular customers who have supported you to be there for them. How can you do this?" she asked incredulously.

"Listen to me, my dear wife," he responded, "and tell me what you would do if one day the Malach ha'Maves, Angel of Death, shows up at our door, bids me good day and says, 'Your time is up.' Would you tell him, 'No, he cannot go. There are customers waiting in the store; it will ruin our business!' Veritably, you could never give such a foolish response to the Angel of Death. Therefore, from today on, during those hours of the day that I am not in the business, you are to view it as if I were dead! When I arrive from the bais ha'medrash, it will be my techias ha'meisim, resurrection of the dead!"

Rav Chaim explains that in this story lies the underlying meaning of our pasuk: A person should view himself as gone from this world, dead to society and its pressures and demands. Thus, every excuse to "shter," deter, his Torah study will be for naught. Indeed, only then will he realize how much time he really has to study Torah.

Furthermore, continued Rav Chaim, we can delve even deeper into this idea. Imagine if one day it was decided in Heaven to avail all those who have died, every holy neshamah, one hour - one single hour - to arise from the dead and do whatever he wants. Indeed, when family and friends who are alive would hear of this wonderful news, they would all rush to the cemeteries to meet with their loved ones. The long-awaited moment would arrive and everybody who flocked to the cemeteries would be awaiting that single hour meeting, and -- lo and behold -- the neshamos, souls, would arise and immediately run to the nearest bais ha'medrash to study Torah with unbelievable intensity. They would refuse to waste a second of their one hour to speak to anyone. Why? Because now they know and appreciate the remarkable value of Torah study. Now they understand the futility of this temporary world.

This is the meaning of Chazal's dictum: Torah is sustained only by he who views his short stay on this world as one who was released from the grave for a short period and makes the most of it by applying his time and energy to Torah study.

Therefore do the rulers say: Come to Cheshbon. (Let us make a reckoning.) (21:27) Chazal teach us that these "rulers" are those who are able to rule over their inclinations, who are in control of their yetzer hora, evil inclination. What type of reckoning do these rulers make? They determine the advantage derived from a mitzvah as opposed to a loss, and the gain of a sin as opposed to the "loss". One who makes this reckoning will be "built in Olam Hazeh, this world, and established in Olam Habah, the Eternal World." While it goes without saying that one gains eternal benefit from mitzvah performance, the novelty of this dictum is that one also gains immeasurably in this world.

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, related an intriguing story he heard from one of the listeners at his Friday night shmuessen, ethical discourses, in which he spoke about weighing the loss incurred in performing a mitzvah against its reward. The story took place in Russia during the beginning of Socialist rule. This man worked at the Bourse, dealing in pearls. He would leave for work promptly every day at 8:00 a.m. One day as he went to work. he passed a house from which a man called out to him to come inside and be the tenth man for a minyan. Apparently, he had yahrzeit that day, and he needed a minyan for kaddish. Looking at his watch, the man decided he could spend fifteen minutes to help another Jew. This feeling changed drastically when he entered the house and discovered that there were only five others there. After a few more minutes, they had seven people. The man, who now realized that he would be late for work, became angry and complained to his "host," "You told me that you needed a tenth man, but even now, you still need more men!"

The owner of the house said, "You are right, but what would you do if it were you who needed to say Kaddish?" "It is easy for you to say, since you are not losing money," the man responded. "I am sorry, I must leave." The owner went to the door and blocked the entrance, saying, "I am not letting you go."

When he saw that he had no choice but to stay, the jeweler relented and took out a Sefer Tehillim and began to recite the Psalms. Finally, there was a minyan, but the host did not merely choose to say Kaddish, he proceeded to daven the entire davening. How does one say no to another Jew who wants to say Kaddish for a parent? Indeed, too many of us wait until it is too late, focusing their Kibud Av v'Eim solely on the Kaddish and rarely on anything else. The jeweler was resigned to sit it out until the end of davening, thus performing the mitzvah in the fullest sense of the word, by enabling another Jew to daven with a minyan. After davening, the jeweler resumed his journey to the Bourse.

As he neared his office, a man came running over to him and shouted, "Get out of here now! The Bolsheviks are attacking! They have killed just about everyone. Run for your life!" The jeweler did an about-face and escaped into the woods. After a few days of running and hiding, he made it to the border and eventually to safety. He now realized that had he not stayed to help his host with his Kaddish, he would right now be the subject of Kaddish. The mitzvah that he performed protected him even in this world.


1) How many black hairs disqualify a Parah Adumah?
2) May the Parah Adumah be slaughtered by a Yisrael?
3) The entire forty years that Klal Yisrael were in the desert they had water in the zchus of __________________.
4) Which _____________ mountains were not leveled by the Pillar of Cloud that went before Klal Yisrael?
5) Which pagan king had a part in Lot's rescue?


1) Two.
2) Yes.
3) Miriam.
4) A. Three.
B. Har Sinai, Har Hahar, Har Nevo.
5) Og.

Parashas Balak

May I die a death of the righteous, and may my end be as glorious as theirs. (23:10) The coexistence of conflicting ideas within one person is an unnatural, but not uncommon, phenomena. This is different from the hypocrite who knowingly acts to protect personal vested interests in a manner contrasting his true beliefs. We are, rather, addressing he who possesses two incompatible ideas within himself. Usually, this conflict is the result of the intellectual versus the emotional spheres. People can cogently understand the right and wrong of a given action or endeavor, although it will not necessarily be reflected in their behavior, owing to the overwhelming impact of one's emotions. Reason and emotions do not necessarily coincide, creating tragic instability within some people.

Bilaam is a prime example of how one may be controlled by his emotions. He was so governed by his yetzer hora, evil inclination, that the clear reasoning resulting from his superior mind and degree of prophecy were to no avail. He was a weak person who was totally subject to the whims and desires of his evil inclination. He was privileged to communicate with Hashem, yet remained a degenerate who sought to bring ruin upon Klal Yisrael through licentious behavior. He was a man who, upon gazing at Klal Yisrael's entire historical journey, asked to "die a death of the righteous, and may my end be as glorious as theirs." He refused to "understand" what he perceived. He did not permit his intellect to govern his emotions. One's intellectual conclusions are real. They must be tempered with action, so that the whims and fancies of his emotions will not take hold of him as Bilaam's did.

Bilaam prayed to die the death of the upright. He wanted to leave this world as the Patriarchs did and be admitted into Olam Habah, the Eternal World. To paraphrase the Kotzker Rebbe, "Bilaam did not know a basic premise: in order to die as a Jew, one must first live as a Jew!" Throughout the millennia, the Jewish nation has been subjected to some of the most brutal and heinous forms of torture and death. We have been sacrificed on the fires of religious bigotry and anti-Semitism Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Name of Hashem.

Is this what Hashem asks of us? Is simply dying for Him the Jewish ideal, or is death to be the crowning point to a life of Kiddush ha'chaim, sanctifying His Name? Life on this temporary world is a gesher -- a gesher ha'chaim -- a bridge between two lives: the spiritual life one lives in the Olam ha'Emes, World of Truth, prior to his birth; and the life he lives after his physical remains are interred in the earth. The life we live in this world should be one of moral and spiritual rectitude, with faith in, and commitment, to the Almighty, so that the bridge of life is intact and strong, serving as the vehicle facilitating our entry into the Eternal world.

Hashem opened the mouth of the she-donkey and she said to Bilaam, "What have I done to you that you have struck me three times?" (28:28)

Bilaam's she-donkey "saw" the angel blocking its path. Bilaam's vision was obscured. Therefore, he had no idea why the animal was not moving on. His first reaction was to strike the animal three times, after which the she-donkey miraculously opened its mouth and asked why he had struck three "regalim," times. Rashi notes the Torah's use of the word "regalim," a word used to describe the three Jewish Festivals, rather than the more commonly used word of "paamim." Rashi, quoting Chazal, states that this unusual form -- which usually denotes festivals -- is used to teach us that Bilaam sought to uproot the three Jewish Festivals. The Ari z"l adapts this idea, suggesting that Bilaam had no intention to destroy Klal Yisrael in its entirety. He sought only to eliminate our observance of the Three Festivals. Why? While it is true that the Shalosh Regalim are the foundation of our religious observance, why would Bilaam be so driven to expunge their observance?

The Shem Mishmuel explains this in the following manner: He cites the Mishnah in Pirke Avos 5:22, "Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and an insatiable soul are pupils of the wicked Bilaam." He feels that this Mishnah corresponds with an earlier Mishnah (4:28) in which Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says, "Jealousy, lust and the desire for honor remove a man from the world." The connection is clear: The evil eye corresponds to jealousy; the arrogant spirit is closely tied to the pursuit of honor, and the insatiable spirit is the main ingredient for lust.

There is another set of threes - the three cardinal sins which a Jew may never transgress: murder; idolatry; and sexual immorality. If it is a question of one's life or transgressing these sins, he should forfeit his life. Indeed, it is precisely the three character defects mentioned in the Mishnayos which are the precursors of these sins. Jealousy leads to all violent crimes. Sexual immorality is the result of an insatiable lust. The desire for honor is a form of idol worship in which one "worships" his own ego. Chazal teach us this in the Talmud Sotah 4b, "An arrogant person is like an idol worshipper."

The Maharal says that each of the three Avos, Patriarchs, was able to rectify one of these cardinal sins. By extension, Klal Yisrael, through their observance of the Three Festivals, would continue the fight to rid themselves of these three reprehensible sins. We begin with Pesach, the festival which commemorates the first time the Jewish People were drawn away from the idols of Egypt and assembled under the banner of monotheism. The consumption of matzoh, the poor man's bread, the food of the humble, implies a humble spirit necessary for quelling the arrogance within us. Haughtiness, the root of idolatry, the character trait that defines Bilaam, is extirpated by our observance of Pesach.

Shavuous, the festival commemorating the Giving of the Torah, denotes the rejection of unbridled lust. Inappropriate sexual thoughts and behavior find their place in a mind devoid of Torah. Indeed, in preparation for the receiving of the Torah, the Jews were required to separate from their wives. Through Torah study, we triumph over the lust within us, rejecting the road followed by Bilaam with his unrestrained desires.

Sukkos is the festival when we set aside all our differences with our fellow man. The Arba Minim, four species, symbolize our ability to get along and love all types of Jews, regardless of their religious background or level of observance. This festival helps us to overcome the jealousy and evil eye within ourselves. When we learn to realize that Klal Yisrael is just that - a klal - a community which includes everyone, a community which functions best as a whole, then we will not be jealous of others. Using our "good" eye, viewing others in a positive perspective, avails us the opportunity to overcome the negative influence of Bilaam's selfishness.

The character development engendered by the observance of each of the Three Festivals repudiates Bilaam's evil personality. Is it any wonder that he sought to expunge the observance of these festivals?


1) Who was a greater enemy of the Jews; Bilaam or Balak?
2) Bilaam's hatred for Klal Yisrael was so intense that he personally saddled his donkey as he prepared to curse them. Whose similar action served as a merit to counteract this?
3) Bilaam prepared __________ altars. How many did each of the Avos build?
4) Who was a greater sorcerer: Bilaam or Balak?


1) Bilaam.
2) Avraham Avinu personally saddled his donkey as he prepared to go to the Akeidah.
3) A. Seven.  B. Avraham = four; Yitzchak = one; Yaakov = two.
4) Balak.

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