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PARSHAS MATOS-MASSEIParashas Matos
He shall not profane his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (30:3)
The Arizal suggests that yacheil, which is translated here as profane, is closely related to chol/chulin, weekday, secular, mundane, unholy. The Torah is teaching us to value every word that exits our mouth. Every word has the ability to accomplish great and wonderful things. It can, likewise, create prosecuting evidence with which the individual will be indicted for the inappropriate words that leave his mouth. K'chol ha'yotzei mi'piv yaaseh, "According to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do." The individual himself holds the key to blessing and curse, based upon what emanates from his mouth. If he utters positive, holy words, the Heavenly response will be to give these words weight, value and positive efficacy. If he spews forth expletives, invective and diatribe, he may expect his words to affect himself personally in a negative manner.
Horav Yosef Berger, Shlita, relates a story that is both frightening and inspirational. He writes that he was asked by one of the people who played a leading role in the episode to publicize the incident, so that it would inspire the reading public to derive a lesson and heed its message. I take the liberty of following his directive.
A number of years ago, Rav Berger was menachem aveil, paying a shivah call, consoling a mourner, who had sustained the terrible tragedy of the loss of his son. It was a double loss, in that a few years earlier this same father had buried his young infant son who had died suddenly. Words cannot express the pall of grief that permeated the home. People came to visit, to comfort, but they were all at a loss for words. After all, what can one say? Sharing the parent's grief is the most comforting gesture one can make. As the Rav was sitting next to the father, searching in his mind for something to say, the father preempted him. "You must listen to my story," the father began. "Veritably, it was my brother that reminded me concerning this episode, and, after giving it some thought, I feel that his observation is correct; therefore, it behooves me to publicize it. Perhaps it will serve as an illui neshamah, merit for the souls of my sons.
"As teenagers, my brother and I attended a yeshivah that was a drive from our home. We would travel back and forth via sherut, van, that charged a flat rate per passenger. Once, we were the first passengers on the sherut, so I encouraged the driver to hurry up and leave. He responded that he does not leave until each seat is filled. He had to make a living, and a half-empty van costs the same to operate as a full van. Well, I was insolent and talked back to him inappropriately. The driver looked at me seriously and said, "I do not deserve such talk from you. I have suffered enough in my life. I recently lost my soldier son in a battle with the Arabs." In my childish foolishness, I replied, "So what, I am also a shakul, lost a child." It was uncalled for and utterly stupid, but those words came out of my young mouth. The sherut finally filled up with people, and we moved on, the story forgotten.
"After I sustained my second tragedy, my brother started thinking, going back in time, introspecting if anything had ever happened that could possibly have served as somewhat of a catalyst for these tragedies. He reminded himself of the episode with the sherut driver. Who knows? I did say something terribly wrong. Yes, I was young and foolish, but perhaps I was poseach peh l'Satan, I gave an opening for Satan to enter and condemn. I am relating this story to you, so that you will publicize it. Perhaps it will prevent someone from saying something wrong. With the merit of people guarding their tongue, my sons will have an illui neshamah." I felt that this was one story that had to be written.
And Moshe became angry with the officers of the Army… And Elazar HaKohen told the soldiers… This is the statute of the Torah. (Bamidbar 31:14,21)
Anger is a frightening trait. Regardless of one's position, achievements, power, when he becomes victim to anger, he loses it all. Everything that he has amassed disappears. He literally becomes a different person. He is now an angry person. An individual plagued by indignance has no control over his ability to reason; he has no stability. He becomes a slave to his fury. Anger comes in all forms. No "one size fits all" when it comes to losing it. Some have angry delusions of grandeur. The world owes him "big time", and it is always letting him down. Such a person is in a constant state of indignity. One kind of anger is directed at someone for an imagined-- or not so imagined-- affront. Another kind is justifiable anger, righteous indignation, which some may think is altogether different. It is not. The tragic effects of anger are all the same. Under this heading is contrived anger, in which an individual sways himself into believing that the subject of his anger is the source of all of his problems.
I had such an incident, during which a "friend" of mine clued me in on a secret: He has been angry with me for the past five years. Why? Because when he was going through a difficult period in his life, I would often ask him, "How is everything?", to which he would respond, "Baruch Hashem," and I did not press him further. It was apparent to him that I did not want to listen to his tale of woe. Perhaps he was right. In his mind, he was justified in being upset with me. While his attitude towards me has not improved his life, it does place some of the onus of guilt on me. Well, I guess, so be it. I accepted the critique, but, regrettably, it did not change things. He remains angry at me, not open to listening or accepting reason.
That is the primary effect of anger: one loses his ability to reason, to view things from a rational point of view. What about justified indignation, when one has a legitimate reason to be angry? Do the effects change? Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, posits that even when one's anger is legitimate, his ability to think rationally is compromised. He no longer remembers properly. He is just not the same person as he had been before. The Rosh Yeshivah bases this on the encounter which took place between Moshe Rabbeinu and Pinchas, the commander of the Jewish army, when the latter returned from the war with Midyan. Moshe became angry with the officers for sparing women who were known to have participated in the orgies which caused the plague that took its toll on the Jewish people. His original instructions had been clear: vengeance had to be taken against the perpetrators of the sin.
Pinchas argued that Moshe had, indeed, transmitted Hashem's command for vengeance to be meted out, but that he had not provided details. Thus, the warriors inflicted serious damage on Midyan's army, bringing them down in crushing defeat. Moshe, however, felt that while the women were not warriors, they were the ones who had enticed the Jews to sin, thus mandating their punishment. As a result of Moshe's anger, Elazar transmitted the laws pertaining to the cleansing of metal utensils to the people. We see clearly that, despite Moshe's justified anger, he still suffered the direct consequences of forgetting the halachah. Clearly, anger takes its toll on a person's wisdom and spiritual statue, regardless of its legitimacy and righteousness.
We should not view the effect of anger as a punishment, but rather, as a natural consequence. This concept is ignored by many who, when they lose it, do not realize that they are no longer the same person as they had been before. Thus, even great people, brilliant people, good people, change as a consequence of anger. Some people train themselves not to get angry. It takes tremendous self-control and a very special personality, but it does work for some. The following story, quoted from Rabbi Pesach Krohn in his book, Echoes of the Maggid, introduces us to one such special person.
The Goldbergs, Zalman and Rivkah, had been married for fifteen years and Hashem had blessed them with eight healthy children. Rivkah was now expecting their ninth child. They had a good marriage. Life had its ups and downs, which they weathered together. In one area, however, their different personalities were prominently displayed. Zalman was meticulous, punctilious almost to perfection. He was demanding of himself and, by extension, of everyone else around him. Rivkah was a direct opposite. Indifferent to the point of lackadaisical, she never got carried away. If it was not today - it would be tomorrow. Zalman's anxiety over a messy room was assuaged by Rivkah's constant rejoinder: Zeh lo chashuv, "It is not important."
"It is not important" is a wonderful attitude to take. To an individual who is exacting and demanding, it can be frustrating. A relaxed attitude addresses and solves many of life's problems, but, unless one has such a laid-back personality, it can be exasperating. This was Zalman and Rivkah; a wonderful, loving couple who had two contrasting approaches to life. While their personalities may have complemented one another, surely there must have been times when Zalman was climbing the walls in anxiety.
One summer Thursday afternoon, while Rivkah and the children were enjoying the tri-state community's favorite summer pastime - the Catskills - she called Zalman in the city and asked him bring up a new sleeve of checks for their checkbook. She seemed very concerned about these checks, because, during the next two times that she spoke to him, she reiterated that he, please, not forget to bring the checks.
Zalman was conscientious, so he immediately placed the checks in an orange bag that he was bringing up to the bungalow for Shabbos. When he arrived, he hung the bag on the post of the crib in their bedroom. Friday afternoon went by, and the checks remained in the bag. Zalman was upset. After all, his wife had called him three times to bring the checks. On Motzei Shabbos, the bag with the checks continued to adorn the crib post. Zalman did not bother saying anything. After all, Rivkah would probably counter, "Zeh lo chashuv." He returned to the city, slightly offended that after calling him a number of times to bring the checks, Rivkah had totally ignored them the entire weekend.
A week went by, and Zalman returned for Shabbos. Guess what he found hanging on the side of the crib post - the bag with the new sleeve of checks. Clearly, it had not been such an emergency if it was still hanging there untouched. Why was Rivkah in such a rush to have the checks if, in fact, she did not use them. He did not say anything, because his wife would probably use her famous line, "Zeh lo chashuv."
Sometimes saying what is on one's mind clears the air and allows a person to move on. Zalman kept his feelings to himself. He was bothered, however, by the fact that his wife had called him to bring something which, in the end, she had ignored. Life goes on, and Zalman returned to his weekly routine. In the back of his mind, the unused sleeve of checks kept gnawing at him. Two days later, a friend of Rivkah's called to tell him that she had gone into premature labor. There had been complications. She and the baby were in severe distress. Zalman flew out of his office and drove as fast as he could to the hospital. Sadly, he was too late. Rivkah had died in childbirth. Zalman was crushed, without words. Shock and disbelief, followed by overwhelming grief, consumed him.
Returning to his grief-stricken family in the bungalow, the first thing he noticed was the bag hanging over the crib post. He removed the checks and wrote out two: the first to the Chevrah Kaddisha, Jewish Sacred Society; and the second for the funeral. Shivah went by quickly, with friends and neighbors from all over converging on their home to express their grief, and hope for the future.
Shivah was over, and Zalman went over to the empty bag that still hung over the crib post and hung it up in the closet. On the outside of the bag, in large letters, he wrote: "Zeh lo chashuv." Every time he saw that bag, he remembered Rivkah. After all, was she not right? Is it worth arguing about narishkeit, trivialities? Were foolish things that irked people sufficient reason to quarrel?
Zalman learned a powerful lesson which his wife taught him posthumously. Life is short, and anger shortens it. We waste precious time quarreling over nothing. A word said, an action misconstrued, anger erupts, and, before we know it, we are embroiled in full-scale contention. Insults are hurled, people are humiliated, anger increases, until it becomes a full-fledged conflagration. It started with a tiny spark, that at the time, could have been easily extinguished. Now it is beyond that point and out of control. Zeh lo chashuv is a powerful credo by which we should live our lives. We will become healthier and happier because we will be much more at ease.
They approached him and said, "Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children." (32:16)
Chazal chastise Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven for their misplaced priorities. Building cities for their children should take priority over erecting pens for their livestock. Moshe Rabbeinu immediately corrected them. Chazal use the phrase, Asu es ha'ikar tafeil, v'es ha'tafeil ikar, "They made the main thing into the subordinate, and the non-essential into the principle." What was the greater error, exchanging the tafeil and making it the ikar, or down-playing the ikar and making it the tafeil? This is what Horav Shmuel Rozovsky, zl, asked his students during one of his lectures. Good question. One might think that it is only wrong to downplay what is important, but elevating and giving significance to something that should be subordinate might not be so bad. The Rosh Yeshivah said that Chazal are teaching us that they are both equally wrong! As one should not grant undue magnitude and merit to something which is undeserving of this prominence, so, too, is it wrong to take something paramount and relieve it of its primary status, downgrading it to insignificance. Indeed, when one elevates the subordinate, he will ultimately lose sight of what is the ikar, and demote its primacy. Everything has its proper place.
During that lecture, the Rosh Yeshivah quoted an inspirational thought he had heard from the Mashgiach, Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl. When we think about it, it is a wonder why Chazal critiqued Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven. What were they doing that was so wrong? The Torah does not seem to view the fact that they sought to remain on Eivar HaYarden, Trans Jordan, in such negative light. In Devarim 33:21, Moshe Rabbeinu blesses the Shevatim, Tribes. Included in his blessing to Shevet Gad, he says, "He chose the first portion for himself, for that is where the lawgivers plot is hidden." Gad chose that area for his portion because he knew that Moshe would be buried there. Is this so bad? Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven gave up their portion in Eretz Yisrael, just to live in the proximity of Moshe's grave. It was not a matter of money. It had nothing to do with grazing cattle or sheep. It was about their unique love for their Rebbe. Can they be faulted? Should they be chastised?
The Mashgiach explains that, indeed, their primary reason for settling in Trans Jordan was Moshe's gravesite, but intermingled within their noble intention was a bit of personal interest. They wanted to provide for their own financial stability. Living in Eivar HaYarden meant lush vegetation, sufficient food for their livestock. They would have it made. They had good intentions, but one misplaced machshavah, thought, undermined their goals.
Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth. (33:2)
The pasuk emphasizes that all of the journeys which Klal Yisrael took were not the result of Moshe Rabbeinu's decision, but rather, their following Hashem's command. Yalkut Meam Loez interprets this pasuk as conveying an important lesson for man's welfare, namely that a human being should be satisfied with the absolute minimum in both food and dress. Shunning excess in the areas of material/physical pursuits is a pre-requisite for anyone who seeks to achieve the merit of wearing the crown of Torah knowledge, to live his life in the service of G-d, and to act and think for the sake of Heaven. It seems like a tall order, but it is attainable. One must remain focused on the lofty goals he intends to attain. It is the same in every vocational pursuit. If one wants to climb to the zenith of the mountain, he must prepare himself and take along the bare minimum. Excess weighs one down and not only slows his ascent, but it also inhibits his success.
One should be guided by the words of Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei 3:6, B'chol derachecha deiei Hu, v'Hu yeyasher orchosecha, "In all your ways you shall know Him, and He will direct your paths." Rather than act for personal motives, one should move forward and initiate his every action for the sake of Hashem. If one is living a life in which his motives are pure and directed Heavenward, he will not get off track. Focused on his journey, he will succeed in reaping the fruits of success. Thus, one should live in such a manner in which he acquires sufficient strength and wherewithal to study Torah sufficiently, to give tzedakah, charity, and to perform meritorious deeds. It should not be about "us," but about "Him," This is how a Jew should live.
If we orient our actions towards Hashem, the Almighty will direct our paths, so that whatever we do will be reckoned to our credit in our Heavenly account as having performed a commandment of Hashem. In other words, our mundane actions - if regulated and motivated for a Heavenly purpose - become mitzvos. This is the pasuk's message when it says, "Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem." This alludes to the deeds of man being recorded in a Book before the Almighty. If one's motzaeihem, goings forth, are for the sake of his maseihem, journeys - for the purpose of the ultimate journey he will be undertaking when he traverses the bridge from mortal life on this world to spiritual life in Olam Habba, the World to Come - then Moshe will record it "at G-d's command." His "trip" will receive the seal of approval. His life will be entered as one in which mitzvos were performed. Everything was al pi Hashem, according to Hashem's bidding.
Likewise, the conclusion of the pasuk, which notes that maseihem, their journeys, were according to their motzaeihem, goings forth. This teaches us that man's journeys, his meanderings from place to place, ought to be in accordance with motzaeihem. The motzaeihem is a cognate of hotzaos, expenditures, in relation to which we now interpret the pasuk. One must live with minimal expenditures, and not for monetary aggrandizement or a physical desire to satisfy his passions. One should strive to be mistapek b'muat, satisfied with little, thereby allowing himself time and emotional balance to focus on matters of significance - spirituality and the World to Come. Life should not be a series of involvement in trivial matters. By the same token, the individual will be spared from committing any felonious act with someone else's money. Anything belonging to someone else will be distant to him, his mind not on it at all. When materialism plays a leading role in our lives, we become its slave, and every opportunity to increase our wealth becomes an obsession and a mandate. Nothing stands in our way. When we train ourselves to rise above this focus, and instead turn to spirituality, our pursuits change, our lives have greater nobility. We are more dignified. We are mistapek b'muat, satisfied with whatever material benefits we have. We are interested in the big picture, Olam Habba.
Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, was wont to say, "That which I am missing in bitachon, trust, in Hashem, I complete with histapkus, suffering with less." Horav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zl, explains this using a simple analogy. A person requires a certain amount of money in order to live. He trusts in Hashem, but his bitachon is limited. He does not really trust Hashem to "supply" the entire sum. He believes that he will be the beneficiary of a good part of what he needs. So what does he do? He accustoms himself to a lower budget. In this way, his bitachon in Hashem will be realistic.
The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, was an individual to whom material things meant nothing. Following World War II, he advocated for the spiritual and physical health of the survivors of the Holocaust. During the week he was so busy and so involved, that he never changed clothes. He walked around in a torn, worn-out pair of shoes that he was able to appropriate from a Wermacht soldier. His followers vainly attempted to convince him that he needed a new pair of shoes. He remarked, "When shoes will be provided for every survivor, then I too will get new shoes. Finally, one of the Rebbe's close followers purchased a strong pair of shoes from a shoemaker in Munich, Germany. One night, when the Rebbe fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion, he snuck into his room and exchanged the new pair of shoes for their old counterparts. When the Rebbe awoke he complained that his shoes had been taken, but it was to no avail. He had no alternative but to wear the new shoes.
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. (35:11)
The Chidushei HaRim derives from this pasuk the approach we must take upon dealing with one who has fallen prey to sin. The pasuk addresses an individual who has unintentionally murdered a fellow Jew. The thought of this tragedy can shake one up. The unintentional murderer is clearly a broken person who is relegated to run for his life and to live in one of the Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge. The mere fact that he has a place to which to run is a sign of hope. A man is engulfed by depression, laden with guilt: What should he do? Where can he go? Hashem responds, "I have set aside a place for you. Go there, you will be safe. There is still hope." This is how we should act concerning those who have fallen by the wayside, who have erred and messed up their lives. Their sinful behavior should not be a catalyst for us to shun them. On the contrary, we must embrace and accept them with open arms. We must be their ir miklat, city of refuge.
In the end of his sefer, Ahavas Chesed, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, addresses modern-day reshaim, contemporary evildoers (this was eighty years ago). He writes that it is incumbent upon us to pray for their return to the fold, to reach out to them at every juncture, and to make them comfortable, to help them to feel at home with their religion, which, for the most part, they have never known. It is forbidden to hate them, because, had the right person admonished them properly, they might have changed their ways. Indeed, the Chazon Ish, zl, considers them tinokos she'nishbu, children that were taken captive by gentiles, and never had the opportunity to study Torah and observe its mitzvos.
The question is raised concerning contemporary society, given the advent of the electronic age and modern-day communications that allow one to access all infinite knowledge about any religion. Is Judaism that difficult to research with electronic media that cover the gamut from far left to far right? Judaism is quite accessible today. Should we still consider a Jew who is unknowledgeable of Torah-life to be a "child taken by captives"?
A flipside, however, to this new-age of communications has emerged: one can become exposed to a viral animus against chareidim, observant Jews. Many disillusioned and self-alienated Jews spew forth their self-loathing resentment of anything religious. A naïve student of Judaism who has little background - and even less backbone - can quite easily fall into their net of acrimony. The question remains: Are today's assimilated Jews to be considered tinokos she'nishbu? I think the basis for the Chafetz Chaim's statement was not the time period, as much as the situation. He understood that each person requires an individual who is able to reach him - specifically. The venerable sage felt that perhaps such an individual did not exist, thus removing fault from those who were non-observant. We have many gifted outreach experts and teachers today. We also have an assimilated Jew who has over two hundred years of secular Judasim as a foundation for his heresy. Nu? It might be considered a wash. We must, therefore, reach out with even greater love and vision, being ever resilient and never giving up. To lose even one Jew is to lose a world.
B'sof yamav, as he was getting on in years, and with his health failing, Horav Yehudah Tzadakah, zl, was told to slow down and speak less in public forums. The doctors and his family were concerned for his health. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Rav Tzadkah explained that he had an awesome responsibility to continue his work without any letup. "Indeed, do you have any idea of the effect of even one lecture?" he asked. "Just recently, a young man approached me and said that he had returned to Judaism after years of non-observance because of a drashah, lecture, I delivered in Katamon. Can I possibly ignore such a responsibility?"
Ahavah Rabbah / Ahavas olam.
Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that the phrase Ahavah rabbah does not appear anywhere in Tanach. The closest phrase is, Ahavas olam ahavtich, "I have loved You with an eternal love" (Yirmiyahu 31:2). Veritably, there is a dispute in the Talmud Berachos 11B if the text of the blessing should follow the pasuk, hence, Ahavas olam, or should we say, Ahavah rabbah. Our custom is to recite the phrase Ahavah rabbah during the Shacharis prayer, and Ahavas olam in the evening service. Nusach Sfard recites Ahavas olam during Shacharis. Rav Schwab explains the concept of ever-increasing as manifest by Hashem. In His ceaseless love for Klal Yisrael, Hashem constantly expands the chain of Torah knowledge throughout all of our generations. Each generation has expounded further on the Torah knowledge bequeathed them from the previous generation. Yet, nonetheless, we are still victims to yeridas ha'doros, the fact that with each ensuing generation our Torah knowledge diminishes; while, at the same time, we see a plethora of novella parallel to the depth and breadth of knowledge achieved by our predecessors.
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li"n R' Yaakov Zev ben Yehudah Aryeh z"l
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