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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Matos - Maasei

Parshas Matos

If a man takes a vow to Hashem…he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (30:3)

The Torah underscores the sacredness of the Jew's word; to violate one's word is to desecrate it. The Sefas Emes adds that the Jew's word by its very nature is holy, even if what he has said is not devarim shebikedushah, holy words, such as a brachah or words of Torah. What is the source of this sacredness? Regarding the creation of Adam HaRishon, the Torah in Sefer Bereshis 2:7 relates, "And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life." The Zohar explains that one who blows, blows from within himself; hence man's soul is a part of Hashem's essence. This soul, the G-d-given neshamah, made man into a living being, which Targum Unkelos defines as "ruach memalela," a speaking spirit. In other words, the life that is characteristic of man, which only Hashem could blow into him, is the rational soul that includes the koach ha'dibur, power of speech.

The ability to verbally express oneself intelligently -- to articulate one's innermost feeling using the power of speech -- distinguishes man from animal life. The power of speech is holy because it is the vehicle by which the soul of man, which is a "chelek elokai mimaal," part of Hashem's essence, is transmitted into man. The expression of G-d within mankind is through the power of speech. Furthermore, as the Toldos Yaakov Yosef writes, "Speech is the kulmus ha'lev, quill of the heart, expressing one's true innermost feeling, bringing forth one's essence."

Horav Chaim Vital, zl, writes that the above pasuk, "He shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do," serves as the key for understanding the function of human speech. The Torah teaches us that if one is careful about what he says, if he does not profane his speech through falsity, slander, etc., then Hashem will fulfill whatever comes from his mouth. Man will decree, and G-d will fulfill his words. The spiritual power concealed within human speech must be kept sacred at all costs. If it is safeguarded, then Hashem will bless man with the ability to accomplish miraculous feats using the power of speech.

The power of speech is incredible. The first Rebbe of Sadigur observes that the notion that man's speech is insignificant reflects the yetzer hora's, evil inclination's, enticement. The yetzer hora seeks every medium for denigrating the importance of speech, so that man will violate his G-d-given gift. The greatest indicator of this power is the fact that with a mere few words, "Harei at mekudeshes li," "Behold you are consecrated unto me," etc. a woman becomes the wife of a man, totally forbidden, by the punishment of death, to have any relations with another man. How much more so do words of Torah and mitzvos achieve in the spiritual realm. They are truly the quill of the heart and expression of the soul.

They came close to him and said, "We wish to build here sheep enclosures for our flocks and cities for our children." (32:16) Chazal criticize Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven for prioritizing their sheep before their children.

They turned the "ikar," essential, into the "tafel," insignificant, and the unimportant into the essential. They cared more for their possessions than they did for their children. Moshe Rabbeinu reproved them when he "turned it around," giving precedence to the children over their material assets. Chazal comment, "Lefikach galu techilah." "Therefore, these tribes were the first to be exiled."

The pasuk in Eichah says, "Bachoh sivkeh balailah." "They wept bitterly in the night." The Yalkut comments that Klal Yisrael made an agreement with the Navi Yirmiyah, "You were saved from the harshness of the galus, exile. You shall weep during the day. We, on the other hand, will weep in the night." Hashem explains, "Yisrael weeps at night; Yirmiyah weeps during the day. I, G-d, will weep during the day and in the night." Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, elucidates the words of Chazal, explaining their criticism of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven's misdirected allegiances.

Chazal teach us that with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, the Shechinah also went into galus. It waits for a home - a home in the lives of every Jew. This tragic galus causes the tears of every truly Jewish soul to flow. "Shechinah b'galusah," "The Shechinah is in exile." There is no greater reason to mourn. There are individuals, however, who believe that the "nocturnal" galus that has plagued our People -- the darkness of persecution, poverty and martyrdom -- has given way to what might seem to be a happier period. The Shechinah is no longer in galus. At least, it has been diminished. They do not realize that the "light" of material success and religious acceptance might possibly have caused the intensification of the Shechinah's galus.

There was a time during the dark periods of our nation's history in which the Shechinah found its home within us; within our sanctuaries; within our homes; within our lives. Regrettably, with the first crack of "dawn," with the first improvement of our external circumstances, many of us have abandoned the most precious treasures of the Torah and mitzvos. Suddenly, the Torah was relegated to second place, far behind secular achievement and material success.

Do we still live up to the values that we manifest during our galus ha'lailah, nocturnal exile, when the holiness, sanctity and nobility of Jewish family life reigned supreme? Is the hallowed Jewish tradition still alive -- which considered life's noblest achievement the rearing of children "b'ruach Yisrael sabah," in the tradition of Yisrael of old? Have we taught our children the overriding prominence of Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim, or have we worried more about the "little sheep," our material status and prosperity?

We are in a different galus, a galus of light, when we do not cry - and that in itself is indicative of the galus. If we would mourn, we would not be in galus! This is why the tribes who "seemed" to care more about their material circumstances than their spiritual needs preceded their brethren into exile. This galus affects everyone - even the most obstinate. This exile is the most dangerous state. Indeed, with every material achievement, the threat of galus is intensified - unless we respond. Unfortunately, Klal Yisrael weeps only at night, during the nocturnal galus of pain and deprivation. Yet there is another type of galus: the exile which is brought about when the simile of good fortune seems to dissipate the economic deprivation and religious intolerance to which we are subjected; for this exile, we need no tears.

Yirmiah ha'Navi weeps. He represents the sages, the Torah leaders whose function it is to watch over Hashem's children, to teach, to remain loyal to Hashem and His Torah, not only during nocturnal periods of suffering, but also in the bright light of prosperity and progress. Klal Yisrael tells him, "We will cry during the night, when we understand the exile. You will cry during the day, teaching us, reminding us that although the sun is shining, we are still in exile.

We have to remember that Yirmiyah's tears are to no avail if we do not recognize and reflect upon their significance. He is not a doomsayer. We have only to peruse Jewish history to note that with the advent of our emancipation from persecution and intolerance, a period of assimilation and religious indifference immediately dawned. The galus is twofold until that glorious day when we will all merit the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

We suggest an alternative approach towards understanding the critique against Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven. Let us accept that there was no malicious intent behind their misdirected concerns. They made a statement, however, that bespeaks an attitude that is not reflective of Torah values. They sought "arim l'tapeinu," cities for our children. Let us analyze their request. Klal Yisroel is in the wilderness, about to enter a new land. Their concern is for "cities" for their little children! Is that not asking a bit too much? Is there no faith? One would think their primary request would be for basics: food, shelter. To put in an order for an entire completed city for their infants, however, might be considered presumptuous.

On the other hand, is that much different than the parent who wants and expects to have his little child's entire life arranged from pre-school through parenthood? We make plans for our children. Indeed, we plot out their life's course, expecting things to go exactly as we have planned. We forget, regrettably, to "consult" with the Almighty, to see what "input" He might have. Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven had it all planned out. They were ready to settle, to build cities for their children. They should have been concerned with the immediate, the "here" and "now". They should have trusted in Hashem for the future.


1) A chacham revokes a neder through wording which implies _____________, while a husband uses wording implying _______________. Is the neder revoked if they switch the wording?
2) At which age does a girl become a Bas Mitzvah?
3) Was Shevet Levi included in the army that was to fight Midyan?
4) Who led the army that fought Midyan?
5) Which one of the Kohen Gadol's vestments was used during the war with Midyan?


1) 1) A. hatarah - permitting   B. hafarah -nullification   C. No.
2) 12 years, six months and one day
3) Yes.
4) Pinchas.
5) Tzitz.

Parshas Maasei

These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael. (33:1)

In his commentary to Sefer Shemos 21:1, Rashi suggests that the word "eileh," "these," is used to reject what has previously been stated. In citing Rashi, Mayanos Ha'netzach refers to Rav Zev, a student of the Mezritcher Magid, who renders the words, "Eileh masei," These are the journeys," homiletically. This world, olam hazeh, is the olam ha'nesia, the world of movement. We act in this world and "move on" to Olam Habah, the World to Come. In order for one to succeed in this world, so that when the time comes he will move to a better world, he must be "posel es ha'rishonim," reject his previous actions. Regardless of yesterday's mitzvah performance, the previous day's Torah study notwithstanding, he should reject it and act as if that it was not good enough. One should strive to perform mitzvos and study Torah with a new vigor, with a fresh enthusiasm every day as if the previous day's activity was not sufficient. There is no parameter to avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. As good as one has acted, he should realize that he could have done better. Resting on one's past laurels is a dangerous habit, one that has caused the downfall of many an individual and organization.

David Ha'Melech asks in Sefer Tehillim (107:43), "Mi chacham v'yishmar "eilah?", "Who is the wise man who observes eilah, these?" He who takes care to observe the "eilah," to reject his successes of the past, demanding renewed effort in the future, is truly a wise man. One should never be complacent in his service of Hashem saying, "I have served Hashem properly." To make demands on oneself in spiritual matters is the first step towards success.

We may suggest another reason for rejecting the observances of the past: One might feel he had not done well and become obsessed by it. He becomes bogged down in guilt and depression refusing to go further to continue in his spiritual ascension as a result of "yesterday's" deficient service. He is instructed to observe "eilah" - reject the past - go on to improve the future. Repent, do teshuvah, but do not become obsessed with the teshuvah. One whose mind is constantly focused on correcting his sin has a difficult time moving forward and performing a mitzvah. Even repentance has its limit.

And the assembly shall return him to his city of refuge,,,he shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol whom he had annointed with the sacred oil. (35:25)

Upon reading the text, we are confronted with a glaring question, which is indeed asked by Chazal in the Talmud Makos 11b: "Regarding the words, 'whom he had anointed', they ask, was it he (the murderer) that anointed the Kohen Gadol?" They respond that the implication is, that it is about that particular Kohen Gadol who was a contemporary of the murderer, who was the one annointed during the murderer's days. While this may provide an interpretation of the text, the question regarding the specific vernacular still remains.

The Meshech Chochmah opines that the Torah employs this text by design. Indeed, the Torah is teaching a profound lesson with regard to hashgochah pratis, Divine Providence. It is quite possible that the lot of this murderer is to remain in the city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol's death. The Heavenly Tribunal has determined the length of the murderer's stay in the city of refuge. This number must correspond with the Kohen Gadol's pre-determined life-span. Consequently, it was necessary to "select" a Kohen Gadol whose designated life-span coincided with the murderer's stay in the city of refuge. In other words, the murderer is truly the "indirect" cause of the Kohen Gadol's appointment. This is alluded by the pasuk: Everything is in Hashem's hands. Every incident in life which might seem to be an isolated occurrence is not. It is purposeful and designated by Divine Providence. We have to open up our eyes in order to see how all the pieces of the great puzzle we call life fit into a perfect equation.

I recently read a story concerning my Rosh HaYeshivah, Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, which illustrates this idea. He once went by plane, together with a number of students, to a wedding in Baltimore. Due to weather conditions in one of the connecting cities, their flight was subject to a number of delays. After awhile, the Rosh HaYeshivah realized that regardless of the connection, they would not make it to the wedding on time. They decided that before they "return" to Cleveland, they should daven Minchah, as it was getting late. Praying in a private room was preferable to praying in the middle of the concourse. Thus, they sought out a maintenance man to provide a room for them. They "luckily" located one who immediately proceeded to open a room for them. The "airport" minyan davened Minchah, and the men were about to leave when the maintenance man came to the door and asked one of the bachurim, young men, if he would help him recite Kaddish!

The Rosh Yeshivah, hearing this, approached the man and questioned him regarding his background. The man related the following story, "My father was an assimilated Jew and I, as you can see, am totally estranged from Judaism. My father passed away just a week ago. Last night he appeared to me in a dream and said, 'Say Kaddish for me!' I 'looked' up at my father and asked, 'How would I say Kaddish? I never went to Hebrew school. You never taught me to read. Moreover, I have no idea where to go for a minyan!' My father stared at me and said, 'Don't worry; I will provide you with a minyan.' You are the minyan that my father sent for me!"

After they said their good-byes to the man, with the promise to follow up on their newly developing relationship, the Rosh HaYeshivah turned to his students and remarked, "We thought we were traveling to Baltimore for a wedding. Actually we were travelling to this airport to provide a distinguished minyan for this man, so that he could fulfill his father's wish."

Just as the Kohen Gadol's appointment coincided with the unintentional murderer's act, so, too, is life filled with coincidences orchestrated by the Almighty as part of His Divine plan.


1) Out of the _______________ masaos of Klal Yisrael, how many occurred during the first year? How many occurred after Aharon Hakohen's death?
2) Rismah is a reference to the incident with the ______________.
3) A. How many cities of refuge were there?
   B. How many were there in Eivar Ha'Yarden?
   C. Why is this?
4) Do we accept atonement money on behalf of one who fled to the city of refuge?


1) A. 42   B. 14   C. 8
2) meraglim
3) A. 9   B. 6   C. There was a greater incidence of murder in Eivar Ha'Yarden.
4) No

Lezecher Nishmas
R' Yissaschar Dov ben harav Yisrael o"h
Niftar 7 Av 5745


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