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And Moshe became angry at the officers of the army...and Elazar the Kohen told the soldiers going to war, "This is the statute of the Torah that Hashem told Moshe. (31:14)
Anger is not simply a character deficit. Chazal teach us that one who becomes angry demonstrates a lack of respect for the Shechinah. Simply, the consequences of anger can be devastating. One who becomes angry is possessed by Gehinom, purgatory. Horav Chaim Shmulevitz, zl, posits that there is a more striking effect which, regrettably, applies even when the anger is justified. In the Talmud Pesachim Chazal say that one who becomes angry loses all his wisdom and compromises his spirituality. They cite a number of examples to prove this point, incidentally one from our parsha. Subsequent to Klal Yisrael's victory over Midian, Moshe Rabbeinu became angry. As a result, he forgot the law. We note the fact that it was Elazar who related the law to the soldiers.
One should do everything possible to contain his anger. Perhaps, if one seriously considers the devastating effect of anger, he would exert more effort to control himself. This seems to apply only in the event the anger is unfounded. What about situations in which one feels his anger is justified -- or if it really is justified?
Rav Chaim claims that the detrimental results of anger, the loss of one's wisdom and stature, apparently occur regardless of the nature of the anger. Indeed, by taking into account the tragic effects of anger, one might quite possibly deter the anger from developing. Why does anger produce such a damaging effect upon a person? First, we must understand that this effect is not a punishment for a sin, but rather a natural consequence. Moshe was certainly appropriate in his response to the soldiers, but this did not preclude the loss of some of his wisdom as a consequence of his anger.
We still may wonder why wisdom which had already been acquired and stored in a person's mind should also have disappeared? We can understand how anger transforms a person's character, decreasing his stature, but how does it effect wisdom which he already possesses?
We may understand this anomaly once we take into consideration that all forms of wisdom are not equal. There is secular wisdom, and there is a higher form of wisdom - Torah wisdom. Secular knowledge does not assimlate into one's psyche. It does not relate to the personality or character of its possessor. Hence, one may be uncouth or obnoxious and yet be a scholar. Torah is spiritual knowledge. This means its source is Hashem, Who has imbued it with a special essence. Torah knowledge establishes itself only in a person who can be a proper vessel for it. One must maintain a refined character in order to be a true talmid chacham, a student of wisdom, inclined to absorb the Torah into every aspect of his personality. One who lacks spiritual integrity is no longer qualified to retain Torah. One who becomes unfit to retain Torah loses even that knowledge that he has already acquired. It no longer has a "home" in this individual. The knowledge that he already had did not become contaminated, rather the person has changed. He ceases to be an appropriate vessel for containing Torah.
Rav Chaim's thesis sheds light on why we find individuals who at one time had been talmidei chachamim. As they steered their Torah hashkafah, perspective/philosophy, to the left, their seichal ha'yashar, ability to think correctly, seems to have been affected. Individuals who had been capable of expounding Torah and were proficient in its profundities suddenly seem to have lost their ability to analyze the logic of Torah. They conjure up svaros, logical deductions, that make sense only to themselves and their misguided followers. Why? It is because their spiritual character has been sullied. They no longer reflect the Torah that they expound in their spiritual demeanor. Torah shapes a person's moral and spiritual character. When a change transpires in one's character it indicates that he is not ascribing to the Torah with the same intensity he had previously.
Moshe Rabbeinu's reaction to Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven seems atypical. What did they do that was sufficiently terrible to invoke such anger on his part? How were they jeopardizing the rest of the people with their request? Horav Eliyohu Meir Bloch,zl, offers a thoughtful explanation, addressing why Moshe Rabbeinu reacted in the way that he did. When a group of people breaks away from the community and seek to be different - even if what they are requesting is justified - it creates a rift in the general populace. The situation is no longer the same. The communal zeal that had existed before slackens. Although their intentions were noble, their reasons justifiable, they unintentionally engendered a feeling of disunity in Klal Yisrael, which, unfortunately, could not be erased.
These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions. (33:1)
The Torah makes a synopsis of Bnei Yisrael's forty-year journey through the desert. The forty-two encampments from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael are enumerated. Obviously, some places left stronger impressions than others. The summary alludes to the forty year history with its ups and downs. Is it really necessary to detail all forty-two places? Is it important to open up old wounds, to recall moments in our history that we would most seek to forget? Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, claims that one can and should make every effort to learn from his mistakes. Thus, he will be able to perceive his shortcomings, what provokes him to sin, what intimidates him and what inspires him. People are regrettably inclined to white wash their past faults. They seek to forget the moments in their lives when they "slipped" and erred. They choose to remember only the positive moments, the times when they demonstrated courage and resolve, when their conviction held the central role in their lives.
This may represent human nature. Nonetheless, by relegating our negative experiences and actions to the side, we are tossing away the opportunity for self-improvement. This is one time that emphasizing the positive is not constructive. Thus, Hashem commanded Moshe to detail every one of their encampments. The names of the places allude to the experiences and occurrences associated with each place. They were admonished not to forget what had happened. Learn from the experiences of the past in order to enhance your present and future.
Horav Alpert adds that the lessons learned in the wilderness comprise an exceptional educational experience since they occurred in a place devoid of anything that might detract from the students' "concentration." There were no alien cultures with which to contend and no strange philosophies to turn their minds away from their spiritual experience. They were alone with Hashem. The Torah emphasizes the wilderness "classroom" that Klal Yisrael was privileged to attend. This type of Torah chinuch molded the perspective of our ancestors.
Finally, it is important to note that our sojourn in the wilderness is to be viewed as a portent for our present exile. We are also on a journey. We sojourn among the nations of the world - literally traveling through a spiritual exile. We must realize that as our ancestors journeyed through the desert as travelers on the way to their ultimate destination, their home in Eretz Yisrael, so, too, should we remember that we are also on the way to our journey's end, Eretz Yisrael. Our problem is that many of us have settled in the exile - physically and spiritually. We must keep the concept alive in our hearts and minds that we are in galus until the advent of Moshiach.
They journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai and they camped in Kivroth HaTaavah. (33:16)
Kivros HaTaavah, "the graves of craving," alludes to a place where many Jews died as a result of their craving for meat. Horav Tzvi Pesach Frank,zl, suggests that this pasuk relates more than Klal Yisrael's geographical journey. The pasuk implies that one who distances himself from Torah will ultimately end up in the clutches of taavah, lust. The only safeguard to keep an individual from being swallowed up by his physical desires is his immersion in the sea of Torah. Without Torah, one is subject to the whims and fancies of his yetzer hora.
Horav Frank bases his thesis upon the Talmud in Bava Metzia 85b where Chazal question, "Why was the land destroyed?" This is a reference to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and Klal Yisrael's ensuing exile. The response comes from Hashem, Who replies, "Because they abandoned My Torah." Why does the Talmud seek a reason for the churban? Do not Chazal in the Talmud Yoma clearly state that it was the three sins of robbery, murder and adultery that catalyzed the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash? Why seek additional reasons? This question leads us to believe that Chazal mean something else when they ask this question. They wonder what it was that caused Klal Yisrael to fall to such a nadir of sin. What instigated their moral and spiritual breakdown to the point that they resorted to robbery, murder, and adultery? The answer, says Hashem, is their abandonment of the Torah. This is the primary source of sin. Once the protective shield of Torah is removed, one is exposed to the harsh elements. Torah is much more than a source of knowledge; it is our lifeblood through which lives are sustained.
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