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JUNE 21-22, 2002 12 TAMUZ 5762

The fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz will be on Thursday, June 27. The period of the Three Weeks begins on this day. During this time, no weddings or parties with music are permitted.

Pop Quiz: What did B'nei Yisrael complain about after Miriam's death?


As we read the story of Bil'am and how he wanted to curse the Jewish people, we can't help but be amazed at his determination. He first asked Hashem whether he could go with Balak's messengers, and Hashem told him no. Then he asked again, and although this time he was given permission, still his donkey stopped three times until the angel revealed himself that he was sent to prevent Bil'am from going. He still proceeded to try to curse the Jews, and every time he attempted it, it came out as a blessing but he still didn't give up.

From here we see the rule that if a person has a real will to do something, he will ultimately reach his goal. Bil'am persevered and would have succeeded had Hashem not turned his curses into blessings. Nothing stands in the way of a strong will. The reason we are not accomplishing what we want is that we don't want them strongly enough. This applies to business, to doing certain projects, and most certainly to spiritual endeavors. It is up to us to intensify our wills to accomplish. The stronger the will, the more we will succeed. Let's work on developing a strong desire for spiritual growth and we'll be amazed at the positive changes we will experience! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"The Kohen shall take cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread, and he shall throw them into the burning of the cow" (Bemidbar 19:6)

Let's say you wanted to go to the Temple Mount today. That is, the area behind the Kotel in Jerusalem, the place where the Dome of the Rock is located. The halachah would forbid you to go there. The reason is that this is the place where the holy Temple, the Bet Hamikdash, was located. One is permitted to enter this area if one is spiritually pure, or tahor. However, since we are all spiritually impure, or tameh, as a result of being in contact with the dead or having gone to a cemetery, we may not go there. In the days of old one was able to become pure by undergoing a process of purification. This process included being sprinkled with special water mixed with the ashes of the ritually slaughtered red cow, a Parah Adumah. Today we do not have the Parah Adumah so we remain impure. So much for our visit to the Temple Mount.

The process of producing these important ashes includes taking some cedar wood, hyssop (a small shrub-like bush) and some red thread, and tossing them into the fire that is producing the ashes of the Parah Adumah. Of course there are deep reasons why these particular items are used. But, bottom line, the whole process involves an animal and some plant life. How much importance do we give to animals and plant life? Usually not too much. But, here we see that these things can bring about some of the most important realities - the purity of body and soul. The Tomer Deborah writes that the verse in Tehillim ??????????????????????????How important are your works, Hashem" (104:24), hints to us this concept, that in nature Hashem has placed great powers. These powers are rooted in Heaven, all for the benefits of man. This season, as we enjoy the "great outdoors," take time to reflect on the true greatness of the outdoors. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to die in the desert? For there is no bread and no water, and our soul is sick of the insubstantial food" (Bemidbar 21:5)

With this pasuk we are introduced to a rare form of ingratitude. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that B'nei Yisrael's discontent turned directly against Hashem. They did not doubt the authenticity of Moshe's mission, but rather they felt that Hashem's guidance was inadequate. In complaining about the mann, the miracle food from heaven, they were undoubtedly not complaining about a lack of nourishment. Their grievance lay in the fact that they weren't eating "natural" food in the ordinary human way. The effortless, albeit miraculous, way of receiving bodily sustenance had become monotonous and tiresome.

Instead of appreciating the unique qualities and nutritive value of the mann, they protested the simplistic way it was provided to them. In fact, they distorted its unique qualities, which they exploited as a pretext for protest. The mann was a light, easily digestible food. It was so easily digestible that it was totally absorbed by the body, completely assimilated such that there was no leftover residue. It was all transformed into the energy necessary to reproduce the bodily tissues.

Twisting of the truth and perversion of Hashem's beneficence is no longer unique. Man's ingratitude to Hashem unfortunately knows no bounds. Sadly, it is not exclusively limited to moments of hardship and misfortune. We tend to gripe even when we are showered with blessings, by either complaining about insufficiency or an unsatisfactory form of "delivery." When one does not make a living, he complains. When he is blessed with a form of livelihood, he complains of a lack of excitement in earning it. We seek challenge and diversity, glamour and sensationalism. We do not realize that the stability with which Hashem affords us existence is in itself a great source of blessing. We must learn to appreciate not only Hashem's gifts, but also the manner in which He bestows them upon us. (Peninim on the Torah)


"So now, I beseech you, come and curse this people for me...for I know whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed" (Bemidbar 22:6)

Since Balak knew Bilam's blessing power, why didn't he ask that he bless him to be victorious over the Jews? Also, why regarding cursing did he say "yuar" - in the future tense - "will be cursed" - while regarding blessing he said "meborach" - "is [already] blessed" and not "yeborach" - "will be blessed"?

For a blessing to be meaningful, it must be given with good intentions and a kind heart. To give a blessing one must be devoid of jealousy and ill will. Therefore, the Kohanim were selected to bless the Jewish people, since they are the descendants of Aharon, who was the quintessential lover of his fellow man.

Balak said to Bilam, "I have known you for quite some time as a vicious person without one iota of kindness, one who always looks upon other people with an evil eye. Consequently, your blessings are of absolutely no value because when you bless, you do not mean it. When you bless someone and the blessing later seems to be fulfilled, it is definitely not thanks to you, but because 'meborach' - the person happens to be already blessed.

"Knowing your viciousness and animosity towards people, I am confidant that your curses are sincere and come from the bottom of your heart. Therefore, I will not waste my time asking you to bless me, but curse the Jews since those who you curse undoubtedly 'yuar - will be cursed.'" (Vedibarta Bam)


This week's Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8

This week's second perashah (Balak) discusses the futile attempts of Balak and Bil'am to curse B'nei Yisrael in the desert. This haftarah recounts some of the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people in the desert. The episode of Balak and Bil'am is mentioned, adding that we should always remember how Hashem, in His righteousness, protected us from them.

Answer to pop quiz: The lack of water (which they used to get in Miriam's merit).

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