VOLUME 56 NUMBER 9
July 30thd, 2011
28 Tammuz, 5771
This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated to TJE Senior Educator Ellyn Hutt, TJE Development and Marketing Director Melanie Eisen, TJE Board Member Wendy Greenwald and all the other ladies who just returned from an amazing, inspiring trip to Israel this Thursday. Welcome back!
The Long and Winding Road
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
It’s hard to write some light, witty remarks on the parsha during this bitterly tragic period in the Jewish calendar. These three weeks, known as bein hamitzarim, or ‘between the straits,’ are days of sadness and national mourning for a myriad of tragic events that happened to us on these days of the calendar. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the day that Moshe came down from Mt. Sinai and smashed the tablets, is the beginning. The fast of the 9th of Av, the day on which the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not once but twice, is the culmination. In between is nothing but an ever-increasing sense of national despair. This very year there is a dark pallor hanging over the Jewish People because of the tragic loss of Leiby Kletsky, ob”m.
With the parsha, Parshas Masei, which is always read during these three weeks, the Book of Bamidbar draws to a close. It’s really the culmination of the narrative events of the Torah. All that’s left is the Book of Devarim, which is comprised almost exclusively by Moshe’s remarks to the people in the last month of his life. It’s a farewell address before he leaves them to enter the Land if Israel.
What does the Torah bring the Book of Bamidbar to a close with? A detailed list of each leg of the journey that we made over the course of forty years, traveling out of Egypt and up to the border of the Promised Land. The name of the parsha, Masei, means ‘journeys.’ Every place we stopped, every place we camped is recorded.
I know other cultures and religions have special days and special periods of note in their calendars. I wonder, though, if they have days and weeks that are earmarked for national mourning and sadness. I’ve often been struck by the fact that as Jews we very purposefully celebrate days of joy, and just as purposely we observe days of sadness. There’s a whole spectrum of human emotion that we have to express, certain emotions for certain occasions. Life has joy in it, and it has sadness in it. Judaism is about feeling that total range of emotion deeply, both on a personal level and a national level.
Why do we make such a fuss about all the stops along the way on our trip through the desert? Some of them were magnificent, historic moments of awesome spiritual heights. For example, the first few steps out of Egypt or the short trip through the Sea. Others, however, were moments of weakness, failure and tragedy, like the place where the spies came back and discouraged the people from going to the Land of Israel. It was a big historic trip, but it wasn’t just a walk in the park.
G-d wants us to have big, open hearts. Hearts that can love, hearts that can feel joy, hearts that can feel sorrow. We strive to develop a yearning for His presence, and to miss Him when He’s distant. And we learn to express the range of these emotions from our human relationships, and from the lessons of our past.
We read about these journeys, and we learn that the life of the Jewish People is a long journey with many steps. We must remember and feel them all. We must open our hearts to feel all that they can. When it’s time to weep we weep, and when it’s time to laugh we laugh.
And may it be speedily in our days, that we will reach the end of our journeys, and we will truly laugh. Amen.
Short Term Memory
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
When Moshe prepares the people to enter the Land of Israel, he cautions them to destroy the Canaanite nations that reside there. Rashi questions the repetition being that Moshe has warned them about this serious matter numerous times. Why did he find it necessary to remind them of this obligation again? He answers that Moshe was commanding the nation to cross over into the Land of Israel with this directive in the forefront of their minds. Otherwise, if this obligation was not uppermost in their minds, the waters of the Jordan would come crashing down upon their heads and kill them.
Why did they need to have this in mind specifically when they crossed the Jordan? They certainly intended to carry out their mission as Hashem commanded. Why was there a need to threaten them with death if they did not cross the Jordan with this in mind?
A very important insight can be gleaned from this comment of Rashi. If they would have entered Israel without the mitzvah to destroy the Canaanite nations on their minds at that moment, even though that goal might have been number one on their list of priorities, there would have been the distinct possibility and even probability that they would not have accomplished it. The reason for this is because their entrance into the Land of Israel would have been under an entirely different set of circumstances. However, if they entered into Israel with this specific goal in mind, their arrival into the land would have been as it should have been. To the outside observer the two possibilities would have been identical; however in reality they would have been totally incomparable.
The underlying intention of an action is not just vital it is definitive. Identical actions with divergent purposes thus become totally disparate and unique. This lesson applies across the entire gamut of human conduct. The Talmud relates the story of a son who employed his father in his business of grinding wheat—hard, arduous work. In fact, his plan was to prevent the government from drafting his father into their service, which would have subjected him to brutal treatment under cruel taskmasters. Our Sages praise the son for his noble intent, even though he put his father to work grinding wheat.
In another scenario, our Sages teach us about a son who fed his father delicious, expensive food on a daily basis. But he treated his father rudely, without respect; and even though he spent large sums of money to care for his father, he was criticized by our Sages because he denigrated his father when he served him his meals.
This also applies when we perform mitzvos. Two people can put on tefillin on a daily basis and yet their actions are on a totally different scale. One person may concentrate upon the mitzvah thereby lifting his fulfillment of the mitzvah to an exalted level. The other individual may simply perform the action in a rote manner and not attend to the mitzvah with any focus or attentiveness. Obviously his mitzvah is on a much lower level than the first person.
This is especially true when we are involved in a mitzvah of speech such as davening or bentching. Certainly if the only ‘action’ that we are performing is with words, the value of those words is dependent on the attention we pay to the words we are saying. There is a statement from the early commentators equating davening without intent to a body without a soul. The essence of one’s connection to Hashem is when we acknowledge that everything that we have is due to His benevolence. If we simply say the words of davening by rote, we have missed the point of davening each and every day.
Byte for Shabbos
Someone found guilty of accidental manslaughter is sentenced to live in a City of Refuge until the Kohen Gadol dies. Why is his term of sentence linked to the life of the Kohen Gadol? The Kohen Gadol should have prayed on behalf of the entire nation that such things would not happen, and must not have done so sufficiently. When something terrible happens to the Jewish People, G-d forbid, it is the responsibility of the entire nation to realize that if we would have bound ourselves more tightly to G-d through prayer, such tragedies might have been avoided.