Parshas Matos/ Masei


July 20, 2012
1 Av, 5772

Candle-lighting Time: 8:06 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Harav Hagaon Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, z”l, whose incalculable loss to the Jewish People was deeply felt this past week. Additionally, we dedicate this edition of Sparks of Torah to those injured and killed in the deplorable act of insanity that struck Aurora last night. May Hashem bring an end to evil with the Ultimate Redemption swiftly and soon.


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The Long and Winding Road

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

Our hearts are heavy as Shabbos approaches this week. It is Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the month in which the fast of Tisha b’Av is observed.  In this period of the calendar we have experienced some of the greatest losses of our history; the loss of our Holy Temple, the loss of our homeland, the loss of our close connection with G-d.

This year too, we have experienced a great loss. Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, z”l, the preeminent Talmudic scholar and Torah leader of our generation passed away this Wednesday afternoon and was buried in Jerusalem with over 300,000 in attendance.

I last saw him in December, when I was fortunate to receive a blessing from the pious Torah giant. He was 101 at the time, standing in the small synagogue where he learned and taught Torah the entire world. His chapter of Jewish history is now drawn to a close.

With Parshas Matos-Masei, which is always read during this tragic time of year, the Book of Bamidbar draws to a close. It’s really the culmination of the narrative events of the entire Torah. All that’s left is the Book of Devarim, which is Moshe’s final 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 all 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.


Passing the Torch

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Hashem told Moshe to inform the nation that they were now to cross the Jordan River and enter the Land of Israel. Rashi cites the Talmud which questions why Hashem also reiterated that they were to destroy the Canaanite nations as they entered the Land. This had already been stated numerous times. Our Sages explain that Hashem was warning the people that if they did not cross the Jordan with intent to fulfill that mitzvah, the waters of the Jordan would crash upon the nation as they crossed and drown them. Is this punishment commensurate with the lack of intent to cross the Jordan to eradicate the nations that reside in Israel?

Sforno comments that in fulfilling the mandate to destroy the nations in the Land of Israel as we came to dwell there, we would merit bequeathing the land to future generations. Otherwise, even though we were to conquer those nations, our future generations would not be capable of living in Israel. Why? If we were only able to subdue the nations that lived there but not to destroy them, why would that prevent our children from living in Israel?

America is the great melting pot of the world, a nation of many diverse cultures and philosophies that have mixed together to form a new and all-embracing country. However, the Torah views such an assembly quite differently than American society does. We are commanded to be distinct from the nations of the world. One of Hashem’s blessings that Bilaam bestowed upon us was that we not assimilate with others, rather that we remain separate. On the contrary, the more that we integrate with our neighbors, the less we retain our identity as Jews.

In this vein it is possible to understand Rashi’s comment that if we crossed the Jordan without intending to eradicate the nations that dwelled in Israel, the waters would have crashed upon us and drowned us. Attempting to enter Israel without avoiding assimilation and integration with the nations there would indeed be suicidal. We would not have survived and indeed, history has born this out. There were groups that we did not remove from Israel at the time, and they lured us away from Hashem to serve idols and otherwise abandon the major tenets of our religion.

Furthermore, Sforno is also quite clear in his comment. If we wouldn’t have followed the mitzvah to destroy the nations that dwelt in Israel, then that would have been a strong indication of our lack of intent to remain true to Hashem and His Torah. If we were really committed to the Torah, we would have removed those barriers that would have lead us astray. This would have meant that our children would not remain loyal since we had decided to veer away from our obligations.

Netziv further clarifies that this mitzvah connects directly with the sanctity of our nation. We were only commanded to destroy idols and their worshippers once we entered into Israel. However, before that, we were not charged with that mission. It is only because of the sanctity of Israel that it became incumbent upon us to eradicate idolatry from the land.

It is important to understand.  We are not racists or supremacists. The Torah safeguards our existence as Hashem’s people through the elimination of those forces that would lead us astray. Idolatry is essentially a denial of Hashem’s presence, and thus is diametrically opposed to our philosophy of life and its objectives. Nonetheless, we do not impose our standards upon others until a clash occurs, such as our conquest of Israel and our subsequent settling of the land. Then it becomes critical that we secure Israel and maintain it as a haven for the Jewish people in which to serve Hashem.


Byte For Shabbos

We are not allowed to sanction or endorse those who do evil actions. If, for example, one listens to another person slander someone else and nods his head in agreement, he has transgressed this mitzvah of the Torah.


A Question for the Rabbis

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

The Torah commands us to rebuke a fellow Jew who is sinning; however, we are prohibited from rebuking him in public so as not to embarrass him (Leviticus 19:17, Rashi ad loc).  Is it permitted to embarrass someone by our rebuke if it’s done in private? The Torah portion this week begins with a long list of place names, which Rashi explains as being hints to the sins of the Jewish people in the desert.  Rashi explains that the reason Moses only hinted at the sins is to save the Jews from embarrassment. Here is a case where everyone is being rebuked together, and all are equally guilty, and yet Moses is careful to avoid embarrassing them.  Similarly, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (Introduction, Be’erMayim Chaim 14, Chafetz Chaim) rules that the prohibition against embarrassing someone applies even in private. The Zohar (Parshat Kedoshim) states explicitly that if the person will be embarrassed by rebuke, even in private, one should rebuke him in a roundabout manner, by hinting, or by setting up a “straw man” for rebuke (Avotot Ahavah p. 77, footnotes 44-45).



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