Category Archives: Behaalotcha

The spiritual transforms the physical (Behaalotcha)

The spiritual transforms the physical (Behaalotcha)

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. -James Baldwin

God had revealed Himself to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai where they were presented with the Ten Commandments. They spent almost a year at the foot of the mountain, sinned with the Golden Calf, got a second set of Tablets and built the Tabernacle.

Now they set their sights on the Promised Land and start their journey across the desert. No sooner are they on their way and they start to complain. They complain about the food (how little has changed over the millennia).

They want meat, they fondly remember the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they ate in Egypt. They are dismissive and disdainful of the miraculous Manna that God provided to them daily. The Torah takes the time to describe the Manna in a little more detail, but what is truly fascinating is the description of the Manna given by the Midrash. The Midrash states that the Manna was able to take on the taste, the texture, the flavor of whatever the eater desired.

If the person eating the Manna wanted to taste a sumptuous steak, that’s what they tasted. If they wanted to taste a ripe melon, that’s what they tasted. The Manna had the unique ability of taking our thoughts and transposing them into a new taste-able, edible, physical object.

The Berdichever points out that this equation demonstrates a counterintuitive and lopsided symbiotic relationship.

In the case of the Manna, a physical substance was feeding, sustaining the nation of Israel. But it was the spirit, the thoughts of the Israelites which really gave purpose and existence to the Manna. So, at a deeper level, the spiritual contribution of the nation of Israel to the formation of the Manna was more influential than the material benefit the Manna had upon Israel.

So too, the Berdichever explains, is the relationship between a giver of charity and a recipient of charity. Superficially it would seem that the giver of charity provides a substantial, if not complete benefit to the recipient, while the benefit the recipient provides is not apparent at all. Such an analysis misses the deeper spiritual reality.

It is true that the giver provides the recipient with a clear, important, physical benefit with his charity. However, the recipient causes the giver to receive a significantly more important spiritual return.

The recipient becomes the direct cause for the giver to receive the afterlife, holiness and purity, spiritually powerful gifts that we can barely appreciate, bestowed by God for the kindness the recipient enabled the giver to provide.

May we be supporters and enablers of charitable causes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son Netanel, on completing high school, and the exciting path ahead.

Managing Righteous Anger (Behaalotcha)

Managing Righteous Anger (Behaalotcha)

Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy. -Aristotle

Miriam, Moses’ older sister, gossips a bit with their brother Aaron about Moses. Right there in the text, the Torah tells us that Moses was the humblest of men. The minor gossip probably didn’t bother him. However, it bothered God. It bothered God a lot. It bothered God so much that he immediately struck Miriam with Tzaraat, an unusual discoloration of the skin, an instant and clearly visible punishment.

Moses steps in and begs God for mercy, praying to Him “Please heal her!” God responds as follows: “If her father had spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days and then let her be readmitted.” And that is what happens. Miriam is banished from the Israelite camp for seven days. At the end of the seven days she’s readmitted into the camp, presumably healed, and then the entire nation of Israel continues their desert journey.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Numbers 12:14 (Behaalotcha) explains the circumstances. He states that there are different levels of reprimand, of lacking favor in someone’s eyes, and therefore different levels of commensurate exile from their sight.

For example, if one insults or otherwise distresses a Torah scholar, the offending person should take upon themselves a self-imposed exile from the scholar of one full day. However, if the person offended was a prophet or one of the “wise men” (apparently different than a Torah scholar), the self-imposed exile needs to be of seven days (like Miriam with Moses). However, if one offended the King or Prince then the exile needs to be of thirty days.

Though anger is considered one of the most dangerous and destructive of emotions, Rabbeinu Bechaye is explaining that God was correct to be “angry” and that it was appropriate for Miriam to be “out of His sight” for a specific and measured timeframe. In a fashion, it allows the offended party time to “cool down” and the offending party time to recover from the shame their actions caused. The Torah is demonstrating that there are times when one is justified in being angry. However, the anger needs to be limited, measured and constructive. The immediate result may be a “time out” for both parties which then allows them to be reunited in friendship and love.

May we beware of the dangers of anger, and if we need to harness it, may we do so carefully and wisely.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the residents of southern Israel who are currently under attack. May God protect you and bring swift reprisal to the attackers.

Long Divine Plan

Long Divine Plan 

A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanley Judd

Amongst the many unique and unusual aspects of the Torah, as compared to any other book of law ever composed, is that a significant portion of the prescribed laws were not relevant to the time or place where the Torah was first introduced.

Many of the laws are dependent on a land yet to be conquered. Many require a Temple yet to be built. Many involve businesses, courts and institutions that were yet to become reality. All human law systems come to address existing issues, to give an answer to a pressing need or situation, to solve or prevent a problem in society. The Torah’s laws are for the most part forward-looking, imagining the people of Israel, in the land of Israel, with its own self-rule. Some of the laws are so esoteric that the Sages of old claim they will never be applied, while many other laws will only become relevant again in the Messianic Era.

This week’s Torah reading presents an array of both past and future laws as well as the narrative of some of the disappointments God had with Israel. Rabbi Hirsch, commenting on Numbers 8:1 comes to the following conclusion:

“Precisely the paradox that there should have been such a wide gap between Israel as it was at the time of the Giving of the Law, on the one hand, and the Law and its assumptions and requirements, on the other, a gap that could be bridged only over a span of centuries, should be the most eloquent proof that this Law is indeed of Divine origin and should mark it as a unique phenomenon in the history of mankind. All other codes of law were predicated on conditions that prevailed at the time of their origin. This Law is the only one to have set itself up as the supreme goal of human development on earth; it still awaits a generation sufficiently mature at last to translate its ideals into reality.”

God’s Torah is a long term plan for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole. It is a plan that has been unfolding for more than 3,000 years with agonizing lows and dizzying highs. Just fifty years ago we reached another milestone in that inscrutable plan: the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of the Jewish people to much of its ancestral land.

May we witness and participate in more positive developments of this historic process.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On 50 years of renewed Jewish sovereignty over ancient Jewish land.

Learning from Desire

Learning from Desire 

 The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desires bring weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat.  -Napoleon Hill

desire3Desire can be strong. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, blocking out all other needs or even reason. One might think that the desire for something with a negative consequence would be bad. However, the Sfat Emet on the Torah reading of Behaalotcha in 5633 (1873) indicates otherwise. There is a world of a difference between wanting to do something wrong and actually doing something wrong.

For example, eating pork is prohibited by the Torah and therefore undertaking such an action is bad. However, the desire itself is not bad and may be part of natural and understandable cravings. Our humanity imposes itself by the discipline of controlling our desires.

The Sfat Emet states that all desires are good and that we must learn from these powerful desires how to serve God. When one sees the burning desires of others for things that are bad, it’s an example of the passion with which we must seek to perform God’s will. When we pursue God’s Word and commands with burning desire, with unquenchable passion, using the understanding of negative desires in the world, we actually elevate all of those desires to the service of God.

May all of our desires be harnessed for positive and divine pursuits.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. An exciting and successful program for overseas students.

A Father’s Blessing

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behaalotcha-a-fathers-blessing/

Baal Haturim Numbers: Behaalotcha

A Father’s Blessing

Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!  -Lydia Maria Child

FatherSonFistsThe Children of Israel had no sooner started their desert journey when they start complaining. Moses, fed up with the growing irritation cries out to God, asking rhetorically that if he gave birth to these stubborn people does it give him the obligation to care for their every need and whim?

Moses is so despondent by the burden of the people of Israel that in his despair he actually asks God to kill him. God helps Moses by both providing meat to the insatiable Israelites as well as directing Moses to gather seventy elders to assist in the burden of leadership.

While on the theme of birth and sons, the Baal Haturim on 11:12 takes the opportunity to relate some of the characteristics that a father normally transmits to his sons. He names five:

  1. Looks/appearance
  2. Strength
  3. Wealth
  4. Wisdom
  5. Longevity

When these characteristics are good and passed down to children, fathers can take some measure of pride, and children some measure of gratitude. When the characteristics are poor, fathers can feel some guilt and children can assign blame.

However, neither pride nor guilt, gratitude or blame will help us make the most of the gifts we possess.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Bar-Ilan University, training grounds for many fathers and sons.

The Final Battle

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behaalotcha-the-final-battle/

Netziv Numbers: Behaalotcha

 The Final Battle

 “Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.” -Francis Meehan

Armed conflict has been a part of history since the birth of brothers. Any differences, be it of ideology, territory or possessions has too often led to war between peoples and groups. When cursing the people of Israel for disobedience, God declares that the Jewish people will lose their wars, as we witnessed 2,000 years ago and before.

However, when God blesses the Jewish nation, He promises that they will win their battles. But there is another statement – they need not fear future battles.

The Netziv on Numbers 10:9 explains that this can only be referring to the final battle at the prophesied “end of days”, known in Hebrew as the battle of Gog u’Magog. That will be the battle to end all battles and will usher in an era of everlasting peace. But the Netziv expands that this final battle will only end when people resolve the conflicts within their own beings and specifically when they believe in and accept God in their lives.

May we find ways to resolve our internal battles and be spared the travails of the external ones.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son, Eitan, on his acceptance to the Israeli Navy. We hope he will spend more time fishing than fighting. 

Infinite Light-givers

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behaalotcha-infinite-light-givers/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Behaalotcha

Infinite Light-givers

“We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit.” -Robert H. Shaffer

It is perhaps one of the least noted but most dramatic scenes in the life of Moses. The people of Israel protest and rebel yet again. Their foray into the desert is filled with anger and disappointment. Moses feels that he can no longer lead the tribes of Israel. In an all too human show of despair Moses asks God to strike him dead. He can no longer bear the intense burden of leadership.

God hears Moses’ plea and arrives at a solution to allow Moses to share some of the rigors of both prophecy and leadership (see here for dramatization of the fateful event). Seventy elders are gathered and some of the divine spirit that Moses carried is given to each of the elders, giving them their own prophetic capabilities.

One might assume that Moses would be somewhat diminished by sharing his powers, that his light would not shine as brightly. Ibn Ezra on Numbers 11:17 argues the reverse.  He explains that the prophetic spirit is akin to wisdom or to the light of a candle. It is not lessened by sharing. It spreads and the sharer retains all of his prophetic power, all of his wisdom, all of his light.

May we have good things to share and may we share those good things widely.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Marcello Farias of Innuy who is sharing his unique programming talent with the Rabbinate of Uruguay and thereby spreading knowledge of kosher products to more people.