Category Archives: Chukat

Beardless Righteousness

Kli Yakar Numbers: Korach

Beardless Righteousness

Judaism has generally venerated old bearded men. The righteous aged scholar with a lifetime of wisdom is the apex of the Jewish communal life-cycle. There is an ancient belief that these righteous individuals are a major force for good in our lives. The Kli Yakar traces the source of this belief to this week’s Torah portion. Though the personality upon whom this doctrine is based, was not bearded, nor even male.

The source is Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron (see Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Moed Katan 28a). After Miriam dies, the well of water that miraculously accompanied the Children of Israel throughout their desert journey, disappears. This occurred apparently to highlight the connection between the well and this righteous woman.

The Kli Yakar (Numbers 20:2) explains that the righteous individual accomplishes four different things for her or his generation:

      1. Nourisher”: Just as in Miriam’s Well, the righteous are believed to be a source of our sustenance – not only spiritual, but even physical.
      2. Teacher: The righteous guide us in how to live our lives.
      3. Shielder”: In some sense, the righteous protect us from negative events.
      4. Forgiveness at Death: The death of the righteous individual provides atonement at some level to the generation.

An impressive list of effects that the righteous accomplish.

May we find such people and attach ourselves to them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the memory of Berel Schwartzblatt of Cedarhurst, NY. A righteous and sweet singer of Israel, we will always remember his song.

Paradoxical Reality

Numbers Hizkuni: Chukat

Paradoxical Reality

“par-a-dox. One exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects.” The American Heritage Dictionary

We are used to human deception. It is natural for us to hide our faults, blemishes and existential angst. Most people pretend to be someone slightly different than who they truly are – and we are usually better off for it. However, none of us should be surprised on those occasions when the true, unvarnished and contradictory other self peeks through. That is the paradox of personality.

The ceremony of the Red Heifer is meant to purify those who have come in contact with death. There is a notable side effect that is often commented upon. The person doing the purification becomes contaminated, while the contaminated person is purified. That is the paradox of purification.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that we should not be surprised by paradox. Paradox is not only hard-wired into personality and Torah, it is a part of nature itself.

Hizkuni gives two curious examples from the natural world: heat and medicine.

Heat can melt metal, turning a solid into a liquid. The same heat can turn the liquid form of an egg into a solid.

Medicine can cure the sick, but if given to the healthy it can sicken the cured. That is the paradox of nature.

The natural paradoxes are commonplace to us because we are used to them. We understand that according to the laws of nature, different reactions will result from different circumstances.

The same is true in the realm of Torah (and personality). While we may not be used to or understand all of the spiritual and psychological laws, Hizkuni reassures us that what seems like paradox is correct and real.

May we see the paradoxes in the world for what they are and make the most of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To those struggling with the paradoxes of the World Cup. How Switzerland (underdog) beat Spain (top team) while surprising is merely a soccer/football paradox (perhaps related to respective economies). (my bets are on Brazil…)

Sin, Disease and Healing

Sin, Disease and Healing

Out of the many symbols modernity has inherited from the ancient world, one of the creepiest must be that of the medical profession. The serpent entwined around a rod always seemed to be an odd choice for healers.

Star of Life (w/Rod of Asclepius)
Star of Life (w/Rod of Asclepius)

The Rod of Asclepius, as it is formally known, gets its name and attribution from Greek mythology (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius), however while reading this week’s Torah portion, one can’t help but conclude that as in many other things, the Jews were involved in the creation of this symbol first.

In Numbers Chapter 21, the Children of Israel complain against God and Moses (yet again!), and as punishment God sends “fiery serpents” that start biting and killing the complainers. The people admit that they sinned and Moses prays to God. Verse 8 and 9 are the response:

“God said to Moses: “Make yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live.” Moses made a serpent of copper and placed it on the pole; so it was that if the serpent bit a man, he would stare at the copper serpent and live.”

The physician, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, combines both a physical and metaphysical explanation of how the healing occurred. A few hundred years before fellow Europeans discovered the concept of vaccination (though there is undocumented evidence that Chinese and Indian healers knew this centuries before), Sforno discusses how substances taken from or related to a particular disease (in our case ‘fiery serpents’) could heal an ailing patient.

Sforno’s other point is that a medical ailment can actually be a physical manifestation of a spiritual malady. Therefore the cure can only be attained by a spiritual correction.

In our case, Sforno explains that the Children of Israel sinned by evil speech towards God and Moses. Hence they were punished by the mouth of the snake. Combining the concept of inoculation with repentance, it becomes immanently logical that the cure would likewise involve a snake.

By Moses placing a snake high up on a pole, he both reminded the Jews of their sin and compelled them to look heavenward. If they repented, placed their trust once again in God, and accepted the bitter medicine of the truth, then they would be healed.

May we always be healed of whatever ails us, whether spiritual or physical, and may we find quick healing in our gaze Heavenward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Dr. Moshe Wiesel. A man that has successfully recreated what I thought was an outdated profession – the village doctor. May he continue being an effective agent of healing for all of us and we wish him and us much luck and success in his founding of Alon Shvut’s Youth Minyan.