Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parsha Matos Masei 5770: Question

Parsha Questions: 1) In this weeks parsha G-d commands Moshe to gather the army to fight Midian as a last?
act prior to his death. How do we know the tribes were reluctant to go to war knowing it would lead to Moshe leaving to his death?

2)Eleazar states that items should be purified according to its use- i.e. items used with fire are cleansed with fires, items normally cleaned with water are cleansed with water. This seems immenently logical, yet Elazar calls these laws a “chok”- a category of law that implies there is not a logical reason for them. Why is the term chok used here?

This weeks Parsha; The double portion of Matos Masei Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:2-36:13

The answer for the first question is from Midrash Tanchuma on this parsha. The midrash states that Moshe could have extended his life by postphoning the battle with Midian. Moshe was always zealous to carry out the commandments and will of G-d thus he immediately gave the order for the tribes to send 1000 men each to go to war. However, the men did not wish to go as they did nto want Moshe to die- thus first it states that a thousand were given from each tribe and then in Chapter 31 6. Moses sent them the thousand from each tribe to the army, them (…) ו. וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה אֶלֶף לַמַּטֶּה לַצָּבָא אֹתָם(…)

Why did Moshe have to send them even though it had been recorded that he had already ordered them to war? Because the army delayed to try and extend Moshe’s life!
Question 2’s answer is from” Darash Moshe “- commentary on the Torah by HaRav Moshe Feinstein zs”l on Parshas Chukas. there he makes an interesting observation: it does not say “This is the chok (decree) of the red heffer” but rather “This is the chok (decree) of the Torah”. Now, a chok is a specific category of law that is seen to not have a rational explanation, but is rather something that is decreed by G-d and thus we do it regardless of whether or not we understand it. This is the epitomy of the statement that Bnei Yisrael made when they stood at mount Sinai when they received the Torah “We will do, and we will understand”- in other words, we will do the entire Torah regardless of out undertsanding. HRav Feinstein points out that this statement encompasses the entire Torah, not just the parts referred to in chukim- thus at the parah adumah (red heffer), the Torah reminds us that we dedicated ourselves to follow the ENTIRE TORAH as a decree from hashem regardless of our understanding! every law, every commandment in the Torah is as much a chok, a decree, from G-d that we have undertaken to perform regardless of out level of undertsanding.

Now this explains why the Torah explictly calls the Parah adumah a chok- it is an example of a decree we cannot understand but perform since the entire Torah is a chok we agreed to uphold, and why the Torah calls the purification of utensils a chok even though it appears to be sological, because it, too, is part of the chol fo the Tprah and thus something we do regardless of whether or nto we understand or agree with the understanding of the law.

At a more esoteric level, the association of a seemingly logical law with the term chok serves to remind us of something else: the law seems logical to us, but do we truly understand it? Can we understand a law that was given to us by G-d/ Does our understanding truly reflect every aspect of the law as understood by G-d? Can us, as finite beings, understand what G-d intends from the law? Do we have a full understanding of the ramifications and every nuance of this law? Obviously these questions have to eb answered: NO, we cannot understand G-d, his thought processes, his intentions etc. Thus we have to treat each and every law as a chok regardless of how logical it seems! Why? Imagine if we decided that some laws can be fully and completely understood and that nothing was lacking in our understanding. So, with our complete understanding we look around and decide that the reason for the law is gone and thus we can ignore it- after all, we have fully understood it and every nuance, why do something not necessary? Thus the Torah calls a logical law a chok, why it calls iteself a chok- our understanding can never be perfect- and thus we have to continue to do each and every law regardless of whether or not it makes sense to us!

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Parshas Matos 5768

You ever feel really excited about something? So excited you get up early, jump out of bed, then rush to do whatever it was that excited you? Or you sit at work, and that one crucial task arrives- you know if you do it, and do it well, you will shine and be the next line in line for promotion- how quickly do you rush off to do it? To be the one to get the praise and accolades for a job well done?

What about the converse? The boss comes and tells you that you are fired, and then asks you to do one last task. How many people are keen then? How many people rush off excitedly, putting all that energy into that last task before they walk out the door to leave the company forever?

Chances are that everyone will identify with the first situation, and look at the second situation as bizarre. Run excitedly to complete the one task after which you will be fired? Most people will drag it out, extend it as far as possible to get the most possible traction from it. These two scenarios are played out in Parshat Balak and this weeks parsha.

In Parshat Balak we read how Bilaam wakes early in the morning, saddles his own donkey and leaves early. He is excited. He wants to curse the Jews. He wants to bring ill fortune and bad luck down on them- so much so that he foregoes the dignity and honour he normally insists on- preparing his own donkey and setting off without the household to accord him honour. He is like the first example- keen, eager, rushing off to do what he wishes.

On the other hand, in this week’s Parsha we see situation two. God tells Moshe to gather an army of twelve thousand men; one thousand from each tribe, to be led by Pinchas. Hashem tells him in clear terms that after the battle, his duty to Bnei Yisrael and Hashem will be completed and it will be time for him to die: he will never enter Yisrael- Bnei Yisrael will be led by his protégé Joshua in their conquest of the land. Not even his sons will take up his mantle of prophecy and leadership once he is gone.

Knowing this, one could forgive Moshe if he procrastinated a bit. If he dragged his feet, took things slowly, listened to the elders, took advice- and basically acted like most of us would in that situation. Instead, Moshe rushes to perform the commandment from Hashem. He does not delay, but right them gathers the army and sends it war.

In Moshe’s actions we can see how we should act. Moshe’s acts is as much an act of zealotry as Pinchas’, but while Pinchas’ happened in a moment of high emotion, an once in a life time situation- Moshe lived in this state constantly. Moshe lived to serve Hashem- for him, any commandment, no matter how small; or how painful to perform, had to be performed immediately, joyously and to the best of his ability. For Moshe, the serving of Hashem was the ultimate reward in itself.

So, too, it should be for us. Undoubtedly the complete acceptance and willingness that Moshe showed is not something easily done. Yet it should be something that we all strive for- to be able to fulfill the complete will of Hashem, joyously and rapidly, without worrying about how it affects us personally- but only that it is the will of Hashem.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshas Pinchas 5768

Parshas Pinchas starts off where last week’s parsha finished. Moses sends Pinchas and the rest of Bnei Yisrael to war against the Midianites. An interesting thought is brought on this the Talmud, Masechta Sotah. In discussing the role of the Kohen who led the nation to war, the issue of why Pinchas was chosen in this role is brought up.

There it is said that Pinchas was chosen because he was to lead the nation in war not just for what had happened at Baal Peor, but also, that as a descendant of Yosef (through his mother), it was as revenge for the sale of Yosef by the Midianites to the Egyptians. From the incident at Baal Peor is easily understood why Pinchas should be symbolic of that- it was through his actions that the anger of Hashem had been averted and the nation saved. His willingness to act correctly when such monumental and blatant sinning had left great men like Moses, Aharon, Elazar etc stunned into inaction showed how much he loved the Torah and Hashem. Indeed, it was for this action that he became a Kohen.

But why is Pinchas chosen to be symbolic of the revenge of Yosef? There were princes of Ephraim and Menasheh that could surely have fulfilled that role, and would have been more symbolic in that role since they were within the tribes that were Yosef’s descendants! Here we learn an important lesson- Pinchas burned with fire, with emotion. He felt things- for him Hashem and Judaism were living things, things that were intimate to him. He felt the indignation at the disobedience of Hashem as an intimate attack. So too with the sale of Yosef, for him it was not history, not an event two centuries in the past which had gone cold.

From Pinchas we see that Judasism is not dry, the Torah and Tanakh are not merely history books of what happened to our ancestors. It is not a matter of rote and learning, of merely studying what happened to others- Pinchas shows us that we need to feel that what happened to our ancestors should feel like it happened to us today. Every year we read in the Hagaddah the father’s reply to his sons. To the wise one- that if our ancestors would not have been redeemed, he would still be a slave in Egypt; to the wicked one that he would not have been worthy of being redeemed. Both these answers have a common theme- it is addressed to the sons and their current situation- they are told that they, too, would have been redeemed or left behind- the Exodus is relived because it is intimate to US, not just to our ancestors. Similarly on Shavuot we are told that we must act as if the Torah had been given to us, personally. That it is ours for eternity, always new, always freshly handed to each of us in a personal capacity; it was not just something that was given to our ancestors, but something that we must feel was given to us personally.

Pinchas teaches us this- he feels, he acts. For him an act against Hashem is something not to be borne; for him the wrong done to Yosef is felt as if it had just happened. Let us learn from Pinchas and feel the Torah is ours, new and to be guarded and loved as if it were given to us today.

As always, comments, suggestions and nit picking are welcomed!

NB: This was actually written by me for Parshas Pinchas. But it actually deals with a topic from Parshas Matos, with Rashi commenting on this subject in his commentary on Parshas Matos. So I am dithering on whether I keep it Parshas Pinchas or retitle it to Parshas Matos. Comments on that anyone?

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Parshah, Talmud, Torah | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment