Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Pasrhas Naso 5769- The importance of relationships

This weeks parsha describes a number of relationships.  First it continues with the count of the Levi’im, first the Gershonites and then the Merim.  Then we have the discussion of the Sota followed by the laws of the Nazir.  The Parsha closes on the offerings brought by each of the princes of the tribes.  So first we have a count showing the relationship between people, each by their father’s house, in the service of the Mishkan.  Then we have a discussion on the marriage relationship followed by the relationship between G-d and someone seeking to enhance their spirituality- finally we have the relationship between G-d and the twelve tribes as they inaugurate the Mishkan.

What is central in all of these relationships, is the presence of G-d.  It doesn’t matter if the relationship is a physical one or a spiritual one, G-d is present in all of them.  It is also clear that every relationship is important to G-d.  There is no implication of a relationship being worth any less- in fact most of these show the sensitivity and importance of each relationship.  The Gershonites are counted before the Merari because they are the elder; G-d allows his name to be desecrated and destroyed as part of the process of the Sotah in order to reconcile a husband and wife; each of the princes brings their offering on a seperate day, and each offering is mentioned in full even though it is identical to the others.

Perhaps the last illustrates the importance of relationships more than any other- each prince brings an identical offering.  Yet each prince is unique on their day and is mentioned seperately.  Midrash rabbah tells us that though each prince brought an identical offering, each one had arrived at it differently and their reasons for bringing each item were unique.  So it is with relationships.  Each one is unique- from the outside we cannot see intot he depths and uniqueness that exists between people, but it is there.  Outside we see the manifestation- marriage, children, friendship; but the bond is unique in each case, forged differently to different purposes and with different effects.  No one definition or link can be said to define what a relationship is, how it make a relationship stronger or weaker- but each individual defines themselves and their links to others, and to G-d, uniquely.

The message from our parsha is clear- relationships are important.  We do not sacrifice them even for the sake of holiness- the Nazir’s vow is temporary, and at the end he brought sacrifices, including a Korban Chatas for denying himself pleasure in this world.  The sotah when reconciled to her husband is blessed; the mishkan was inaugurated, the Levi’im served in the mishkan and later in the Beis Hamikdash.  Relationships bind us together, create a whole- and if G-d can sublimate his honour to repair a family bond between husband and wife; then we should all be prepared to follow the example of Aharon and not worry about our honour in thw pursuit of repairing relationships and creating peace.

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June 5, 2009 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

No easy paths to spirituality

Nowadays we see a plethora of cults, new age movements, reinterpretation of old spirituality into new forms- all in the name of people seeking out spirituality.What is the driver behind all this?Why the search for meaning in everything but the traditional.

Strangely enough, everyone seems to think that this is new, that searching for easy answers to spirituality is something unique to our era.  But history shows us something different.  Why else do we see Bnei Ysirael falling into idolatary time and time again?  Simply put: worshiping idols was easy, an entrance into spirituality without the hard work and discipline required in Judaism.  Similarly, towards the end of the second Temple era there were a plethora of cults and sects looking for alternate answers to spirituality rather than looking at the hard work, study and discipline espoused by the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin (i.e. the Pharisees).  Whether it was early sects looking for a Messiah to be reborn after three days (as it seems was part of the doctrine of one of the sects at least a hundred years before the time of Jesus according to a recently found tablet) or aesthetes such as the Essenes or textual literalists like the Sadducees  they surely reflect nothing more than the search for spirituality outside the mainstream, just as we see it today!

So what is the answer?  Strangely enough I found this discussion in the Talmud (Sotah daf 40a):Rav Chisda bar Abba and Rav Abbahu both gave shiurim at the same time: Rav Abbahu taught on aggadata (allusionary stories, the meanings behind verses etc, Rav Chisda lectured on halacha.  Rav Abbahu’s lecture was filled to overflowing; Rav Chisda had very few attendees.  Afterwards, Rav Abbahu saw that Rav Chisda was upset at the poor attendance at his shiur.  Rav Abahu comforted him with the following parable: There are two sellers, one of precious stones, the other of smallware (pins/needles/ threads etc).  Many people frequent thee seller of smallware- the others items may be more precious, but most do not have the means to purchase them.  How was this analogous to their situation?  Rav Abbahu compared the teaching of agadata and spirituality to smallware- easily understood by everyone as it does not require deep logical analysis, knowledge of minutae and the intellectual capacity to follow difficult discourse, rather it is like a simple narrative .However, the Halachah of Rav Chisda, while of far more value and intrinsically worth more, is like the precious stones, few have the means to acquire it.

In this exchange we see the eternal quest for the easy path to spirituality.  People go for the simple narrative, the quick fix to feeling they are spiritual, rather than involving themselves in the difficult work of study and understanding needed to follow the whole package.

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Talmud, Torah | , , | 4 Comments