Please use the Search bar to access the archives instead of the Alphabetical / Chronological Archives as we are experiencing technical difficulties with those areas of the website. Thank you.

back to blog home | about Rabbi Buchwald |  back to main NJOP site

Devarim 5778-2018

“The Final Rebuke”

 

With this week’s parasha, parashat Devarim, we begin to read the fifth and final book of the Torah.

The book of Deuteronomy is known in rabbinic literature as מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה, Mishneh Torah, which means, a repetition or review of the Torah. During the last five weeks of Moses’ life, the fortieth year after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses conveys his final teachings to the People of Israel.

Moses was concerned that once the people enter the “Promised Land,” the new generation would succumb to the powerful influences and temptations of the local Canaanite inhabitants. He reasoned that if the previous generation of Israelites, the parents, could continually sin even though they were surrounded by constant miracles, what would happen to the new generation who were confronted by the blandishments of the idolatrous Canaanite nations?

Moses therefore, gently rebuked the new generation to prepare the people for the new reality. According to Rashi, Moses offered his rebuke in an indirect and mild manner, rather than forcefully.

The book of Deuteronomy opens with the following prologue (Deuteronomy 1:1): אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, בַּמִּדְבָּר, בָּעֲרָבָה, מוֹל סוּף, בֵּין פָּארָן וּבֵין תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת וְדִי זָהָב, These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel on the opposite side of the Jordan, in the Wilderness, in the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.

Rather than forcefully reprove the people for the terrible sins they had committed as they wandered in the wilderness, Moses alludes to the sins obliquely by referring to the various places where these sins were committed: בַּמִּדְבָּר, in the Wilderness, where the people complained that they had been led into a desert to starve (Exodus 16:1-3); בָּעֲרָבָה, in the Arabah. Rashi and Onkelos  explain that this refers to the plain where many Israelites were seduced by the Midianite women (Numbers 25:1-9); מוֹל סוּף, opposite the Sea of Reeds, where the Israelites, who were being chased by the Egyptians at the sea, sarcastically complained: “Were there no graves in Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11). Even when they emerged from the sea, the people cried because they were certain that the Egyptians had escaped drowning and were waiting for them on the other side of the sea; בֵּין פָּארָן, between Paran, which is where the spies were sent from in the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 13:1-15); וּבֵין תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן, between Tophel and Laban. Rashi claims that these places are not mentioned anywhere in Scripture, rather they are allusions to complaints about the manna (Numbers 21:5). Tophel also refers to the tasteless bread–-the manna (Numbers 11:6); וַחֲצֵרֹת, Hazeroth is either the location where Korach’s rebellion took place or where Miriam was stricken for slandering Moses (Numbers 12:1-16); and finally, דִי זָהָב, the Jews were blessed with an abundance of gold (Zahav) when they left Egypt, but instead used this gift to fashion the Golden Calf.

The Torah, in Leviticus 19:17, declares, הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ, you shall surely rebuke your brother. The Talmud, in Baba Metzia 31a, explains that the repetition in the verse is intended to underscore that one should rebuke his brother repeatedly until he repents. The verse concludes with, וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא, and you shall not bear sin because of him. The sages declare that this implies that those who have an opportunity to prevent their friends and neighbors from sinning and fail to do so, commit an unfortunate sin of omission, and must assume at least partial responsibility for the misdeeds they could have prevented. As an example, the Talmud in Shabbat 54b reports that a cow, belonging to Rab Elazar ben Azaria’s neighbor, used to go out on Shabbat wearing a forbidden type of strap. Because he never tried to correct his neighbor’s improper behavior, the cow was known as “Reb Elazar’s cow.”

The regulations regarding rebuke require that one who rebukes a neighbor/friend must do so in a kind and gentle manner with no ulterior motive, and with only the clear intention to help the transgressors mend their ways.

One must not shame a sinner in public without first having tried to rebuke the sinner in private. One who unnecessarily shames or humiliates another person in public, forfeits his share in the World to Come. That is why the rabbis say that Moses did not mention the sinful acts themselves, but rather alluded to them obliquely by mentioning the locations where the sins occurred.

The Kedushat Levi notes that the above-cited verse, contains a seemingly extra phrase, אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, to underscore that Moses spoke to all of Israel. He says that this comes to teach that Moses offered the words of reproof only when all the people were united, so that no one could blame their friend or neighbor and say that Moses was speaking only to certain individuals and not to all of them. It is interesting to note, says the Kedushat Levi, that when Moses speaks to the people, he offers words of rebuke. However, when Moses speaks to G-d, he always tries to defend the Jewish people, and speak favorably about his beloved nation.

The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni says that the phrase, “all of Israel,” teaches that all of the People of Israel were not only worthy of receiving rebuke, but were also capable of hearing the rebuke and taking it to heart.

The Talmud, in Yevamot 65b, states that just as it is a mitzvah for a person to speak only words that can be understood, so is it a mitzvah for a person to refrain from saying things that cannot be heard or understood. This is what the Yalkut Shimoni means when it said that the people were able to “tolerate” the reproof–that they heard it, accepted it, and used it to mend their ways and attitudes.

The medieval commentator, Recanati cites the dictum found in Talmud Sanhedrin 27b, כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֵבִים זֶה בָּזֶה, that all of Israel is responsible, and acts as surety, for one another. It was this deep concern for one another, declares the Recanati, which has enabled the Jews to survive throughout the ages.

A Jew who sins becomes a weak link in the chain of Jewish posterity. Giving rebuke to sinners can often help repair that link. It may also help to strengthen the commitment of those who give rebuke, because they must now live up to the ideal of what they expect of others.

May you be blessed.

Please note: The observance of the fast of Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples, starts on Saturday night, July 21st and continues through Sunday night, July 22nd, 2018. Have a meaningful fast.

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah (prophetic reading) on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).  Much of the haftarah is recited in the mournful tune of Eicha (Book of Lamentations) that is recited on the night of Tisha B’av. The 12th verse of parashat Devarim begins with the word “Eicha” and that verse is also recited to the tune of Eicha. In addition, many synagogues have the custom to sing the  L’cha Dodi hymn on the Friday night of Shabbat Chazon to the tune of Eli Tzion, a mournful tune sung at the end of Kinot (Tisha B’Av poems) on the morning of Tisha B’av.

 

Matot-Masei 5778-2018

“Judaism and Warfare”

In parashat Matot, the first of this week’s double parashiyot, Matot-Masei, we read of the great battle that Israel waged to avenge the Midianite nation for leading the men of Israel into sin and idolatry.

Although the Torah recorded, in Number 25:1, that the Jews in Shittim began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab, according to the Alshich, war was declared on the Midianites, because the Moabite women were considered less guilty than the Midianate women. The women of Moab enticed the general population but the women of Midian tried to entice the Jewish leaders, including Moses himself, to sinful behavior. It was the immodesty and idolatry of the Midianite women that eventually led to the public act of harlotry performed by Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Simeon and Kozbi, the Midianite princess.

In parashat Matot, Numbers 31:1, G-d tells Moses נְקֹם נִקְמַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֵת הַמִּדְיָנִים, אַחַר תֵּאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ, Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered unto your people. (See Matot 5765-2005)

The immorality and idolatry that resulted from the harlotry of both the Midianite and Moabite women resulted in the death of 24,000 Jews from a plague (Numbers 25:1-9). Rashi states that because Ruth, the ancestress of King David, was destined to descend from Moab, G-d spared the Moabites. Nachmanides, the  Ramban, suggests that the Moabites were spared punishment because they acted out of fear while the Midianites were motivated by sheer hatred of the People of Israel.

The Torah, in Numbers 31, notes that each of the 12 tribes sent 1,000 men to do battle with the Midianites, totaling 12,000 soldiers. Although Pinchas the son of Elazar, now a Kohen, did not personally fight, he was present during the battle, and stood with the sacred vessels and the trumpets sounding in his hand to encourage the soldiers. The Torah states that the Israelites killed every Midianite male and that Bilaam the son of Beor was among those slain by the sword. The women of Midian, their young children, the Midianites’ cattle, flocks and all their wealth was taken as spoils. The homes of the Midianites and their palaces were burnt in fire.

When Moses saw that the Israelites had allowed the Midianite women to live, he was angry and ordered the soldiers to kill every woman who had previously lain with a man, as well as all the male children. The spoils of the war, the booty, were distributed equitably–half to the soldiers and the remaining half to the rest of the People of Israel.

Of course, this is not the only instance in which Israel is instructed by G-d to make war. In the war with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-13) the Israelites killed all the inhabitants–men, women, and children and even their animals. And so it was with the battles with the seven Canaanite nations when Israel conquered the Promised Land with Joshua as the leader.

Of course, all this took place in a different era, over 3,000 years ago, at a time when the prevailing values were much different than contemporary values, and yet it is quite evident that Judaism was extremely sophisticated in its rules of warfare.

Nothing in Judaism is more sacred than the sanctity of human life, whether that life is Jewish or non-Jewish. In fact, the utopian dream of peace is articulated by the prophet, in Isaiah 2:4:

And they [the nations] shall beat their swords into Plowshares,
And their spears into pruning-hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Rashi on Exodus 20:22, cites the Midrash Mechilta that explains that iron and implements of iron are forbidden to be used in the construction of the altar because the stones of the altar were intended to atone for the human being’s sins and to prolong life. Iron and weapons of iron shorten life. King David was forbidden to build the Temple in Jerusalem because of the blood he shed in warfare (I Chronicles 22:8).

Maimonides in the Laws of Kings 6:4,  remarkably claims that members of the seven Canaanite nations and even those of the detested nation of Amalek, who were prepared to accept the Noahide principles of basic common humanity could be spared. The operating assumption is that the Canaanites and the Amalekites were non-Noahides. They would not abide by, nor accept, the seven Noahide principles: the prohibition of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, eating an animal’s limb while the animal is still alive, and establishing basic rules of law and business. Thus, these nations–literally barbarians, who refused to accept even the lowest common denominator of human conduct, were killed. All others were spared.

The laws of conduct in warfare in Judaism are quite remarkable and far ahead of any other people of their time. Everything possible must be done to avoid war. However, there are times when war is not only justified, it is mandatory. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 72a, therefore proclaims, “If a person intends to kill you, be first to kill him.”

The Torah demands that the leaders of Israel must first sue for peace when they go to war. If the enemy agrees to live by the seven Noahide principles, they may be spared. According to Maimonides, it’s forbidden to besiege a city on all four sides–there must be an open avenue of escape. One is not permitted to cut down fruit-bearing trees even in times of war, even when Jewish soldiers’ lives are at stake. One is not permitted to destroy property for the sake of destruction. One is not allowed to close up wells and divert the waterworks. A Jewish soldier has to carry a spade with him in order to properly get rid of his bodily wastes.

While Judaism is not a pacifistic religion, it abhors the wanton taking of life. In ancient times, Israel was able to declare wars of self-defense and even wars to expand the borders of Israel as David did, as “mitzvah wars.” With the exception of “mitzvah wars,” a king could generally not declare war independently; he needed the approval of the 70 sages from the Sanhedrin in order to go out to battle.

Yet, there are strains of pacifism that may be found in Judaism. The fact that every Jewish soldier has to give a half shekel, (Exodus 30:12), as a “redemption for his soul,” implies that no matter how noble the cause, a soldier who takes another human being’s life is a sinner, and is thus required to pay atonement for his soul.

These extraordinarily advanced laws were promulgated 3,300 years ago. These values are the true underpinnings and foundations of Judaism, the bottom line of which is the sanctity of human life.

May you be blessed.

Please remember: Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month of Av, will be observed on Friday, July 20th and all day Saturday, July 21st. It marks the beginning of the “Nine Days,” a period of intense mourning leading to the fast of Tisha B’Av.This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Chazon“–the Sabbath on which we read the prophetic vision of Isaiah (Chapter 1) and its foreboding message of impending destruction.

Pinchas 5778-2018

“Pinchas the Zealot?” 
by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Pinchas, opens with G-d praising Pinchas, the son of Elazar, for turning back His wrath upon the Children of Israel, when Pinchas was zealous for G-d’s sake, and brought atonement for the sin of the people. G-d therefore declares that as a reward for Pinchas’ actions, He will give Pinchas His Covenant of Peace, and that Pinchas and his offspring after him shall be part of the Covenant of the Eternal Priesthood.

 

The actual details of the story of Pinchas are recorded in Numbers 25, the last chapter of last week’s parasha, parashat Balak.

 

The people of Israel had settled in Shittim, where they began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. When G-d’s wrath flared up against Israel, G-d demanded of Moses that all the leaders of the people who had taken part in this horrible idolatrous act, be put to death.

Moses had just instructed the judges of Israel to punish those who had sinned with the idolatrous Ba’al Peor, when suddenly a prominent Israelite man came forth and, together with a Midianite woman, began to commit an act of public harlotry.

 

It was then that Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the High Priest, stood up amidst the assembly, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man and the woman into the tent and pierced them both. With their deaths, the plague halted, but not before 24,000 Israelites had already perished.

 

The Torah identifies the two perpetrators as prominent individuals. The man was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. The woman was Kozbi the daughter of Tzur, a Midianite princess.

 

While Pinchas’ act of vengeance is hailed by G-d, the commentators are quite troubled by Pinchas’ impulsive and zealous action. After all, by what right does Pinchas decide to preempt Moses’ authority, and take the lives of the perpetrators, especially in front of Moses who had himself witnessed the harlotry?

 

While the rabbis of the Talmud and many of the biblical commentaries see Pinchas’ deed as heroic and bold from both the Jewish legal and a practical standpoint, they nevertheless are troubled by his action. The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 82a, in fact, confirms Pinchas’ action as being legally correct, but declares that the law is not practiced and not taught. In fact, the Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 9:7, states that the Sages wished to ex-communicate Pinchas for his act. Furthermore, had Zimri, the perpetrator, turned on Pinchas and killed Pinchas in self-defense, Zimri would not have been subject to punishment.

 

The rabbis wonder why the Torah goes to such great lengths to publicize the names of the perpetrators, calling Zimri אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה, the Israelite man who was smitten (Numbers 25:14). Some commentators assume that it comes to underscore that since Zimri was a tribal prince, there was a great risk that his fellow tribesmen would rise up to avenge his death. Nevertheless, Pinchas did not hesitate to stop the sinful act and fulfill the call of his conscience.

 

The Kli Yakar notes that when G-d declares in Numbers 25:11, that Pinchas, הֵשִׁיב אֶת חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם, had turned back G-d’s wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he was zealous for My sake, among them, the additional words “among them,” come to underscore that Pinchas performed his act of vengeance among Zimri’s tribesmen and relatives who were extremely likely to take revenge. Nevertheless, Pinchas acted with great courage and fortitude, and proceeded to act without fear or hesitation.

 

Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni in his Studies in the Weekly Parashah on the book of Bamidbar, states that it is Pinchas’ self-sacrifice, and not his zealotry, that G-d applauds. Pinchas brazenly endangered himself for the sake of Torah and the Jewish people, proving that he didn’t act out of personal interest or gain, but only to avenge G-d’s anger.

 

The Akeidat Yitzchak goes so far as to say that Pinchas is celebrated by the Torah for using his Divine insight to do what Moses failed to do. Apparently, Moses saw Zimri’s deed as an act that would not incur the death penalty in an earthly court, and therefore refrained from taking any action himself. Pinchas, however, concluded otherwise.

 

The Kotzker Rebbe declares that while Pinchas’ act of vengeance was celebrated and his virtues praised, he was nevertheless invalidated from becoming the leader of the Jewish people. Moses had originally thought that Pinchas would have been a suitable replacement, but when he saw Pinchas’ zealotry, he realized, that as a leader, Pinchas could not conduct himself with moderation and flexibility. Therefore, he appointed Joshua as his successor.

 

The commentators also wrestle with the well-known principle that a Kohen who kills, even when permissible by Torah law, is rendered invalid to serve as a priest. How then could Pinchas become a Kohen? This further underscores the great commitment of Pinchas, who nevertheless proceeded to act even though the action could jeopardize his becoming a priest. Some suggest that an exception was made for Pinchas, and that is why his status was not invalidated.

 

More likely is that since Pinchas was born before Aaron and his sons were made priests, Pinchas was regarded simply as a Levite. Having the status of a Levite when he killed Zimri and Kozbi, Pinchas was not subject to being invalidated. It was only after G-d’s blessing, that Pinchas became a priest.

 

The complex issues raised regarding Pinchas’ dramatic act, underscores the primacy of the concept of the sanctity of life in Judaism. This is why, the deed of vengeance is not glorified. It is only Pinchas’ courage to sacrifice everything meaningful in his life in order to stand up for the dignity of Moses and G-d that is hailed as heroic.

 

May you be blessed.

Balak 5778-2018

“The Contemporary Impact of the Blessings of Bilaam”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Balak, records Bilaam’s dramatic prophecies regarding the Jewish people.

Balak, the son of Tzipor, the king of Moab at that time, was terrified that the People of Israel would attack the Moabite people and destroy them, as they had recently vanquished the Amorites.

Knowing that the Israelites did not battle in a conventional manner, but rather relied on Divine help to succeed, Balak called upon the services of Bilaam, son of Beor. Bilaam, who was known as a talented prophet, possessed the ability to curse the People of Israel and defeat them through his words and imprecations.

After much convincing to secure Bilaam’s participation in the strategy to defeat Israel, Bilaam finally agrees. G-d, however, appears to Bilaam to warn him not to curse the Jewish people.

After several rounds of prophecy in which Bilaam offers favorable words toward Israel, Balak, in utter frustration, says to Bilaam, Numbers 23:25, גַּם קֹב לֹא תִקֳּבֶנּוּ, גַּם בָּרֵךְ לֹא תְבָרְכֶנּוּ. “If you can’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!” Bilaam responds to Balak, saying, הֲלֹא דִּבַּרְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר השׁם אֹתוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה, “Have I not spoken to you saying, ‘Whatever the L-rd shall speak, that shall I do?’”

After another round of blessings, Balak’s anger flares against Bilaam. Clapping his hands in fury, Balaak says, Numbers 24:10-11, לָקֹב אֹיְבַי קְרָאתִיךָ, וְהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתָּ בָרֵךְ זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, and behold you have blessed them these three times! Now go, flee to your place. I wanted to honor you, but G-d has withheld honor from you.”

Again, Bilaam tells Balak, Numbers 24:12-13, “I told your emissaries who came to fetch me, that even if Balak were to give me an entire household of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of G-d to do good or bad on my own. Whatever the L-rd speaks, that shall I speak.”

Perhaps by stepping back a bit, we can properly absorb what has transpired in this story. After all, it’s not very often in Jewish history that anyone, especially an avowed enemy of the Jews, blesses the Jewish people.

It could not merely be a serendipitous coincidence that only recently a former Australian member of parliament, Ross Cameron, offered an amazingly positive commentary on SkyNews Australia about the Jewish people.

I just want to say that the Arab world, you’ve got 350 million Arabs in 22 countries, you pride yourself, the Arab, sort of Bedouin culture, prides itself on hospitality. I just want to say to you that I don’t think your policy of punting the Jews is in your interest. And I think if you just sat down for a moment and said, “Okay, we’ve got this little rare jewel of six and half million Jews in the State of Israel of eight million people. This is one of the best things going for the Middle East, this is what I have described previously as ‘the magic of this operation.’” So wherever you are in the world, if you have a Jewish neighbor, say, “G-d bless you!” When you see a Jew walking on the street, you should recognize an ancestor [descendant] of King David, and say, “This is absolutely the most awesome story of human survival ever written.”

The prophecies of Bilaam are beyond beautiful. Says Bilaam, Numbers 23:21, “G-d does not behold iniquity in Jacob or see the perverseness of Israel, G-d is with him [Israel].” In Numbers 24:5&9, Bilaam concludes, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. Blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you.”

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein in his work, Baruch She’Amar, asks: Of all the verses in the Bible that could have been chosen, why do the daily prayers of our people open with Bilaam’s prayer? Rabbi Epstein suggests, that if Bilaam, who hated the Jewish people so intensely, said these wonderful things about the Jewish people, מַה טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב , ‘How goodly are your tents, O Jacob,’ imagine what the truth really was! Imagine how incredibly wonderful the Jewish people really were, exceeding even Bilaam’s own extraordinary praises.

Rabbi Aryeh Ben David in his invaluable compendium of Shabbat table conversations entitled Around the Shabbat Table, makes the very insightful point that Jewish people in the time of Bilaam and Balak were quite distressed because of the hopelessness of their situation. They had just suffered a multitude of crises: the spies, the rebellion of Korach, the impending cessation of the Manna from heaven, Miriam and Aaron had passed away, and Moses too would soon pass. Would the Israelites really be able to enter the Promised Land and defeat their enemies?

Comes along Bilaam, a man who abounds with hatred for the Israelites, and pronounces a most hopeful message, saying clearly that Israel will vanquish its enemies, Numbers 24:8-9, “The people [of Israel] will lift up itself as a young lion; will not lie down until it eats of the prey,” Numbers 23:24, “Israel will eat up the nations, its enemies, will break their bones and pierce them through with its arrows. It lies down like a lion and, like a great lion, who will stir him up?”

When the angels sing praises to G-d about Israel, says Rabbi Ben David, they are tainted witnesses. All those who love Israel and say nice things about them are also tainted. But, when our enemies say nice things about us, we have to perk up our ears to listen and believe them.

Bilaam’s curses, that were turned into blessings, remain with the Jewish people forever as a source of inspiration. It is because of these blessings, that the curses of our enemies cannot harm us.

May you be blessed.

Please note: The Fast of Shivah Assar b’Tammuz (the 17th of Tammuz) will be observed this year on Sunday, July 1, 2018, from dawn until nightfall. The fast commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, leading to the city’s and Temple’s ultimate destruction. The fast also marks the beginning of the “Three Week” period of mourning, which concludes after the Fast of Tisha B’Av that will be observed on Saturday night and Sunday, July 21st and 22nd. Have a meaningful fast.

 

Chukat 5778-2018

“The People of Israel are Taught to be More Independent”
by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Chukat, opens with the laws of the פָּרָה אֲדֻמָּה, Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer that was used in ancient times to cleanse the people from impurity. The parasha, however, also contains a host of other themes, including Miriam’s death and the subsequent lack of water, the punishment of Moses and Aaron for hitting the rock, the death of Aaron, the battle with Amalek, the people’s complaint and the attack of the fiery serpents. The parasha concludes with Israel’s victory in battle over Sihon and the Amorites.

After the deaths of Miriam and Aaron and the loss of those great leaders, the people needed to prepare for the future. Life for them would be very different after their leader Moses will no longer be with them. Until now, the people of Israel have been living a supernatural lifestyle, wandering through the wilderness on Divine clouds. According to the Midrash, these clouds leveled out the terrain so the people would not have to endure the challenging mountains or valleys. Their clothes were washed by the clouds and their garments grew along with their bodies. Water suddenly appeared in the wilderness when Moses spoke to the rock.

Now Miriam and Aaron were gone. Moses was soon to pass away as well. The people of Israel could not continue to live in this supernatural manner for much longer. They need to prepare for a more normal life that they would experience after the death of Moses, who passed away immediately prior to their entry into the land of Canaan.

When the Canaanite kings heard of the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, they regarded the people of Israel as extremely vulnerable and, one by one, began to attack. The first Canaanite king to attack is identified in the Torah (Numbers 21:1), as the king of Arad. Rashi citing the Midrash, maintains that the attackers were actually Amalekites, who had disguised themselves as local Canaanites (from Arad) in order to confuse the people of Israel. This tactic would hopefully render the Israelites’ prayers for salvation ineffectual because they were intended to defeat the Canaanites and not the Amalekites. According to the Midrash, the king of Arad and his troops (the disguised Amalekites), captured one Canaanite slave girl, leading the Israelites to do battle with them, in order to redeem the unfortunate captive. The deception did not help, and when the people of Israel took an oath to G-d, the Al-mighty delivered the king of Arad and his people into their hands.

The Ha’Emek Davar notes that Moses did not play a role in this battle, or in the later battles with Sihon and Og, the Amorite kings. While, according to the Talmud Brachot 4b, Moses does personally kill Og the giant king of Bashan, it was because it was impossible to defeat Og naturally. Through prayer and battle, the nations of Sihon and Og were defeated by Israel, as was the king of Arad. As we learn in Numbers 21:24, וַיַּכֵּהוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְפִי חָרֶב, and Israel smote him [Sihon] by the edge [literally “by the mouth”] of the sword, meaning that Israel defeated the enemies utilizing both prayer and battle, which continued to be the method employed in the later conquests of the land of Israel as well.

Unfortunately, the People of Israel once again fail to acknowledge how their lack of faith affects their security. When the people begin to speak against Moses and G-d, the Al-mighty strikes the people with fiery serpents who begin to bite the Israelites.

The Akeidat Yitzchak points out that with this attack, the supernatural life, which the Israelites had experienced for 40 years, comes to an end, and the natural pattern of life for the Israelites begins. The Akeidat Yitzchak notes that even though the Torah, in Deuteronomy 8:15, describes that the people had traveled for 40 years through “an arid desert of venomous serpents and scorpions,” not a single creature had ever harmed them. But, when the people lash out at G-d and Moses, declaring, Numbers 21:5, וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל, “our souls are disgusted with this insubstantial food,” G-d brings the serpents to show them what happens when they renounce G-d’s protective powers. The serpents, that were always there but never harmed them, begin to attack. The supernatural protection of G-d vanishes, and nature begins to run its course. The serpents, says Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, show how dangerous nature really is, and that it is only G-d who protects the people from harm.

The Israelites, who will soon enter Canaan–the Promised Land, will have to readjust to their new unprotected reality. Moses, Aaron and Miriam will no longer be there to perform miracles for them and protect them. The Divine clouds, upon which they rode, will disappear and they will have to wash their own garments and tailor new garments as their bodies grow. The “new normal” has arrived, and the Israelites will have to face the consequences of life as it runs its “natural” course.

The mercies of G-d can always be evoked, but only for a people who live a life devoted to G-d and His Torah.

May you be blessed.

Korach 5778-2018

“Where Did Korach Go Wrong?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Korach, we read of the rebellion of Korach, Datan and Abiram, and 250 men of the Children of Israel, leaders and men of renown, who joined the rebellion.

The Torah, in Numbers 16:3, reports that Korach and his cohorts gathered around Moses and Aaron, berating them saying, רַב לָכֶם, כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם השׁם, וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל השׁם, “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly, all of them are holy, and the L-rd is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the L-rd?”

When Moses heard this, in desperation, he fell on his face.

Moses eventually suggests that a heavenly test be conducted to determine who are the true leaders. Korach and his followers are to bring firepans, and G-d will choose who should be the leaders of Israel. Ultimately, the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his followers, and a heavenly fire consumes the 250 men who rebelled with Korach.

Rashi, in his comments on Numbers 16:7, asks, וְקֹרַח, שֶׁפִּקֵּחַ הָיָה, מָה רָאָה לִשְׁטוּת זֶה, Korach was a brilliant man, how did he do such a foolish thing? Citing the Midrash Rabbah, Rashi explains, that Korach saw that his future descendants would include the great prophet Samuel, and that members of his family would serve in the Temple rotations, not realizing that his own sons would repent and survive, while he would perish.

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus  in Tiferet Shimshon, notes that when Korach calls out Moses and Aaron saying that the entire community is holy not just you, he didn’t understand that there can be only one primary leader of Israel, only one High Priest and only one primary prophet. While the crown of Torah can be worn by any of the people of Israel, Korach couldn’t accept the fact that there must be a single primary leader. Korach couldn’t appreciate the fact that the Torah is transmitted from person to person, from generation to generation, and that all those who are involved in the transmission can achieve the status of Moses who heard the Torah first from the Al-mighty G-d. In fact, one who learns Torah from a mentor or teacher is considered, in rabbinic literature, as learning Torah directly from the Al-mighty.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik maintains that Korach saw Moses and Aaron as power-hungry, placing themselves above the rest of Israel. He perceived that Moses had anointed himself as king, with ultimate power and authority over all the people. But, that was not really the role that Moses had assumed. The Jewish people were not at all Moses’ subjects; they were, in fact, G-d’s subjects. The community was not structured as a monarchy or a political community, but as a “covenantal” community.

Rabbi Soloveitchik argues that, throughout the ages, the primary figure of the covenantal community was not the king, the warrior, or even the High Priest, but the teacher! The leader of the covenantal community cannot force the people to follow him. They were never the leaders’ subjects, they were, in fact, his disciples. By making a free will commitment, the people choose to follow him as their leader and to accept him as their teacher and mentor.

That is why Moses is known as “Moshe Rabeinu,” Moses our teacher. Even Aaron served not only as a High Priest, but as a master teacher. Similarly, although the priests ministered in the Temple, their sanctity derived from their role as teachers.

Says Rabbi Soloveitchik, “Moses had not raised himself above the community as Korach charged; the community had raised him above itself.”

Many social philosophers have written about the power of leaders and the origins of their power. Only the Jewish people declared that the power of leadership is not derived from strength, might or force. The power of Jewish leadership is derived from ideas, from values and from revolutionary concepts, such as charity, and acts of loving-kindness.

By failing to understand the source of Moses’ leadership, Korach made a fateful error. By rebelling, he ultimately taught future generations to make the important distinction that he failed to make, unfortunately, at the cost of his life.

May you be blessed.

Shelach 5778-2018

“Moses Called Hoshea the Son of Nun, ‘Joshua’”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Shelach-Lecha, the tragic story of the scouts is recounted. The scouts’ negative report about their visit to the land of Canaan resulted in a 40 year trek in the wilderness for all the People of Israel, and the Divine decree that all of the men now over age 20 will pass away before entering the Promised Land.

In Numbers 13:2, G-d tells Moses, שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ, כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם, “Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them.”

When the complete list of names of the scouts is finally recorded, the Torah reports, in Numbers 13:16, וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, “Joshua.”

Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma 6 and Talmud Sotah 34b, explains that Moses actually prayed for Hoshea: יָ־הּ יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ מֵעֲצַת מְרַגְּלִים, May G-d save you [Joshua] from the plot of the spies. The commentators explain that Moses added the Hebrew letter י , yud, to the name Hoshea, so that the name of G-d would be embedded in the new name, “Yehoshua.” This would, hopefully, give Joshua strength to resist the temptations of the evil scouts whose negative report about the land would lead the people to rebel, resist and refuse to go to the land they had visited, which they were told, was inhabited by giants who would attack and destroy the people.

With Moses’ blessing and the name of G-d embedded in his name, Joshua was able to resist the influence of the ten wicked scouts.

But what about the loyal scout Caleb? Why was he not blessed? Rashi responds to this question by citing the verse, Numbers 13:22, וַיַּעֲלוּ בַנֶּגֶב, וַיָּבֹא עַד חֶבְרוֹן , they [the scouts] ascended in the south and HE arrived at Hebron. Rashi explains that while the scouts ascended in the south, Caleb went alone to Hebron and prostrated himself in prayer over the graves of the patriarchs beseeching their blessing so that he should not be seduced by the evil plan of his companions.

Why did Moses pray only for Joshua and not for Caleb and the other scouts? The Targum Yonatan suggests that Moses realized that Joshua specifically needed additional help, because his humility and modesty would make him vulnerable to the influence of the fellow spies.

Gur Aryeh however, posits that Moses prayed specifically for Joshua because if Joshua were to sin, it would reflect poorly on Moses, his mentor. People would conclude that Joshua must have absorbed his lack of faith from his teacher.

The Chofetz Chaim theorizes that Moses recognized the personality differences between Joshua and Caleb. Joshua was, by this time, already a man of significant stature, who was in a position to speak up and oppose the scouts. That act would put Joshua in grave danger. Therefore, Moses prayed for him. But, Caleb, was far more reticent and kept to himself. Not knowing whether Caleb supported their rebellion or not, Caleb would not be in danger and consequently needed no blessing from Moses.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik argues that the letter “yud” was added to the name Hoshea to make the new name Yehoshua, יהוֹשֻׁעַ. The “yud” represents ten, equaling the influence of the ten evil scouts, providing power for Joshua to resist them.

But, why again didn’t Moses bless all of the scouts? Rashi, citing Tanchuma 4, notes, וְאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה כְּשֵׁרִים הָיוּ, at that moment they [the scouts] were all righteous and only became corrupt when they were intimidated by the powerful residents that they saw while they were in the land.

Another possible answer may be found in the rabbinic dictum, בְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁאָדָם רוֹצֶה לֵילֵךְ, בָּהּ מוֹלִיכִין אוֹתוֹ, (Makkot 10b), [Heaven] allows a person to follow the road he wishes to pursue. While all the scouts were originally righteous, they were not fully committed to the land of Israel with all their heart and soul. As they moved through the land, they looked over their shoulders perhaps thinking that the grass was greener in the wilderness or some other place.

Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were visionaries who were able to dream that even though the land of Canaan was now filled with giants and possibly, barbarians, the land could certainly be turned into a proper land, a land flowing with milk and honey. That was the way their hearts wanted to go, and that’s the way G-d led Joshua and Caleb. He, therefore, gave them the strength and fortitude to overcome the powerful influence of the other 10 scouts.

Joshua and Caleb resist the most powerful peer pressure, and in their merit, the land of Israel eventually becomes the homeland of the People of Israel.

May you be blessed.

B’ha’a’lot’cha 5778-2018

“The Seventy Elders: The Challenge of Jewish Leadership”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

Among the many interesting themes found in this week’s parasha, parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha, is the appointment of seventy elders. In response to Moses’ complaint (Numbers 11:14), that he could not carry the burden of leading the people alone, the seventy elders are called upon to assist Moses in leading the nation.

According to tradition, these new elders were selected to replace the seventy elders who served the people in Egypt (Exodus 3:16, 4:29) who died in a heavenly fire (Numbers 11:1) because of sinfully and disrespectfully eating and drinking while perceiving the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 24:11).

In Numbers 11:16, G-d says to Moses, אֶסְפָה לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָדַעְתָּ כִּי הֵם זִקְנֵי הָעָם וְשֹׁטְרָיו, וְלָקַחְתָּ אֹתָם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ שָׁם עִמָּךְ, “Gather to Me seventy men from the elders of Israel whom you know to be the elders of the people and its officers; take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you.”

G-d then explains to Moses that He intends to inspirit these seventy men with His spirit so they shall carry the burden of the people together with Moses, so that he would not have to bear the community’s burdens alone.

Rashi commenting on the phrase, “Gather for Me the seventy men from the elders of Israel whom you know to be the elders of the people and its officers,” explains that these seventy men are people whom Moses already knows because they had served as guards of the Israelites in Egypt during the peoples’ crushing enslavement. Rather than beat the Jewish slave-laborers to produce more bricks as the Egyptians demanded, the guards themselves were beaten. G-d tells Moses to select these heroic guards to serve as the elders of Israel, because of the great sacrifices they made on behalf of the people in the time of Israel’s enslavement.

Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in his commentary on the Bible, Da’at Sofrim, notes that the elders of Israel were not only required to be astute, learned and wise men, but must also be known to the people as popular and sympathetic leaders and advisors. Rabbi Rabinowitz further maintains that this standard was employed when choosing leaders for Jewish communities in all future generations. Utilizing their wisdom and generosity of spirit, these insightful, G-d-fearing, humble and pleasant people were called upon to lead the nation.

According to tradition, the most salient reason for the selection of these leaders was because (Exodus 5:14), וַיֻּכּוּ שֹׁטְרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, at great personal cost, the guards of the Children of Israel defied the orders of the Egyptian taskmasters and were beaten when they refused to beat the Israelite slaves.

While Jewish leaders often face difficult challenges, the challenges of Jewish leadership are not always external. All too often, they are internal. While it is true that in this particular instance, the Hebrew guards were beaten by the Egyptian taskmasters, we know only too well that the multitudes of Israelites could be very mean and cruel to their leaders. When Pharaoh decreed after his encounter with Moses and Aaron that the Israelite slaves were no longer to be given straw (Exodus 5:21), the guards themselves confronted Moses and Aaron and condemned them for making things worse and for “placing a sword in the hands of the Egyptians to murder the people.”

Being a Jewish leader at any time and in any age is not an easy task, especially to lead people who are prone to complain and are rarely satisfied. Leadership, in general, is hardly ever truly rewarding or fulfilling. In fact, the idea of term limits for political leaders is based on the assumption that leaders who stay in power too long, are bound to lose favor, even in the eyes of their most ardent supporters.

That leaders will make mistakes is inevitable. However, their followers often go well above and beyond what is justified when criticizing them.

A good friend of mine, who is involved in outreach and, who at great personal sacrifice, has influenced many hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews to live more Jewish lives, told me that a particular person, whose family he had previously helped, came up to him recently and angrily berated him, “What do you have to show for all your work? You have no wife, no children, no family. You’re wasting your time!” The cruelty of that remark shocked me to the core. And, although I too have been subjected to abuse in my long career in Jewish engagement, I, fortunately, have never experienced that degree of venom.

In my attempts to console my friend, I reminded him of the guards in Egypt who eventually became the seventy elders of Israel, because they were beaten for refusing to beat their brother Israelites who had failed to produce sufficient bricks.

Unfortunately, this is often the price that one pays for serving in a Jewish leadership position.

I only hope that the person who said those hurtful words will come to his senses and ask forgiveness in the not too distant future.

While leadership is always challenging, Jewish leadership is often profoundly challenging.

May you be blessed.

Naso 5778-2018

“Counting the ‘Special’ People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In last week’s parasha, parashat Bamidbar, after conducting a census of all the tribes of Israel and assigning each tribe a camping location around the Tabernacle, G-d tells Moses, Numbers 3:15, to count the sons of Levi. The conclusion of that count is found in this week’s parasha, parashat Naso.

In Numbers 4:48 we are informed that the total number of Levites from the family of Merari, from age 30 years old until 50 years, was 8,580. Like all the other Levites, the Merarites were counted, Numbers 4:46, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their fathers’ household.

The Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 8, points to an interesting anomaly in the text. The Levites are always counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to the families and according to the households. The tribes of Israel are also counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their households.

The emphasis on the families and households underscores Judaism’s supreme regard for family–the ultimate source of strength and structure of the People of Israel. Therefore, any person claiming to be a כֹּהֵןkohen, priest had to provide proof that he was from the particular household of Aaron. Levites, as well, must prove that they descend from the family of Levi. In fact, each member of the twelve tribes of Israel had to prove that they were members of that particular tribe according to their families and their fathers’ household. An allusion to this is found in the well-known Hallel prayer, Psalms 135:19-20, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם; בֵּית אַהֲרֹן, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם. בֵּית הַלֵּוִי, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, House of Israel bless the L-rd, House of Aaron bless the L-rd, House of Levi bless the L-rd.

However, no allusion to “house” is found in the psalm’s conclusion: יִרְאֵי השׁם, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, Those who fear the Lord, bless the L-rd.

The Midrash notes that in Psalm 146:8-9, we read, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts. There is no mention of “house” in this verse, because G-d’s love for the righteous and the converts is not due to an inherited portion of land or because they belong to a particular family. Any person who wants to be righteous, says the Midrash, even a gentile, can become righteous without being a member of a particular tribe, sect or family. Those who “fear the L-rd” are not G-d-fearing because they belong to a particular family or tribe, but because they stand up and proclaim their love of G-d. That is why the Al-mighty declares in Psalms 146:8-9, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts.

Only those who descend from the House of Levi can be Levites, only those who descend from the House of Aaron can be priests and only those who descend from the tribe of Benjamin can be Benjaminites. But, all those who faithfully submit themselves to G-d can be G-d-fearing, and all those who proclaim that the L-rd is G-d, can be regarded as righteous converts.

The Midrash tells of a king who entrusted his flock of sheep and goats to a loyal shepherd, who would take the king’s flocks out to pasture each day and bring them in at night to rest. One day, a deer joined the flock and started to accompany the herd wherever it went. The shepherd asked the king what to do with this strange animal. The king quickly took a liking to the deer because it seemed to care so deeply for the king’s sheep and goats, and rather than remain in the wilderness with the other deer, helped the shepherd tend to the needs of the king’s flock.

So says G-d, the righteous converts could have remained in great comfort with their families. Instead, they chose to embrace G-d’s flock. I will love them more and care for them more.

And, so it is with the righteous people, who could have chosen to follow the masses, living comfortably along with the other Israelites. Instead, they chose to live heightened spiritual lives, and influence others with their righteous behavior. The Al-mighty therefore embraces them as His own, and cares for them as the apple of His eye.

May you be blessed.

Bamidbar-Shavuot 5778-2018

“Counting a Very Special People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

With this week’s parasha, parashat Bamidbar, Jews throughout the world begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, known as Bamidbar/Numbers, also known in rabbinic literature as Sefer Pekudim, סֵפֶר פְּקוּדִים , the Book of Counting.

In the opening chapter of the book of Numbers, G-d speaks to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt. In Numbers 1:2, G-d commands Moses, שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם, Take a census of the entire community of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to the headcount. The Torah then clarifies that Moses is to count all the men who are twenty years and older who are fitting to go out as soldiers in the army of Israel.

Clearly, the purpose of this census is to determine how many men are fit to serve in the army of Israel as they march through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, to conquer the future land of Israel that they are to inherit.

The Torah does not tell much about the personal information that was gathered during this census. What appears to be most important in this survey is to determine the yichus, יִחוּס , the family pedigree of the Children of Israel, according to their families, their fathers’ households, and their tribal identities.

There is no record that the people who were counted were asked to identify their skills or trades, reveal their personal finances, the extent of their education, their physical well-being, their athletic prowess, or even their aptitude for soldiering. What seems most important in this census is to affirm that each solider was part of a noble and secure Jewish family and tribal unit, to prove their appropriateness to serve in T’zva Hashem, צְבָא השׁם, the army of the L-rd.

The Torah, in Genesis 1:28, states that all human beings are unquestionably created in the image of G-d. However, the Jewish people are said to have a special relationship with G-d. Some refer to that special connection as the “Pintele Yid,” a Jewish spark in the soul of every Jew that can never be snuffed out, no matter how far a Jew may stray.

When G-d instructed Moses to count the Jewish people, the great Moses and Aaron were counted alongside the wicked Datan and Abiram, together with the shoemaker from the tribe of Dan and the water-drawer from the tribe of Issachar. All were equal in G-d’s eyes, no matter whether a cobbler, a baker, a butcher, or a Torah scholar, a prince, a firstborn, or a tribal leader of Israel.

Furthermore, all this occurred b’midbar Sinai, בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, in the wilderness of Sinai, where there were no distractions–no radios, no tvs, no iPhones. In fact, Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus (Tiferet Shimshon), suggests that the setting was much like a yichud room, the special chamber where the bride and groom retreat immediately following the marriage ceremony for private time. In this setting, in the barren wilderness, G-d and every single Jew were able to focus on the special relationship of love between the Al-mighty and His people. It is this same feeling that Jews everywhere seek to evoke on Shavuot night by staying up all night, learning Torah, reviewing the memorable photographs and the nostalgic videos of the marriage ceremony between the Al-mighty and His people.

It is this special bond between G-d and His people that is reaffirmed every single year on the festival of Shavuot. Without distinction to class, education, sophistication, and even the extent of one’s religiosity, every Jew is embraced, because the soul of every Jew contains the “Pintele Yid,” the spark of the Divine.

We live in a blessed era in which more Torah is studied than perhaps at any other time in Jewish history. Torah schools, especially in the State of Israel, are flourishing today where the chirping voices of little boys and girls studying Torah has been made possible by the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Despite the fact that most of the early founders of the State of Israel were non-religious Jews who were not directly connected to Torah, their souls still contained that “Pintele Yid,” that spark of G-d that made possible the greatest renaissance of Jewish life in the past 2,000 years. Once again, it was demonstrated that every single soul is precious, every soul critical.

Like the ancient Jews in the wilderness–the 603,550 males over the age of twenty who were counted on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypt, the founders of the State of Israel were not singled out because they were scholars or leaders, religious or non-religious, but because they were members of the House of Israel, and betrothed partners with G-d.

Congratulations to all those who survive today as identified Jews, who endured the challenges of the past 3,300 years and are still counted among the people of Israel. May we continue to stand tall and proud that we are here to be counted among the blessed people of Israel, to celebrate this wonderful festival of Shavuot, the anniversary of our betrothal to the Al-mighty G-d.

 

May you be blessed.

 

Please note: The wonderful festival of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai 3330 years ago is observed this year on Saturday evening, May 19th, and continues through Monday night, May 21st, 2018.

Chag Shavuot Samayach. Have a happy and festive Shavuot.