Archive for July 2015

Parashat Va'Etchanan

Thursday, July 30, 2015 · Posted in , , , , ,

Devarim 3:23 - 7:11
Haftarah Yeshayahu 40:1 - 26




Summary

  • Sefer Devarim is called "Mishneh Torah - The Review of the Torah" because it repeats over 100 mitzvot already mandated in the previous four Books. Rav S.R. Hirsch explains that of the 199 Mitzvot commanded in this book, more than 70 are new. The repeated mitzvot focus on areas that will be of greater immediate concern as they encounter the seven Nations. For example, the prohibition against idol worship. Although already taught, it needed to be reiterated as the Jews would confront the inhabitants of Kenaan, who were idolatrous. Those mitzvot whose application was the same, whether in the desert or in HaAretz, are not reviewed. In Parshat Va'Etchanan Moshe continues his final instructions to the Benei Yisra'el.
  • Moshe beseeched Hashem to enter HaAretz. However, he seemingly blamed the nation when his request was turned down. Moshe explained the foundation of our divine mission, which will be recognized by the other nations. Moshe stressed allegiance to Hashem and the consequences to ourselves and our children if we do not keep the Torah.
  • Moshe designated the Cities of Refuge.
  • Moshe stressed the reaction of the nation after the giving of the Torah, and forewarned them not deviate from the Torah, either to the right or the to the left. The first paragraph of Shema is recorded. (6:10-15) Moshe warned the people about the dangers of prosperity, and directed them to keep the commandments and remember the Exodus. Moshe forewarned them about the dangers of assimilation and told them to always remember that they are the Chosen People.

Devarim 3:23 I pleaded with HASHEM at that time, saying,
At that time Moshe only had a few weeks to live. Moshe thus said, "I pleaded with HASHEM a that time saying." Why did he only pray at that time? "The reason that only prayed at that time was because I wanted to teach you a lesson that you do not despair but that you realize that G-d can have mercy no matter how great the troubles you find yourself in. Even when you find yourself in a situation where there is a sharp sword on your neck, do not refrain from praying."

Here, although G-d did not accept Moshe's prayer, Moshe continued praying that, at least, he should be worthy of seeing the Holy Land.

Why did Moshe say, "I pleaded" (va-et-chanan, ואתחנן)? The Torah should have said, "I prayed" (va-et-palal, ואתפלל) to Hashem. Actually, Moshe prayed for the Benei Yisrael after they had made the Golden Calf. He said, "I prayed (va-et-palel) to Hashem" (Devarim 9:26). However, there are three reasons why this wording is used.

  1. The first reason can be understood by the following parable. A king had a wife and she gave birth to a son. So long as the son was alive she would approach the king with confidence and speak boldly. Since she relied on her son's existence, she was not afraid of anything. However, when her son died and she was alone, she lost her status. The only reason she had a position was because of the merit of her son. Now the guards would not allow her to enter the king's chambers. The same was true of Moshe. So long as the generation that he brought out of Egypt was alive, Moshe could speak with courage and confidence. When they made the Golden Calf he prayed for them and said to G-d, "Why, Hashem, are You angry with Your people?" (Shemot 32:4). He spoke to G-d boldly and said, "Your people have sinned. Forgive them." However, after G-d had decreed that the entire generation should die in the desert because of the sin of the spies (meragelim), and now only the children of the generation of the Exodus remained, Moshe's greatness was diminished and he could not pray with self-assurance. The only confidence he had was through the merit of the generation that he had brought out of Egypt. We find that when the Golden Calf was made Moshe was on High and G-d told him, "G-d down" (Shemot 32:7) - that is, descend from your greatness. Any greatness you have is through Yisrael's merit. It was for this reason that Moshe could not speak with poise and had to flee and beg for mercy. Moshe pleaded so much before G-d that the heaven and earth began to tremble. The heaven and earth said, "Perhaps the time has come when G-d wishes to renew His world." A Divine voice came forth and said, "The time has not yet come for the world to be renewed. But Moshe is praying and pleading that he should be given permission to enter the land." At that time G-d announced to all the gates of the heavens that Moshe's prayer should not be accepted, since the decree had already been sealed, and the gates of prayer should be closed, so that Moshe's prayer could not enter. Moshe's prayer was as sharp as a sword which nothing could resits, and no angel could approach to close the gates. When the angels and the heavenly hosts saw that G-d commanded that Moshe's prayer be not accepted so that he could not enter the Land of Yisrael, they all said, "Blessed be G-d's glory from His place" (Yechezkel 3:12). G-d does not show favoritism to great or small.
  2. Moshe prayed 515 prayers. This is the numerical value of the word va-et-chanan (ואתחנן) which means "and he pleaded." One reason why Moshe offered 515 prayers is because the angels offer 515 prayers every day. This is alluded to in the verse which states, "[The angels'] feet were a straight (yesharah) foot" (Yechezkel 1:7). The word yesharah (ישרה) has the numerical value of 515.
  3. There is another reason why Moshe prayed in the manner of supplication with G-d rather than by simple prayer. Righteous men may possess many good deeds, and G-d accedes to their requests. They do not ask that this be done in return for there good deeds, but they ask that G-d give them a free gift. Since Moshe knew that G-d gives a matter of grace to those who do not have merit, he pleaded before G-d He was like a poor man begging for charity who says, "Have pity on me and give me alms."  There is another reason why the righteous ask G-d to give them as a matter of grace. If they were to ask that their prayers be answered according to the value of their good deeds, that is exactly what G-d would give them. However, there would be some people who according to their merit would not deserve to have their wishes fulfilled and their prayers would not be answered. Therefore the tzaddikim ask for a gift from G-d's bountiful hand and this is a gift without limits, since G-d's power is not limited.  (Chabad)
The Palmist thus said, "I call to You, Hashem. To You Hashem, I plead" (Tehillim 30:9). Even when I call You and I know that You are close to me because of my good deeds, I still plead (et-chanan, אתחנן). All I ask You is for pity and that You answer my prayer as an undeserved present.

It is important to understand that Chazal (our Sages) taught that it is forbidden for a person to ask something from G-d and depend on his own merit. One should not say, "Since I have done so many good deeds I will certainly be answered on my own merit."  Actually before G-d we are like slaves before a king. If a master has a slave, the lave must do everything that the master requests of us. A slave does not have the right to ask for any reward from his master for anything that he does. Similarly, we cannot ask for a reward for what we do for G-d.

G-d therefore said in the Tora, "I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be to you a G-d - I am Hashem your G-d" (BaMidbar 15:41). A person should not say since I am destined to be rewarded for keeping the commandments, I will choose not to keep the commandments and not have the reward. G-d says, "I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt where you were slaves, and now I am your G-d. I brought you out of the land of Egypt on the condition that you keep My commandments. If you do not keep them you will be punished for rebelling against Me."

It is thus written, "Yours O Hashem is kindness, for You reward a man according to his deeds" (Tehillim 62:13). That is, the fact that G-d rewards a person for his good deeds is only an act of kindness. G-d is not duty-bound to reward a person for his good deeds.

It is thus written, "It will be charity for us, if we keep and do all the commandments" (Devarim 6:25). When G-d gives us reward for keeping His commandments it is an act of charity on His part. Our Sages likewise teach that when Mashiach comes there will be an announcement that whoever kept the commandments should come and receive his reward. G-d will then ask each one, "What have you done that you seek reward?

G-d will say, "Was it then with your money that you gave charity? The money was all Mine. Therefore before you gave the charity I paid you double for the charity that you did."

Another person will say, "I kept the commandment of circumcision with my child and also paid for a teacher to teach him the Torah."

G-d will say, "Who gave you children the, if not I? I gave you the moeny to pay the teacher. Therefore I paid you. I gave you your reward before you even kept the commandment."

Another person will come and ask for a reward for keeping the commandment of mezuzah.

G-d will say, "Did I not give you a house first? Therefore, I reward you first. You have not right to demand a reward."

From here we learn that any reward that G-d gives for keep ing the commandments is a gift and charity.

Some say the reason that Moshe used the word "and I pleaded"  (va-et-chanan, ואתחנן) was that he requested, "May it be Your will that the prayer that I say shall be fluent and that I do not stumble in my words."

We similarly open the Amidah by saying, "G-d, open my lips and my mouth will speak Your praise" (Tehillim 51;17). We pray to G-d that He might open our mouths and allow us to speak before Him, and when we speak that our words should be fluent and that we do not become confused. It is a good sign if a person's prayers emerge without any confusion or error. Moshe therefore said, "And I pleaded before G-d at that time saying." My pleading with G-d was for the sake of my "saying." I pleaded that I should be able to say my prayer correctly.

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa would pray for the sick and he would be able to predict who would live and who would die. The Sages asked how he knew this and he replied, "If my prayer is facile and the words come out one after the other without error, I know that my prayer is accepted on High. But if my prayer is not fluent and I make mistakes and stumble, it is a sign that my prayer is not accepted." (Mishnah Berachot 5:4)


Great Merit to Die in Eretz Yisrael

It is a very great thing to die in the Holy Land. If a person dies outside the Land of Yisrael he dies through the angel of death. When he dies, many angels of destruction surround him, trying to prevent his soul from ascending. The soul then suffers in round-about paths until it can ascend on High. However, if a person walks even four cubits in the Land of Yisrael, he is assured of being a member of the World to Come. Therefore, the earlier pious men would cherish the Land of Yisrael and kiss its dust, as it is written, "For Your servants desire [the Land's] stones and cherish its dust" (Tehillim 102:15). However, the Land of Yisrael is not controlled by any angel, but by G-d Himself. Therefore if a person dies in the Holy Land, the angel of death has no power over him. G-d regards it as if he were buried under the great altar and his soul goes straight on high to Gan Eden. Neither the angels of destruction or any other spiritual denouncer has any power over him.


3:25 Please let me cross [the Yarden]. Let me see the good land across the Yardan, the good mountain and the Levanon.

Moshe wanted to keep the commandments that could only be kept in the Holy Land. There are many commandments that cannot be kept in other lands. Moshe wanted to be able to keep all 613 commandments. The more commandments a person keeps the greater his principal in the World to Come. Moshe wanted his spiritual garment to be complete with all 613 commandments.

Actually, in Hebrew Moshe is usually referred to as "Moshe our master," Moshe Rabenu (משה רבינו), which letters contain a numerical value of 613. This is the same as G-d's garment which consists of the 613 commandments.

This is referred to in the verse, "G-d is King. He garbs Himself in pride. G-d garbs Himself with the strength with which He girds Himself" (Tehillim 93:1). The Hebrew word for "girds Himself" is hit-azer (התאזר). The word hit-azer contains the numerical value of 613. Therefore we see that G-d girds Himself with the 613 commandments. G-d said, "If your desire is to keep the commandments in the Holy Land and to be rewarded for them, I will regard it as if you had kept them."

Why Was Moshe Not Allowed to Enter Eretz Yisrael

The law is that if a person makes an oath and says such and such person shall not enter my house, if the house falls and is then rebuilt, it is permitted for him to enter.  This is because the oath was on a specific house.

G-d swore that this generation would not enter the Holy Land. The oath was, "that I swore in My anger that they do not enter My place of rest" (Tehillim 95:11).

Chazal teach that this oath was only true in the time when the Temple stood. However, now it is destroyed. When the Temple is built in the Messanic era it will be called another house, and then they will be permitted to enter.

This can be understood by an example. A king was angry with his son and banished him from his palace and swore that he should never enter. After a while the king's anger subsided and he wished to allow his son to enter. What did he do? He tore down the palace and rebuilt it. Then he was able to let his son enter because it happened that his oath was observed and his son could come in.

If Moshe had entered the Land of Yisrael he could have destroyed the lust for idolatry. If the Benei Yisrael had not worshipped idols, neither the Temple nor Yerushalayim would have been destroyed, but they would have remained forever, and no nation would have had any power against them.

G-d said to Moshe, "If you want the oath against you to be nullified and you want to enter the Holy Land, you will nullify the evil desire for idolatry and the Temple will not be destroyed. Therefore since the Temple could never be destroyed, the Benei Yisrael would never be able to enter the Holy Land. If you want the Benei Yisrael ever to come to the Land, I must keep My oath that you do not enter."

It is also important to realize that if Moshe had entered the Land he himself would have built the Temple and then it could never have been destroyed. If the Benei Yisrael had sinned, G-d could have poured out His anger not on wood and stone but only on the Benei Yisrael. Therefore, G-d decreed that Moshe should not enter the Holy Land and not build the Temple. When in anger He could vent such wrath on the wood and stones [of the Temple] and the Benei Yisrael would survive.

When Moshe said, "G-d was angry with me because of you," Moshe was saying, "G-d's anger with me was for 'your benefit.'


3:27 Climb to the top of Pisgah, and gaze to the west, north, south and east. Let your eyes behold it, since you will not cross the Yarden.

Each of the four directions, north, east, south, west has three names:

East:

  1. mizrach (מזרח)
  2. kedem (קדם)
  3. panim (פנים)
West:
  1. ma'arov (מערב)
  2. yam (ים)
  3. achor (אחור)
South:
  1. darom (דרום)
  2. teman (תימון)
  3. negev (נגב)
North:
  1. tzafon (צפון)
  2. s'emol (שמאל)
  3. estov (אסתו)
The reason why each of the directions has three names is because each one teaches something.

The word mizrach (מזרח) for the east comes from the root zarach (זרח) meaning to rise, or to shine forth, because this is where the sun rises.

It is called kedem (קדם) meaning 'first' because this is the first direction which lights up in the morning.

It is called panim (פנים) meaning 'front' because when Adam was created he was facing east. Therefore his back was to the west, his right was to the south and his left was to the north.

The west is called ma'arov (מערב) from the root arav (ערב) meaning mixture. This is because when it becomes dark all images are mixed together and one thing cannot be discerned from another. [Also evening is referred to as erev (ערב)]

It is called yam (ים) meaning sea because the sea is toward the west of the Holy Land. Thus the Targum translates "until the final sea" (Devarim 34:2) that the sea is towards the west.

It is called achor (אחור) since with relation to the east which is the face, the west is the back.

The south is called darom (דרום). This is because the sun is at its highest point to the south. Darom (דרום) can be read as dar rom (דר רום) meaning dwelling on High.

It is called negev (נגב) since negev means dry. The south is a very dry area, since the sun is very hot there. Our Sages teach that once a person lost a wooden vessel in the sun in the south, and in the evening he found that it had been burnt by the heat of the sun. It is likewise written, "I have given the land of the south (negev)" (Shoftim 1:15). The Targum renders this "the south" (darom) land.

The opposite side is known as tzafon (צפון) which has the connotation of hiding. This is because the sun is always hidden there. Also there is no habitation there.

It is also called estov (אסתו), which is related to the word s'tav (סתיו) meaning 'autumn,' since this is a place of extreme cold and all rain comes from the north. The south is hot and dry because the sun is directly overhead, and he north is cold and wet because the sun is not directly overhead.

Another reason that it is referred to as 'estov' is because this has the connotation of healing. This direction brings healing to the body. (See Targum to Iyov 37:22 where estov means the "gold of the north.")

 It is also called s'emol (שמאל) because it is hidden and concealed. The left hand is also called s'emol (שמאל) because it does not do work skilfully.

- Me'Am Lo'ez


Parashat Devarim

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 · Posted in , ,

Devarim 1:1 - 3:22



Summary



  • The fifth and final Book of the Torah, Devarim. Known as Mishneh Torah (the repetition of the Torah); this Sefer contains Moshe's last words to Benei Yisrael during the final 5 weeks of his life. 
  • As the people are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moshe reviews many of the crucial Mitzvot & incidents of the last 40 years, & also will introduce 70 Mitzvot not discussed earlier.
  • Moshe gently rebukes the nation for their moments of rebellion & lack of faith - particularly the incident of the Spies - but also reminds them of Hashem's protective Hand which guided & sheltered us in the wilderness.
  • As the nation's new leader, Yehoshua is encouraged to continue the path of Moshe. (Rabbi Stewart Weiss)

Benefits of the Mitzvot


The merit of the commandments will stand up for a person. He will then be worthy of ten benefits:

1) will cause the Shechinah (Divine Presence - שְׁכִינָה) to dwell in the land. The whole world will rejoice since blessing will be found in all things. (Ibid., Shaar 2; Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit, p. 240)  

Even if there are wicked people in the world, they too are blessed in the merit of the righteous who keep the commandments. (Sukkah 5) 

On High there is a special place for angels who are armed with all types of weaponry to protect Yisrael so that no nation in the world has any power over them to do them harm. When evil decrees are made against them, these angels take vengeance against them and protect Yisrael in the merit that they run to do the commandments.

However, if, heaven forbid, the Benei Yisrael are not careful in keeping the commandments, there is another place where different angels are ready and prepared to run and help the nations of the world when they make evil decrees against the Benei Yisrael. They break the mazal-power of Yisrael so that the others can have power over them. They also break down the power of the good angels who want to do good for Yisrael. The Divine Presence then departs from Yisrael and the land is cursed in every possible manner. A force of destruction rests on the earth, causing great damage and the world no longer has any joy. (Zohar, Noach, p. 61)

2) Even if G-d makes an evil decree, a righteous person has the power to annul it through the power of the commandments that he keeps. (Ibid., VaYeshev) It is written, "When the king issues a unilateral decree who can say to him, "What shall you do" (Kohelet)? However, immediately after that, it is written, He who keeps a commandment will not know an evil thing" (Kohelet 8:5). Here the Scripture asks, who can tell G-d what to do and annul the decree? However, one should know that there is one person who has the power to say, "What are you doing?" and this is one who keeps the commandments. (Sh'nei Luchot Ha'Brit, p. 241, quoting Zohar)

This is what King David said, "The G-d of Yisrael spoke to me - the Rock of Yisrael (saying), I should rule Yisrael (which is called man), I should be a righteous ruler and I should fear G-d" (Shmuel Bet 23:3). King David said, "Hashem G-d spoke to me and said to me 'I am the Rock of Yisrael and its strength. I rule over man to do anything that I want. Who rules over me? The righteous rules with the fear of G-d - one who has the fear of G-d and keeps the commandments.'" (Shabbat 6)

3) No evil news is given from on high. Rather he is only given good reports. It is thus written, "He who keeps the commandments will not know an evil thing" (Kohelet 8:5). That is, one who keeps the commandments and who waits and yearns for a time when he will be able to keep the, will not know any evil. Whatever he is told from on High will be good news. (Rashi, ibid.)

4) He will have a long life. (Moed Katan 3) A parable to this would be a person who is drowning and another person throws a rope to him and says, "Grab onto this rope and do not be afraid of anything." The same is true of one who keeps the commandmnts. It is like a person holding onto a rope; he does not have to fear death.

It is thus written, "You, who are attached to Hashem your G-d, you are all alive today" (Devarim 4:4). If you are attached to Hashem your G-d and keep His commandments you will live and endure and have a long life.

A person should not say, "What benefit will I have if I keep the commandments?" and say "I have also committed many sins". Rather, a perosn should strive to do good deeds, balancing these sins that he has done. Thus, for example, if a person sinned in his own eyes and derived enjoyment fro something that is forbidden to look upon, he should be careful to put on tefillin, which the Torah says should be worn [on the forehead] "between the eyes." Similarly, if a person sinned with his mouth, through slander or profanity, he should do commandments that are related to the mouth such as sudying Torah or praying with great feeling. If a person sinned with is hands he should do commandments that depend on the hands. If one sins with the feet he should run to keep a commandment.

If a person does this he will be able to have a good answer to G-d by saying, "If I have done sins, I have also done good deeds to balance them off."

Because G-d loves the Jewish people so much He surrounds them with good deeds. Wherever we go we encounter good deeds. G-d told us to put tefillin on our heads and arms, a mezuzzah on our doors, tzitzit tassels on our garments, circumcision on our flesh. Thus whever we go we can find commandments to keep. (Shabbat, loc. cit. See Rabbi Yoshia Pinto [on Ein Yaakov])

5) If a person keeps a commandment for the sake of Heaven without any ulterior motives the Divine Presence rests on his face. People then listen to his words. (Kiddushin 1) Moreover, whoever looks at his face will be filled with fear and awe; even wild animals will be afraid of him and not approach him.

We thus find that when Dani'el was thrown into the lion's den the lions would not even approach him to harm him.

However, if a person is rooted in sins, the Divine Image (tzelem - צֶלֶם) flies away from his face. Since the Divine Presence is no longer with him, no one is afraid of him. When he speaks to admonish people his words are not accepted. Even wild animals are not afraid of him. Such a person appears to them like an animal and they have power and they can kill him and eat him as the would eat any other animal. (Reshit Chochmah, Perek HaMitzvot)

6) The merit of the commandments that he keeps protects him from all evil. Even if an evil decree has been made against him on high, the commandment has the power to protect him. This si true both at the time when he is keeping it and, later, after he has kept it. (Berachot 1)

The commandments are thus like a shield to protect a person from troubles. Just as when a person is in battle his shield protects him from arrows, similarly, the commandments that a person has kept are like a shield that protects him from troubles decreed from on high. 

One who keeps the commandments is like a tree which has few branches but many deep roots. All the winds in the world could blow against it. They do not have the power to rend it even a little from its place. The roots that spread out and extend to the depths have great strength. (Zohar, VaYeshev, p. 191)

Likewise, one who keeps the commandments need have no fear from anything decreed on high. It is thus written, "Blessed is the man who trusts in G-d, for G-d will be his trust. He will be like a tree planted by water, and by a stream it sends out its roots and is not afraid when heat comes since its leaves are fresh. In a year of famine it will not be concerned and will never cease from giving forth fruit" (Yirmeyahu 17:7-8).

Besides this, since such a person is careful in doing the commandments, G-d does not allow him to come to sin. He is like a person who goes in a dark place and he is afraid that he will step on thorns and thistles. However, if he has a lamp in his hand he could walk wherever he pleases without fear. The commandments are like a lamp as it is written, "For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23). They go and illuminate a person's way so he does not come to do sins. (Sotah 3)

The merit of commandments stands also for a person's children and protects them from harm for even a thousand generations.

This is even true if a person keeps the commandments out of fear that G-d will punish them if he does not keep them. 

However, if a person keeps the commandments out of love and does them with total perfection, not out of fear but merely because G-d commanded them and it is not proper to disobey His commandments, then his status is very high. The merit of the commamdments will protect him even for two thousand generations . It is thus written, "[G-d] does act of kindness for two thousand generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments for a thousand generations" (Devarim 7:9) This is saying that G-d does these acts of kindness for two thousand generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments. However, those who do it out of fear, G-d only keeps it for a thousand generations.

One should not think this is only if one does the commandments. This is not true. Even if a person has a desire to sin and refrains from doing it out of respect for G-d, G-d countes it as if he had done a good deed and protects his children. (Avot 4)

7) If a person keeps the commandments he is so precious in G-d's eyes that G-d says, "The whole world was only created for the sake of this person."

The entire purpose of creation was that G-d should create a righteous person who will keep the commandments. If the world had not been created, the righteous person (tzaddik - צַדִיק) would not have a place in which to exist. (Sotah, p. 29)

Even the angels where only created in order to benefit such a person. (Berachot 1, See Shabbat 2)

Therefore, righteous people are more important than angels. We thus find that Nevuchadnetzer threw Chananiah, Misha'el, and Azariah into the fiery furnace. When they emerged unharmed he said, "Blessed is the G-d of Shadrach, Meshach and Aved Nego (Chananiah, Misha'el and Azariah) who sent an angel to save His servants since He had mercy on them" (Dani'el 3;28). Nevuchadnetzer is mentioning that G-d sent angels to save them from the fire. However, since the Scripture mentions the angel in the fourth place and does not mention it first, it is a clear sign that the righteous person is the main thing and the angel is only secondary to him.

Rabbi Azzai said, "All the world was only created as an accompaniment for such a person - to provide for his needs. If there are not other people in the world who would care for his needs whether for food or for clothing, if not for other people there would not be food or clothing and this person would not be able to serve G-d properly." (Rashi; Rabbi Yoshia Pinto [Riph])

Likewise, Ben Zoma said when he saw the great masters of Yisrael. He saw 600,000 men in the Holy Temple when they came on the annual pilgrimage. When he saw this he would say, "Blessed be He who created all these who serve me. Through them I am able to keep G-d's commandments. Adam had to work very hard until he had bread to eat. At first he had to plow, then plant and then harvest the wheat. He had to winnow and bring it in the pan and grind it and knead it and bake it and only then could he eat it. When he needed an article of clothing how much work he had. He had to shear the sheep, bleach the wool, comb it, dye it, weave it and then sew it. But I wake up in the morning and find everything ready and prepared for me. Therefore, it comes out that all these people who are working were only created to serve me so that I could find everything ready and prepared so that I will be able to serve my Creator." (Maharsha, Sanhedrin 10)

8) For every commandment that aperon does an angel is created. This angel speaks up for him and says, "I pertain to this person who created me by keeping such and such a commandment." (Sanhedrin 10)

G-d holds this angel in front of Him and gazes at it in order to do good to a person. (Berachot 9)

9) Just as a person who does not have any good deeds and is punished, conversely one who does his Creator's will has very high status. When the time comes for a righteous person to die, the souls of all his friends and relatives come to greet his soul. He looks at all of them as if they were with him in the world.

10) After he wrote all this, one may wonder, what benefit does the soul have to come into this world? Originally the soul was in Gan Eden and then when it comes to this world it is very close to being destroyed and losing all its reward. It is impossible that the soul not sin and it is in great danger of ending up in Gehinom.

However, one must realize before the soul comes to this owrld enve though it is in Gan Eden it does not have the power to see or to enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence since the light of the Divine Presence is so great. However, after it come to this world, the good deeds that it does become a garment for it. By means of this garment a person can see the radiance of the Divine.

If a person would gaze at the sun his eyes would become blinded. However, if he places a cloth over his eyes then he could look at the sun. (Zohar, Shelach)

Our Sages called this garment the "Rabbi's shirt" (chaluka derabanan - חֲלוּקָא דְרַבָּנָן). This was the garment that the ages wore so that they could look at the light of the sun. (Ibid.)

Besides the garment that the righteous wear made out of the commandments that they did, G-d also makes them a garment of good deeds. This is true even if they did not keep the good deeds. The righteous wonder and say, "Since we did not keep these commandments, how did we get this garment?"

However, this garment comes from a wicked person who might have done some good deeds in this world. However, he was wicked all his life and did not repent before he died. G-d takes his garment and gibes it to a righteous person who may not have kept this commandment and finds it lacking. it is thus written, "The wicked prepares and the righteous wears it" (Iyov 27:17). This is speaking of the garment that the wicked person prepares thorugh a good deed that he did, but is finally worn by the righteous person. (Shefa Tal, and other Kabbalah texts; Zohar, Shelach; Rabbi Yosef Caro, Maggid Mesharim)

From all this we learn how much good a person brings to his soul when he strives to keep the commandments that G-d gave us.

Me'am Lo'ez, Parashat Devarim


Parashat Mattot - Massei

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 · Posted in , , , , , ,

Bamidbar 30:2 - 36:13 
[Mattot - Artist Yoram Raanan]


Summary

Mattot

  • The laws of personal vows are detailed
  • Battle with Midyan
  • Moshe instructs the soldiers regarding the applicable laws of Tumah
  • The laws of how to make kosher our vessels
  • Moshe is approached by the Tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe to acquire the Trans-Jordan territories captured from Sichon and Og
  • Moshe instructs the Benei Yisrael to clear out Eretz Yisrael from all negative influences, and sets the Biblical boundaries of Eretz Yisrael
  • New leaders are appointed to oversee the division of Eretz Yisrael
  • The laws regarding the inadvertent murderer are detailed
  • Prohibition against marrying outside one's tribe is established. This prohibition was only for the generation that occupied Eretz Yisrael.

Massei

  • Recounting of the journeys of the Benei Yisrael in the desert.
  • G‑d instructs the Benei Yisrael to eradicate all Kenaan's inhabitants and destroy their idols.
  • Division of the portion of land between the Tribal members.
  • The Leviim are provided 48 cities where they would dwell -- 42 cities plus the six cities of refuge. 
  • The Command to designate six cities of refuge. 
  • G‑d instructs Tzelafchad's daughters to marry men from their own tribe, so the land they inherit will remain in their ancestral tribe.

Vows and Oaths

"Do not think that I caution you only against swearing falsely. Not so! Do not take an oath even about what is true. Only then will you be able to swear - if you have the following exalted traits: awe of G-d, serving Him, clinging to Him, and swearing by His Name" (Devarim 10:21)

In order to fulfill the first condition of being in awe of G-d, it is not sufficient to fear G-d at the level of an ordinary person. One must become, in this regard, like one of the three great personalities, Avraham, Iyov, and Yosef, whom the Scripture recognizes as fearing G-d; about Avraham, it says, "Now I know that you fear G-d" (Bereishit 22:12); and about Iyov it says that he was "whole-hearted and upright, and one that feared G-d" (Iyov 1:2); and the Torah records Yosef as saying, "I fear G-d" (Bereishit 42:18).

The second requirement, to serve Him, is fulfilled only if one is occupied exclusively with serving G-d, by directing all his thoughts and actions towards the fulfillment of the mitzvot and good works.

The third prerequisite is that one cling to G-d. Clearly, this cannot be fulfilled literally, since "He is a consuming fire" (Devarim 4:24). It means, however, one should attach himself to Torah scholars. For instance, if one has a daughter, he should marry her to a man who is erudite in the Torah - a Torah Chacham; or if one has merchandise that can yield a profit, he should let a Talmid Chacham make the profit in order to enable him to continue occupying himself with Torah study. In general, one should try to bring pleasure to the Torah scholar whenever an opportunity to do so arises.

A man who has fulfilled all these three conditions, may take an oath to affirm the truth. But if a man has not attained this level, he has no right to pronounce an oath.

If a man makes a vow in order to fortify his resolve and improve his ways, that is commendable. For instance, if he is a man steeped in food and drink, and he makes a vow not to drink so much wine for a period of time, or else not to drink to inebriation, or to separate himself from other unseemly habits - there are vows made for the sake of Heaven and they are to be encouraged. It is then a mitzvah to make such a vow, since he does so in the service of G-d. Were he to remain with his evil habits, he would be brought to commit transgressions.

Our Sages indeed declare, concerning such vows: "Vows are a consraint for abstinence." Yet, even for such purposes, one should avoid making vows habitual; he should try to abstain without first uttering a vow. (Bereishit Rabbah, VaYetze)


The Fifteenth Day of Av

The fifteenth of Av was the day when the dying of the desert generation came to an end and the tribes were permitted to intermarry with one another. For this reason this day became a day of great rejoicing, the Talmud declaring, "no days were more festive for the Benei Yisrael than Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av."

In this regard, the Talmud asks, "It is understandable that Yom Kippur should be a day of rejoicing, since our sins are then forgiven; so were the second Tablets given on this day (Parashat Ki Tisa). But why did they rejoice on the fifteenth of Av" And it answers, "because on that day the tribes were permitted to intermarry."

There was another historical reason why this became a day of rejoicing. It was then that the tribe of Binyamin was again welcomed into the congregation of Yisrael. As it is explained at length in Parashat Shoftim, in the aftermath of the episode of the raped mistress (Shoftim 19-21), the Benei Yisrael separated themselves from the tribe of Binyamin by swearing to one another not to permit the men of Binyamin to marry any women from the other tribes. This ban lasted until the Benei Yisrael saw that the Tribe of Binyamin was shrinking and they resolved that "no tribe shall be blotted out from among Yisrael" (Shoftim 21:17). Whereupon they sought to circumvent the oath that they had taken to the effect that "Not one of us will give his daughter to Binyamin a a wife" (21:1). Such a way out was discovered on the fifteenth day of Av, and that day was turned into a festival.

As noted, moreover, that was the day on which the Benei Yisrael in the desert ceased to die. Throughout the forty years that they were in the wilderness, on the eve of the ninth of Av a call would go out for all them to go dig their graves, and every Israelite would do so lest he die without having prepared a grave for himself. That night each man would sleep in his dug-out, and when in the morning another call would go out, "Let the living separate from the dead," all who were still alive would emerge.

In the case of anyone who was going to die, a worm would emerge from his mid-section and enter his mouth, killing him - and he would be buried. The pattern was repeated year after year.

But then, at the end of the fortieth year when the call went out for them to dig graves, and subsequently that the living emerged, they all came out alive. Astonished, they wondered if perhaps they had made a mistake in the day of the month, and that night they again spent in the dug-out, and continued to do so until the fifteenth of Av. When they saw the full moon and that not a single one of them had died, they knew that they had not erred as to the day, and that the decree had been lifted. That generation of Benei Yisrael thereupon fixed the date as a festival. (Taanit, Chapter 4. See Bava Batra, Chapter 8; Eicha Rabbah; Yerushalmi, Taanit, Chapter 4; Rashbam)

The decree had lasted thirty-eight years out of the forty which they spent in the wilderness - from the second year after the Exodus, when the episode of the spies took place, until the thirty-ninth year - and altogether 600,000 died, on the average between 15,000 and 16,000 men died every year. (Ritva, Bava Batra, loc. cit.)

Not only did they cease to die on that day, turning the fifteenth of Av into a festival, but also, a direct divine communication with Moshe was then resumed. For while any of those who were meant to die in the desert were still alive, divine transmission to Moshe was not effected directly, "mouth to mouth" (Bamidbar 12:8) at any time that he disired; but rather, through a vision in the night. Since all those years the Benei Yisrael were in a state of reproach before G-d, and G-d's love for Moshe was derived entirely from the merit of the Benei Yisrael, He did not communicate with him unless it was absolutely necessary.

Therefore the Torah says, "It was at this time that all the men of war among the people ceased dying, G-d then spoke to me, saying" (Devarim 2:16, 17). (Rashi ibid)

- Me'am Lo'ez

Parashat Pinchas

Sunday, July 12, 2015 · Posted in , , , ,

[Pinchas - Artist Yoram Raanan]

Summary

Bamidbar 25:10 - 30:1

Pinchas is rewarded for killing the Hebrew and the Midiani woman who cursed G-d. Yisrael fights a war against the Midianim. A second census is taken. The daughters of Tzelafchad force a change in the laws of property inheritance. Yehoshua is chosen to be Moshe's successor.  The sacrificial ritual for all festival occasions is described in detail.


25:10 Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying,
11 Pinchas (a son of Ele'azar and grandson of Aharon the Kohen) was the one who zealously took up My cause among the Benei Yisrael and turned My anger away from them, so that I did not destroy them in My demand for exclusive worship.

Since the plague had felled 24,000 Benei Yisrael, the people might have contended that the plague was finally arrested not because Pinchas had slain Zimri, but because G-d's anger against the Benei Yisrael for their transgression was cooled and His vengeance satisfied by the 24,000 victims. The Torah therefore tells us that it was the zealous action of Pinchas, solely, which turned away G-d's anger and saved them from destruction. If not for him nothing would have remained of the Benei Yisrael. (Toledot Yitzchak)


The New Census

Following the plague that struck the Benei Yisrael, G-d told Moshe and Eleazar to count them. When a wolf attacks a flock of sheep killing some of the, the shepherd wants to take their tally in order to see how many are left.

One reason for the present census, therefore, was to determine how many remained alive. But G-d bit the Benei Yisrael to be counted also for another reason - because the time was nearing for Moshe to leave this world. Moshe may be compared to a shepherd who was entrusted by the owner with a flock of sheep. When the time came the sheep to be returned, they were first tallied, just as they had been when they were entrusted to the shepherd.

Thus, when the Benei Yirael left Egypt, G-d had them counted, and He had instructed Moshe to lead them along direct pathways where they would not get lost. Now that the time had come for him to return that which been in his trust, G-d instructed him to count them before passing them to Yehoshua. G-d di not involve Yehoshua in the census taking, however, out of consideration for Moshe. Had it been necessary for Moshe to report the results of the census directly to Yehoshua, it would have been a painful reminder of his approaching end. So G-d arranged for him to communicate directly with Ele'azar, who would then naturally pass on the information to Yehoshua.

There were also other reasons for conducting a census of the Benei Yisrael at this time. When they had stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the nations were envious, an they complained why out of all the nations G-d had chosen Yisrael to be close to him and to have conferred upon them so much honor and prestige. Whereupon G-d replied: "These enjoy one distinction that you lack. They possess an impeccable lineage, while you are illegitimate offspring of illegitimate offspring."

Hearing this, the nations began to praise and acclaim the Benei Yisrael for their purity of line, as it is written, "The daughters saw her and called her happy; and the queens and the concubines praised her" (Shir HaShirim 6:9).

The "daughters" are the nations of the world who, when they beheld the people of Yisrael in its purity, devoid of all blemish, of immorality or illegitimacy, exclaimed: "Happy is this people that is untainted by vice!"

That, however, was true at the time of the giving of the Torah. Now that the Benei Yisrael had come into this desert [of the plains of Moav] and it was said of them that they began to behave immorally, these very nations rejoiced, declaring, "The crown of chastity and freedom from taint with which this people had been garlanded in Egypt has not departed from the, and we and they are one multitude, equally steeped in immorality."

Accordingly, after G-d had cleansed the Benei Yisrael of sinners by means of the plague, He told Moshe to count them and establish their familial and tribal pedigrees. "Then I will place upon each family My signature - My Holy Name י׳ה."

"These two letters of My Name would be affixed to the names of the individual tribes, so that Re'uven will be written as haReuveni, and Shimon, will be written as haShimoni, symbolizing that henceforth the nations of the world and the scorners among the Benei Yisrael would know that the Jewish people had been purified once again of every taint of immorality and illegitimacy. Those who are stamped by immorality will become extinct while these shall bear G-d's Name upon their names as proof of their impeccable ancestry." (Yalkut Shimoni; Rashi; Alshech)

Given the symbolic function of G-d's seal in relation to the paternal line, two questions arise. Why is it that only in three instances is this seal affixed to the tribal names: Re'uven - Re'uveni, Shimon - Shimoni, Zevulun - Zevuluni - while for all other tribes the seal is affixed to the family names but not to the tribal names? The second [and related] question in why G-d's seal consists of the Name Yud Heh (י׳ה) specifically?

The Name י׳ה (Yud, Heh) is encompassed by the Hebrew words for man - ish (אִיש) and woman - ishah (אִשָה), whereby we are taught that when a husband and wife live a life of sanctity in accordance with the Will of G-d, the Shechinah abides with them; if not, the Yud and the Heh, respectively, are symbolically lost from their names, turning them into esh (אֵש) - two mutually consuming fires.

This explains why G-d placed [upon the Benei Yisrael] the Name Yud Heh (י־ה) specifically. It symbolized that they were free of all taint, and that because there was sanctity in the way they lived, He did not depart from them.

Moreover, since the women were even more circumspect than the men in sexual matters - no women at all having been involved in the present lapse into immorality, as further evidenced by the fact that the Torah publicized the lone instance of such a lapse by a woman in Egypt - the Torah here records that the letter Heh (ה) of the word ishah, (אִשָה) was placed at the head of the corresponding name, and the letter Yud of ish (אִיש), at the end; Ha'reuveni (הָ׳רְאוּבֵנִ׳י); Ha'shimoni (הַ׳שִמְעֹנִ׳י).

Explained also is why the Name was affixed to the aforementioned three tribal names. Re'uven had compromised in the matter of Bilhah, and although he had not done anything wrong, there remained an aura of suspicion. So, to remove any doubt, and to silence those said that Re'uven had actually cohabited with Bilhah (Bereishit 35:22), [G-d affixed His seal to the tribal name of Re'uven].

In the case of the tribe of Shimon, too, this was necessary, for there was room for suspicion on account of what Zimri, its leader, had done.

[The name as testimonial was associated as well to] the tribe of Zevulun, because they would be traders, and thereby absent from their homes most of the time.

Accordingly, G-d associated His Name to these three tribes in order to silence gossip and to bear witness that, notwithstanding suspicious circumstances, they were free of the slightest taint of immorality and that their family lines were distinguished and pure. (Alshech)

- Me'am Lo'ez

Parashat Balak - Curses Turned into Blessings

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 · Posted in , , , , ,

Bamidbar 22:2 - 25:9
[Balak - Artist Yoram Raanan]

Summary

Balak, the king of Moav, summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. On the way, Balaam is berated by his donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, the angel that G‑d sends to block their way. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue forth instead. 

Balaam also prophesies on the end of the days and the coming of Mashiach.

The people fall prey to the charms of the daughters of Moav, and are enticed to worship the idol Peor. When a high-ranking Israelite official publicly takes a Midiani princess into a tent, Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague raging among the people.

The Ten Wondrous Creations

According to our Sages, the phenomenon of the talking donkey was one of the ten things created at the twilight hour before Shabbat. These included: 

- the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach and his band; 
- the opening of Miriam's well that accompanied the Benei Yisrael in the desert; 
- the mouth of Balaam's donkey which had been predetermined to speak at this time; 
- the manna that the Benei Yisrael ate in the desert; 
- the staff of our teacher Moshe; 
- and the shamir - a thread-like worm, which when placed upon any rock would split it, and could thus be used for breaking up and dislodging giant boulders, or even mountains. When King Shlomo was building the Holy Temple, the shamir was used for this purpose, rather than using iron implements whose clang was forbidden to be heard during the building of the Temple.

The other things created included the lettering and the words that were engraved in the Tablets, which could be read from all directions, and the stone Tablets themselves. These Tablets constituted two blocks of translucent material whose dimensions, each, were six handbreadths long by six handbreadths wide by three handbreadths thick.

There is also tradition that also included were the destructive agencies ("demons" or shedim), the burial place of Moshe, and the ram sacrificed by Avraham in place of YItzchak. (Avot, Chapter 5)

A further tradition relates that the cave where our teacher Moshe, and later the prophet Eliyahu hid, was also created as well as the staff of Aharon, and the "garments" of Adam. (Halachot Gedolot 148c) There is also an opinion to the effect that the Clouds of Glory were created at the same time. (Targum Yonatan)

The Curses Turned into Blessings


The Talmud informs us that the blessings which Bilaam invoked upon the Benei Yisrael had actually been intended as curses. However, G-d transformed the ten curses that he wanted to utter and replaced them by ten corresponding blessings. (Sanhedrin, Chapter 11. See Rabbi Yoshia Pinto (Riph) ad loc.)

The first of his intended curses was that the Benei Yisrael should have no houses of worship and no academies. Whereupon G-d caused him to say, instead, "How good are your tents, Yaakov, your tabernacles, Yisrael" - and thus, wherever Jews are to be found, there is never a lack of synagogues and houses of study. The designation "tents of Yaakov" appears, since about him it was said: "Yaakov was a scholarly man who remained with the tents" (Bereishit 25:27). That is, the name Yaakov is specifically stressed, rather than the name Yisrael, for the Torah wants us to know that by "tents" are likewise meant tents of study. (Maharsha ad loc.)

We have a tradition that because G-d wanted to enhance the prestige of the Benei Yisrael in Balaam's eyes, He showed him the Throne of Glory, and that inscribed upon it was the likeness of our patriarch Yaakov. Influenced by this heavenly vision, Balaam exclaimed: "How good are your tents, Yaakov." That is, how remarkable and glorious is the tent of Yaakov thus to be with the Throne of Glory. (Yalkut Reuveni)

Balaam's second curse was meant to prevent the Divine Presence from resting upon the Benei Yisrael. Whereupon G-d had him say, "your tabernacles, Yisrael." That is, "I see that the Shechinah will affect Yisrael."

Thirdly, he meant to curse them that their sovereignty should not be perpetuated, but come to an abrupt end. And G-d made him say, "(they) stretch out like streams"; Just as a river flows on without interruption so too will their kingdom never be terminated.

It is for this reason that whenever a king was anointed, the ceremony would take place by a river, as we find recorded in the case of King Shlomo's anointment. It was meant to symbolize that just as a river never stops flowing, so might the reign of the anointed one continue.

The fourth intended curse was that the Benei Yisrael should have neither olives nor vineyards, nor gardens. So G-d made him say, "like gardens by the river"; not only should they own gardens, but their gardens should be located near streams and hence forever be flourishing.

The fifth curse was meant to say that the fragrance of good deeds not exude from them. G-d made him say the opposite - "like aloes G-d has planted"; Just as these divinely planted spices emit aromas, so shall the effects of commandments fulfill flow from them. (Rashi on Sanhedrin, loc. cit. See Maharsha ad loc.)

His intended sixth curse was that the Benei Yisrael should be frail rather than men of might. So G-d had him say, "like cedars by the water"; They should be as mighty and powerful as the cedars planted by the water that grow daily.

The seventh intended curse was that their monarchs should not be succeeded by their own sons. Whereupon G-d made him say (24:27), "his dipper shall overflow." The water that he draws should be from his own dipper and not from somewhere else; that is, one king should be descended from another king of his own family.

The eighth curse would have said that the kingdom of Yisrael should not be able to survive among the nations. Whereupon G-d made him say, "and his crops shall have abundant waters." The nations are denoted as abundant waters - as in, "many waters cannot quench love...." (Shir HaShirim 8:7); the nations will not succeed in their efforts to quench G-d's love for Yisrael.

The ninth intended curse meant to say that the kingdom of YIsrael should not have the power to overcome the other nations. So G-d had him say, "Their king shall be greater than Agag," referring to the Amalaki king Agag who was subdued by a Jewish king and killed. 

The tenth curse was meant to eliminate any fear the nations might have of a Jewish kingdom. G-d made him say, "Their kingdom shall be exalted," causing everyone to fear them.

Of these ten curses that Balaam wanted to invoke against the Benei Yisrael, the first one was intended to make it impossible for them to have houses of worship and study. For he knew that when the Benei Yisrael frequent their synagogues and houses of study where the Shechinah is present among them, they can, with their study and prayers, reach on high and have their pleas answered. So first of all, Balaam wanted to eliminate this possibility. But G-d in His great mercy turned everything into a corresponding blessing; in this case, that they should possess houses of prayer and houses of study.

Accordingly the Torah says in Parashat Ki Tavo: "Of course, G-d did not consent to listen to Balaam, and Hashem your G-d transformed the curse into a blessing for you, since Hashem your G-d loves you" (Devarim 23:6). The Torah does not say that He transformed the curses (plural) into blessings, but the curse (singular) - the first curse. The other curses remained in force in the face of Yisrael's transgressions. (Sifetei Kohen)

It is a reflection of G-d's compassion that He preserved this particular blessing. He knew that by remaining in possession of this blessing, the Benei Yisrael could always hope to attain the other blessings, since G-d does not shut the gates of repentance before any sinner. Indeed, when anyone wants to do penance, he is helped from on high. Chazal declare that whosoever comes to be purified, is helped to do so. By G-d providing them with this blessing to have houses of worship and houses of study where a would-be penitent could direct himself in prayer to the Almighty and plead for forgiveness, He made it possible for them to repent and thus to merit the good of the World to Come.

Houses of study are necessary so that the Benei YIsrael do not forget the Torah and hence are guided in their conduct by knowledge of its laws. Without Torah supervision, even synagogues are meaningless and all the curses may go into effect. (Rabbi Yoshia Pinto [Riph] ad loc.)

"How good are the tents," Balaam exclaimed, "the houses of study where Yaakov is to be found; and the Mishkan in the midst of the camp of the Benei YIsrael. Like streams that stretch out and increase are the encampments of Benei Yisrael, competing and vanquishing each other in contests of Torah knowledge - and vanquishing their enemies. Like gardens planted by the river are gathered the students of the academies in assemblies, their faces aglow with the light of the Torah like the brightness of the sky, formed by the creation on the second day. Like the tents G-d has planted - the seven heavens He expanded as an external dwelling place for His Shechinah - will the Benei Yisrael also exist forever. They will always be acclaimed, towering like the cedars planted by the water. Their king and sovereign will arise soon enough and gather the dispersed of Yisrael from the lands of their enemies, and the seed of Yaakov will then have dominion over all the nations. (Targum Yerushalmi; Targum Yonatan)

The Messianic Age Foreseen

In veiled language, Balaam now began to speak of what was to happen to the Benei Yisrael in the end of days. As was usual with him, however, he first launched into self-exultation: "This is the word of Beor's son, Balaam, the word of the man with the enlightened eye. It is the word of one who hears G-d's sayings and knows the Highest One's will, who sees a vision of the Almighty while fallen [in a meditative trance] with mystical insight" (24:15, 16].

Bamidbar 24:17 I see it, but not now; I perceive it, but not in the near future. A star shall go forth from Yaakov, and a staff shall arise in Yisrael, crushing all of Moav's princes, and dominating all of Shet's descendants.

"The prophecy that I see is not for now for for the near future, and what I see is that a king will arise from the House of Yaakov, a ruler over Yisrael who will crush the mighty warriors of Moav and annihilate all the descendants of Shet - the armies of Gog and Magog who in the future will make war upon Yisrael but fall to the Jewish king." (Targum Yonatan; Targum Yerushalmi)

Another interpretation of, "dominating all of Shet's descendants," is that it refers to the nations of the world, all of whom are descended from Adam's offspring Shet, since after the flood there remained only Noach and his sons, who stemmed from Shet. In other words, it is presage that the messianic king would vanquish all the nations.(Rashi; Abarbanel)

24:18 Edom shall be demolished, and his enemy Seir destroyed, but Yisrael shall be triumphant.

Edom and Seir will pass over into possession of the Benei Yisrael, who will triumph over everyone.

24:19 Out of Yaakov shall come an absolute ruler who will obliterate the city's last survivors.

It is prophesied that the Mashiach, who will descend from the House of Yaakov, will be an absolute ruler, and he will demolish the last vestige of the city of Rome, the city which epitomizes Esav, leaving no survivors. Thus the prophet says in the Book of Ovadya 1:18 "And the House of Yaakov shall be a fire and the House of Yosef flame, and the House of Esav stubble and they should kindle in them and devour them; and there shall not be any remnant of the House of Esav; for Hashem has spoken it."

24:20 When [Balaam] saw Amalek, he proclaimed his oracle and said, "First among nations is Amalek, but in the end he will be destroyed forever."

When Balaam saw the affliction that would descend upon Amalek in the future, he prolaimed: "Amalek was the first to make war upon the Benei Yisrael and his end will be that when together with other nations they go to war at the time of the Mashiach, they will fall into the hands of Yisrael and the name of Amalek will be obliterated forever." (Targum Yonatan; Targum Yerushalmi)

24:21 When he saw the Keni, he proclaimed his oracle and said, "You live in a fortress and have placed your nest in a cliff. 22 But when the time comes to destroy the Keni, how long will Assyria hold you in captivity!"

The Keni were the people of Yirtro's family, and referring to Yitro, who had converted to Judaism, Balaam speaks symbolically.

"I am astonished to find you so grand and favored a position. For had you not been together with me, a counselor to Pharaoh, when he proclaimed, "We must deal wisely with them, otherwise, they may increase so much that  if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving [us] from the land" (Shemot 1:10)? Then we were both on the same side, but now you have merited to be in a powerful position, close to YIsrael, a nation obdurate in strength like a cliff that no nation can touch. Even if in the future you stand to be exiled together with the Ten Tribes and depart for the captivity of Assyria, that will only be a temporary exile, since in the end they will be redeemed, even as in the time of the Messianic king all the other exiles will be redeemed." (Ibid; Rashi)

24:23 He then declared his oracle and said, "Alas! Who can survive G-d's devastation?"

"Woe is to that nation that will be present at the time when G-d delivers YIsrael? When a lion and a lioness are about to mate, who will dare cast his garment at them to draw them apart? So too will it be when the hour of Yisrael's redemption comes. What nature will dare intervene to stop their deliverance?

Analogously we an say, woe to those who incline after the lusts of this world and allow themselves to be drawn to its pleasures without concern for the World-to-Come, for fulfilling the commandments, and for doing good deeds! Woe to them that throw off the yoke of Torah and its commandments! Woe to them in that hour when G-d rewards the righteous for having fulfilled the Torah and its commandments, and when He seeks retribution from the wicked!" (Yalkut Shimoni; Sanhedrin, Chapter 11)

24:24 Warships shall come from the ports of the Kittim, and they will lay waste Assyria and Ever. But in the end they too shall be destroyed forever.
25 With that, Balaam set out and returned home. Balak also went on his way.

"G-d will cause great warships of Kittim, located near Rome, to come and do battle against the other nations. They will reach and lay waste as far as the city of Assyria, and continue on to the city of Ever, which they will capture. But in the end they will all perish and only Yisrael will remain." (Rashi ad loc. See Targum Yonatan)

So it was that when Balaam was blessing the Benei Yisrael, his voice penetrated to all the encampments across a distance of 60 mil (30 km.) (Yalkut Shimoni) and was magnified so that they would all hear his words and fall under an evil spell. As a result, they succumbed to a terrible sin for which they paid dearly - all in accordance with Balaam's evil scheme that he had proposed to Balak. (Kesef Mezukak)

The Twelve Miracles

25:1 Yisrael was staying in Shittim when the people began to behave immorally with the Moavi girls. 2 [The girls] invited the people to their religious sacrifices, and the people ate and worshiped the [Moavi] gods. 3 Yisrael thus became involved with Baal Peor, and G-d displayed anger against Yisrael 4 G-d said to Moshe, "Take the people's leaders, and [have them] impale them before G-d, facing the sin. This will reverse G-d's display of anger against Yisrael. 5 Moshe said to Yisrael's judges, "Each of you must kill your constituents who were involved with Baal Peor." 6 [The judges] were still weeping [in indecision] at the Tent of Meeting entrance, when a man of Yisrael brought forth a Midyani woman to his brethren before the eyes of Moshe and the community of Yisrael.7 When Pinchas, a son of Ele'azar and a grandson of Aharon, the Kohen, saw this, he rose up from the midst of the assembly and took a spear in his hand.8 He followed the man of Yisrael into the tent's inner chamber and rammed them through, [driving the spear] through the man of Yisrael and the woman's groin. With that, the plague that had struck the Benei Yisrael was arrested.9 In that plague, 24,000 people had died.

Our Sages list a total of twelve auspicious circumstances involved in connection with the action of Pinchas.
  1. They did not draw apart when Pinchas approached them. Had they done so, he could not have executed them without himself then being executed.
  2. Zimri and Kazbi were turned speechless, and so could not call out to the Shimonim outside, who would have rushed in and torn Pinchas to shreds.
  3. They remained locked together on the spear that passed through his and her genitals. It was thus clear to everyone that they had been joined carnally, and no one could claim that Pinchas had invented the story of finding them together.
  4. The handle and the blade did not separate when he rammed them through.
  5. When he was dragging them outside, the tent lifted up, enabling him to emerge upright with the spear in its original vertical position. Had it been necessary to lower the spear, the two bodies would have slipped off.
  6. G-d gave him the strength of arm to hold on to them as he traversed the entire camp of Yisrael - a distance of three parsangs.
  7. He twirled them about on his right arm directly in front of their relatives, and they could not harm him.
  8. The metal part of the spear was hardened so that it did not break under the combined weight.
  9. This metal part was elongated, moreover, so that both bodies stayed on without slipping.
  10. By divine intervention the woman remained on the bottom and the man on top, just as they had been positioned during copulation.
  11. they both remained alive until he had taken them through the entire camp of Yisrael; otherwise, Pinchas, who was a kohen, would have been contaminated.
  12. Their blood was congealed and did not drip downward. (Bamidbar Rabbah; Targum Yonatan; Sanhedrin, Chapter 9; Yalkut Shimoni) There is also the view that by divine agency Zimri's fellow Shimonim were slain to prevent them from killing Pinchas. (Sanhedrin 9; Rashi; Maharsha)

When Pinchas saw the terrible plague that had spread, killing 24,000 men, mostly from the Tribe of Shimon, he cast them off from the spear before G-d, exclaiming: "Is it right that on account of these two cadavers 24,000 Benei Yisrael should perish? Although it is true that whenever sexual immorality becomes prevalent, the innocent fall no less than the guilty, that happens only if the acts of depravity are committed publicly. But the Midyani women had sinned with the Benei Yisrael in seclusion, and so did the daughters of Moav; it was only Zimri who had flaunted his transgression publicly. Why then should so many have had to die on account of one wicked man?

In response to this plea of Pinchas, the plague was halted. Thus the Scripture writes elsewhere: "Then Pinchas stood up and prayed; and so the plague was arrested" (Tehillim 106:30; Sanhedrin 9; Kesef Mezukak)

- Meam Loez

Haftarah: Micha 5:6 - 6:8

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