The Malevolence of Balaam

Within the overall narrative of the parashas, Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel in which he failed, is followed by an alternative plan to cause malevolence amongst the fledging nation of Israel. A curse would typically bring upon a people some sort of malaise, at the behest of spiritual powers having the ability to wreak havoc. Yet, being compelled by H’Shem to bless Israel, instead of cursing the Children Israel, Balaam was thwarted. Out of his frustration, he encouraged Balaak to send Midianite women to entice the Jewish men into idolatry and licentious behavior (Numbers 25:1-3).

Having undermined the kedushah (holiness) of Israel, through his devious advice to Balak, Balaam caused Israel to sin, therefore leaving them open to judgment from H’Shem (Nesivos Shalom). A “shield of protection” is guaranteed to the nation, when a strong connection to H’Shem is maintained through emunah (faith) and moral integrity. Both of these essentials were diminished when the people bowed down to the gods of the Moabites, and the men fell prey to licentiousness with “the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1-2, JPS). As a result, H’Shem, who is both just and merciful, acted upon His Attribute of Justice, by causing a plague, when “the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” ((Numbers 25:3, JPS).

dvar parashas Chukat 5781

“And there was no water for the congregation.” – Numbers 20:2

The well that provided water for the B’nei Yisrael in the desert, and “followed” them throughout their journeys, did so upon the merit of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess, and a coleader with Moses and Aaron. “For I brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). However, when Miriam passed away, “there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2). Miriam was a righteous person; so, in her merit the water had been provided to the Children of Israel for thirty-nine years. When she passed away, the well dried up.

The Sages ask why the mentioning of Miriam’s death occurs right after the description of the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heifer). The answer given is to exemplify that just as an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a righteous person bring atonement for the people (Mo’ed Katan 28a). Additionally, concerning the death of Aaron, who was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people” (Numbers 20:4), his death also brought atonement.

As commentary futher explains, “Wherefore is [the account of] Aaron’s death closely followed by [the account of the disposal of] the priestly garments? [to inform you] that just as the priest’s vestments were [means to effect] atonement, so is the death of the righteous [conducive to procuring] atonement” (Talmud: Moed Katan 28a, Soncino edition, www.halakhah.com). Therefore, both the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, because they were righteous persons, atoned for that generation.

dvar Korach 5781

B”H

dvar for parashas Korach 5781

“O G-d, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?” – Numbers 16:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is written in Pirkei Avos that every controversy that is for the sake of heaven will endure, while every argument that is not “in the name of Heaven” will not endure. The discussions between Shammai and Hillel are an example of those that endure. The dispute of Korach was a rebellious argument that was not destined to endure (Pirkei Avos 5:20). Rather, Korach was destined to be punished from the beginning of human history, inasmuch that the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach and his followers is said to have been created on twilight of Shabbat Eve (Pirkei Avos 5:9).


Korach separated himself from the assembly of H’Shem. He purported to champion the people, inasmuch that he claimed that everyone was holy, saying that Moses and Aaron should not lift themselves “above the assembly of H’Shem” (Numbers 16:3, JPS 1917 Tanach); commentary explains that Korach wanted Aaron’s position of Kohein Gadol (High Priest) for himself. He did not recognize that both Moshe and Aaron were G-d appointed; rather, he felt that they unfairly took the positions of leadership for themselves. His accusation revealed his own intent.


With the rebellion looming over Moses and Aaron, poised to overthrow them, H’Shem told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation, so that He might destroy the entire congregation. Yet, Moses interceded on behalf of the people; in doing so, he addressed G-d as “the G-d of the spirits of all flesh.” In other words, Moses appealed to G-d, Who knows the hearts of all men, including their thoughts, inasmuch that in this specific case, He knew who was loyal to Him, and who was disloyal. So, Moses pleaded on behalf of the people that G-d would distinguish between the conspirators, and those of the people who still trusted in Him. As a result of Moshe’s heartfelt prayer, G-d decided to limit the extent of the punishment only to the guilty. This connotes G-d’s sense of justice, as well as His attribute of mercy.

“Behold, the eye of the L-RD is toward them that fear Him, toward them that wait for His mercy.”

  • Psalm 33:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Shelach 5781 – self esteem

parashas Shelach 5781

“Send men, that they may spy the land of Canaan which I give to the people Israel”

  • Numbers 13:1

The actual phrase used, shelach lecha means send out for yourself or send out according to your own understanding; this is a clue to what transpired, before H’Shem gave the commandment to send out the spies. The full account is given later in Torah: “And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said: ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come” (Deuteronomy 1:22, JPS 1917 Tanach).

So, the people, had previously been told to take possession of the land, “as the L-RD, the G-d of thy fathers, hath spoken unto thee; fear not, neither be dismayed”(Deuteronomy 1:21, JPS). However, they wanted reassurance on their own terms, that they would be able to take the land; hence, they were more interested in making an assessment of their own, to discern whether or not they could do so: rather than fully trusting in H’Shem, that He would lead the way. What they did not realize is that, H’Shem would fight for them; therefore, they should not have been concerned about forming a military strategy for battle against the local inhabitants.


Moreover, except for Joshua and Caleb, who had “a different spirit,” the other spies –ten of them –gave an ill report of the land; furthermore, they convinced the people that it would be futile to make an attempt to take possession of the land, at that time, inasmuch that there were giants there. The Torah states that the ten spies said, “We saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who came of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13: 33, JPS).


In other words, in their own estimation of themselves, they saw themselves as grasshoppers, as compared to the giants; and they perceived that the giants also saw them as small and inconsequential. They lost confidence in themselves, and in H’Shem; and the lack of the morale spread to the rest of the people. Consequently, the people refused to make an attempt to conquer the land at that moment in time. Yet, for ourselves, today, if we know that H’Shem supports us in our good endeavors, we should trust in Him, and not in ourselves, so that our efforts may be brought to fruition.

Marching Orders

“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

  • Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first journey made by B’nei Yisrael, after the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai was on the twentieth of Iyar, ten days shy of one year, from their arrival at Sinai on the first of Sivan. The departure was well organized, ahead of time, for the sake of an orderly procession, tribe by tribe, to the next encampment.

First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation, according to the Jerusalem Talmud either in the shape of a diamond, or in a straight line, tribe by tribe.


“And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, during their three day journey, H’Shem’s Presence in the form if a tangible cloud, sheltered them from the heat of the day. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent; afterwards, the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS).

Therefore, let us consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life.

dvar Nasso 5781

B”H

dvar for parashas Nasso 5781


“When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

– Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Talmud (Pesachim 54a), G-d created teshuvah (repentance), before the creation of the world. This teaching connotes the significance of teshuvah for tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), and tikkun olam (repair of the world). In light of another passage in the Talmud (Megillah 13b), that speaks of the remedy being created before the wound, teshuvah is elevated to a near panacea, capable of transforming lives.

The first person to do teshuvah (repentance), as recorded in the Torah is Yehudah. He publicly acknowledged his transgression, after realising his guilt. Also, King David, upon hearing a mashal (parable) about a rich man who had many sheep, yet, demanded the one and only sheep of a poor person for dinner, was told by the prophet that he was that man. That is how the prophet alluded to David’s sin in regard to Bathseba; consequently, he immediately confessed his sin. If only we had the resolve of biblical proportion to act in a decisive way, without hesitance, in recognizing our trespasses against G-d and man.


A sincere confession is necessary to diminish the influence of the yetzer hara (evil inclination); and, assign past ways of transgression to the past, in order to begin anew (Maimonides). Acknowledging past mistakes, and attitudes, as well as behaviors that are not in accord with a righteous way of living is an act of character, that supplements self-improvement. “And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of G-d” (Psalm 50:23, JPS). To be delivered from our nisyanos (trials), requires an effort that is enhanced by G-d’s mercy. He gives us opportunity to rectify our ways through teshuvah, so that we may be reconciled to Him.


Additionally, regardless of any overly harsh condemnation we might hold against ourselves, He will grant us clemency, when we make a sincere confession within the depths of our heart. Yet, if we do not even recognize that we are imperfect human beings, who are subject to stray from the derech (path) that G-d intends for us, then we might continue to be lost amidst a labyrinth of wrong choices, and false ways. As noted in Mesillas Yesharim (the Path of the Just), by Chaim Luzatto, we need to seek the direction of someone, who figuratively speaking, can stand in the middle of the labyrinth and point out the right path. If we seek the wisdom of G-d, then we will find the way. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:6, JPS).

Divine Scrutiny

dvar for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel.”

– Leviticus 1:2

The Hebrew, translated here as “take a census, literally means “to lift up the head.” literal translation, ‘lift up the head.” This can be understood in different ways. In a positive sense,  that the people being counted within the census, would be exalted. Otherwise, a negative connotation would be to have their heads lifted off from upon them, meaning demerited. This dual meaning is found in regard to Joseph’s interpretation of the butler and the baker: one who was elevated to his former status, the other who was executed (Genesis 40:13, 19). The phrase implies that if the people were worthy, they would be elevated; however, if not, they would be judged (Ramban).

The census itself, is associated with divine scrutiny from Above. Therefore, it is feasible to comprehend that there would be two possible outcomes, along a continuum: pass or fail. This is akin to the predicament every year on Rosh HaShannah, when all mankind is judged for the year. Moreover, the Judgment at the end of history, when all inhabitants on earth are judged for what manner our lives were lived. Why a census itself is a time of scrutiny is unclear; it’s as if along with counting every individual, our deeds and misdeeds are also taken into consideration for good or bad.

dvar: Behar-Bechukosai 5781

 “And the L-RD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 25:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

At the beginning of the parashas, an emphasis is placed on the Shemitah commandment, in particular, being given at Mt Sinai. All of the commandments were given at Sinai; therefore, the question may be asked, why is Shemitah singled out from amongst the other commandments? First of all, it may be understood within the context of emunah (faith). For, H’Shem guarantees, “I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years” (Leviticus 25:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).

To rely on H’Shem’s word that he would bestow a blessing upon the children of Israel, so that their crops would produce an abundance of yield, enough to last for three years, this is an act of emunah (faith). Only H’Shem could make this guarantee; so, inasmuch that Torah specifically notes the commandment to observe the Shemitah year, wherein the seventh year the land is to lie fallow, this is a reminder that H’Shem gave the commandment on Mt. Sinai, He is the Guarantor. Man could not guarantee such a promise; only G-d could assure the people that by placing their trust in him through following the commandment of Shemitah, He would provide for them until the new crop of the following year produced a yield.

The Shemitah cycle also conveys the essential truth, the epitome of historical realization from a Biblical perspective, that after six thousand years, there will be a Sabbatical Millenium (Nachmanides, otherwise known as the Ramban). The thousand year Sabbath begins with the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); this is considered the first part of Olam Haba (the World to Come). Therefore, in light of this expectation, we are to prepare ourselves in this world, so that we may partake of the reward, likened to a banquet, in the next world.

“‘This world is like a corridor before the world to come [Olam Haba]; prepare thyself in the corridor, so that thou mayest enter into the banquet hall.'” – Pirkei Avos 4: 21

dvar: parashas Emor 5781

“You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you.”

– Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org

In struggling against the yetzer harah (evil inclination) we confront the part of ourselves that is inclined towards what Freud would call our instinctual drives. His theory, in regard to the id, ego, and superego, explains that without putting a reign on the Id, man would be subject to these drives, to the extent of not being able to function within the limits of societal norms.

Man, himself, is composed of two natures, the godly soul and the animal soul. Freud’s Id represents, to some degree, the instincts of the animal soul; moreover, the ego’s role, from his point of view, is to place the Id in check, according to what he called the Reality Principle. This is done by applying the standards of the superego, an amalgamation of moral values instilled in us through family upbringing and collective societal norms.

Inasmuch that Judaism teaches the significance of following the inclinations of the godly soul, as opposed to that of the animal soul, the standards are raised – Torah calls us to a higher standard. Especially, consider that the values of Austrian society that dominated Freud’s time and place at the time of his psychoanalytic practice (Vienna, from1886 to 1938) are not held in esteem by the majority of the world today. Rather, modernity is influenced, to a lesser or greater degree by norms that would be considered substandard, when compared to those that Freud was familiar with. This decline epitomizes the lack of a substantial claim to consistent values, over the years, within society.  

Yet, the L-RD’s ways, given to us through the Torah do not change. “His ways are higher than our ways; His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). We are expected to be righteous to the extent of subduing the inclinations of the “yetzer hara,” akin to the “animal soul,” by way of self-denial. In doing so, we make ourselves an offering, by denying ourselves for the sake of following a higher path, than the one that our animal soul would follow, were we to let it lead (G-d forbid). Shall a donkey lead the rider? Nay, a donkey (chomer) represents the body, which must be guided by the soul. In this manner shall the L-RD’s name be sanctified amongst us: “That I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you” (Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org). Through H’Shem’s help, we will be sanctified.

divrei Torah: Acharei-Kedoshim 5781

“Ye shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.”

– Leviticus 19:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are created b’tzelem Elokim – in the image of G-d – as is written, “And G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27, JPS). We are to imitate G-d, in a sincere effort to live up to that image. In specific, we should focus our efforts an attempt to approach His level of holiness, even if this may not be within our own power to do so. A steady walk on the path of righteousness, will at least bring us closer to that ideal.

Additonally, in terms of approaching G-d’s presence in prayer, we must remain humble. Consider, Nadav and Abihu, who raised themselves up above their status as kohanim, sons of Aaron (Leviticus 10:1-2). They did not recognize the boundaries placed before themselves and H’Shem. They approached H’Shem in a manner that was less than respectful, in order to perform an unbidden incense service. The Torah infers that they approached H’Shem’s presence that appears between the two golden cherubim on the kapores – the cover of the Ark.

When Aaron is admonished in this passage, not to enter the Kadosh Kadoshim at all times (only once-a-year on Yom Kippur) this implies that Nadav and Avihu entered the Kadosh Kadoshim, behind the paroches, the veil or curtain that separated the inner sanctuary where the ark of the covenant was kept, from the rest of the Mishkan.Therefore, they served as a negative example, neglecting to maintain a high level of respect, awe, and reverence towards H’Shem.

H’Shem tells Moshe, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, JPS). A question may be asked, relevant to the theme of kedushah (holiness), how are we able to even approach the level of G-d’s holiness? The example of Nadav and Avihu show that this is risky. Again, this is an ideal standard, that we are to simply set as our goal. Yet, its attainment is by no means simple, nor even possible without H’Shem at the helm of our ship, guiding our way upon the ocean of life.