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shiur Korach 5781

“So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [Sheol]; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” – Numbers 16:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach gathered the adus (congregation) against Moses and Aaron, in an attempt to overthrow their authority by means of an outright rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). It was an opportune time for rebellion, inasmuch that the people were already disgruntled, because of the decree proclaimed by H’Shem that the men, over twenty years of age would all pass away in the wilderness, during the course of the next thirty-nine years, as a consequence of their lack of trust in H’Shem, when they neglected to enter the land at the designated time.

Korach, Dathan and Aviram were the ringleaders of the uprising. As a result of their insurgency, Korach perished (AVD), along with his family, and Dathan and Aviram, with their families, when they were swallowed up by the earth. Incidentally, the Hebrew word yov’du, translated as “perished,” derives from the shoresh (root word), aleph-beis-dalet. The word, avadon, is also derived from the same shoresh. Avadon refers to a place of destruction similar to Sheol, possibly Gehinnom. Additionally, the two hundred fifty men of renown, who followed him were consumed by fire from H’Shem, when they attempted to offer up incense, individually, every man his fire pan.

Both punishments were clearly by way of divine intervention; yet, the people ignored this. They still had a complaint against Moshe: they claimed that Moshe was responsible for the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty followers. The people themselves had been rallied by Korach against Moshe and Aaron; now, their enthusiasm was piqued by the loss of these men, who supported the rebellion. In response, to subdue another uprising, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, wherein 14,500 perished, before Aaron intervened at the urgent insistence of Moses.

“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take thy fire-pan, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the L-RD: the plague is begun’” (Numbers 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). The response was immediate: “And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed” (17:13). Symbolically, the burning of incense represents steadfast prayer; perhaps, prayer may serve today as an effectual means, even to combat the remainder of the current pandemic.

Hesitance Will Not Prevail

“H’Shem spoke unto Moshe, saying: Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, this does not give the complete details, as later revealed in Torah. In Deuteronomy, it is written, “Behold, H’Shem thy G-d hath set the land before thee; go up, take possession, as H’Shem, the G-d of thy fathers, hath spoken unto thee; fear not, neither be dismayed (Deuteronomy 1:21, JPS).


These are words of encouragement; however, the people responded with caution, requesting of Moshe, “Let us send men before us, that they may search the land” (Deuteronomy 1:22, JPS). This is the prior conversation between Moshe and the people, before the opening words of the parashas, where H’Shem literally says, if you would like to send men, send men for yourself.” In other words, H’Shem left the actual decision to Moshe, whether or not to grant the request of the people to send out spies into the land of Canaan.

Previously, B’nei Yisrael had been told that they “would inherit their land, a land that flows with milk and honey” (Leviticus 20:24). When the ten spies spoke of the fruit of the land, including a cluster of grapes, carried by four men, on two sets of poles, crossways, and a giant pomegranate, they concurred that the land was truly, a land of milk and honey. Yet, they continued with their words to the people, by interjecting the conjunction, but, proceeding to give a negative bias on the local inhabitants, and the land itself.

The people were demoralized by their report; consequently, they were not intent on entering the land at that point in time. This is the generation that H’Shem decreed, would pass away during the next thirty-mine years of wandering in the desert. Hence, only the young ones at the time would enter the land. For, this decree excepted the women and children; only the men eligible for the legion, who were fit for battle passed away, as if by natural causes, over the next thirty-nine years. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, who had a “different spirit,” the ten other spies were consumed immediately.

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.

Perception

In parashas Shelach, ten out of twelve men of great reknown, leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, fall prey to a negative perception of themselves, in contrast to the local inhabitants, who were like giants. The ten spies perceived themselves to be like grasshoppers, “in their own eyes;” hence, they thought that they must also look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants. Deeming themselves, nor the people of Israel as no match for the inhabitants of Cannan, they returned, and spoke ill of the mission to enter the long awaited promised land of Eretz Yisrael.

It is interesting to note that the preceding passage to the incident of the spies concerns lashon hara, whereof Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke ill of him. She was chastised with leprosy, until Moshe prayed on her behalf for H’Shem to heal her. If these two events are in chronological order, then the spies did not learn the lesson. Instead, their own lashon hara (literally, “evil tongue”) demoralized the entire people, and elicited consequences that would last for forty years; that entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb passed away in the wilderness, excepting the women and children.

Lashon hara is a transgression that the Torah indicates is committed by the best of us; yet, this does not make it excusable in anyway; rather the prolific contagion, as demonstrated by the people’s acceptance of the spies’ ill report of the land shows how easy it us to succumb to this transgression. Today, lashon hara, and its counterpart, retzilus (gossip) are so widely accepted, so as to be said to be institutionalized within the greater part of society; also the widespread use of the Internet intensifies the bane.

Yet, how can the proliferation of what is considered the norm be interrupted? By the realisation of consequences that stem from what goes unchallenged. If only we could see the consequences of our own actions ahead of time; by thinking, before we act, we can visualize the potential ramifications of our decisions in life. Instead of speaking impulsively, we should reflect more on our words, before voicing our own thoughts.

The Sin of Slander

motzei Shabbos: parashas Behaalotecha 5781

In parashas Beha’alotecha, a brief description of a critique against Moses is given: Miriam and Aaron, co-leaders of Israel (see Micah) as sell as prophets in their own right feel diminished by Moshe’s uniqueness, when he separates himself out from family life, in order to be more prepared to receive H’Shem’s presence at all times. And they said: ‘Hath the L-RD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the L-RD heard it” (Numbers 12:2, JPS).


H’Shem responded by rebuking Miriam and Aaron, reminding them that the level of prophecy that Moses received is such that the L-RD speaks with him face to face, and that Moses is the trusted one in all His house. He asks Miriam and Aaron, “‘wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’” (12:8).


Then H’Shem strikes Miriam with leprosy; although, upon Moshe’s immediate plea to heal her, the L-RD heals her; yet, she is placed in quarantine for seven days. She as treated as a metzorah (similar to a leper), wherein she is removed to the outer limits of the camp. This, like any metzorah who receives the same treatment, will give Miriam time to reflect. Her transgression is slander, one of the sins that normally leads to the spiritual malaise of tzarras, a skin affliction similar to leprosy.


This event is recorded towards the end of the parashas. The next reading from the Torah, parashas Shelach includes the narrative concerning the slander of the ten spies against the land that was promised to Israel. Their slander demoralizes the nation, compelling them to curtail the attempt to enter the land, only one year after leaving Egypt. Apparently, the lesson in regard to the slander against Moses by Miriam had not made a strong enough impression upon them, in order to take into consideration the nature of their own complaints.


Perhaps, as a lesson, this may serve as a reminder of the ease of humanity to recognize transgression in others; yet, to so easily overlook our own faults. Slander, and being critical of others is an especially prolific sin, that seems almost commonplace; however, anyone such as myself, who is serious about their relationship with G-d and man, needs to examine the conscience, as well as one’s speech, in order to uproot this sin from the soul.

shabbos reflections: Tradition

As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.

Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”

Moving On

parashas Beha’alotecha 5781

“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

B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at the base of Mount Sinai for ten days under a year. When the Cloud lifted up from above the encampment, that was the signal to journey to the next location. “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, did the Children of Israel move out in the formation that was previously established for them.


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 behind them. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS). By day also He led them by a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire (Psalm 78:14).

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. Appropos of the times, the day speaks of the necessity to turn towards the Creator, whose words are better than silver and gold (Psalms 19:1-5, Proverbs 8:19).

The Menorah

“Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

  • Numbers 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The “seven lamps” shall cast their light towards the face of the menorah. Seven lamps, towards the face (p’nei). Commentary explains that the six lamps, three on either side of the center lamp, had their wicks tilted towards the center lamp.

Yet, this begs the question, if the verse mentions that all seven lamps shall cast their light towards the p’nei (face) of the menorah, then the Hebrew word, p’nei must represent something other than the center lamp, since it is only one of the seven. Therefore, what does the Hebrew word p’nei represent in this verse?

An answer may be given by focusing on another verse from Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture), wherein a clue may be found. “In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, L-RD, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Consequently, the verse about the menorah could be rendered as having the light of the seven lamps glowing towards the “face of G-d.” And, what may be learned by this understanding? The light of the lamps can be seen as symbolic of our avodas (service) towards H’Shem, seven days a week. All our efforts in avodas are to culminate in seeking the face of G-d.

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.

Motzei Shabbos: Nasso 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos parashas Nasso 5781

A few thoughts, as the Shabbos kedushah diminishes, with the onset of yom rishon: And the evening and the morning were the first day of the week.

In parashas Nasso, the passage concerning the nazir, speaks of the intention of a man or woman to separate oneself to a higher degree of kedushah (holiness), by primarily abstaining from wine and other intoxicants, as well as letting one’s hair grow. The minimum requirement for this endeavor is thirty days; at the completion of the designated term, in addition to receiving a haircut, the nazir would bring several offerings (in Hebrew, “korban”), including a sin offering.


Although there are various commentaries on the reason for bringing a sin offering, this is the one that I prefer above all of the others. Ramban, Nachmanides, comments that the nazir would have best served his own intentions to live in a manner that would bring him closer to G-d, if he remained a nazir, rather than only becoming a nazir for a limited amount of time. For his decision to enter back into the world, where he will once again partake of worldly pleasures, he must needs bring a sin offering. This is the position of the Ramban, one of the most authorative Rabbinical voices in Judaism today; although, he lived in the 13th Century.


How much moreso, today, when egotistical desires, and the profligation of worldly pleasures abound as normative in a modern society that typifies indulgence as the norm? We do not need to take a Nazirite vow, in order to abstain from the abnormal standards of the world; abnormal, because they are mostly antithetical to Torah. However, we can make an effort to diminish the impact of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) upon our soul; rather than tuning into the zeitgeist, I would recommend opening our eyes to the wondrous words of the wisdom of G-d.