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PARASHAT B’HALOTCHA

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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“From the bottom spiritual rung we are being created anew as in days of old. All the spiritual baggage of the past is being swallowed up in its source, and taking on a new, fresher form…ready for great growth, full of vibrant life”
(Erpalei Tohar)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:
“Return the Myriads of Israel’s families!”



The Jewish People live in a state of flux. Sometimes their situation is dynamic, as when they face wars or other complications, of which it says, “When the Ark went forth, Moses said, ‘Arise, O L-rd, and scatter your enemies! Let your foes flee before you!” (Numbers 10:35). At other times they experience rest, unity and repentance, of which it says, “When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O L-rd, the myriads of Israel’s families’” (10:36).

These two situations are alluded to with the trumpet blasts. The “tekiah”, a long, simple blast, alluded to goodness, kindness, Jewish unity and the unity of the Israel’s leaders, as it says: “When both of the trumpets are sounded with a long note, the entire community shall assemble at the Communion Tent entrance…If a long note is sounded on only one of them, the princes, who are leaders of thousands in Israel, shall come together to you. However, when the community is to be assembled, the trumpets shall be sounded with a long note, and not with a series of short notes” (10:3-4,7).

By contrast is the “teruah”, a broken sound, a sound of loud sobbing and moaning (see Orach Chaim 504). The teruah alludes to complex situations, when the nation is marching off to war: “When you sound a series of short notes, the camps to the east shall begin the march….When you go to war against an enemy who attacks you in your land, you shall sound a staccato on the trumpets. You will then be remembered before G-d, and will be delivered from your enemies” (Numbers 10:5,9).

As far as these situations of approaching battle, on the one hand, alluded to by the teruah blasts, and rest, repentance and unity on the other hand, alluded to by the tekiah blasts, even though they seem like opposites, they are really all one, with one purpose, as finds expression in the tekiah-teruah-tekiah shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah. First comes a tekiah, a simple blast that alludes to good thought and purpose in our world. After that come the teruah blasts, which allude to the hardships along the way, and in the end the tekiah again, a simple blast that alludes to G-d’s kindness and a happy ending.

Today, in our generation, we are simultaneously hearing tekiah blasts and teruah blasts. On the one hand, we are privileged to live in the generation of the ingathering of the exiles and political independence. The Torah is returning to its abode. The Land of Israel is turning into the center of Torah in the world, and G-d “is returning the myriads of Israel’s families.” The sound of the tekiah is being increasingly heard, and it will be heard more and more until we reach full repentance and solace.

At the same time, however, the sound of the teruah can also be heard, the sounds of war, as our sages said, “In the seventh year, there will be wars. After the seventh year, the son of David will come.” There are also the sounds of internal fighting, as Joshua said to Moses at the Golden Calf: “Joshua heard the sound of the people rejoicing, and he said to Moses, ‘It sounds as though there is a battle going on in the camp.’ ‘It is not the song of victory,’ replied [Moses], ‘nor the dirge of the defeated. What I hear is just plain singing’” (Exodus 32:17,18). Rashi comments, “‘Just plain singing’: The sound of cursing and blasphemy that afflicts the spirit of all who hear it.”

And how can we not weep and sigh when we see the moral and spiritual deterioration that is striking parts of our beloved, precious people. How can we not weep and sigh when we see how Jews are being expelled from Eretz Yisrael and how those areas are being handed over to our enemies? Yet we take solace in knowing everything will change for the better, as Maharsha said, “Why does the Hebrew letter “nun” appear upside down before and after the words, ‘When the Ark went forth’? It is to teach us that everything will be reversed for the better” (see Maharsha on Shabbat 116).

May the words of Moses be fulfilled: “Arise, O L-rd, and scatter your enemies! Let your foes flee before you!” regarding which Rashi comments, “So to speak, Moses told G-d, ‘Wait for us! Don’t go far! We shall return to You and to Your Torah!’” As then, now as well, the day is not far off when the entire nation will return to G-d and to His Torah throughout our land. And the sound of a great shofar blast will be heard, the shofar of the Messiah, and we will merit to see G-d return the myriad of Israel. Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!




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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Bet El

The Good Eye and the Evil Eye



In 1848 a cholera epidemic struck Vilna. People began to dig up sins and to look for guilty parties. One person, a charter member of the “committee for looking for blemishes in others”, approached Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and told him that there was someone who was acting improperly. Rav Salanter responded, “The Torah didn’t punish the gossip because he spoke falsehood but because he criticized his fellow man. G-d says to such a person, “If you’re such an expert in looking for blemishes, sit outside the camp and look for your own.”
Indeed, take a look at any prayer book. The confessional “Vidui” prayer is always written in the first person. “We have been guilty. We have betrayed” – and not in the second or third person. G-d doesn’t like those who accuse their fellow man.
In his letter, “Kiddush Hashem,” Rambam harshly castigates a Torah scholar who criticized Jews, and he reminds him that when Moses said of the Jewish People, “They will not believe me” (Exodus 4:1), G-d blamed him, saying, “They are believers and the sons of believers, but ultimately you will not believe,” and Moses was immediately punished. “His hand was leprous, as white as snow” (verse 6).
The same thing happened to Elijah the Prophet, who accused Israel: “The People of Israel have abandoned Your covenant” (I Kings 19:10). G-d responded, “Before you make accusations against Israel, go make accusations against the nations.”
Likewise, the Prophet Isaiah, who said, “I am living amidst a people with impure lips” (Isaiah 6:10), was punished, that his lips were burnt.
Indeed, G-d hates those who accuse His children, even if the accuser is holy. The Vilna Gaon writes similarly in his commentary on Tikunei Zohar (57:) regarding the verse, “I hate Esau” (Malachi 1:3).
One time I met someone from that same sect of people who look for blemishes in others, and he spilled his endless bile of hackneyed claims against the State of Israel and against parts of the Jewish People. I answered him, “You see this. I see other things. I see so many good things that G-d does for us in this country, so many good-hearted, idealistic boys, so many Jews who keep Torah and mitzvoth, so many wonderful youths. Everyone sees something else. You see the bad and I see the good.”
He cut me off: “All right! I see the good too, but you have to see the bad.”
I responded, “Calm down! I am well aware of the reality, and I toil within my humble abilities to increase the light.”
And then he smiled victoriously and said, “So! You do admit that this isn’t redemption!”
(Until this day I don’t understand why he got such pleasure out of saying that this is not redemption…)
I answered, “Indeed, everything you say just proves that the redemption is not complete. It isn’t all black and white. It isn’t either total exile or total redemption. There are way-stations as well.”
And in conclusion, the words of our master, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook:
“Generalized accusations against the other side, even when made with sincere intent, are associated with the well-known trait of group egocentrism that tends to views oneself and one’s intimates as possessing all the good, truth and justice, and that tends to view one’s antagonist as harboring all the evil, falsehood and wickedness” (LiNetivot Olam II: 227).
Let us therefore make an effort to see our own blemishes and our fellow man’s virtues, and let us all work, shoulder to shoulder, for the sake of G-d’s glory.


Rabbi Yaakov Halevy Filber
On Unity and Divisiveness


Love leads to unity and hatred leads to divisiveness. Sometimes hatred leads to divisiveness and sometimes divisiveness leads to hatred, but the result in either case is ruin. In order to prevent this situation, the Torah warns us (Deuteronomy 16:22) when our nation is just starting out, “Do not erect a sacred pillar. This is something that the L-rd your G-d hates.” Sifri comments, “It was beloved in the case of the Patriarchs, but it is despicable in the case of their descendants,” and Chatam Sofer, in turn, explains Sifri: “Previously, pillars made of a single stone were beloved, because Abraham was one and so too Isaac and so too Jacob. Henceforth, however (following the birth of the twelve sons of Jacob, there would be (instead of a pillar) an altar made of many stones, all of which would be rendered a single stone through the altar’s construction. The theme would be that G-d’s children are His builders, clinging together in unity.” Chatam Sofer concludes: “If someone sets himself apart from the community, following his own path, even if his intent is for heaven’s sake, he is the stone pillar that G-d hates.”

Already with the altar’s construction the Torah wishes to educate us to worship G-d together. He does not wish divergent intelligences to set off on their own, for that bodes danger to the nation’s survival, as was proven over the course of Jewish history. Hatred between brothers and divisiveness have plagued our people from their very beginnings, even if we exclude Ishmael’s hatred for Isaac or Esau’s hatred for Jacob. After all, already amongst Jacob’s children we encountered hatred. Joseph brought evil reports about his brothers to his father, and they in response “hated him and could not talk peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4). Here, as well, the hated was for heaven’s sake, as the Vilna Gaon explains (quoted in Kol HaTor, 2:151): “The original thinking of Joseph’s brothers was that when Abraham’s soul descended to the world, the impurity of the right clung to him, hence Ishmael emerged from him to separate that impurity from him. When Isaac’s soul descended, the impurity of the left clung to him, hence Esau emerged from him to separate that impurity from him. They thought that the middle impurity clung to Jacob, who is the middle strand. And after they saw Joseph conducting himself conceitedly, they thought for sure that Joseph was the middle impurity that had separated itself from Jacob. They were unaware of his holiness and his great destiny in preparing the redemption.”

The attempt to set oneself apart from the community “for the sake of heaven” is found in two other places in the Torah. The first is with Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron about whom it says, “I will be sanctified through those close to Me” (Leviticus 10:3). Our sages (the Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:5), said: “Why does the Torah mention the death of Aaron’s son on Yom Kippur? To teach us that just as Yom Kippur atones for Israel, so does the death of the saintly atone for Israel.” Moses said to Aaron (Vayikra Rabbah 12): “It turns out that your two sons are more precious to G-d than mine.” All the same, they died because they brought “a strange fire that G-d had not commanded” (Leviticus 10:1). And what was that “strange fire”? They did not make due with G-d’s causing His presence to rest upon the entire Jewish People. Rather, they “each took his fire pan” (ibid.). The Midrash comments (Torat Kohanim): “They too reveled in their joy. Seeing a new fire, they were ready to add love upon love.”

And what addition did they make? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: “At the very moment that the nation merited the revelation of G-d’s closeness, they felt the need for a special offering of their own. From this we derive that the genuine spirit of the priesthood did not beat in their hearts. The kohanim are null and void within the Jewish People. They possess no status of their own. Their whole being is as part of the nation, and from here derives their status before G-d.”

From his comments we may derive that there is no chance, even for the elite of our people, to cling to G-d when they are separated from the people. Yet our sages went further still (Rosh Hashanah 17a): “If he separates himself from the ways of the community [according to Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:11), this means even if he has committed no sins, only he has set himself apart from the Congregation of Israel and he does not fulfill mitzvoth as one of them], he has no portion in the World-to-Come.”

Another attempt at separation from the aggregate, which encountered a sharp response from G-d and Moses, was Gad and Re’uven’s request that they be given a permanent inheritance in Transjordan. Although their intent was for the sake of heaven, Moses still responded, “Now you are trying to take your fathers’ places as a band of sinners” (Numbers 22:14). In response to this episode our sages say (Midrash HaGadol): “Controversy is a harsh sin even where we just trying to put a fence around the mitzvoth, for we find that the tribes of Gad and Re’uven said to Moses, “Let this land be given to us as our permanent property” (Numbers 32:5). And why did they choose it? Because they had a lot of sheep and they wished to distance themselves from theft. And since they separated from Israel first, they were exiled first as well.” The Midrash concludes: “Surely it’s compelling logic: If someone who separates himself from his fellow men in order to distance himself from theft is punished this way, all the more so those who separate themselves from their fellow man out of hatred and competition.”





Translation: R. Blumberg


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