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The Branch doesn’t Fall Far from the Root

The Branch doesn’t Fall Far from the Root

In this week’s parsha it states “And Hashem God said, ‘It is not good that man be alone, I will make for him an Eizer K’negdo (a helper corresponding to him)” (2:18). On the words “Eizer K’negdo,” Rashi quotes Rebbi Elazar in a Gemara in Meseches Yivamos (chap. 6, “Haba Al Yevimto”, pg. 63a) who comments on the seemingly contradictory words “eizer” (helper) and “k’negdo” (opposite him). He says that this phrase means to say that if man is deserving, then his wife will be an “eizer,” however if man is undeserving, then his wife will be “k’negdo” to wage war against him.

The implication of this explanation is that the spiritual level of a woman, with respect to her relationship with her husband, is dependent on her husband’s actions. It sounds like it is saying that if the husband is involved in doing good deeds, his wife will be his helper, but if the husband is not involved in doing good deeds, his wife will become his opponent and try to tear him down.

We must ask ourselves why Hashem would create such a reality? Why is a woman’s spiritual level (with respect to her relationship with her husband) dependent on her husband’s spiritual level? How does this even work? What are the mechanics?

To address this difficulty, let us explore what Hashem asked Adam Harishon after he sinned with the Eitz Hada’as (forbidden Tree of Knowledge). Hashem said, “Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam’s response was, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:11-12).

Regarding Adam’s response, Rashi cites a Gemara in Meseches Avoda Zara (chap. 1, “Lifnei Eideihen”, pg. 5b) which says that Adam had denied the goodness that Hashem had provided for him. Meaning that Adam was ungrateful for the wife that Hashem had given to him.

This comment raises another question. How was Adam ungrateful for Chava? Adam merely stated the truth. It was Chava who gave Adam to eat from the Eitz Hada’as (Parshas Bereishis, 3:6). Why was Adam criticized for speaking the truth?

In order to tackle these difficult questions, let us share another Talmudic passage which discusses how soul-mates are matched up.

The Gemara in Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 2a) quotes Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak who said that when Reish Lakish would begin teaching about a sota (a wife who was suspected of being unfaithful to her husband), he would say that Hashem only matches a person up with a wife in accordance with his deeds. This means to say that a modest woman is given to a righteous man. Whereas an immodest woman is given to a wicked man.

Reish Lakish quotes a verse in Tehillim (125:3) which supports this idea because it says there, “The rod of wickedness will not rest upon the lot of the righteous.” This verse indicates that when God pairs a woman with a man, it is done in accordance with the spiritual level of the man.

Rabba bar bar Chana went on to quote Rebbi Yochanan who said that it is as difficult to pair such a couple as was the division of the sea where the laws of nature had to be altered.

The Gemara continues by asking how Reish Lakish can suggest that a woman is paired with a man according to his deeds when we have a teaching from Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who said that forty days before the creation of a child, a heavenly voice proclaims, “The daughter of so and so will be married to so and so?” This teaching indicates that matches are made in heaven, and they are not determined based on the man’s actions.

The Gemara answers this question by saying that there is no contradiction whatsoever. When Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav that wives are matched up with husbands forty days before the creation of a child, he was referring to Zivvug Rishon (a man’s first wife). However, when Reish Lakish said that a woman is paired up with a man according to his deeds, he was referring to Zivvug Sheini (a man’s second wife).

This shocking Gemara begs us to ask, “Why should there be a difference between Zivvug Rishon and Zivvug Sheini? Either both wives should depend on his deeds, or both wives should be decreed upon him from heaven regardless of his deeds. What is the logic behind this distinction?”

These questions will be addressed by a teaching from the Ba’al Ha’akeida (Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, 1420-1494, Spain). He says that “Zivvug Rishon” does not refer to the first woman whom a man marries. Rather, “Zivvug Rishon” refers to the match that Hashem had made between a person’s body and his soul. A verse in Parshas Bereishis (2:7) teaches us that man is made up of body and soul. The soul of a person is likened to a “man,” whereas the body of a person is likened to a “woman.”

When the body helps the soul carry out the will of God, she (the body) is called a “kosher wife” who fulfills her husband’s (soul’s) wishes. However, if the body goes against the wishes of the soul by running after the pleasures of this world, then the she (the body) is called a “foreign wife” who tries to pull the soul down to engage in sinful activities.

So, it turns out that “Zivvug Rishon” is referring to the match made between a body and a soul. However, “Zivvug Sheini” is referring to the woman whom a man marries.

Now we can understand the Gemara’s answer when it made a distinction between Zivvug Rishon and Zivvug Sheini. Zivvug Rishon refers to the body and soul. That Zivvug Rishon was decreed upon a person forty days prior to his creation.

Before he was an embryo, Hashem already chose which type of body he would have in order to facilitate the type of soul he would be given. There are different types of bodies and there are different types of souls. Each soul requires a certain type of body to help it carry out its mission on Earth. Forty days before the formation of the embryo, this match between body and soul was decided upon by God.

After all, the Gemara in Meseches Niddah (chap. 2, “Kol Hayad”, pg. 16b) quotes Reb Chanina bar Papa who said that Hashem decrees if the body will be strong or weak, or wise or dumb. However, he will still be able to choose to be a righteous person or a wicked person because everything comes from heaven except for the fear of heaven. Therefore, Zivvug Rishon refers to the pairing of body and soul.

But Zivvug Sheini refers to the woman whom a man marries. It is about this Zivvug Sheini that Reish Lakish said, “They are matched up according to his deeds.” Meaning, if the person serves Hashem properly where the body helps the soul do God’s will, then he will be given a wife who will compliment that. In other words, if a person’s Zivvug Rishon (between body and soul) are working together well, then he will be given a wife (Zivvug Sheini) who will work together with him also.

This also explains why there is a difference between Zivvug Rishon and Zivvug Sheini to begin with. Above, we asked “let both zivvugim be decreed upon by God, or let both zivvugim be dependent on man’s actions. Why the distinction?” The answer is that Zivvug Rishon does not refer to a husband and wife. Rather, Zivvug Rishon refers to the match between the body and soul. Regarding this Zivvug Rishon between body and soul, Hashem decrees which type of body should be matched up with that type of soul.

However, concerning Zivvug Sheini between husband and wife, the woman will behave in accordance with the husband’s spiritual level.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that a verse in Parshas Bereishis (2:21-22) tells us that Hashem took one of Adam’s sides and fashioned it into a woman. So, it turns out that women (Zivvug Sheini) are fashioned from the body of men. It is the body which is the Zivvug Rishon to man’s soul.

Therefore, the body incorporates both zivvugim. The body is a Zivvug Rishon to its soul, and the body is the source of the Zivvug Sheini which is a woman who becomes her husband’s wife.

It turns out that the body is the root of the woman, and the woman is a like a branch which grew out of that root. Now, a branch will be drawn after its root. A good root produces good branches, but bad roots produce bad branches.

Therefore, if man purifies his root, his body, his Zivvug Rishon to assist his soul to do God’s will, then his wife, the branch of his root, his Zivvug Sheini will follow the root and also assist her husband in doing God’s will.

However, if man ruins his root, his body, his Zivvug Rishon by allowing the body to pursue the lustful passions of this world, then his branch, his wife, his Zivvvug Sheini will follow the root and also not assist her husband in carrying out his mission that Hashem sent him on Earth to do.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this explains why Hashem said that it was not good for man to be alone (Parshas Bereishis 2:18). It means that it was not good for man to be left alone just with his Zivvug Rishon between body and soul because there would be no way in telling if that Zivvug Rishon was truly doing Avodas Hashem properly. Man could have easily fooled himself into thinking that he was doing God’s will when in fact he could have been the furthest thing from doing Hashem’s will in this world.

Therefore, Hashem said that He would make man an Eizer K’negdo which is his wife, his Zivvug Sheini who would be created from man’s body. Now there would be a way of finding out whether or not man was doing God’s will. If man would be doing ok with his Zivvug Rishon by forcing his body to serve his soul, then his wife, his Zivvug Sheini, the branch of his body would follow suit and help him do what he is supposed to do in this world.

But if man would damage his body by having it rebel against what the needs of the soul are, then his wife would also rebel against him. Wives are like acid tests. The way a wife treats her husband serves as a barometer to identify how man causes his body to treat his soul.

Now we can understand the mechanics as to why a woman’s spiritual level is dependent on her husband’s spiritual level. It is because the wife is the branch of her husband’s body, the root, and branches follow their roots. A good root produces a good branch whereas a bad root produces a bad branch.

It is important to point out that when we say that a woman’s spiritual level is dependent upon her husband’s actions, this is only true with respect to their marriage. This formula only applies concerning their relationship to each other. However, when it comes to behavior which is outside of their relationship to each other, a woman’s spiritual level depends upon her own choices because she also has her own free will.

In any case, the Shvilei Pinchas explains why we criticize Adam for blaming his wife for giving him the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as to eat, even though Adam spoke the truth. It is because if Chava gave the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as to her husband it is a sign that, deep down, Adam himself wanted to eat the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as. Since Adam’s own body, his root, was being drawn to the Eitz Hada’as, Adam’s wife, his branch, was equally drawn to the Eitz Hada’as.

Chava’s sin of eating the Eitz Hada’as was actually Adam’s fault. If Adam would have controlled his body from lusting the fruits of the Eitz Hada’as, then Chava would have never even entered into a negotiation with the serpent about the possibility of eating from that tree. She would have flatly rejected it.

So, if Chava did eat from the Eitz Hada’as, it was proof that Adam did not purify his body sufficiently. Adam’s failure had an impact on his wife and she also failed. Therefore, since Adam placed the blame on his wife, he denied the goodness which Hashem had provided for him. Hashem had created his wife from his own body in order that she should be of service to him. Hashem gave Adam a gift which would serve as an acid test to see where he himself was holding.

But Adam did not appreciate that gift. Instead, Adam abused that gift by blaming the gift for his own failures.

For this teaching, we have a one practical application for women and one practical application for men.

For women:

Women, please realize that one of your jobs is to help your husbands serve Hashem even better. Know that they (the men) cannot do it without you.

However, I was bothered by a question regarding women who are not currently married, for whatever reason. I do not have a good answer for this question, but maybe we can make a few suggestions.

First of all, women can always support other men in their Avodas Hashem. For example, by financially supporting men learning Torah.

Alternatively, women can tutor young boys in Limudei Kodesh or they can mentor young women by inspiring them to be the types of wives who will support their husbands.

For men:

Men, appreciate your wives even more so. Never let a day go by without a thank You to Hashem for them. Similarly, never let a day go by without a thank you to them for who they are.

If your wife ever insults you or hurts your feelings, think that maybe, just maybe, it is a sign that there is a flaw in your own personality which made her behave that way. So, if it does happen, sit down, say some Tehillim, do teshuva, and apologize to your wife for making her misbehave. B’ezras Hashem, things will improve.


I must mention that we are not talking about cases of mental illness, and we are not discussing cases of abuse. Those issues must be brought to a competent Rav and to competent professionals.

Rather, we are talking about healthy normal situations, and the message is as we stated above.

So, may we all be blessed to appreciate our spouses even more so, and may we have the strength to improve upon ourselves which will thereby have a positive impact on our zivvugim, whether we are talking about the zivvug between body and soul or the match between husband and wife, as these two sets are intertwined with each other, and may we thus experience Techiyas Hameisim when we will be reunited with our loved ones and return to Gan Eden Mikedem.

Holy Smokes

“Holy Smokes”

In this article, we are going to discuss Hashem’s choice to change the way He guides the world by creating a new phenomenon known as “the rainbow” which serves as a sign to guarantee that He will never again destroy the entire world with a flood of water (Parshas Noach, 9:12-17). Apparently, it was not sufficient for Hashem to just promise that he would never bring such a catastrophe to the world, but rather, He had to produce a rainbow as a sign to back up His promise.

This indicates that there must be some message buried within the rainbow which moved Hashem to make such a decision about never wreaking havoc on the world again in such a manner. This begs us to ask, “What was the message that was contained within the rainbow that caused Hashem to make such a decision?”

We will begin to address this question based upon a teaching from the sefer Nachalas Ya’akov (Parshas Noach) which was written by Rabbi Ya’akov Lorberbaum from Lissa, Poland (1760-1832), more famously known as Reb Ya’akov m’Lissa. Reb Ya’akov m’Lissa also authored the Chavas Da’as on Yora Deah, and the Nesivos Hamishpat (widely referred to just as “The Nesivos”) on Choshen Mishpat.

The Nachalas Ya’akov makes an observation between how Dovid Hamelech and Yechezkel Hanavi referred to the Divine light that God causes to shine down to Earth. Dovid Hamelech compared God’s Divine light shining down upon us to the light of the sun (Tehillim, 84:12), whereas Yechezkel Hanavi compared God’s Divine light shining down upon us to the light of a rainbow (Yechezkel, 1:28).

The reason why there are these two categories [sun and rainbow] is to teach us that when the Jewish people are doing God’s will by engaging in Torah study and mitzva performance, the atmosphere is spiritually pure and clean. Therefore, when Hashem shines His Divine light upon us, we receive it in full measure because there are no blockages obstructing the light from reaching us.

In the days of Dovid Hamelech, the Jews were doing God’s will. As such, the air was spiritually pure. This is why Dovid compared God’s light to the sun’s light which comes down unincumbered, without any interference. It is because that was Dovid’s experience with the light.

However, when the Jews are involved in sinful activities, they create spiritual clouds of impurity which serve as a partition dividing between God and the people, as it says, “Because your iniquities have separated between you and your God” (Yeshaya, 59:2), and like it says, “You wrapped yourself in a cloud that prayer cannot pierce” (Eicha, 3:44).

In spite of those spiritually pollutant clouds, Hashem still causes His Divine light to shine down upon us, but we do not receive the full measure of that light because of the spiritually polluted clouds which get in the way. In the days of Yechezkel, the Jews were engaged in sinful activities which wound up destroying the first Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, when Yechezkel described God’s Divine light, he compared it to the light of a rainbow, which is surrounded by clouds, because Yechezkel’s experience was that God’s Divine light was partially blocked by spiritual clouds of sin.

The Nachalas Ya’akov goes on to say that this will help us understand the difference between the generation before the flood occurred and the generation after the flood happened. Before the flood transpired, that generation sinned so much that they created so many spiritually polluted clouds that no Divine light was capable of reaching the inhabitants of earth whatsoever.

Yet, after the flood, Hashem forged a covenant with the inhabitants of Earth that even if they sinned as much as the generation which lived prior to the flood, Hashem would still shine His light upon them penetrating the spiritually polluted clouds. This was the sign of the rainbow. The rainbow is seen amidst clouds. Those clouds represent clouds of sin. However, the rainbow can still be seen because the light from the sun penetrates those clouds, bouncing off of the moisture in the atmosphere, creating the formation of the rainbow. Therefore, the very essence of the rainbow demonstrates that God will still shine His light upon us even through spiritually polluted clouds of sin.

This is the message buried within the rainbow. The very existence of the rainbow teaches us that Hashem decided to shine His light upon us even though we may be sinners. This means to say that God will not settle for a situation of distance between Himself and the people, but rather, there will always be a connection between us.

One could still ask why there was a change before the flood and after it? Why was it that before the flood, Hashem destroyed the world, whereas after the flood, God decided that even if people would misbehave like the generation of the flood, they would not be destroyed?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the difference was korbanos (offerings). After the flood, Noach brought korbanos to Hashem. That practice was later adopted by the Jewish people in the Mishkan and in the Beis Hamikdash. Since korbanos to Hashem would become the accepted practice, Hashem decided never to destroy the world again. The reason why korbanos has this effect is as follows.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:5 or 7) talks about the ten miracles which occurred in the Beis Hamikdash. The sixth miracle was that the ruach (wind) did not disperse the vertical column of ashan (smoke) from the mizbeach (altar).” This means that the vertical column of smoke went straight up to heaven without any interruption.

From the way this Mishna expressed itself, it seems as though there was some sort of “wrestling match” between the ruach (wind) and the amud ha’ashan (vertical pillar of smoke), but the ruach did not succeed in overcoming the amud ha’ashan. What was the nature of that wrestling match between the two?

The Shvilei Pinchas addresses this question by citing a Zohar Chadash (Parshas Teruma, pg. 43) which says that when the Jewish people were deserving, the amud ha’ashan would ascend straight up to heaven without bending to any side. When that occurred, the Jewish people knew that it was a favorable time for their prayers to be answered.

However, if the amud ha’ashan would begin to sway or bend to the sides, the Jewish people knew that it was not a favorable time for their prayers to be answered. In his sefer Sha’arei Orah, the great kabbalist, Reb Yosef Gikatilla (1248-1305, Spain) expounds upon this passage from the Zohar. He says that the Zohar can be understood in light of a verse which says, “Guard your foot when you go to the House of God” (Koheles, 4:17).

This means that when a person wants to go to the house of God to pray, he should check if there are any spiritual prosecuting attorneys who were created by his sins which would prevent his prayers from reaching their desired destination. This is because the airspace between Earth and heaven is not empty. Rather, it is filled with all sorts of angels. Some of them are good because they were created from our mitzvos, and some of them are bad because they were created from our aveiros (sins).

When a person prays, the good angels try to help his prayers reach the Throne of Glory, whereas the bad angels try to prevent his prayers from reaching that place.

This is why King David instituted the recitation of zemiros (songs). It is because zemiros have the power to cut through a spiritually polluted atmosphere. We can see this from the word zemiros which does not only mean songs. The word “zemiros” is related to the word “mizamer” which means “to prune”, as it says, “He will cut down the young branches ‘bamazmeiros’” (with pruning hooks; Yeshaya, 18:5).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains what the wrestling match was between the ruach and the amud ha’ashan. The “ruach” refers to the “ruchos raos” (spirits of impurity) created by those bad angels. Those “ruchos raos” (evil spirits) want to prevent the ashan of the korbanos from reaching Hashem’s Kisei Hakavod (Throne of Glory). This is what it meant when we said that there was a spiritual wrestling match going on between the ruach and the amud ha’ashan.

Now we can understand why korbanos cause Hashem to send His light through those spiritual clouds of pollution. It is because the ashan (smoke) of the korbanos is ashan d’kedusha (holy smoke) and the holy smoke has the ability to pave a path through the polluted clouds of sin. Once the smoke of the offerings paves that path, our prayers and teshuva can also travel to the Kisei Hakavod through that path. Once a path has been cleared by the korbanos, God’s Divine light can travel to us through that same path.

This explains the Zohar mentioned above. When the ashan went straight up, it was a sign that the ruchos raos could not interfere. That meant that there was a clear path leading up to the Kesei Hakavod. That served as a sign that it was a favorable time for their prayers to be answered. However, if the amud ha’ashan would bend to any side, it was a sign that the ruchos raos were interfering with the amud ha’ashan’s ascent. That meant that there was no clear path leading to the Kisei Hakavod. That was a sign to the people that it was not a favorable time for their prayers to be answered.

Although we have been speaking about ashan d’kedusha (holy smoke) from the korbanos, there was also an ashan d’tuma (unholy smoke) from the forces of evil. This unholy smoke is hinted to in the pasuk which says that the Jews in the wilderness passed through places filled with snakes, fiery serpents, and scorpions. In Hebrew, these three dangerous creatures are called, “Nachash, Saraf, and Akrav,” whose acronym spells “Ashan” (ayin, shin, and nun; smoke).

This means that the holy smoke of the korbanos had the power to vanquish the unholy smoke of the evil forces. This is because the unholy smoke is comprised of three parts (nachash, saraf, and akrav), and the holy smoke of the korbanos is also comprised of three parts: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov who are connected to the korbanos by having instituted the three tefillos which filled the gap in the absence of the three daily korbanos (Brachos, chap. 4, “Tefillas Hashachar”, pg. 26b; Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Chanina and Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi).

The rainbow itself supports this idea that the korbanos have the power to pave a path through any polluted clouds of sin. This is because the Zohar (Parshas Pinchas, pg. 215a) says that there are three primary colors of the rainbow. They are: white, red, and green. This means that the other colors of the rainbow: orange, yellow, blue, indigo, and violet, are off-shoots of the three primary colors.

The three primary colors of the rainbow correspond to the three Patriarchs. White is connected to chesed which corresponds to Avraham Avinu, red is connected to din which corresponds to Yitzchak Avinu, and green is connected to tiferes which corresponds to Ya’akov Avinu.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the reason why Hashem brought the sign of the rainbow into the picture. It is because the three primary colors of the rainbow, which represent the three Avos, teaches us that, in the merits of the three Avos, a path will be paved through polluted clouds of sin which stem from the three forces of evil.

We know that Hashem accepts our offerings in the merit of the Avos (Rashi Parshas Naso, 7:21, citing Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Naso, 14:5). Therefore, if the amud ha’ashan of the korbanos can pierce a hole through clouds of pollution, then the merits of the Avos can most certainly pave a path through those clouds.

This also teaches us that our prayers can break through the clouds of sin because it was the Avos who instituted the three daily prayers. Therefore, in the merit of the Patriarchs, our tefillos can break through to the Kisei Hakavod.

Additionally, we know that our prayers substitute the absence of the korbanos. Therefore, if the ashan of the korbanos can break through the clouds of sin, so can our prayers. After all, the korbanos had ashan (smoke), and our prayers have the hevel (breath) which emanates out of our mouths. If the sacrificial smoke could pave a path, then so can the breath of our prayers.

This is why prayer is compared to swords and bows (as in bows and arrows; Onkelos, Parshas Vayechi, 48:22). It is because our prayers have the power to cut through our enemies, physical and spiritual.

One practical take-away from this teaching would be to try and improve a little bit more on our prayers by realizing that our tefillos have incredible power, so much so that they can cut right through any spiritual pollution.

In order to drive this point home, perhaps we could recite one sentence from the Arizal’s preparatory prayer which he suggested should be said prior to davening. That sentence reads, “[Please Hashem], do not allow our sins to separate between us and You, and give us the strength through our prayers to cut down the klipos (dark and evil forces), and to purify the worlds, and elevate them [our prayers] from world to world.”

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to belt-out our zemiros and tefillos in just such a way that they become like swords and arrows which will cut through all of the spiritual pollution in the atmosphere – like the ashan of the korbanos did – paving a direct path straight to the Kisei Hakavod, and thus receive God’s Divine light which will surround us with protection, love, warmth, and sustenance, represented by the rainbow.



Every year we read Parshas Devarim before Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, 428:4). This year we read Parshas Devarim on Tisha B’Av itself. Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar (Meseches Megillah chap. 4 “Bnei Ha-ir” pg. 31b) tells us that it was Ezra Hasofer (the scribe) who arranged that the various Torah portions should be read at specific times on the Jewish calendar because the themes of the various parshiyos are somehow connected to that specific time of year.

This begs us to ask why Ezra arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av? What is the connection between the two?

The Levush (Orach Chaim, 428; Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, 1530 Prague – 1612 Poland) answers this question by saying that we read Parshas Devarim before TishaB’Av because Parshas Devarim contains the tochacha (admonishment) of Moshe Rabbenu. The tochachos of Moshe prepare us for Tisha B’Av because through the reproofs of Moshe we can improve upon ourselves a little bit more and fix the sins which brought about the churbanos (destructions) of the Batei Mikdash (Temples) to begin with.

Furthermore, the rebukes of Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim fit in with the tochacha of Yeshaya Hanavi which is read in this week’s Haftara (Yeshaya, 1-27). Both sets of tochachos prepare us for Tisha B’Av because if we improve upon ourselves as a result of these words of reproof, the Redemption will come.

This point is made even stronger in Eicha Rabbasi (preface, #11) where it basically says that Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha was administered before any churban ever happened. As such, the purpose of Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha was so that we should improve upon our ways in order to prevent a churban from occurring.

However, Yeshaya’s tochacha was administered after the churban. As such, the purpose of Yeshaya’s tochacha was so that we should improve upon ourselves in order that a new Beis Hamikdash would be built.

In other words, had we listened sufficiently to the admonishment of Moshe Rabbenu, we would not have to listen to the admonishment of Yeshaya Hanavi. But now that we did not sufficiently listen to the rebuke of Moshe Rabbenu, we must listen to the rebuke of Yeshaya Hanavi.

At this point, we are going to share another connection between Moshe Rabbenu and Yeshaya Hanavi, besides the fact that both of them reprimanded us.

The Ohr HaNer (Kitzur Gilgulei Neshamos from the Arizal) and the Medrash Talpios (#10, anaf Yeshaya, quoting the Sefer Hagilgulim) say that Yashaya Hanavi was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Moshe Rabbenu. Therefore, we find similarities between them.

For example, Moshe is described in the Torah as having a “heavy mouth” (Parshas Shemos, 4:10), meaning that he had a speech impediment, and Yeshaya also suffered from a speech impediment. A source which supports this is found when Hashem told Yashaya to share his prophecy with the Jewish people. At first, Yeshaya refused to be God’s agent, just as Moshe refused to be Hashem’s agent, at first (Parshas Shemos, 4:10-13).

Then the verse says “Then I (Yeshaya) said, ‘Woe to me for I am doomed, for I am a man of impure lips, and I dwell among a people of impure lips’” (Yeshaya, 6:5). The next pasuk says, “And one of the Serafim flew to me (Yeshaya) and in his hand was a ritzpa (coal) which he had taken with tongs from atop the Alter” (Yeshaya, 6:6). The next verse continues, “And he (the angel) touched it to my mouth and he (the angel) said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips, your iniquity has gone away and your sin will be atoned for” (Yeshaya, 6:7).

Rashi (Sefer Yeshaya, 6:6; based upon Shir Hashirim Rabba, 1:38) says that a ritzpa is a hot coal, and the angel placed this hot coal on Yeshaya’s lips because he had spoken evil about the Jewish people when he said that they were a people of impure lips. Rashi continues to say that the word ritzpa is a contracted word which can be broken into two words which are ratzutz peh (a broken mouth). Hashem said to the angel, “Break that mouth of Yeshaya because he spoke Lashon H ara about my children.”

We see from this that Yeshaya also had a speech impediment just as Moshe had a speech impediment. This similarity between the two supports the notion that Yeshaya was a gilgul of Moshe.

Therefore, Ezra Hasofer arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av so that the rebukes of Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim would compliment the reproofs of Yeshaya Hanavi in the Haftara read in conjunction with Parshas Devarim, because they were connected through gilgul, and they both intended to prepare us for Tisha B’Av so that the Beis Hamikdash would be built.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that although Yeshaya made a mistake by calling the Jews a people of impure lips, he did teshuva and became a defending attorney on behalf of the Jewish people (see Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshaya, remez 406, based on Yeshaya 6:7-8; 50:4-5).

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that not only was there a similarity between Moshe and Yeshaya with respect to them both having a speech problem, but they both got their speech impediment from a hot coal. The story with Yeshaya was already mentioned above. The story regarding Moshe is a famous one.

In Shemos Rabba (Parshas Shemos, 1:26; based on Parshas Shemos, 2:10) it tells us that Batya treated Moshe as if he was her own baby. She would kiss him, hug him, and pamper him constantly. Batya would not allow Moshe to leave the royal palace. Even Pharaoh hugged and kissed baby Moshe frequently. When Pharaoh would do that, baby Moshe would take Pharaoh’s royal crown off of his (Pharaoh’s) head and place it upon his own head.

Some of Pharaoh’s magicians were suspicious about this behavior of baby Moshe and suggested that this child might just be the one they read about in the stars who would one day dethrone Pharaoh and become a king in his own right. Some of Pharaoh’s advisors suggested to cut the baby’s neck off while other advisors suggested to burn him alive.

At that time, Yisro was one of Pharaoh’s advisors. Yisro said that the baby should be put to a test. A plate with gold on one side of it and hot coals on the other side of it should be brought into the room and placed in front of baby Moshe. If the child goes after the hot coals it would serve as a sign that this is a kid who does not know what is going on and therefore, he may be allowed to live because he poses no threat to Pharaoh.

However, if the child reaches for the gold, it would be a sign that the kid does understand what is happening which would mean that it is a sign that one day he would overthrow Pharaoh’s sovereignty. As such, he should be put to death now.

They brought the plate with gold and hot coals before baby Moshe and he began to stretch out his hand for the gold, when suddenly the angel, Gavriel, pushed his hand to the hot coals. When Moshe felt the burning of the coals on his hand, he put his hand in his mouth to cool it down and stop the pain, but the hot coal burnt his tongue, thus leaving him with a speech impediment.

We see from all of this that just as Yeshaya became heavy of mouth due to a hot coal, so did Moshe become heavy of mouth on account of a hot coal. Just as Yeshaya was healed from his speech impediment, so was Moshe healed from his speech problem once the Torah was given (Devarim Rabba, Parshas Devarim, 1:1, Reish Lakish, based on Parshas Devarim, 1:1 and on Parshas Shemos, 4:10).

Once again this explains why Ezra orchestrated to read Parshas Devarim before Tisha B’Av. It was to juxtapose the tochacha of Moshe Rabbenu with the tochacha of Yeshaya, who was a gilgul of Moshe, because the purpose of their rebukes was to awaken the Jewish people to teshuva which would either prevent the churban to begin with or it would serve as an impetus to rebuild after the churban.

There are several other Midrashim which show other similarities between Moshe and Yeshaya. For example, the only two prophets who truly understood their prophecies clearly were Moshe and Yeshaya (Medrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim, chap. 90). Another Midrash (Devarim Rabba, Parshas Vaeschanan, 2:4) says that the two greatest prophets were Moshe and Yeshaya.

In Yalkut Shimoni (Yeshaya chap. 1, remez 385), it says that Yeshaya lived to be 120 years old. The Shvilei Pinchas says that the reason why Yeshaya deserved to live to 120 years was in the merit of being a gilgul of Moshe Rabbenu who lived to be 120 years old (Parshas V’Zos Habracha, 34:7).

In Medrash Talpios it quotes a verse in which Moshe says to the Jewish people, “A Navi (prophet) from your midst from your brethren kamoni (like me) will Hashem your God establish for you, you must listen to him” (Parshas Shoftim, 18:15). When Moshe said this verse, he hinted that Yeshaya Hanavi would be like him (Moshe). This is hinted to in the pasuk’s word “Navi” which is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: nun, beis, yud and aleph. These four letters serve as the acronym for the four words, “Nishmas Yeshaya Ben Amotz” (the soul of Yeshaya the son of Amotz).

Moshe said that that Navi would be “Kamoni” (like me). Since this word (Kamoni) in this verse is spelled without a letter vov, it has the gematria (numerical value) of 120, hinting to the fact that Yeshaya would live to be 120 years old just as Moshe did.

Moreover, the Yerushalmi in Meseches Sanhedrin (!0:2) equates Yeshaya with Moshe suggesting that they were equals.

In Eicha Rabba (1:1) it points out that there were three Neviim who prophesied with the word “Eicha” (how). One was Moshe Rabbenu when he said “Eicha Esa Levadi Torchachem” (how can I carry your argumentativeness; Parshas Devarim, 1:12). The second was Yeshaya who said, “Eicha Huysa Lizona Kirya Ne’emana” (how the faithful city has become a harlot; Yashaya, 1:21). The third was Yirmiya who said “Eicha Yushvuh Budud” (how did she come to sit alone; Eicha 1:1).

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that this Midrash comes to teach us that if we would have listened to Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha sufficiently, we would not have had to hear Yeshaya’s tochacha. Since we did not pay enough attention to Moshe’s tochacha, we had to hear Yeshaya’s tochacha. Had we heeded Yeshaya’s reproof we would not have had to listen to Yirmiya’s rebuke. But since we did not pay enough attention to Yeshaya’s tochacha, we had to hear Yirmiya’s rebuke.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this adds to our answer as to why Parshas Devarim is read before Tisha B’Av. It is because this comes to teach us that if we would have listened to one, we would not have had to listen to the other because we would have fixed whatever flaws we may have had in our personalities and the Geula (Redemption) would have come.

Before we conclude, we must share one more source from the Psikta d’Rav Kahana (13:6) which cites Rebbi Yudan in the name of Rebbi Simon who expounded upon the verse that tells us that Hashem said to Moshe, “I will establish a prophet for them from among your brethren like you” (Parshas Shoftim, 18:18). The Psikta asks how it could say that this anonymous prophet will be like you (Moshe) if another verse says, “Never again will there be in Israel a prophet like Moshe” (Parshas v’Zos Habracha, 34:10)?

The Psikta answers this question by saying that Yirmiya was only equated with Moshe regarding giving tochacha. In fact, we find several similarities between Moshe and Yirmiya.

For example, Moshe prophesied for forty years and Yirmiya prophesied for forty years. Moreover, people from Moshe’s own tribe (Sheivet Levi), such as Korach and his followers from the tribe of Levi (Parshas Korach, 1:5), rose up to oppose him (Moshe), and people from Yirmiya’s own tribe (Sheivet Levi), such as Pashchur ben Imer (who was a Kohein from Sheivet Levi) rose up to oppose Yirmiya by imprisoning him (Yirmiya) because of his prophesies, (Yirmiya 1:1 and 20:1).

Additionally, Moshe was cast into a river (Parshas Shemos, 2:3) and Yirmiya was thrown into a pit (Yirmiya 18:22). Moshe was rescued from the river by a handmaid (Parshas Shemos 2:5), and Yirmiya was rescued from the pit by a slave (Psikta Rabbasi, 26:51).

The Megaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585 – 1633, Cracow, Poland; Parshas Vaeschanan, 84) comments that we see from all of this that there were many similarities between Yirmiya and Moshe. The Megaleh Amukos adds yet another similarity between them. He says that just as Moshe wrote the Five Books of the Torah, so did Yirmiya write the Book of Eicha which consists of five chapters which correspond to the Five Books of the Torah.

Therefore, the Megaleh Amukos says that when the above verse said, “I will establish a Navi from among their brethren like you,” it refers to Yirmiya. If one were to ask how Yirmiya could ever be like Moshe if Moshe was the greatest prophet of all time, the answer is that Yirmiya was a gilgul of Moshe. Therefore, Yirmiya could like Moshe and yet that would not contradict the verse which says that Moshe was the greatest prophet because Moshe and Yirmiya were one and the same. It turns out that not only was Yeshaya a gilgul of Moshe, but so was Yirmiya.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this comes to teach us that had we listened to the words of Moshe Rabbenu, he would not have had to return to this world as Yeshaya and as Yirmiya in order to reprimand us.

This also explains why Ezra Hasofer arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av. It was so that there would be a “chut hameshulash” (a three-ply cord which is not easily severed; Koheles, 4:12), consisting of three Neviim: 1) Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim, 2) Yeshaya Hanavi in the Haftara of Parshas Devarim, and 3) Yirmiya Hanavi in the Book of Eicha.

In the merit of the tochacha given by these three prophets, who were connected by gilgulim, we will be more inclined to do teshuva and draw the Geula close.

One practical application of this teaching would be that when we read Parshas Devarim, the Haftara from Yeshaya, and the Book of Eicha, let us make a resolution to take on one small area of Avodas Hashem that we are going to try and improve on a little bit more. Preferably, it would be wise to choose something in the realm of Bein Adam Lachaveiro (interpersonal relationships) as that will serve as a way of rectifying the primary sin which caused the Temples’ destruction to begin with.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength and humility to accept words of tochacha we hear, even if they are as hot as fiery coals, and do teshuva in order that we, the children of Israel, merit to experience the Final Geula, way before we reach the age of 120 years old.

The Phase of 21 Days

“The Phase of 21 Days”

Parshas Masei falls out during this period of time known as the “Bein Hametzarim” (between the straits, referring to the Three Weeks, Eicha, 1:3). Ezra the Scribe was responsible for arranging the weekly Torah portions to be read at specific times during the year on the Jewish calendar (Megillah, chap. 4, “B’nei Ha-ir”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar).

This begs us to ask, “What is the connection between Parshas Masei and the Three Weeks?” We will share one approach to answer this question right now.

In his Avodas Yisrael, the Maggid of Kohznitz (Rabbi Yisrael Hopstien, 1737-1814, Poland) says that the connection between Parshas Masei and the Three Weeks is as follows.

Parshas Masei begins with the words, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel” (33:1). Rashi (quoting a Midrash Aggadah and Rebbi Moshe Hadarshan – 11th cent. France) says that when you count how many places the Jewish people encamped, there are 42 stations in all. The number 42 is very much connected to this time of year, as we will see right now.

There are 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim. We know this from a Rashi in Sefer Yirmiya (1:11) where it says, “The word of Hashem came to me (Yirmiya) saying, ‘What do you see Yirmiyahu?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree.’”

Rashi there cites a Medrash Aggadah and a Yerushalmi in Meseches Ta’anis (pg. 23a) who says that it takes 21 days from the time an almond blossoms until it ripens. Those 21 days correspond to the 21 days that there are between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (which are the Three Weeks).

The coded message which Hashem showed to Yirmiya was that there would be 21 days of destruction beginning with Jerusalem’s walls being breached on the 17th of Tammuz culminating with the Temple which would be destroyed on the 9th of Av. It is clear from this source that the Bein Hametzarim consists of 21 days.

In Sha’ar Hakavanos, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem- 1572 Tzfas) says the same thing, that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks.

You might be wondering why we need Rashi and the Arizal to tell us that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks, because if you would ask just about anybody how many days there are in three weeks, the answer would be 21 days because each week has 7 days in it, and 7x3=21. In a few moments we are going to offset this question with a different question. But in the meantime, we are going to see what the Maggid of Kohznitz does with this information.

Says the Maggid of Kohznitz that once we have established that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks, these 21 days can be split into two parts. One part is the 21 daylight hours of the 21 days, and second part is the 21 nighttime hours of the 21 days. When you divide these 21 days into these two parts, it turns out that there are really 42 periods of time during the Three Weeks (21 + 21 = 42).

These 42 chunks of time of the Bein Hametzarim correspond to the 42 stations of the Jewish people in the Midbar (wilderness) that are recorded in Parshas Masei. This teaches us that we have a responsibility to fix the 42 stations during these 42 periods of time.

This means to say that during these 42 chunks of time of the Bein Hametzarim, we are supposed to serve Hashem with Torah, Tefillah, and, believe it or not, with simcha (happiness and joy). When we do, we wind up repairing the 42 stations of the Jewish people in the Midbar.

You see, we are not very proud of the 42 stations because they represent the sins of the Jews in the midbar. It was because of those sins that they had to wander about 42 stations to begin with.
Similarly, we are not very proud of these 42 periods of time because they also represent our sins. Therefore, these 42 chunks of time correspond to the 42 stations in the wilderness. If we fill the 42 chunks of time with Avodas Hashem (service of God), we will be metaken (fix) the 42 stations of the Jews.

Again, this explains why Parshas Masei falls out during the Three Weeks. It is because it comes to teach us that these 42 periods of time can fix the 42 stations.

Now let us address another question. Earlier we mentioned that some might question why we need a Rashi and an Arizal to tell us that there are 21 days in three weeks. However, we are going to ask a slightly different question which will offset this one.

That question is, “How can Rashi, the Arizal, and the Maggid of Kohznitz say that there are 21 days during the Three weeks? Although we would be quick to say that there are obviously 21 days in three weeks, when you open a calendar and actually count the number of days from the 17th of Tammuz, including the 17th of Tammuz, until the 9th of Av, including the 9th of Av, there are actually 22 days, not 21!

In his sefer, Machazeh Avraham, the Rebbe of Butchach (Rabbi Avraham Dovid Wahrman, 1770-1840, Romania; Chazon Lamoed Bein Hametzarim) says that Rashi and the Arizal got to the number 21 because they did not include the day of Tisha b’Av itself as part of the Three Weeks.

This is because Tisha b’Av itself is referred to as a holiday (Eicha, 1:15). We even treat Tisha b’Av as a holiday because we do not say Tachanun during the Mincha service on Erev Tisha b’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 552:12, and we do not say Tachanun on Tisha b’Av itself (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 559:4), just like we practice when it comes to other holidays such as Pesach, Sukkos, and Shavuos.

In his sefer, Imrei Pinchas, (Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz, 1726-1791, Ukraine) he adds why we treat Tisha b’Av as a holiday. It is because the Yerushalmi in Berachos (pg. 17b) says that Moshiach ben Dovid was, is, will be born on Tisha b’Av. Therefore, the 9th of Av is celebrated as a holiday.

The Machazeh Avraham continues to say that since Tisha b’Av is treated like a holiday, it is not included as part of the Three Weeks of the Bein Hametzarim. This is because the Bein Hametzarim are days of mourning, whereas the 9th of Av itself is a day of celebration.

Therefore, we need Rashi and the Arizal to teach us that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks because they were aware of the fact that a person might open a calendar and count and come up with the mistaken number of 22 days.

In order that nobody makes that mistake, they had to teach us that there are really only 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim. But I repeat, during the 21 days, there are actually 42 chunks of time (21 daylight hours and 21 nighttime hours), and those 42 periods of time are meant to atone for the 42 stations in the Midbar, as we mentioned above.

In his sefer, Ohev Yisrael, (Likkutim Chadashim, divrei hamaschil “l’Yamim Noraim”) the Apter Rebbi (Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, 1748-1825, Poland) says that although the month of Elul has been set aside as a month of teshuvah, nevertheless, we must already start the teshuvah process from the 17th of Tammuz.

A hint which supports this idea is found in the word “Tammuz” because the word “Tammuz” is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: taf, mem, vov, and zayin. These four letters serve as the acronym of, “Zemanei Teshuvah Mimashmishim Ubaim” (the time for repentance is approaching).

The letters in the word “Tammuz” also serves as the acronym for, “Zerizim Makdimim V’osim Teshuvah” (people who do things with alacrity already start doing teshuvah). These hints support the idea that we should start doing teshuvah already in the month of Tammuz. This idea leads right into another time period during which we should do teshuvah.

The Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631, Poland; Chiddushei Aggados, Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 8b) adds that besides the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, there is another set of 21 days which are from Rosh Hashanah, including Rosh Hashanah, until Hoshanah Rabbah, including Hoshanah Rabbah.

These two sets of 21 days atone for our sins. However, there is a distinction between them.

The 21 days of Bein Hametzarim are days of pain and mourning. Therefore, the teshuvah (repentance) that we do at this time of year is motivated by pain and suffering.

However, the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah are Yomim Tovim (holidays). Therefore, the teshuvah that we do at that time is motivated by happiness and joy.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that if we merit to do teshuvah from a place of love during the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah, we will not need the other set of 21 days between Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av to motivate us to do teshuvah from fear, because we already did teshuvah from love.

However, if we do not seize the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah to utilize them as days of teshuvah from happiness, then we will need the 21 days of the Bein Hametzrim to encourage us to do teshuvah from fear.

This insight will bring us to a deeper understanding of dividing the 21 days into two parts: daylight hours and nighttime hours.

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Rabbi Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, 1748-1800, Ukraine; Parshas Masei) quotes his grandfather, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who said that the Torah went out of its way to enumerate the 42 stations of the Jews in the Midbar, even though it may seem to be superfluous. The reason why the Torah took out the time and space to mention every single encampment was to teach us that every single Jew has 42 stages in his or her life.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that we are supposed to repent every single day we are alive (Avos, chap. 2, “Rebbi Omer”, Mishna 15, Rebbi Eliezer). However, there are certain stations or stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from a place of happiness, joy, and love. On the other hand, there are other stations or stages in life which force us to do teshuvah from a place of tragedy, sadness, pain, and suffering.

The teshuvah we do from love is represented by the 21 days between Rosh Hashana and Hoshanah Rabbah, and the teshuvah we do from fear is represented by the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.

Or, we could put it this way. The teshuvah that we are encouraged to do from love is represented by the 21 days of daylight hours of the Bein Hametzarim, whereas the teshuvah we are awakened to do from fear is represented by the 21 days of nighttime hours of the Bein Hametzrim.

The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by saying that the two sets of 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim (days and nights) equal 42, which correspond to the 42 stations of the Jews in the Midbar, and the 42 stations represent the 42 stages in every person’s life. There are some stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from love, represented by the 21 daylight hours of the Bein Hametzrim, and there are other stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from fear, represented by the 21 nighttime hours of the Bein Hametzrim.

As a means of a practical application of this teaching, let us start the teshuvah process today. Even if one may not feel in the mood of doing teshuvah at this time of year, we can jump-start the process with an easy verbal declaration.

Staring today, until the remainder of the Three Weeks, let us say the following prayer:

“Dear God, please forgive me for my sins. Please forgive me for not taking full advantage of this past year’s 21 days from Rosh Hashanah until Hoshanah Rabbah by not returning to You from a place of love. Please forgive me for making You punish me with these 21 days from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av.”

In this way, we will be able to transform these 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim into days of joyous celebration with the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

So, may we all be blessed to take full advantage of these 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim by doing a teshuvah shileima, and may we continue on this path during the 21 days from Rosh Hashanah until Hoshanah Rabbah, and may we continue on this path during the 42 stages of our lives, by day and by night, and thus deserve to belong to the generation who will merit to build the Beis Hamikdash.

On First Thought

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Matos
On First Thought

During this period of time known as The Three Weeks, we read from four Torah portions. They are: Pinchas, Matos, Masai, and Devarim. Based on the teaching that Ezra the Scribe intentionally arranged the Torah readings to coincide with specific dates on the Jewish calendar (Megillah, chap. 4, "B’Nei Ha-ir", pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar), there must be a reason why these four portions were selected to correspond to this time of year.

The B’Nei Yissaschar (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, 1841-1783, Dinov, Poland; Tammuz-Av, 2:2) says that the connection between these four Torah portions and The Three Weeks is based on the thematic idea that runs through all four of these portions. All four of these portions deal with conquering, dividing, inheriting, and possessing the Land of Israel (see Pinchas 26:53; Matos 32:22; Masei 34:2; and Devarim 1:8).

As our mourning over our Temples' destructions and subsequent exiles increases at this time of year, these four Torah portions serve to strengthen us with the hope that one day Hashem will fulfil His promise to redeem us, return us all to our land, and divide it amongst our tribes once again.

This explains why this time of year is referred to as the "Bein Hamitzarim" (lit. "in dire straits", Eicha, 1:3). The simple understanding of this title is that at this time of year we are "constricted" and "distressed" which fits into the definition of the word "Meitzarim."

However, on a deeper level, the name "Bein Hamitzarim" takes on new meaning. This is because in Parshas Masei, the Biblical borders of Eretz Yisrael are delineated. Another translation of "Meitzarim" is "borders." Since we read about the borders of Eretz Yisrael during The Three Weeks, we call this period of time "Bein Hamitzarim" (between the borders), to strengthen our hopes that one day soon the Biblical boarders of Eretz Yisrael will be returned to us. (See Ta'amei Haminhagim, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Sperling, Likutim, Inyanim Shonim, #176, pg. 548, citing an anonymous source).

Perhaps we could suggest that when you put the simple understanding of "Bein Hamitzarim" together with its deeper meaning, they compliment each other, teaching us that although we are distressed about our exile at this time of year; nevertheless, we are guaranteed that the Biblical borders of the land will be returned to us, as Hashem has promised.

There is another connection between these portions and the Three Weeks. In Parshas Masei, Hashem told Moshe that He had already cast down the angels who govern the seven Canaanite nations, and bound them up at Moshe's feet. Once the spiritual guardian angels of those seven Canaanite nations had been subdued, those physical nations were weakened and ready to be conquered easily (Rashi Masei, 34:2, citing Tanchumah 4).

When we pay attention to this during the Torah reading, we are being urged to beg Hashem to do the same thing today with the guardian angels of all seventy nations, so that we can finally be redeemed (Shvilei Pinchas).

This yearning, pining, and longing for the Redemption can make it become a reality. This is because the Talmud says that anybody who mourns over Jerusalem's destruction, will merit to witness and participate in its joy (Ta'anis, chap. 4, "Bishloshah Perakim", pg. 30b, Isa. 66:10). One way of showing that we do indeed mourn over Jerusalem is by being disappointed in the current state of affairs.

So long as we accept the status quo, we show that we are satisfied with things just as they are. However, when we are not complacent, and when we can no longer tolerate the current situation, that demonstrates that we do want a change. Our frustration over the current situation exhibits that we do mourn our exile.

To be frank, many of us struggle with feeling pain over the destructions of the Temples. Many of us find it difficult to relate. One of the ways to feel the agony of exile is by focusing on current events. Stop for a moment and think about terrorism, inflation, polarization, extremism, mental illnesses, and more. Think about how the world has become a dangerous place, and think about how chaotic society is. It's frightening.

These thoughts alone should motivate us to want a positive change in our world. When we yearn for a better world, it is one way of showing that we mourn the existing condition.

Speaking of yearning, let us share a story from which we will learn a lesson about improving our service to God.

Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) built the First Temple. When it came time for him to bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies, the gates of the Holy of Holies locked and Shlomo could not get them to open. Understanding that this was not a mechanical malfunction, Shlomo began to sing twenty-four songs of praise to God, hoping to deserve entry. But it was to no avail.

Finally, in a last-ditch effort, Shlomo begged God to remember the kindness of Dovid Hamelech (King David). Once Shlomo mentioned Dovid, the gates opened like a charm. In this way, God proved to all of Dovid's detractors that Dovid was a righteous man and that Dovid had been forgiven for his sin with Bat Sheva (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 30b, Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav; Tehillim, 86:17; and 24:7-10).

One question that comes to mind is why would God specifically choose that moment to prove Dovid's innocence? Shlomo was at the height of his greatness. Shlomo was the King of Israel and he had just built the First Temple. This was Shlomo's day in the sun. Why not let Shlomo enjoy it? After all, he was a righteous person. He was a prophet. Why would Hashem choose that moment over all other moments to demonstrate Dovid's greatness? It may have brought a measure of embarrassment to Shlomo that he did not possess the merit with which to bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies. Why ruin Shlomo's time in the lime light?

Moreover, in Shlomo's speech to the people on the day he built the Temple, he said that since Dovid, his father, had in his heart the desire to build the Temple for the sake of God that is why he was prevented from building the Temple. Instead, his son Shlomo built it (Melachim Aleph, 8:18-19).

This does not seem to make much sense. On the contrary, since Dovid wanted to build the Temple for God's sake, he should have been the one to build it. Why did Dovid's thoughts of doing it for the sake of God disqualify him from building it?

The Yitav Panim (Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teittlebaum, 1808-1883, Hungary) says that the reason why Dovid was withheld from building the Temple was because his original thought of building the Beis Hamikdash was so pure, that God wanted to preserve it. Had God allowed Dovid to bring his thought to fruition, other thoughts of ulterior motives may have crept in. Along the way, Dovid may have wanted recognition for being the first one to build the permanent home of God. Dovid may have entertained other thoughts of personal gain, such as self-glory, had he been allowed to carry out his intention.

In order to preserve the pristine thought that David had, God froze it by stopping Dovid from taking action.

The Tefillah L'Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Eichenstien of Sambor, Poland, 1765-1840) tows the line by saying that, in general, any original thought to do a mitzvah (good deed) can easily be altruistic. Nobody knows what we are thinking. There is nobody to impress at that stage. Therefore, the positive thought can very well be a sincere innocent desire to do God's will.

However, often, when we act upon those thoughts, it is likely that ulterior motives will creep in. Since others can see, there may be thoughts about being honored for our righteousness.

If this is so, what about Shlomo? Shlomo actually built the Temple. Are we to assume that it was done at least partially for ulterior motives?

Perhaps we could suggest that when God orchestrated that Shlomo could not enter the Holy of Holies until he mentions the merit of Dovid, Hashem robbed Shlomo from any feelings of arrogance. Hashem did not let the celebration get to Shlomo's head. Shlomo had to publicly admit that everything happening was in Dovid's merit. This allowed Shlomo to do it for the sake of Heaven.

This could be why God chose specifically that moment to prove Dovid's holiness. It was in order to allow Shlomo to do it for the right reason.

It turns out that from the beginning (Dovid's thought) until the end (Shlomo's action), the Temple was done completely for the sake of Heaven.

We could suggest that there is also another reason why the gates only opened in the merit of Dovid.

The Zohar (Shelach, pg. 161b) teaches that just as the heart is at the center of the body, so is the Holy of Holies at the center of the world. Moreover, just as the heart pumps blood throughout the entire body, so does the Holy of Holies pump spiritual energy throughout the entire world (Also see Nefesh Hachaim, 1:4, commenting on Mishnah Berachos 4:5, pg. 28b, "Tefillas Hashachar").

Therefore, the Holy of Holies (the heart) would only open for Dovid who had the purest of thoughts in his heart. This teaches us that only a pure heart can open the heart of the world.

When we have holy thoughts of yearning for the Third and final Temple, we create the spiritual manifestation of the Third Temple in Heaven. When God imbues the physical Temple below with its soul from Above, we will be there to witness it and participate in its joy. After all, we were instrumental in creating the Temple's soul. Therefore, it is only fitting that we be there to witness its completion.

Reading these four portions at this time of year is meant to awaken our yearning for something better. The longing itself will make it into a reality.

Practically speaking, deep down we all want to sincerely do God's will. However, we also struggle with ulterior motives when we put our thoughts into action. Therefore, this week's suggestion would be to say the prayer of Rebbi Alaxandary which says, "Master of the Worlds, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to do Your will. So, who prevents us from doing only Your will? The yeast in the dough (the Evil Inclination), and being subjugated in our exile by the various kingdoms. May it be Your will that we are saved from their hands, and may we return to do the statutes of Your will with a complete heart" (See Berachos, chap. 2, "Haya Korei", pg. 17a).

So, may we all be blessed with holy thoughts in our hearts directed to do God's will, which includes a deep desire to be redeemed and thereby fulfil all of the mitzvos connected to The Land, and thus merit to see the joy of Jerusalem, when God will imbue the physical Temple with its soul, a time when the heart of the world will pump spirituality into the rest of the universe.



The Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Pinchas, Remez 771) cites Reish Lakish who says that Pinchas was the same person as Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet). In Targum Yonasan (Parshas Pinchas, 25:12) it says that Hashem promised that Pinchas would live forever and bring us the news about the Redemption in the End of Days.

We must wonder what merit Pinchas had to deserve all of these blessings. What was the measure for measure? What did Pinchas do to deserve these specific blessings?

The Kabbalist, Rebbi Nasan Shapiro, tells us that Eliyahu Hatishbi will answer all questions and doubts in the future. Pinchas/Eliyahu deserves this position because he reminded Moshe about a matter of Jewish law which Moshe had forgotten.

When Zimri, the leader of Sheivet Shimon, took Kozbi, the Midianite Princess, to Moshe, Zimri asked Moshe if she was permitted to him or not. Zimri said that if she is prohibited to him, who allowed Moshe to marry Tzippora, his wife, who was a Midianite woman as well. Zimri went on to have relations with Kozbi in a public fashion, but Moshe had forgotten the law regarding what to do in such a scenario.

Pinchas said to Moshe that when he came down from Mount Sinai, he (Moshe) had taught him (Pinchas) that under these circumstances a zealot may punish the perpetrator. Moshe responded, “Let the reader of the letter be the agent to carry out its deed” (Sanhedrin, chap. 9, “Hanisrafin”, pg. 82a). Therefore, Pinchas eliminated Zimri and Kozbi.

Since Pinchas clarified the halacha to Moshe and the Jews, he will merit to clarify unresolved questions in the future as Eliyahu. There is a hint in the Talmud that Pinchas/Eliyahu will indeed clarify unanswered questions.

Whenever a Gemara cannot answer a question, it concludes its give and take with the word, “Teiku.” The Tosafos Yom Tov (Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, 1579 Germany-1654 Cracow, Poland) in Meseches Ediyos (chap. 8, “Hei-id Rebbi Yehoshua”, Mishna 7) says that the word “Teiku” (spelled: taf, yud, kuf, and vov) serves as the acronym for, “Tishbi Yetaretz Kushyos Va’abayos” (The Toshabite [Eliyahu] will answer questions and problems).

Moreover, the Zohar (Parshas Tzav, pg. 27b) says that just as Moshe had an assistant to help him speak when he went to Pharaoh, so will Moshe need an assistant to help him speak to the Jewish people in the future. Aharon was Moshe’s assistant when they went to Pharaoh, and Aharon’s grandson, Pinchas/Eliyahu, will be Moshe’s assistant at the time of esurrection.

However, Moshe’s need for assistance was different in each situation. When he went to Pharaoh, Moshe had a physical speech impediment and required Aharon to speak for him. But in the Messianic Era, Moshe will be healed from his physical speech impediment, just as all people will be healed from their illnesses at that time.

However, Moshe will still need an assistant to help him teach the Jewish people because although Moshe will speak eloquently, he will be teaching on such a high spiritual level that the Jewish people will not know what he is talking about. Therefore, he will need Eliyahu/Pinchas to explain to the Jewish people what it was that he trying to convey.

Once again, since it was Pinchas who clarified what the halacha was in the days of Moshe in the Midbar (that a zealot may take action), he (Pinchas/Eliyahu) will also be given the privilege of explaining the halacha to the Jewish people when Moshe will teach us Torah in the Messianic Era.

Another point worth mentioning is that, when Eliyahu comes, the letters which make up the Hebrew word, “Hu” (hey, vov, and aleph) will be returned to their places. The explanation of this statement is dependent upon the verse that says, “For the hand is on the ‘Kes Kah’ (Throne of God), Hashem maintains a war
against Amalek from generation to generation” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:16).

Rashi (ibid) cites a Tanchuma at the end of Parshas Ki Seitzei which explains this verse to mean that Hashem swore that neither His Name nor His Throne would be complete until Amalek would be completely eradicated. This is why the word for Throne in this verse is “Kes” (spelled: chuf samech) instead of “Kisei” (spelled: chuf, samech, aleph), and this is why the Name of God in this verse is “Kah” (spelled: Yud Hey) instead of “Havaya” (spelled: Yud – Hey – Vov – Hey).

In other words, the letter aleph is missing from the word “Kesei,” and the letters Vov Hey are missing from the Name “Havaya.” When you put the three letters, which are missing, together, you get the word “Hu” (spelled: hey, vov, and aleph).

When Eliyahu comes, those three letters will be returned to their rightful places. The letter aleph will be returned to “Kes” making it “Kisei,” and the letters Vov Hey will be returned to “Kah” making it “Havaya.”
The Rebbi of Rozhin (Rabbi Yisrael Freedman, 1796-1850, Ukraine) says that this is why the name of the person who will bring the tidings about the Final Redemption is “Eliyahu.” This is because the name “Eliyahu” is spelled: aleph, lamed, yud, hey, and vov. When you take those letters apart and put them back together again, they spell the words, “Li Hu,” which means, To Me (God) the Hu will return.

Meaning, when Eliyahu comes, he will bring us good news about the redemption at which time Amalek will be destroyed thereby bringing the letters Hey, Vov, and Aleph back to God’s Name and to God’s Throne, making them complete and whole.

Let us now explore which Torah teachings Eliyahu will have to explain to us, and let us also see why it will be Moshe Rabbenu teaching us that Torah in the future.

In Yeshaya (51:4) it says, “Torah will come forth from Me.” This sounds strange because Yeshaya lived after Mount Sinai and yet he says that there will still be Torah coming from God. What Torah could Yeshaya be referring to?

The Midrash in Vayikra Rabba (Parshas Shmini, 13:3) makes things much worse when it quotes Rav Avin bar Kahana who said, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘A new Torah will come forth from Me.’” It is passages like these which get Christian Missionaries excited because they sound like they are saying that there will be a New Testament.

The Jewish response to such claims is based on our tradition, because there is a Gemara in Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 21b; Rav or Shmuel) which says that God created fifty levels of Torah understanding in the world, and all of them were given to Moshe except for one (the fiftieth level), as it says, “But You have made him [Moshe] only slightly wanting in [understanding] Divinity” (Tehillim, 8:6).

However, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Pri Eitz Chaim, chap. 2) says that when Moshiach comes, he will reveal the fiftieth gate of Torah understanding to the Jewish people. It is that fiftieth gate of Torah understanding which the verse in Yeshaya and the Midrash were referring to.
In other words, there is a “New Torah” coming to us. However, that “New Torah” is not a “New Testament,” rather, it is referring to a new level of Torah understanding from our already existing Torah Hakedosha that we have not yet been exposed to. That new level of Torah comes from the fiftieth level of understanding.
That fiftieth gate of Torah understanding is the same thing as the famous Ohr Ganuz (hidden spiritual light) that Hashem stashed away for the righteous in the future (Chagiga, chap. 2, “Ein Dorshin”, pg. 12a, Rebbi Elazar, based on Parshas Bereishis, 1:4).

Hashem will teach us that dimension of Torah from the fiftieth gate through His agent, Moshiach (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshaya, chap. 26, Remez 429).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that there is even a hint in the word “Moshiach” that tells us that Moshiach will teach us Torah from the fiftieth level. The word “Moshiach is spelled: mem, shin, yud, and ches. When you rearrange those letters slightly, they serve as the acronym for, “Moshiach Yigaleh Sha’ar Chamishim” (Moshiach will reveal the fiftieth gate).

At this point, we must drop the bomb. Everybody wants to know who Moshiach is going to be. There have been many different beliefs about Moshiach’s identity over the ages and there have been debates about this in the Talmud (see for example Meseches Sanhedrin, chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 98b). However, we are going to share the position of the Zohar.

In Parshas Vayechi (49:10), Ya’akov Avinu blesses his fourth son Yehuda with the words, “The scepter will not depart from Yehuda nor a scholar from among his descendants, until Shilo comes.” This means that Yehuda will be the progenitor of kings until Shilo comes. Who is Shilo?

The Zohar (Parshas Bereishis, pg. 25b) says that Shilo is none other than Moshe Rabbenu himself. Support of this notion is that “Shilo” and “Moshe” share the same numerical value, 345 each. This means that Ya’akov prophesied that sovereignty will remain in Sheivet Yehuda until Moshe comes along, because when Moshe returns at the End of Days, he (Moshe) will be Moshiach.

There is another Zohar which concurs with the one we just mentioned. There is a verse in Koheles (1:9) which says, “Mah Shehaya Hu Sheyihiyeh” (whatever has been is what will be). The Zohar (Parshas Mishpatim, pg. 120a) says that when you take the first three words of this verse (Mah Shehaya Hu) and look at the acronym; it spells, “Moshe.”

Based on this verse in Koheles, let us ask, “What was?” Meaning, who was the Goel Rishon (first redeemer) from the first exile in Egypt? It was Moshe. This is what Koheles was referring to when it said, “Mah Shehaya.” Therefore, the verse in Koheles continues, “Shiyihiyeh,” meaning, so it will be in the future. In other words, Moshe will also be the Goel Acharon (last redeemer) from the last exile.

One question could be raised attacking the Zohar’s position. How could Moshe possibly be Moshiach if it says in Yeshaya (11:1) that Moshiach must come from Dovid Hamelech who came from Sheivet Yehuda? Moshe came from Sheivet Levi which is the wrong tribe for Messianism.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, 1696 Morocco-1743 Jerusalem; Parshas Vayechi, 49:11) raises this very question and provides the following answer. He says that we’ve got it all wrong. It’s not pshat that Moshe must come from Dovid and Sheivet Yehuda, but rather, Dovid and Sheivet Yehuda come from Moshe. What this means is as follows.

We must look at the situation from the world of souls. Moshe Rabbenu’s neshama (soul) was an all-encompassing soul, meaning that all Jewish souls were off-shoots of Moshe’s grand neshama. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh compares Moshe’s soul to the trunk of a tree, out of which grows twelve branches, out of whom grows six hundred thousand twigs.

This means to say that Moshe’s soul was like the trunk of such a tree. The twelve branches that grow from this tree represent the twelve tribes of Israel. This means that the souls of all twelve tribes stem from Moshe. The six hundred thousand twigs represent the six hundred thousand primary Jewish souls, which all stem, ultimately, from the trunk, Moshe.

This is how Moshe held every possible position in the Midbar. Moshe was a temporary Kohen Gadol when he inaugurated Aharon to be the permanent Kohein Gadol. Once Aharon became Kohen Gadol, Moshe went back to being a Levi. Moshe was also a Melech (king) and a Navi (prophet). Moshe was wealthy and strong. Moshe was a worrier and a general.

In other words, Moshe can be anybody you want him (or need him) to be. All Moshe has to do is tap into that aspect of himself which is needed at that time. If you need Moshe to be a Kohen, Moshe simply clicks onto that channel of Kehuna which stems from him and becomes a Kohen.

So, it is not pshat that Moshe must come from Dovid. On the contrary, Dovid comes from Moshe, and Sheivet Yehuda stems from Moshe. Therefore, when we need Moshe to be Moshiach, he will simply click onto that channel of sovereignty which stems from him and he will become Melech Hamoshiach.

Therefore, since Moshe will be Moshiach, he will teach us from the fiftieth level of Torah understanding in the future. However, that Torah is on such a high spiritual frequency that most of the Jewish people will not know what Moshe is talking about. This is where Eliyahu Hanavi comes in. Eliyahu will explain Moshe’s words to the people. Eliyahu will bring those teaching down to a level that the rest of us will be able to relate to.

Eliyahu merited to be Moshe’s mouthpiece in the future because when he (Eliyahu) was Pinchas, he reminded Moshe of a halacha that Moshe had forgotten. Since Pinchas clarified the halacha to Moshe in the past, he will be able to clarify the halacha in the future as Eliyahu.

The Zohar (Parshas Tzav, pg. 27b) says that this leads us to a deeper understanding of the word “Teiku” which we mentioned above. The word “Teiku” is actually supposed to be the word “Tikkun” with the letter nun at the end of it. However, the word “Teiku” is missing the letter nun at the end of it. This is because when there is a doubt or an unanswered question, there is no “tikkun” (fixing, mending, repairing).

The reason why specifically the letter nun is missing from “Teiku” is because those doubts and questions come from the fiftieth level of Torah understanding that we have no access to right now in our galus (exile). Therefore, it is specifically the letter nun which is absent from the word “Teiku” because the letter nun is numericaaly 50. This teaches us that the reason why we do not understand the answer to such questions is because those questions stem from Sha’ar HaNun” (the fiftieth gate of Torah understanding), to which we have no connection with in our galus.

But in the future, Hashem will reveal to us a “Torah Chadashah” (a new Torah) which are the teachings from the Sha’ar HaNun. At that time, all of our unanswered questions (which stem from Sha’ar HaNun) will be resolved.

When Moshiach will teach us the Torah from Sha’ar HaNun, the “Teiku” will become “Tikkun” (repaired) because all will be “Metukan” (fixed).

The Arizal (Hagaddah Shel Pesach, expounding upon Parshas Bo, 12:39, “They could no longer delay”) says that the Jews in Mitzrayim fell to the 49th level of impurity. Therefore, Moshe was able to rescue them. However, if they would have fallen to the 50th level of impurity, Moshe would not have been able to rescue them.

The Shela Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas; Meseches Pesachim, Matzah Ashira, 1:33) explains this Arizal by citing a verse in Koheles (7:14) which says that God created a world of opposites so that if there is an energy of good on one side, there would have to be an equal amount of energy of bad on the dark side so that we can make fair choices between good and evil throughout our lives.

Therefore, since back in Mitzrayim Moshe had only reached the 49th level of Torah understanding, he only had the power to rescue Jews who had fallen to the 49th level of impurity. However, if they would have fallen to minus 50, Moshe would not have been able to rescue them because they would have been beyond his reach.

But the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba (Parshas Emor, 32:5) says that the Jews in Mitzrayim built a fence around themselves to protect themselves from immorality. This is why we do not find assimilation and intermarriage between Jews and Egyptians in Mitzrayim.

Rebbi Chiya bar Aba (ibid) says that this fence (which they built around themselves) alone was enough of a merit which made them deserving of redemption.

It turns out that immorality is the 50th level of impurity. We know this because the Jews were on minus 49, but they stayed away from immorality. So, it must be that immorality sinks a person into the 50th level of impurity.

When Pinchas reminded Moshe of the halacha that a zealot may put a stop to a public act of immorality, Pinchas saved the Jewish people from immorality and thereby save the Jewish people from sinking into the fiftieth level of impurity. Therefore, measure for measure, Pinchas will be the one to explain Toras Moshe to the Jewish people which stems from the fiftieth level of understanding.
Perhaps we can add that since Moshe will have access even to the fiftieth level of Torah understanding in the future, he (Moshe) will have the power to rescue even the Jews who have fallen to the fiftieth level of impurity.

Practically speaking, let us try to keep as far away from immorality as we possibly can because this alone will give us the merit to be redeemed from our exile.

So, may we all be blessed with the willingness and strength to be like Pinchas for ourselves by keeping ourselves far away from inappropriate activities, thereby saving ourselves from the 50th level of impurity, in order that one day soon we will merit to hear the mouth of Eliyahu Hanavi explain Moshe HaMoshiach’s teachings to us which stem from the 50th Level of Understanding, clarifying every Teiku, thus bringing the world to its Tikkun.

I Want You; Enlist Now

“I Want You; Enlist Now”

Parshas Balak discusses the story of Balak, the Moabite King, who hired Bila’am, a wicked gentile prophet, to curse the Jewish people. Rashi (Parshas Balak, 22:2) quotes the Tanchuma (#2) who explains why Balak engaged in a preemptive strike against the Jewish people to begin with.

He says that it is because Balak witnessed how the Jewish people destroyed the Amorite kingdoms of Sichon and Og (Parshas Chukas, 21:24 & 35). Balak was frightened that the Jews would do the same thing to Moav. Therefore, he hired Bila’am to annihilate the Jewish people by cursing them.

This raises a question. If Balak already saw how victorious the Jews were against Sichon and Og, which were arguably stronger than Moav, how could he (Balak) think that he would overpower the Jewish people?

There is another strange idea about Parshas Balak that we are going to explore right now.

In Meseches Berachos, (chap. 1, “M’aimasai”, pg. 12b) it cites Rav Yehuda bar Zevida who said that the Sages wanted to institute the recitation of Parshas Balak together with the daily Shema. The only reason why they voted against it was because davening would take too long for the average person to bear.

This begs us to ask another question. What is it about Parshas Balak that the sages wanted it read with the Shema on a daily basis?

Let us explore some other fascinating material regarding Parshas Balak. The Rambam in his Pirush Hamishnayos to Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 11, “Cheilek”) lays down the Thirteen Principals of Faith that every Jew must believe in. The twelfth tenet states that we believe in and anticipate the coming of Moshiach.

The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim (11:1) goes on to tell us that the source in the Torah concerning the coming of Moshiach to redeem us is found in Parshas Balak. When Bila’am said, “I will see him but not now” (Parshas Balak, 24:17), he was referring to Dovid Hamelech. When Bila’am went on to say, “I will look at him but it is not clear” (ibid), he was referring to Melech HaMoshiach.

The Rambam continues when Bila’am said, “A star has issued from Ya’akov” (Parshas Balak, 24:17), he was referring to Dovid. When Bila’am went on to say, “And a scepter has risen from Israel (ibid)”, he was referring to Moshiach. When Bila’am said, “And he will pierce the nobles of Moav (Parshas Balak, 24:17), he was referring to Dovid, and when Bila’am went on to say, “And undermine the Children of Seth” (ibid), he was referring to Moshiach.

The Rambam continues when Bila’am said, “Edom will be a conquest” (Parshas Balak, 24:18), he was referring to Dovid, and when he went on to say, “And it will be a conquest,” he was referring to Moshiach.

We see from the Rambam that the source of Moshiach is found in Parshas Balak. This brings us to another question. Why would Hashem place the faith that we are supposed to have in Moshiach’s arrival in Parshas Balak?

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question in a simplistic way. He says that it is because Rus was a Moabite (Rus, 1:4), and Dovid was a descendent of Rus (Rus, 4:18:24), which means that Moshiach is also a descendent of Rus. Therefore, it is fitting to mention Moshiach in Parshas Balak, who was the King of Moav, because the origins of Moshiach began from Moav (see Baba Kamma, chap. 4, “Shor Shenagach Dalet v’Hey”, pg. 38b, Parshas Devarim, 2:9. Also see Meseches Nazir, chap. 4, “Mi She’amar”, pg. 23b).

As we proceed, we will see a deeper reason as to why Hashem revealed Moshiach specifically in Parshas Balak. We are going to see why Hashem arranged that this prophecy concerning Moshiach would come about through such a contaminated man like Bila’am. To do so, let us share some fascinating information about Bila’am himself.

In Parshas Mattos (31:8) it says that Bila’am was slain with the sword. Targum Yonasan (ibid) shares some of the historical backdrop surrounding Bila’am’s death. He says that when Bila’am saw Pinchas running after him, he (Bila’am) performed a certain magical spell and began to fly in the air to escape.

Immediately, Pinchas uttered God’s Great Name and began flying after him. Pinchas overtook Bila’am, grabbed him by his head, and brought him back down to earth. Pinchas drew his sword in order to kill Bila’am when Bila’am began to speak words of supplication.
Bila’am said that if Pinchas were to spare his life, he promises never to curse the Jewish people ever again. Pinchas responded, “Aren’t you Lavan the trickster who wanted to destroy Ya’akov Avinu? When that did not work, you descended down to Egypt with Ya’akov’s offspring in order to destroy them.”

This idea fits into the Gemara in Meseches Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 11a) where Rav Chiya bar Aba said in the name of Rav Simai that Bila’am (Lavan) was one of Pharaoh’s advisors who advised Pharaoh to murder the Jewish people.

Pinchas continued, “When the Jewish people left Egypt, it was you who instigated Amalek to attack them. Then you incited the Jewish people by trying to curse them. When you saw that all of your efforts failed, you advised wicked King Balak to send his daughters out by the crossroads to cause the Jewish people to sin with harlotry. Because of that sin of prostitution, 24,000 Jewish people died. Because of this, you no longer deserve to have your life spared.” Targum Yonasan concludes by saying that Pinchas drew his sword from its sheath and killed Bila’am.

One difficulty which this Targum Yonosan this raises is that, according to this report, Lavan would have to be hundreds of years old. This is because Lavan makes his first appearance in the Torah when Avraham had sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak (Parshas Chayei Sara, 24:29). In addition, the Jews spent two hundred and ten years in Egyptian bondage (Rashi Parshas Miketz, 42:2, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Miketz, 91:2, Rav Aba bar Kahana). This would indicate that Lavan was hundreds of years old.

Although technically there is nothing surprising about living so long in light of other Biblical personalities who have lived even longer periods of time; nevertheless, there is a source which tells us that Bila’am was killed at a relatively young age.

In Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 106b) it relates that a certain heretic once asked Rebbi Chanina how old Bila’am was when he was killed. Rebbi Chanina responded that this information is not written down anywhere explicitly; however, there is a verse which says, “Men of blood and deceit will not live out half of their days” (Tehillim, 55:24).

Rebbi Chanina concluded by saying that since the average lifespan of a person is seventy years (Tehillim, 90:10), it must be that Bila’am was killed when he was either thirty-three or thirty-four because then he would not have lived out even half of his days.

The heretic was impressed with this response and told Rebbi Chanina that he had spoken correctly because he (the heretic) had come across a document that was called, “Bila’am’s Chronical” in which it said explicitly, “Bila’am the lame was killed by Pinchas when he (Bila’am) was thirty-three years old.”

Now we are faced with a contradiction because according to Targum Yonasan, Bila’am was hundreds of years old when he died, whereas according to the Gemara in Sanhedrin, Bila’am was only thirty-three years old when he died.

The Arizal (Eitz Chaim, sha’ar 38, chap. 3) reconciles this apparent contradiction by stating that Targum Yonasan never meant to say that Bila’am was literally the same person as Lavan, but rather Targum Yonasan meant to say that Bila’am was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Lavan.

Once we have established that Bila’am was a gilgul of Lavan, we will be able to understand the reason why Bila’am’s leg got crushed on a wall of stones. In our parsha it reports that when Bila’am was riding on his donkey through a vineyard to go and curse the Jewish people, an angel of God stood in the path of the vineyard, where there was a fence on one side and on the other side (22:24). The verse goes on to say that the donkey saw the angel of God and pressed itself against the wall which crushed Bila’am’s leg (Parshas Balak, 22:25).

Targum Yonasan (22:24) says that this was the very same place in which Ya’akov and Lavan had erected a pile of stones as a monument. Back in Parshas Vayeitzei it says that Ya’akov and Lavan made a peace-treaty with each other and they erected a “gal shel avanim” (pile of stones) which served as a sign and as a witness testifying to this truce between them. They vowed not to cross that pile of stones for the purpose of harming each other or each other’s descendants.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeitzei, 13) adds that this explains the reason why Bila’am got his leg crushed specifically on that gal shel avanim. It is because Bila’am transgressed the oath which he himself had made when he was Lavan in that very spot. Therefore, Bila’am, alias Lavan, was punished by that pile of stones because that pile served as a witness to their treaty, as the pasuk says, “The hand of the witnesses will be upon him first” (Parshas Shoftim, 17:7). This means that when witnesses testify against someone, they (the witnesses) are the ones who carry out the sentence issued by the court. Therefore, the gal shel avanim, who were the witnesses to the treaty that Lavan made with Ya’akov, carried out the sentence issued by God and crushed Bila’am’s/Lavan’s leg.

The Arizal (Sha’ar Hapesukim; Likkutei Torah) adds that this explains why Bila’am was killed when he was specifically thirty-three years old. It is because Bila’am was a reincarnation of Lavan, and Lavan swore to Ya’akov that he would not pass by that pile of stones [which was called, “gal-eid,” meaning “pile” (gal) of stones which serves as “witnesses” (Eid)] to harm Ya’akov or his descendants. Since Bila’am/Lavan did pass by that pile of stones to harm the Children of Israel (Ya’akov), he was punished with death at the age thirty-three because the number thirty-three is the numerical value of the word, “gal” (spelled gimmel Lamed). The age thirty-three demonstrates that he deserved to die on account of transgressing the oath he made at the “gal” (numerically 33) of stones.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this is why Ya’akov chose a pile of stones to begin with to be used as the sign between them. It is because a “pile” is a “gal,” and the word gal is spelled gimmel lamed, and gimmel lamed is the acronym for “Gilgul Lavan” (the reincarnation of Lavan). This teaches us that Ya’akov did not just forge a covenant with Lavan himself, but Ya’akov also made this treaty with Gilgul Lavan (Lavan’s reincarnation) who was Bila’am. Therefore, when Bila’am/Lavan transgressed his oath by passing by the gal to harm Ya’akov’s descendants, Bila’am was killed at the age of thirty-three, which is the numerical value of the word “gal.”

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why Balak specifically chose Bila’am to curse the Jewish people. It is because Balak, through his own magical powers, knew that Bila’am was a gilgul of Lavan. Therefore, Balak lodged a complaint against Bila’am. Balak said that it was Bila’am who brought Ya’akov into his home when he (Bila’am) was Lavan (Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:13). It was Bila’am/Lavan who gave his daughter’s hands (Rochel and Leah) in marriage to Ya’akov when he (Bila’am) was Lavan.

As a result of those weddings, the Shevatim (tribes of Israel) were born (Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:32-30:25). Therefore, Balak claimed that it was Bila’am’s/Lavan’s fault that there were Jewish people to begin with. Since Bila’am built the Jewish people, he would have the responsibility of destroying the Jewish people.

Perhaps this answers the question about how Balak thought that he would be victorious over the Jewish people even after witnessing how they (the Jews) just destroyed the Amorite kingdoms of Sichon and Og. It is because Balak thought to himself that if Lavan built the Jewish people, he (Bila’am/Lavan) would know how to take them apart. Just as a mechanic knows how disassemble his own creation, so would Bila’am/Lavan know how to obliterate his own creation.

Speaking of Lavan building the Jewish people, imagine how happy Lavan was when he married off his daughter, Leah, to Ya’akov instead of Rochel. After that wedding, when Ya’akov took Leah to his home, Lavan must have gone out drinking at the local bar with his buddies. After a few shots and some smokes, they must have been laughing at how they had just tricked Ya’akov into marrying Leah.

As Lavan laughed below, Hashem must have been laughing Above because from this union between Ya’akov and Leah would come a son called Levi from which all Kohanim and Leviim would stem. Ya’akov and Leah would also produce a son named Yehuda who would be the progenitor of kings including Dovid Hamelech and, eventually, Melech HaMoshiach. They would also give birth to Yissachar and Zevulun thereby creating the tribe of Torah learners and their supporters. How is that for turning a curse into a blessing?

Now we are going to see why Hashem chose to build the Jewish people from Lavan. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Chukas, 19:1) expounds upon the verse in Parshas Chukas (19:2) which says, “This is the chok (decree) of the Torah.” The Midrash says that this verse is reminiscent of another verse which says, “Who can produce purity from impurity, Lo Echad.”

The simplistic translation of those last two words, “Lo Echad,” is “no one.” Meaning, no one can produce purity from impurity. However, the Midrash offers an alternative translation to those words (Lo Echad) which is, “Is it not the Only One?” Meaning, only Hashem could bring purity from impurity. The Midrash provides several illustrations to support this idea. For example, Avraham (the pure one) came from Terach (an impure one). Olam Haba (the coming world; pure) comes from Olam Hazeh (this world; impure).

The Midrash concludes, “Who did this, Who commanded this, Who decreed this? Is it not the Only One, the Unique One of the world?”

The Avnei Neizer (Rabbi Avraham Bornstien, 1838-1910, Poland, the first Sochotchover Rebbe; Naos Desheh, vol. 1) explains this Midrash as follows. He says that the Sitra d’Achara (evil forces from the dark side) are called “Elohim Acheirim” (other gods; Parshas Yisro, 20:3). This is because they try to make themselves out to be gods so that people will think that they possess independent powers.

However, we believe that there is no power in the world which does not receive its energy from Hashem. Meaning, everything in this world must receive its life force from Hashem. This is because Hashem created everything, including good and evil as it says, “Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil” (Yeshaya, 45:7).

The reason why Hashem created evil was so that we could exercise our free will to choose good over evil and life over death (Parshas Netzavim, 30:19). In fact, this is the message of the Shema in which we conclude with the words, “Hashem Echad” (God is One; Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4). This means to say that Hashem is the Only Power Who has complete control over all forces, including the dark forces of evil.

The Avnei Neizer goes on to say that this is why Hashem uses wicked people to build the Jewish people. It is so that the entire world will come to recognize that the forces of evil have no independent power of their own. Hashem wants the entire world to realize that the life-support system of the dark side comes from Hashem.

This is why Hashem orchestrates that purity comes from impurity. It is to show that Hashem Echad (Hashem is One)! Hashem demonstrates this by forcing wicked people to build the Jewish people. Hashem displayed this when He had Lavan build the Jewish enterprise, and Hashem proved this again when He forced Bila’am to assist the Jewish people by blessing them.

Rashi (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4) elaborates on this when he explains the words, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” (Hear O’ Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One). He says that this means that Hashem, Who is our God now but not yet [recognized as] the God of the idol worshippers, will one day be recognized even by them (the idolaters) as the One and Only true God, as it says, “For then I will change the nations to speak a pure language so that they will all proclaim the Name of Hashem” (Tzafania, 3:9).

Rashi goes on to quote another verse, “On that day Hashem will be (recognized as) One and His Name will be (recognized as) One” (Zecharia, 14:9). This means to say that even the nations of the world will recognize the Unity of Hashem. This complete power of Hashem is manifested when He manipulates wicked people to build and assist the Jews, as He did with Lavan and Bila’am.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the sages wanted to institute the recitation of Parshas Balak together with Keriyas Shema. It is because in Parshas Balak we see how Hashem manipulated wicked people to help the Jewish people. This shows us the Oneness of Hashem because even the forces of evil are subservient to Hashem.

This is precisely the message of Shema; namely, that God is One! Therefore, since we see Hashem’s Echad’ness from Parshas Balak, the Sages wanted us to read Parshas Balak together with Keriyas Shema because they share the same theme; demonstrating the Unity of God.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this will also offer a deeper reason as to why Hashem placed the source of Moshiach in Parshas Balak. It is because when Moshiach comes, he is going to reveal to us how Hashem manipulated even wicked people to assist the Jewish people. At that time, the whole world will recognize that Hashem and His Name are One (Zecharia, 14:9).

Since Moshiach will teach us about this total control of Hashem, Hashem placed the source of Moshiach specifically in Parshas Balak because it is in this parsha where we see this total dominion of Hashem.

As a means of a practical application of this teaching, when we recite the Shema, let us keep in mind that even the forces of evil in this world have been enlisted by God in Hashem’s army to carry out that which is beneficial for the Jewish people. This thought alone can help strengthen our Emunah that Hashem is indeed Echad.

So, may we, B’nei Ya’akov, all be blessed with such success that even the nations will participate in assisting us further in our Torahdika way of life, and may the entire world recite the verse of Shema Yisrael, testifying to God’s unity, when Moshiach ben Dovid arrives and “gals” (reveals; spelled gimmel lamed) to us all that everything they did was ultimately for the Jews.

The Life of a Snake

“The Life of a Snake”

One of the stories that takes place in Parshas Chukas is when the Jewish people complained about the Manna. God punished them by sending snakes which bit them. The Jews repented and Hashem instructed Moshe to make a serpent and place it on a pole. Moshe constructed a statue of a snake made out of copper and placed it on a pole. Any Jew who was bitten by a snake would look at the copper statue of a snake and he would be healed (Parshas Chukas, 21:5-9).

Rashi (Parshas Chukas, 21:6) cites a Tanchuma (19) which explains why specifically snakes were sent to punish them. One reason was because the snake in Gan Eden was punished for uttering evil talk. Therefore, snakes were used to exact punishment from those who uttered evil talk.

Another reason was because all foods taste like dirt to snakes (Yeshaya, 65:25). Therefore, snakes, who cannot appreciate the tastes of anything, would punish ungrateful people who complained about the Manna which would taste like almost anything one would want it to taste like.

This story raises a few questions. First, how could these Jews complain about the Manna? These Jews witnessed so many miracles, including revelation at Mount Sinai. The Zohar (Parshas Terumah, pg. 147a) says that those people were so great that there was never a generation like them beforehand and there will not be a generation as great as them until the coming of Moshiach.

How did such great people complain about such a good gift, the Manna, that Hashem gave to them every single day?

Additionally, how did looking at a copper statue of a snake heal them? We know that it is teshuva (repentance) and Hashem Who heals. Using a copper statue of a snake sounds almost like idolatry.

We will begin to address these issues by sharing the following Gemara in Meseches Yoma (chap. 8, “Yom Hakipurim”, pg. 76a) which reports that the disciples of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him, “Why didn’t Hashem just make the Manna fall once a year with enough Manna to last the entire year? Why did it have to fall every single day?”

Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai responded by saying that if Hashem would have done that, the people would not have felt the need to pray for their livelihoods on a daily basis because they already had what they needed for most of the year. They would have only prayed once a year when the Manna would start to run out.

Therefore, Hashem created a system in which the Jews would be compelled to pray every single day. That system was to give them just enough Manna for that day. In this way, they would have to pray every single day for their sustenance. As such, there would be an ongoing relationship between the people and God.

This system was implemented by God in order to strengthen the Jewish people’s Emuna (faith) in Hashem, and so that they would pray to God every single day.

There is even a hint which supports this idea that one of the purposes of the Manna falling every day was in order to strengthen the people’s faith in God.

In his Sefer Divrei Yisrael, Rabbi Yisrael Taub of Modjitz (Poland, 1849-1920; Pasrhas Beshalach, 16:15) points out that when the Manna fell for the Jewish people the first time, the pasuk says that the people said to each other, “Mann Hu” (it is food; Parshas Beshalach, 16:15).

The Modjitzer Rebbe says that when you take the letters in the words, “Mann Hu,” and rearrange them, they spell the word “Emunah.” This teaches us that the falling of the Manna on a daily basis was meant to strengthen their Emunah in Hashem on a constant basis.

Now we are going to see how Rabbenu Bachya explains the Jewish people’s complaint about the Manna, because it is deeper than meets the eye.

When the Jews had complained about the Manna, they said, “There is no food and there is no water” (Parshas Chukas, 21:5). This criticism seems to make absolutely no sense because there was food which fell for them every day; the Manna, and there was water which flowed from a rock constantly. How, then, could they complain by saying, “There is no food and there is no water?”

Rabbenu Bachya (Zaragoza, Spain, 1255-1340; Parshas Chukas, 21:5) explains what the Jewish people were complaining about. He says that the Jews complained that they were not being treated fairly when compared to the rest of the nations of the world. The Jews saw that the other nations had enough food and water that could sustain them for long periods of time. Other nations had reserves and storehouses with enough food and water that could last for years to come.

However, the Jews in the wilderness received a fixed amount of Manna that would last for only that day. They did not have storehouses of food. They did not have stocked refrigerators. Their cupboards were empty. Their food pantries had nothing in them.

The Jews could not even depend on their water supply because, prior to their complaint, Miriam had died (Parshas Chukas, 20:1) and, as a result, the water stopped flowing from the rock, because the water flow was in Miriam’s merit (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 9a, Rebbi Yose b’Rebbi Yehuda), and with Miriam gone, the water stopped flowing.

Even though Moshe davened (prayed) and the flow of water resumed, the people still felt that they could not depend on the water because if it stopped before, it could stop again.

Therefore, the Jews complained about being treated differently and harsher than the nations of the world. Therefore, when they said, “There is no food and there is no water,” they meant to say, “There is no food and water like the nations of the world.”

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that the reason why Hashem treated the Jews differently was because He wanted them to strengthen themselves in their Emunah in Hashem, and Hashem wanted them to pray to Him on a constant basis because Hashem wanted (and still wants) a relationship with them in which the channels of communication are open.

Now we can start to tie all of this into the snakes that Hashem sent to punish them with.

Once upon a time, a person asked Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1827, Poland) why there are observant Jews who suffer financially, whereas there are Jews who threw away their religion who enjoy great wealth?

Reb Simcha Bunim said that in order to answer that question, we must analyze the punishment that Hashem inflicted upon those who participated in the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, because there is a striking difference between the punishments which Adam and Chava (Eve) received as opposed to the punishment which the snake received.

Hashem punished Adam with the words, “By the sweat of your brow will you eat bread” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:19). Hashem punished Chava with the words, “In pain will you bear children” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:16). Hashem punished the snake with the words, “And dust you will eat all the days of your life” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:14).

The difference is that the punishments which Adam and Chava received are real punishments. However, the “punishment” which the snake received seems more like a blessing than a punishment because the snake never has to worry where its next meal is coming from because it eats dirt and dirt is found everywhere (Yoma, chap. 8, “Yom Hakkipurim”, pg. 75a, Rebbi Yosi; Berachos, chap. 9, “Haro-eh”, pg. 57a).

This raises an obvious question. “What type of punishment was it that Hashem inflicted upon the snake?

Reb Simcha Bunim said that in order to answer this question, we have to define what the greatest reward in the world is. He says that the greatest reward that exists is having a connection and relationship with God. When we have to ask Hashem for parnasah (livelihood), it creates that connection to God. Therefore, when Adam, and by extension all men, beg Hashem to help make ends meet, it creates a connection between man and God.

When Chava, and by extension all women, cry out to Hashem when giving birth, it creates a connection with God. Therefore, these punishments were actually beneficial to Adam and Eve.

However, since the snake has his livelihood at all times, it never has a reason to call out to Hashem. Hashem was so disgusted with the snake for instigating Adam and Chava to sin that Hashem basically said to the snake, “Get out! I never want to see your face again, and I do not want to hear from you, ever!”

This was a tough punishment because it meant that Hashem was severing ties with the snake. If the greatest reward is having a connection with God, then the worst punishment is having no connection to God whatsoever.

Therefore, there can be people who threw away their Judaism who enjoyed great wealth, and yet there can be observant people who are poor. It could be that sometimes, these non-observant people who threw away their connection to Judaism are wealthy because Hashem no longer wants to hear from them, and yet it could be that sometimes, observant people are poor because Hashem wants to hear from them continually.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand, on a deeper level, why Hashem sent specifically snakes to punish the Jews. It is because, according to Rabbenu Bachya, the Jews complained that they were only given small rations of food per day. They wanted to be given so much food that they would never have to worry about where their next meal was coming from.

This means that the Jews wanted to live the life of the snake, because snakes also never have to worry where their nourishment is going to come from. Therefore, Hashem sent specifically snakes to punish them so that the Jews would learn from the snakes that they were asking to live the life of the snake which is a life devoid of Hashem. Hashem was conveying to them that this was not what He had in mind for them, because Hashem desires to have a relationship with them.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains how a statue of a copper snake healed them. The answer is that by gazing at the copper snake it reminded them of where they went wrong. The copper snake reminded them that they wanted to be like a snake with all the parnassah in the world at their disposal. However, they realized that such a lifestyle is one empty of Hashem.

These thoughts prompted them to do teshuva. As they did teshuva, they would look heavenward, beyond the copper snake, and desire to have a connection with Hashem; our Parent in Heaven (Mishna Meseches Rosh Hashana, chap. 3, “Ra-uhu Beis Din”, Mishna 8, pg. 29a).

At this point, we are going to focus on another complaint that the Jews had concerning the Manna. We will see that there were two different complaints about the manna which stemmed from two different groups of people.

Right after the Jews said, “There is no food and no water,” that very same verse concludes by saying that the Jews said, “And our soul is disgusted with this destructive food” (Parshas Chukas, 21:5). What did they mean when they said that they were disgusted with the Manna? Why was the Manna considered to be destructive? What did the manna destroy?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that there were many levels of Jews at that time, just like there are today. We will focus on two of those levels. First, there were the simple folk, but then there were those who were on a higher level who had a true reverence of Hashem.
The simple folk complained with the words, “There is no food and no water.” They complained that they did not have reserves of food and water like the nations of the world (as Rabbenu Bachya explained above).

However, the people who were operating on a higher spiritual level did not complain about that because they appreciated the benefits of the Manna falling every day. They valued the Emunah and connection to God which that situation generated.

Therefore, the people on a higher level complained with the words, “Our soul is disgusted with this destructive bread.” The meaning behind this complaint can be explained based on an earlier complaint of the Jews.

In Parshas Beha’alosecha (11:4) it says, “The rabble that was among them Hisavu Ta’ava (cultivated a craving) and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat?’”

Rashi (quoting Sifri, 11:2) asks how they could complain that they had no meat? They had meat on account of their sheep and cattle (Parshas Bo, 12:38). We cannot say that by this point they had already consumed all of their meat because right before they entered into the Land, the tribes of Gad and Reuven wanted to remain in the Trans-Jordan because of its pastures to accommodate their massive amounts of cattle (Parshas Matos, 32:1). So, what were they complaining about?

Rashi says that they just sought a pretext to complain. In other words, they just picked on something to criticize because they just wanted to complain about something. But what was it that they selected to complain about?

The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, 1847-1905, Ger, Poland; Parshas Beha’alosecha) and the Bikkurei Aviv (Rabbi Ya’akov Arye Guterman, founder of the Radzimin Dynasty, 1792-1874, Poland, known as the Saba Kadisha of Radzimin) say that since the Jewish people ate holy Manna, day in and day out, it had a positive impact on them spiritually. Eating the manna made the Jews very holy. As they say, “You are what you eat!”

The Manna made the Jews so holy that they no longer had ta’avos (lustful passions). The Manna placed the Jews on such a transcendent level that they were liberated from the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination).

The Jews did not want to be missing out on ta’avos because they preferred to have the ta’ava and overcome it by battling with their Yetzer Hara, because in this way they could show Hashem just how much they loved Him and were willing to fight in order to fulfil His will. They thought that this path would give Hashem much more Nachas Ruach (pleasure).

This is what the verse meant when it said, “Hisavu Ta’ava.” It means that they “desired” (Hisavu) a “desire” (ta’ava). In other words, they wanted the ta’avos. Not because they enjoyed satisfying their ta’avos physically but so that they could overcome their ta’avos and show Hashem that they were serious about their Avodas Hashem (Divine service of God).

They made a mistake because asking for ta’avos could very likely lead to giving in to them. They should have preferred not having a Yetzer Hara so that there would be no sinning whatsoever. Not sinning would have brought more honor to Hashem than having the ta’ava to sin and attempting to overcome it because if they would fall prey to the temptation of sin, it would be even more damaging to them.

This is what we mean when we say every morning towards the end of Birchas Hashachar, “Lo Lidei Nisayon v’Lo Lidei Bizayon” (do not bring us to being tested and do not bring us to disgrace; end of Birchas Hashachar). The juxtaposition between these two statements is that being tested can most likely bring a person to disgrace.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is what they meant when they said, “Our soul is disgusted with this destructive bread.” They emphasized the soul because they had a spiritual complaint. That complaint was that the bread (Manna) was destructive because it destroyed their Yetzer Hara. They complained that it was too easy to serve Hashem without a Yetzer Hara, and this could not be giving Hashem too much nachas. This is what disgusted them. They could not stand serving Hashem without challenges because that requires no real effort.

The word in the verse for “destructive” is “Kelokel.” There is no letter vov in this word which allows us to break this word into two parts. When we do so and change the vowels around, it spells “Kal Kal” (light light or easy easy). Meaning, that without the Yetzer Hara, it was way to easy to serve Hashem. They wanted a Yetzer Hara so that they could overpower it and show Hashem how committed they were to God.

This explains how such a holy generation complained about the manna to begin with. It was because their complaint was on a lofty level. They were complaining that they wanted more of a challenge so that they could show Hashem that they really meant business when it came to serving Him. This desire came from a good place. Only high spiritual people would submit such a complaint.

This will explain another reason why Hashem sent specifically snakes to punish them. Rashi in Parshas Bereishis (2:25) says that Adam and Eve were not ashamed of being naked because they did not possess a Yetzer Hara inside of them. Prior to eating from the Eitz hada’as (Tree of Knowledge), the Yetzer Hara had existed only outside of them. It was only when they ate from the Eitz Hada’as that the Yetzer Hara entered inside of them which caused them to feel ashamed of their nakedness.

The Avnei Neizer (Rabbi Avraham Bornstien, 1838-1910, first Sochotshover Rebbe) and the Chiddushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, 1799-1866, first Gerrer Rebbe) expand upon this Rashi and say that this was precisely how the snake in Gan Eden got Adam and Chava to sin.

The snake said to them that they had no Yetzer Hara inside of them. Therefore, it was relatively easy for them to serve Hashem. As such, Hashem was not getting so much nachas from them. However, if they were to eat from the Eitz Hada’as, the Yetzer Hara would go inside of them causing there to be a constant internal struggle. By overcoming that internal conflict, they could show Hashem how much they loved Him and how committed they were to Him.

This is what attracted Adam and Chava to partake of the Eitz Hada’as. It turns out that this was precisely the mistake which the higher level of Jews made when they complained about the destructive Manna. Since the originator of this claim was the snake in Gan Eden, Hashem chose to punish the Jews in the Midbar with snakes to teach them that the Nachash in Gan Eden was the root cause of this mistaken philosophy.

Practically speaking, whenever we Daven and ask Hashem for parnassah, whether in the Bareich Aleinu benediction in the Shmoneh Esrei, or during the recitation of Parshas Haman, or in our own words throughout the day, let us remember that if we are struggling financially on any level, it is just a sign that Hashem wants us to call out to Him because He wants to have a relationship with us.

If we keep the channels of communication open and speak to Him constantly, there will be no need for Hashem to make us struggle in order to generate a connection with Him because we will have already forged that relationship.

So, may we all be blessed with so much parnassah that we never have to worry, but if we do struggle with making a livelihood on any level, let us remember that it is just a sign that Hashem wants to have a relationship with us, and may we thereby increase out tefillos and strengthen our Emunah in Hashem which will distance us from the ways of the snake.

Right Makes Might

“Right Makes Might”

One of the motivating factors which stirred Korach to rebel against Moshe and Aharon was that Korach foresaw that one of his own descendants was going to be Shmuel Hanavi (Samuel the Prophet; Rashi, Parshas Korach, 16:7, citing Midrash Tanchuma, 5). Since Shmuel was on equal standing as Moshe and Aharon, (Tehillim, 99:6, Berachos, chap. 5, "Ain Omdin", the opinion of Rebbi Yochanan) Korach reasoned that this indicated that he himself was the righteous one. This gave Korach the confidence to go against the authority of Aharon Hakohen.

This Midrash begs us to ask how Korach could have come to such a conclusion. There are many personalities who were righteous and yet their ancestors left much to be desired. For example, Avraham came from a Terach who spent the majority of his life as an idolater. Rachel and Leah came from a Lavan who was a trickster and a gangster.

The same pattern could apply to Shmuel and Korach. Shmuel was a righteous person, but that does not necessarily mean that Korach was righteous. Perhaps the righteous Shmuel came from the wicked Korach. How then, did Korach conclude that he must have been the righteous one just because Shmuel would descend from him?

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Preface, 33) says that, kabbalistically speaking, Aharon was reincarnated into Shmuel. Based on this, the Migaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585-1633, Cracow, Poland, Vaeschanan 33) explains that Korach did not just see that Shmuel would come from his loins, but Korach also saw that Shmuel was a reincarnation of Aharon.

Since Shmuel was a Levi (see Radak, Shmuel Aleph, 1:1), Korach asked himself, “How could it be that a Kohen could wind up as a Levite?” Of the three classes of Jews, a Kohen is the highest, Levites are second, and Israelites are third, and we have a rule of thumb which states, "We always ascend in matters of holiness and we do not descend" (Meggilah, chap. 1, "Meggilah Nikreis", pg.9b). So, Korach asked himself, “How could it be that Aharon the Kohen Gadol became a gilgul into Shmuel who was a just a Levite?”

Korach concluded that if Aharon Hakohen would become a Levite, it must be an indication that he was being demoted because he never deserved to be the High Priest to begin with.

Moreover, the Divrei Emes (Rabbi Ya’akov Yitzchak, the Chozeh {Seer} of Lublin, 1745-1815, Poland) quotes a Midrash which says that Korach thought of himself to be greater than Aharon because Korach, as a Levite, never participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:26). However, not only did Aharon participate in that sin, he orchestrated it (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:2-5).

Korach thought that this served as another reason as to why it was necessary for Aharon to become a Levite. This demotion would be part of Aharon's tikkun (fixing). Aharon, who orchestrated the sin of the Golden Calf, would need to spend time inside of a Levite, who never sinned with the Golden Calf, so that the Levites’ positive energy would rub off on Aharon.

Because of all this, Korach argued that he himself, as a Levite, should occupy the highest level of authority; not Aharon. However, Korach did not just want to be a Kohen. Rather, Korach wanted to change which class occupied the highest level of authority. Traditionally, the three classes of Jews, in descending order, are: 1) Kohen, 2) Levi, and 3) Yisrael.

The Zohar (Parshas Korach, pg. 176a) says that Korach attempted to introduce a system where the highest-class Jew would not be a Kohen, but rather, a Levite. Korach wanted that Leviim should be in first place (maybe he would be called the Levi HaGadol), whereas the Kohen would be in second place.

In other words, Korach did not want to be a Kohen. Korach was already a Levite. Instead, Korach wanted to switch the order around so that Korach the Levite would be the gold medalist, as it were, and Aharon the Kohen would be the silver medalist, so to speak.

By wanting to set this in motion, Korach threatened the existence of the world. This is because a Kohen comes from the right side of God (so to speak) which is the side of Chesed (kindness), whereas a Levite comes from the left side of God (so to speak) which is the side of Din (strict justice) (Zohar, Korach, pg. 176a).

It is imperative for the left to be subservient to the right and for the Levite (who stems from God’s left side) to be humbled before the Kohen (who stems from God’s right side), so that Din is inferior and so that Chesed remains superior. Only in a world dominated by Chesed can we exist because then, Hashem judges us through the lenses of compassion, and when the characteristic of compassion is superior, we stand a chance of surviving.

However, in a world where Din is dominant, there is no tolerance for sin, and subsequently punishment for misconduct is fast and harsh. In a world governed by Din, it would not take long for the human race to disappear altogether (See Rashi Parshas Bereishis, 1:1 citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Bereishis, 12:15).

Since Korach wanted to reverse the order by making Levi (Din) superior, and by making the Kehunaship (Chesed) inferior, he endangered all of the people on the planet because then, Hashem would judge people through the lens of Din, and very few people can emerge from Din as being worthy of life and deserving of existence. This is why Korach had to be stopped. Korach was taken out before he could do any further damage to the inhabitants of this world.

Besides, Korach was mistaken about the reason why Aharon the Kohen, was reincarnated into Shmuel the Levite. This was not a demotion. On the contrary, it was to assist Shmuel in protecting the Kehunaship (Priesthood) of Eli who was the High Priest in Shmuel's generation (Shevilei Pinchas). In a few moments, we will see just how Shmuel tried to protect the Kehunaship.

Now, Shmuel did, after all, descend from Korach. As such, there was a real concern that Shmuel would follow in the mistaken footsteps of his great grandfather, Korach, and try to place the Levite/Din above the Kohen/Chesed.

This suspicion was magnified when Shmuel paskined (decided) a matter of Jewish Law in front of Eli (see Berachos, chap. 5, “Ein Omdin”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Elazar). Eli took this as a sign that Shmuel (the Levite) wanted to promote his own authority (that of a Levite) over the authority of Eli the Kohen. Accomplishing this goal would place Din over Chesed thus endangering the life of every single person on earth.

Eli reasoned that just as Korach and his Din had to be killed so that the Kehunaship and its Chesed would remain superior thereby resulting in saving humanity, similarly, Eli thought that Shmuel the Levi with his Din should be killed in order that Eli HaKohen HaGadol and his Chesed should remain in power so that humanity would survive. To ensure that Shmuel not commit a repeat performance of Korach, Eli wanted Shmuel to be executed.

However, Korach was mistaken to think that Aharon’s soul entered into Shmuel as a demotion for sinning with the Golden Calf. As we mentioned above, Aharon’s soul came back into Shmuel in order to help him preserve the holiness of the Kohen and his essence of Chesed. The explanation of this is as follows.

The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 5, “Ein Omdin”, pg. 31b) reports to us that Eli would customarily require a Kohen to shecht (slaughter) an animal that was brought as an offering in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). When Shmuel heard about that, he (Shmuel) ruled that even a non-Kohen may shecht the animal because only from the stage of receiving the blood of the animal in a vessel, and on, must it be performed by a Kohen (based upon Parshas Vayikra, 1:5). However, before the blood comes out of the animal, such as the stage of shechita (which is done a split second before the blood comes out), it may be performed by a non-Kohen.

In his Ya’aros D’vash (vol. 1, Drush 16), Reb Yonasan Eibeshitz (1690-1764, Prague) says that Shmuel was not trying to take over the position of authority by issuing such a psak (decision) about a non-Kohen shechting, but rather Shmuel was trying to protect the Kohanim. This is because although halachikally a Kohen may shecht the animals; nevertheless, kabbalistically, they should try to avoid doing so because shechting is an act of cruelty which could potentially damage the characteristic of Chesed possessed by Kohanim.

After Chana (Shmuel’s mother) explained to Eli that she had prayed for a son who would protect the sanctity of Kahunaship, Eli understood that Shmuel was not trying to reverse the order of authority. Therefore, Eli intervened and had the execution cancelled.

There is a Jewish practice that we perform many times daily which supports this idea that Chesed must prevail over Din and that practice is Netilas Yadayim (ritually washing our hands).

It is important that the left hand pours the water over the right hand first. This demonstrates that the left hand is the servant and the right hand is the master, which means that Din is subordinate to Chesed, and Chesed remains primary (Reikanti, Levush, Eikev, 199a).

Perhaps we could suggest an exercise that we can implement every single day that will enhance kindness in the world. When we wash our hands ritually, let us think about the deeper meaning behind those washings even just once a day.

Let us be reminded that we wash in this way in order to place the emphasis on Chesed. Let us use this idea as a springboard to go out there and do a Chesed for somebody that we would not have done otherwise. This will continue to emphasize Chesed as the primary frequency that we operate on so that the world which we so desperately need will continue to exist, because Hashem will look at us through the lenses of compassion as well.

So, may we all be blessed to place the emphasis on Chesed which will transform this world of ours from a harsh place into a sweet paradise, with Moshe, Aharon, and Shmuel at the helm of the third and final Bais HaMikdash, speedily in our days, Amen!

The Secret of Impregnation

“The Secret of Impregnation”

Parshas Shelach is one of the most difficult parshiyos in the Torah because of the story about the sin of the spies. The men sent on this mission were not average people, but rather, they were the leaders of their tribes (Parshas Shelach, 13:3).

This fact brings us to a question. How could such great tzaddikim fall into the trap of the Yetzer Hara and commit such a terrible crime of speaking Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael when Hashem had promised the Avos that this fantastic land would be given to them (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:13)?

Obviously, the test which presented itself to the Meraglim (spies) was a most difficult one to overcome because we find that Moshe was concerned that even Yehoshua would get caught up in it. This is why Moshe prayed on Yehoshua’s behalf that he not fall prey to the wicked council of the Meraglim (Parshas Shelach, 13:16; Rashi citing Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34b).

But this itself leads us to ask another question. Why did Moshe only pray on behalf of Yehoshua? If it was indeed such a difficult test, Moshe should have prayed on behalf of all the spies. Why didn’t he?

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzefas; Sha’ar Hapesukim) and Reb Shmuel Vital (1598 Damascus-1677 Egypt; son of Reb Chaim Vital) say that Moshe did not daven that Yehoshua not speak Lashon Hara, just like Moshe did not daven that the other spies not speak Lashon Hara, because that is a matter of free choice, and each person has to make his own decision.

However, Moshe davened that the other spies not kill Yehoshua. The other spies wanted to kill Yehoshua because they all heard about the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad in last week’s parsha who said, “Moshe is going to die, and Yehoshua is going to bring the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 11:28, Rashi based on Sifri, 11:21).

Therefore, the other spies thought that Yehoshua’s enthusiasm of bringing the Jews into Eretz Yisrael was motivated by selfish political gain. They thought that Yehoshua wanted to enter into the Land so that he [Yehoshua] would become the next leader. They thought that Yehoshua craved that position of authority so much that he was willing to “bump off” Moshe Rabbenu in the process.

The “wicked council” of the spies was to have Yehoshua assassinated so that they could prevent the Jews from entering into the Land which would lengthen the life of Moshe Rabbenu.
The spies had no qualms with Kalev who also advocated for the Jews to enter into the Land because the spies understood that Kalev’s motives were altruistic. This is because even if they do enter into Eretz Yisrael, Kalev would not become the next leader. Since there was no personal gain for Kalev to enter into the Land, the other spied realized that he [Kalev] was motivated by pure intentions. Therefore, they did not want to kill Kalev.

The Arizal says that this approach helps us judge the other spies favorably. The other spies who wanted to kill Yehoshua and who spoke Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael were motivated to do so in order that Moshe Rabbenu would live longer. As long as they do not enter into the Land, the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad will not be fulfilled, meaning that Moshe would be able to continue living.
This explains why Moshe davened only on behalf of Yehoshua. It is because only Yehoshua was in a Makom Sakana (dangerous position). It was only Yehoshua whom the Meraglim wanted to kill. Therefore, Moshe davened to protect Yehoshua from being killed, and it worked.

The Maggid of Koznitz (Rabbi Yisrael Hopstien, 1737-1814, Poland; Avodas Yisrael) adds another layer of understanding to address why Moshe only prayed on behalf of Yehoshua. In Targum Yonasan (Parshas Shelach, 13:16) it says that Moshe noticed Yehoshua’s humility and therefore Moshe changed his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua. The connection between Yehoshua’s humility and his name change can be understood in the following way.

When the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad leaked out, Moshe witnessed Yehoshua’s reaction. Yehoshua’s reaction was, “My master Moshe, incarcerate them!” In other words, Yehoshua was outraged that Eldad and Meidad would say that Moshe would die. Yehoshua wanted Moshe to live so much that any mention of his death would be tantamount to treason, in Yehoshua’s eyes.

This is where Moshe detected Yehoshua’s humility. Moshe’s death would result in Yehoshua becoming the next leader. But since Yehoshua was so humble, he did not care about positions of leadership. The only thing that Yehoshua wanted wholeheartedly was for Moshe, his Rebbi Muvhak (primary Rabbi), to continue living, guiding, and teaching.

Yehoshua wanted Moshe to live so much that Moshe suspected that Yehoshua might be the best candidate to speak out against Eretz Yisrael just so that Moshe would go on living and leading. Since it was only Yehoshua who had such a close connection to Moshe, which might prompt him to speak Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael resulting in a harsh decree of wondering for forty years subsequently prolonging the life of Moshe, Moshe davened for him [Yehoshua] that he not fail in this way. Since it was Yehoshua who was most likely to speak Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael to prolong Moshe’s life, it was specifically Yehoshua who needed the prayers of Moshe.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that the two approaches of the Maggid of Koznitz and the Arizal compliment each other because according to the Arizal, the spies wanted to kill Yehoshua and speak Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael in order to prolong Moshe Rabbenu’s life, and according to the Maggid of Koznitz Moshe was suspicious that Yehoshua would want to speak out against Eretz Yisrael to prolong Moshe’s life. Prolonging Moshe’s life is what these meforshim share in common. Yet, the spies were punished anyway because they went against what Hashem wanted.

According to this teaching of the Arizal we can understand how such great tzaddikim could fall into the trap of the Yetzer Hara and speak Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael. It is because their motivations came from a good place. Their purpose was to prolong the life of Moshe Rabbenu. They could not tolerate an existence without their Rebbi. One can start to see where justification could be made to remain in the Midbar.

Now that we have addressed the previous questions Al Pi Pshat (simplistically), we will now delve into a deeper understanding about why Moshe only prayed on behalf of Yehoshua Al Pi Sod (Kabbalistically). To do so, let us analyze the following verses from this week’s parsha.

There is a distinction between the verse which talks about the leader from the tribe of Ephraim (who was sent as a spy) as opposed to the verse which discusses the leader from the tribe of Menashe (who was sent as a spy).

With respect to Ephraim, the pasuk says, “For the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea, son of Nun” (Parshas Shelach, 13:8). In this verse, there is no mention of Yoseph. However, regarding the tribe of Menashe the verse says, “For the Tribe of Yoseph for the tribe of Menashe, Gadi, the son of Susi” (Parshas Shelach, 13:11). In this verse, Yoseph’s name is mentioned.

Now, if the Torah wants to remind us that Ephraim and Menashe come from Yoseph, Yoseph’s name should be mentioned by both of them, and if it is obvious that Ephraim and Menashe come from Yoseph, then Yoseph’s name need not be mentioned by either of them. But to mention Yoseph’s name by one of them and not the other is difficult to understand. Therefore, why is Yoseph’s name only mentioned together with the tribe of Menashe, and why is Yoseph’s name omitted from the tribe of Ephraim?

The Arizal says that when Moshe sent the spies, Hashem knew from the very beginning that the spies were going to sin. Therefore, in order to help the spies not to sin, Hashem sent the souls of the Shevatim B’nei Ya’akov Avinu (the souls of Ya’akov Avinu’s sons) to enter into the bodies of the Meraglim, with each soul entering into the spy from its tribe.

For example, the soul of Reuven ben Ya’akov Avinu entered into the body of the spy from the tribe of Reuven, and the soul of Shimon ben Ya’akov Avinu entered into the body of the spy from the tribe of Shimon, and so on. This process is called “Sod Ha-Ibur” (the secret of impregnation). This is a type of possession. Meaning that the Meraglim were impregnated with the souls of the Shevatim B’nei Ya’akov. This dose of spiritual energy of the Shevatim was meant to help assist the Meraglim by preventing them from sin.

This idea is hinted to in the pasuk, “Kulam Anashim Roshei B’nei Yisrael Heima” (they were all distinguished men, heads of the Children of Israel were they; Parshas Shelach, 13:3). The word “Roshei” means the “heads” and “roots” of the tribes. The heads and roots of the tribes were the sons of Ya’akov Avinu, and they were “B’nei Yisrael,” literally, the “sons of Yisrael Avinu (who was Ya’akov Avinu).”

The Arizal points out that since the tribe of Levi did not receive a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael (because God is their portion), Moshe did not send a representative from the tribe of Levi to spy out the Land. Yet, there were still twelve spies because the tribe of Yoseph broke into two tribes, Ephraim and Menashe.

This is another reason why Moshe prayed only on behalf Yehoshua. It is because every spy was impregnated with the soul of one of Ya’akov’s sons to assist him not to sin. However, Yehoshua, who came from the tribe of Ephraim, was not impregnated with the soul of Yoseph ben Ya’akov Avinu because the soul of Yoseph was already impregnated into the body of the leader of Menashe because Menashe was the first-born.

Since Yehoshua was the only one who did not receive assistance from any of the Shevatim’s souls, Moshe prayed on his [Yehoshua’s] behalf. Moshe’s prayer was supposed to supplement the absence of an additional soul.

This also explains why Yoseph’s name is only mentioned by the leader of the tribe of Menashe. This teaches us that Yoseph’s soul was present inside of that leader. However, since Yoseph’s soul did not enter into Yehoshua from the tribe of Ephraim, Yoseph’s name was omitted from the tribe of Ephraim to teach us this fact.

The Arizal adds what the prayer of Moshe Rabbenu was when he davened for Yehoshua. As we mentioned above, there was no spy sent from the tribe of Levi because Shevet Levi did not receive a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael. However, hypothetically speaking, if Moshe would have sent a representative from the tribe of Levi, it would have been Moshe himself because, as a Levite, Moshe was technically the leader of Shevet Levi. But again, since Shevet Levi received no portion of land in Eretz Yisrael, Levi’s soul did not possess Moshe Rabbenu.

Since Levi’s soul was not being used to impregnate anyone of the spies, Moshe davened that Levi’s soul should enter into Yehoshua. Moshe gave away, to Yehoshua, his own extra soul which was that of Levi’s. Moshe did this for Yehoshua because Yehoshua was his primary disciple and a person’s student is likened to his own child (Sanhedrin, chap. 2, “Kohen Gadol”, pg. 19b, Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeini in the name of Rebbi Yochanan, based on Parshas Bamidbar, 3:1). Therefore, Moshe bequeathed his extra soul of Levi to Yehoshua.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this explains why Moshe changed Hoshea’s name into Yehoshua. By adding the letter yud to Hoshea, the Name “Ka” (spelled Yud – Hey) appears in Yehoshua’s name (Parshas Shelach, 13:16, Rashi, citing Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34b). The reason why the Name Ka of God appears in Yehoshua’s name is because the Name Ka is connected to Yehoshua. Let us see how right now.

The Name Ka is connected to Yehoshua because the soul of Levi ben Ya’akov Avinu now dwells inside of Yehoshua’s body, and the Name Ka is connected to Levi. This connection is based on the Mishna in Meseches Middos (chap. 2, “Har Habayis”, Mishna 5) and in Meseches Sukka (chap. 5, “Hachalil”, Mishna 4; pg. 51a-51b) which says that there were fifteen steps in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) from the Ezras Nashim (women’s courtyard) to the Ezras Yisrael (the Israelite courtyard).

The Leviim (Levites) would stand on those fifteen steps and sing to God the fifteen Psalms called “Shir Hama’alos” (Songs of Ascent; Tehillim, chapters 120-134). They sang one song on each step.

The Ritva (Rabbi Yom Tov of Seville Spain, 1250-1330) on the Hagaddah Shel Pesach adds that those fifteen steps correspond to the fifteen stages that we go through on Leil Haseder (Passover night). This teaches us that just as the fifteen steps led to the Kodesh (Holy area) of the Beis Hamikdash, so can we climb to the highest levels during the Seder.

The number fifteen is being emphasized because it is the numerical value of God’s Name Ka. The meaning behind the Name Ka is based on the verse, “Ki b’Ka Hashem Tzur Olamim” (for with Ka Hashem fashioned the worlds; Yeshaya, 26:4). The worlds which Hashem fashioned with His Name Ka are Olam Haba which Hashem created with the letter Yud of Ka, and Olam Hazeh which Hashem created with the letter Hey of Ka (Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 29b, Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Ilai).

Therefore, the number fifteen is highlighted (fifteen stairs, fifteen Shir Hama’alos, fifteen stages on Leil Haseder) because it teaches us that we are capable of drawing down kedusha (holiness) from Olam Haba which was created with the letter Yud, to Olam Hazeh which was created with the letter hey.

Therefore, says the Shvilei Pinchas, the Name Ka was added to Yehoshua’s name because it connected with the soul of Levi who dwelled inside of Yehoshua, because it was Levi [and his Shevet] who would stand on the fifteen stairs of the Beis Hamikdash and sing the fifteen Songs of Ascent.

Perhaps we could add that the Name Ka also connects to Yehoshua because he was sent on a mission to spy out the Land and bring the Jews into Eretz Yisrael. When the Jews would enter into the Land, they would be able to schlepp down the kedusha from Olam Haba created by the Yud, into Olam Hazeh created by the Hey, via the conduit called Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael is where Olam Haba and Olam Hazeh meet. Since it was Yehoshua’s job to connect Olam Hazeh to Olam Haba through Eretz Yisrael, the Name Ka was an appropriate addition to his name.

Now we are going to see what happened to the souls of the Shevatim after they entered into the Meraglim to help them.

The Arizal (Sha’ar Hagilgulim, preface, pg. 5a) says that there is a huge difference between a soul that comes back to this world as a gilgul (reincarnation) to rectify a sin it had committed in a previous life, as opposed to a soul which comes back into this world as a form of possession called Sod Ha-Ibur to help someone else overcome sin.

When a soul comes back to this world as a gilgul to fix a wrongdoing from a previous life, that soul enters into its new body at the time of birth, and it cannot leave that body until the time of death. That soul feels the pain and suffering that the person experiences and it feels the pain of the new body’s death.

However, when a soul comes back into this world as a form of possession to help someone else, it does not enter into the new body until it is necessary. The additional soul will stay in the body as long as the person behaves. If, however the person does not behave, the additional soul will leave the body right before the person sins so as to save itself from the contamination of sin.

Based on this, once the spies were about to say their Lashon Hara, the souls of the Shevatim who were inside of those Meraglim left their bodies and returned to Gan Eden (paradise) above so as not to become filthy with the Sin of the Spies.

This will explain the meaning of the verse, “Vayeilchu Vayavo-u (and they went and they came) to Moshe and to Aharon” (Parshas Shelach, 13:26). Apparently, the word “Vayeilchu” is superfluous because the pasuk right beforehand already said, “And they returned from spying out the Land” (Parshas Shelach, 13:25). Therefore, the next verse should have just said, “And they came (Vayavo-u) to Moshe and Aharon.” What is the meaning of this seeming extra word?

The Arizal says that the word “Vayeilchu” is talking about the souls of the Shevatim B’nei Ya’akov Avinu. The Shevatim’s souls left the bodies of the Meraglim and “went” back to Gan Eden Above. The next word “Vayavo-u” (and they came) refers to the Meraglim themselves who “came” to Moshe and Aharon to speak their Lashon Hara.

According to this approach of the Arizal, a certain contradiction in this week’s parsha can be resolved.

At the beginning of the story the pasuk says, “They were all Anashim” (distinguished men; Parshas Shelach, 13:3). Rashi says that whenever the Torah uses the word “Anashim” it carries with it a connotation of importance. This comes to teach us that at that moment (when they were being sent to spy out the Land) they were kosher, meaning, they were righteous.

However, when the spies came back from scouting out the Land, the verse says, “Vayeilchu Vayavo-u” (they went and they came; Parshas Shelach, 13:26). Rashi cites the Gemara in Sota (chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 35a, Rebbi Yochanan in the name of Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai) which asks, “What is the meaning of the word ‘Vayeilchu?’” Apparently, the Gemara was bothered by the same question which the Arizal had asked above. The Gemara offers its own answer. The Gemara says that the word “Vayeilchu” was added next to the word “Vayavo-u” so that we should compare their “going out” (Vayeilchu) to their coming back (Vayavo-u). Just as their coming back was with evil intent, so was their going out with evil intent.

From this source we see that when the spies began their mission, they were not righteous. This seems to contradict the previous source which said that when the spies began their mission, they were righteous. So, will the real truth please stand up! Were the spies tzaddikim at the beginning of the story or not?

The Maor v’Shemesh (Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Halevi Epstien from Cracow, Poland, 1753-1825) answers this question by saying that according to the Arizal there is no contradiction whatsoever. At the beginning of the story when the verse called them Anashim and Rashi said that this meant that they were kosher, that was referring to the souls of the Shevatim that were inside of them.

However, towards the end of the story when the Gemara, based on the verse, said that they embarked on their mission with evil intent, it was referring to the Meraglim themselves.

According to this whole approach, Yoseph’s words to his brothers takes on new meaning. When the brothers first descended to Egypt to purchase food during the famine, Yoseph said to them, “You are Meraglim, to see the land’s nakedness have you come” (Parshas Miketz, 42:9).

Simplistically speaking, Yoseph accused them of being Meraglim to cause them pain in order to help them receive atonement for their sin of selling Yoseph. However, how could Yoseph not watch the sanctity of his mouth by uttering a lie? The truth was that they were not spies, and Yoseph knew that. So, how could Yoseph utter a sheker?

The Arizal says that Yoseph did not lie. Rather, Yoseph prophesied to them that one day they would become spies by possessing the Meraglim’s bodies in order to help assist them so that they should not come to sin.

In conclusion, the reason why the souls of Levi (who possessed Yehoshua) and Yehuda (who possessed Kalev) succeeded in preventing them from sinning, whereas the souls of the other Shevatim did not succeed in rescuing the other Meraglim from sinning was because Moshe had davened on behalf of Yehoshua, and Kalev davened for himself when he ran to Chevron and prostrated himself on the graves of the Avos in the Machpeila Cave (Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34b, based on Parshas Shelach, 13:22).

It was the power of their prayers, in addition to the souls of the Shevatim within them, which had the ability to overcome the challenges which faced them.

Therefore, practically speaking, one message which emerges from this approach of the Arizal would be to appreciate the Power of Prayer. Therefore, let us try to improve a little bit more in our davening. This could be done quantitatively by spending a little bit more time praying, or it can be achieved qualitatively by choosing to concentrate a little bit more on a given phrase or bracha.

Another way to improve on tefillah would be to focus on and increase our personal prayers when we speak to God in our own language throughout the day as we face all sorts of situations and challenges.

So, may we all be blessed with the magical power of prayer and thus benefit that Ka will protect us from all harm, and bring us all back to Eretz Yisrael where we will be greeted by Moshe, Yehoshua, Kalev, the Avos, and all of the Shevatim, where we will hear the holy Ascent Songs of the Leviim on the fifteen steps of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Power of Suggestion

“The Power of Suggestion”

This week we are going to talk about a very difficult story concerning Miriam who allegedly spoke Lashon Hara about her younger brother, Moshe. As a result of her words, she was smitten with tzara’as (a spiritual skin disease), and Moshe had to pray on her behalf.

The verse says that Miriam spoke with Aharon, “Regarding the Kushite woman he [Moshe] had married” (Parshas Beha;alosecha, 12:1). Rashi cites a Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Tzav, 13) which says that this means that Miriam spoke about the fact that Moshe had divorced his wife, Tzippora, because he [Moshe] was a prophet.

Miriam criticized Moshe for that because both she [Miriam] and Aharon were prophets and they did not have to separate themselves from their spouses (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:2).

The Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as, 16:10) claims that Miriam’s mistake was that she equated Moshe to other prophets without realizing that Moshe was a superior prophet to others.

The verse goes on to say that Moshe was the humblest person who ever lived (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:3). The Shvilei Pinchas says that it was due to this humility of Moshe which kept Miriam and Aharon in the dark regarding Moshe’s superior level of prophecy. Moshe would have never told them that he was a greater prophet than they because he was too humble to do so.

So, Hashem had to set them, Miriam and Aharon, straight. Hashem did so by telling them that other prophets only receive prophecy in a dream, which means that it is not a clear vision (Parshas Beha’alosech, 12:6, Rashi). However, Moshe is the most trusted one in Hashem’s entire house (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:7), with whom Hashem speaks mouth to mouth. This means that Moshe receives a clear vision which is not in riddles (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8).

This means that Moshe was in a class of prophecy all unto himself. Besides, it was Hashem Who commanded Moshe to separate himself from his wife (Parshas Vaeschanan, 5:28), due to the frequency and intensity of his prophecy. Since we are being told about the difference between Moshe’s prophecy as opposed to other Neviim’s prophecy, let us enumerate what those differences were.

The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah, 7:6) lists six differences between the prophetic powers of Moshe as opposed to all other prophets.


Other prophets only received their prophecies in a dream while they were laying down sleeping. However, Moshe would receive prophecy while awake standing erect (Parshas Naso, 7:89).


Other prophets received their prophecy through an angel, whereas Moshe received prophecy directly from Hashem (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8; Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:11).


Other prophets received their prophecy in the form of a riddle or in the shape of a puzzle, and they would have to try and figure out what Hashem was telling them. However, Moshe received a clear prophecy which did not require any interpretation (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8).


Other prophets experienced fright and nervousness when Hashem communicated with them. However, Moshe was completely relaxed when Hashem spoke to him (Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:11).


Other prophets could not decide when to receive prophecy, rather, Hashem decided. However, Moshe was allowed to decide when Hashem would speak to him (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 9:8).


After the prophecy was over, other prophets reverted back to how they were prior to the prophecy, whether with respect to the glow on their faces or with respect to returning to their spouses. However, after Moshe finished receiving a prophecy, the glow on his face remained with him, and, as we mentioned above, he was not allowed to return to his wife (Parshas Ki Sisa, 34:30).

At first, all three [Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam] were selected by Hashem to be the leaders of the Jewish people in the wilderness (Micha, 6:4). Moreover, the three gifts which Hashem granted to the Jewish people in the Midbar were in the merits of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. The Manna was in the merit of Moshe, the Clouds of Glory were in the merit of Aharon, and the water which flowed from a rock was in the merit of Miriam (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 9a, Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Yehuda; Medrash Shocher Tov, Mishlei, 14:1).

All three of them were prophets (Parhsiyos v’Zos Haberacha, 34:10; Vaeira, 7:1; Beshalach, 15:20), and all three died by Misas Neshika (God kissed them and they died) which is considered to be the most pleasant way to transition from this world to the next.
Hashem even summoned all three of them to the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting; Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:4) which indicates that all three were special.

However, after they arrived inside the Ohel Moed, Hashem went on to dismiss Aharon and Miriam from the Ohel Moed. Those two had to leave, with only Moshe remaining inside. The Shvilei Pinchas says that this was meant to show Aharon and Miriam that Moshe was superior to them.

Moshe’s place was within the Ohel Moed where Hashem would speak to him from atop the Aron Hakodesh, between the two Keruvim (Parshas Teruma, 25:22).

At this point we are going to see what motivated Miriam to complain about Moshe divorcing Tzippora.

The Gemara in Sota (chap. 1 “Hamekaneh”, pg. 12a, based on Parshas Shemos, 2:1; Rav Yehuda bar Zevina) says that Amram was the Gadol Hador, and when he heard about Pharaoh’s harsh decree to throw Jewish baby boys into the river (Parshas Shemos, 1:22), he said that it would be better not to bring babies into the world to begin with rather than have them suffer suffocation in the river.

So, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved, and all of the Jewish men followed his lead and divorced their wives as well. Miriam told her father that his decree was harsher than Pharaoh’s because Pharaoh’s decree was only on boys, but Amram’s decree was on girls also.

Miriam suggested that Amram take Yocheved back because the savior of the Jewish people would come about from their union. When Moshe was born and the house filled with light, Amram kissed Miriam on her head and said, “My daughter, your prophecy has come true.”

However, when Egyptian police were breaking doors down to throw Jewish baby boys into the river which forced Yocheved to place Moshe in a basket on the river which endangered Moshe’s life, Amram smacked Miriam on her head and said, “My daughter, where is your prophecy now?” Therefore, Miriam followed Moshe from a distance (Parshas Shemos, 2:4) because she wanted to see how her prophecy would be fulfilled.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that it turns out that Moshe was born all because of Miriam who admonished Amram for divorcing Yocheved. And when Miriam heard that Moshe divorced his wife Tzippora, it brought back some painful memories from her childhood about how her father, Amram, had divorced her mother, Yocheved.

Miriam reasoned that just like she persuaded Amram to remarry Yocheved which resulted in the birth of Moshe, so too should she convince Moshe to remarry Tzippora because maybe the next generation’s leader would be born from them.

Miriam’s only mistake was that she did not know that Hashem had instructed Moshe to separate himself from Tzippora (Parshas Vaeschanan, 5:28). She could not have known about this because Moshe was too great an anav (humble person) to have told her that he was in a class all unto himself.

One zechus (merit) that Miriam had which served as a merit for her to bring Moshe into this world was that she [being a midwife] refused to listen to Pharaoh’s decree of murdering Jewish boys as they were being born (Parshas Shemos, 1:15-17). She could have lost her own life for disobedience. Yet, she feared God more than she feared Pharaoh.

Miriam had another zechus. When the Egyptian Princess found the basket with Moshe in it (Parshas Shemos, 2:3-6), Batya, the Egyptian princess, tried to have Egyptian wet-nurses nurse him. However, Moshe refused to nurse from them because his mouth would one day speak with God directly, and as such, it would not nurse from a contaminated source (Sota, 12b). It was Miriam who suggested to Batya that she (Miriam) could bring a Hebrew wet-nurse to nourish the baby. Batya acquiesced, and Miriam brought Yocheved, the baby’s mother, to nurse Moshe.

Had it not been for Miriam, they would have probably force-fed Moshe from Egyptian nurse-maids which would have contaminated his mouth with chalav akum, thus preventing him from speaking with Hashem mouth to mouth. However, it was Miriam’s wisdom and suggestion which allowed Moshe to nurse from chalav Yisrael, enabling him to speak with God face to face.
It was Miriam who caused Moshe to learn the Torah from Hashem’s mouth directly.

Perhaps we could suggest that this is why Moshe’s prayer for Miriam to heal from her tzara’as was, “Keil Nuh, Refuh Nuh Luh” (please God, heal her now; Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:13). There are specifically five words in this prayer, and it could be that this is because they correlate to the Five Books of the Torah. This teaches us that Moshe meant to say that he was zocheh (merited) to learn the Five Books of the Torah from Hashem’s mouth (so to speak) directly as a result of Miriam. Moshe intended that this zechus of Miriam’s should be adequate reason for her to be healed.

In spite of all that, Miriam was smitten with tzara’as to teach us just how bad Lashon Hara is. At this point, let us analyze why Miriam had to be quarantined for specifically seven days.

Hashem said to Moshe, “Were her father to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days, let her be quarantined outside the camp for seven days, then she may be brought in” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:14).

The Da’as Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafos (ibid) says that we find that Amram did indeed spit in Miriam’s face. After they were forced to put baby Moshe in a basket on the river, which endangered Moshe’s life, the Gemara in Sota quoted above (12b-13a) said that Amram smacked Miriam on her head. However, the Midrash Shocher Tov (Mishlei, 31:17) says that Amram spat in her face.
When the people saw that the Gadol Hador spat in Miriam’s face, they treated her as a Metzora who has to dwell outside the camp for seven days (Parshas Metzora, 14:8). Therefore, the people distanced themselves from her for seven days.

Therefore, Hashem meant to say, “If Miriam was quarantined for seven days after being spat in the face by her father, Amram, Miriam should certainly be quarantined for seven days now because I Hashem am spitting (so to speak) in her face for what she said.”

The Shvilei Pinchas makes the following observation. Amram spat in her face for nothing because in the end Miriam was right because no harm came to Moshe and they [Amram and Yocheved] did give birth to the Jewish savior.

So, just as she was punished by Amram for nothing, so was Miriam punished by Hashem for nothing because, in so far as Miriam was concerned, she did nothing wrong. She did not know that Hashem had instructed Moshe to divorce Tzippora. If not for that, Miriam would have been right.

This is why the verse compares Amram spitting in her face to that of Hashem spitting in her face. It is to teach us that in both instances, Miriam did nothing wrong. The only reason why Hashem “punished” her was because of the verse which says, “Through those closest to Me I will be sanctified” (Parshas Shmini, 10:3).

This means to say that when Hashem treats righteous people harshly, it causes average people to revere God even ore so. The average person would say, “If that is what happened to a tzaddik, who knows what could happen to us. We had better improve on ourselves” (Rashi, Parshas Shmini, quoting Meseches Zevachim, chap. 14, “Paras Chatas”, pg. 115b, Rebbi Yochanan). Miriam’s receiving tzara’as was not necessarily an indication of sin, but rather, she was being used by Hashem to bring others closer to Him.

Although Miriam possessed “holy chutzpa” (see Divrei Hayamim 2, 17:6) and spoke up, even to the Gadol Hador, when she believed that her suggestion was the will of God, Miriam also possessed great humility, because when she was smitten with tzara’as, she did not complain, but rather she accepted it upon herself.

Maybe we could learn from Miriam to have even more holy chutzpa by making suggestions to other people if we believe that it could really help them, and at the same time we could try to be even more humble like Miriam with the realization that our suggestions may not be what is best for others because we do not have all of the information. Therefore, let us not get insulted or take it personally if others do not heed what we suggest.

So, may we all be blessed to drink from the holy waters of Miriam and remember to cultivate the combination of confidence, concern, generosity, and resilience when attempting to help others, and thereby be blessed to be led out of this long seven-fold exile by the Jewish savior speedily in our days.

May I Have Your Daughter’s Hand in Marriage?

“May I Have Your Daughter’s Hand in Marriage”

Since we celebrate receiving the Torah on Shavuos, it would be fitting to discuss the blessings that we recite prior to learning Torah which are called Birchas HaTorah. According to the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194 Spain-1270 Acco) in Sefer Hamitzvos (mitzva 15), the recitation of Birchas HaTorah is not the fulfilment of Rabbinic Law but rather it is a fulfilment of Torah Law (see Berachos, chap. 3, “Mi Shimeisu”, pg. 21a, based on Parshas Ha’azinu, 32:3).

The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, M’eimasai”, pg. 11b) tells us that there are two blessings to Birchas HaTorah. Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel and Rebbi Yochanan say that the first blessing is, “La’asok b’Divrei Torah” (to engross ourselves in the words of Torah), which concludes with the words “v’Ha’arev Nah” (and please sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths etc.; see Tosafos, Berachos, chap. 7, “Shlosha She-achlu”, pg. 46a, divrei hamaschil “Kol Haberachos”; also see Mechaber and Rema, Orach Chaim, 47:6).

Rav Hamnunah says that the second blessing is, “Asher Bachar Banu” (Who chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah).

One question which comes to mind is, “Why are there two blessing prior to performing the mitzva of learning Torah?” Every other mitzva only has one Birchas Hamitzvah (mitzvah blessing) recited prior to performing that mitzvah. Apparently, the mitzvah of learning Torah should be no different. Why is Birchas HaTorah different? In order to address this, we will move on to share the following teaching.

In Parshas v’Zos Haberacha (33:4) it says, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us Morasha (is the inheritance) of the Congregation of Ya’akov.” The Gemara in Pesachim (chap. 3, “Eilu Ovrin”, pg. 49b) tells us not to read that word as “Morasha,” but rather, we should change the vowelazation and read it as “Meorasa” (betrothed). Meaning, the Torah is betrothed to the Congregation of Ya’akov.

In his Chiddushe Aggados, the Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631, Poland) explains the reason why this Gemara in Pesachim does not translate the word “Morasha” simplistically as an “inheritance.” It is because the Mishna in Meseches Avos (chap. 2, “Rebbi Omer”, Mishna 12 or 17) quotes Rebbi Yosi as saying, “Apply yourself to learn Torah because it is not a yerusha (inheritance) to you.”

Since the Mishna in Avos states that Torah is not a yerusha, the Gemara in Pesachim was forced to define the word Morahsa differently, by changing the pronunciation of that word to Meorasa.

This comes to teach us that, at first, Hashem gave the Torah to us as an “Arusa” (a term which is used to describe the first stage of marriage). In many places, the Torah is compared to a woman, and Hashem married her off to the Jewish people (the groom). However, the Jewish people are meant to toil in the study of Torah which makes the Torah into our “Nesua” (a term which is used to describe the second and final stage of marriage).

The connection between the Jewish people and the Torah is being compared to a marriage between a husband and a wife. In Talmudic times there were two stages in marriage: 1) Eirusin (by giving a ring), and 2) Nesuin (consummation) which were typically separated by twelve months. Similarly, the Jewish people married the Torah in two stages.

The first stage was when Hashem gave us the Torah at Sinai as an Arusa, and the second stage happens when we apply ourselves to study Torah which makes her (the Torah) into a Nesua.

Now we are going to explore what we are supposed to use as the kinyan (acquisition) in order to make the Torah into our Nesua.

In Pirkei Avos (6:6) it says that the Torah is acquired with forty-eight things. The Bereisa there goes on to enumerate what those forty-eight things are. Based on this, the Reishis Chochma (Rabbe Eliyahu de Vidas, 16th cent. Tzfas-Chevron) in Sha’ar Hakedusha (chap. 4) says that just as a woman can be married to a husband in one of three ways (kesef, shtar, and biya; Mishna, Meseches Kedushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, Mishna 1, pg. 2a), so is the Torah married to the Jewish people through the forty-eight ways.

This teaching of the Reishis Chochma is complemented by another teaching from the Vilna Gaon.

In Mishlei (31:10) it says, “Eishes Chayil Mi Yimtza” (an accomplished woman who can find). The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu, 1720 Belarus-1797 Lithuania) in his Biur HaGR”A (ibid) says that the Eishes Chayil under discussion refers to the Torah. The reason why the verse calls her “Chayil” is because the Torah is acquired with the forty-eight ways. The number forty-eight is hinted to in this verse because the word “Chayil” in numerically forty-eight.

This numerical equivalency teaches us that the Torah is married to the Jewish people like a woman (Eishes), through the forty-eight (Chayil) ways that the Torah is acquired with.

Rabbi Pinchas Justman (1848-1920, the Piltzer Rebbe, Poland; brother-in-law of the Sfas Emes), in his Sifsei Tzaddik on Shavuos (#10), quotes his grandfather, the Chiddushei Harim, who says that since we marry the Torah as a Nesua through the forty-eight ways, Hashem gave us forty-nine days of Sefiras HaOmer. During the first forty-eight days we are supposed to try to cultivate the forty-eight ways; by focusing on one way each day. Then, on the forty-ninth day, we are supposed to review all forty-eight ways. Then we will be prepared to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day, Shavuos, which we will marry as an Arusa and as a Nesua.

There is an acid test to find out if we have succeeded in marrying the Torah to the point of Nesuin, where the Torah becomes our full-fledged wife. We are going to see what that test is right now.

In Pirkei Avos (6:1), Rebbi Meir says that anyone who engages in Torah study Lishma (for its own sake) will merit many things. Torah secrets will be revealed to him, he will become like a fountain that steadily strengthens, and he will be like an unceasing river.

Based on this teaching, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, 1748-1800, Ukraine; the Ba’al Shem Tov’s grandson, Parshas Yisro) says that since this Bereisa said that Torah secrets will be revealed to him, we see that the test to know if the Torah became his Nesua is if the Torah reveals her secrets to him.

This is because it is known that a woman only reveals her true innermost secrets to her husband. Therefore, if the Torah reveals her secrets to someone, it is proof that that person completely married the Torah to the point of Nesua.

The Zohar (Parshas Mishpatim, pg. 99a) says that at first, she (the Torah) reveals her pshat to him. Then, as the relationship progresses, she reveals her remez to him. As the relationship intensifies, she reveals her drush to him. Eventually, she reveals her sod to him. The Torah even asks her Father (Hashem) for permission to do so.

Based on this teaching, we will see how these Torah secrets, which are chiddushei Torah, enable us to fulfil a certain mitzva at all times.

In his Sefer Derech Pikudecha, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Poland (1783-1841; Mitzva Aleph, #’s 25-27) posits that it is possible to fulfil every single mitzva in the Torah at all times, even though the physical components of the mitzva are absent. This is because every mitzva also possesses spiritual aspects, and we can fulfil each mitzva on that spiritual level. After all, the Torah is eternal. Therefore, we should be able to fulfil it at all times.

For example, each and every person can fulfil the very first mitzva in the Torah which is found in Parshas Bereishis (1:28) where it commands us to be fruitful and multiply. Even if a couple do not have physical children, they can fulfil this mitzva by bringing forth chiddushei Torah into the world. Those novel Torah ideas are considered to be their spiritual children that they gave birth to.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that when you put all of the above together, you get something like this. The point of Hashem giving us the Torah as an Arusa was so that the Jewish people would toil in Torah making her (the Torah) into a Nesua, because then she will divulge her innermost secrets to us, and through that, we can always fulfil the mitzva of being fruitful and multiply.

Before we answer the original question that was raised above, we are going to share a teaching from Rabbenu Yona (Gerondi, Spain, 1200-1263; Meseches Berachos, pg. 5b). Rabbenu Yona says that the second beracha of Birchas HaTorah (Asher Bachar Banu) is going on Torah Shebichtav (the Written Law), whereas the first Beracha of Birchas HaTorah (La’asok b’Divrei Torah) is going on Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Tradition).

Immediately, this raises a question because it seems backwards. Apparently, the first beracha should go on Torah Shebichtav which we received first, and it would seem that the second beracha should go on Torah Sheba’al Peh which we received second.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that the reason why Birchas HaTorah is put into this order is because of what the verse in Shir Hashirim says. In Shir Hashirim (1:2) it says, “May He kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for Your love is better than wine.” In Shir Hashirim Rabba (1:18) it expounds on this verse by saying that it was said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan that the words of the Scribes (the Sages of Torah Sheba’al Peh) are more cherished than the words of the Torah itself [Torah Shebichtav].

Since Oral Law is even more beloved to God than the Written Law, we recite a blessing over the Oral Law first to show its importance.

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to say that this answers the question as to why there are specifically two blessings which we recite over the mitzva of Torah study and not just one blessing like we do by all other mitzvos.

It is because we said above that Hashem gave the Torah to us as an Arusa, but through our efforts in learning Torah, she becomes our Nesua. Therefore, the beracha Asher Bachar Banu which goes on Torah Shebichtav that we received at Sinai is Birchas Eirusin. However, the beracha La’asok b’Divrei Torah which goes on Torah Sheba’al Peh that we acquire through toiling is Birchas Nesuin. In other words, we need specifically two berachos for the two stages of marriage that we have with the Torah: Eirusin and Nesuin.

The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by saying that based on all of the above, we will have a better insight into the Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 59a) which says that if a non-Jew studies Torah, he is liable the death penalty. The reason given for this is the verse which says, “It (Torah) is Morasha (an inheritance) to the Congregation of Ya’akov” (Parshas v’Zos Haberacha, 33:4). The Talmud says to read the word Morasha as Meorasa (betrothed).

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that since the Torah is married to the Jewish people, when a non-Jew studies Torah, it is like he is having an intimate relationship with a married woman, and one who is intimate with a married woman is liable the death penalty. This is why a non-Jew who studies Torah deserves the death penalty.

Practically speaking, when we recite Birchas HaTorah each and every day, let us keep in mind that the beracha “La’asok” is going on Torah Sheba’al Peh, and the beracha “Asher Bachar Banu” is going on Torah Shebichtav. Let this serve as a reminder that Hashem first married off the Torah (His daughter) to us as an Arusa (Asher Bachar Banu-Torah Shebichtav), but it is our duty and privilege to make her our Nesua.

Let us also keep in mind that we must try to cultivate the forty-eight ways into our systems even more so, and we must also toil a little bit more in our learning in order to make that happen. Because when we do, she will reveal all of her secrets to us.

So, we have already been blessed by God Who chose us to give us His daughter’s hand in marriage, which is Torah Shebichtav – our Arusa, and may we continue to be blessed with the willingness, fortitude, and strength to bring her into our homes and into our hearts by investing the time and effort to try to understand her more and more by absorbing the forty-eight ways into our systems even more so, making her into our full-fledged wife, and thus benefit to receive her deepest secrets found in Torah Sheba’al Peh, and may we express our gratitude by making some blessings of our own, namely, Birchas HaTorah with even more appreciation.