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Protecting Our Priorities

Written by Rabbi Dovid Wachs.

In Chapter 32 of the Book of Bamidbar, we read about the request made by two of the tribes, Reuven and Gad, to be granted the eastern bank of the Jordan River as their inheritance instead of a portion in the Land of Israel.  They possessed a great amount of livestock and since this region was lush in pastureland, they felt that they would be more successful there than in Israel.   Although it is puzzling that they were willing to relinquish their rightful portions in Eretz Yisroel, a Land imbued with such holiness, they apparently felt that they could best serve the Almighty by having greater material success.
 
Moshe was astonished at their request.  He saw it as reminiscent of the episode of the spies forty years before.  When the spies came back with a fearful report about the giant peoples who lived in Israel, and said that the Jews would be unable to conquer the land, a wave of panic spread among the people.  Moshe told Reuven and Gad that if he were to grant their request, the rest of the Jewish people might attribute it to Reuven and Gad's fear of the people living in the Land.  This could demoralize the other tribes and undermine their faith in G-d's promise of success, inject doubt and fear into their hearts, such that they would refuse to enter the Land in order to conquer it. 

In answer to Moshe's charges, the two tribes answered him by saying that they would build pens for their sheep and cattle, and cities for their wives and children on the eastern bank, and then they would go with their brothers to conquer Eretz Yisroel, and even volunteer to be on the front lines.  They also said that they would stay in Eretz Yisroel until all the other tribes had received their inherited portions of the Land.   (It took seven years to conquer the land, and another seven years to apportion it to the tribes).   Only then, they said, would they return to their families on the eastern bank of the Jordan.

Rashi comments on their response, noting that they first said that they would build pens for their livestock and then cities for their families.  He understands this as meaning that they were more concerned about their livestock than their own children.  They should have first said that  they would build cities for their families, and then pens for the animals.  Moshe, in fact, corrected them - when he agreed to their proposal and reiterated their conditions to them he changed the priorities of what got provided for first.

My Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, of blessed memory, asked how such righteous people as these tribes could care more about their livestock than their own children.  He explained that originally they were naturally more concerned about their children, and that's why they worked so vigilantly to raise and increase their livestock, motivated by the desire to provide for their families. As time went on, though, they became more and more absorbed in their livelihood, and began to look upon their livestock as a value and purpose in and of itself, not just as a means to provide for their children. This eventually led them to become more concerned about the welfare of their livestock than their own children.  

The Midrash Tanchuma takes it a step further.  It says that the tribes of Reuven and Gad were not just more concerned about their livestock but that they actually cherished and loved their livestock more than their children.  How can we understand this?  It is human nature that we generally love that to which we give more of ourselves, that to which we invest more of ourselves.  The two tribes' preoccupation and deep involvement with their livestock and livelihood eventually led them to cherish the animals more than their own families.

Rabbi Leibowitz noted that if such great people, who lived in such a holy generation, were affected to such an extent by their involvement with their livelihood and material success , imagine people in our generation!   How careful we must be to protect our priorities and to distinguish between the means and the end. We should keep checking ourselves - what are we living for?  As Rav Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory, used to ask, "Are you eating to live, or living to eat?"  If the answer is that I am eating to "live," then we can go deeper and ask, what I am living for?  Where do I put most of my time and energy? How much time do I spend with my loved ones?  How much time do I spend helping others ?  How much time do I invest in my spiritual growth?  In the frenetic world we live in, this lesson has probably never been more relevant.
  

Have a Great Shabbos!

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Deceptive Numbers

Written by Rabbi Dovid Wachs.

Chapter 26:41-42

In this Parsha, Moshe is commanded by G-d to take a census of the Jewish people.  Rashi explains that just as the Jews were counted when they left Egypt under the leadership of Moshe, so too, Moshe is told to count them again as he prepares to pass the leadership to Yehoshua. 

All twelve tribes are counted separately and we find some very unusual totals for two of the tribes, namely Binyamin and Dan.  Verse 41 tells us that from Binyamin there were a total of 45,600 people, and from the tribe of Dan, there were 64,400 people.    Looking back a couple of hundred years before, when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, we learn that Binyamin had ten sons and Dan had only one son, Chushim.  Not only was Chushim an only child, he was also deaf.  Imagine a gathering of Yaakov and his twelve sons, his daughter, and grandchildren.  He sees his sons, each with multiple children, eating together and enjoying each other's company. When he looks over at Dan, sitting with his wife and only son, Chushim, he might have thought..."Nebach,   what will become of Dan's tribe with only one son?   And, more so, with such a disability as deafness, will he ever find success, will he get married, have a family? "

Then, when he looks over at Binyamin with his ten sons, he is filled with so much optimism and pride as he projects to the future and imagines the incredible growth and success of this tribe.  And yet, when we fast forward to the events in this Parsha during their 40th year in the desert, the census of Yaakov's family reveals that the tribe of Binyamin has only 45,600 people while the tribe of Dan has grown to 64,400 people.  We would have expected these numbers to be opposite.

 The Chofetz Chaim, of blessed memory, says that from here we see that someone whom G-d wants to succeed will succeed in spite of any obstacles in the way.  Someone can be poor or physically challenged yet this is in no way a prediction for the future.  Likewise, someone can be blessed with great wealth and it can be lost overnight.  The only thing in our control is our free will, our ability to choose, specifically, how we will decide to act ethically and spiritually in life.   Everything else is in the hands of the Almighty. 

After the Holocaust, who would ever have thought that the Jewish people would have flourished as it did?  Who could have imagined the rebirth of Israel, the resurgence of Jewish education with Jewish day schools and yeshivos across the U.S.A. and in Israel, and the many unique contributions of the Jewish people to the world?   These remarkable achievements defy logic and do not fit the pattern of other peoples who have been severely persecuted.  

Many rabbis have said that our survival and success is a miracle greater than any other miracle that we have ever experienced.  Our history as a nation reveals that G-d has a plan for the world and, that, we, the Jewish people, are a major player.  We also see from this parsha,  from the inexplicably large number of the tribe of Dan,  that G-d is not only the global master puppeteer, but that He is also the guiding hand in our individual, personal lives.  

Certainly, we must still make the right choices and make every effort to ensure our successes, but we know that only G-d controls outcomes.  We can thus face the challenges in our lives feeling secure and happy in the knowledge that the Almighty has given us a unique, eternal role to play in his Master Plan, and that no matter how bleak or unpromising things might seem on the surface of things, He's always directing events behind the scenes for our benefit.  

 

Have a Great Shabbos!   
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Monotony for Dignity

Written by Rabbi Dovid Wachs.

On the first day of the month of Nissan, the Jewish people completed setting up the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) in the desert.  The heads of each tribe, twelve of them, dedicated various gifts to be used in the daily service of the Mishkan...  The leader of the tribe of Yehudah, Nachshon ben Aminadav, brought his gifts on the first day. He brought one silver bowl that weighed 130 Shekalim, one silver basin weighing 70 shekalim, both filled with fine flour mixed with oil, one golden ladle filled with incense that weighed 10 shekalim, and 21 various animals for offerings. 

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Becoming a Builder

Written by Rabbi Dovid Wachs.

In this week's Parsha, Emor, the Jewish holidays (the Chagim) are enumerated. The Torah lists them in the following order: Pesach, Shavuous, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Succos and finally Shmini Atzeres.  The commentaries tell us that these six holidays correspond to the six days of creation.  Pesach and Succos are each seven days long; Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Shavuous and Shmini Atzeres are all one day long (in Israel) for a total of 18 days.  

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Do We Know Who We Are?

Written by Rabbi Dovid Wachs.

Leviticus: 19:2 "Speak to the entire congregation of Israel and say to them, "You shall be Holy, because I am Holy, Hashem your God."

Why does this parsha, as distinct from all the other parshiyos, tell us that G-d commanded Moshe to speak to the entire Jewish people? The Mizrachi explains that in the other instances, the Jewish people came to Moshe to learn the parsha's teachings in individual groups, one after the other. In this parsha, though, the Jewish people were addressed by Moshe as one entire group because the majority of the Torah's essential, fundamental concepts are found in it.