Shelach Lecha 5769

by Yedidya Ben-Avie

June 20, 2009/28 Sivan 5769

This week we read Parsha Shelach Lecha. It is one of the most important parshiot because it explains why the Israelites spent so many years in the wilderness before entering the land of Israel. Also in this parsha, is the third paragraph of the Shema, and the scriptural basis for needing ten people for a minyan.

The parsha immediately starts talking scouting Eretz Yisrael. Moshe picked one chieftain from each tribe to be part of the scouting mission. Unlike before when it was Hashem who chose representatives from each tribe, Moshe doing the choosing shows that G-d didn’t approve of this mission.

Moshe gave the scouts a list of things to look for in order to see whether the land was good. The scouts went in and scouted the land. They found giant people living behind fortified walls.

When the scouts returned, they caused panic in the community by reporting that the inhabitants would surely devour the Israelites if they were to invade. “And we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33)

According to the Etz Chaim Chumash, the scout’s failure was that they didn’t have faith in themselves or in G-d. Surely with G-d’s presence in their midst they would win any battle.

Of the scouts, only Joshua and Caleb spoke to the goodness of the land. They reaffirmed their faith in Hashem and the promise of victory.

Angry, G-d punished B’nai Israel to wander the wilderness for forty years. All but Caleb and Joshua, who had given positive reports, were to die in the wilderness so that the next generation would enter the promised land.

The Etz Chaim Chumash emphasizes that Joshua and Caleb stood up to the majority and were rewarded. This means that although there was much peer pressure to also give a negative report, they stood up for what they believed in and came out better for it.

So while you probably won’t be dealing with any situation on this scale, think about what you say and how you say it. Even though all the scouts were chieftains in their tribes, they didn’t realize the panic their words would bring. And if there is a majority against you, don’t betray your beliefs.

Shelach Lecha 5770

by Emily Mostow

This week, we read parshat Shlach. This is the famous parsha of the spies. Ten out of 12 of the spies come back with bad reports of the Promised Land, and God is angry. B’nai Yisrael has already committed many other sins, from the Golden Calf to complaining about the manna, and this is the one that tips the scale. Hashem says to Moshe: “I will strike them with a plague and annihilate them; then I will make you into a nation, greater and stronger than they” (Bamidbar 14:12).

At this point, Moshe could have given up on B’nai Yisrael and had his very own nation. That is not what he did. Instead, he pleaded with Hashem to save B’nai Yisrael. He insists that it would be a Chilul Hashem, a disgrace to the name of God, if B’nai Yisrael were to be destroyed, because all the surrounding nations would assume that it was because God wasn’t strong enough to conquer Canaan (Rashi).

Eight verses after Hashem had declared he would annihilate B’nai Yisrael, Hashem says to Moshe, “Salachti ki’dvarecha (I forgive by your words)” (Bamidbar 14:20). The Malbim tells us that this means Hashem will only forgive us according to Moshe’s prayer. Therefore, Hashem still punishes us, but does not destroy us.

We learn from here not to underestimate our own power. If Moshe had decided to give up on B’nai Yisrael, if he had decided we sinned a lot anyways and he could probably have a better nation of his own and Hashem had made up his mind and what was the use, we would not be here today. We should all try our best to emulate Moshe and never give up on what matters.

Beha’alotekha 5762

by Joshua Rabin

Much of the world’s recognition of very cultures, religions and nations have become recognize by various national symbols, such as the bald eagle for the United States or the maple leaf for Canada. The Jewish people, as well, have become recognized by many symbols throughout our tradition. The Magen David, for example, has become the center of the flag of Eretz Yisrael, thus becoming a worldwide symbol of the Jewish people. Symbols represent a glimpse into a people’s culture, as a way of seeing something intensely important to that group, for often historical, sociological, and even spiritual reasons.

We have often spoken of the Jewish people being a symbol, an “Or Lagoyim,” a light unto the nations, as the prophet Yishayahu described it. As we observe mitzvot, our sense of commitment shows itself brightly to all peoples. In the Conservative movement’s treatise Emet Ve-Emunah, the following is written: “For the modern traditional Jew, the doctrine of the election and covenant of Israel offers a purpose for Jewish existence which transcends narrow self-interest.It obligates us to build a just and compassionate society throughout the world and especially in the land of Israel, where we may teach by both personal and collective example what it means to be a covenant people, a light to the nations” (Emet Ve-Emunah). Each Jew is expected to be a “dugma,” to be an example to all peoples, through emphasizing our values and traditions, and thus displaying ourselves, brightly and fervently. The personal symbol of the observance of mitzvot shows itself physically through one of our nation’s most recognized symbols; the m’norah.

This week’s parsha of Beha’alotecha presents God commanding Moshe instructions regarding what has become one our most familiar symbols of the Jewish people. It says in the parsha that, “The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and say to him, “When you mount the lamps [of the m'norah], let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aharon did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moshe.” (B’midbar 8:1-3).

In the description of the Tent of Meeting, given throughout the Torah, we see that the m’norah is given a great deal of description and emphasis. Our Etz Hayim Chumash asks why this is so. We later see an interpretation from B’midbar Rabbah that, “As I shined a light on Israel, making them conspicuous among the nations, let them shine a light on Me” (B’midbar Rabbah 15:5). The m’norah, itself, is a physical display of that burning light; a symbol of our commitment, and of our radiance to the world through the observance of mitzvot. Its emphasis comes from the magnitude of the symbol, for it reflects a covenant of our entire people. Through our observance of Jewish halacha, of Jewish law, we brightly show our commitment to our people, just as the m’norah showed the Israelite nation’s covenant with God. Each and every day we can continue that bright display of our commitment and dedication to our people. Shabbat Shalom!

Beha’alotekha 5770

by Charlene Thrope

In this week’s parsha, Beha’alotkha, the Israelites begin complaining. Instead of appreciating manna, the delicious and miraculous food they are blessed with every day, the Israelites express a desire to return to Egypt. Moses becomes upset because of his people’s unhappiness, but he feels he cannot do anything to help them. Feeling incapable of leading the people by himself, Moses cries out to God, who responds to both the Israelites’ and Moses’s distress.

God deals harshly with the Israelites. Quail falls over the camp, seemingly an answer to the Israelites’ request for more meat. But before they can even chew their quail, the Israelites who went out to gather the quail are struck by a plague of God. Even after this punishment, the Israelites didn’t learn their lesson — they continue to be unsatisfied with the blessings God gave them.

Given the Israelites’ constant complaining, Moses’s dissatisfaction is more reasonable. To help Moses lead the people, God tells Moses to bring 70 elders who will all receive some of Moses’s ruach, or spirit. While some leaders would be unhappy with this division of power, Moses approves of God’s plan. In fact, when Eldad and Medad, who were not among the 70 elders selected by Moses, receive some of Moses’s ruach, Moshe expresses his desire for all of God’s people to be prophets.

All leaders should strive to achieve the level of humility that Moses demonstrates in this week’s parsha. He knows that his job is sometimes too much to handle and to go to God to ask for help. By sharing Moses’s ruach, he relieves himself of some responsibility and allows others to have their own chance to be leaders. With Moses as our dugma, we can each learn to be the best possible leader.

Naso 5758

by Ali Kaufman

This week, parashat Naso, is the longest parasha in the whole Torah. There are 176 verses in this parasha. Throughout this portion it discusses the census that is being taken.

At the beginning of the portion the Lord speaks onto Moses telling him the exact duties of the Princes of each of the tribes and what they must do. He also talks about how to take the census of the people. This portion also talks about what each of the different clans are supposed to do and how they are supposed to act. We learn many different things.

In this portion an interesting point is about the offerings brought to the dedication of the Mishkan. There are 12 tribes and a prince for each of those tribes. The Torah describes the offerings at the dedication of the Mishkan. The donation from each of the princes is almost the exact same thing. The Torah goes on to repeat the donation 12 times. We could ask ourselves if they all basically gave the same offering then why is there a description of it 12 times? When looking at it each of them is not exactly the same. They are almost the same-but not quite-which makes them unique and that is why we must have 12 different descriptions of it.

The offering that each Prince gave was different because of the way it was given. The way that it was made to be given. Each of the princes put his own stamp on his gift, this helped to make the gift special and unique for each of them.

From this point of the portion we learn about being unique. We learn how each of us is different and how we all are just as important as the next person and we can not and will not forget that. The Prince of each tribe had the same offering in a respect, but each was different. When we work with others, we will need to remember that we are each special in our own way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Naso 5758

by Rachel Gutin

There’s this man named, say… Joe Ordinary. Now Joe, a nice Jewish guy, goes home one day and finds a strange package sitting on his doorstep. After checking to make sure there’s no ticking noise, which would indicate a bomb, Joe excitedly opens it. Inside, he finds a lamp, and as must happen in all stories of this type, Joe rubs the lamp. Of course, he gets one bona fide genie, as ordered. And, of course, the genie offers him three wishes. Joe thinks long and hard. “I wish to be one of the richest men in the world,” he finally says. The genie snaps his fingers, and there’s money everywhere. Unfortunately, while our friend Joe is out partying, his house gets robbed, and when he comes back, nothing is left but the lamp. Joe, however, has two more wishes, and this time he’s just a little more clever. “I wish to be one of the richest people in the world with the best security system there is so that no one can take my fortune away,” Joe says this time. Snap! All of the money is back, and this time when Joe comes home from partying, all of the money is right where he left it. Now Joe still has one more wish. He thinks long and hard. He’s rich, he’s safe, but he’s still not happy. Maybe it’s because the government is making him pay taxes and his job is really stressful and his wife is nagging him and…”I want my life to be pleasant,” he wishes. Snap! Then the genie is gone. So Joe’s life is pleasant. Why is he still not happy? For that matter, what does this story about Joe and the genie have to do with this week’s Parsha, Parshat Naso?

In this week’s Torah portion we find many laws. Naso discusses what to do about unfaithful wives, how to deal with impure people, how to deal with thieves, and the laws of the nazir. But that’s all very negative, all about fixing problems and I,(being the optimist I am) decided to focus on something positive instead. Another highlight of this week’s parsha is that of the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly blessings. These are three brachot that Aaron and his sons are instructed to use when they bless the people. How does this relate to the rest of the Parsha, and, for that matter, to my story about Joe and his genie? Perhaps if we were to examine the blessings themselves, the answer would clarify itself. “May God bless you and guard you.” (6:24) Rashi explains that this refers to material goods, and to their protection. If you look at Joe’s story, you can see why both of these are in the same Bracha. After all, what good are your material possessions if they are no longer your possessions? So God, being much smarter than Joe, sees to it that the blessing includes not only possessions, but their security as well. “May God make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (6:25) This bracha is about God being kind to the people, making life pleasant, just as Joe wanted it. All the riches in the world won’t necessarily make a person happy, especially if they have a spouse who nags as much as Joe’s. Now, you might ask why the brachot don’t stop here. After all, we already have riches, security, and a pleasant life. What more do we need? Well, as the third Bracha says, “May God lift up His countenance (face) to you and give you peace.” The first half is a continuation of the second brachah, as Rashi explains that this is God witholding his anger, but what about the second half? Isn’t peace mentioned in the first bracha?

The answer to that is yes and no. There are many different types of peace, as this parsha so nicely illustrates. Naso begins with the counting of the people, a process that begins in Parshat Bamidbar, the previous parsha. Rashbam says the people are counted for the sake of strategic purposes, in case there is a war. One form of peace is that of peace from external enemies. The second topic in Naso is that of dealing with impure people, and the third is that of dealing with criminals. Both can be seen as a harmful influence on the community, just as disunity harms the Jewish community today, and these problems represent therefore a lack of the second kind of peace, that which should exist within a community. The next topic of Parshat Naso is that of a man who thinks his wife has committed adultery. In such a case, as with Joe’s case, there is a lack of peace in the household, a lack of Shalom Bayit. This is yet another type of peace that can exist.

The last topic before the berachot is that of a Nazir, one who abstains from wine, from cutting his hair, and from being near dead bodies in order to become holier. Perhaps he seeks something else as well. He wants to feel more holy, to feel better about himself. One of the things this person is lacking is perhaps the most important peace of all, the peace within oneself, inner peace. If one has peace within, one can allow that peace to radiate outward. For example, maybe if Joe had had inner peace, he would have had a better relationship with his wife. If one does not have peace within, even if he has every other type of peace, he will not be able to appreciate it, and he may even destroy what peace he has. Thus, after showing what happens when one lacks peace, and after showing us what disrupts it, the Torah goes on to give us a blessing, a formula for peace in our lives. If one understands that these berachot are not an independent entity, but rather a culmination of all the cautionary statements so far, then and only then can one fully understand the message of these berachot. Maybe the reason these berachot are to be given by Aaron and his sons connects to the following passage from Pirkei Avot. “Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace…” (Avot: 1:12) We cannot sit back and wait for peace to come. The Brachah is not so much the peace itself as the potential for it. Only by following the preceding instructions and examples in the Parsha and by pursuing peace actively can peace truly be achieved, and if we try our best, then we will bring ourselves that much closer to achieving it. Don’t be like Joe who just sat idly by, wishing and waiting. The only way to get peace is to work at it, and believe me, it’s worth your while.

Naso 5762

by Hadar Schwartz

Shabbat Shalom! This Shabbat we read Parashat Naso. In Parashat Naso, we read about the treatment of a woman who has been accused of adultery, a Nazir, and about the Birkat Cohanim, among many other fascinating topics. The beginning of Parashat Naso focuses on people who have become impure.

God says to Moshe: “Remove male and female alike; put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell” (Bemidbar 5:3). God, through saying this to Moshe, is implying that God is with those in the camp and therefore no longer with those who are impure. It seems rather disturbing that God can leave a person and then return at God’s convenience.

I thought of two possibilities of what this verse could mean. First, as we previously understood, God actually leaves the people’s midst. Maybe, God leaves our midst numerous times in each of our lives and it is then when bad things happen. Bad things must happen but God does not want to be a part of them. I am still troubled with this explanation though because it seems that God leaves the people because of one of their faults. Then bad things would be punishments which we do not really believe in today. The other possibility is that God is with those in the camp and with those outside. God is with those that really need God, and God is even more a part of them. God is so close to those people, helping them heal and guiding them, that the people and God become one. God is not with the person, God is a part of the person.

Just as this verse can be interpreted in different ways, both pessimistically and optimistically, we too have the opportunity to view our lives in a positive light or in a negative light. We can always blame external forces for the problems we face or we can understand that life is often not fair. That knowledge should not deter us in the future. It is all in how you look at the glass-half full of orange juice or half empty of prune juice.

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