by Cory Nagelberg
June 27, 2009/5 Tammuz 5769
A few years ago, a great mystery was revealed to me while I was watching a basketball game. The Philadelphia 76ers were playing the New York Knicks, and one player stood out among all of them – Allen Iverson. Allen Iverson was the flashiest, most selfish, most arrogant basketball player I had ever seen. But the first thing that came to my mind when I saw him wasn’t the idea of a basketball legend, but rather the story of Korach.
This week, we will read about Korach and his followers in the Torah reading, aptly titled “Korach.” Korach was a man from a priestly family who believed that he was equal to, if not greater, than Moshe and Aharon. He wondered why they had more power than him, and why they were shown more respect than he was. He amassed a group of followers who felt the same way – they believed that “All the community are holy, all of them, and Hashem is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above Hashem’s congregation?” Moshe was appalled to hear that any Israelites felt this way, so he set forth a challenge – Korach and his followers would get a chance to make an offering to Hashem, and then Hashem would choose whether Korach should be a leader or whether Moshe and Aharon should retain their positions. The next day, Korach and his followers make an offering, and in response, Hashem forces the ground to open up and swallow Korach and his followers alive.
Now, it is hard to believe that Hashem forced the ground to open and swallow people. But it isn’t hard at all to understand the message from this parasha. As Moshe says, “Is it not enough that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you access to Him?” We should be thankful for what we have, for the special duties that each and every one of is responsible for. It may be something as simple as walking the family dog, or something as complex as running a website. Either way, it is important not to downplay the importance of our roles. Every individual does something special to make the kehilla run smoothly, and that’s very important. If we forget that, we might wind up like Allen Iverson, ridiculed and mocked for our ultimately foolish ball-hogging ways.
Did you know …
… that Birkot Ha-Shachar, according to the Mishneh Torah, were not recited all at once at the synagogue, but were assigned to specific morning activities? (For example, for the bracha “Oter Yisrael B’tifara,” who girds Israel with His glory, one says it as s/he puts on his/her belt.)
by Alex Krule
In this week’s parasha, Korach, we read one of the most archetypal narratives in the torah. Korach, a Levite, gathers followers and stages a coup. Korach wants the authority and power of being a Cohen, a job reserved for only descendants of Aharon; he is not satisfied with the power and respect of being a Levite. Additionally, two members of the coup from the tribe of Reuven, Datan and Aviram, question Moshe’s intentions. They accuse Moshe of leading the Israelites out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt) to the wilderness to die. This is where the story gets interesting. Instead of all-out lashing out at the rebels, Moshe decides to leave things to God. This shows a very important leadership quality in Moshe; instead of becoming angry at the rebels and not doing anything conducive, Moshe decides to refer to the Boss to help him. Instead of denying the allegations of the rebels, Moshe allows for consideration the idea that he may actually not be perfect and that he may be abusing his power. This shows that Moshe is willing to admit his faults and to put his own pride aside for the good of the people.
Moshe tells the rebels that they will be tested by God to determine the solution to the coup. Aharon, Datan, and Aviram are instructed to bring a pan of burning incense to the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting). Things seem to be going well, until God instructs Moshe to tell the Israelites to move away from the houses of Korach, Datan, and Aviram. Soon thereafter, their houses are swallowed up by the earth and a divine fire kills the 250 Levites who were offering the incense to God with Datan and Aviram. God clearly makes known His thoughts on the coup, yet many Israelites continue to blame Aharon and Moshe for their problems. God is so angered by this that he threatens to wipe out the nation, but Moshe tells Aharon to make an incense offering and end the plague that God send upon the people. Aharon then ends the plague and all seemingly returns to normal within the camp.
The next day, Aharon’s staff produces flowers and almonds, proving that he is God’s chosen priest. In order to prevent another coup from happening, the bowls used for the incense offerings of Aharon are melted down and used for a plating on the altar to remind everyone of the tragedy of Korach.
While this story is just another example of Israel’s complaining resulting in Moshe saving them from the wrath of God, I think that its message is just as important. As humans, we falter, but we also remember our mistakes and try to not repeat them. Let’s learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and try to improve our lives and connection to our faith.
Shelach Lecha 5762
by Dov Friedman
One of the most interesting stories in Parashat Shelach Lecha is the story of the 12 spies Moses sent to the land of Israel to survey the land. By the second verse there are already problems with sending the spies. Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, says that when God “commands” Moses to send spies, he is not commanding Moses but rather telling him that it is permissible to do so if the nation feels like they need human observations. This is a problem because the nation was not able to rely on the word of God who said that Israel was “a land flowing with milk and honey.” This problem is a recurring one for the children of Israel because they often did not trust God’s word: they needed visual evidence.
Moses then gives clear instructions for what the spies are supposed to do. He tells them to look at three areas. They should observe the topography of Israel, the strength of the people who dwell in the land, and the strength of the cities. According to Nehama Leibowitz, a contemporary commentator, their answer to Moses’ instructions can be broken down into three parts. At first when they return to Moses, they speak favorably, albeit critically, about the land. They say, “it indeed does flow with milk and honey…nevertheless, the people within the land are fierce, and the cities are very strong and fortified…moreover we saw giants in the land…” They reported critically but gave no reason why the children of Israel could not conquer it. When Caleb, one of two spies who spoke only positively, said, “we shall surely go up to the land for we are surely able to conquer it,” the spies became even more pessimistic saying, “we cannot ascend to the land for the other nations are stronger than us.” But the spies were not satisfied to stop there. They took their complaint to the people saying, “[this is] a land which consumes its inhabitants!…” This incident is what forced the children of Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years. The 10 spies save Joshua and Caleb could not put their trust in God, and neither could Israel. It is very clear that they did not revere God based on one Midrashic explanation of the verse “we cannot ascend, for the other nations are strong than us.” The hebrew mimenu can mean “than us” or “than him.” If we substitute, we get “we cannot ascend for the other nations are stronger than him!” – than God. The spies scare the people by telling them that the nations that dwell in Israel are stronger than God himself. This is the cardinal sin of the spies and the children of Israel, and the main reason why they were forced to traverse the desert before entering the land of Israel which they had slandered so unnecessarily.
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.
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!
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.
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