Wednesday, June 30, 2010

230 - Balak

After Bilam failed in his attempts to curse Bnei Yisroel, he hit upon another plan. "And he turned his face toward the desert" (Bamidbar 24, 1). Rashi quotes the Targum who explains that Bilam's intention was to mention Bnei Yisroel's transgressions and thus causing Hashem to "remember" them. This would provide fertile ground for a curse to be successfully placed on Bnei Yisroel. Therefore, "he turned his head toward the desert" i.e. he mentioned the desert: the location where Bnei Yisroel worshipped the golden calf.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that we find a similar concept when the Torah discusses the laws of the sotah. The Torah refers to the sotah's korban as a "mazkeres avon" - a remembrance of her sin. If she is guilty, her sin is remembered, and the sotah water enters her body and wreaks havoc on it.

There is another aspect to the dangerous effects of remembering a sin. There are wise men who say that when one recites the vidui on Yom Kippur he should not spend too much time thinking about each individual sin. For should he begin reliving his transgression, he might G-d forbid think to himself - even subconsciously - that he really enjoyed what he did and it actually wasn't so bad after all. In such a situation, remembering the sin will cause him to desire it once again, and the vidui will turn into a cause for punishment.
The Mashgiach cited a source that there is a way to know when one has been forgiven for a specific transgression. When he completely forgets about that sin, and thoughts about it don't even enter his mind, he can rest assured that he has been forgiven. In a similar vein the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (2, 2) tells us that it is good for one to busy himself with both Torah and derech eretz, for together they cause "sin to be forgotten."

Although David Hamelech declared, "My sin is before me at all times" one must be on an extremely high spiritual level to be able to withstand the continuous remembrance of his sins. Moreover, even such a person probably should not be constantly thinking about his sins. Rather, the pasuk is teaching us that at all times one should be careful lest he come to the situation that brought him to sin in the first place.

Proper teshuvah for a transgression should not include a detailed analysis of the sin. One must regret the performance of the sin, and the more one thinks about it the more he might become susceptible to repeating his mistake once again. Instead, one should take precautionary measures to ensure that he does not place himself in the same situation that led him to sin in the first place.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

229 - Chukas

Shortly after Aharon passed away, Bnei Yisroel came under attack from one of the nations living in Cana'an. The Torah tells us, "And the Cana'ani, the King of Arad, who dwelled in the south heard that Yisroel had come, and he fought with Yisroel" (Bamidbar 21, 1). Rashi explains that this refers to the Amaleikim who lived in the southern portion of Cana'an. Nevertheless, the Torah coins them as Cana'anim because they masqueraded as Cana'anim. Their intention was to render ineffective the tefillos that Bnei Yisroel would offer to enable them to defeat the Amaleikim.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) gleans from here that when one offers a prayer on behalf of another person, they must be careful to specify for whom they are davening. He related a story about Rabi Akiva Eiger, who was requested to daven on behalf of a person who was ill. After davening, he sent back a message that he had davened and was not answered, so it would be worthwhile to verify that there was no mistake made in the name given. They checked and found that indeed there was a mistake in the name! This story emphasizes the need to be clear about the subject of one's prayers. Rav Wolbe adds that to Rabi Akiva Eiger it went without saying that his prayers would be answered, and if they weren't it must have been because there was some mistake made in the relaying of the name.

However, we must appreciate that tefillah is not merely a means of obtaining something that we are lacking, but it is also an end in itself (Alei Shur vol. II pg 348). Tefillah is a thrice daily exercise in emunah. We are training ourselves to become attuned to the fact that there is no one else to whom we can turn. Hashem is the One and only One Who can truly help us in whatever area we need help. This is an end in itself regardless of whether we get what we are praying for.
This answers a legitimate question about how tefillah works. What right do we have to daven for insight, health, wealth or anything else we might be lacking if Hashem put us in that predicament in the first place? The answer is that through recognizing that everything comes from Hashem we become worthy of His assistance, and have the ability to change any situation for the better.

Each tefillah has the ability to strengthen our emunah. However, this will only be the case if we bear in mind that in truth there is no one who can help us but Hashem.

228 - Korach

When Korach and two hundred and fifty people came to complain to Moshe with regard to Bnei Yisroel's leadership, Moshe proceeded to prove that the leaders were appointed directly by Hashem. He told each of the two hundred and fifty complainers to offer incense as a means of determining the true leader. Hashem's acceptance of one person's incense would be the indicator as to whom He had chosen to be the leader.

The Torah tells us that Moshe davened to Hashem that He not accept their offerings. "And he said to Hashem do not turn to their offerings; not even one donkey did I take from them, nor did I harm any of them" (Bamidbar 16, 15). Rashi explains that when Moshe traveled from Midyan to Mitzrayim to redeem Bnei Yisroel, he rode on his own donkey rather than take one from Bnei Yisroel.

Rav Wolbe asks (Shiurei Chumash) what would have been so terrible if he did take a donkey to transport his family from Midyan? Didn't he deserve to have his transportation sponsored by those he came to redeem and the flock he would tend? The answer is that Moshe was declaring that he was free from any negi'os (bias) in his role as Bnei Yisroel's leader because he did not earn any money in this position. He could have declared that for their sake he put his life on the line or that he sacrificed immeasurable amounts of time and effort. However, the true test to gauge one's greatness is in the area of money matters. If one does not maintain a clean slate in this area, then he could not present an argument in his favor. Moshe was claiming that in his position as a leader he didn't even take travel expenses, and was therefore worthy of Hashem's backing.

Likewise, we find that when Moshe accepted the donations for the Mishkan, he wore clothing that had no pockets or seams, lest Bnei Yisroel think - even for a second - that he had taken some of the money for himself. His scrupulousness in money matters was so great that he didn't allow even a doubt to creep into anyone's mind that he had taken some of the money allocated for the Mishkan.

There is no way to live without money. However, we must be sure that our money is earned honestly, for integrity in the area of money is one of the defining factors of how great we really are.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

227 - Shelach

This week's parsha relates how the spies came back from the Land of Israel with a derogatory report. As the Torah tells us, they were severely punished, and they died, "in the plague before Hashem" (Devarim 14, 37). Rashi explains that they died with an appropriate death that matched their sin, for as we know Hashem metes out punishments measure for measure. Their tongues stretched until they reached their navels and worms exited their tongues and entered their navels.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that it is clear how the first part of this horrible death corresponds to their transgression. Since they used their tongues to speak lashon hara about Eretz Yisroel, their tongues stretched out in a ghastly manner. However, Rav Wolbe asks, what is the measure for measure involved with the worms that left their tongues and entered their bodies? He answers that one who speaks lashon hara is in affect killing himself. As Chazal tell us, lashon hara kills three people: the one who says it, the one who hears it, and the one about whom it is said. The words of lashon hara, so to speak, are like daggers that leave a person's mouth and enter his body. It can be likened to worms that leave the tongue and enter the naval, hence, the measure for measure in their deaths.

Being that lashon hara is so terrible, what can one do to break this bad habit? Theoretically, he could refrain from speaking gossip for an entire day, but the next day he might very well end up "paying interest" and speak twice as much as usual. He simply closed his mouth, but he did not treat the root of the problem; the evil trait that lies inside him. Rather, a person has to acquire and maintain a positive outlook on others.

While in Stockholm, Rav Wolbe came in contact with a woman about whom he declared that it was impossible to speak lashon hara in her presence. When she heard someone speak disparagingly about another, she would say, "If that is the case then we must help him. How can we help him?" The proper method of rectifying this middah is to acquire what Chazal call an "ayin tova" (a good eye). If one maintains such an outlook he will never come to speak derogatorily about another.