This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 7 No. 37
Reb Avrohom Boruch ben Reb Gedalyahu z.l.
"And the man Moshe was more humble than any man who ever lived" (12:13).
One wonders how a man as great and noble as Moshe Rabeinu, could possibly reach such incredible levels of humility. (Indeed, this trait stands out in all our sages who follow the lead of Moshe Rabeinu.) And this wonder is compounded by the fact that Moshe was able to insert these words and remain unaffected by them. How can any human-being genuinely describe himself as exceedingly humble, and remain exceedingly humble?
This is reminiscent of the story of the Chasidim, who were discussing the attributes of their great Rebbe, while he lay, ostensibly fast asleep, on the couch nearby. His vast knowledge, his compassion, his disdain of wordly matters, his power of prayer - all were discussed at great length, until suddenly, the Rebbe opened one eye and remarked 'You seem to have forgotten my humility!"
Before we can even begin to grasp Moshe's greatness however, we need to clarify the true meaning of humility.
With regard to most people, who have their strong points and their weaknesses, their moments of glory perhaps, but few, limited achievements to their credit, humility is relatively meaningless. How can a person be genuinely humble when he has little or nothing to boast about? It is one thing not to brag about oneself (praiseworthy though it may be), but quite another to make little of one's numerous achievements and good character-traits, not only in the presence of others, but in one's heart, where (contrary to common belief) true humility begins. In fact, the greater the person, the more achievements to his credit, the more meaningful the humility. And if this is true of one's successes in the material world, it is certainly true of those in the spiritual one. That is what makes the humbleness and unpretentiousness displayed by our Torah giants all the more remarkable. But above all, Moshe Rabeinu's ability to write what he wrote (albeit by Divine dictation) and to remain unaffected by it, all but belies credibility, as we explained.
To begin with, it is most unlikely that Moshe Rabeinu (and the other Torah sages) were unaware of the very high levels that they had reached. If, for example, Moshe had not been the greatest man in his generation, then why did he think that G-d chose him to lead the Jewish people? (See Rashi Bamidbor 12:8) Indeed, we find Dovid ha'Melech describing himself in one place as a worm, and elsewhere reminding G-d how pious he was (see B'rochos 4a).
It is well-known that whereas, when measuring one's material situation, one should always look down to those who possess less than oneself, when one measures one's spiritual level, one should look up to those who possess more. This is because material success lies, not in one's own hands, but in the Hands of G-d, and looking at others who have a lower standard of living than oneself has the dual effect of evoking feelings of gratitude towards G-d for what one has, and of causing a person to be satisfied with his lot, because if so-and-so can get by with so little, why should he not manage with even more?
One's spiritual success, on the other hand, lies not in the Hands of G-d, but in one's own efforts. Consequently, what one has achieved to date is of little consequence. It is what there is still to achieve that is important. So one must look to those from whom one can learn, to grow to still greater heights. Chazal have said that 'Someone who has one Monoh, wants two!' And the same is true of anything that one owns - including character-traits (good or bad). Every person has an instinctive desire to obtain more of what he already owns. Consequently, great sages never rest on their laurels. They constantly seek more mitzvos and make great efforts to up-grade their character-traits (perhaps this is even what Chazal mean when they say 'One mitzvah draws on another' - Pirkei Ovos 4:2).
When great tzadikim perceive their own greatness, they do not feel a sense of achievement, but rather see it as a challenge to rise to still greater heights. More than that, by comparing their own level with the levels of even greater tzadikim than themselves, they are overcome by feelings of inadequacy at not having reached those levels, to which they then set their sights.
Sometimes, as in the case of Moshe Rabeinu, pious men reach such high levels that they have nobody to look up to. There is nobody from whom they can take their cue. In that case, their urge to grow, far from being stilled, causes them to look to G-d Himself for an example. By doing so, even they cannot help but realize the relative insignificance of their own righteousness - much in the same way as the most powerful man-made light becomes insignificant when compared to the light of the sun.
Moshe Rabeinu became humbled when he saw the humility of Hashem. This may have resulted in him subsequently becoming the most humble man on earth, but compared to that of Hashem, his own humility shrank to insignificance - even in his own eyes.
Adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro
The Fifty Gates
"And it was when the Oron travelled ... " (10:35).
Based on the posuk in Mishlei "Hewn on its seven pillars" (9:1), the early commentaries explain that the Torah was given in seven sections. This is because this parshah (of "Vayehi bi'neso'a ho'oron") is considered a book on its own (dividing Seifer Bamidbor into three independent books). The sign for this is the 'nun' that precedes it, and the 'nun that follows it.
Why specifically a 'nun', asks the Gro?
It is to demonstrate, he explains, that this book, like the other six, includes the entire Torah, the fifty 'Gates of Sanctity", aptly hinted in the 'nun'.
Our sages have taught that Hashem, Yisroel and Torah are one. This means that Yisroel can become one with Hashem by means of the Torah.
Taken a step further, we can look at it this way. Whereas G-d (Keveyachol) is totally spiritual, Yisroel are physical, and there is no way that Yisroel could possibly connect with Him. So Hashem gave us the Torah, which now serves as the link between us and Him.
It is like the nefesh of every Jew, which is totally physical, and would therefore be unable to coexist with the Neshomoh, which is completely spiritual. So Hashem gave each of us a Ru'ach, which blends at one end with the nefesh and at the other with the Neshomoh, enabling the two to co-exist together in harmony in the same body.
Hashem (kevayochol) is the Neshomoh, Yisroel, the nefesh, and the Torah, the Ru'ach. And this is hinted in the two 'Nunin' (one for Hashem [Kevayochhol] and one for Yisrael), with the Torah (symbolised by the Oron ha'Kodesh) in the middle.
The Servant of Moshe
"And Yehoshua bin Nun, the servant of Moshe ... " (11:28).
The Torah is telling us here that Yehoshua merited to become the leader of Klal Yisroel, because he served Moshe (accompanied him to learn from him), because as far as Torah-learning per se was concerned, he was in no way superior to the other Torah-scholars.
This is a support for Chazal, who say in B'rochos (7b) 'The serving of (a) Torah (sage) is greater than studying it'.
Just Fancy That!
"And the people arose the whole of that day, all the night, and the whole of the next day, and they gathered the quails. Those who gathered the least gathered ten piles ... " (11:32).
Rashi explains that "those who gathered the least" refers to the people who were lazy or lame (see also Targum Yonoson).
The Gro however, based on the fact that the quails were spread out around the camp, (as the posuk concludes) explains that "those who gathered the least" refer to those who lived exactly in the middle of the camp, in which case, the cheshbon will come out just right.
Based on another statement of Chazal - that an average person walks ten parsah per day, and based on the fact that the camp of Yisroel was three by three parsah, a person living in the centre of the camp would have had to walk three parsah during each round trip. Considering that in the two days and one night that they collected non-stop (as the Torah relates), this would mean that he would have walked thirty parso'os - ten trips.
Consequently, he would have ended up with ten piles - one pile for each trip.
Those living nearer the outskirts of the camp would have been able to make more trips and would have been able to collect more than ten piles. That is why the Torah writes "Those who gathered the least, gathered ten piles".
Don't Be A Copy-Cat
"The meat was still between their teeth, it had not yet been digested" (11:33).
When Rav Acha bar Yosef asked Rav Chisda whether one is permitted to eat milk dishes whilst there is still meat between one's teeth, he showed him this posuk, which teaches us that meat which is stuck between the teeth is still called meat.
Mar Ukva, the Gemoro in Chullin (105a) continues, considered himself to be inferior to his father in this regard 'like vinegar is to wine'. His father, he explained, would not eat cheese for twenty-four hours after eating meat, whilst he waited only until the next meal (six hours, according to the most widely-accepted opinion).
But what did Mar Ukva mean by calling himself inferior, the commentaries ask? What was to stop him from emulating the example set by his father, and waiting twenty-four hours too?
The Gro explains that the adopting of stringencies and customs that are based on 'midas chisudus' are good for people who have reached the highest levels, who have perfected themselves in their general obligations and wish to climb still higher, but not for those who are still struggling at the foot of the ladder. It is not for them to seek levels which are not theirs.
That is why Dovid ha'Melech wrote in Tehillim (24:3) "Who will climb up the mountain of G-d?" To be sure, there are many who will declare their readiness to climb, but he continues "and who will be able to remain in His holy place?" I only want those, says Hashem, who, once they have climbed to the top, are able to remain there, not those who arrive at the top, only to stumble and fall, because they have climbed too high, too fast.
That is why Mar Ukva, who knew that he had not reached the level where he could adopt the stringencies that his father had adopted and stick with them, declined to do so.
There is an art in knowing one's place and not jumping to levels that are beyond one's grasp. It is one of the forty-eight ways through which one acquires Torah.
So Little Doesn't Matter
"And the man Moshe was extremely humble ... ". 'A talmid-chochom' says the Gemoro in Sotoh (5a) 'should have an eighth of an eighth of pride'.
The Gro points out that an eighth of an eighth equals a sixty-fourth - less than a sixtieth. Less than a sixtieth, our Sages teach us, does not convey taste and is therefore nullified. That is why they permit this small measure of pride - because it will not affect the rest of one's personality - it is merely absorbed into one's character without affecting it.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer
of the Chofetz Chayim.
(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)
76. Not to cause another Jew to stumble in any way - as the Torah writes in Kedoshim (19:4) "And do not place a stumbling-block in front of a blind man", meaning that, if someone comes to ask for advice, do not offer him advice that is not to his advantage. And this refers to spiritual matters, no less than to material ones. It is also forbidden to help a fellow-Jew to sin or to cause or encourage him to do so, and this prohibition extends to a gentile with regard to the seven mitzvos of the No'achide code.
This mitzvah applies to men and women everywhere and at all times.
77. Not to report to someone what his fellow-Jew said about him - as the Torah writes in Kedoshim (19:16) "Do not go tale-bearing among your people". This behaviour destroys the world, even if what he reports is true. It is a major sin and causes the deaths of many people, as we find by Do'eg ho'Edomi (whose tale-bearing caused the deaths of the eighty Kohanim who lived in Nov).
There is a sin that is very much worse than tale-bearing, though it is a branch of it, and that is loshon ho'ra. Loshon ho'ra is defined as someone who speaks derogatorily about his fellow-Jew, even if what he says is true.
If what he says is false, it is called 'motzi-shem-ra' (which is even worse than loshon ho'ra). It is loshon ho'ra to say about someone 'P'loni did this, or P'loni did that!', 'This is what I heard about P'loni's father' or 'So I heard about P'loni', and then to proceed with a negative report. It is about such a person that the posuk writes "Hashem will destroy all those who are smooth-lipped, the tongue that speaks big things" (Tehilim 12:4).
The Yerushalmi (Pei'oh) states that for three sins a person is punished in this world, in addition to losing his portion in the World to Come - idolatry, adultery and murder. And loshon ho'ra, the Yerushalmi concludes, is equal to all three of them. Furthermore, Chazal have said that if someone speaks loshon ho'ra, it is as if he had denied the existence of G-d. And they also said that loshon ho'ra kills three people, the one who speaks it, the one who accepts it and the one about whom it is said - and the one who accepts it, even more than the one who speaks it.
It is also sinful to speak 'avak loshon ho'ra' (loshon ho'ra by inference). For instance, if someone were to say how he wished that P'loni would just remain the way that he was, and not get any worse, or if he said 'Sh, don't speak about P'loni! I'd rather not know what he did', that would be 'avak loshon ho'ra'.
And even speaking good about a person in the presence of someone who hates him is forbidden, since that will cause him to respond with derogatory comments; or to speak evil about a person in a comical way, or pretending that one does not know that what he is saying is loshon ho'ra.
It makes no difference whether one speaks ill of a person in his presence or not in his presence. Loshon ho'ra incorporates anything that, if passed from mouth to mouth, will cause the person damage (personal or financial), or even if it will merely cause him pain or frighten him. And it goes without saying that snilching to the police, causing him loss of money (or worse) is included in this la'av. In fact, someone who does this is a 'moser' and is considered as if he had killed the person, as well as his wife and children who depend on him for their livelihood. Chazal have said that even when Gehinom ceases to function, the 'moser' will continue to suffer.
This mitzvah applies to men and women, everywhere and at all times.
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