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Vol. 5 No. 38
"Who can count the dust of Ya'akov?" (Ba'midbor 23:10). This refers, explains Rashi in his second explanation, to the numerous mitzvos that Klal Yisroel fulfill with the dust (e.g. don't plough with an ox and a donkey, don't sow kil'ayim [a mixture of grape seeds together with wheat and barley seeds], the ashes of the red heifer, the dust of the sotoh, etc.). It is not at first clear why these particular mitzvos are more significant than any others. So what exactly is the point that Bil'om is making?
Bil'om, one might say, was praising the Jewish people for their ability to utilise even the most mundane and insignificant objects with which to perform mitzvos. They are able to transmit sanctity into cloth, bricks and wood, into the very dust of the earth. For indeed, it is Klal Yisroel, and Klal Yisroel only, who understand that the sole purpose of the creation was to sanctify G-d's Name and that every object of that creation can serve that purpose. Shlomoh ha'Melech wrote in Mishlei (3:6) "Know Him (Hashem) in all your ways". In other words,we are obliged to serve G-d even whilst doing the most mundane activity, to the point that even eating, drinking, sleeping and marital intimacy are transformed into acts of holiness (see Kitzur Shulchon Oruch, Si'mon 31). And from Bi'lom we now learn that just as this is true of physical activities, it is also true of physical objects.
Perhaps this is also the meaning of Bil'om's next words: "And (who can) count the seed of Yisroel?" (see Rashi). Here too, on the surface, there appears to be little meaning in Bil'om's reference to the intimate acts of the Jewish people, unless it is to point again to their ability to instill holiness into acts which, in the eyes of the rest of the world, are considered to be the epitome of physicality and as far removed from holiness as it is possible to imagine. For who but Klal Yisroel would dream of sanctifying the sexual act, to the point that a man fulfills it, not for the pleasure that it gives, but in order to perform the mitzvah of having children, and in order to fulfill the positive mitzvah of maintaining marital harmony.
Now we can also understand Bil'om's next words: "Let my soul die the death of the righteous among them, and let my end be like theirs".
The Chofetz Chayim points out how Bil'om aspired to die like a Jew and then to inherit the World to Come like a Jew. Yet, he had not the least interest in living like a Jew. Hardly surprising, when we consider what Bil'om had said previously. Bil'om had just arrived at the realisation that B'nei Yisroel lived sanctified lives; that they only saw this world as a passage to the World to Come and, as such, they utilised everything worldly as no more than a means to gain entry into the World to Come. Enjoying this world was never an end in itself, but the vehicle to gain entry into a more meaningful one. Such a philosophy would hardly fit into the lifestyle of any non-Jew, who understands little about the World to Come, and whose aim in life is to cram as much pleasure as possible into his seventy/eighty years in this world - let alone the man whom the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos describes as vain, greedy and lustful. It is after all, one thing to appreciate the great value of such a lifestyle, but quite another to emulate it.
Incidentally, Bil'om neither died like a Jew nor did he inherit the World to Come like one. He died by the sword at the hand of Pinchos, as the Torah itself testifies in Ba'midbor (31:8). And as for a portion in the world to Come, the Mishnah at the beginning of Chelek (Sanhedrin 90a) lists Bil'om as one of four non-kings who forfeited their portion in the World to Come.
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
To Bless or To Curse
See the difference between a Jew and a gentile, remarked the Chofetz Chayim. When a Jew is in trouble, he visits a tzadik and asks for a blessing, he prays to Hashem to help him out of his troubles.
Not so a non-Jew. When Bollock, King of Mo'ov, was afraid of Yisroel, he didn't ask Bil'om to bless him - he asked him to curse Yisroel.
Rebbi Yisrael Salanter once referred to a child who pushed his friend into a ditch and declared himself ‘King’ as wicked. He explained to those who queried him how he conceded the fact that every child wants to be boss, but that the correct way of achieving this is by raising oneself, not by pushing one’s friend down. That is a wicked thing to do - it is usurping his rights to achieve the same distinction. That is why the Yerushalmi in Chagigah (2a) declares that someone who boosts himself by referring to his friend’s downfall forfeits his rights in the World to Come.
How Small and How Large
"There will come a time when it is said about Ya'akov and Yisroel, what did Hashem do" (23:23).
The word "Mah" that is used here ("Mah po'al keil') has a dual meaning, says the Chofetz Chayim. Sometimes it means 'how little' (like in "Moh Hashem sho'el me'imoch" - what [how little] does Hashem ask from you), and sometimes 'how great' (as in "Moh rav tuvcho asher tzofanto li'yereiecho" - how much is the goodness which You stored away for those who fear You).
When we are in exile, Hashem often gives us harsh treatment, which makes us ask in surprise 'What has G-d done with us' (How little chas ve'sholom, He is doing on our behalf). Why does He hide His face from us and allow us to suffer?'
However, there will come a time when Hashem will reveal Himself to us, and then we will know and understand' what G-d really did for us' - what wonders and miracles! Maybe that is why the possuk uses both names - Ya'akov and Yisroel -Ya'akov with regard to the former situation, Yisroel with regard to the latter.
The Tents of Torah
The Gemoro in B'rochos (16a) comments on Bil'om's juxtaposing of the rivers right next to the tents of Torah (24:5 and 6 respectively). It is in order to teach us, explains the gemoro, that like the water of a river has the power to transform a Jew from tamei to tohor, so too, do the words of Torah have the power to transform a Jew from the scale of guilt to the scale of merit (since every word that one learns is a mitzvah, and Torah-study, as we remind ourselves each day in the B'raiso of 'Eilu Devorim', is equal to all the mitzvos put together).
The Chofetz Chayim points out how, in half an hour, a person can do more harm - by speaking loshon ho'ra, mockery, slander and hurting one's fellow-Jew than one will perform with one's other limbs in the course of an entire day. Consequently, the only way of ensuring that one does not tip the scales of sin, is by using one's tongue to study Torah, which has exactly the opposite effect - of quickly tipping the scale of mitzvos.
By studying Torah, one also has the added advantage of learning how to guard one's tongue from evil.
The Devastating Sin
The Chofetz Chayim, in an effort to drive home the devastation caused by speaking loshon ho'ra, would regularly quote the Gemoro in Chullin (89), where it is actually suggested that, in order to avoid speaking loshon ho'ra, one should avoid speaking altogether - even words of Torah - and it is only on account of the possuk quoted by the Gemoro there, that it finally permits. Imagine, exclaims the Chofetz Chayim in amazement, just how destructive the sin of loshon ho'ra must be, if the Gemoro almost forbade verbal Torah-study because of it!
The reason, he explains, is because the loshon ho'ra that one speaks will prevent the Torah that one subsequently learns from taking effect, (like a dirty cup in which the tastiest beverage will be rendered undrinkable). Better then, to remain silent - no dirt and no drink. Until the Gemoro proves from a possuk that one should nevertheless study Torah - which has the power to atone for all sins, and to transform a dirty mouth into a clean one.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
43. To marry and to have children - As the Torah writes in Bereishis "And G-d said to them: 'Be fruitful and increase' ".
One should actually have the intention of conceiving children when consummating the marriage, and on subsequent occasions. A man is obliged to get married and have children in his eighteenth year. Should he turn twenty and is not yet married, he has transgressed this mitzvah. However, someone who is studying Torah and who is afraid that he will be unable to continue with his studies due to his obligations to sustain his family, is permitted to delay marriage, but not later than twenty-five (the Gemoro writes twenty-four). This mitzvah applies to men everywhere, and at all times.
44. To marry a woman with 'Kidushin' (betrothal) - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei "When a man 'takes' a woman".
When a man wants to marry a woman, he must first betroth her, to acquire her as a wife. He does this by giving her at least a p'rutah or something to the value of a p'rutah (of his own personal property), and says to her 'Behold you are betrothed to me with this, like the law of Moshe and Yisroel'. This ceremony must be performed in the presence of two eligible witnesses. Before the betrothal, he (or his shli'ach) must recite the b'rochoh of betrothal: ...'who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us against incest, He forbade us the women betrothed to us, and permitted to us those who are married (to us) through chupah and kidushin (betrothal)' and concludes '...who sanctifies His people Yisroel through chupah and kidushin'. A betrothed woman is called an arusoh, with whom it is forbidden to live until she enters the chupah and seven b'rochos have been recited.
Before entering the chupah, he must write her a kesubah (a marriage document). Once she has been under the chupah, she is called married, even before the marriage has been consummated - provided that they are able to consummate it. But if she is a nidah, then in spite of the chupah, the marriage is not complete, and she remains in a state of betrothal in all regards. (This is the opinion of the Rambam; according to the halochoh however, a chupas nidah is effective.)
The Torah also commands us that someone who wishes to divorce his wife because he discovers that she had been behaving immorally, must divorce her by means of a get (document of divorce) in the customary manner, as the Torah writes (in Ki Seitzei) "And it shall be, if she will not find favour with him because he discovered in her something immoral, then he shall write for her a scroll of separation". (In fact, by Torah law, a man may divorce his wife for any other reason too, should he so wish - although nowadays, this is more complicated).
All matters to do with a get should be handled exclusively by expert Rabbonim who are conversant with matters of gittin. Anyone who is not, even if he is a great Torah-scholar in other areas of Torah knowledge, should not deal with them. This is because preparing a get involves many crucial details, in which someone who is not fully conversant is bound to err, and because the consequences of a mistake are so serious.
It is a mitzvah to divorce a woman whose hashkofos are bad - i.e. who denies belief in G-d and in His Torah, and one who does not adhere to the principles of modesty like the other daughters of Yisroel - and this goes without saying if she is a woman who does not keep the laws of family purity, as the possuk writes in Mishlei "Drive out a mocker, and disharmony will disappear".
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.
About the Mitzvos
To Perform Mitzvos with Simchah - Part I
There are two ways of performing mitzvos - because one has to, or because one wants to. The former is synonymous with serving G-d under protest, or at best, indifferently; the latter, to serving Him enthusiastically. Alternatively, the one serves G-d out of fear, the other serves Him out of love.
It is wrong to think that serving Hashem without joy is good, and serving Him with joy is better. As a matter of fact, the difference between the two is infinitely greater than that. It may be compared to two similar paintings, the one shabby and ordinary, the other painted with infinite care, a work of art. So it is with mitzvos: a mitzvah performed without simchah is shabby and lifeless, whereas one that is performed with simchah is beautiful. It is a magnificent work of art.
The commentaries have described the joy that accompanies the performance of a mitzvah as a mitzvah in its own right, and the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (9: ) goes so far as to say that the dictum 'there is no reward for mitzvos in this world' is confined to the mitzvah, but does not extend to the joy that accompanies it.
The Torah's assessment of simchah is even more radical. Apart from Dovid ha'Melech in Tehillim, who gives us the clear directive of 'Serve Hashem (incorporating doing Hashem's mitzvos) with joy', we also have the possuk in Ki Sovo, which attributes the fulfillment of all the curses in the Tochochoh to the fact that "you failed to serve Hashem your G-d with joy... when you had everything, so you will serve your enemies ... when you have nothing".
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