MAY 22-23, 2009 29 IYAR 5769
Day 44 of the Omer
"For the sons of Yosef, for the sons of Ephraim" (Bemidbar 1:32)
As the Jewish people traveled in the desert, each tribe had a flag. The commentary, Baal Haturim, explains our pasuk that Yosef , the son of Yaakob Abinu, did not merit to have a flag called by his name, but rather by his sons' names, Ephraim and Menasheh. Each of the sons of Yaakob Abinu represented another tribe, twelve in all. Each tribe had a flag with the sons of Yaakob's name on it, except for Yosef. The reason is that he didn't take part in the misvah of carrying the coffin of his father when he was taken to be buried. The reason Yosef did not participate in this misvah was that since he was considered a king, it was not befitting the honor of the king to do this job.
Rabbi Moller in the name of Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l asks: Why should Yosef lose the privilege of having a flag in his name? He wasn't at fault. It was a situation that was beyond his control. The answer is a very fundamental teaching of our religion. There are many times that we find ourselves in a situation that prevents us from doing a certain misvah (in Hebrew, it's called "oness"). Although we are not punished for not fulfilling the misvah, we are nevertheless not rewarded for doing it either. There is definitely some loss for not doing the misvah.
This is something for us to keep in mind. When we get into a jam and the misvah is hard to do, if one doesn't feel well or is traveling or is far away from a shul, one is not held accountable due to the situation. But if it is at all possible to fulfill the misvah, we should push ourselves to perform the misvah anyway. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Count the heads of all the Children of Israel." (Bemidbar 1:2)
Whenever the Jewish people were counted, they had to give a certain coin which, by counting that coin, we could know the number of people. Once, in the time of King David, the people themselves were counted and a great plague ensued. Even today, when we count individuals for a minyan or the like, we don't say, "one, two, three..." but rather we say words of a pasuk such as "hoshi'ah et amecha…" through which we all know the total number. Why is there such an emphasis on not counting people by number?
Rabenu Bahya explains that when people are included in a group, they have the merit of the entire group and thereby are protected. When an individual becomes separated by being counted, then he is on his own, and he must have his own protection. Even when we pray for sick people, we always include the individual with the entire nation by saying, "among all of the sick in Israel," so that they should have the merit of the whole nation. This should teach us that although we are all individuals, unique and separate, our strength lies in our being part of a greater whole, the Jewish people. We should try not to stand out and not separate ourselves from community involvement. By joining together in the synagogue's programs, such as minyan, classes and activities, we will have the blessing of the multitudes in addition to our own zechut. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai" (Bemidbar 1:1)
One of the words at the start of this perashah - "Bemidbar" (in the wilderness) - serves as the name of both the perashah and the fourth of the five Humashim. Much of the Torah's narrative takes place in the wilderness, and there Klal Yisrael received the Torah. Indeed, Hazal see an integral connection between the wilderness and the Torah. It is appropriate that this perashah is traditionally read on the Shabbat preceding the Yom Tob of Shabuot. We will therefore state some of the approaches necessary for the proper and successful study of Torah.
The Midrash states that the Torah was given in three distinct settings: fire, (Mount Sinai was fiery and smoking), water (the heavens and clouds were simultaneously dripping with water), and desert. The Midrash explains that just as fire, water and desert are free and available to all, so too, the Torah is free and available to all. The Shem me'Shemuel suggests that these three entities symbolize three specific qualities necessary for successful Torah study and personal development. Fire signifies the burning desire and fiery enthusiasm which exists in the heart of a Jew who yearns for Hashem. Water suggests coolness and patience, a settled and disciplined mind, and the clarity of thought necessary to properly formulate and understanding of Torah concepts. The desert implies man's ability to forego worldly pleasures and luxuries which hinder him from achieving total perfection.
The Nahalat Eliezer's approach to the significance of these entities is somewhat different. The Torah contains within it positive commandments and negative commandments. The differences between these misvot mandate two distinct approaches for their fulfillment. Positive misvot require the "fire" of enthusiasm and zeal, while the negative misvot demand a cool restraint. These two contrasting qualities are symbolized by the fire and water mentioned by the Midrash. However, there is a danger, even to one who possesses these qualities - the ability to clearly understand the appropriate time and place to utilize these qualities. The Evil Inclination and personal prejudices of an individual can easily blind his perspective to the point that he loses the ability to distinguish which approach is indicated. Therefore, the Torah mandates a third quality. A Jew must make himself desert-like, free of foreign elements and prejudices. He must banish these personal feelings so that he is able to see the truth of the Torah and live justly by its ideals. (Peninim on the Torah)
"The Children of Israel did all that Hashem commanded Moshe, that is the way they encamped according to their flags, and that is the way they traveled, each person to his family together with the house of his father" (Bemidbar 2:34)
What is the greatness of the Israelites listening to Moshe in this matter? Why would anyone have thought that they would not have listened? This comes to teach us that they did not quarrel about whose place would be at the head and who would be at the end, who would be at the east and who at the west. They accepted the will of Hashem and did not complain or argue. Unfortunately, in many places arguments do arise when people are not satisfied with the seating arrangements.
Arguments and complaints about this matter are usually based on arrogance and honor-seeking. If a person has a practical reason for wanting a certain place, his request could be quite reasonable. But if the root of his dissatisfaction is based on honor, he is making a big mistake. The Sages (Ta'anit 21b) have said, "It is not the place that honors the person, but the person who honors the place." If a person is honorable because of his own wisdom and behavior, then regardless of where he sits, he remains honorable. But if a person lacks his own virtues, the place where he sits will not miraculously make him into a more honorable person. A person who places a great emphasis on external symbols demonstrates a lack of appreciation for his own value. Focus on spiritual growth, and not on superficial signs of status. (Growth through Torah)
A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.
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