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JUNE 25-26, 2004 7 TAMUZ 5764

Pop Quiz: Which nation attacked B'nei Yisrael after Aharon died?


"This is the Torah, if a person dies in a tent..." (Bemidbar 19:14)

The sages state that the Torah only lasts with those who die over it. This seems very puzzling, since the Torah is for the living, as it states (Vayikra 18:5), "And you shall live with them (the commandments)."

The Hafess Hayim gave the following analogy. A successful merchant was so busy taking care of customers who came to his store that he had no time for Torah study. He noticed one day that his hair was turning gray, and he realized that he was getting older. He knew that the day he would leave this world was getting closer. He therefore decided that he would go each morning to the synagogue to pray with a minyan and to study Torah for a couple of hours. When he came late to the store, his wife was frantic. People would have come to the store if he were there and they were losing customers. He calmly told his wife, "What would I do if the Angel of Death came to me and told me that my time in this world was up? Could I tell him that I can't go yet since I'll miss out on customers? If I were already dead I would not be able to come to the store. Therefore, each day, let us imagine for a couple of hours that I have already died. This way I am able to study Torah each day."

This, said the Hafess Hayim, is what the sages are advising us. You might be very busy and feel that you do not have any time to study Torah, but if you will just view yourself as if you were already dead, you will find the time to study Torah which gives life to those who study it. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"And the Kohen shall take from a cedar tree & from the hyssop" (Bemidbar 19:6)

The above ritual was part of the performance of the red heifer. These woods were mixed with the waters used to sprinkle on people to be purified from their impurities obtained by coming into contact with a corpse. The cedar tree is the tallest and strongest of all trees. The hyssop, on the other hand, is the smallest and shortest of all trees. Our sages teach that the tall tree is symbolic of a person who is arrogant (and therefore is prone to sin) and the hyssop is symbolic of a person who humbles himself, thereby removing himself from arrogance (and therefore is prone to perform good deeds). Since the red heifer came to atone for the sin of the golden calf, this was the message Hashem delivered to the Jewish people that would enable them to overcome sin. Let us focus on humility- and we will be able to perform misvot. Shabbat shalom! Rabbi Eli Ben-Haim

"And he struck the rock with his staff..." (Bemidbar 20: 11-12)

In this week's perashah, we study the error of Moshe Rabenu. Due to his error he did not merit to enter the Promised Land. What was his error? According to some commentaries, he was supposed to talk to a specific rock and that rock was to respond by producing water for the thirsty Israelites. Instead, Moshe Rabenu hit the rock with his staff and the rock produced the needed water.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks, what is the difference if one talks to the rock or one hits the rock? Everyone realizes that the miracle is equally wondrous whether you hit or speak to a rock and the rock responds by producing water. He answers that it seems that Hashem wanted to teach us a valuable lesson. A person should always speak the words of the Torah and words of ethics and good conduct, even to people that don't understand. Eventually, with a lot of teaching, the people will understand. A person should never give up on teaching and guiding his children just because he feels that they don't understand. He must be persistent until they eventually understand and begin to observe. Just like the rock, that doesn't understand, at the end fulfills the command of Hashem, how much more true is it of people that even though they don't understand now, they will ultimately understand.

Our community is a great one, and with patience and constant teaching we will ultimately understand and observe all of the words of Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"This is the decree of the Torah" (Bemidbar 19:2)

Seforno notes the paradox involved in the purification of the Parah Adumah (red heifer). A person who became spiritually impure through contact with a corpse became pure through the process described in this section of the Torah. While this process purified the person who underwent it, it also caused people who were previously pure to become impure. Moreover, in verse 6 we see that wood from a cedar tree was used, which denotes strength and power, and also a hyssop which is a humble leaf. This whole section symbolizes the concept that when a person has a fault he needs to go to the opposite extreme in order to correct his fault. Normally the proper way to behave is the middle path in all traits, and it is considered a fault if someone is too extreme in any area. But when a person has a fault, which is symbolized by the scarlet that was used, he should behave in the extreme opposite manner. This extreme behavior is wrong for the average person but is correct for him. This is symbolized by the fact that the same thing that can cause impurity for one person brings about purity for someone else.

Be aware of what traits you need to correct. For a limited amount of time, act in a manner that is diametrically opposed to your usual way of behaving until you find yourself automatically behaving appropriately. For example, a person who has a bad temper and frequently gets angry should, for a while, ignore anything that happens that he does not like. If a person finds that he speaks lashon hara, he should make an effort not to speak at all about other people even those things which are really permissible. (Growth through Torah)


Question: Why do we smile after reciting the berachah upon the wine in habdalah?

Answer: This is an unspoken prayer for happiness in the coming week. Note: one should not laugh audibly, or speak. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Take the stick...and speak to the rock." (Bemidbar 20:8)

Hashem commanded Moshe to speak to the rock, and it would give water. If that is the case, then why did Hashem instruct Moshe to bring the stick?

Rabbi David Feinstein explains that the stick was meant to teach a lesson to the people. There is a famous saying: Speak softly and carry a big stick. In other words, a person should always speak with the proper respect and courtesy. However, when the situation warrants, he should be prepared to use more harsh measures. When it is known that he is "carrying a big stick," and is not afraid to use it if absolutely necessary, then his words will be less likely to be ignored.

This is a vital lesson for parents. There are times when a child just doesn't want to do what he is told. If the child knows that his parent is prepared to take disciplinary measures, he will show less resistance. However, if we threaten our children but fail to follow through when they continue to defy us, then they will realize that there is no danger, and the "stick" will no longer have any power. Of course, discipline must never be done in anger, but only to assist us in educating our children.

Question: Do you sometimes threaten to punish a child but then let him off the hook because you feel bad for him? How do you think this affects the effectiveness of future threats?


This week's Haftarah: Shoftim 11:1-33.

At the end of our perashah, Moshe sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Emorim, requesting permission to pass through their land. When they refused and came out to attack, Israel wiped them out and took over their lands. In this haftarah, the nation of Amon attacked Israel, seeking to recapture these lands. Yiftah, the Jewish leader, sent emissaries to Amon, detailing the events that took place in this perashah, explaining that Hashem had turned the lands over to Israel. When Amon did not withdraw, Yiftah attacked and defeated them.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Amalek.

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