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Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2

JULY 17-18, 2009 26 TAMUZ 5769

Pop Quiz: Who led the army in the war against Midyan?


"You shall not bring guilt upon the land in which you are, for the blood will bring guilt upon the land" (Bemidbar 35:33)

This week we complete the book of Bemidbar. The perashah of Mas'ei discusses the law of the city of refuge, the ir miklat. If someone kills by accident he escapes to the city of refuge to avoid the avenging relatives of his victim. This chapter ends with a strong warning against the intentional killers. The above verse states that if one kills another he brings guilt upon the land and only with this death penalty of the murderer will there be atonement for the land. If one studies the pasuk one will discover an unusual word. The word ?????????? is used, which is loosely translated to mean guilt. Do not bring guilt to the land. However, the literal translation of ?????????? is to flatter. So taken literally it says, "Do not flatter the land with killing." What can this mean?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l explains that both the gentile world and the Torah forbid murder. However, there is a vast difference between these two viewpoints. The secular world forbids murder because it harms society. If men would be permitted to kill, society as we know it would not be able to continue. The Torah viewpoint is that murder is forbidden because of the sanctity of man. A human life is so important and holy, that snuffing out a human life is the highest crime. The practical difference that would emerge between these two viewpoints is huge. If a person would be very old and non-productive, someone whose continued existence would be a burden financially or a great nuisance, that person's life might be allowed to slip by in a painless manner. As we know, in hospitals today the elderly don't receive the same rigorous care. Short term life, known in halachah as hayye sha'ah, is not important. However, in the Torah outlook human life, even a minute, even for the old and infirm and insane, is precious. Now we can understand the meaning of our pasuk. If one ends the life of someone whom he thinks is a detriment and burden to society, that "killer" is flattering the land, because the "killer" feels that man is secondary to the land, to society. But, in truth, it is quite the opposite; the land is secondary to the man.

Recently, a conference on medical ethics and halachah was held in Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak, Israel. Some excerpts from that conference are extremely informative. "Any action, medical or otherwise, that is liable to shorten the life of a patient even by a few minutes, is absolutely forbidden and can fall into the category of shedding blood." Rabbi Zilberstein harshly criticized the trend of withholding dialysis and other medical treatments from patients suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. "This is in total contravention to Jewish law. There is no difference in medical treatment between a patient with dementia and one who is of sound mind The Hazon Ish would stand up for a child classified as retarded, saying that such a soul does not sin." A patient whose life is in significant danger due to leukemia should be fed through a nasal tube or feeding tube through the stomach or by intravenous. All treatments should be given as long as they don't increase suffering and the patient is not suffering intolerable pain.

May we all have long life with good health, Amen. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

When the author of the Sefat Emet was a young boy, he stayed up all night to learn Torah, and by the time the morning prayers came, he had dozed for a few minutes and he came a little late to the minyan. His grandfather, who was a great Rebbe and was in charge of bringing him up, began to rebuke him for being late to shul. He said to him, "If this is your attitude now, what will happen when you get on in life; if you want to succeed you can't be lazy, etc."

The young grandson took the rebuke with his head lowered to the ground and didn't try to defend himself. After the grandfather left, the boy's study partner, who had learned with him all night, exclaimed, "Why didn't you defend yourself and tell him that you were up all night and that's why you were late?" The youngster, who succeeded his grandfather and became a big Rebbe himself later on in life, told his friend, "I learned this from the perashah of Matot. When Moshe rebuked the tribes of Gad and Reuben for wanting to inherit the land on the east of the Jordan, he suspected them of wanting to shirk their responsibilities and of not wanting to fight with the rest of the Jewish people. After Moshe finished his speech they answered that they were not intending to abandon the Jewish people, but were planning to fight with their brothers. We see from here that they did not interrupt Moshe while he was rebuking them because when someone points out our faults, especially someone who cares for us, we should listen rather than object and defend ourselves. This way even if we were right this time, we would have learned something for the future."

This is true today as much as back then. Whenever our loved ones or our friends say anything to us, we become defensive and sometimes even take the offense against them. We should realize that every rebuke or criticism can be helpful in our development if we open our minds and hearts and listen! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"Take the sum of the booty of man and beast…and divide the booty in half between those who took the war upon them…and between all the congregation…and of B'nei Yisrael's half you shall take one portion of fifty…and you shall give them to the Levi'im who keep the charge of Hashem's Mishkan." (Bemidbar 31:26,27,30)

The Torah dedicates more than twenty pesukim to describing the distribution of the booty taken from Midyan. It goes on to list the number of sheep and cattle, relating the manner in which they were divided. Why is this entire activity written in the Torah for posterity? Is there a special message to be gleaned from here?

Rav Elchanan Sorotzkin z"l explains that the Torah seeks to emphasize the importance of each member of the Jewish army. Therefore it stresses those individuals who actually engage the enemy in battle, as well as those who stay behind. The latter contribute their share of the effort through tefillot, Torah study, and moral support. One should not think that the members of Shebet Levi, who have been singled out to "keep the charge of Hashem's Mishkan," are less important participants in this war than the actual soldiers who bore arms and fought.

Hazal poignantly express this idea in the pasuk, "Our feet were standing in your gate, Yerushalayim" (Tehillim 122). What caused our feet to remain strong and erect in time of war? What gave us the courage and fortitude to fight? "Your gates" refers to the gates of the Batei Midrash, where our holy Torah was being studied diligently. These gates provided the merit for our success in battle. (Peninim on the Torah)

"I heard that tomorrow's weather is going to be just perfect," Benny reported happily to Gavriel. "I'm planning a full day of outdoor activity. Should I call you when my plans are set?"

"No thanks, the weather is just about the same every day in the yeshivah. No rain, no snow. Just sixty-eight degrees and dry," Gavriel replied.

"Can't you take a day off once in a while?" Benny asked.

"From a short-term perspective, you are right: people should take advantage of every opportunity to have a good time. But I am working on the long-term goal of being a great Torah scholar, and that requires sacrifice. One day, I know, all the little missed opportunities will add up to a great result," Gavriel politely responded.

Most people appreciate great talent. They collectively spend billions of dollars each year to watch great performers do their stuff. Athletes, entertainers - even chess players - who are at the top of their respective fields draw admiration from spectators the world over.

"I'd pay anything to play like that" is an oft-repeated refrain from the gallery.

In order to excel in sports, entertainment, or - quite differently - Torah learning, you must be prepared to pay dearly to develop your Hashem-given raw talents into a polished, successful performance. While others enjoy diversions such as spectator or amateur sports, entertainment, or a day in the park, dedicated individuals are hard at work training in their respective fields, paying the price for success. They, too, would "pay anything to play like that." In fact, they really do.

The Torah states (Vayikra 19:14):"This is the Torah; if a person passes away in a tent…" Our Sages learn: to acquire Torah, one must "die in the tent;" i.e. one must be willing to sacrifice.

If you feel that there is something great you are capable of achieving by using the talents with which Hashem blessed you, commit yourself to daily practice. The improvement is inevitable, as will be the successful attainment of your dream. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Elazar and Pinhas.

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.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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