AUGUST 11-12, 2000 - 11 AV 5760
Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Then Israel sang" (Bemidbar 21:17)
"You shall do what is upright and good in the eyes of Hashem"
The Gemara relates a story of a worker hired by a Rabbi to carry barrels of wine for him. The worker mistakenly broke the barrels and the Rabbi confiscated a garment for his broken barrels. The went to the Bet Din and the ruling was, "Give him back his garment." Then the worker said he needs to get paid for his work and the employer exclaimed, "How can I pay you if you not only didn't benefit me, you caused me a loss?" The Bet Din told the Rabbi to pay him his wages. The Rabbi asked, "Is this the halachah?" He was told, "In your case you must go beyond the letter of the law." The worker was a poor needy fellow and the Rabbi had the means to pay him, even though he was undeserving. Sometimes we have to go beyond the letter of the law and do what the spirit of the law wants.
This is called "lifnim mishurat hadin, - going the extra mile." The Rabbis tell us that the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because the people were too exacting with each other, without overlooking faults or problems. To counter that we need to go the other way and be tolerant and sometimes even give in when we're right. Whether it involves money, honor or other things, if we learn to act "lifnim mishurat hadin," if we go beyond the letter of the law, we will live life with more tranquility and hasten the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"But Hashem became angry with me because of you" (Debarim 3:26)
The name of our perashah is "vaet'hanan, - and I implore." Moshe Rabenu pleads his case to be allowed to enter the land of Israel. Hashem earlier had made a decree that neither Moshe nor Aharon will enter the land because of their sin of Mei-Meriba. During that episode, Moshe was commanded to speak to the rock to produce water for the Israelites, but he hit the rock instead. Moshe now pleads with Hashem to change the decree and prays 515 different tearful prayers. Hashem respond to Moshe saying, "Do not continue to speak further about this matter." As Moshe relates this to the Jewish people, he tells them that Hashem was angry because of them. However we know that Hashem refused Moshe because of his own sin! Why did Moshe shift the blame to the Jewish people?
Moshe Rabenu was hinting to the people that although it's true that the problem was his own, if the people had pleaded to Hashem to nullify the decree, Hashem would not turn away the prayer of the many. However, each person was busy with his own life and it didn't occur to any of them to make the major effort.
Let's look at Moshe's effort when he prayed for them when they made the golden calf. The Torah writes "vaychal Moshe (Shemot 32:11) - and Moshe pleaded to Hashem." The word vaychal is related to choleh - to become ill. Moshe prayed so hard until he became ill, and that broke the decree, saving the people.
Our prayers, especially as a group, have tremendous power. Let's use it.
"And I prayed to Hashem at that time saying" (Debarim 3:23)
Moshe prayed to Hashem, say the Sages, as many prayers as the numerical value of the word "vaet'hanan" (the first word in this verse). This amounts to 515 prayers, so strong was Moshe's desire to enter the Holy Land. Let us picture this. If someone asks another person for something and the other person refuses to meet his request, it is possible that he will ask again. But after a few times, he will give up. There is a limit to how many times one person will ask another for something. But we see here that Moshe continued to ask five hundred and fifteen times. This is truly amazing. The principle we see is that the way to elevation is persistence and even stubbornness. In spiritual matters, one needs to adopt the attitude, "I don't care about anything else. This matter is crucial and I'll keep trying."
The key to accomplishment is persistence. Very often, people do give in if the other party repeats his request often enough. Most young children are experts at this. It is only a question of what you are willing to be persistent about. For example, if someone does not want to sell something that you would like to have, it is wrong to nag him until he gives in. But in important matters, keep on trying. (Growth through Torah)
"Let me cross and see the good land" (Debarim 3:25)
The Gemara (Sotah) asks, "Why did Moshe desire to enter the land? Did he simply want to eat of its fruits or take pleasure in its goodness?" Rather, he wished to enter in order to fulfill the misvot that can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. Hashem then responded, "You only wish to do the misvot so that you could receive the reward. Therefore, I will consider it as if you fulfilled the misvot."
Hashem's response is puzzling. Could it be that Moshe wanted to fulfill the misvot only to collect the reward? Rav Hayim of Volozhin suggests that this is an indication that is actually preferable to do misvot for the purpose of receiving a reward! As we know, Hashem created the world in order to be able to do hesed, kindness, to his creations. Therefore, it follows that if one serves Hashem so that Hashem could reward him with kindness, he is giving pleasure to Hashem Who now has an opportunity to do more kindness to his creations.
There is one catch, though. Only if a person serves Hashem simply so that Hashem can get the pleasure of giving reward does it raise his actions to the highest level. But if he also looks forward to getting a reward, then his actions sink to a much lower level.
So how does one know if he has the proper intention? There is a very simple test. Ask him if he would have any objection if, instead of rewarding him for his actions, Hashem gave the reward to his neighbor. If he is agreeable to this arrangement, then he could rest assured that he is doing the misvot solely to provide a forum for Hashem to do hesed.
If not, then it is clear that there are selfish motives mixed in. Moshe was prepared to make any sacrifice for the sake of B'nei Yisrael, and it is known that he had no selfish motives. Therefore, Hashem responded that since Moshe's only reason to fulfill the misvot in Israel was so that Hashem would "be able" to do more hesed, Hashem would consider it as if the misvot were fulfilled.
Rav Hayim cautions that nowadays, we are very far from this level, and we should strive to fulfill misvot for their own sake, and with no reward in mind. (Lekah Tob)
"You shall not take the Name of G-d, your G-d, in vain" (Debarim 5:11)
The Gemara (Shabuot 39a) says the entire world trembled when Hashem said, "You shall not take the Name of G-d, your G-d, in vain." What message was the Torah conveying that caused the entire world to tremble? A story is told of a group of brothers who came to America and went into business together. A few years later they arranged for their parents to emigrate. The father was a pious, G-d-fearing Jew, with a beard, pei'ot and Hassidic garb. After a short time, the father shaved off his beard and pei'ot, and traded his Hassidic garb for modern attire. Puzzled by their father's behavior, the sons consulted his Rabbi.
When the Rabbi asked the father why he changed so drastically, he told them the following, "My sons have a large meat market. They had me sit at a table in the market and when people saw me, it encouraged them to make their purchases with confidence that everything is kosher. However, I soon realized that the meat they were selling was not kosher and they were using me to deceive the public. Therefore, I decided to change my appearance so that my beard should not help them sell non-kosher meat." Throughout Jewish history, the nations of the world have persecuted the Jew, with the excuse that they were doing it for the "sake of heaven."
Also, among Jews, it is common for one to hurt another with the slogan on his lips that it is a misvah.
Hashem's command "Do not mention My Name in vain," in a sense means "Do not exploit My 'Name'" - Torah and religion - as a means of justification for your iniquities. Do not attempt to cover them up with a veil of righteousness and virtue.
This poignant Divine message put a shiver through everyone, and the entire world trembled in fear. (Vedibarta Bam)
Answer to Pop Quiz: He designated three of the six cities of refuge.
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