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Simcha Groffman

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Parashas Mattos

Know Your Enemy

"Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against Midian" (Bamidbar 31:2). Vengeance? How can it be? The Torah forbids taking revenge (Vayikra 19:18). How can Hashem command Moshe to violate a mitzvah of the Torah? Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that the war against Midian was a different type of retribution. Hashem's Torah rests upon two foundations: tznius (modesty) and emunah (faith in Hashem). The nation of Midian tried to undermine both of these. When going to war, one must know who his enemy is. Midian was not the usual adversary, who tries to kill his foe and destroy him physically. Rather, this enemy tried to bring spiritual death upon us. They made us stumble and commit the worst aveyros. They tried to ruin our souls. That is the true destruction.

Therefore, we went to war. Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to take revenge. This was not a personal grudge, or even a national grudge. Rather this was a war to spiritually strengthen the Jewish people. We stand spiritually strong when the enemies of the soul, and everything that they stand for are destroyed.

Kinderlach . . .

We are still fighting against the enemy who tries to undermine tznius in Klal Yisrael. "Imma, can you buy that dress for me?" "Let's try it on Shiffy. Hmmm. It's a bit too short and tight." "Really, Imma? Everyone wears dresses like this. It's the latest style." "Shiffy, do you know who sets the trends for the latest styles?" "No, Imma. Please tell me." "Fashion designers and promoters in far-away lands. They have no knowledge of our Holy Torah and its concept of tznius. Their only concern is to sell clothes. We have a different agenda. We are guarding the holiness of our souls, which come down to this earth from under Hashem's Holy Throne. Fashion styles come and go, but the Jewish soul is eternal. Would anyone want to exchange eternity for a piece of cloth?" "Imma, you are always so inspiring." "Shiffy, our modern world is full of challenges to test our emunah in Hashem. Technology can accomplish wondrous things. However, it is so powerful, that it can totally distract us from serving Hashem properly. We have to fight a war against the enemies of our soul." "I'm with you, Imma. We will defeat the enemy."

Many Thoughts ...

"And here's today's weather report. Today will be another hot one. A predicted high temperature of 95°."

"Imma, I'm so hot."

"I have great news for you kids. Abba and I decided last night to get air conditioning. I'm going to call the man today and we will have cool air quicker than you can say, 'Pass the lemonade.'"


That evening . . .

"I'm home dear. How did it go with the air conditioning today? When is the installer coming?"

"Sit down my dear husband. Things are not as simple as they seem. With this last heat wave, all of the installers are so busy that they do not even answer their cell phones. It looks like we will have to wait at least a few weeks."

"Many thoughts are in a man's heart, but Hashem's advice will prevail (Mishlei 19:21). We thought that we would be cool right away, but Hashem had a different plan."

* * *

In this week's parasha, Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu, "Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against Midian. Afterward you will be gathered to your people (pass away)" (Bamidbar 31:2). Rashi explains that although his death would follow this war, Moshe Rabbeinu followed Hashem's instructions happily and did not delay. The Medrash Rabba (22:6) compares Yehoshua's reaction to news of his upcoming death to that of Moshe Rabbeinu. Yehoshua was told that he would live 120 years, like Moshe Rabbeinu. However, his life was shortened 10 years. Why? When he was commanded to wage war with the 31 kings, he thought to himself, "After I kill them, I will die, just as Moshe did after his war with Midian." He began to push off the war, in order to extend his life. Hashem said to him, "That is how you conduct yourself? I will shorten your life by ten years." Yehoshua thought that he could push off Hashem's command and prolong his life but "many thoughts are in a man's heart, but Hashem's advice will prevail."

Kinderlach . . .

We have many ideas about how things should be. "My neighbor should have more consideration for me." "My friend should help me with my homework." "The teacher should call on me in class." "My mother should not have said that to me." These are all valid claims. We should try to speak to the people about them. They may listen and be sympathetic. Or, they may not. If not, then we may have to accept it as something that we cannot change. We wanted things to be a certain way with this person. But, Hashem has a different plan. He wants us to work on ourselves to accept people the way they are.

Winning the Battle

"Hashem said to Moshe, 'Calculate the total of the captured spoils…You shall take it from their (the soldier's) half and give it to Elazar the Kohen…And from the spoils of the Bnei Yisrael…you shall give to the Leviim'" (Bamidbar 31:25-30). The soldiers had just returned from the war against Midian. The spoils of war must now be divided up. Before anyone takes anything for himself, he must first give to the Kohanim and Leviim. Why?

The Malbim explains that soldiers who go to war are prone to make a fundamental mistake. They may think that their might and their swords win the battle against the enemy. Therefore, they must first give spoils to Elazar the Kohen Godol. In his zechus (merit) and the zechus of his son Pinchas who carried the holy vessels in his hand, they merited to conquer and inherit Eretz Yisrael. The Ha'amek Davar elaborates that one who goes to fight a battle asks the spiritual leader of the nation to pray for his safety and success. The Kohen Gadol is that leader who atones for Bnei Yisrael and leads the Avodah (Divine Service). Therefore, he deserves a bigger portion of the spoils. The Ha'amek Davar adds that the Leviim toiled in Torah. Their Torah learning guarded Klal Yisrael and protected them from all evil. Therefore, those who do not go to war, rather sit safely in their homes, must first give a portion of their spoils to the Leviim. In the zechus of the Torah learning of Shevet Levi the rest of the nation is protected.

Kinderlach . . .

During these Three Weeks, we mourn the losses of many battles and wars, resulting in death and destruction to many Jewish communities. The Tanach and our sages point out that each churban (destruction) was preceded by a weakening in some aspect of Avodas Hashem (Service to Hashem). Who fights our wars? "Hashem is Master of war" (Shemos 15:3). We are still in golus (exile). We are surrounded by many enemies. What will protect us from them? Torah Learning and Divine Service, just as the Torah learned by the Leviim protected the nation back in the days of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Nowadays, Divine service consists of prayers. Kinderlach, learn Torah, pray to Hashem, protect our nation, and with His Help bring an end to this golus.

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