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PARSHAS CHUKASThis is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent. (19:14)
In the Talmud Berachos 63b, Chazal interpret this pasuk homiletically. "Reish Lakish says the words of Torah endure only for one who kills himself for it, as it says, 'This is the Torah/teaching (regarding) a man who would die in a tent.' The commentators, each in his own individual approach, suggest varied explanations for the meaning of Chazal's statement. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that Chazal are intimating that one must be meticulous about his time and how he spends it. Every free moment should be dedicated to Torah study. He gives the following analogy. A wealthy businessman, who would spend the greater part of his waking hours immersed in business activity, finally came to the realization that he was literally wasting his time. His davening was no longer a spiritual experience. He ran into shul and ran out - during those days that he even made time to attend. Torah study was a thing of the past. The years had gone by, and he now realized that before long he would have to give a reckoning to the Heavenly Tribunal about how he had spent his days in this world. He decided that from now on, he would change his seder hayom, daily schedule.
The next day, he did not rush through his davening. Afterwards, he sat and learned for two hours. When he arrived at the business three hours late, his wife questioned his tardiness. He made up an excuse, because he was not yet ready for an altercation. This continued for a number of weeks. He was running out of excuses, and his wife was tiring of being alone in the store. One day, her patience ran out, and she decided to search the city to find out what he was doing during his precious time. When she discovered her husband in the bais hamedrash, immersed in the sea of Talmud, she became upset.
"Why are you studying Torah at a time when the store is filled with customers? Where is your sense of achrayos, responsibility, to the community?" she asked, quite upset.
The husband calmly looked into his wife's eyes and replied, "My dear, what would you do if one day the angel of death paid me a visit and took me from this world? Would you tell him that the store is filled with customers? You know you cannot argue with death. You would 'give zich an eitzah,' you would find a way around the problem. Therefore, make believe that every day I die for a few hours and will be resurrected after I complete my daily seder, schedule, of learning."
The Chafetz Chaim explains that every individual should view himself as "dead" and, thus, whatever excuses he might have had not to study Torah will no longer be available to him. Horav Chaim Soloveitzhik, zl, supplements this thought. Imagine, says Rav Chaim, that one day Hashem would allow all those who have passed away from this world to leave their graves for one hour and during that hour they would be allowed to do whatever they want. Once word would get out in this world, everybody would rush to the cemetery to greet their long-lost relatives and friends to spend that special hour with them. We can imagine the surprise and shock on everyone's faces when, as soon as the graves opened up, the deceased all ran to the bais hamedrash to study Torah for an hour. They would not have time for anything else! This is the meaning of what Chazal are telling us. The Torah endures only by he who views the time allotted to him in this world as a special gift, as if he was rising from the dead for a short while, and he has to make effective use of every second.
The gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders of each generation, viewed killing oneself for the study of Torah as an imperative to study Torah under hardship and without the usual comforts that so many of us seek. The enjoyment should be derived from the Torah study itself, not the embellishments that one creates, so that the learning will conform to his comfort zone. In the preface to the Biur Ha'Gra on Shulchan Aruch, the Gaon M'Vilna's sons relate the incredible level of perishus - abstinence from the pleasures of this world - and piety which their father achieved. From the moment he reached the age of Bar-Mitzvah, he never looked outside his four cubits. He ate a piece of stale bread soaked in water twice-a-day as his meals. Furthermore, he did not chew this bread, instead he swallowed it whole. He never slept more than two hours in the course of a 24-hour day. This was divided into four half-hour segments. During the half-hour "nap" his mouth would constantly be reviewing passages from the Talmud or Midrash. Three half-hours at night and one-half hour during the day was the extent of his daily sleep.
Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, would say that Hashem counts the pain we suffer on His computer. The Midrash says that if someone toils in Torah until he needs his last bit of strength to drop onto his bed and fall asleep, then, when saliva begins to drip from his mouth, Hashem cherishes it like the incense offering in the Bais HaMikdash.
There is another form of killing oneself for Torah: overcoming difficulties in learning. There are students who have to struggle to understand the subject matter. For some, this causes humiliation and precludes success in learning. Rav Mendel would extol the qualities of one who was not discouraged by failure nor afraid to make mistakes. The humiliation should not be a deterrent in his quest for achievement in Torah knowledge. He would say that one who is injured in battle - or, in contemporary society, in a sporting event - will wear his bandage as a badge of honor. Similarly, when someone falls while trying to learn, it is to his credit. He would encourage his talmidim, students, "Do not be afraid to make mistakes. One does not succeed from getting honors - only from humiliation. You should act in shiur like you do on the basketball court. Do not be afraid to shoot the ball because you might miss. You have to accept embarrassment for Torah. By nature, honor feels good and it might even make you feel stronger, but it is a segulah, talisman, to humiliate yourself for Torah. When you prepare something to say over in a chaburah, group, you must struggle over Torah and may well end up embarrassing yourself; it is a big business proposition in which the rewards are very great."
This is the teaching/Torah regarding a man who would die in a tent. (19:14)
The Chida cites the Panim Meiros who gives the following interpretation for this pasuk. "This is the Torah" - this is one of the unique qualities of the Torah; a man who would die - even if a person were to die; in a tent - he still remains in the tent of Torah." Since his Torah thoughts are being related to others, it is considered as if his lips are speaking from the grave. The Chida adds that this applies to everyone whose name is mentioned; even if a number of citations are made from one who heard from another, who heard from the original source, they all receive the merit of having their lips speak from the grave. The Ben Ish Chai cites the Maharsha who posits that one can be mechayeh miesim, resurrect the dead, even in contemporary times. How? When one cites divrei Torah, words of Torah, from the deceased, he causes his lips to speak from the grave, thereby creating a vehicle through which the deceased momentarily lives on. Horav Chaim Palagi, zl, writes that if the Torah thoughts of a deceased are cited in his name, his neshamah, soul, is transported from its Heavenly abode to the place where his Torah thoughts are being cited.
A Heavenly angel once appeared to the Bais Yosef and said, "Last night you analyzed and correctly interpreted the words of the Rambam. The Rambam was so pleased that he said that when you pass from this world, he will come, greet and escort you to your place in Gan Eden."
The Maginei Shlomo was written for the purpose of resolving the difficult passages in Rashi which the Baalei Tosfos dispute and question. In the preface to the sefer, written by his grandson it is related that the author once commented to his students that Rashi had appeared to him in a dream and said, "Because you trouble yourself to save me from the powerful and brilliant lions of Torah, the Baalei Tosfos, I, together with my students, will come greet you in Olam Habah, the World To Come." On the day of the Maginei Shlomo's petirah, passing, approximately one half-hour before his soul left its earthly abode, he lay in bed surrounded by a group of Torah scholars. He looked up and said, "Make room for the light of Yisrael, Rabbeinu Shlomo Yitzchaki, Rashi, who has arrived with his entourage to accompany me on my journey to the next world. I stood by his side throughout the years to rejoin and elucidate his commentary from the challenges posed by the Baalei Tosfos and now he is compensating me."
In his preface to the Mekor Baruch, Horav Nachum Ginzberg, zl, writes that he had once met Horav Meir Simchah, zl, m'Dvinsk, the Ohr Sameach, who appeared overjoyed, with his face lit up. Rav Meir Simchah related that earlier that day he had the zchus, merit, to develop a brilliant novellae which he felt was l'amitah shel Torah, coincided with the truthful essence of the Torah. Shortly thereafter, he dozed off and dreamt that he was witness to an assembly in Heaven attended by the greatest Torah luminaries. They were lamenting the fact that in the material world there was no one who was writing Torah thoughts and novellae that correlated with the Divine Truth. Suddenly, the Rashba arose and declared that in the city of Dvinsk, there is a rav who is more successful than he had been in concurring his novellae with the Divine Truth. The Rashba was referring to a question he had on a passage in the Talmud which led him subsequently to posit that the text was in error and should be erased. The Ohr Sameach, however, was able to explicate the passage brilliantly.
Horav Chaim Palagi, zl, writes that one who contributes toward the publishing of a sefer will eventually sit next to the author in Gan Eden. It was his contribution that enabled the lips of the author to speak from the grave. He, therefore, shares in the reward.
The people quarreled with Moshe…If only we had perished as our brethren perished before Hashem…Take the staff and gather together the assembly…And speak to the rock before their eyes and it shall give its waters. (20:3,8)
The commentators have varied approaches for explaining Moshe Rabbeinu's "sin." They seem to ignore the genesis of this sin, what led up to it and what was the spiritual climate at the time. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, focuses upon the background, so that we have a better perspective of what occurred and why. Actually, this was not the first time the people complained about a lack of water. They did so earlier in their sojourn. At that time, Hashem instructed Moshe to take the mateh, staff, and strike the stone, so that water would emerge. He did. It gave forth water, and everybody was happy. What happened this time? Why was Moshe told to speak to the stone rather than strike it? Furthermore, what did they mean when they said, "If only we had perished, as our brethren perished before Hashem?"
Rav Hirsch notes that after the victory over Amalek, we do not find the staff in Moshe's hands again. The staff of G-d in Moshe's hands signifies that he is being sent by Hashem to perform an act that is a direct intervening act of Hashem. Moshe is following orders and carrying out the will of the Almighty. The people felt that by bringing them to this waterless place, Moshe and Aharon were betraying their mission from Hashem. It was not in accordance with His will that they ended up in this place. Hashem would never have led them to a place where they would die of thirst.
Hearing this, Hashem instructed Moshe to "take the staff," - show the people that you represent Me and that they are here as a result of My will. "Gather together the assembly" refers to the assembly of the future, those who would be the future of Klal Yisrael: Let them see how you speak to the rock. A blow with the staff, as had occurred many years earlier, would give the impression that the water was the result of a fresh intervention by Hashem in response to the people's complaint. This was not to be. It was necessary for the people to realize that it was Hashem who led them to this place - not Moshe and Aharon. They also had to be taught that it was not their uproar that catalyzed Hashem's intervention. No! The water was already provided for them by Hashem before they came. It only required a few words from Moshe to make it flow freely to the people. It was not a fresh miracle, but rather a few well-placed words from Moshe that was all that was necessary to bring forth their undeniably present requirements.
This manner of obtaining water from the rock would have convinced the people of the profound error they had committed in maligning Moshe and Aharon by accusing them of leading them to this waterless place against the will of G-d. Rather, the water gushing forth only as a result of the blow with the staff could still leave room for one to err and say that their having been led to this place was originally a willful, arbitrary act of Moshe and Aharon, and that only their subsequent revolt brought about a merciful miracle from Hashem.
The message was clear: Moshe was instructed to take the staff, the same staff that for forty years he had not used. He was to show the people that the staff still existed; he was still Hashem's messenger. As they stood at the threshold of Eretz Yisrael, however, with a new future awaiting them, they had to become aware of a new form of "staff," the word of Moshe - and the Moshes of every generation - was to be the symbol of Hashem's constant supervision over the nation. The period of nissim geluim, overt miracles, was coming to an end. Henceforth, they would be under the guidance of nissim nistarim, covert but no less miraculous miracles. The dvar Torah, word of Torah, would replace the staff, as it would bring forth sweet water from a stone. Regrettably, the lesson was not learned.
Therefore, you will not bring this congregation to the land. (20:12)
The opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael together with the nation was taken away from Moshe Rabbeinu. What a tragic punishment for a man who had reached the zenith of spirituality, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael, whose great hope and desire was to enter the land. Why? What did Moshe do that sealed his fate? True, the Torah details his sin which is discussed and explained by the commentators. There must have been something else, however, something that he could have, and should have, done that might have catalyzed a last minute reprieve. What was it?
In the Midrash to Sefer Devarim, Chazal say that when Hashem saw Moshe "weighing" the decree for a moment and did not immediately respond with prayer, Hashem then made an oath that Moshe would never enter the land. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, derives a compelling lesson from here. If Moshe Rabbeinu would have supplicated Hashem immediately upon hearing the decree against him, he would have succeeded in averting the decree. It is only because he relied on his ability to pray later that all of his five hundred and fifteen prayers were not accepted.
Those few moments changed the course of Jewish history. Had Moshe prayed immediately, he would have received permission to enter Eretz Yisrael. Chazal teach us that had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael and succeeded in building the Bais Hamikdash, it never would have been destroyed. History would have been altered forever! No exile - no Inquisition - no Holocaust! All because of a few moments that demonstrated a lack of alacrity.
Zerizus, alacrity, indicates love. It displays that a person cares. He cannot wait to perform Hashem's will. Avraham Avinu was told to sacrifice his beloved Yitzchak. He did not tarry or dawdle. He went to it with alacrity, with enthusiasm, with love. Those few minutes made the difference.
This idea applies equally to all of us. We can go to davening by just making it in time to put on Tallis and Tefillin before Barchu, or, alternatively, we can come to shul early and prepare ourselves to greet Hashem through prayer. If we want our davening to reach its potential, we must demonstrate what it really means to us.
Regrettably, when we arrive late, that is exactly the thinking that we manifest.
Chazal speak of clothes as an allusion to mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds. The neshamah, soul, within us has to be clothed - not with material garments, but with spiritual attire. It also has to survive and be sustained with food which is spiritual. Torah knowledge is the spiritual food which sustains the soul. Our mitzvah performance and acts of loving-kindness, as well as other good deeds, are its garments which protect and present it. The brachah brings to mind our dual duty to first feed and dress our own neshamos properly and then to see to it that the neshamos of others receive the same treatment. As Hashem attended to the needs of Adam and Chavah both physical and spiritual, so, too, should we address the needs of our co-religionists. We must reach out to them and help them to acquire more knowledge of Torah, showing them the beauty of living a Torah life.
We might connect the various explanations we have cited in the following manner: When we dress others spiritually, we have a moral responsibility to dress them according to Jewish law. In other words, giving them a half-baked, watered-down version of Judaism is not considered dressing k'halachah, according to Jewish law. Just as we should not give someone torn, outdated and undersized clothes, so, too, should we guide them properly and correctly, so that they will function as full-fledged Torah - observant Jews, who are knowledgeable and proficient in all areas of Torah and mitzvah performance.
Morry & Judy Weiss, Erwin & Myra Weiss, and Grandchildren
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Zev & Rachel Weiss, Elie & Sara Weiss, and Brian
"Love and memories are gifts from G-d that death cannot destroy"
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