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PARSHAS MATOS-MASEIAnd he shall revoke the vow that is upon her. (30:9)
Chazal differentiate between a court's hatarah, annulment, of a vow and a husband or father's hafarah, revocation, of a vow. Hatarah is made with reason, based upon the premise that the vow was made either in error or in ignorance. For example, had the individual making the vow been aware of certain circumstances, he would never had made it. Therefore, the annulment is retroactive, indicating that it was all in error. Hafarah, on the other hand, is not retroactive. It is a power given to the husband or father to revoke the vow for the future - without reason, simply because he wanted to do so.
The Chafetz Chaim, zl, applies the concept of hafarah and hatarah in regard to the attitude of those who have become alienated from the Torah way of life. At one time, those who denied the Torah weltshauung would conjure up reasons and philosophical logic to justify their opposition to Torah and mitzvos. They manifested some degree of embarrassment, and they did not want to totally rebel against Hashem. They sought an "amicable" break from Orthodoxy. It was a form of hatarah. They sought a reason to validate their iniquity.
"Today", he asserted some 80 years ago, they no longer care what people might think. They no longer give excuses, reasons, or philosophies. They are filled with lust and seek to satisfy their passions. They have no sensitivity whatsoever to a Jewish lifestyle. They abolish the Torah with a hafarah. They revoke its laws and undermine its moral and ethical standards. David Hamelech says in Tehillim 119:126, Eis laasos l'Hashem heifeiru Torasecha, 'For it is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided your Torah.'
This means that when we see that the level of iniquity has descended to such a nadir that it is, heifeiru Torasecha, they have revoked Your Torah, not caring enough to give a reason. They simply abandon it with disdain and derision. Then it becomes time to do something about it. This type of iniquity must be decried and battled. It is at a time like this that everyone must fight the battle for the preservation of Torah.
They approached him and said, "Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children…Moshe said to them…Build for yourself cities for your small children and pens for your flock." (32:16,20,24)
The halachah regarding reciting a brachah over two fruits that are not from the seven species of fruit with which Eretz Yisrael is blessed is clear: one makes the brachah upon the fruit which one likes more. What if he likes one more, but the second fruit has more therapeutic value, more vitamins in it? Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, contends that the fruit which is qualitatively better for the person is the one that takes precedence in regard to the blessing. The source for this halachah can be derived from Moshe Rabbeinu's dialogue with Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven. They said that prior to leaving for the battle for Eretz Yisrael, they first wanted to provide for their sheep and their children. In his response, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasized their responsibility to their children as a priority before their obligation to their sheep. Parnassah, earning a livelihood, is certainly important, but it does not take precedence over one's own children.
Furthermore, as Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, writes in his Michtav m'Eliyahu, the concern they had regarding their sheep was not a simple monetary one. No! Their Avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, their Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctification of the Name of Heaven, was through the medium of their sheep. They were willing to forego living in Eretz Yisrael because they felt that it was difficult to raise sheep in Eretz Yisrael. Sheep need to graze. In a populated area such as Eretz Yisrael, it was inevitable that they would graze in areas that did not belong to them. In Ever HaYarden, Trans Jordan, there were large tracts of grazing land which were ownerless, which would provide sustenance for their sheep.
In other words, raising both sheep and children was a critical component of their service to Hashem. Yet, there are priorities; there is an ikar, essential, and a tafel, secondary. One must prioritize the ikar over the tafel - always. This was their mistake.
Rav Nebentzhal cites a number of situations in our daily life in which we err and focus on the tafel and ignore the ikar. First, there is the distinction between kiyum hamitzvah, the basic fulfillment of a mitzvah, and hiddur mitzvah, beautification, enhancement of the mitzvah. Regrettably, people go to great lengths to satisfy the precepts governing hiddur mitzvah, while simultaneously giving secondary significance to the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah. He cites a simple - but common - example. One purchases a very expensive, beautiful, filigreed silver Chanukah menorah. Great hiddur, wonderful devotion to the mitzvah. When he lights wax candles, however, instead of using pure olive oil, he indicates that the hiddur takes precedence over the essential mitzvah which emphasizes the importance of using olive oil, even though it might "tarnish" the beautiful silver menorah.
It happens all of the time. We build beautiful shuls, traveling far and wide to get ideas to enhance the architectural and esthetic beauty of the edifice. Do we show the same concern, however, in regard to the beauty of the davening, service, or the Torah classes that form the foundation of the shul? People are more concerned and become petty with the price of hiring a competent rabbi/teacher to give Torah classes, but think nothing about the price of flowers for Shavuos. The list goes on. There are circumstances when a person's dedication to the mitzvah should inspire him to be mevater, forego, the mitzvah. Rav Nebentzhal writes that he witnessed an episode that demonstrated how far one can go in pursuit of a mitzvah and simultaneously disregard the spirit of the mitzvah, demonstrating a lack of concern for another Jew's feelings. He was in a shul when an individual was called up to the Torah for Maftir. Suddenly, one of the members declared that he is a chiyuv, had an obligation to fulfill, and since he had yahrzeit, he should receive Maftir. The fact that someone else had already been called up for the aliyah did not concern him at all. He could care less; he had yahrzeit. He did not mind embarrassing the person that was originally called up to the Torah or humiliating the Torah as it "waited" for the person to recite the blessing. He had yahrzeit! He forgot that the reason he had an obligation to receive an aliyah was that it serves as a nachas ruach, source of spiritual satisfaction, for the soul of the departed. What he seemed to ignore is that by hurting another Jew he certainly was not providing any satisfaction for the soul of the departed.
It is related that Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, once came to shul on the day of his mother's yahrzeit prepared to lead the services in her memory - according to the halachah. He noticed that there was another Jew in shul who had yahrzeit for his daughter. While halachah clearly states that a yahrzeit for a mother precedes that of a child, Rav Yisrael gave the amud, relinquished his right, and told the other individual to lead the services. He saw that the unfortunate Jew was anguished over not being able to lead the services in memory of his dear daughter, so he gave him the amud. He later said, "On the day of my mother's yahrzeit, I will perform a chesed, act of kindness, to another Jew. This will give my mother greater satisfaction." This is a benchmark of a gadol, Torah giant. He understood the spirit of the mitzvah, its purpose and its goal, and consequently realized that making a Jew feel good was the greatest source of satisfaction for his mother's soul.
This idea applies equally to Torah study. We invest all of our time and energy in academia. A person is measured by his erudition and scholastic ability. Torah study and erudition is all-important, but what about Yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven? If one gathers together a large amount of grain and forgets to add a small preservative to retard spoilage - it will all go to waste. To focus on the academic and disregard Yiraas Shomayim is to overlook the raison d'etre of Torah study, as well as the ingredient that will ensure that the Torah he studies will be internalized and be a part of him - forever.
He shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth, shall he do. (30:3)
The Kedushas Levi says that one who abides by his word and does not alter his oral commitments - then "whatever comes from his mouth shall He do." Hashem will fulfill the tzaddik's, righteous person's, decree.
Bnei Reuven and Bnei Gad had abundant livestock. (32:1)
The Sefas Emes interprets this pasuk homiletically. They sought to make a kinyan l'rav, acquisition for their rebbe. Bnei Reuven and Bnei Gad sought a way to circumvent the decree against Moshe Rabbeinu entering Eretz Yisrael. They figured that if they were granted land in Ever HaYarden, the land would then receive a degree of sanctity. Thus, since Moshe was already in an area which is considered Eretz Yisrael, he should be allowed to continue into the land. After all, the halachah is clear: a vow that has been partially revoked is considered completely revoked.
Then you shall be vindicated from Hashem and Yisrael. (32:22)
The Chafetz Chaim, zl, advised one of his disciples who was entering the rabbinate: "Practice what the Torah dictates. First and foremost a rav must justify his actions before Hashem, and then he should satisfy his community. If it is the other way around, he will succeed neither with Hashem nor with his community." What a powerful and timely lesson!
These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael, who went forth from the land of Egypt. (33:1)
We must keep on going forward - not lingering in the past. While we must never forget the past, it is incumbent upon us to look forward to the future. We have left Egypt; the pain, persecution and travail are behind us. We go forward towards new horizons. When we live in the past, we become depressed and stagnant. The Lomza Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, zl, would walk through the streets of Petach Tikvah with an air of nobility and dignity which bespoke a person who seemed not to have a care in the world. He spoke and acted with serenity and refinement. There were only a few very close talmidim, students, and friends who knew how deeply troubled and anguished Rav Yechiel Mordechai really was. He had lost two wives, and two of his sons had been killed. Thousands of his students had perished in the fires of the Holocaust, and his precious yeshivah was destroyed by the Nazis. His face never evinced his pain; his mouth never uttered a depressed word. He consoled others, giving them hope amid their pain. He always kept on going forward. He left Egypt/the decimation of European Jewry. He was rebuilding a Torah renaissance in Eretz Yisrael.
Once, he gave into his emotions. It was a slip - a painful reference to his overwhelming losses. It happened that a survivor, an ember spared from the fires of the Holocaust, came to bemoan his fate and seek a blessing from the Rosh Hayeshivah. He had a son that had for a number of years been of marriageable age and was not succeeding in finding his barshert, designated mate. The father wept over the past, bemoaned the present, and feared what the future would bring. How does one console such a broken-hearted Jew? Rav Yechiel Mordechai shared his personal grief with him. He told him about his losses, the wonderful sons, the brilliant and precious students that he no longer had. Together, they wept - for one another and for themselves.
Another time, as he attended the funeral of a brilliant, budding Torah scholar, a student of Slabodka Yeshivah who had drowned in a lake near Tel Aviv, Rav Yechiel Mordechai also revealed his pent-up grief. As the funeral cort?ge proceeded from the Lomza Yeshivah, the Rosh HaYeshivah suddenly began to cry uncontrollably with bitter sobs. They could not stop him. A rav who was with him asked, "What is wrong?" Rav Yechiel Mordechai answered, "It is a terrible tragedy for a young person to be taken so suddenly in the prime of his life. Yet, there is some form of consolation in the fact that he merits a funeral and burial in kever Yisrael, Jewish cemetery. I, regrettably, did not merit to accompany my sons to their burial."
How did the Rosh Hayeshivah do it? How was he able to suppress his emotions and control his feelings of pain and grief? What gave him the strength and fortitude to maintain his composure despite his overwhelming grief? He did not look back. He looked toward tomorrow and the hope of the geulah, redemption, that accompanies it.
He shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:25)
What connection is there between the unintentional murderer and the Kohen Gadol? Rashi explains that the Kohen Gadol should have prayed to Hashem that such a tragedy in which one Jew kills another Jew, albeit unintentionally, does not occur during his tenure as Kohen Gadol. It is interesting how the Torah emphasizes that davening is not enough. One must know what to daven for. The Kohen Gadol should have prayed for the spiritual welfare of the people of his generation. Had he done so, the tragedy that occurred would have been circumvented. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, draws a powerful analogy to demonstrate this idea.
The Kaiser decided one day to visit one of his infantry battalions. The soldiers all lined up at attention to present themselves before their commander-in-chief. Their shoes were shining brightly; their uniforms were in perfect condition. They stood erect and marched in perfect cadence. They succeeded in impressing the Kaiser. As a show of gratitude, the Kaiser announced that he would grant each soldier one wish. One "astute" soldier jumped forward and declared that he had a favor to request of the Kaiser. "What would you like?" asked the Kaiser.
"My request is that the Kaiser grant me my daily meals," the soldier responded.
The other soldiers were shocked at his request. Is this what you bother the Kaiser about? It goes without saying that a soldier in the Kaiser's army who performs his duties as ordered will certainly be fed three meals a day. Even his uniform is provided by the Kaiser. Once one is a soldier, his needs are addressed because he serves the king. The "brilliant" soldier should have had the common sense to ask for something special, something unique and out of the ordinary, something that he would not receive anyway. The mere fact that he wasted such an incredible opportunity is in itself the greatest loss. He could no longer have his request granted by the king.
The Chafetz Chaim explains that this same idea applies to our daily Tefillos, prayers. Let us face it: What do we really daven for? We pray for material sustenance, material success - everything to enhance our material and physical status. Do we ever ask for Divine Assistance in performing teshuvah, repentance, or success in Torah study and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven? Do we shed tears for our spiritual dimension, or are we so preoccupied with the mundane, the physical, the material components in our lives to focus on what is really important?
Are we different from the "foolish" soldier who asked for the food he would receive anyway as long as he served with dignity and fidelity? Should we not understand that our prayers should focus on our spiritual health and our ability to serve Hashem properly and to carry out His mitzvos correctly? Is there any doubt that if we perform properly in the spiritual arena that Hashem will provide our material needs? I guess for some people that is not enough.
Parashas Masei is always read during the three-week period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av. The Skulener Rebbe comments that we are to derive from this that just like all of Klal Yisrael's journeys had one purpose - to reach Eretz Yisrael, so, too, do all the journeys that we have gone through in our long exile have one purpose - to purify us for the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
They journeyed from Kivros Hataavah and they encamped in Chatzeiros. (33:17)
Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Varka comments that in order to bury one's lust [Kivros Hataavah - the burial place of (those who) lust(ed)], one must first realize that this world is only a chatzeir, courtyard/entryway, to Olam Habah, the Eternal world. We are only passing through.
This is the word that Hashem has commanded regarding Bnos Tzlafchad. (36:6)
In truth, the idea that Bnos Tzlafchad marry within their own tribe was primarily good advice - not a command. Yet, the Torah writes it as a command from Hashem. Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, says that at times even good advice has to be conveyed in the language of a command to insure that it is accepted and followed.
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