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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Parashas Matos

If a man will take a vow to Hashem or swear an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (30:3)

Rashi teaches that vows and oaths apply only when one seeks to render prohibitive that which is permitted. One cannot, however, utilize oaths and vows to permit that which is forbidden. Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, was an individual known by many titles, one of which was Lubliner Rav. He followed a long line of distinguished rabbonim, one of whom was the famous Maharshal who preceded him by four centuries. The Maharshal was a formidable gadol, a talmid chacham, Torah scholar without peer, and a Kabbalist of great renown. The following story was often related by Rav Meir Shapiro. He had discovered it in the pinkas, ledger, of the Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Burial Society of Lublin.

The Maharshal had a student whose wife had passed away. The husband was overwrought from the tragedy and just could not overcome the deep depression that enveloped him. His distinguished Rebbe called for him and asked for an explanation. At first, the young man demurred from divulging the reason for his melancholy. Finally, the student gave in and informed the Maharshal of his vow. Apparently, when his wife was ill, he had given her his word that he would never remarry. His Rebbe countered that such an oath has no validity, since it is contrary to the Torah. One is to marry and procreate. It was, therefore, not only permissible for him to remarry, but it was actually incumbent upon him to do so.

The student listened to the Maharshal and remarried. A short time later, the city went into a frenzy when, one morning, the young man who had followed his Rebbe's instructions - died! When the Maharshal was informed of this turn of events, he immediately summoned the members of the Chevra Kadisha to his house. He instructed them to prepare the body in the usual manner: taharah, purification, and tachrichim, shrouds; when they were prepared to bury him, they were to notify the Maharshal. The Chevra Kadisha did so.

The Maharshal arrived at the burial site and wrote the following note, which was placed alongside the deceased: "Shalom Aleichem, Peace unto you, Heavenly Tribunal. I (the Maharshal) ruled in accordance with the laws of the Torah to permit this man to marry again. I decree upon 'You' with the powers (granted me by the) of the Torah that You should return my student to me." The Maharshal affixed his name to the paper, placed it into the hand of the deceased, and insisted that the grave be left uncovered. After lowering the body, they all left the cemetery. The grave was left uncovered.

One hour later, the young man arose from his grave, dressed in shrouds, and proceeded to walk through the streets as if nothing had ever happened! When the "deceased" entered his home, his wife ran out in shock. The next day, the Maharshal summoned his "reincarnated" student to appear before him in street clothes. When the student entered the yeshivah, the other students became visibly frightened. Employing the power vested in him through the Torah, the Maharshal immediately decreed that the angel in charge of shikchah, forgetting, should prevail and use his powers over the city of Lublin, so that everyone would forget what had taken place. The young man raised a beautiful family, meriting to see generations of proud Jewish children devoted to Torah and mitzvos.

Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael against the Midyanim. Afterward you will be gathered unto your people. Moshe spoke to the people. (31:2,3)

Remarkable! The Midyanim were to receive their due punishment in response to their involvement in the Jews' sins of immorality and idolatry. This punishment resulted in the deaths of 24,000 Jewish souls. Hashem told Moshe that this "unfinished business" should be addressed now, since his death was tied to it. In other words, Moshe was going to leave this world as soon as he carried out this last retribution. Our quintessential leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, could easily have taken his time in executing Hashem's command. He did not. Indeed, he did it immediately, so great and intense was his love for Hashem and his desire to execute the will of G-d. The nation was not happy about this; the people wanted him to tarry as long as possible. They could not bear the thought of losing their beloved leader. Moshe, however, was not wasting time. Thirty-six thousand men were selected in this draft, each group of twelve thousand having their own individual function. Twelve thousand actually fought the good fight; twelve thousand took care of the weapons; and twelve thousand addressed the spiritual support necessary to win in battle - they prayed.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, derives three powerful lessons from the command to exact retribution against the Midyanim and the manner in which Moshe responded to it. As mentioned earlier, Moshe had no reason to immediately rush to carry out this command. The longer he waited - the longer he lived. Moshe, however, moved quickly. Why? Rav Yaakov relates the following incident:

An elderly woman knocked on the door of the home of Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, with a strange request. "Fifty years ago," she began her tale, "when the saintly Shaagas Aryeh was traveling incognito from town to town as part of his self-imposed exile, he lived in my town for the duration of two months. The Shaagas Aryeh was careful not to eat chadash, new flour. (Scripturally, a new crop of any of the five types of grain is forbidden for consumption until the annual Omer was brought on the sixteenth day of Nissan.) I was a widow at the time with very little for myself; yet, I offered to bake three small challos for him every week. In this manner, his Shabbos would be taken care of with yoshon, old, flour. When the Shaagas Aryeh prepared to leave the town, he blessed me. He said that I would live long enough to build three shuls: two in the diaspora and one in Eretz Yisrael.

"Hashem blessed me, and I became very wealthy. I built two beautiful shuls, one in Vilna and one in another city. Now the time has come to carry out the last part of the Shaagas Aryeh's blessing: to build a shul in Yerushalayim. The problem is that I know no one in the Holy Land. Does the Rosh Yeshivah have any contacts in Yerushalayim who can help me with this endeavor? I will give this person the money necessary to build the shul, and he will carry out the blessing to fruition."

Rav Chaim was astounded by the woman's remarks: "Go home, and do not worry. If the Shaagas Aryeh gave you his blessing that you will not leave this world until you have built these three shuls, you can be certain that it will occur. Why 'rush' things? When the opportunity to build will avail itself, you will build. Until then - live! After all, you have the Shaagas Aryeh's assurance."

Rav Galinsky asked, "This woman had the Shaagas Aryeh's guarantee. Rav Chaim assured the woman that this was considered money in the bank. Moshe Rabbeinu had Hashem's assurance that he would not die until after Midyan received its due punishment. Why did he rush into battle? He could have lived a calm and restful life for many years - no different than the advice given to this woman by Rav Chaim Volozhiner.

"Nonetheless, Moshe acted. Why? Our leader decided that his life had no value in comparison with the mitzvah of destroying the nation that had been responsible for the Jewish People's fall into moral and spiritual degradation. How could he live knowing that the perpetrators of this unpardonable crime against the Jews had not been obliterated from the world? That same day, Moshe announced the draft. He was not wasting time. Certainly, Moshe understood the significance of life, and he valued every moment. Furthermore, as long as he lived, the nation would benefit greatly from his teachings and wisdom. This alone was reason for him to stall. Imagine! Extending the life of Moshe Rabbeinu!

"The lesson is: Life is great, but the blemish caused by a sin is so serious that it must be immediately expunged. The taint remains as long as it is not extirpated from our midst. As long as Midyan survived, the blemish glared at us with overpowering force.

"Moshe taught us another lesson," says Rav Galinsky. "Many members of the secular forces in Eretz Yisrael decry the fact that the chareidi yeshivah students refuse to serve in the Army. They claim that we assume no responsibility for the Holy Land. This is not true. When Moshe ran his first draft, he selected 36,000 soldiers, each group of 12,000 had a distinct function. While 12,000 actually went into battle, 12,000 attended to the weapons, and the remaining 12,000 prayed. Moshe understood that prayer is an essential component of war. It provides the quotient for success, for without prayer, the bullets and the rockets are of no avail. They will not hit their targets."

Last, Moshe taught the overriding significance of hakoras ha'tov, appreciation and gratitude. Moshe received the command from Hashem, yet, immediately following the draft of 36,000 men, Moshe relinquished the actual leadership and guidance of the war effort to the able hands of Pinchas. While Pinchas was capable of leadership, and he was involved from the get go in waging war against Midyan's spiritual insurgency against the Jewish People, he still was not Moshe. Our leader, however, made a judgment call based upon the years he spent in Midyan. How could he turn his back on the gratitude he owed his host country? Hakaras ha'tov takes precedence even over a war of retribution against the evil Midyan.

Parashas Masei

They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in Kivros Hataavah. They journeyed from Kivros Hataavah and encamped in Chatzeiros. They journeyed from Chatzeiros and encamped in Rismah. They journeyed from Rismah and encamped in Rimmon-Peretz. They journeyed from Rimmon-Peretz and encamped in Livnah (33:16-20).

The commentators, each in his own inimitable manner, suggest that the names of the various encampments are allusions to the various shortcomings or consequences to inappropriate behavior manifest by the Jewish nation during their trek through the wilderness. Rashi interprets these places as referring to specific sins committed by the people. The Chasam Sofer indicates that the above names are consequences, resulting from distancing oneself from Torah study. The Talmud Succah 52b makes a formidable statement: Yitzro shel adam misgaber alav b'chol yom u'mevakeish l'hamiso, "A man's evil inclination threatens every day to overpower him, and seeks to kill him: and, if not for Hashem, Who aids him, he would be unable to withstand it." Man's evil inclination is very powerful. Hashem knows this. He, therefore, gave us the antidote to the yetzer hora's poison. Im paga bach menuval zeh, mashcheihu l'bais ha'medrash, "If this revolting one (the evil inclination) engages you and attempts to entice you to sin, draw him into the study hall." The Torah is the antidote that protects us from the yetzer hora's wiles.

One who removes himself from the Torah, who abandons it, has no protection from the cunning of the evil inclination. "They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sinai…" The nation moved away from the source of Torah; they left Sinai, not only from a geographic point of view, but also from a spiritual vantage point. Sinai, the Revelation and the Torah were no longer crucial parts of their lives. They would learn when they had "time." Regrettably, they had no time. Such an attitude spurs disdain for Torah. The individual will end up "encamping" in Kivros HaTaavah, Graves of Lust. Desires, passions, lusting for that which is inappropriate and downright immoral is just the beginning. One begins with desires, but does not execute his passions. They remain in his heart and mind, but not for long. Soon, one moves on to Chatzeiros. A chatzeir is an unguarded field/courtyard, symbolizing a place where one no longer has inhibitions. All systems are "go," and the earlier desires now become wanton, immoral actions.

It does not stop in chatzeiros. Unbridled sinful behavior requires justification. It must be legitimated. How does one validate activities which the Torah prohibits? How does one undermine the authority of the Torah and its interpreters, our saintly, spiritual leaders? One first impugns the integrity of the rabbis, and, ultimately, he denies the validity of the Torah. He is now encamped in Rismah; as in gachalei resamim, coals of . slandering the rabbis, disputing the Torah, vilifying those who support it - this is Rismah.

Once the floodgates have been breached, sin flows as Rimmon Peretz, the seeds of a pomegranate. Countless infractions, a multitude of sins, are to be expected from one who has no respect for authority. He is at the mercy of his passions, and we all know where this will lead him. Yes, to Livnah, the fires of Gehinnom, Purgatory, will be melaben, purge him of his transgressions. He has gone too far. He has reached the end of the line. He must now suffer the consequences of a life of promise that had gone sour when he abandoned the Torah.

The Assembly shall rescue the killer from the hand of the avenger of the blood. (35:25)

The bais din is enjoined to seek every possible way to circumvent the death penalty. We always give the accused every possible benefit of the doubt. Likewise, if the court judges that the death was caused by a truly unavoidable accident, it must rule that the killer does not require exile. Consequently, the goel ha'dam, relative who is the avenger of the blood, must desist. He has no right whatsoever to harm the killer. It was an accident which Hashem made happen - end of story.

The Talmud Sanhedrin 17a teaches an interesting halachah, which at first glance seems perplexing. Sanhedrin she'rau kulan l'chovah - potrin, "If all the judges of a Sanhedrin saw fit to convict a defendant - he is acquitted." The Talmud states the reasoning for this mystifying halachah. We have learned that when the vote (by majority ruling) is to convict, the decision is not immediately rendered; rather, an overnight delay of the court proceedings is required in order to give the judges an opportunity to find a basis upon which to acquit the defendant. These judges, however, who all voted to convict obviously will no longer consider any reason for acquittal. A delay of judgment is required only because more thought may lead one to vote for acquittal. Since this is not the case, and acquittal is apparently not an option for these judges, the entire judgment is aborted.

This halachah must be rationalized. Why should the accused murderer be exonerated simply because all of the judges voted to find him guilty? Should it not be the other way around, that the one who is unanimously declared guilty is condemned, not released?

Horav Shlomo Kluger, zl, explains that, when Hashem created the world, He created the concepts of emes, truth, and sheker, falsehood. A never-ending battle exists between these two entities. Whenever emes seems to express itself, sheker immediately contravenes and does not permit it to triumph. Sheker cannot seem to tolerate the truth. Therefore, when either the judges who vote to acquit or those who confer guilt upon the defendant are a majority - we concur with their decision because the Torah says, Acharei rabim l'hagos, "One follows the majority." We believe that all of the judges who vote to spare the defendant do so because they are mechavein, their thought processes coincide with the truth. The majority, however, who disagrees, is expressing sheker, taking the sheker position, since there has to be sheker disputing the truth. Whenever the judges vote unanimously to find the defendant guilty, with not a single judge dissenting, it is clear that this vote expresses not emes, but pure unadulterated falsehood. Indeed, if there had been emes in what they said, then sheker would have put up an argument to condemn the defendant. If sheker kept quiet, it is proof that indeed the very ruling which found the defendant guilty is untrue.

Rav Shlomo Kluger's exegesis illuminates a question that has bothered me. The forces of secularism and modernity are obsessed with raising their banner of insolence and strutting forward proudly with their nefarious agenda. Whenever they take it upon themselves to observe or maintain a practice which, according to their perverted sense of halachah is proper and even commendable, they do so with an "in your face" attitude to provoke our negative response. While most observant Jews ignore them because they have the common sense and forbearance to see through their ruse, there will always be those hot-heads who view every opportunity to act zealously as their G-d-given mandate to create a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Why do they perform rituals which are meaningless to them just for the purpose of making a political statement or agitating the tempers of those who really care? Why do they mock us - and Hashem? Can something be gained by such premeditated incendiary behavior?

The answer is that they have nothing to gain but sensationalism. They call attention to themselves - not their mission - because their mission and agenda are a joke. So, why do they do it? Sheker cannot tolerate emes. When they observe the success and acceptance garnered by the Torah camp they begin to realize the spiritual void in their own lives. Rather than alter their lifestyle, they would rather destroy the competition. This is how sheker works. If it cannot overwhelm emes, it attempts to discredit it. We must remember that, at the end of the day, sheker ein lo raglayim, "Falsehood has no legs to stand on."

He shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol, whom he had anointed with the sacred oil. (35:25)

What did the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, do to deserve such a "relationship" with the unintentional murderer? It is almost as if the Kohen Gadol shares punitively with the rotzeiach b'shogeig. Rashi explains that the Kohen Gadol serves as the nation's spiritual leader. As such, he has a responsibility to pray for his people - pray that no one sustains a fatal accident at the hands of another Jew. Apparently, he either did not pray, or he did not pray with sufficient intensity. In any event, a man was killed unintentionally. The Kohen Gadol must assume some of this responsibility.

Sforno offers his own insight, which addresses the varying degrees of unintentionality. There are some cases which are very close to accidental, and other cases which smack of negligence. How is bais din to determine the length of time the unintentional murderer should spend in exile? Clearly, this can only be determined by Divine insight. Thus, the decision is left up to Hashem, Who links the rotzeiach's period of incarceration in the City of Refuge with the Kohen Gadol's lifespan.

The Talmud Makos 11b questions the wording of the pasuk, "He shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol, whom he had anointed with the sacred oil." What does the pasuk mean when it says, "whom he had anointed with the sacred oil"? Is the killer the one who anoints the Kohen Gadol? Rather, Chazal explains that these words refer to the one who was anointed in his days - meaning, after he became a killer. Despite the fact that the Kohen Gadol's entry onto the scene followed after the unintentional murder, his (the Kohen Gadol's) passing still frees the killer from exile.

A simple question - a simple answer. So, why could the Torah not have written simply, "Until the death of the Kohen Gadol who was anointed with the sacred oil"? Why is it necessary to write the text in such a manner that it alludes to the killer playing a role in anointing the Kohen Gadol? It seems like an elaborate method which could have been circumvented by a simple rendering of the text.

In his Meshech Chochmah, Horav Meir Simchah HaKohen, zl, m'Dvinsk, writes that the Torah means to teach us a powerful lesson. True, the killer did not perform the actual anointing, but he plays a furtive role in determining who shall be the next Kohen Gadol. Hashem runs the world with a vision that is imperceptible to human cognition, because we are clueless to the manifold factors that enter into every equation. Indeed, there are times when the Kohen Gadol, who is "selected" for this illustrious position, is determined by his predesignated (from birth) lifespan in connection with the level of unintentionality of the murderer. In other words, "Reuven" kills "Shimon" unintentionally in such a manner that would warrant him to remain in the city of refuge for ten years as atonement for his sin. Hashem now has to match Reuven up with a Kohen Gadol who has only ten years to live. If Reuven's punishment should last ten years and no more, the next Kohen Gadol cannot really be an individual who has a long and healthy lifespan. Thus, essentially, a killer is anointing the Kohen Gadol!

We go through life wondering why things happen the way they do - when they do, and by and to whom. Some question events, which to the human eye simply do not make sense. Why should "Reuven" ascend to a position of leadership when, in fact, "Shimon" is more worthy? Why is "Levi" blessed with such incredibly good fortune, while so many others who, for all appearances, are much more deserving go from one misery to another? We do not know why, because we are unaware of all of the factors. One thing is certain: Hashem knows what He is doing. His decisions are sound and true. We just do not understand them because we know so very little.

Two Kohanim grow up together - go to the same yeshivah - are both erudite and saintly. Yet, one becomes Kohen Gadol. Why? Only Hashem knows, but a possibility exists that it has nothing to do with the individual Kohen. It is because he is a "perfect" match for the killer.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'ahavta es Hashem, Elokecha. You should love Hashem, your G-d.

The first step towards loving Hashem is to love His people, who love Him and cling to His Torah. Thus, explains Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, the ways and lifestyle of the Torah observant Jew should be the central focus of our admiration and our primary interest. We should love His genuine people with all our heart and soul. We should seek the company of Torah sages and cling to them. How true is the above observation? How can one claim to love the Almighty if he has a disdain for those who serve Him? To love His people means to love everything about them - even their individual idiosyncrasies concerning genuine mitzvah observance; their choice of fashion, etc. The spectrum of Hashem's People is wide and encompasses an entire world of Torah Jewry from all walks of life.

l'iluy nishmas
Roiza Rochel bas R' Moshe Aryeh a"h
niftar 8 Av 5756

Shelley Horwitz ̣"ä

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