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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Badmidbar

Your Spouse Is Unique

Every man near the banner bearing his family's insignia shall the children of Israel pitch their tent, at a distance around Ohel Mo'ed they shall encamp.


In the summer of 5663 (1903) there was a great fire in Radin, which destroyed almost all the houses in town.. The fire abated just before it reached the house of the Chofetz Chaim. People fled for their lives and were not able to save anything. The destitute, homeless Jews of Radin congregated in the Chofetz Chaim's yard.

When he saw what was happening, he stopped learning Torah and devoted himself to helping them. He first obtained a loan and offered them immediate aid. After that he traveled for about ten weeks to the large cities of Vllna, Kovna, Minsk, etc. to raise funds to help them. He was successful in raising large sums of money. In addition, he had his family write letters to many cities in the world to ask for help. Large amounts of money and clothes poured in, and his house became the distribution center for the aid. The Chofetz Chaim directed the distribution of the funds himself, and he did not rest until the city was restored and all the people had been rehabilitated.

The Chofetz Chaim also applied to the Russian treasury for an appropriation of aid for the people affected by the fire. He had discovered an old law which provided for such aid in the event of a disaster of this kind. After about a year, he received a gigantic sum from the Russian treasury, which he divided among the victims.

The devotion of the Chofetz Chaim was spoken of throughout the city and his generous actions became famous. Everyone pointed out his love and kindness for others. The gentiles of Radin who were victims of the fire received reimbursement from the money he had received from the Russian treasury, and even they praised the Chofetz Chaim to each other. The gentiles' admiration for him was so great, that even the priests of the area spoke in their churches about his actions, and used his actions as an example of how a person could show love for others. (OLAM ~CHESED ~YIBANEH, p. 164)

The Chofetz Chaim was unique in his great efforts to help others. Each of our spouses is also unique and has special traits. Our task is to learn to appreciate them.

G-d cherished Israel with a great love, and therefore made flags for them just as He had for the holy angels. He did so in order that they should stand out, the people of Reuven by themselves, and the people of Shimon by themselves. From where do we learn that the flags represent love? Because it is written, "And his flag is love for me."

Rabbi Chananya said, "Elsewhere, anyone who points to the king is killed. And yet Jewish children go to school and point to G-d's name with a finger. That is what is meant when G-d says, 'And his flag is love for me."

The verse says, "Who is this that looks like the dawn?' Israel's flags augmented their greatness and all the nations looked at them, wondered and asked, "Who is this that looks like the dawn?" Also the nations said to Israel, "Return, oh return, the Shulamis." What is the meaning of 'Return, oh return, the Shulamis"? The nations were saying to Israel, 'Cling to us, and come to us, and in return for doing so we will make you into governors, commanders and generals." This is what the verse means when it says, 'Return, oh return, the Shulamis, and we shall look at you." "Looking" refers to the attention that Israel will receive, since they will be appointed to important positions.

And Israel will answer them, "What can you see in the Shulamis? The meaning of the verse is that Israel is answering the nations, 'What is the greatness that you wish to bestow upon us? Is it as great as 'the encircling of the camps which means, perhaps you think you are giving us greatness which can compare to that which our G-d gave us in the desert: The flag of Yehudah, the flag of Reuven, theflag of Efraim, the flag of Dan."
(YALKUT 684)

How do the flags that G-d made for the Jewish people show His love for them, and why does He want each one of the tribes to stand out? What is so special about pointing to G-d's name with a finger? Why did the nations say that Israel looked like the dawn? Why did the nations offer Israel such important positions just because they saw them with flags? When Israel answered the nations saying that they preferred the greatness of their flags in the desert over such honor as being commanders among the nations, what did they mean to suggest?

The flags that G-d commanded the Jewish people to make in the desert showed that each tribe and each individual had to fulfill tasks in life that others could not do for him. We are not just one mass of people, but rather a multitude of individuals; no single person is the same as any other. Similarly, each tribe had a separate flag to show their individuality.

This command shows G-d's love for His people. The distinctiveness of the different flags represents the fact that He observes and appreciates the unique qualities in everyone. He is saying to us, "Do not feel that you are indistinguishable among the multitudes. You are special and I want you to make a flag that will show how much you stand out." He does not need the flag, but we do. We need to know that ~G-d loves us, cares about us, and wants us to succeed.

Our Sages say that in Israel children point to G-d's name with a finger. This stresses our closeness to G-d. Other kings are aloof in their palaces and have nothing to do with the populace. If someone dares to be familiar with the king, for example by pointing at him, he is punished by death. But G-d wants us to be familiar with him. He wants even a school child to feel close to Him. Thus the child will point with his finger, which is a sign of recognition, since G-d is approachable and can be known to every person.

"Israel was great in their flags, and all the nations were looking at them, wondering, and asking, 'Who is this that looks like the dawn?"' Dawn comes after the long blackness of night. There is nothing more recognizable, since until then the world was in darkness, and now there is the glowing of light coming to the world. The nations noticed the flags and perceived their significance in showing that Israel was considered so important that they were in fact comparable to the dawn. The Jewish people are the light and the inspiration to the other nations of the world. Seeing them in their glory, the nations invited them to take tasks of great importance among them, to be governors and commanders, roles that were practical and material rather than spiritual.

The nations said to Israel, "We now see how important you are. Come to us and enjoy the world by fulfilling these tasks for us. You will have honor and money. But first you must abandon the tasks you do for G-d."

Israel's answer was that they preferred the greatness of being with their flags in the desert, over the positions of power and glory which the nations offered them. Our Sages say, "If you are told that there is wisdom among the nations, you should believe them. But if you are told that there is Torah among the nations, you should not believe them." Israel's true greatness lies in their closeness to G-d. They have the privilege to spread G-d's word in the world through their service to Him. This represents the pinnacle of spiritual greatness, and the nations cannot offer us anything that can equal it.

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