Tag Archives: Mattot

Matot-Massei: Crossing the Street

bsa_cross_street1And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its dependencies, renaming it Nobah after himself.

Numbers 32:42 (JPS Tanakh)

Why did the Almighty include this verse in the Torah?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elucidates: Throughout the world powerful leaders have wanted to leave monuments to themselves through statues and buildings named after them. Kings and conquerors have even named large cities after themselves. However, names can very easily be changed and then nothing is left, as happened to Novach. (Neither Novach nor the city he named after himself are remembered to history.) The good deeds of a person and his spiritual attainments are the only true everlasting monuments.

When you view the good that you do as your eternal monument, you will feel greater motivation to accomplish as much as you can. A life of spiritual attainments is everlasting. Feel joy in every positive act you do, for it gives greater splendor to your monument!

Dvar Torah for MatotMassei
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz in “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”

Rabbi Packouz also tells a story about the consequences of doing good.

It reminds me of the story of the father asking his son, the Boy Scout, if he did his good deed for the day. The boy says, “Sure, I helped an old lady cross the street. It took 12 of us.” “Why did it take 12 boys to help her across the street?” asks the father. Answers the son, “Because she didn’t want to cross!”

Every act of kindness has the possibility of a personal benefit. We must work to divest ourselves from our personal interest and to do kindness just to help someone.

Often, we choose to do the good deed or act of kindness that we want done for us or that we define as “good.” This is like the small boy who chooses to buy a toy he’s always wanted for a Mother’s Day gift. It would certainly seem like a kindness if he received the toy, but his mother might have other ideas about what she wants.

Forcing a “kindness” on someone who doesn’t want it is not only failing in your attempt to do good to another person, but it’s actually causing them harm. Imagine how the poor elderly woman felt in Rabbi Packouz’s story, when she found herself forced by twelve well-meaning but misguided boys, across the street. She is now where she didn’t want to be and, if she has difficulty crossing the street unaided, may not be able to easily get back home or to some place safe. And what if, in attempting to re-cross the street (without the aid of twelve “helpful” Boy Scouts this time), she is hit and injured by a car? Is that kindness?

I sometimes feel this way about sharing the gospel or the “good news” of Jesus, particularly with people who haven’t asked for such “news”. I remember the conversation that eventually led me to accept that Jesus is Messiah and Savior. I’d heard the same spiel many times before, and each time it was unwelcome and uncomfortable. I never wanted to be rude, but I also didn’t want to have to listen to someone tell me that I needed to be saved from my sins.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the spiel all by itself that resulted in my decision. A series of highly unlikely “coincidences” occurred over a period of six or more months finally resulted in getting me inside a church and then it took months and months more before I felt uncontrollably drawn (dragged kicking and screaming, metaphorically speaking) toward a life of faith and across the threshold into that life.

Almost immediately afterward, my life fell apart in more ways than I want to describe. Then, every time I thought I was starting to get a handle on what I was doing and why, another roadblock or explosion occurred. In more recent days, I tend to experience fewer explosions and more detours and frustrations on my journey.

intermarriageWhen my wife and I first married, neither one of us were religious, so her being Jewish and me being a Gentile didn’t make it seem like we were “intermarried.” There really weren’t any Jewish members of her family on our side of the country, so I never experienced Jewish in-laws. Faith and religion wasn’t an issue then as it is today.

I’ve been a believer for over fifteen years now, and if I could find the youth pastor who first shared the “good news” of Jesus Christ with me and started this ball rolling, I don’t know if I’d shake his hand or hit him.

No, I wouldn’t hit him and I don’t regret my decision.

But if I were a secular Gentile instead of a Christian, who I am wouldn’t be such an issue for my wife as a religious Jew. There are plenty of intermarried couples who freely attend the local synagogues in my community. Certainly the Reform shul doesn’t have difficulties with intermarried Jewish members. There are even non-Jews on the synagogue’s board. And the Chabad’s mission is to bring secular or assimilated Jews back to the Torah. As part of that effort, their non-Jewish spouses are welcome within their walls.

I once told my Pastor that one of the reasons I stopped any sort of overt “Messianic” worship or lifestyle was that my wife found it embarrassing. He asked something like, “She isn’t embarrassed about you being a church-going Christian?”

Actually, I strongly suspect she is. She doesn’t invite Jewish friends over to our house. She doesn’t go to shul anymore. She hasn’t even volunteered at either synagogue in a quite a while. She and my daughter used to spend a lot of time helping the Chabad Rebbitzin with various projects.

Was it a kindness to my wife that I became a Christian? Does that seem like a good deed to her? Is it what she asked for in a husband, or is it the moral equivalent of twelve overly zealous Boy Scouts forcing a helpless old lady across a busy city street?

Someone recently said to me that love does not see religion but people do. Another person has said to me not to seek any religion but to seek an encounter with God.

I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.

from the Preface of A.W. Tozer’s book
The Pursuit of God

I would hope one thing my wife and I have in common is the pursuit of God. Our paths are quite different, but perhaps not as different as you might imagine. While I would not abandon my faith in Jesus as Messiah, I would enter into her world in a heartbeat. As awkward as it might be for me (I don’t know Hebrew and the liturgical service would present quite a learning curve), I know now that I would strive to be a good and productive member of her community for her sake. But she’s told me that she would never, ever enter mine and, for the life of her, she can’t imagine why I would want to enter hers.

So would it be a kindness to try to introduce her to my world? She wouldn’t experience it that way and in fact, quite the opposite. She would feel like I was trying to drag her kicking and screaming into a place she never wanted to go. And whenever I’ve tried to enter her world, she’s always seen me as an intruder.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein and many other Jewish people like him were not dragged kicking and screaming into faith in Yeshua as Messiah. They each followed the paths Hashem placed before them and by faith, they walked those paths, though it was always difficult and hazardous.

Rabbi-Isaac-LichtensteinNone of those Rabbis became Christians and none of them believed in “Jesus Christ.” They simply examined the Hebrew scriptures and what the church calls “the New Testament” and discovered the clues to the truth of Moshiach in their pages. If some missionary had tried to “convert” them, maybe some would have become “Christians” but Judaism would have lost great leaders and Messiah would have lost devoted Jewish disciples.

I don’t know that it is a kindness to cause a Jewish person to convert to Christianity. No, let me change that. I know it’s not a kindness. It’s not a kindness to destroy someone’s identity and purpose, especially if that identity and purpose was given to them directly by God. It is a kindness to help them on the next step on their journey, but they have to want to go. If they don’t want to start that part of the journey, you can’t force them to, even if you think it’s the best thing in the world for them. All you can do is open the door.

If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. If they don’t go in, that doesn’t mean you stop loving them. Kindness, compassion, and love, like all other things, are expressed by you and by me, but they are always from God.

God sets the course, He provides the path, He charts the journey. He does all this in love and compassion and kindness.

We can ask the elderly woman if she wants to cross the street and if she says, “no,” then we must let the answer be “no.” If the answer is “yes,” then it is a kindness to help her. If she wants to cross the street and asks for our help, we have a responsibility to be available, receptive, and then to escort her.

Kindness consists of loving people more than they deserve

-Jacqueline Schiff

God creates the street, but it is up to each person to ask for help crossing it. Then we can start walking and continue our journey.

Good Shabbos.

82 days.

Mattot-Massei: Free At Last

The Torah portion of Masei informs us of G-d’s directive that 48 cities be given to the Levites as dwellings places. Among these cities were three Cities of Refuge located on the other side of the Jordan River.

In the previous section of Matos, we read how Moshe was extremely displeased when the tribes of Gad and Reuven asked to receive their portion of the land on the other side of the Jordan. His displeasure stemmed from the fact that it was inappropriate to desire a permanent place of residence outside Eretz Yisrael proper. (Bamidbar 31:6-15.)

This being so, why did G-d command that the Levites be given the three Cities of Refuge on the other side of the Jordan? And while it’s true that it was vital that Cities of Refuge be established on both sides of the Jordan, (See Sifri, Bamidbar 35:14; Makkos 9b.) this in itself is not sufficient reason to make these “extra-territorial” cities permanent dwelling places for the Levites.

Yes, we could point out that the verse states: (Bamidbar 35:2.) “Command the Children of Israel that they give the Levites residential cities from their hereditary holdings.” Thus, these cities were not given as an inheritance from G-d, but because of an obligation placed upon the Jewish people to give a portion of their inheritance to the priestly tribe.

But this answer is not entirely satisfactory. Knowing as they did that the main dwelling place of the Jewish people was in Eretz Yisrael proper, why should any Levites want to live on the other side of the Jordan?

In the…Torah portion of Matos, we find that Moshe gave half the tribe of Menashe a portion on the other side of the Jordan. (Bamidbar 32:33.) Our Sages point out (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim.) that they did not ask for this land; Moshe presented it to them on his own.

“Levitical Cities”
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVIII, pp. 213-218
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
from the Chassidic Dimension series
Commentary on Torah Portion MattotMassei

What I’m about to say isn’t going to be terribly popular with some people. Israel is never a very popular topic with some folks, especially those who hold to a particular social and political viewpoint. Of course, basing any opinion of current events upon what is written in the Bible is never acceptable to more “rational” human beings who believe that public opinion always trumps the will of (from their point of view) a non-existent God.

But look at what has been written and where we find it in this week’s double Torah portion. Not only did Moses agree to let the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh settle east of the Jordan, outside the boundaries of Canaan, but it was commanded that three of the Levitical cities would also be outside “the Land.”

But these events occurred in ancient times, so what possible impact could they have on the boundaries and borders of the modern state of Israel in the 21st century, especially if you believe the “original” boundaries were fictional or at best, part of an act fo conquest committed by the Israelites of old?

Maybe nothing. But then again, maybe everything. Continuing with the commentary:

He did so because the first entry of the Jewish people into Israel is connected to their final entry through Moshiach, and Moshe is considered “both the first and the final redeemer.” (See Shmos Rabbah 2:6; Devarim Rabbah conclusion of ch. 9; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 253a; Torah Or, Mishpatim, p. 75b.) This being so, his giving this portion to Menashe served to foreshadow the future redemption, at which time the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael will be broadened to include the other side of the Jordan as well.

We thus see that taking a portion on the other side of the Jordan can be an entirely positive act, since it hinted at the borders of Eretz Yisrael in times to come.

OK, this is midrash and mysticism thrown in with what we read in the Torah, but if it’s true; if all this occurs upon the Messiah’s return, then Israel, a very “problem nation” for much of the world, will be a great deal larger in Messianic days then it is right now (and most of the world would prefer it if Israel were a good deal smaller, even to the point of non-existence and extinction).

If you don’t believe in God, the Messiah, religious Judaism, and (arguably) Christianity, you have nothing to worry about. All this is just smoke and mirrors. Even many religious and secular Jews today argue about what the borders of modern Israel should be like or even if Israel should currently exist.

And yet, the world seems to be fighting extra hard against Israel, more than it fights against any other nation. Why?

The wounded victims of Wednesday’s suicide terrorist attack at a Bulgarian airport have arrived home in Israel, with 32 of the wounded victims touching down in an IAF Hercules military transport aircraft at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Among them was Israeli Nurit Harush, photographed by Reuters as she was pushed in a stretcher by medics after her arrival.

Three others who were critically injured have remained in a hospital in Sofia, but will later be flown to Israel.

-Chana Ya’ar
“Israeli Terror Victims Arrive Home from Bulgaria”
First published 7/19/2012 – 1:12 p.m.

The latest act of terrorism against Israel and against Jews.

This is hardly an isolated incident, but because it was so public and so dramatic, the non-Israeli news agencies have been giving it a great deal of space on their webpages and on their airwaves along with Israeli news sources.

One explanation for why Jews are regularly attacked, injured, and murdered, and why Israel as a nation is somehow blamed for this just because it exists in the world, is the historic enmity between the Arab and Jewish people, or between the Muslim and Jewish people. Popular public opinion cites the “fact” that Israel is an “apartheid state” (in spite of the fact that there are Arab Palestinian MKs in the Israeli Knesset) and is “occupying” lands that are “Palestinian” as the root to the actions of these oppressed “freedom fighters” as the reason for these acts of violence (and many of Israel’s critics refuse to call this “terrorism”). And don’t forget that historically, people all over the world have fought against and even murdered Jews just because they were Jews.

But imagine.

Imagine that God is real and the national redemption of Israel in an absolute physical sense is going to occur. It’s just a matter of time. Imagine you are a Jew and you live in Israel and this is what you believe. And it’s no secret that you believe this. It’s no secret that you know God will accomplish this when Moshiach comes.

If you don’t believe in God or at least, you don’t believe in the God of the Jews, that probably sounds pretty arrogant. Even if you think it’s total fantasy, you might be concerned that the Jewish nation will try to expand its borders to ultimately match what they think they should be according to God. That would eat up all of so-called “Palestine” and a significant chunk of the modern nation of Jordan (which modern Jewish Israel does not claim as far as I know).

If you have enough of a social, political, national, or racial interest in all of this, you might get pretty angry. So angry that you light up the Internet with your rage. And a few folks out there might be a good deal more angry.

Angry enough to blow themselves up and to take as many Jews with them as they can.

Even if you believe in the prophesies in the Jewish Bible, we could still argue all day long about whether or not Israel should pursue national expansion now or wait until the coming of the Messiah. It would be a useless argument because, like so many other debates on the web, it would go exactly nowhere. A lot of people would get worked up and nothing; absolutely nothing would be accomplished.

So where do we go from here? People are dying. I call it “terrorism.” I’m sure you’ll be glad to tell me what you call it.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this act of terror happened during what is called Bein Hametzarim, the three weeks between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast of Tishah B’Av, which commemorates the occurrence of many Jewish tragedies, not the least of which are the destruction of the first and second Temples in Holy Jerusalem.

Parshas Matos is always read during Bein HaMetzarim the three weeks between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast of Tishah BeAv (the Ninth of Av), which are associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash. This recalls the negative qualities of a staff’s firmness, the severed connection to the source of vitality.

On the other hand, this period is also connected with our people’s hopes of Redemption. Indeed, Tishah BeAv, the anniversary of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is described as “the birthday of Mashiach” a day which generates a new impetus for the coming of the Redemption. Herein lies a connection to a staff’s positive quality of firmness, because: a) in the Era of the Redemption, our people will reap the fruit of their determined resolution to carry out G-d’s will despite the challenges of Exile; and b) it is in the Era of the Redemption that G-d’s essence, the ultimate source of strength, will become manifest in our world, His dwelling.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“True Strength”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Mattot

Perhaps even during this time of double mourning, there is a ray of hope.

In every hardship, search for the spark of good and cling to it. The greater the hardship, the more wondrous the good it bears.

If you cannot find that spark, rejoice that wonder beyond your comprehension has befallen you.

Once you have unveiled and liberated the spark of good, it will rise to overcome its guise of darkness. It may perhaps even transform the darkness fully to light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Unveiling the Spark”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I know that there’s a lot of sadness and anger going on and redeeming “hidden sparks” is probably far from most people’s minds at the moment. All they can do is live inside the pain and sorrow and grief. It’s not yet time to start looking for the sparks, gathering them, and sending them back to their source in Heaven.

But the day will come when the sparks will fly free. The day will come when he will come; Messiah, Son of David, and he will liberate his people Israel and place his nation as the head of nations. And his people will be safe. And grief will be only in the past at last…at long last.

…but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:4 (ESV)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

Good Shabbos.