Friday, July 21, 2017

On Discernment and Doormats – a summer dvar Torah for Parshas Matos-Masei

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Every year we’re in Toronto, and for years before we made aliyah, my mother hosts a shalosh seudos for the ladies of our shul.  For some reason, my mother’s shalosh seudos always manages to fall out on a different parsha, so I can’t repeat what I’ve said in previous years.

If you’re curious, here are some of these masterpieces from previous years…

    The point being - I had to start from scratch looking at this week’s combined parsha – Matos-Masei.

    There is a very shocking section near the beginning of this week’s parsha. It’s connected with what we read two weeks ago in parshas Balak. Back then, the people of Moav and Midian sent women in to seduce the men of Bnei Yisrael – not just physically, our commentators tell us, but spiritually, leading the Jewish men into worshiping idols.

    Now, it’s time for revenge. Interestingly, we’re told to take revenge only against Midian and not against Moav, even though they were both complicit. Why? Perhaps because Ruth – and hence King David – were destined to descend from Moav. This makes sense if you look at the crime as a spiritual one rather than just an episode of physical seduction, because our spiritual redemption is somehow eventually going to come from Moav. So that may be one reason we’re having compassion on Moav and not taking revenge.

    But as for Midian – it seems there is no such thing as compassion when it comes to them. Moshe tells us, in the name of Hashem, to wipe out every single man, woman, and child from the nation of Midian. Yikes. But Bnei Yisrael don’t do it. They can’t, with the memory of Amalek’s attack still so very fresh in their minds. After all, Amalek’s attack was so insidious that it must be remembered as long as there is a living Jewish person to tell the tale.

    Now, lots of people have attacked Bnei Yisrael throughout history

    Thursday, July 06, 2017

    Time for a Simcha! Short Happy Vort for a Balak Engagement

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    Our older daughter is engaged!!!  We are so utterly overjoyed.  If you are among the many, MANY people we care about who weren't able to make it to the vort tonight (given that it was held in Toronto with only 3 days' notice), I wanted to share this with you. 

    Know that we were thinking of you and are sharing our simcha in spirit if not in real live actual person.

    Speaking after the father of the chosson and one of his rebbes, I could have gone on and on and on all night – you know me – but I was told we only had 3 minutes to speak, so this was it.  Enjoy!

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    In this week’s parsha, Balak, an unusual thing happens. After Bilam tries to curse Am Yisrael, he comes up with another plan, to lead them into avoda zara through Midianite women. When this happens, Moshe Rabbeinu is not only silent, but he stands weeping. This is one of only few times in the Torah that Rashi says “nitalmu mimenu halacha,” the halacha was concealed from Moshe.

    There are five places in the Torah where this happens. For instance, when it comes to bnos Tzelofchad, the daughters of Tzelofchad, who asked about inheriting land in eretz Yisrael. Some say that was done as a punishment for Moshe, who had bragged about his ability to solve problems in halacha, so he was taken down a notch by Hashem, so to speak.

    However, many meforshim agree that the situation here in Balak doesn’t fit the pattern. One important reason is given in Midrash Tanchuma, shared by Rashi, which is that here, Moshe’s forgetting is a way of letting him gracefully step aside and allow Pinchas to take a leadership role.

    We already know how Moshe reacts – gracefully, and with humility. Moshe is what folks in Israel call