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In this week's Parasha, the Midrash says אֶ֚לֶף לַמַּטֶּ֔ה אֶ֖לֶף לַמַּטֶּ֑ה לְכֹל֙ מַטּ֣וֹת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תִּשְׁלְח֖וּ לַצָּבָֽא: When Moshe sent men from the Tribes to fight against Moab, G-d told him to send out a thousand from each Tribe, a thousand from each Tribe, for all the Tribes of Israel, you should send to the army (31, 4). The Midrash Rabbah asks why the Torah mentions "a thousand for each tribe" twice. The Midrash answers that for each thousand warriors that were sent, there were a thousand Torah scholars designated to pray for success in battle.

How many people learn Torah in Israel? According to a recent study by Yated Neeman together with Vaad Hayeshivot, in Israel there is a total of 125,000 students learning Torah: 35,000 students in “Yeshiva Gedolah”, 30,000 in “Yeshiva Ketana” and 60,000 in Kollel. The Israeli army in July, 2015, had 176,500 soldiers and 445,000 men in the reserves.

But would it not help if we sent all those yeshiva boys to the army, adding more forces?  More numbers? More Hishtadlut? The Rebbe from Tshebin gave an example: A certain wagon driver’s load was so heavy that the horses couldn't pull the wagon uphill. The driver started unloading the weight from the wagon piece by piece, but to no avail. Out of despair, the frustrated wagon driver decided to take off the big, heavy steel wheels of the wagon, thinking that by doing so, he'd help the wagon go up hill… Reducing parts of our Tefilla, removing anything from Torah with the idea that we are increasing hishtadlut, or making things easier, is like taking off the wheels of the wagon…

At times, we feel that our religion is holding us down. Take the Three Weeks, as an example. At times we feel that period of the Three Weeks is somewhat an inconvenience, something we just want to get over with. But this is a HUGE mistake. The Three Weeks, the 21 days, are the essence of our relationship with G-d, where we connect to G-d on a new level, feeling His pain. His being exiled, along with His children, from His Home.  This is the seed, the root, the wheels, the catalyst for our joy in the upcoming High Holidays. These days are so great they parallel the 21 days from Rosh Hashanna until Hoshana Rabbah, the days of forgiveness and holiday. (Maharsha Bchorot, 8a). No one would want to “just get over with” the High Holidays.

Thinkingaboutme is strictly a Parsha sheet, written strictly for people who want to improve themselves and live better lives as better Jews. Generally, Thinkingaboutme readers are “allergic” to politics. It’s just one of those topics that tends to push people apart, not bring together. But there is something this week in the news that, to me, was a big piece of Mussar, something for introspection. Just a week ago, when PM Netanyhu defended Israel’s rights to the Ma'arat Hamachpela, he started his speech wearing a black yarmulke, mentioning the pesukim in Chaye Sarah that discuss how Avraham bought the land from the people.

וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָהָם֘ אֶל־עֶפְרוֹן֒ וַיִּשְׁקֹ֤ל אַבְרָהָם֙ לְעֶפְרֹ֔ן אֶת־הַכֶּ֕סֶף אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֶּ֖ר בְּאָזְנֵ֣י בְנֵי־חֵ֑ת אַרְבַּ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שֶׁ֣קֶל כֶּ֔סֶף עֹבֵ֖ר לַסֹּחֵֽר:.. וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵן֩ קָבַ֨ר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ אֶל־מְעָרַ֞ת שְׂדֵ֧ה הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֛ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י מַמְרֵ֖א הִ֣וא חֶבְר֑וֹן בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן: וַיָּ֨קָם הַשָּׂדֶ֜ה וְהַמְּעָרָ֧ה אֲשֶׁר־בּ֛וֹ לְאַבְרָהָ֖ם לַאֲחֻזַּת־קָ֑בֶר מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵי־חֵֽת:

That was beautiful, a true Kiddush Hashem. The nation’s leaders bring Psukkim of the Torah to be the first line of defense to the UN, or to the nations of the world, proving that we have the rights to the Land. How sad though, that before PM Netanyahu continued his speech, he took off his yarmulke.  I don’t understand politics; I am not well versed in the political scene, and I don't want to be. But, it bothered me how our PM quickly switched conveniently from being religious to being what is referred to as a "secular" Jew. On a world-public platform.

And then, it bothered me even more, how I feel about myself, with my relationship to G-d. How, sometimes, I switch from who I want to be to who I am, and back again, at my convenience. But Judaism is just not that type of religion. It is not known for being convenient. 

In Judaism, not a single one of the Mitzvoth can be missed or ignored, no matter how inconvenient it may be. And sometimes, it is those inconveniences in our religion that make all the difference. This is something we can all learn from Bilaam’s donkey. When the donkey reprimanded Bilaam, he said,"… and now, you hit me three times." However, instead of using the word  פעמים  for the word "times", the donkey used the word רגלים , or occasions. Literally, the word רגל   means foot.  He hinted to him – you are seeking to uproot a nation that celebrates שלשה רגלים – three festivals, each year! (Rashi 22;28) Why did the donkey mention, out of all the mitzvoth of the Torah, the merit that the Jews have for celebrating the three festivals?

A beautiful answer is given by the Melo Ha'Omer. We find in the Midrash that G-d asked Bila'am – “It is your wish to curse and uproot the Jewish nation? Who, then, will keep the Mitzvoth of the Torah, if not the Jews?” Bila'am, may his name be erased, said, “I will”.

This is what the donkey was telling him, but Bila'am did not understand: Every year, three times a year, the Jews celebrate the festivals and keep the mitzvah of ascending to Jerusalem by foot. Now, it is to this fact that the donkey was referring when he exchanged the word "times" with "occasions", hinting at the Three Pilgrimages, known as שלשה רגלים , of the Jewish year. The Halacha is that only a person who can walk up the mountain to Har Habayit has the mitzvah of Oleh Laregel. Being that Bilaam was crippled in one leg, he could not take the place of the Jews in keeping the mitzvoth, for he was exempt from this just one of the 613- walking by foot up the mountain of the Temple three times a year! If not for this one mitzvah, Bila'am could have cursed us and destroyed us. How ironic that the one Mitzvah that saved us is a Mitzvah that is not exactly convenient! Walking up a steep hill, by foot!

We do not know what even one mitzvah can do for us, and that is why you can’t get the 613 at a discount of 50% off.  Judaism is not a cocktail of options in which you can pick and choose what you like, at your convenience. This is because Judaism is a package deal, like any relationship. Sometimes we feel that davening, learning, doing mitzvoth take a toll on our schedule, on our energy, on our finances. But those inconveniences in the religion are the wheels of your relationship with G-d. These are the wheels to get us to where we want to go. Removing them will get us nowhere.

 


WALKING INTO HOLINESS


As the Roman who attempted entering the Temple was struck by an angel, the Romans did not dare to loot it .They needed a Jew to initiate that move. They found the guy. Yosef Mashita.  They told this Rasha that the first thing he would take out of the Temple would be his to keep. On each successive time, whatever he took out would belong to the Romans. Yosef Mashita had the audacity to enter the Temple and take out a golden Menorah! The Romans looked at it, and  he was shocked when they said to him, “This is a candelabra that belongs in a palace, not in the home of a commoner , like you. Go into the Temple again, and the next thing you take out will be yours.” Yosef did not go back in. He refused, saying, “It is enough that I have angered my Master once; I cannot do it again…” They offered him a three-year position of levying taxes (an important and lucrative office). He refused. They threatened him with a death of suffering and torture, but he adamantly refused to repeat his transgression. “It  is enough that I angered my Master once; I cannot do it again…” They did not just kill him. They tortured him to death with unspeakable suffering, but, with his waning strength, he said, over and over, “Woe is to me for I have angered my Maker”.(Breishit Rabbah 65; 22) An eerie story of the Destruction.  

The question that begs an answer is: If Yosef Mashita was such a Rasha, having less fear of G-d than even the Romans, how did he change his mind so fast?  How could he suddenly stand firm in refusing  to go in for the second round of booty, even in the face of terrifying threats? How did he change his life’s views in just a few minutes, so fearful of displeasing his Master that he was willing to die,  just in order to not anger Him?

The Rav of Ponevesh learnt from this something amazing about the Beit Hamikdash. Just entering the Holy Temple would have an effect on a person. Just walking in makes one  a completely different person. After going in the first time, Yosef Mashita could not go back in again and do such a disgraceful act.

This answer is most revealing. It teaches us a little about what we have lost. We have lost a place in this world where  you could,  just by entering it, become a different person. A holier person. A person with proper values. A person who is willing both to live and die for his values. This is what we mourn in these three weeks.

But the answer is not complete. A question still remains. If by walking into the Temple a person was so spiritually elevated, how, then, was Yosef Mashita able to take out the Menorah the first time? Once he went in, didn’t the Temple effect his Neshama, his soul?

The answer is, I believe, that the effect is not always felt right away. It might take a few minutes. It might take a couple of hours. Days. Weeks. Or even years. At some point in time, though, it will be translated into action.

 

THE MONTH OF FATHER  

                                  

Two and a half years ago, newspaper headlines reported the tragic death of David Cohen  and his wife, of blessed memory, in a fatal accident, including several other members of the family. A year and a half later, his son-in-law, Michael Levy, came to Jerusalem for a Torah study break. He joined his brother, a Torah scholar, at the largest yeshivah in the world, Yeshivat Mir. After a week of intensive study together with Talmudic scholars of the highest caliber, Michael was asked to share his thoughts with the group on the national mourning period known as the “Three Weeks,” as well as sharing some impressions of his late father-in-law.

Among other things, he noted that the month of Av is the only month in the Jewish calendar with a meaning in Hebrew: Av means father. Why, he asked, is the month in which we mark the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple called father?

Before answering his own provocative question, Michael turned to his family tragedy, and how they are trying to deal with the enormous loss:

Not long ago, I found my orphaned 16 year-old sister-in-law crying about her difficulties in school and with friends, among other worries. Her tears were connected with everything a normal girl her age cries about. I could not hold back my own tears as I tried to put things in perspective for her: “You are probably expecting a different answer to each one of your questions, since they are essentially unrelated. But, in a sense, there is actually a single answer to all your questions. The difficulties that you are going through are experienced by many girls your age, and they usually deal with them successfully by turning to their mother or father for encouragement and advice. Without a father and mother, however, so many things are harder for a teenager.” Parents are the solution that my sister-in-law needs, but no-one can supply that solution.

Throughout Jewish history, our nation has suffered many losses during the period between the two fasts which mark the beginning and end of the “Three Weeks.” And we continue to cry for each loss. Like Michael Levy’s sister-in-law, we might be tempted to look for a separate answer or explanation for each tragedy, both personal and national. We look for someone to cry to – not knowing how to deal with the hardships. But the truth is that there is really a single answer to all our questions: אב /Father. We have a Father in Heaven, and He wants us to come to Him for support. He wants us to realize that we don’t have a series of individual problems, but rather one big problem – our distance from Him. This should be our focus during these days: to recognize how we have compromised our relationship with our Father in Heaven, and to do everything in our power to strengthen it.


SHABBAT SHALOM, YOSEF FARHI

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