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Three Weeks

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 Parasha 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.

About the author, Yosef

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