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PARASHAT MATTOT/ MASEI 2012

FOR ARGUMENT’S SAKE

נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים אחר תאסף אל עמך ( לא :ב)  Take revenge for the Jews  from the Midianites, and then you will (die and) be gathered to your People (in the Next World)

Why was Moshe to take revenge on the Midianites and not on the Moabites? The Moabites were motivated to engage in war against the Jews out of fear that they would be robbed and deprived of their possessions. Moab was very afraid of the Jewish Nation, and therefore they enticed the Jews to stray away from G-d through immoral sin and idolatry. Midian, on the other hand, was not under any threat.  They joined Moab in placing these spiritual obstacles before the Jews and got involved in a fight that was not theirs.   (Sifri, Rashi)

Although Moaband Midian did the same act, causing the Jews to stray from Torah and Torah values and be visited by a plague, one nation was to be the object of revenge, while the other was not. The reason behind their actions provided the determining factor.

Each time we find ourselves getting into an argument, we must frankly examine our motivation. If the reason does not justify our arguing, we will be held responsible for the fight. How many arguments do we get ourselves into that will make no difference to our lives or our future? Many arguments are actually “theoretical” disagreements. If we were to ask ourselves what we could or should do to justify our side of the argument, in many cases we would find that there is no practical path of action available. When the argument is not initiated as the expression of a sincere desire to correct a wrong; it is what we call for arguments sake. And when this is true, we are guilty of transgressing one of the more severe Negative Commandments between a man and his fellow: Arguing. The Torah forbids arguing when it says ולא יהיה כקרח ועדתו … and one should not be like Korach and his people.

Let us review, for a moment, the episode with Korach, Datan and Aviram. This was the first time, when Moshe was attacked by the People that, instead of praying for them, he punished them. With the powers he had from Torah, he commanded the earth to open up and swallow his opponents.  Why was this instance different?

In Yalkut Shimoni, it states that Korach refuted the entire Torah! He rejected the choice of all the people that G-d and Moshe had put into office, argued about the tzitzit and Mezuza, etcetera, etcetera. Moshe was willing to accept any opposition leveled at him, but would in no way countenance opposition to the Torah itself. This was the unique argument between Korach and Moshe. Korach was a man of great stature, being one of the Leviim who would carry the Aron Hakodesh. He saw, with Ruach Hakodesh, that in the End of Days, he would be a Kohen Gadol.  In seeking a way to get closer to G-d, he felt he could serve his purpose by detracting from and criticizing Moshe Rabbeinu. Although his motivation was in part spiritual, starting an argument in order to grow in spirituality is forbidden.

Datan and Aviram, on the other hand, had no such spiritual goal. They just wanted to fight. For argument’s sake. This was their nature from the first mention of their names in the Torah until their death. One can recognize the difference between Korach and Datan and Aviram through the result: Korach’s children, who were raised to grow in spirituality from their father, repented and were saved from the Mouth of the Earth. From them came great people (Shmuel the Prophet). Datan and Aviram, who argued solely for argument’s sake, were lost along with their children. For this reason, we find in Parashat Ekev, when Moshe on his last day reminded the People of the episode of Korach, he made mention of Datan and Aviram alone. את אשר עשה ה’ לדתן ואבירם . Korach was not mentioned. This is because Korah had some sort of spiritual goal. But Datan and Aviram had no reason to fight. They fought for arguments sake.   


DECISIONS OF A WOODCHOPPER

 

It seems that exile to the city of refuge serves to atone for unintentional sin. But, we might ask, why does the unintentional killer need atonement in the first place?  What was his crime?  He may not have been 100% careful about securing the blade of his axe; he may have failed to notice a bystander in an empty forest, and – accidentally – the bystander was killed.

But the Torah requires us to take full responsibility for our actions. What we do and where we are – even unintentionally – everything results from innumerable unconscious decisions we make every day.

Have you ever asked yourself how many decisions you make consciously and unconsciously in an hour? Just to drive home the point, here are some of the decisions that you are making right now: Whether to finish reading this article now or to push it off till later. Whether to skim, or read it slowly and intensely. Indeed, it is your decision to find this article interesting or not. You, alone, decide if you agree with the ideas presented here, and if you want to remember and apply them.

Every conscious decision we make can affect future decisions – especially subconscious ones. Decisions made in the present “program” us, in a sense, to make similar decisions automatically in the future. The less conscious we are of present decisions, the greater the likelihood that our “automatic pilot” will keep us on the same old course, without considering if there isn’t a better way of doing things. This applies to the indecisive as well. Many people feel that they procrastinate in decision-making, labeling themselves “indecisive.” Remaining indecisive is, to a large extent, their own decision.  They could learn to research faster and plan better.

Considering the woodchopper in this light, we can better appreciate that having an axe blade not securely attached is a “decision” to ignore caution. (Incidentally, the person chose, for his livelihood, a job where accidents are likely to happen.)  But since he did not kill with conscious intent, the Torah does not punish him with death. Rather, this man is confined to the city of refuge where it is illegal to own any potentially lethal tools or utensils. His freedom of decision to act carefully has, for this period, been revoked, guaranteeing that he will not commit another such mistake during his stay.


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 toJerusalemfor 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 the Hebrew language: 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 you 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 Cohen’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.


WE ARE WHAT WE SAY

 

 Moshe Rabbenu made a rare display of anger when he was approached by the tribes that wished to settle on the east side of the Jordan River – Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe. He shot back with the rhetorical question: “Your brothers will go out to war while you settle here?”  The spokesmen for the tribes responded that they definitely were not thinking of dodging their military responsibilities to their brethren, and would join the war effort to conquer Canaan. They noted, though, that they first wanted to make arrangements for their families and possessions: “We will build enclosures for our flock here on this side of the river as well as towns for our children .” When Moshe acceded to their request, however, he made a significant reversal in the stages of the plan they had suggested: “…build towns for your children and enclosures for your flock.” This reversal was no accident!

What someone mentions first in a series is usually of greater value and importance to him or her. In making their request, the spokesmen for the tribes first mentioned how and where they would place their source of sustenance – their flocks – and only then did they indicate how they would ensure their children’s safety. Moshe reprimanded them about this indirectly by first mentioning the placement of the children and thenthe safeguarding of the flocks.

And what about us?  People can invest so much time, thought, and money in their investments. But for some reason, their children – their best investment in the future – often take second place. Children need their parents’ time, interest, and thought. Of course, they also need money. But money given to meet children’s needs can never be a substitute for their fundamental need for parental time and thought. Would anybody dispense with putting time and thought into an investment, and just throw money into it?!

It is the naive parent who convinces himself that the child does not know about his or her priorities. The subconscious of a child even picks up subtleties like the order used by the parent in mentioning life values.  And, of course, spouses can sniff these things out on each other as well.

Moshe helped the two and a half tribes prioritize by re-arranging their “list.” If we can learn from Moshe, and take care about organizing our priorities before mentioning them to others, we will be better parents, spouses, and – generally speaking – better people.

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About the author, Yosef

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