Food For the Soul
A life sentence for jaywalking? Twenty years for chewing gum in public? Surely that’s over the top! Well, was it so different for Moses, who, in the Parsha Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1), is punished and denied entrance to the Promised Land for the seemingly minor infraction of hitting a rock instead of speaking to it? The people are clamoring for water in the wilderness. G-d tells Moses to speak to a certain rock (he was meant to ask nicely) and promises that, miraculously, water will flow from the rock. Commentary enlightens us as to the behind-the-scenes reasons for Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it, but in the end the miracle happens anyway and the people’s thirst is quenched.
If your average rabbi today would make a rock produce water, even if the rock needed more than mere gentle persuasion, surely it would be hailed as the greatest miracle of the century and the rabbi would win the Nobel Prize for chemistry. But for Moses it’s a sin? Even if (as the Torah points out) it would have been a greater sanctification of the Divine had he only spoken to the rock, still, for such a minor infraction, such a severe penalty?
The answer, we are told, is that responsibility is commensurate with the individual. If a child messes up, it is entirely forgivable. For an adult who should know better, we are less likely to be as forgiving. Likewise, among adults, from a person of stature we expect more than from an ordinary fellow. A blemish on a coarse garment is not nearly as bad as it is on a piece of fine material. A stain on a pair of denims is not only acceptable, it is absolutely desirable. In fact, some people pay a premium for pre-stained jeans. Put the same stain on a silk tie and it’s simply unwearable. Moses was like the finest silk and, therefore, even the smallest, subtle hint of sin was considered a serious breach of conduct and the repercussions were severe.
Moses was the greatest prophet that ever lived. For him, the standard could be no higher. Luckily for us mere mortals, we will not be held to that exalted benchmark. But we will be held to our own standard. The standard of Jews who were called upon by G-d to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Ethics of The Fathers: Chapter Five
This Shabbat afternoon we read from Ethics of The Fathers, chapter five. Within the chapter is this: “There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow’s words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says “I did not hear.” He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.”
Mind Over Matter
The red heifer
Purity is not achieved by suppressing or waging war against desire. The Torah teaches us to look right at the passionate, forceful “red heifer”. Look at its core and understand that the red heifer is not negative, nor is it spiritually neutral. The Torah wants us to understand that the heifer can be the most powerful agent of purity in our life. The power of desire, its incredible force and energy, is not evil. For while the external expression of the desire may be negative and must be burned, the ashes of the heifer, its inner essence, is the source of purity. When the ashes are mixed into the “living waters,” when the power of desire is directed toward a positive goal, the heifer itself will be an unbridled force that will provide spiritual and emotional purity.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
The red heifer and redemption
Both the “red heifer” and the Messianic redemption effect purification. The ashes of the “red heifer” are used for removing a legal state of impurity. The redemption will purify the entire people of Israel (including those who halachically are pure) from any trace of deficiency in the bond with our Father in Heaven. One of the Messianic prophecies thus says of that time, in terms analogous to the “waters of purification” of the “red heifer”: “I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you that you be purified. I will purify you from all your impurities and from all your idols!” (Ezekiel 36:25) Maimonides cites a Mishnah with the following words: “Nine ‘red heifers’ were prepared from the time this precept was ordained until the Second Temple was destroyed: the first was prepared by Moses our Master, the second Ezra prepared, and there were seven from Ezra to the destruction of the Temple. The tenth will be prepared by King Moshiach-may he soon be revealed, amen, may thus be (G-d’s) Will!” (Hilchot Parah Adumah 3:4)
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Don’t “pass it on”
Sitting on the plane, all I wanted to do was read or sleep, but the chatty gentleman in the aisle seat had other plans. He launched into an interminable description of the trip he was taking to visit his aged mother for her 80th birthday. He described her current nursing home in great detail and then told me the age and family circumstances of each of her children and grandchildren. I feigned polite interest as he droned on, but I must confess I only started paying real attention to his ramblings when he began describing the complex choreography that his extended family had engineered to ensure that he and his younger sister would never see each other during his visit, or even be in their mother’s house together at the same time. They aren’t talking, you see. They’ve hated each other for years. The spouses have also bought into the fight over time, and their respective children have never met. The fight erupted decades ago over something minor and escalated into full blown war.
What a tragedy for the family, I thought to myself. An old mother forced to sit through two separate parties, probably never having the satisfaction of seeing all her descendants at peace. But as he wound his way through the byways of his family history, I began to realize that his mother and siblings were far from blameless. It seemed from the way he told the story that they had inadvertently fanned the fires of resentment by faithfully reporting each nasty gibe or comment back to its target. In his words; “I can trust my brothers to tell me everything that that (expletive deleted) is saying about me.”
I wondered at the time why anyone would feel duty bound to pass on information that they know is just going to inflame an already unhappy situation. Why would you repeat every piece of malicious gossip you hear? If you know you’re not helping the situation, surely you are always better off saying nothing than saying too much.
We parted ways at the airport, with me still stuck pondering his family dilemmas. I was still wondering why so many families fall out of love and degenerate into petty infighting, when, the very next day, I came across a fascinating story about the first Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and his famed contemporary, Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuzh.
Rabbi Boruch was not a man to compromise or back down on what he believed to be the truth, and consequently, he was frequently embroiled in conflict. [He] once complained to Rabbi Shneur Zalman that a number of false allegations against him (Rabbi Boruch) had recently been circulated by his enemies, and although Rabbi Shneur Zalman had been aware of these slurs, he had failed to inform him. Rabbi Shneur Zalman admitted that he had indeed heard the aspersions, but rather than apologize for not having passed on the details, he defended his right to silence.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman reminded Rabbi Boruch about the incident of the snakes, found in this week’s parshah. The Israelites complained about G-d and Moses, and in consequence G-d sent a plague of snakes to attack them (Chukat 21:6). Unlike other occasions where G-d discusses the proposed punishment with Moshe in advance, this time Moshe was unaware of the reason they were being attacked until the Israelites themselves approached him; We have sinned, for we spoke against G-d and you. Pray to G-d to remove the snakes! (21:7).Of course Moshe, as the kind and ever-forgiving leader, prayed for them and the plague was averted, yet we have to wonder why did G-d hide the cause of the plague from him in the first place?
Obviously, concluded Rabbi Shneur Zalman, not only is there no mitzvah to let people know the harsh things that others are saying about them, but we learn that you really shouldn’t repeat that type of gossip.
I’ve personally seen too many instances where well-meaning people have caused small arguments to develop into huge fights by playing the role of so-called honest broker. More often than not people would have worked out their own issues if left alone long enough to cool off. It’s the people who “feel it their duty” to pass on tattle, who are often the cause of the never-ending disputes. How about resolving not to contribute to the mess? If you’re unfortunate enough to hear some juicy gossip, sit on it and don’t pass it on; it won’t help and will probably hurt.
From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum