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Matot-Masay 5778

Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  A man once asked a rabbi for advice. "Rabbi, I only have 15 minutes a day to learn Torah. What should I learn?" The rabbi responded, "Learn Mussar (ethical works about character development). "Why Mussar?" asked the fellow. The rabbi smiled and said, "If you learn Mussar, then you'll realize that you have more than 15 minutes a day to learn Torah!"

Too glib? Too puzzling? I'll explain. The essence of life is to perfect our character and to strengthen our connection to the Almighty. What distinguishes a human being from an animal is our soul and our ability to use our free will to make choices between right and wrong to grow and develop our character.

We are all caught up in our society of materialism and instant gratification. We are comfort seekers. For many, if it takes too long, involves too much effort or has pain, we quit. We follow our desires.

After we move on from this world to the next, we will not be asked if we saw the latest episode of a television program or who won the World Cup. We will be called upon to give a "din v'cheshbon" -- a judgment and accounting of how we used our time on this earth -- and how we could have better used the time allotted to us. What did we accomplish? How did we grow? Who did we help? Every day is an opportunity for doing mitzvos, perfecting the world and ourselves, strengthening our relationship with the Almighty.

A wise person once said, "If you are going to be the same tomorrow as you are today, why do you need tomorrow?" The Vilna Gaon wrote, "... the reason we are alive is to break down our bad character traits ... and if we don't strengthen ourselves in this, what is the point of living?" (from his commentary on Proverbs 4:13)

The Torah is the instruction book for life. It tells us that every human being has a yetzer tov (desire to do the right thing) and a yetzer hara (the desire to follow our desires). The Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara. It educates us as to what is correct, it strengthens our connection to the Almighty and therefore strengthens our free will and our ability to control our desires. It occupies our mind with higher thoughts than where the Tweets, Facebook, internet -- and/or billboards, newspapers, magazines, movies and TV -- take us.

To desire is human; to control our desires is the essence of being human.

Every human being tells himself, "That's just the way I am. It's in my DNA." And if they believe in God, they'll add, "God made me this way, so He'll just have to understand." An FBI agent specializing in serial killers once wrote that he never saw a serial killer who was so compelled to kill that he murdered someone with a policeman standing next to him. We have the ability to exert our free will, to make choices, to control our passions.

That is where the study of Mussar comes in. It teaches us how to fix and control our character traits. Many of the classical works are available in English for the advanced student, including: Mesillas Yesharim -- Path of the Just; Orchos Tzadikim -- Ways of the Righteous; Chovos Halevavos -- Duties of the Heart; and Shaarei Teshuva -- Gates of Repentance.

There are many books for those who haven't had a strong Jewish education, but want to improve themselves and be successful in life. For those interested in living life to the fullest and developing themselves, I suggest going to a Jewish bookstore and looking for something that you relate to and enjoy. There are many books by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin and Rabbi Abraham Twerski. Living Emunah -- achieving a life of serenity by Rabbi David Ashear is one of my favorites.

If you want one recommendation, it would be the 48 Ways to Wisdom adapted by Rabbis Nechemia Coopersmith and Shraga Simmons from Rabbi Noah Weinberg's teaching. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder and visionary of Aish HaTorah, built his flagship class to successfully attract students to learn about our heritage explaining the what, how and why of each "Way to Wisdom" to be a success in this world.

There are many biographies of righteous men and women. There is much we can learn from the lives of others -- from some, what to do and from others, what not to do. From the great rabbis and rebbitzens, from the righteous men and women -- we can not only learn what to do, but be inspired as well!


Torah Portion of the week

Matos and Masei, Numbers 30:2 - 36:13

Matos includes the laws of making and annulling vows, the surprise attack on Midian (the '67 War wasn't the Jewish people's first surprise attack!) in retribution for the devastation the Midianites wreaked upon the Jewish people, the purification after the war of people and vessels, dedicating a portion of the spoils to the communal good (perhaps the first Federation campaign), the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan river (yes, Trans-Jordan/Jordan is also part of the Biblical land of Israel). Moshe objects to the request because he thinks the tribes will not take part in the conquering of the land of Israel; the tribes clarify that they will be the advance troops in the attack and thus receive permission.

Masei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert (the name of each stop hints at a deeper meaning, a lesson learned there). God commands to drive out the land's inhabitants, to destroy their idols and to divide the land by a lottery system. God establishes the borders of the Land of Israel. New leadership is appointed, cities of the Levites and Cities of Refuge (where an accidental murderer may seek asylum) are designated. Lastly, the laws are set forth regarding accidental and willful murder as well as inheritance laws only for that generation regarding property of a couple where each came from a different tribe.

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

Upon their return from the battle against Midian, Moshe angrily reprimanded the officers for not following his orders. Subsequently, when it was necessary to make the utensils taken in the booty kosher, Elazar the Kohen said:

"This is the decree (for making utensils kosher)" Numbers 31:21).

Why did Elazar teach this law and not Moshe?

The Talmud answers that Moshe had forgotten the law due his anger. "If a person becomes enraged, if he is wise, he loses his wisdom, and if he is a prophet, he loses his prophecy" (Pesachim 66b).

Writes Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman, "The suspension of Moshe's prophetic powers and intellect was not a punishment. Far from it. Moshe's wrath was directed at those who failed to protect the Israelites from improper actions, and it was thus in the interest of Israel and for the greater glory of God. Nevertheless, Moshe suffered suspension of his enormous powers because of the toxic effects of rage are a natural phenomenon. A person who put his hand into a fire is not 'punished' by being burned. It is a natural consequence. Similarly, the loss of one's powers due to rage is a natural consequence rather than a punishment."

It is vital that one work's to break the character trait of anger. You may wish to get a copy of Anger: The Inner Teacher -- A nine-step program to free yourself from anger by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.


Candle Lighting Times

July 13
(or go to

Jerusalem 7:11
Guatemala 6:17 - Hong Kong 6:53 - Honolulu 6:59
J'Burg 5:14 - London 8:55 - Los Angeles 7:48
Melbourne 5:00 - Mexico City 8:01 - Miami 7:57
New York 8:09 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:40

Quote of the Week

To desire is human;
to control our desires
is the essence of being human



In Loving Memory of

Harvey Hecker

With Deep Appreciation to

Jonathan Lieberman


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