Be'halot'cha 5768

June 23, 2009

8 min read


Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12 )

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GOOD MORNING! I know a person who, as a child, didn't like to make his bed. Every day when he came home from school there would be a note on his pillow from his mother. The note always had the same 3 lines: "Make your bed! You slob. Shame on you!" However, there was variety! Sometimes it read: "You slob! Make your bed. Shame on you!" and other times it would read, "Shame on you! You slob. Make your bed!" Every day he would take the note and put it in the drawer of his nightstand.

When the drawer was filled with notes, he figured enough was enough. However, rather than start making his bed, he devised a strategy -- each morning he would place on his pillow a note: "Mom, I will make my bed later." And it worked! No more notes from his mother. And each night he would return the note to his nightstand to await the next day.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have a mother who cares about us enough to persistently try to help us take responsibility and to better ourselves. However, all of us have a God who loves us and who sends us "notes" to help us improve our lives.

We Jews have always believed that life is meaningful and that everything that happens to us has meaning. This means that if one stubs his toe he should not get angry at the stone he tripped over, but that he should ask himself, "Why did this happen to me?" Perhaps the lesson is just that he should watch where he is going, but he should also think about who he has been kicking around.

Does this border on superstition? If one thinks that there is no God and that ultimately things happen at random, that life has no intrinsic meaning, then yes, looking for meaning in life's events is voodoo. However, if one believes that the Almighty created the world, cares about each and every one of us and has an ongoing relationship with every human being, then it makes just plain good sense.

Intuitively, we appreciate that what happens to us in life has meaning. A woman driving 15 mph in a 20 mph zone hits a 7 year old boy. Immediately she asks, "Why did this happen to me?" If she didn't intuitively feel that life has meaning, she wouldn't ask the question. Though this is the right question to ask, we usually ask it with the wrong tonal qualities -- we ask it as an accusation against the Almighty as opposed to a request for insight to learn, correct our ways and to grow.

We learn from the Torah that what we see and what happens to us has personal meaning. The Talmud, Sota 2A, asks the question why the portion of the Nazirite (a person who takes a vow to prohibit wine from himself in order to help introspect on his life) follows the Torah portion of Sotah (an adulterous wife). The Talmud responds that the man should become a Nazirite after seeing the results of adultery. This is a lesson to teach us that what we see has a personal message for us and that we should take it to heart.

We also learn from the Torah that the Almighty has a personal and direct relationship with each of us. The Talmud, Chulin 7B, "A person doesn't hurt his finger unless it is decreed from above." In Psalm 37,23 "The steps of man are directed by the Almighty." We have free will, yet there is an interplay with the will of the Almighty. For instance, the Torah tells us that the Almighty hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not let the Jewish people go in spite of the impact of the plagues. Pharaoh did not want to let us go, but the Almighty's hardening his heart enabled Pharaoh to withstand the pain from the plagues and the cries of his people. The Almighty leads us in the direction we want to go.

And what about those people who think that what happens to them is random? The Rambam, Maimonides, writes in Hilchot Ta'aniot (The Laws of Fasts) 1:3 that "those who say, 'What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence,' -- this is a cruel conception..." To think that life is random and without meaning is cruel.

The lesson for us? Ask, "Why me?" but ask with a desire to understand and to take the message to heart -- not like the young man who, to this day, still does not make his bed.

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Torah Portion of the Week

Aharon is commanded in the lighting of the Menorah, the Levites purify themselves for service in the Tabernacle (they trained from age 25-30 and served from age 30-50), The first Pesach is celebrated since leaving Egypt. The Almighty instructs the Jewish people to journey into the desert whenever the ever-present cloud lifts from above the Tabernacle and to camp where it rests. Moshe is instructed to make two silver trumpets to be sounded before battle or to proclaim a Yom Tov (a holiday).

The people journey to the wilderness of Paran during which time they rebelled twice against the Almighty's leadership. The second time they complain about the boring taste of the maneh and the lack of meat in the desert. The Almighty sends a massive quantity of quail and those who rebelled died.

Moshe asks his father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro) to travel with them in the desert, but Yitro returns to Midian. (It has been said that the difference between in-laws and outlaws, that at least outlaws are wanted ... Of course, in this case the father-in-law was wanted.)

Miriam, Moshe's sister, speaks lashon hora (defaming words) about Moshe. She is struck with Tzora'as (the mystical skin disease which indicated that a person spoke improperly about another person) and is exiled from the camp for one week.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states,

"And the people were complaining in a bad way in the ears of the Almighty" (Numbers 11:1).

Why were the people complaining?

Rashi comments that when the people were complaining they had no real cause to complain; they were just looking for an excuse to separate themselves from the Almighty. By finding what would sound like a complaint, they felt justified in keeping a distance from the Creator.

When someone realizes all that the Almighty does for him, he will not have a complaining attitude. There are times when a person is missing things and times when he is suffering. That is a time for action and prayer.

Complaining is wrong. The underlying theme behind a complainer is not necessarily that he wants the situation to improve, but that he wants to have the benefits of complaining -- to feel free from the obligations for all the good that the other person (or the Almighty) has done. Ultimately, a person who goes through life complaining does not appreciate the good in his life.

When one focuses only on what he is missing, he blinds himself to what he does have. No matter how much you do have, there will always be something to complain about if you look hard enough. This attitude is not merely a means by which a person causes himself a miserable existence. It is a direct contradiction to our obligation to be grateful to the Almighty. Anyone having this negative attitude must make a concerted effort to build up the habit of appreciating what he has and what happens to him. This is crucial for both spiritual reasons and for happiness in life.

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Intelligence is the skill
in extracting meaning
from everyday experience.

In Loving Memory of
Sylvan Shaul ben Avraham,
by Nathan Zemel

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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