Matot – Rich or Poor?

The Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven desired the land east of theJordan; they were blessed with plenty of cattle and approached Moshe in their request to inherit this land. As part of the agreement they affirmed that they would make sure to join the army of the Bnei Yisrael to conquer the land west of the Jordan – Nachnu Navor Chalutzim – we shall cross over armed.

Rabbi Shimon Kohen who was a Dayan inJerba,Tunisia, notes that the usual word used for “we” is “Anachnu”, yet here the Torah uses the word “Nachnu”. He explains that the word “Nachnu” appears four times in Tanach.

1. Kulanu Bnei Ish Echad Nachnu (Bereishit 42:11), 2. VeNachnu Ma (Shemot 16:7), 3.Nachnu Naavor (our Parsha) and 4.Nachnu Pashanu Umarinu (Eicha 3:42).

He explains the connection between the four places with an amazing story brought down in his Sefer Maaseh Choshev (Parshat Miketz);

There was once a poor person who lived entirely on the donations of the community. Life was tough, and he would go every day from door to door collecting his daily income. One day he entered a rich neighbourhood, and approached the home of one of the wealthiest merchant in town. The merchant was sitting in the balcony of his villa and seemed to be deep in concentration. The poor man wanted to gain his attention and placed his hands in his pockets jiggling some of the coins he had, perhaps now the merchant would see him. The merchant was known for his generosity and looked up noting the poor man at his door, and told him to wait a few minutes. “I am busy counting my net worth, and I cannot stop my concentration otherwise I will lose track of the real worth of my entire wealth.” The poor man heard this and happily waited. He decided that this was a great idea and that he too should count his wealth. He took out his coins and started to count them one by one.

The merchant peeped over and saw what was happening.  Only one difference between us he thought, this is a poor downtrodden man, counting his pennies and I am counting my millions. He spoke out his feelings, and asked why the poor man was counting. “Are you counting in order to work out how much you need to get in order to make it to where I am?The poor wasn’t taken aback by the question and immediately answered “No, No, I don’t need to work that out, I have already informed myself in the past and know the answer.” The merchant was impressed. “What did you inform yourself of, what did you find out?”

“I got to the conclusion that we are not so far apart. The only difference between us is ten Zehuvim (golden coins).

What, exclaimed the merchant, that cant be, unless of course you are hiding a treasure chest of wealth somewhere and acting like a poor man. No I have asked, experts and they have confirmed with me that the only difference between us is ten Zehuvim. The merchant was stunned. What was this poor man talking about? “Explain yourself!” exclaimed the merchant.

“Simple, I asked the burial society and they told me that (after 120) there are only two sets of clothing; one for rich and one for poor. The difference in price is 10 Zehuvim!

Rabbi Shimon Kohen explains that a person can think himself better than others in 3 ways; Yichus (lineage), Wealth and Wisdom. The Torah is hinting to us; VeNachnu Ma; what makes us different than others? Why do we feel a great pride over others? If it is because of our Yichus – Kulanu Bnei Ish Echad Nachnu – we all come from the same lineage – Avraham, Yitschak and Yakov. If it is due to our wisdom, Nachnu Pashanu Umarinu – we must know that being wiser carries with it a harsher punishment were we to sin, for we should know better. And if it is through our wealth that we take pride, then Nachnu Navor Chalutzim – eventually after 120 years we all pass over to the next world and leave our “wealth” behind.

Pride can be used against others, it can be used to put others down, yet it can also be used for the good. Am Yisrael are a united people. We all come from different backgrounds, have different characteristics and tests, yet we are all one nation. Our pride should not be set on how we compare to the rest, rather it should be focused on our achievements and unity in serving Hashem.

As Yirmiyahu Hanavi stated (9:22-23) “Thus said God, “Let not the wise man glorify himself with his wisdom, and let not the strong man glorify himself with his strength, let not the rich man glorify himself with his wealth. For only with this may one glorify himself – contemplating and knowing Me, for I am God, Who does kindness, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these is My desire.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaul Yonatan Tawil

Lirfuat Hadasa Ester Bat Janet

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Pinchas – Top Leader!

The daughters of Tselafchad were very righteous and wise. The Midrash (Otzar Midrashim p474) lists them among the 23 most righteous Jewish women in history. Their father had died in the wilderness and left five girls behind. He had no sons. Now that the Bnei Yisrael were deciding on dividing thelandofIsrael, they realised that they would not receive a portion. This disturbed them tremendously. None of Tselafchads daughters were married and thus they would not inherit any land. They felt an injustice, their love for Eretz Yisrael was great, their father had leftEgyptjust like everyone else yet they as women would not be able to inherit a portion in the land. They presented their case to  the judges of tens, who referred it up to the judges of hundreds who again referred it up to the judges of thousands, until they to referred it on to none other then Moshe Rabenu.

How did the Bnot Tselafchad present their case to Moshe? Our Sages (Bava Batra 119b) explain that they brought their case modestly in front of Moshe. Rather then venting their frustration out at Moshe and the judicial system, they approached Moshe with the following question.

There is a law called Yibum. This refers to a man who marries a woman, and unfortunately dies without his wife having given birth to any children. The Torah teaches us that the brother of the deceased now has a mitzvah called Yibum to marry his brothers wife and thus (with Hashem’s help) have children, which will enable the name of the deceased to continue in this world. The Bnot Tselafchad asked Moshe; what happens if the man and his wife have a girl and then the man dies? Is there still a mitzvah of Yibum? Does the fact that the girl has been born represent a continuation of the deceased in this world and thus Yibum does not need to be performed or is the girl not considered as proper inheritance and thus the wife should now remarry to the deceased’s brother. To this Moshe answered that there is no law of Yibum in this case. Once the man had a child, then there is no longer a law of Yibum.

The Bnot Tselafchad continued, saying, if so then why with regards to the mitzvah of Yibum are daughters called an inheritance, yet by the division of thelandofIsraelthe daughters of the deceased are not? This Kasha (question) was so awesome that Moshe had to turn to Hashem for guidance. The episode is fascinating and we can learn a great deal from both the Bnot Tselafchad and from Moshe. The Bnot Tselafchad brought their claim in a righteous manner; they desired the land with great love. (Rashi points out an interesting juxtaposition. The Torah says (Bamidbar 26:64) that the men of the “Desert Generation” died in the desert, because they did not loveIsrael. The next section tells of the daughters of Tselafchad and their request, to show the great difference between them. The men said “Nitnah Rosh veNashuvah Mitzraymah -Let us turn our heads and go back toEgypt,” and the women said “Tenah Lanu Achuzah – Give us a share.”)

Moshe for his part as a great leader is not afraid to show that he is uncertain of the Halacha, he is happy and proactive in bringing their case to Hashem. In fact our Sages note that the Torah relates – Vayakrev Moshe – Moshe brought close – he didn’t just go and ask, rather it was a Hakrava – bringing near to Hashem.

What is the meaning of this Hakrava?

 After the passing of the previous Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum, his successor the Sigeter Rebbe, came to Monsey to pay his respects to Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, who at the time was the oldest Rosh Yeshiva of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world. Along with the Rebbe came a significant group of his Chassidim who clung to the newly appointed seer, and were very curious to experience this first encounter between the Chassidic leader and the renowned Lithuanian sage. The Chassidim piled into the house and began pushing to the front of the table Rav Yaakov, who was accustom to orderly conduct, asked that the Chassidim be seated as well. He mentioned that there were folding chairs in his basement. One by one, each of the Chasidim brought up a chair from the basement, unfolded it, and sat down. After watching this scene repeat itself, Rav Yaakov could not contain himself.

“When somebody carries a chair from the basement and then sits on it, all he is is a Shlepper. But if each of you would bring a chair for someone else, then you become elevated. Instead of shleppers you become ba’alei chessed, kind-hearted men who are helping each other! With almost the same action, you are transformed from chair-haulers into holy people who sweat on behalf of their friend! Let us bring our actions away from ourselves and closer to Hashem!”

When Moshe heard the request of the Bnot Tselafchad, not only was he not worried at showing he did not know the rule in such a case, but when he did ask Hashem, he asked as if it was personal to him. Thus, Vayakrev – he brought their claim close to Hashem.

This episode in the Torah, teaches us that we should always endeavour higher and higher in our spiritual requests, always be prepared to ask. And on the other side of the coin, we should be prepared to say we don’t know when we are unsure and always try and view the other position as close to us.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaul Yonatan Tawil.

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Balak – Shul Talk!

Bilam tried hard to wage a war of curses against Am Yisrael, yet was rebuffed by Hashem at every stage of the way. Every time he intended to curse, Hashem made the words of a blessing come out of his mouth. These blessings however, did not last. Our Sages point out (Sanhedrin 105), that eventually after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, Bilam’s intentional curses were fulfilled. There was only one exception, that never got fulfilled and remained a blessing; that was the ‘blessing’ Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yakov – How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” [24:5]. How is it possible that all the intentional curses eventually had an effect on Am Yisrael? What was so special about Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yakov that this intended curse never reached its target?

Our mind is very powerful, and many times (although not always) we are taught that a Mitsva requires Kavana – intention. The Kavana gives life to an action and helps activate that action to reach the highest point.

When someone wishes to give a blessing, the words emanate from the mouth, but it is the intent that will help activate the blessing.

A ‘strange’ Talmudic story about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai will help illuminate this idea for us. Rabbi Shimon once sent his son, Rabbi Elazar, to a couple of distinguished sages for a blessing. The sages conferred upon him a strange string of so-called blessings: “May it be His will that you sow and not reap. That you bring in [merchandise] and not let out [sell it], and that you invest and not have a return. That your house be destroyed and your inn settled. That your table be confused and you should not see a new year.” (!?)

Rabbi Elazar returned to his father shocked: “Not only did they not bless me, he exclaimed, “they have caused me anguish!” “What did they tell you?” asked Rabbi Shimon. After Rabbi Elazar repeated their words, Rabbi Shimon reassured him: “All their words are really blessings!”

And he explained: “‘Sow and not reap’ means that you will have children who will not die in your lifetime. ‘Bring in and not let out’ means that you will bring in daughters-in-law [your children will marry] and your sons who married them will not die in their lifetime. ‘Invest and not have a return’ means that your daughters will marry and their husbands will not die, resulting in your daughters having to return home. ‘Your house be destroyed and your inn settled’ means that your grave (which is called a ‘house’) will not come to use and you will live long in this world which is compared to an inn. ‘Your table be confused’ with many sons and daughters. And ‘you should not see a new year’– your wife will not die and you will therefore not have to ‘see a new year,’ i.e. remarry and spend the ‘first year’ with a new wife.” 

Even though the words that emanated from the Sages sounded like a curse, they were in fact blessings, and this was their Kavana. (SeeRif, Maharsha for explanation as to why they didn’t bless R Elazar directly). Thus the intention of the one who is blessing is crucial. In our Parsha, Bilam’s intention was clear from the start, he really wanted to curse the Bnei Yisrael, that was his Kavana. Hashem in His mercy stopped the words from emanating from him, but Bilams bad thoughts and intentions were so powerful that they remained forever.

Rav Shmuel A Rabin (Einei Shmuel) Sanhedrin 105 explains that Kishuf – witchcraft can only take effect in a place that lacks the Shechina –G-ds Divine Presence. In a place where there is Shechina no Kishuf has power. So long as Am Yisrael were in Eretz Yisrael and had the Bet Hamikdash, the Shechina was with them and there was no room for Kishuf, or for the bad intent of Bilam to fall on them. Once they were exiled however, and the people went into a lower spiritual state of Galut, then the Shechina was no longer with them constantly and the door was open for the Kishuf to apply.

The Zohar relates that wherever Am Yisrael is in Galut, the Shechina is with us. This is particularly true in the Batei Kenesiot and Batei Midrashot –in the Yeshivot and Synagogues (see Gemara Berachot 8a). These locations represent places where the Shechina still dwells. And it is for this reason that the bad intent of Bilam was never able to affect the Torah houses and synagogues. Thus Bilam was stating that Ahalecha Yakov – Your synagogues in Chutz Laaretz still have the Shechina dwelling in them, like Mishkenotecha Yisrael – as did in the Bet Hamikdash in Eretz Yisrael.

The only thing is that we have to keep the Shechina there! Once the US President heard how the Jews seem to know about things before they happen. He was impressed and wished to test if this was really the case. His head of intelligence told him that all their information was shared in the weekly Shabbat gatherings in the synagogue. So he decided to personally go and check whether this was really the case.

That Shabbat, the president went undercover. He dressed with a nice suit, Tsitsit hanging out and fitted a small beard for the occasion. He entered the Shul and sat himself in the middle of the congregation waiting to hear “next weeks news” before it happened. He was amazed at the silence. He tried to approach the first person he was sitting next to and converse, but was met with a “shhhh” sound. The president was baffled. His head of intelligence had clearly told him that the Shul was generally a loud place on Shabbat, people would always speak a lot during the prayer and yet here he was, and the Shul was silent. As Shacharit drew to an end, and Musaf was approaching, he decided to change places and place himself closer to the back of the Shul. Perhaps here he would be able to hear some predictions for the week to come. Again he approached a guy, wished him Good Shabbos, and yet again he was retorted with a ‘shhh’ sound. The poor President could see he wasn’t getting anywhere and decided to move even further back, where all the normal talkative folk would stand. As the prayer was drawing to an end he placed himself near one of the most talkative congregants and whispered ‘good Shabbos, why is everyone so quiet today?’ The congregant with his eyes concentrating on the sidur in front and half looking at the president said “shhhh, keep quiet, don’t you know?

The President himself is somewhere here!”

Shul is a great place to meet, a great place to socialise. But its main focus is to be a place of worship of Hashem.

The Shulchan Aruch states that one should have respect in the shul and not talk Devarim betelim. Our sages comment on the Pasuk Hashem Yilachem lachem veAtem Tacharishun – Hashem will fight for you when – when you are silent in the synagogue. When there is respect – Morah Shamayim – then Am Yisrael will be successful in our endevours.

Our Shul might be made of brick and mortar but it is our sanctuary, it is a place where the Shechina can be found, and it is the place where we pour our hearts out daily to Hashem. May we be Zoche to respect the sanctity of the synagogue and establish the blessing – Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yakov.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaul Yonatan Tawil

Lirfuat Hadasa Bat Janet


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Don’t Worry – I Have Your Back!

Don’t Worry – I Have Your Back!


Everyone desires miracles in their life. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we woke up and found a few million pounds just laying there by our bed – a special gift from above? Yet the Gemara seems to view miracles in a different manner.

Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that a man’s wife died and left behind a nursing child, and the man could not afford to pay a wet-nurse. A miracle happened to him and his breasts opened like a woman’s breasts and he nursed his son. R. Yosef said, “Come and see how great was this man, that such a miracle was performed on his account!” Abaye said to him, “Just the opposite: how terrible was this man, that his body was changed!” (Shabbat 53)

Moreover, praying for miracles that don’t conform to the natural systems is prohibited. The story of Elazar Ish Birtah, told in Ta’anit (24a) is a striking illustration of this principle. After Elazar Ish Birtah gave most of the money he had saved for his daughter’s dowry to a pressing charity need, he purchased a small amount of wheat with the remaining money, which he threw into the grain storehouse. The wheat increased miraculously, making him a wealthy man. Yet he wouldn’t let his daughter take more wheat than she would have been entitled to as a normal recipient of charity. Rashi explains the reason, “Since it was the product of a miracle, and it is prohibited to have benefit from something produced miraculously.”

If miracles are not viewed in such great light, what about all of those that occurred to our forefathers throughout the generations?

Our Sages explain, that these miracles only occurred due to a last resort situation in order to save the nation, or alternatively as a lesson to the people. Our Parsha seems to also have a miracle that is overlooked by many. When Aharon’s time came to pass away, Moshe Aharon and his son Elazar ascended the mountain – Hor HaHar. There Moshe took of Aharon’s clothes and dressed Elazar his son with the same clothes. Aharon was Zoche to see his son being anointed in his stead.

The Ramban quotes Torah Kohanim and mentions an amazing miracle that occurred here. Whenever someone gets undressed they take off their outer cloths first (e.g. jumper-shirt) and then their underclothes e.g. vest. Whoever wishes to wear these clothes thus has to wait until all the cloths are off before starting to wear them. Here there was a miracle. The Shechina came and dressed Aharon. Then Moshe started to undress Aharon miraculously by undressing his undergarment first, which he then dressed Elazar with, and then again taking Aharon’s over garment which he proceeded to cloth Elazar with. This was a miracle. But what purpose does such a miracle have over here? Was it really necessary, did we not just learn that seemingly superfluous miracles are not good?

Our Sages teach that before the sun sets the sun rises. Hashem blesses every generation with Great Sages, and before they pass away, Hashem has already begun the ascent of the next great Sage. He will never leave us even for a moment without a leader. Similarly when the Bnei Yisrael were travelling in the desert, the Torah relates that by day time a cloud would lead the way, and by night time the fire. The Gemara (Shabbat 23b) learns from the Pesukim that the fire would come first and only then would the cloud disappear. It is for this reason that we also begin Shabbat early, overlapping into the weekday.

The miracle occurred here was to teach us that Hashem is continuously looking after us. There is always a Shemira for Am Yisrael. We might not realise it, we might not be there to witness the actual changing of the guards, but Hashem will never forsake his people.
Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaul Yonatan Tawil

 Lirfuat Hadassa Bat Janet

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