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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Bamidbar
29th of Iyar, 5780 | May 23, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Bringing the Flame Into Our Lives

We are living in the most challenging of times. We are all wondering if the world will ever be the same. Will our family life be the same? What about our simchos – our celebrations, and unfortunately, even our mourning? What about our businesses, our leisure and vacation time? Will life ever return to the way it was?

The truth is that as Jews, who believe that everything which transpires in this world is orchestrated by Hashem, we recognize that these days we are being challenged by G-d. Challenged to learn and grow from the experience we are all living through, so that when all of this is history, G-d willing, we will have transformed ourselves into better, more giving, more charitable and kinder people. It would be an opportunity lost if we come out of this turmoil without having become different – better – people.

A great rabbi once said that he dreamed of changing the world, making it a better place – but he then realized that it was a daunting, impossible task. He then had hopes to change his country. But that too proved unattainable. Maybe his city, but even that was too much. With time, he narrowed his goal, hoping he could change just his own family. But as he grew older and wiser, he came to the realization that the only one whom he can really change is – himself.

That rabbi was Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the mussar movement, a movement focusing on ethics, morals and integrity. Through his teaching and his good deeds, through his way of living, he ultimately brought change not only upon himself, but had an enormous impact on the entire world around him. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter left this world having taught us an all-important lesson. We do have the power to change ourselves, and by becoming better people we will ultimately make the world a better place.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter taught us that we need to start by changing ourselves. If we lead the way by example, our family, our friends, our community, our business associates, and so many others will be impacted and touched by our actions.

We are now in the midst of Sefira – counting the days towards Shavuos – z’man matan Toroseinu, commemorating our receiving the Torah on Har Sinai.

The days of Sefira are given to us as a gift – a gift of time, with the all-important message of making each day, each hour, and each minute count, as the calendar brings us closer and closer to Shavuos. The word sefira means “counting”. But it also has within it the word “saphir” – a sapphire, a crystal. The days of Sefira are a time to crystallize our personal goals, a time of introspection, a time to ask ourselves where we are going in life, and how can each of us prepare ourselves for Shavuos.

The days of Sefira are also a time of mourning. It was during this period, about 2,000 years ago, that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva perished in an epidemic. On the 33rd day of the counting of Sefira – Lag Baomer – the plague ceased. Rabbi Akiva experienced unimaginable pain and heartache. But he didn’t allow it to stop him. He didn’t allow it to break him. He could have understandably said that he can’t start all over again, and that the pain, the sorrow and the devastation was just too much to bear. Instead, Rabbi Akiva chose to rebuild. He would not allow the Torah to be forgotten. He started anew, gathering together a group of just five students, and focused on the message of v’ahavtah l’rayachah komochah – to love your neighbor as yourself. To find room in one’s heart to love others, to forgive others, to find only good in others.

One of the five students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was niftar, passed away, on Lag Baomer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was determined as well, not to allow the Torah to be forgotten, even during the difficult period of the Roman rule over Eretz Yisroel.

The Romans had pronounced a death sentence on Rabbi Shimon. To save his life, Rabbi Shimon, together with his son Elazar, went into hiding – they went into what we now refer to as a quarantine, But their quarantine was not for 14 or 30 days, or even for 60 days. It was for 12 years, during which they studied Torah day and night, and during which time Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar.

Just imagine Rabbi Shimon in the cave – confined for so many years.

After 12 years, Eliyahu HaNavi came to the cave and told Rabbi Shimon that the Roman Emperor had died, and the decree against him was annulled. It was with great joy that Rabbi Shimon and his son left the cave. While on their return home, they passed through a field and saw a farmer tending to his crop.

Rabbi Shimon, who had just spent 12 years engrossed in Torah study, could not fathom how someone could be absorbed doing such mundane work, when there was so much spiritual study to be immersed in. The Talmud describes that Rabbi Shimon gazed at the farmer with his holy eyes, and it was as if daggers of fire emanated from them. A Heavenly voice called out to Rabbi Shimon, “Do you want to destroy my world? Go back to the cave – the world is unable to exist with your holiness.”

And so, Rabbi Shimon and his son, Elazar, returned to the cave, and for another year they were fully immersed in Torah study. When they emerged a second time, it was an Erev Shabbos. On their journey home, they encountered a man carrying two bundles of hadassim – myrtle branches. When Rabbi Shimon inquired as to their purpose, the man replied that he was bringing them home in honor of Shabbos. One bundle to commemorate the commandment of “shomor” – to keep the Shabbos holy, and the second bundle for “zachor” – to remember the Shabbos day.

Rabbi Shimon turned his head upward and proclaimed, “Hashem, look at your holy people. Look at how they prepare for and treasure the holy Shabbos.”

Rabbi Shimon, who previously had daggers of fire emanating from his eyes, now looked at every man with an ayin tov, a good eye. He was following the teachings of his rebbi, Rabbi Akiva, to find ahava, love in his heart for every man. To see only the good in every neshamah. Rabbi Shimon became the epitome of ahava – finding love for everyone.

Before Rabbi Shimon, who was known as Rashbi, passed away, he assembled his students around his bedside, spending his last hours in this world teaching Torah. The students transcribed every word, as Rabbi Shimon shared his wisdom of the Zohar. As the sun set, the room became darker, the students wrote faster and faster, trying to capture Rabbi Shimon’s every word.

It was at that hour that a great flame appeared outside Rabbi Shimon’s room, bringing with it a mystical light. Rabbi Shimon’s students were able to continue writing, enabling them to keep Rabbi Shimon’s holy teachings alive for all future generations.

Today, when one visit’s the kever – the resting place – of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, you will see an arch with the words “ki lo sishochach mipi zaroh” – It (the Torah) will not be forgotten from His children. This was a promise made by Rabbi Shimon, that “midor l’dor” – from generation to generation, regardless of the difficulties, regardless of the challenges, the Torah will never be forgotten. In fact, the last letters of the Hebrew words “ki lo sishochach mipi zaroh” – yud, alef, ches, yud and vav – spell the name Yochai.

The epidemic that attacked Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped on Lag Baomer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrtzeit is on Lag Baomer. And Lag Baomer is during the days of counting of the Sefira. This is not a mere coincidence. There is a connection, a unifying chord between all three – that of Ahava – of love.

Rabbi Akiva taught his students to find love in their hearts for each other. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai learned the lesson well and saw the good in others. The best way we can prepare for Shavuos and renew our commitment to Hashem’s Torah, is to show respect and love for one another. It is for this reason that it is customary to study the 6 chapters of the Ethics of the Fathers on the 6 Shabbossos between Pesach and Shavuos.

The days of Sefira can be divided into two groups – 32 days prior to Lag Baomer, and 17 days from Lag Baomer until Shavuos. The gematria – the numerical value of “lev” – the heart, is 32, and the gematria of tov – good, is 17. That is what Sefira is all about – to live our lives with a lev tov, good heart. This is the lesson that we learn from both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

On Lag Baomer, it is a custom to light bonfires in memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. We recall the fires which encircled his home before his death. The Hebrew word for fire is “aish” – spelled alef, shin. “Alef” represents ahava – love – and the “shin” represents simcha, happiness. We can bring aish, the fires of both ahava and simcha, love and happiness, into our souls. We can look at our family, our friends and our neighbors with love and happiness. And let us reaffirm our faith in Hashem, and our commitment to the Torah and mitzvos with that same ahava and simcha, with that same love and happiness.

Let us bring the fire of Rabbi Shimon within us.

I am reminded of the words of The Rebbetzin, my mother of blessed memory, words she uttered almost 50 years ago at that unforgettable gathering in Madison Square Garden which started a world-wide revolution of teshuva and kiruv. “There is a tiny flicker of light, and if we will it, that tiny spark can become a flame – a flame from which the word HINENI – Here Am I Hashem, will be born.” Those words were as relevant in the 1970s as they are to us today.

We can do it. Let us bring the fire within.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
One More Step

For the king, it was his greatest dream to marry off his daughter. For years, he waited until she would find the right husband, but nothing ever materialized. Until one day when the king devised a way he would be able to sift through the many men in his kingdom and focus his eyes on the most capable of them.

He built a tall tower with a thousand steps leading to the very top. It was there that the princess sat, awaiting to see which of the two hundred men racing up the steps would reach her first. That would be the man who would luckily be offered the princess’ hand in marriage.

And so, at sunrise one day, two hundred men lined up at the bottom of the tower awaiting the signal to begin their climb to the top. The steps were long and wide, and it would be no easy feat for anyone to make it all the way up. Even a mere two hundred steps up, the vast majority of the men tired out. Most of them were out of shape, and lacked the physical strength and stamina to push themselves any further.

That was when the rumors began. With most of the men incapable of making the trek to the very top, they connived to spread the word that there in fact was no princess awaiting anyone. Rumor spread, and soon, just about everyone had decided it was not worth any more effort in continuing up.

All the men except two gave up. For the last two folks, they stared at each other with a look of hope. Yet, they were also realistic. At least one of them. “You know,” he said, “we have a few hours left. I don’t think there is a way we can make it up there. The king must have set us up for failure. I bet, just like everyone else thought, there is no princess there. I think I am going to head back down.”

But the other fellow begged to differ. “Wait a minute. I know the king, and he has no sense of humor. He doesn’t make jokes. Besides, I worked for him for five years, and he is the most honest man I know. Whatever he says, he means.” “I don’t know…,” the other fellow reiterated. And with that, he quickly sped along down the steps away from the tower.

There, on the seventh hundred step, remained the last standing man. With confidence, he looked up to where the princess ought to be. “She must be there,” he whispered to himself. “I am sure the king will give the princess over to me; I’m not going to stop.” No sooner than later, the man took one more step, and a door opened.

The man looked a distance away, his face immediately brightening up. It was an elevator. “Oh my!” he exclaimed. Turning back around to his friend, he yelled out, “You shouldn’t have left! Elevator!” But all the other man could make out was some mumbled scream, which he shrugged his shoulders to and dismissed. The man, who was still on the seventh hundred step, could not help himself but dash to the elevator and hit the button taking him all the way up.

And sure enough, upon reaching the very top, his friend stepped off the last step at the very bottom. As the elevator door opened, the man looked over and saw the beautifully decorated door leading into the princess’ private quarters. Immediately upon the two of them making eye contact, the princess could not help but express her deepest appreciation. “Thank you so much for arriving!” she elated. “Thank me?” confusedly asked the man. “I am but a peasant and you are a princess; I should be thanking you!” “Allow me to explain,” began the princess, “why I ought to thank you for making it here.

“My father, the king, clearly told me that if no one makes it to the top, I will remain stuck here for the rest of my life. As soon as I saw everyone running off the steps, I began worrying that no one would come for me. But then I looked over at you and saw you and your friend mulling over what to do. But then your friend began to leave, which only made me more nervous that I would never get married. I looked at you, motioning for you to take another step, although you didn’t see me. “Take another step… Take another step…!” I yelled out. But you didn’t hear me.
“But now you are here. You continued taking steps and you finally arrived.”

This may seem like a simple anecdote, yet its underlying message is so ever true. Many times in life we feel that we would like to turn back and head away from surging forwards in life. Yet, it is precisely then that the greatest opportunity lies ahead for us. Hashem wishes for us to succeed, and so long as we take another step, He will help us along. That next step will open the elevator door and we will surprisingly end up in a place we never imagined we would have before. And so, always remember and tell yourself, “Take another step!” Because that next step is the one that has the elevator.

Rebbetzin Tamar Taback
Torah and The Woman

The Sages teach that King Solomon’s ode to the Jewish woman at the end of Proverbs is actually extolling the praises of the Torah and that the Jewish woman is merely the analogy for the beauty and power of Torah.

“Why is the Torah compared to a woman?” you may wonder.

In the book of Ruth, Boaz encounters the lonely convert whose selflessness and modesty in the field and granary left him so moved that he says to her, “the entire nation knows that you are a woman of valor” (Ruth 3:11). This is the only time in the whole Torah that the title “Aishes Chayil” is used to refer to an actual woman.

The Vilna Goan furthers the connection between the Aishet Chayil and Shavuos by making a correlation between the twenty-two verses of the poem (which are arranged according to the aleph-bet) and the forty-nine days of preparation leading up to the giving of the Torah (the period of the counting of the Omer). The numerical value of the word Chayil, “valor”, is 48. This is reminiscent of the Mishna in Tractate Avot, “there are forty-eight ways to acquire the Torah” (Avot 6:6). Like a woman who must be legally acquired, the Torah is Hashem’s gift that comes to one who prepares for it. The 48 ways delineate a serious path of vessel-building and inner refinement so that we are worthy to receive this priceless gift. The one extra day of the 49th day of the Omer serves to convert the many steps into its gestalt.

The woman-Torah connection is further demystified when we understand the essence of femininity as per the teachings of our Sages. Like the Torah, of which it says “she is not in Heaven” (Devarim 30:12), a woman’s wisdom and beauty lies in her ability to coax Divine truth into the crevices of everyday consciousness and life. This exalted state of communion with G-d as we find Him within the real world is where the potential for the most passionate and eternal bond resides. Therefore, the Torah, whose instructions guide us in living an elevated life within the physical world, is compared to a woman. Without the Torah, we remain incomplete and unsatisfied. With her, we are in ever-growing soul connection and rapture.

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