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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Matot-Maasei

Parshat Matot-Maasei

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Matot-Maasei
26th of Tammuz, 5780 | July 18, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Jacobson
Our Future

Dovid Hamelech writes, “Hinei ma tov uma naim, sheves achim gam yachad – How good and pleasant it is, brothers sitting together” (Tehillim 133:1).

Nowhere in Tanach do you have a combination of these two expressions – “tov” and “naim.” They are usually opposites. Tov means good and naim means pleasant, or sweet and delicious. Usually things in life that are good are not sweet, and things that are sweet are not good.

For example, cheesecake. Babka. Rugelach, sprinkle cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream, doughnuts, potato chips. They are delicious; but good? They are killing Jews all over the place.
What about things that are good? They are good; but delicious?
Take kale or wheat grass juice. You know in some places for 3 ounces of wheat grass juice you pay $25. It almost pays to be a sheep and then you have it for free.

What about celery juice, tofu, barley kernels? They are good, but delicious?

That is the fact. In life, things that are good are not necessarily delicious, and things that are delicious are not good.

There are a few things in life that are both. And one of them is when Jews come together. It is good and also delicious. It is healthy, productive and meaningful and it is also geshmack, inspiring and delightful. It is the way it’s supposed to be.

When a family gets along, when parents get along with children, when brothers and sisters get along, when there is love in a family, it is good, it is powerful. It is G-dly, and it is also delicious.
I remember a scene that is very telling. When the Jewish people become terrified into entering Eretz Yisroel, they are not worried about themselves. About whom are they worried? Their wives and their children. “Nasheinu v’tapeinu yihiyu lavaz – Our wives and children will be murdered,” (Bamidbar 14:3), the Jewish men say. As we enter the Promised Land, our poor innocent children and dear spouses will be cut down by the mighty empires populating the land of Canaan, according to testimony of spies. Our children will never make it in. Let us go back to Egypt or let us just die here.

What is Hashem’s response to Moshe? “V’tapchem asher amartam lavaz yihiye vheivaiesi osam v’yadu es ha’aretz – Those children that you said, they don’t have a future in that land; they will die and perish; they are the ones who will enter into the land, conquer it, and settle it (ibid. v. 31) They will enjoy it.

The Torah doesn’t just say, “Everyone one day will enter into the Land.” It rather emphasizes that those very children who you gave up on, they are going to enter the Land.

You know today there is a very popular conversation that circulates. Wherever I go, I hear people refer to children of today as the “New Generation.” “…The teenagers of today… the kids of today.” Are you familiar with this? You know, when people start grouching…?

Someone once told me, “Rabbi Jacobson, nostalgia today is not what it used to be like. In the olden days, people knew how to be nostalgic.”

Today who knows how to be nostalgic? We love saying, “When I was a kid, we knew what derech eretz was!”

Everybody knows the problems of the youth, and we have eloquent communicators to tell us how rotten their future is. Someone was talking to teenagers, and told them, “You are a bunch of addicts and you are all addicted to yourselves! It’s all about me, me, me, me… And that is why all the technology which you know of always has an “i.” It is because everything is about “I.” it is the iPhone, iPod, iPad. And even if you have the game Wii, it is spelled with two i’s.

It reminds me of the line, “How do you drown a narcissist? You put mirrors on the bottom of the ocean.” It’s also reminiscent of the woman who remarks that she is stopping to date because the last date, the man spoke for three hours all about himself. Finally, after hours, he turned to the woman and said, “It’s enough me talking about myself. What do you have to say about me?”

It’s easy to say, “The promised land, our children will never make it! There are too many powerful empires that will not allow them to enter and fulfill their dreams! There is too much technology, depression, boredom.”

You know what, some of these are valid concerns. But Hashem tells Moshe, “Don’t underestimate the children; they will shame everyone else. They will realize their Divine destiny, to enter into a physical space and transform it into holiness. They will transform the Land of Canaan into the Land of Israel. They will turn it into a land of holiness, physically and spiritually, wherever they are. You have to believe in that potential, and never ever give up on a child.

Today’s youth have incredible potential, and it is our job to empower them to dream big.

Our Sages tell us that the city of Sodom had a bed, and for every guest, if they were too long, they cut off their feet; and if they were too short, they stretched them.

Now, it is noteworthy that the word Sodom (samech, daled, mem) and the word for institution –Mosad (mem, samech, daled) – share the same letters. Sometimes, unfortunately, an institution does the same as Sodom did.

They have one bed for everybody. Everyone has to fit into one box, into one framework. But what if he or she is too long? Or too short? What if they are too creative? Sometimes, the attitude taken is, “We will cut you down from top to bottom or stretch you!”

But I ask you, “Why should we take an infinite G-d and infinite Judaism and believe it is so small that it can only accommodate people of a particular size in a particular box?” We have to bring out the deepest creativity in each of our children. They will transform the future.

With these young children, we must look into their faces and see their glow and thirst; and to do that, we have to discover the child within ourselves. To be emotionally present for our children and give them our understanding, acceptance and belief is the greatest thing we can do for them. They indeed are the future of the Jewish people. And we must do everything in our power to ensure that bright future.

Rabbi Eliezer Ginsburg
Conversing with the Satan

One of the great tzaddikim who lived during the years of Tach-V’Tat (1648) was Rav Shimshon of Ostropoli. Reportedly, he was of such righteous stature that he was even capable of speaking to the Satan. One such documented conversation occurred as he walked down the street during the month of Elul and noticed the Satan making his way as well down the street, yet he looked very broken. “What’s the matter?” asked Rav Shimshon to the Satan. “What do you mean?” retorted the Satan. “Throughout the whole year, I entice people to sin and I gather together bundles of sins. Yet when Elul arrives, everyone is repenting and wiping their sins away and turning them into merits.”

After Yom Kippur, Rav Shimshon met the Satan and this time he was smiling and looked in a good mood. “Why are you in a good mood?” asked Rav Shimshon. “We just went through Yom Kippur, we all repented, and all of our sins turned into merits! You should be broken.” “I made a deal with Hashem,” replied the Satan. “A ship will be docking at the port, and it is filled with Lulavim and Esrogim for Sukkos. I received permission to poke a hole in the ship, and water will fill it entirely and ruin everything!”

During the middle of Sukkos, Rav Shimshon met the Satan again, and now the Satan looked depressed. “What now?” asked Rav Shimshon. “I thought you received permission to make a hole in the ship!” “I’ll tell you,” replied the Satan. “The top layer of the Lulavim and Esrogim did not get ruined, because the water rose throughout the ship, but didn’t reach the top deck. Those few Lulavim and Esrogim which remained on the top were valid, and a number of Jews gave away their wealth just to purchase their Lulav and Esrog. And not only that, but when they came to shul with their one Lulav and Esrog, everyone lined up and waited for the chance to shake it. They delayed their Yom Tov meal just to shake the Lulav and Esrog! These Jews beat me; they defeated me.”

What we are experiencing right now is a decree from Heaven. The Satan has received permission to take a small virus, something which we cannot even see, and spread it throughout the world. It has caused havoc and turmoil. But we, as the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, what do we do? We gather together in prayer, we make efforts to learn Torah in every which way we can, and we increase in our chessed.

We can be sure that as we continue strengthening ourselves with teshuva, Torah study, tefilla and chessed, the Satan is saying, “These Jews beat me; they defeated me…”

Rabbi Reuven Epstein
An Ideal Life

I personally had the Coronavirus. At that time, when I felt extremely weak and stayed in bed for hours, an idea struck me.
There are two levels when it comes to Torah observance and halacha adherence during our everyday lives. There is lechatchila, the ideal way to perform a mitzvah, and bedieved, a less-ideal way, although post-facto still upheld as a qualified way of fulfilling a mitzvah.

Lechatchila, we daven with a minyan, and concentrate on our prayers from a siddur while carefully enunciating all the words, while bedieved, we come late and are in a rush, so we skip certain parts and grab the tail-end of davening Shemonah Esrei with the minyan.

Lechatchila, we bring Shabbos in on time and perhaps even early, while bedieved, we use the eighteen minutes after candle lighting until sunset.

Lechatchila, we attend a shiur every night, whereas bedieved, we call into the class and catch the last few minutes.

To a very large degree, while we may strive to live our everyday lives in a lechatchila way, we often find ourselves resorting to doing things bedieved. Yet during certain times in our life, Hashem shows us what truly constitutes a bedieved situation. During these pandemic months, when many mitzvos we would otherwise be able to perform more easily and together with others are taken away from us, we are in a compromised, bedieved circumstance. But otherwise, when life is so-called “normal,” we must recognize the difference between how we can optimally live our lives and should live our lives and what we tend to fall into the rut of doing. When life is normal, the circumstances are not bedieved, and we should not be doing things bedieved.

Particularly now, with our regular routines shifted, we have the opportunity to reorient ourselves and reprioritize our schedules in the most lechatchila way. How many of us were inspired at the most recent Siyum HaShas and have not begun learning Daf Yomi? We may have wished we could have, but we didn’t have the time. Now, just a couple months later, Hashem is, to a large degree, freeing up our entire calendar. With more time spent at home, we can start Daf Yomi right now, and learn a page in the morning and a page at night, and within a few months be caught up.

We now can feel how unpleasant it is to live in a real bedieved situation. Hashem is giving us the chance to start something now anew that will make our lives all the more lechatchila when this all passes. Let us no longer let our days come and go. Now we have the opportunity to spend time pondering what we are truly living for, and set ourselves up to live the lechatchila life we all can.

Rabbi Zev Leff
Our Safety Boat

Once the Jewish people left Egypt, they began setting their eyes on their eventual destination: the Land of Israel. But the process of arriving there was progressive, explains the Sforno. The exodus from Egypt formed the preliminary steps to the Jewish nation arriving at a clear understanding of G-d and their mission as His people. The purpose of settling in Israel was to create a society which would be insulated from the nations of the world and allow the Jews to devote themselves to G-d’s overarching mission for mankind. We would form different ideals and values, those which would provide a beacon of light and spirituality to the rest of the world and reflect a life of kedusha. But achieving such lofty standards required that we first go through the process of exile and slavery, and come full circle to understanding our place in this world as G-d’s priestly nation and holy representatives.

As we have it today, we still remain in exile. Though we may not physically be living in Egypt and may have homes in Israel, we live in exile nevertheless. What though replaces that spiritual experience we once had of living in the Land of Israel, wherein G-d’s presence was acutely sensed and perceived?

“And I have been for them a small sanctuary in the lands where they arrived” (Yechezkel 11:16) – This refers to the synagogues and study halls outside the Land of Israel (Megillah 29a). The Jewish communities, made up of shuls, schools, yeshivos, seminaries and places to learn and grow insulate us from the culture and nations of the world and promote our spiritual growth. They provide us with an environment akin to the Land of Israel of yesteryear and put us in touch with G-dliness and holiness.

But there is also one other very important place which allows for such spiritual growth. The Midrash (Paneiach Razah, Parshas Noach) says in reference to the verse, “According to their families they left the Ark of Noach [after the flood]” (Bereishis 8:19) that “from here we derive that when leaving shul one should leave family by family.” Simplistically, the Midrash is drawing upon the similar usage of the word teivah, ark, which refers both to the Ark of Noach in the Torah’s vernacular and an Ark which houses a Torah scroll in Mishnaic terminology. What though is the deeper meaning behind this?

We live in a world wherein if we do no insulate ourselves, we will drown within the cultures surrounding us. The Meiri writes that “evil in the world is akin to the sea, and the way to escape it is with a boat.” Ostensibly, the Meiri’s words make little sense. You escape the sea not by means of a boat, but with an amphibious raft which can make its way onto dry land.

The words of the Meiri, however, are precisely correct and exactly as they seem. It is impossible to escape and isolate ourselves from the negative influences in our world today. They exist in every corner of the globe. We cannot escape the raging waves of the sea. The best we can do is insulate ourselves. What we must therefore do is build a boat that is water tight and does not allow those negative influences to seep in.

What are these boats made of? As mentioned, Jewish communities which comprise of shuls, school, yeshivos, seminaries and places to learn and grow. But there is one problem. Most of us will not be spending our entire day in a shul or school or the like. How can we then temporarily leave these bastions of spiritual growth and step into our world yet still remain protected? To that, the Midrash states, “from here we derive that when leaving shul one should leave family by family.”

We can leave the mother ship and still remain safe if our life boats consist of our families. If our families maintain the same standards and values as the larger Jewish community and shuls, then we can still physically leave these places for the moment, yet stay spiritually afloat. If our homes and personal families are built upon the same fundamental values as reflected by our shuls and study halls, then we will continuously lead spiritual lives filled with Torah, holiness and connection to Hashem.

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