Excerpt Browser

This page displays the full text of excerpts.  When viewing a single excerpt, its “Share,” “Switch Article,” and “Comment” functions are accessible.

NUMBERS — 19:2 distance

NUM242 Recall the definition of humility we developed in the chapter on that soul-trait: humility means occupying your appropriate space, neither too much or too little. The Torah provides a story about order that links clearly to humility. It describes how the people of Israel were told to organize themselves in formation for camping and traveling in the desert: "The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner, under the flag of their ancestral house. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Tent of Meeting" [this verse]. We read in a midrash that when God told Moses that the Jews were to be arranged in this specific formation, Moses complained that if he specified such an organization, there would be protest. "If I tell Yehuda to camp in the east, they will say they want the south, and so it will be with each and every tribe" (Midrash Rabbah). This story underlies the human tendency to rebel against imposed order. It doesn't matter if the order that is being forced to foisted on us is good, right, useful, or sensible. As long as our "rightful space" is being imposed, we don't want it: "If I tell Yehuda to camp in the east, they will say they want the south." Not that the south is necessarily better than the east or the north, it's just not what you told me to do, and that's the point. Sound familiar? Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space. All that it whispers in your inner ear can be reduced to "I want" or "I don't want." I want to have fun, cleaning up after myself is no fun. I want to keep accumulating stuff, and organizing it is not something I enjoy. I want my leisure, and setting things in order is work. Or… I don't want to take responsibility for my stuff. I don't want to do that. I don't have to. No matter what follows the word "I," there is no mistaking that the subject is "me." Hence the antidote here it would be humility. All the methods for cultivating humility that the Mussar Masters have formulated over the centuries come into play here. … Order is, after all, a kind of a submission of will, and humility fosters submission in place of the ego's self–assertion.


NUMBERS — 19:2 red heifer

NUM244 Observe the laws of the red heifer. As to this mitzvah, my hands are weak and I am afraid to say a word of explanation, even on a simple level, for our Sages spoke at length about the depth of its secrets and its great importance. They also said that due to his formidable wisdom and powers of comprehension, Shlomo HaMelech [i.e., King Solomon–AJL] understood what all of the reasons for the Torah’s mitzvos, except for this one. The mitzvah of the red heifer is supremely important, for through this mitzvah a person becomes cleansed of the high degree of spiritual impurity that he contracts from the dead. Without this mitzvah, someone who was defiled by such impurity cannot bring a Pesach offering, which is a central mitzvah for the Jewish faith. For this reason, the custom is to read the Torah parashah about the red heifer immediately before the parashah about Rosh Chodesh Nisan and the Pesach offering.


NUMBERS — 19:14 dies

NUM246 Ben Bag-Bag said: Turn and turn about in it [the Torah] for ... there is no better portion for you than this. Pirkei Avot, Perek V, mishnah 25. ... From eighty to one hundred, says the earlier mishnah [24], man deteriorates and declines, on his way to his ultimate passing. Says Ben Bag-Bag, ובלה בה -- literally, "disintegrate in it." Even in these last decades, when health wains and fails, remain immersed in Torah. Said R. Jonathan: "Never should a man keep away from the beth midrash and the words of Torah, not even about the time of death; for it stated: This is the Torah, should a man die in a tent… Even at the time of death, be occupied with the Torah" [this verse, T.B. Shabbath 83b].


NUMBERS — 20:10 listen

NUM250 R. Simeon b. El'azar said: … do not question [your fellow] at the time he makes a vow. Pirkei Avot, Perek IV, mishnah 23. Whence do you learn this?--From Moses. When he said to the Israelites, "Listen now, you rebels," [this verse] the Holy One vowed that he would not enter the [promised] land.… Said Moses, "This is a time of oath – taking; I have no need to speak now." Forty years he waited, and then he began to plead before Him. Said the Holy One to him, "Because you waited, go up to the top of Pisgah [and behold it with your eyes]" (Deuteronomy 3:27). This much his patience availed.


NUMBERS — 20:10 rebels

NUM252 It is a grave sin to speak against the Jewish people as a whole. The Midrash states that whoever serves as a leader of the Jewish people must be very careful how he addresses them. According to one opinion because Moshe said, "Hear now you rebels," he was told," therefore you shall not bring the assembly into the land which I have given them" (verse 12). Yeshayahu said to God, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of the people of unclean lips" (Yeshayahu 6:5). For this statement he was severely punished. Eliyahu said to God, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant" (I Melochim 18:10). He was severely punished for his statement. (Yalkut Shimoni 764).


Back To Top