Friday, July 10, 2015

Pinchas 5775, Learning from all at all times

The five daughters of Tzelofchad were such great women that they discussed all matters among themselves in the framework of Torah law, agreed on everything, and lived their lives solely for the purpose of Torah. They went to Moshe Rabbeinu to discuss their family's inheritance in Eretz Yisroel and presented their argument in the fashion of the greatest Torah scholars (Bava Basra). They compared the laws of inheritance with the laws of yibum (Sifrei), and would not accept Moshe's initial arguments (the proper law having been concealed by G-d from Moshe) (Sanhedrin) not out of self-importance but out of devotion to true Torah and halacha.

Torah is passed from father to son,
Ultimately not only did G-d declare their learning and interpretation of halacha correct over that of Moshe himself, but they all found worthy husbands and bore children even though they were all over the age of 40 at the time of the disputation. Bamidbar Rabbah teaches that this was an extra instruction for Moshe himself not to be haughty or feel special that he had separated himself from his wife at G-d's command, for all five of these sisters had separated themselves from the likelihood of marrying and bearing children out of love of halacha without any direct instruction to do so.

No matter how well we feel we know something, no matter how special or learned or expert we may be considered by others around us, we must always be open to others' words and ideas. What would have happened had Moshe not accepted that he should put the sisters' question before G-d, if he had incorrectly decided halacha for the people this one time? If the sisters had not been willing to speak up, or the various judges not been willing to listen and defer to those above themselves?

and Torah is passed from mother to daughter. But Torah can
only be passed from one to another in an atmosphere of love
and respect, and the respect must go both ways; the child shows
kavod to the parent and the parent shows an appreciation of
the child's willingness to learn and consider what is taught.
Halacha and every other area of life can never be decided by those who are convinced they know everything, or who will not listen to others who approach in respect and serious interest in true knowledge. We ourselves must always be open to the words and ideas of others. To belittle others, to refuse to consider their words and thoughts, to hold ourselves above reproach in any area of learning or expertise is to commit an aveira with untold consequences. Let us all learn from everyone around us and always be willing to reconsider our beliefs and opinions within the framework of Torah.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Balak 5775, July 2015, The protective feminine

Balak, says the midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah and the Zohar, was himself one of the greatest magicians with power over forces of tumah of his time. Yet he contracted with Bilam to help him destroy the Jewish people. Why? Because he knew he had no power over them himself due to what had happened to his own creation. His special form of magic involved the animation of an artificial bird with magic powers through tumah. When Balak had resolved to destroy the Jews, his bird flew away just as he was offering incense to it, and after a long disappearance it reappeared with a singed tail--which told Balak that the Shechinah specifically would always thwart him in attacking the Jews (Zohar). Not G-d in general, not the Clouds of Glory which physically protected the Jews at the time, but specifically the Shechinah.

Why the Shechinah? There are two aspects to consider. First, along with Chochmah, the Shechinah represents the feminine aspect of G-d (as we understand it; obviously G-d transcends gender but we understand things in concrete ways). This is alluded to in the brachah Bilam inadvertently gives the Jews, "Mah tovu," "How good are your tents," which we are taught actually refers not to a metaphor (unless you go to the Kabbalah, but that's another discussion of course) but to the actual physical tents of the Jews in their camps in the deserts, for the women's inherent modesty made them always site their tents so that no entrance or opening faced directly to those of another tent; in this way they always had privacy and provided it to their neighbors. This true modesty is one of the greatest traits of the Jews, and das Yehudis has always been a closely guarded value.
Summertime! And being a Jewish girl is great!

In addition the Shechinah itself was found in the Mishkan itself, inhabiting the Kodesh Kodeshim. The karbanos, tefillos, and study of the Jews was their very protection as the Shechinah kept them from harm.

In the end, it was indeed mostly men who sinned following Balak and Bilam's campaign, but the women and their holiness were able to protect the people as a whole and it was their feminine nature, their holiness, their prayers, which kept G-d from destroying the people entirely.

We must continue today in this vein; remembering our natural modesty (without going overboard or being judgmental of others' standards of modesty) in our dress, behavior, demeanor, and thought. Yet that alone is not enough; we all must continue our tefillos and talmud Torah as well as the other mitzvahs we can perform to bring about protection for the Jewish people as a whole.