Parshas Beha'aloscha 5758 - '98
Outline Vol. 2, # 32
The Alter of Kelm asked, since character attributes are so important, why aren't they discussed openly in the Torah? For example, the Torah doesn't forbid anger.
The tailor must have various skills that we don't usually think about. He must hold the needle in the proper way. He has to grasp the material correctly, and stitch properly. Imagine someone coming to the tailor and saying, "I need a stitch in this material. Make sure you hold the needle like this -- grasp the material in such a manner, stitch in such and such a fashion." The tailor would certainly answer: "I am a tailor, not a shoe-maker! I know how to do these things! Just tell me what you want sewn, and I will do it!" The tailor is prepared to do his work -- he has the necessary requirements and training.
In the same way, Hashem does not command us how we should behave. He has certain work He wants accomplished; we are expected to have undergone the training, and have fulfilled the basic requirements. These requirements are called Midos -- character attributes. They are assumed; it is necessary to have these qualities in order to do the work which we are commanded to perform.
What is the work? "Be a Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation..." (Shmos [Exodus 19:6])
The Midos are all important. In the story of Yoseif [Joseph] and his brothers, when the brothers realize their guilt and shame, they don't mention the hideous sale of their brother. Rather, their remorse was over their cruelty -- the essence of their crime. (Daas Torah, Naso and Beha'aloscha)
2. Moments Before Reacting
In the parsha, seventy men were taken out from the camp, and the spirit of prophecy came upon them. Two remained in the camp, and when they also prophetized, Yehoshua, Moshe's student, called to Moshe to silence them. "Are you jealous for my sake?" asked Moshe. "If only all the people would be prophets." There is no monopoly on religious leadership. (Rav S. R. Hirsch.) Still, Moshe's calm is remarkable when we realize what the men left in the camp said: "Moshe will die, Yehoshua will lead the people."
Further, Miriam and Aharon unfairly chastised Moshe. After the Torah mentioned Moshe's humility, Hashem Himself defended Moshe. Moshe, however, said nothing. "If you want to test someone's conceit, see how he reacts when unfairly slandered."
Anger is inimical to humility. (Daas Torah, Beha'aloscha)
Stephen Covey writes that there is an interval between stimulus and reaction. Herein lies human choice. The stimulus may naturally upset you, but you may nonetheless choose your response during the interlude between the stimulus and the reaction. You can go with the tide, or you can control the urge.
Victor Frankel, a Jew in a concentration camp, had suffered near complete loss of family and human dignity. Alone with his thoughts, he came to the realization that human freedom involved more than control of external environment. It is not externals, but the internal climate that falls under one's domain. The Nazis would do whatever they would, but he would maintain his own internal climate. He succeeded to such an extent, that even his Nazi captors were amazed.
The weather, your health, your childhood are not responsible for your moods; you can create your own climate. (See Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.)
3. The Wise Man and the King; Happiness
There are many episodes of complaints and grumblings, beginning with this parsha. The Rabbis explained that the people were really not missing the servitude of Egypt, but were complaining about the commandments.
Rav Yerucham Lebovitz asked, "Who is happier, the simple Jew with his religious obligations, or the nations of the world?" We are not discussing the next world, but simple pleasures in this life. "There is no doubt about this," he answered. "The Jews have the greatest joy."
The Alter of Kelm told the story of a gentile philosopher who was extremely impoverished. The king took pity on him, and sent him a large endowment. The next day, he returned the money. In reply to the king's surprise, the philosopher replied: "I have always led a simple life, enjoying the study of wisdom, divorced from the pressures of everyday life. After His Majesty presented his gift, I found myself in a quandary. Should I invest the money? Perhaps I should purchase property or merchandise? Perhaps I should find a trustworthy person to safekeep the large sum? I found I could not sleep at night from anxiety. Please, your Majesty, take the money back..."
Rav Lebovitz said that there are many such stories about the wise men of the world. But the Torah has a different attitude. "When the salve is on your wound (i.e. Torah study is active), eat what you desire, drink what you desire, bathe in cold or warm water, and you have nothing to be afraid of." (Tractate Kidushin, 30b.) "One who refuses to drink wine is called a sinner; one who sits in fast is called a sinner." (Tractate Nedarim, 10a.) Although the Torah tells us to sanctify ourselves through that which is permitted, this means simply that we should not act like animals.
Who is like Yisrael, who enjoys the greatest happiness, not only stored for the world to come, but right here, in this world. Yes, we can enjoy the pleasures of life to the fullest extent. We are the happiest people. (Daas Torah, Beha'aloscha)
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.
Copyright © '98 Project Genesis, Inc.