According to our Sages, two events from this week's parashah occurred on
the twentieth of Sivan, which falls next week. One is the end of the
month-long miracle of the slav / the birds that miraculously rained down
on the Jewish camp to be eaten. The other is that Miriam was quarantined
for speaking lashon hara against Moshe.
According to many authorities, we are required by the Torah (Devarim 24:8-
9) to remember daily the punishment which Miriam suffered for her sin.
However, writes R' Yisrael Meir Kagan z"l (the Chafetz Chaim; died 1933)
even among those who observe this practice, there does not seem to be less
lashon hara spoken. Why?
He answers: There are several reasons for this, each of which may be
understood by a parable. If one ignores his doctor's instructions on how
to take a certain medication, the medication may not help him. Similarly,
remembering Miriam's fate is not a magical cure; it comes with
instructions: do not engage in idle talk, avoid situations where lashon
hara is common, etc. Many people do not heed these instructions. Also, if
a person ignores his illness until disease has spread to his whole body,
medicine may be useless, or will at least take longer to have any effect.
This is unfortunately the case with lashon hara, a prohibition so
neglected that no easy cure is possible. Instead, one must recognize the
extent to which he has become entrapped by this sin, and only then will
true and complete correction be possible. (Zechor L'Miriam, ch.1)
"With matzot and bitter herbs they shall eat it." (9:11)
R' Moshe Sherer z"l (1921-1998; long-time president of Agudath Israel of
America) writes: Compared to the symbols of the other holidays, matzah is
rather low-key. On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown loudly. On Sukkot,
we parade with the lulav standing tall. On Chanukah, we light menorahs in
our windows. On Simchat Torah and Purim, we also celebrate conspicuously.
Why is it, then, that throughout history, it was Pesach which seemed to
enrage our gentile neighbors the most? Why was it typically at Pesach
time that Jews suffered from blood libels and pogroms?
Certainly, writes R' Sherer, this was the work of the sitra achra (loosely
translated: the angel who is the guardian of all evil forces) himself.
Matzah represents too much for us to be allowed to eat it in peace.
What does matzah represent? It reminds us of Hashem's strong hand and of
the eternity of the Jewish people. Even when our ancestors in Egypt fell
perilously close to spiritual oblivion, Hashem saved them. Also, matzah
represents the transmission of our heritage and beliefs from generation to
generation, as it is written (Shmot 13:8), "And you shall relate to
your son . . . ." Over the matzah, we tell our children of the many
empires that forced our ancestors to eat matzah in secret and of the fact
that we outlived those empires.
From matzah, we also can learn how to fight those empires. The Gemara
states that matzah which is made in direct sunlight is unfit for Pesach.
So, too, our activism must be low-key. Matzah also may not contain food
coloring. So, too, our activism must be free of foreign, non-Torah
influences. (Be'shtei Enayim p. 43)
"When you go to wage war in your Land against the enemy who oppresses you,
you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets . . ." (10:9)
From the seemingly superfluous words, "against the enemy who oppresses
you," Rambam derives that there is a mitzvah to sound the trumpets and
pray to Hashem over any form of oppression, be it a drought, plague or
other trouble. He writes that this is part of the process of teshuvah /
repentance, and that through teshuvah one causes his troubles to depart.
The biggest sin, Rambam writes, is to ascribe one's troubles to fate or
R' Yaakov Yitzchak Halevi Ruderman z"l (founder and Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner
Israel; died 1987) added (during the Yom Kippur War): Even those who
ascribe troubles to coincidence start to pray when the troubles are their
own. That is how we must see the troubles of our brethren in Israel - as
Moreover, said R' Ruderman, Chazal teach that every person should
believe, "The whole world was created for me." This obligates each of us
to believe that his prayers can make a difference. (Masat Levi p. 332)
"Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be
the elders of the people and its officers . . ." (11:16)
Rashi quotes the midrash which says that the term "officers" refers to
those people who were assigned by the Egyptians to whip Jews who failed to
meet their work quotas. In fact, these officers failed to do their "duty"
and were beaten themselves.
R' Aharon Kotler z"l asks: Why is this a qualification to serve on the
sanhedrin / high court? He explains that a Jewish leader can succeed, not
in his own merit, but only in the merit of the Jewish people. It is
therefore incumbent upon a would-be leader to demonstrate his total
commitment and self-sacrifice for his people. Moshe, too, the midrash
tells us, used to help his brethren with their slave labor although, as a
Levite, he was exempted by Pharaoh. (Mishnat R' Aharon Vol. II, p.113)
"My servant Moshe, in My whole house he is trusted." (12:7)
What does it mean when the Torah says the Moshe was a "servant of Hashem"?
R' David Kimchi z"l ("Radak") explains (in his commentary to Yehoshua 1:1)
that someone who devotes all of his powers to serving Hashem and who, even
when he is engaged in mundane matters, does them for the sake of serving G-
d, is called a "servant of Hashem."
R' Elchanan Wasserman z"l hy"d elaborates: Slaves cannot own property;
everything they acquire belongs to their masters. Similarly, when a
person recognizes that all of his powers and belongings belong to Hashem
and must be used exclusively to serve him, he can be called a "servant of
Hashem." [Ed. note: Hebrew uses the same word - "eved" - to mean "slave"
In this light, adds R' Wasserman, we can understand Rambam's statement
that, although no person will ever be as great a prophet as Moshe, one can
be as great a tzaddik as Moshe. Anyone can choose, as Moshe did, to
direct all of his actions to serving G-d.
Of course, it was easier for Moshe to do this than it would be for any of
us. However, the Gemara teaches that a poor person's sacrifice of wheat
is as beloved to Hashem as a rich man's sacrifice of an ox. One must only
make the sacrifice. (Kovetz Ma'amarim p.48)
How can one serve G-d all of the time? R' Eliyahu Reingold shlita (maggid
shiur at the Yeshiva Gedolah of Greater Washington) answered with the
Imagine that you need to move your car from City A to City B, but you do
not wish to drive it there yourself. There are companies whose business
is finding people who need to travel from City A to City B but who have no
cars. These companies match car to driver, collect a fee, and everyone's
needs are satisfied.
To ensure the delivery of the car, the company gives the driver a deadline
by which he must arrive at the destination (after which the police will be
called). The length of time that the driver is given depends on the
distance; however, the driver is not expected to drive 24 hours a day.
Time is built in to the schedule for an appropriate amount of rest and
As long as the driver keeps his destination in mind, a reasonable amount
of time may be spent on diversions. So it is with serving Hashem. One is
not expected to learn Torah and perform mitzvot 24 hours a day or even at
every waking moment. One is expected to keep the ultimate destination in
mind and to relax so that he will be able to serve Hashem better. If he
does that, even his diversions become part of serving Hashem. (Heard from
R' Yitzchak of Drogobych z"l
R' Yitzchak of Drogobych was one of the leading followers of the Ba'al
Shem Tov and helped disseminate the latter's teachings in the province of
Galicia. Neither the year of R' Yitzchak's birth or death is known, but
he lived from approximately 1700 to the sixth or seventh decade of that
century. He was a descendant of R' Yitzchak Chayon, author of Apei
Ravrevai, and many generations of his ancestors were respected rabbis.
His mother Yente was known as the "prophetess."
R' Yitzchak was an itinerant maggid / preacher who traveled throughout
Galicia and Volhynia, and even visited Slutsk, Lithuania. He lived for a
time in Brody, where he was supported by R' Yosef Ostra, a well-known
philanthropist who maintained a shul and kollel at his own expense. Brody
was the home of R' Yechezkel Landau (the "Noda B'Yehuda"), a fierce
opponent of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and R' Yitzchak, too, was at first opposed
to the young chassidic movement.
It is told that R' Yitzchak had the gift of falling asleep immediately
upon retiring at night. Once, after making a derogatory remark about the
Ba'al Shem Tov, he was unable to sleep, so he decided to travel to
Mezhibozh to ask the chassidic leader's forgiveness. The Ba'al Shem Tov
greeted him warmly, saying, "You have come a long way to ask forgiveness
for having mocked me. I forgive you wholeheartedly."
R' Yitzchak eventually became maggid and dayan / rabbinical judge of
Horochow, Volhynia. He used to say that a preacher must consider three
things: First, his goal should be to cause the spirit of the Torah to
permeate every listener; second, he should direct himself to the entire
community; and third, he should not speak unless he is confident of the
truth of his words as if he heard them from the Almighty himself. He used
to say, "When I am setting out to preach in different communities, the
yetzer hara comes to me and says, `Yitzchak, you had better stay home and
study Torah. Why do you want to exhaust your energy? Why do you want to
neglect the study of Torah?'
"I reply, `I am only going to preach in order to make money,' and the evil
inclination then leaves me alone. However, the moment I begin to preach,
I cast away all material considerations and concentrate on imbuing the
audience with a love of Torah and fear of the Almighty."
R' Yitzchak used to say: "It is not right that people wait until Erev Yom
Kippur to be reconciled. How can one bear a grudge against a Jew for an
entire year? Reconciliation should take place every day." R' Yitzchak's
son was the chassidic rebbe R' Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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