It Defies Belief
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Moshe asked them, "Have you allowed the women to survive? They were
the very ones who enticed the Children of Israel, on Bilaam's advice,
to commit idolatry against G-d through Peor, which caused a plague
amongst the Assembly of G-d! (Bamidbar 31:15-16)
There are some things in life that defy belief. Sometimes it may be
that someone great has done something below his dignity and level of
intelligence. Sometimes it may be that an ordinary person has done
something phenomenally dumb. And sometimes, it can even be that
great people have done something considered ridiculous even for
ordinary people, as in the case of the possukim above.
What was Moshe worried about? Why did he get so angry that even the
Divine Presence temporarily left him?
He was worried about what this catastrophic mistake represented for
the future of the Jewish people. For, it was one thing to recognize
one's mistake and to even commit oneself not to repeat the sin in the
future. However, it is another level altogether for a person to be
disgusted by the sin; that is COMPLETE teshuvah.
For example, there are people who, after having led 'happy' secular
lives, have returned to Torah. Becoming a 'Torah Jew' means that
certain activities that by secular standards were 'normal' are now
off-bounds, which the person accepts.
However, what about the memories? True, the 'Ba'al Teshuvah' would
not consider performing such acts today as a Torah-abiding Jew.
However, when the acts were committed, the person had yet to learn
about Torah, and therefore performed them with a certain amount of
'innocence.' This seems to make many a sin a little less despicable,
and therefore more of fond memory.
True, there are different levels of sin, ranging from accidental to
out-and-out rebellion against G-d and Torah. However, that has to do
with the perpetrator's culpability regarding the sin he committed.
As far as the act itself is concerned, it has to be repulsive and
reprehensible no matter what the intention was of those who committed
it. If that is not the case, then it means that a certain spiritual
insensitivity exists that can, and often does, lead to the
performance of such sins and others in the future.
For the Ba'al Teshuvah, that is often the litmus test of just how far
he or she has come in the direction of Torah. To hate evil is easy
to do; there are many secular people who, without the help of Torah,
can define evil and become disgusted by it. Rather, it is more
surprising how many people can actually overlook evil and live
side-by-side with it - and even support it.
However, there are things in life that seem perfectly 'natural' from
man's perspective, but which are considered to be detestable from
G-d's point of view. Stage one of teshuvah is learning that; stage
two of teshuvah is accepting that. However, stage three of teshuvah
is 'buying' into G-d's perspective, and feeling as He does about it.
Had the Jewish army that Moshe sent to take revenge against Midian
done that, they never would have brought back a single Midianite
In other words, the battle against Midian had been more than just the
revenge of holiness against a spiritually decrepit people. It was
also a test for the Jewish people to see just how serious the wound
inflicted by Bilaam and the Midianite women on the spiritual fiber of
the Jewish people had been. From the results of the war and from
Moshe's reaction, the diagnosis and prognosis was not good, as the
episode that follows on the heels of this one confirms.
The descendants of Reuven and Gad had a lot of cattle, and saw that
the land of Ya'azer and Gilad was a good place for cattle. The
descendants of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe, Elazar the kohen, and
the princes of the congregation, and asked, "Atarot, Divon, Ya'azer,
Nimrah, Cheshbon, El'aleh, Sevam, Nebo, and Beon, in the land which
G-d struck before the Children of Israel is a land for cattle, and we
have cattle. Therefore, if it is good for you, allow us to take it.
Do not require us to cross the Jordan." (Bamidbar 32:1-5)
Nothing like wandering in the desert for 40 years, thirty-nine of
which were payment for rejecting the gift of Eretz Yisroel, and
begging not to enter the Land after finally reaching the end of the
journey. And for what? For some cattle? For a little extra pasture
land? Is that all Eretz Yisroel came down to for the tribes of Gad
The answer is, it depended. It depended upon when you asked the
people of Reuven and Gad - before or after the episode with Bilaam.
Before the Jewish people had any interaction with the Midianite
women, whom the Pri Tzaddik says represented 'K'lipas Ta'avah' - the
trait of intense materialistic desire - they would have yearned to
live in Eretz Yisroel, the palace of the Divine Presence.
However, after the introduction of Midian and their trait into the
lives and hearts of the Jewish people, priorities became shuffled as
materialism took on an added importance it previously did not have.
And that's the way it has remained for thousands of years, until this very day.
When the spies rejected Eretz Yisroel, it must have made sense at the
time. These were people who witnessed the Ten Plagues and systematic
destruction of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth at
the time. They had seen the sea split and how it drowned the
pursuing Egyptian army. They collected the manna that fell from
Heaven daily, and drank from a mysterious well that followed them
through the desert for forty years.
The people who rejected Eretz Yisroel had been those who had
personally stood at Mt. Sinai and had actually heard G-d speak the
first two of the Ten Commandments. They had seen the lightning,
heard the thunder and the shofar, and witnessed the instantaneous and
miraculous recovery of all the infirmed. They had been led by a
glorious cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
They had learned Torah from the mouth of Moshe Rabbeinu and had
enjoyed the guidance of Aharon HaKohen. They lived with the likes of
Pinchas ben Elazar HaKohen, and rubbed elbows with greats like
Yehoshua bin Nun. They had built the Mishkan and lived with its
daily miracles, among many other spectacular spiritual experiences.
What learning, what Torah experience do we have today that can even
compare to this, capable of creating as much connection to G-d and
faith in His guidance as that of the 'Dor HaDayah' - the 'Generation
Yet they erred. In spite of all the experiences, in spite of all the
learning, in spite of all the leadership, they erred. BIG TIME!
And, what about us?
The Talmud says: Any generation within which the Temple is not
rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed then. (Source)
A very simple, but very powerful statement. In modern terms, it has
often been said as follows: If you are not part of the solution,
then you are part of the problem. The Talmud is just adding extra
teeth by saying that, from Heaven's perspective, being part of the
problem is tantamount to causing all the destruction that comes as a
result of it, even if physically-speaking it is not true.
Well, last I checked (I was at the Kotel last Wednesday afternoon for
Minchah), not only was the Temple NOT where it once was and, G-d
willing, will soon be again, but the mosques were still up there and
calling Arab worshippers to prayer. So, it seems, we are still
destroying the Temple and making the same ugly mistakes our ancestors
did, which, coincidentally, has been intimately bound up with the sin
of the spies. (Ta'anis 29a)
And you're okay with that?
We're not talking about secular Jews, who do not know what Torah is,
and if they do know what Torah is, do not believe that it is from
G-d. How can they be expected to care even a little about a past
Temple, let alone a future one? Just the opposite! They are
terrified that even hinting at a future Jewish Temple in the place of
the occupying mosque might lead to further instability in the
We are talking about Jews who leave over an area of wall unfinished,
'zecher l'Mikdosh' - to remember that life is not complete without a
Jewish Temple and its service. While a few holy Jews around the
world awaken at midnight and cry and pray over the destroyed Temples,
maybe even donning sackcloth and ashes, while the rest of us sleep
soundly as we would be expected to do - WHEN the Temple is in
Even after we awaken, we still sleep, but this time with our eyes wide open.
Remember Yonah? Last week we mentioned that he was Moshiach Ben
Yosef, according to Sha'ar HaGilgulim. Apparently he also liked to
sleep. In fact, while the sea raged all about the ship he was
escaping on, causing the gentile sailors to panic on deck, Yonah was
sound asleep downstairs in the hold. Until they woke him, that is...
The ship's master approached him, and said to him, "How can you sleep
so soundly? Arise! Call to your G-d! Perhaps G-d will think of us
and we will not perish." (Yonah 1:6)
The world is a ship and history is a sea, which you may recall, can
become so turbulent at times that it can even threaten to destroy the
ship and all its passengers. In fact, there haven't been too many
calm waters throughout the thousands of years of history that man has
We seem to be approaching difficult waters these days as well. The
Middle-East conflict. A war against terrorism. Countries with
nuclear capability playing with fire. Economic uncertainty.
Increased anti-Semitism. We have known calmer times and there is
certainly reason for concern.
All punishment comes to the world because of the Jewish people. (Yevamos 62a)
He (Yonah) said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea and
the sea will calm down for you; for, I know that it is because of me
that this great tempest is upon you." (Yonah 1:12)
Interestingly enough, 'yonah' is the name of the one bird that
symbolizes the Jewish nation (Brochos 53b). In the story of Noach, it
was the bird that flew all the way to Eretz Yisroel, by-passing all
the tall trees along the way in order to bring back an olive branch
in its mouth, just to teach Noach and the new world that he was about
to begin: Better my food be bitter but from the hand of G-d, than
sweet and from the hand of man. (Rashi, Bereishis 8:11)
Assuming that the dove was not a masochist or an esthetic, his
message must have been: The sweetest food of all is from the hand of
G-d, even if physically it would not seem so. Just like Shabbos adds
a special flavor to the food you can't create with all the spices in
the world, so too does easily recognizable Divine Providence make
life taste sweeter, even it appears physically less secure.
It is the reverse philosophy of the spies who rejected Eretz Yisroel,
even the great Torah scholars amongst them. It was the opposite
trait of the nation of Midian that came and spiritually infected the
Jewish people, leading to their insensitivity to higher spiritual
priorities. And, it is the philosophy upon which the Temple is
built, without which it can only crumble and fall in complete
Everything changed once Yonah woke up. He still had what to learn
and change, but overall, his situation got progressively better as he
consciously dealt with his responsibility as a prophet of G-d.
Perhaps that is the main point and process of Moshiach Ben Yosef, to
wake the Jewish people up from their slumber so that they can respond
adequately to the tempest that rages all about, and because of them.
Parashas Massei & The Three Weeks
G-d told Moshe in the Plains of Moav, by the Jordan near Yericho,
"Speak to the Children of Israel, and tell them that when you are
about to cross the Jordan into Canaan..." (Bamidbar 33:50-51)
Lo and behold! The end of Sefer Bamidbar is about Eretz Yisroel. We
have made many journeys, nationally and personally, but they all lead
to Eretz Yisroel, which in turn leads to the Temple, the final one.
That's what these three weeks are all about, and if you can't feel
that, then you should pay close attention to the following:
Rebi Elazer said: Anyone who has dayah, it is as if the Temple was
built in his days; 'dayah' is between two letters ("For, G-d is the
G-d of thoughts"; I Shmuel 2:3), and 'Temple' is between two letters
("...G-d, have made - the Sanctuary, my L-rd"; Shemos 15:17).
It is what you would call a 'technical drash.' In the original
Hebrew, the word 'dayah,' which in its context means 'thoughts,' is
placed between two Names of G-d. Likewise, in a totally unrelated
verse, the word 'mikdosh' is also found between two Names of G-d,
providing a technical basis for Rebi Elazar's drash.
As is well-known in the world of Kabbalah, the main damage caused by
Adam HaRishon's sin was to the 'Da'as' (literally, 'knowledge'), a
specific level in the Sefiros. Hence, his whole challenge and test
centered around a tree called the 'Aitz HaDA'AS Tov v' Rah,' the
'Tree of KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil.'
However, Da'as is not just any knowledge, and not only knowledge
itself. It is the knowledge, and organization of which, that
elevates a person to a level from which he can see the world and
history as G-d does. It is to this specific knowledge that Shlomo
HaMelech alluded when he wrote:
"If you want it like money and seek it like buried treasures, then
you will understand fear of G-d and find Da'as Elokim (G-dly
Knowledge)." (Mishlei 2:4-5)
Dayah, therefore, is not simply factual information. It is specific
factual information that allows a person to construct a comprehensive
Torah outlook that goes past the basic needs of everyday life. It is
the knowledge within Torah that acts as the sinews to pull together
all the disparate parts of Torah learning and Jewish history - the
Torah's version of the 'Big Picture.'
Which is, in effect, the Temple. For, that is what the Temple
embodied: Da'as Elokim. Like the Mishkan before it, it was a
microcosm of the entire world, and every detail, even the most minute
detail, reflected G-d's purpose in making creation and His outlook on
man and history. To understand and relate to the Temple was to
understand and relate to life, and more importantly, to maintain a
heightened sensitivity to what mattered most in life, from the
The Vilna Gaon says that one of the prime objectives of Moshiach ben
Yosef will be to reveal the mysteries of Torah, just like his great
ancestor, Yosef ben Ya'akov. For many learned and practicing Jews
today, that may sound like no big deal.
However, they will be surprised - very surprised to find out that it
was precisely the lack of this knowledge that allowed them to become
desensitized to what counts most to the Jewish people, in spite of
their learning and mitzvos. They will be surprised to find out how
crucial such knowledge was to being able to mourn over the loss of
the Temple, and in doing so, begin the process to return it.
You can't mourn for something if you don't feel you have lost it.
As the spies found out the hard way. And, as we have been finding
out the hard way all through the generations. When the story of our
lives is written after it is all said and done, let it not be said of
us, that we were the people who acted ridiculously by ignoring
opportunities and situations that any awake person would have taken
Chazak! Chazak! V'Nischazeik! (Boy, can we use it.)