Parshios Matos & Masei
To Tell You The Truth...
Moshe spoke to the leaders of the tribes to tell the Children of
Israel. (Bamidbar 30:2)
We are now in the three weeks once again. It is a cyclical thing, right?
It comes around each year at the same time, just as Pesach does in its
season, and Succos does in its time. However, there is a difference:
whereas Pesach is a yearly celebration that we anticipate with excitement
as we should, Tisha b'Av is a day that we dread and with good reason.
Whereas the 15th day of Nissan is an opportunity to repeat a wonderful
national experience and to grow from it, the ninth of Av is a day to avoid
a similar national experience.
Indeed, the three weeks come around each year to remind us what we have
yet to accomplish, and what we have failed to complete. When Moshiach
comes, and may he do so in our time, Pesach will continue to be Pesach, at
least until Year 6000. When Moshiach comes, Tisha b'Av and all the other
fast days will be turned into days of joy and holidays.
There is a famous story of someone who came to the Chofetz Chaim for a
brochah. He was moving to America and he made a point of stopping by the
great and holy Chofetz Chaim for a blessing that would protect him from
the elements of the "desert," as America was called in those days, being
devoid any real Torah Judaism. The Chofetz Chaim received him and asked:
"Why are you not a kohen?"
Bewildered by the question, the man answered somewhat confused,
"Because my father was not a kohen?"
"And why was he not a kohen," the Chofetz Chaim persisted, leaving the man
even more in doubt about what the great sage wanted to hear from him. He
had come to the Chofetz Chaim for a blessing, and instead received an
The man thought for a moment, but could only answer,
"Because his father was not a kohen."
But the Chofetz Chaim asked further, "Yes, but why was HE not a kohen?"
Now the man was confused and feeling helpless, and could only answer,
"I don't know why."
Finally, the Chofetz Chaim revealed what he was thinking, and the basis of
"Because at Mt. Sinai, when Moshe Rabbeinu called out to the Jewish people
after the sin of the golden calf, 'Whoever is for G-d, come to me!' only
the tribe of Levi answered the call. The firstborn sons, who had been the
designated kohanim at that time, did not rally around Moshe, and because
of that they lost the right to be G-d's chosen priests, replaced instead
by the zealous Levi'im. Learn from this mistake. Next time, when the call
goes out to rally around the banner of Torah for the sake of G-d, do not
remain idle, but come out with enthusiasm."
The Chofetz Chaim was making more than one point. The realities that we
accept to be fact are not always as they seem to be. For example, everyone
knows that the root of Tisha b'Av was the sin of the spies. As the Talmud
says, for crying over nothing we have been forced to cry over something,
the destruction of two Temples and a long and often bitter exile.
But the truth is that, though Tisha b'Av is indeed rooted in the sin of
the spies, the other truth is that it is in this week's parshah that the
sin was polished to perfection, so-to-speak. And Moshe makes mention of
Moshe answered the descendants of Gad and Reuven, "Should your brothers go
to war while you live in peace here? Why would you discourage the
Israelite nation from crossing into the land which God has given to them?
That's exactly what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh-Barnea
to scout the land. (Bamidbar 32:6-8)
Had the two-and-a-half tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe settled into the
land with the rest of the nation, then the requisite number of 600,000
Jewish males over the age of 20 would have settled the land, and THAT,
says the Vilna Gaon, would have neutralized the Sitra Achra for good. It
would have been the tikun for the spies, and no Tisha b'Av would have been
necessary, except as a holiday to celebrate the arrival of the Final
Redemption. Therefore, the Three Weeks are just as much a reminder about
that episode as was the original one.
Give to a wise man and he will get wiser; teach a righteous man and he
will increase in learning. (Mishlei 9:9)
The problem with the spies was not that they were nervous about entering
Eretz Yisroel, or that they had concerns about how to make a living there.
They were only human and new at this Eretz Yisroel business, and G-d
certainly understood that, as He understands it today. The problem was
that the spies did not stop there, but rejected life in Eretz Yisroel
altogether, as if it was just one mitzvah that was not all that important
compared to the rest of Torah.
They must have thought that G-d would agree with this, otherwise they
never would have had the gumption to act so traitorously right under the
very auspices of G-d. It's like Bilaam who thought that G-d leaves room
for alternative visions when the time is right, and Bilaam banked on that
he could figure out that time. Likewise, the two-and-a-half tribes in this
week's parshah must have thought there was room for their vision as well,
that their request to live east of the Jordan river for the sake of their
cattle somehow was not a contradiction to the ultimate goals of the Jewish
In fact, we can say the same thing about Korach, and Dasan and Aviram. The
latter two, when requested to appear before Moshe Rabbeinu answered:
"You neither brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given
us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you think you can pull
something over our eyes? We will not come up!" (Bamidbar 16:14)
An incredible chutzpah! Or were they were making a point? Perhaps they
felt justified in replacing Moshe with Korach because they believed that
Moshe's leadership was based upon the fulfillment of his mission to bring
the Jewish people from Mitzrayim to Eretz Canaan. Since Moshe would not
bring them into the land, perhaps his right to rule had ended. If so, then
it might not have mattered to G-d if others fought for Moshe's position.
Having failed his mission, and having lost prophecy for 39 years until the
last of the generation of the spies died in the desert, there was room to
think, or rather, to rationalize that Moshe had lost favor in G-d's eyes,
and the A'lmighty was just waiting for the right zealot to come along and
usurp his position.
G-d's reaction to Korach's rebellion and to Dasav and Aviram cleared
matters up very decisively. And, the answer to the spies was swift and
final when the moment of truth came. Yes, G-d let them talk it out amongst
themselves a bit, and then stew over it a bit, but when the Cloud of Glory
came down and pronounced judgment, punishment was swift and measure-for-
measure, as it always is.
Likewise, the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe must have thought that
their intentions were noble and not contradictory to the ultimate plan of
the Jewish people. How else could they have approached Moshe Rabbeinu with
an idea just after having served a 40-year sentence for having made the
same request at the beginning of the journey? They must have thought there
was a difference between what they were doing and what the original spies
Indeed, the Leshem explains that in Yemos HaMoshiach, Jerusalem extends to
incorporate the very area in which these tribes settled, which is perhaps
why the Old City was in the hands of Jordan for so long before being re-
taken in the 1967 war by the Israelis. There is an inherent connection,
and the two-and-a-half tribes that chose to settle in that area may have
tapped into that, believing that they were settling in a portion of Eretz
This was unlike the spies who had simply chosen to remain in the desert
for no other reason except to avoid living in Eretz Yisroel. They rejected
the land and the relationship it represented with G-d, and were punished
for that. But they thought they were taking a portion of the Holy Land in
the present for the future, and what could be wrong with that? How shocked
they must have been by Moshe's reaction. Later, the Midrash attributes the
first exile into Babylonia to them.
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d, and [the beginning of] holy
men's knowledge is understanding. (Misheli 9:10)
When the Torah portrays Korach and his followers, we stand back and
say, "Wow, were they ever selfish people. And their chutzpah? Unreal!" As
if we ourselves could never stoop to such a level. Yet, time and time
again we are told by many commentators not to be fooled by what we read:
the Torah is presenting everything from its point of view, not from ours.
What this means, in essence, is that you can fool some of the people some
of the time, but G-d, NONE of the time. He is the One who can see into the
heart of a person and know better than the person himself what the REAL
intention is behind what he does. The Ba'al Tzeddakah can think that he is
writing the check purely for the sake of the person or organization in
need, but his underlying intention, perhaps unbeknownst to him, may be to
In the Western world, they like to say that the road to, well, you know
where, is paved with good intention, as if to say, even with the best of
intentions you can end up stoking hot coals after it is all said and done.
The Torah says that this is not true. You can fail at your efforts with
the best of intentions and not end up in Gihennom, for it is our hearts
that G-d takes note of, not the actual success we achieved.
The road to Heaven is paved with good intention. The road to Gihennom is
paved with people who appeared to have good intentions but who, in the
end, had just the opposite. What happened to the spies, Korach, and the
tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe later on, who were the first to be
exiled hundreds of years later, might also happen to many of us as well,
sometime during our lifetimes, often only after we leave this world and
have no more chances to do teshuvah.
As the prophet said:
For the ways of God are straight; the righteous walk in them and sinners
will stumble over them. (Hoshea 14:10)
Thus, two people can walk the same path, but if their starting points are
different, one being a truth seeker and desiring only to do the will of G-
d, and one desiring personal gratification, but in a way that looks like
he is performing the will of G-d, then they will end up in different
places: one in Heaven, and one in Gihennom, two in Eretz Yisroel, and 10
six feet into the desert.
The Torah gives us a clue to the real motivation of the tribes who chose
to remain on the east side of the Jordan River:
The Children of Reuven and the Children of Gad had abundant livestock -
very great. They saw the land of Yazer and the land of Gilad, and behold! -
the place was a place for livestock. (Bamidbar 32:1)
For livestock, yes, for Jews, no. Well, at least not yet, not until
Moshiach comes and the yetzer hara is slaughtered, and the K'lipos (those
nasty spiritual realities that result in evil and spiritual impurity that
drag us down) are removed from Creation. Once they're gone, then the
entire world can rise to the level of the spirituality of Eretz Yisroel,
while Eretz Yisroel increases in holiness to that of Jerusalem, and
Jerusalem increases to the level of the Holy of Holies (it will always be
holier in Eretz Yisroel). Then, and only then, can settling east of the
Jordan be like living in Eretz Yisroel.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; and if you scorn, you alone
will bear it. (Mishlei 9:12)
Therefore, though we mourn the loss of the Temples during the Three Weeks
and on Tisha B'Av, we are really mourning our lack of self-honesty, the
kind that brought us into exile in the first place. They say that during
the time of the First Temple, people sinned because they thought the
Temple and the sacrifices constantly atoned for them. Thus, ironically, it
was their belief in the Temple and the sacrifices that allowed them to
rationalize their own sins.
Kabbalah teaches that there are five levels of soul, and therefore five
levels of will. The first one is called "Ratzon" (Will), and that
initiates a thoughts process that will eventually result in action. This
sets in motion "Hirhur," the initial intellectual murmurings of planning
that lead to "Machshavah" (Mind), and an actual plan to do something. This
usually results in talking about it (Dibur), and finally, an act (Ma'aseh).
Thus, a corrupt will can be enclothed in many layers of virtue and great
planning, the underlying truth known only to G-d, and also perhaps to some
very insightful people. However, like a bad equation, eventually the truth
shows up. A donor who is told that only anonymous donations are accepted
will write the check regardless, and with the same enthusiasm (perhaps
more), if his or her intentions are altruistic. If, upon being told such
information, the donor pauses, reduces the amount or changes his mind, it
is usually an indication that something is crooked at the top.
We Jews never choose to rebel against G-d. We never demand exile and greet
national destruction with joy. We certainly appreciate the value of NOT
looking spiritual gift horses in the mouth, and at one time, never doubted
the existence of G-d or His involvement in our affairs. So, how did we get
here in the first place, and why haven't we left it yet?
The answer is, because we are doing many noble things, even by Torah
standards, except for one mistake. Rather than do them for their own sake,
we often do them to avoid the larger issues that the Three Weeks come to
bring to the forefront. On Tisha B'Av, we don't even learn Torah, except
for that which deals with the underlying reasons for the destruction
The Three Weeks, in fact, come to tell us what Moshe Rabbeinu tried to
tell the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe in this week's parshah: Get
real with the idea of redemption! Involve yourselves in the issues of
Geulah Shlaimah. As Mordechai told Esther, "That it is coming, you can be
certain. But whether you will ride on its crest or be steamrolled by it is
the choice that G-d is putting before you," - before all of us.
We're running out of chances to get this right. Some of us are betting
this is the last one.
Have a great Shabbos (as much as one can have during the Three Weeks),
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.