Friday, June 25, 2010

This Week's Parsha and A Lesson From Emanuel

If one looks at this week's parsha it is astounding how it correlates to the situations going on in Emanuel and the general situation in Israel. For anyone who doesn't know what has been going on lately (which means you have been living under a rock somewhere in the middle of Mongolia), there was a Flotila that was trying to break the blockade of Gaza. As per usual the boats were asked by the israeli navy to divert to an Israeli port and the goods would be shipped to Gaza from Israel on land. This was in order to make sure no weapons are entering Gaza. However, one of the ships would not comply and the Israelis went aboard to talk (armed with paintball guns as their primary weapons) to the people and they were ruthlessly attacked. The Israelis tried to defend themselves, but needed to use their hand guns in order to protect their own lives. They ended up killing 9 activists that were attacking them and trying to kill or capture them. These people also had known terrorist connections. Anyway, the entire world, save Germany and the USA, immediately condemned Israel for protecting herself.

So, we have the entire world, an external force isolating Israel and encouraging her enemies like Iran, Syria and Gaza to continue their threats and aggression against Israel. In this week's parsha the Moabites and the Midianites try to hire Bilaam to curse Israel in order that Israel be destroyed. They used this tactic because they already saw Israel Conquer Sichon and Og, because Sichon and Og attacked Israel and the Moabites and Midianites saw that military might could not overpower Israel. The Midianites saw that Bilaam could not curse them, so they left. The Moabites tried to get Bilaam to curse Israel, but to no avail. In the end of the day, the Midianites and the Moabites sent their women to entice the men of Israel to sin and they succeeded.

Just like the enemies of Israel in ancient times realized that they could not overpower Israel through military might, so to the enemies of Israel in today realize this. So they both tried or are trying to wage a different type of war, make Israel look bad. Both succeeded! Israel today is more isolated than ever and Israel back in ancient times was in big trouble and was in fear of being destroyed.

Now, what is the Emanuel case doing here? If anyone reads the last few pasukim of this week's parsha, I think it is clear. Zimri, a prince of one of the tribes, made an internal conflict within the camp. External problems have always led to internal problems when it comes to the nation of Israel. However, Zimri really divided the camp. This is exactly what is happening in Israel. Right after this Flotila mess we have many thousands, hundreds of thousands of Jews, that are seemingly pro discrimination. I hear arguments that this protest was not pro discrimination, but pro religious education. I say that the protest might have been pro religious education, which is great, but it must also have been pro discrimination because of what one of the leading authorities at this rally said. Rav Efrati said that there is no discrimination in the Charaidi community against Sephardim, in fact, Ashkenazim learn the great sephardic commentaries as well as Ashkenazi commentaries and he blamed discrimination on the secular Zionists (Found here). I am not sure if he knows this, but there are quotas on how many Sephardim most Charaidi institutions will allow (somewhere around 30%). (found here and here Look for what Rabbi Dovid Landesman says in comments to E-man, the second time) That seems like discrimination to me and most other people. If the protest had nothing to do with Charaidi discrimination against Sephardim, then why did he mention, during a rally cry, only the Zionists discriminate? He was rallying everyone to deny that the Charaidim discriminate! Which anyone and everyone knows is false. He was rallying everyone to continue their discrimination against Sephardim. If this was truly just an issue of religious education then NO MENTION of discrimination should have occurred. Apparently, that was not the case.

So, we have people supporting discrimination against fellow Jews, en mass, while there is a severe existential threat! However, hopefully someone will come forward like Pinchas. Pinchas was able to unite the entire Jewish nation and help us defeat the existential threat. Without his ability to unite the "clans" of the Jewish people, we might have been lost. Hopefully, we can find someone to unite the Jewish people today. I don't mean that anyone is evil or anyone should be punished, rather I think the idea of discrimination should be completely eradicated from the Jewish people. This would be a MAJOR step towards uniting the Jewish people and bringing the Moshiach, or, at the very least, uniting the nation of Israel (Klal Yisroel) into overcoming her enemies.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dealing with Baal-Peor and The Responsibilities of Leaders

At the end of this week's Parsha, Balak, we have a dreadful situation. The people of Bnei Yisroel are acting inappropriately with Moabite women and these women are causing the Israelite men to worship idols, specifically, the Baal-peor. This caused the wrath of G-D to come on the people of Israel in the form of a plague. However, what is intriguing about this situation is how G-D told Moshe to stop the plague and how the plague was ACTUALLY stopped.

The story happens like this (Bamidbar 25:3-9)

ג וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר; וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Israel joined unto the Baal Peor; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

ד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, קַח אֶת-כָּל-רָאשֵׁי הָעָם, וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַיהוָה, נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף-יְהוָה, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל. 4 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Take all the heads of the nation, and hang them up unto the LORD in face of the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.'

ה וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו, הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר. 5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel: 'Slay ye every one his men that have joined themselves unto the Baal Peor.'

ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.

ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.

ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

ט וַיִּהְיוּ, הַמֵּתִים בַּמַּגֵּפָה--אַרְבָּעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים, אָלֶף. {פ} 9 And those that died by the plague were twenty and four thousand.

This seems very interesting because the plague abated for a completely different reason than what G-D had told Moshe. G-D told Moshe that when he hanged "them" (we will see who them is in a minute) then the plague will subside. However, we see that the plague dissipated after Pinchas killed a single sinner. What is going on here. Did the parameters that G-D set forth for the plague to end occur or did they not? In the previous Parsha, Chukas, G-D told Moshe to make a snake and put it on a poll and that would heal anyone affected by the plague of snakes and that is what occurred. However, here it seems like G-D allowed something else to revoke the plague.

Before answering this perturbing question, I think an explanation of who the "them" is in verse 4 is needed. Just to refresh our memories the verse says (Bamidbar 25:4)

ד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, קַח אֶת-כָּל-רָאשֵׁי הָעָם, וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַיהוָה, נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף-יְהוָה, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל. 4 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Take all the heads of the nation, and hang them up unto the LORD in face of the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.'
This verse can be understood in one of two ways: 1) Rashi (ibid) quotes the explanation that this verse means that G-D commanded Moshe to gather the heads of the nation (רָאשֵׁי הָעָם) and that the heads of the nation should hang all the sinners that worshiped the Baal-peor. 2) The Midrash Tanchuma (Balak 19) , Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 25: 23) and the Yalkut Shemoni (Chapter 25) all contain the opinion Rashi speaks of, but they also have a conflicting opinion. This other opinion seems to read into the words much easier than the "strained" reading of Rashi. This other opinion, in the name of Rabbi Yudan or Yehuda, that is quoted says that Moshe was commanded by G-D to hang the heads of the nation (רָאשֵׁי הָעָם) and this would remove the plague (anger of G-D) from being upon Israel.

If we use the second reading, that the heads of the nation (רָאשֵׁי הָעָם) are the ones that G-D commanded to be hanged, I think it is very easy to answer our question of how could the plague abate if the requirements that G-D put in place do not seem to be fulfilled. The answer is simple, these requirements WERE fulfilled!

In order to understand how the requirements of G-D were, indeed, fulfilled we need to understand what the requirements were in the first place. In order to do this we must dissect the verse already quoted (Bamidbar 25:4):

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, קַח אֶת-כָּל-רָאשֵׁי הָעָם, וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַיהוָה, נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף-יְהוָה, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל
And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Take all the heads of the nation, and hang them up unto the LORD in face of the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.'

The main requirement here is that they be hanged "in the face of the sun." Rashi (ibid), as well as a dozen other commentaries, tells us that this expression means that they are to be hanged in public so that everyone will see them. G-D is not requiring Moshe to kill all of the sinners, only the heads of the nation and to display their executions publicly. Why publicly? In order that everyone see that the nation is sinning and that they must stop immediately and only then will the "anger of G-D," manifested as a plague, go away.

The command of G-D was that Moshe was to make a public spectacle that would cause all of the sinners who were worshiping the Baal-peor to stop. Therefore, Moshe must have thought that another approach might work with even less bloodshed as stated in verse (Bamidbar 25:5) says:

ה וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו, הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר. 5
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel: 'Slay ye every one his men that have joined themselves unto the Baal of Peor.'

This command seems to be contrary to the command of G-D. However, if we understand G-D's true command then it is not against G-D's command at all. G-D wanted the plague to end, therefore, He suggested that the quickest and least deadly way to end it would have been to hang the leaders of the nation, but Moshe thought that he could input some invaluable ideas here. It seems to me that Moshe must have thought that if he gave the command to kill all of the worshipers of the Baal-peor then only after a single worshiper was killed or even about to be killed, everyone would do teshuva and beg for forgiveness and there would be little to no bloodshed. The reason I believe this is that, it seems like from the pesukim that no one was killed by the judges. The last verse of the Parsha (Bamidbar 25:9) gives a total number of deaths due to plague, but none due to judges killing. This is in contrast to other places in the Torah where it gave the numbers of people killed. For example, by the sin of the Golden Calf (Eigel Hazav) in Shemos 32:28 it tells us that the Levites killed 3,000 men for worshiping the Golden Calf. If anyone was killed here not by the plague, but by the judges, it should have told us.

The reason G-D did not propose this idea in the first place was because He realized what would happen. Had it not been for Pinchas there would have been much more bloodshed and division in the camp of Israel. Thankfully, Pinchas was able to kill Zimri and Cozbi in such a public fashion that the desired effect took hold and G-D's requirements to end the plague were fulfilled. Everyone immediately realized their sins and turned away from serving the Baal-peor. Once this happened G-D's anger went away and the plague ceased. We can see this from the last few verses in the Parsha (Bamidbar 25:6-9):

ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.

Zimri was committing this sin publicly and everyone knew about it. This was the main requirement that G-D gave Moshe: that EVERYONE sees what happens to these sinners.

ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.
ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
Then, as we know, the valiant Pinchas shows up and punishes the sinners in the view of everyone fulfilling G-D's requirements for the plague to cease. Pinchas created a public spectacle that showed how G-D's commands are not something to be flaunted and showed disdain. Everyone in the camp of Israel had seen G-D firsthand, how can anyone worship an idol after witnessing G-D? It is the ultimate disgrace! However, even though every worshiper of the Baal-peor was deserving of death, only one person needed to be killed publicly. Everyone else either expired from the plague or repented and was accepted back by G-D.

The most interesting part of this idea comes from the fact that G-D told Moshe to hang the heads of the nation. I could not understand why G-D would kill these, seemingly, innocent people just because some of their followers were sinning. It made me realize something that is true about all types of leadership: if your followers do something wrong it IS your fault. As the Rambam in Hilchot De'os Chapter 6 tells us, "Whoever has the possibility of rebuking sinners and fails to do so is considered responsible for that sin, for he had the opportunity to rebuke the sinner." This is why anyone who is in a position of command is held responsible for what their subordinates do. Whether you are the CEO of a company like BP, the Principal of a school or the Rabbi of a sect of Chassidism, if your followers mess up it is on YOU! This is why one should always enter the role as a leader with fear and trepidation. It is no easy task leading a community, it is hard to convince people that your views are right and that they should follow what you say. However, just like a president is responsible for any misdeeds of his or her country or the general is responsible for his or her army, so too any leader must realize and accept that they have full responsibility and the faults and responsibilities are on them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Do you really feel qualified to make that kind of accusation against Rav Elyashiv and Rav Aron Leib Shteinman?

Over at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Dovid Landesman wrote an article on why he thought the supreme court's decision was dangerous for the religious people in Israel and how it could mean that a religious Jew can not be part of the government, aka the State of Israel. In all honesty, I think he makes some very valid points. However, the first paragraph really bothered me and it had NOTHING to do with his article. Rabbi Landesman said (bold part is the issue here),
Events in the last twenty-four hours have caused my inherent uncertainties about life in Israel to resurface. This afternoon I attended the mass demonstration [peaceful and orderly, thank God] in support of the parents from Emanuel who were sentenced to jail terms for contempt of court in refusing to re-enroll their daughters in the local Beis Yaakov as per the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court. My conflicts began as I made my way toward Rechov Yirmiyahu where the rally was to take place. I passed a young man wearing a knitted kippah, holding a placard that read “sinat chinam” (needless hatred). I asked him to whom he was referring and he answered, “the demonstrators.” The early afternoon sun was brutally hot, so it was critical that I try hard not to loose my cool. I calmly asked him, “Do you really feel qualified to make that kind of accusation against Rav Elyashiv and Rav Aron Leib Shteinman?” Noticing his perplexed demeanor, I walked away, wondering why he did not understand what I wanted from him.
So according to Rabbi Landesman, if you thought, or your Rabbi thought that this Immanuel issue highlighted the issue of discrimination, which Rabbi Landesman admits is rampant throughout the Charaidi world, you are going against Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman and how is that possible?!?! Apparently, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman do not just know Torah better than anyone else, but they understands discrimination better than anyone else.

However, that is not what makes this comment so absurd in my mind. Yes, people can argue that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are the final authority on anything that come out of their mouths. This is, in fact, why the whole Rabbi Slifkin controversy took place. However, ignoring that and even admitting that the Gedolim are infallible, Rabbi Landesman has a problem. He asks this "young man" are you qualified to say the opinion of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman is Sinaat Chinam. However, Rav Landesman says in the very next paragraph,

"Permit me to share my feelings and fears with you. As a caveat, I am convinced by evidence that I have personally witnessed through the years that there is a great deal of prejudice within the Ashkenazi Torah world against Sefaradim."
This itself goes against Rav Elyashiv, as conveyed by his Gabbai:

"After that Rav Elyashiv's gabbai spoke, followed by Rav David Batzri, a sephardi mekubel. In his speech he said that there has never been any discrimination against Sephardim amongst Torah Observant Jews. All Torah Observant Jews learn the Rambam together with Tosfos, the Beis Yosef with the Rema, the Arizal with Baal HaTanya, and the Mishnah Brurah together with the Ben Ish Chai. He said that discrimination against Sephardim was introduced by the Secular Zionists when they took the yaldei teheran and cut off their peyot and forced upon them the gods of secularism." (Found here)

However, maybe there is an excuse for Rabbi Landesman, he just didn't know Rav Elyashiv held this way and would be willing to change his mind and admit Sephardim have never been discriminated against had he only known this was the opinion of Rav Elyashiv. That is a possibility.

Getting back to the deeper point, the belief that a Rav understands matters that have nothing to do with Gemorah knowledge better than anyone else. I was not raised to think that a Rav's word is similar to the word of G-D. I have been raised to follow the traditions of Judaism. Regular Jews should not be making up halacha, but following the traditions that have withstood the ages. I am a big believer in this idea that, although everyone should be involved with asking questions, learning Torah and coming up with ideas, before coming to any conclusions a Rav should be consulted. For example, a regular Jew that decides to research the Aniskakis worm controversy should do so. This person should come up with their own insights and ideas. However, the psak halacha should always be consulted with that person's Rabbi. Does he need to just ask and receive an answer? No. However, he should enter into a conversation with the Rabbi and express his views and ask the Rabbi if they are valid or not and the Rabbi should be able to answer the questions. Ultimately, the Rabbi decides the halacha within the parameters of the tradition.

However, in matters of science, where the Rabbi knows much less than some others, why would anyone consult the Rabbi? For example, I want to understand how gravity works, should I consult my Rabbi? Doesn't that idea sound ridiculous? So, the Rabbi is the last word on halacha, but what about other things? Should a person having psychological issues go to his or her Rabbi for help or should they go to a psychologist who is trained to help people with these disorders? Here, in the case of Emanuel, who is equipped to understand the situation best? Is it Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman? It could be that a Charaidi person better understands the situation best merely for the fact that there are more Charaidim living in Emanuel than anyone else. Maybe this young man came from Eilat and just heard the Charaidim are protesting and he decided to counter protest. However, it is possible that this young man research the case and its intricacies much more than anyone else and came to the conclusion that this is based on the discrimination that Rabbi Landesman ADMITS TO EXISTING in the Charaidi world. Therefore, by Rabbi Landesman's own admission, this young man "is qualified" to disagree with Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman.

Also, I would not say that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are showing Sinaat Chinam (baseless hatred) here. I believe that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinamn were not basing their views on the discrimination. I in no way think Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are pro the discrimination that exists throughout Israel against Sephardim. However, I think they were told the situation by someone who wanted them to be pro the rally. In order to do that it was probably presented as religious Jews being persecuted by the non-religious state. Therefore, I think the question of Rabbi Landesman, that the young man was calling Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman haters, does not make sense.

However, let's just say Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman, ch'v, were pro the discrimination against Sephardim. Is there any precedence for Rabbi's to err and make the wrong choices? Does anyone recall the burning of the Rambam's books? There were several great Rabbonim that took place in this horrific act. They were great scholars, but erred in how to deal with that situation. This is not my opinion, but many great Rabbis of that generation and subsequent generations admit to this mistake.

Nevertheless, I think that, as a religious Jew, it is an unfortunate thing that Israel is not governed by religious law. Do I think if the government was run by the Charaidim it would be better? No. I wish we had a righteous king that did not have any bias against fellow Jews and could govern, using the Torah, justly and fairly. Hopefully, the Moshiach will come soon and put an end to all this bickering.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why Did Moshe Use a Copper Snake

In this week's parsha, Chukas, Bnei Yisroel complain about their "rotten bread" and G-D sends a plague of venomous snakes. After many people in Israel died from the snakes' bites they came to Moshe and begged him to pray to G-D in order that the plague should end. However, G-D said that Moshe needed to make a snake and put it on a pole and whoever was bitten should look at it and they would live. This whole episode can be seen in Bamidbar 21:5-9. The intriguing part about this story is that although G-D only asked Moshe to make a snake and put it on a pole, Moshe made a COPPER snake and put it on a pole. In Chapter 21:8-9:

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה עֲשֵׂה לְךָ שָׂרָף וְשִׂים אֹתוֹ עַל נֵס וְהָיָה כָּל הַנָּשׁוּךְ וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ וָחָי:

8. The Lord said to Moses, "Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and let whoever is bitten look at it and live.

ט. וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ עַל הַנֵּס וְהָיָה אִם נָשַׁךְ הַנָּחָשׁ אֶת אִישׁ וְהִבִּיט אֶל נְחַשׁ הַנְּחֹשֶׁת וָחָי:

9. Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.

Also, G-D commanded Moshe to make a
שָׂרָף (Saraph) and Moshe made a נְחַשׁ (Nachash). What is the significance of this difference and does it have anything to do with the fact that Moshe made the serpent out of copper and thereby the verse says נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת?

The Ramban in Bamidbar 21:9 answers this question by giving an idea similar to homeopathic medicine, that G-D made it that the thing that causes the sickness can also heal it and that is why Moshe uses this similar language. Also, G-D wanted to show that He is the one that causes life and death and that is why He used that which caused the sickness to also cure that sickness, to show that it is all up to G-D.

The Maharal on Rashi verse 8 acknowledges the position of the Ramban, that the copper snake had a real medicinal activity, however, he disagrees and says that the medicinal properties of the copper snake were complete miracles without a reason. There was nothing scientific about it, it was a miracle plain and simple. What really cured the Jewish people, according to the Maharal, was the fact that the Jews would pray harder once they saw the snake on the pole and they looked heavenward.

The Maharal on Rashi in verse 9 explains why Moshe used a copper snake (
נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת) instead of a snake(שָׂרָף). Rashi said:

נחש נחשת: לא נאמר לו לעשותו של נחשת, אלא אמר משה הקב"ה קוראו נחש, ואני אעשנו של נחושת, לשון נופל על לשון:

a copper snake: He was not told to make it of copper, but Moses said,"The Holy One, blessed is He, called it a snake (נָחָשׁ), so I will make it of copper, (נְחשֶׁת), one term similar to the other term. — [Mid. Gen. Rabbah 19:31:8]

The Maharal uses a very well established idea found throughout his writings and the writings of others, like Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. The reason Moshe felt it was appropriate to make the snake out of copper was because of the similarities of the words
נָחָשׁ (snake) and נְחשֶׁת (copper). The Maharal explains that the essence of an object is described by its name in lashon hakodesh (Hebrew). Therefore, since these two words are spelled so similarly they are connected on a very deep level. An example of this is the word הב (give) and the word אהבה (love). These two words are interconnected in the following way, אהבה has at its core the word הב because love is really expressed by the fact that the person that loves someone wants to give the person that is the object of their love everything. This is a big idea found throughout the Maharal, words that are similar are related on a deep level.

This idea, as mentioned previously, is also found throughout the writings of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. He points out that the root
נחשׁ can represent several things: Foretell, using hidden tricks, snake, metal chain, copper and bottom. So what can we learn from these different meanings of the root נחשׁ, what was Moshe trying to teach us by using a copper snake?

I think that Moshe was trying to add his own message to this cure that G-D was handing over to the Jewish people. Moshe was telling the Jewish people that they should use the experience from the desert to foretell what was to come in the future. When the Jews challenge G-D and do not have faith in Him then that leads them to plague and death. The snake was on a tall poll in the sight of everyone showing them that there is no hidden trick here and that this cure is straight from G-D. Ultimately, if one did not look up to the snake and pray to G-D for salvation they would end up at the bottom, a bad place.

G-D commanded Moshe to make a snake for everyone to look up and realize that G-D is behind the plague. They then would realize that they must pray to G-D and the would know He is in charge of everything. However, Moshe added the copper aspect of the snake to teach the Jewish people that not only must we realize that this plague is from G-D and that we must learn a lesson from this situation, also we must see that it is not a trick and if you fail to realize these things then you will not succeed in anything. Let us never forget this message that Moshe sent to the Jewish people and hopefully we will all be successful.

Another explanation that I just realized, thanks to the commentors D and Anon, can go like this:

The terms
נחשׁ (snake) and נְחשֶׁת (copper) are interconnected in the following manner. נחשׁ means snake, however, it is also used to refer to the evil inclination (Bava Basra 16a and many other places). Therefore, copper was used as the remedy for the evil inclination because of its ability to tame and overcome the evil inclination. Where do we see this? Rashi (Shemos 38:8):

from the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions: Heb. בְּמַרְאֹתהַצֹבְאֹת Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Mishkan, but Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts]. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5). This is [the meaning of] what is בְּמַרְאֹתהַצֹבְאֹת [lit., the mirrors of those who set up legions]. From these [the mirrors], the washstand was made, because its purpose was to make peace between a man and his wife. [How so?] By giving a drink from the water that was in it [the washstand] to [a woman] whose husband had warned her [not to stay in private with a certain man] and she secluded herself [with him anyway. The water would test her and either destroy her or prove her innocence. See Num. 5:11-31]. You should know that they were actually mirrors, because it is said: “The copper of the waving was seventy talents… From that he made…” (Exod. 38:29, 30), but the washstand and its base were not mentioned there [among the things produced from the seventy talents. Thus,] you have learned that the copper of the washstand was not of the copper of the waving. So did Rabbi Tanchuma expound [on the matter] (Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 9; Num. Rabbah 9:14). And so did Onkelos render: בְּמֶחְזְיַתנְשַׁיָא [“the mirrors of the women”], which is the Aramaic translation of מַרְאוֹת, mirrors in French. So we find in Isaiah (3:23) וְהַגִּלְיֹנִים (sic), which we render: וּמַחְזְיָתָא, and the mirrors.

So we see that the women used COPPER mirrors to channel the evil inclination to be used for something good. Therefore, Moshe was telling Bnei Yisroel that we need to channel the evil inclination, represented by snakes, into something good, represented by the copper. Thereby we can see the connection between נחשׁ and נְחשֶׁת. The נחשׁ (evil inclination) can be used to create something very good נְחשֶׁת (representing good deeds) if we channel it in the correct way.

Does Jewish Mother=Jewish Child? Not According to Everyone!

Everyone "knows" that you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish. That is what we are always told. However, in the Gemorah in Kiddushin on 75b there is an argument among the Rishonim (Rabbis from 1000-1500 approximately) if this is true. Some of the Rishonim actually present the opinion that you are not Jewish if your father is a gentile and your mother is a Jew. Let us take a look at this now.

First, we must understand two opinions in the Gemorah, These are the opinions of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehoshua. On 70a it says:

Now he [the Tanna of our Mishnah]holds that if a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is a mamzer. That is well on the view that the child is a mamzer; but on the view that it is legitimate[kasher].....

Rabbi Akiva is the opinion that holds the child is a mamzer (child born from an illicit relationship) and can not marry a regular Jew. This is seen in several places, but just to show a source here is Rabbi Akiva's statement on 75b:

R. Akiba, who said: If a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is a mamzer.

So, what is the reason that a child born from this relationship, a non-Jew or slave with a Jewess, is a mamzer according to Rabbi Akiva? This is because of the Mishna in Yevamos 49a:

WHO IS DEEMED TO BE A MAMZER (a child born from an illicit relationship)? [THE OFFSPRING OF A UNION WITH]ANY CONSANGUINEOUS RELATIVE WITH WHOM COHABITATION IS FORBIDDEN (aka that leads to any punishment not just death or the soul being cut off);THIS IS THE RULING OF R. AKIBA.

Therefore, if a non-Jew cohabits with a Jewess, that is a forbidden relationship and the child is a mamzer. However, Rabbi Yehoshua says in the same Mishna that only a relationship that leads to the death penalty, like a Jew sleeping with a married Jewish woman that is not his wife, is the child a mamzer. These are the two opinions that matter for our case.

Now, let us read the Gemorah inside on 75a-75b in Kiddushin:

It was taught: And thus did R. Eleazar say: A male Samaritan may not marry a female Samaritan. What is the reason? — Said R. Joseph: He, the male Samaritan, was treated as a proselyte after ten generations. For it was taught: A proselyte, until ten generations, may marry a mamzereth (Female born from an illicit relationship); thereafter he is forbidden [to marry] a mamzereth. Others state: [He is permitted] until the name of Gentile has completely fallen away from him.

Said Abaye to him: How is this comparable! There, the case that a proselyte can marry a female mamzereth, it is a proselyte of ancient [stock] and a recent mamzereth, so it will be said: He is an Israelite marrying a mamzereth (
which is not allowed), whereas here they are both alike (they are both Samaritans and thus have the same status and should be able to marry one another)?

— But when R. Dimi came, he said: R. Eleazar agrees with R. Ishmael, and R. Ishmael agrees with R. Akiba. [Thus:] R. Eleazar agrees with R. Ishmael, who maintained: Samaritans are proselytes [through fear] of lions (
meaning their status as proselytes are questionable). And R. Ishmael agrees with R. Akiba, who said: If a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is mamzer. (Therefore, Samaritans can not marry one another because they are safeik mamzers, aka we don't know if they are mamzers, kosher Jews, or non-Jews. If one is a kosher Jew and the other is a mamzer or non-Jew then that marriage is not allowed, therefore we do not allow the union.)

This seems like a good answer as to why Rebbe Elazar says Samaritans can not marry one another. However, Tosfos asks a question on this that is shocking. Tosofs says on Kiddushin 75b (DH Virebbe Yishmael):

Why do we need to say that Rebbe Elazar is holding like Rebbe Akiva that a non-Jew or a slave that has relations with a Jewess then the child is a mamzer? [Rebbe Elazar] can hold that in that situation the child is kosher [like Rebbe Yehoshua] and the problem is that we do not want a Jewess marrying a non-Jew. Why do we need the problem to be that we don;t want her to marry a non-Jew AND the child would be a mamzer (Isn't one problem enough)?

Tosfos answers:

Perhaps we can answer and say that if [Rebbe Elazar] holds the child is kosher then he also has to hold that the child takes the status of the non-Jew, THE FATHER, and this is like that which we said before on 67b, the rules of who the child follows, and we don't have to worry about a Jewess marrying a non-Jew [because the child is kosher]. Therefore, he holds the child is a mamzer and thereby the child's status is being determined through the mother and we are also now concerned that the woman should not marry a non-Jew (Basically, you can't have the problem of the woman marrying the non-Jew without having the problem of the child being a mamzer).

Before we take a step back and realize how amazing this idea is there is some clarification that is needed. Some of you might have noticed that this idea does not make sense. How could the child be KOSHER if he is going after the status of the father, the father is a NON-JEW? That would make the child a non-Jew not someone who is kosher.

The Maharsha commenting on this Tosfos (75b Virebbe Yishmael) answers this question by bringing in a Piskei Tosfos that clarifies Tosfos' meaning. When Tosfos says that the child is kosher, he means that the child is a kosher non-Jew. If the child wants to convert to Judaism he will not be a mamzer. The Maharsha goes on to explain Tosfos as not holding like this as a second option and leaves Rashi (who says like Tosfos) as a Tzarich Iyun (needs looking into), but Rav Elyashiv in his Ha'aros on 75b tells us that Rashi and Tosfos do, in fact, hold that the child would be a non-Jew (that the child follows the father's status).

So we see here it was not always so simple to say that if your mother was/is Jewish then you are a Jew. However, the way most opinions hold is that we go after the status of the mother in an illicit relationship. This would include, according to most opinions, a Jewess with a non-Jew as well. I just wanted to show that there are opinions out there that do argue. I thought is was fascinating because we always think it is a simple matter and, in truth, it is complicated and based on Gemorah, Rishonim and Achronim. All of which are part of Torah Shebaal Peh.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Happened Between Bas (Bat) Sheva And King David

While learning Tractate Kesubos (Ketuboth) 9a-b I came across an interesting insight into the Dovid Hamelech-Bas Sheva incident. I will not get into the technicalities of the Gemorah, but I will just focus on the ideas brought forward that are relevant to the story.

The Gemorah has two opinions as to why Dovid Hamelech was allowed to marry Bas Sheva after he had relations with her. This is a question because the Gemorah tells us that once a woman has relations with another man while she is married (aka she cheats on her husband) she can't go back and have relations with her husband or the man she cheated on her husband with. Therefore, the question is how could Dovid have married Bas Sheva after Uriah (Bas Sheva's husband) passed away?

The Gemorah gives two answers: 1) She was raped and this rule (That the wife can no longer have relations with her husband or the one she cheated on her husband with) only applies when both parties are willing conspirators and 2) Every warrior in Dovid's army divorced their wives before going to battle (This is in order to avoid a problem of agunah). Therefore, either Dovid was allowed to marry her because she was raped and thereby the rule of her being forbidden to the one that she cheated on her husband with does not apply (because both parties must be willing) or she was divorced and Dovid had relations with an unmarried woman.

Normally, most people only quote the second answer as the reason why Dovid was allowed to marry Bas Sheva. In fact, the way we rule is that the first instance, rape alone, would not cause her to be permitted (that was just a thought that ended up being ruled out). Therefore, what must have happened is that Uriah wrote a divorce document for Bas Sheva before the war and Dovid had relations with an unmarried woman.

The question we must now focus on is does the second answer of the Gemorah preclude the fact that Dovid forced Bas Sheva to have relations with him, or is it that Dovid did force her, like the first answer suggests, but it also had to be that she had a document of divorce since that is the only way they would have been able to get married later on?

Unfortunately, based on the pesukim, it seems like the latter possibility, that Dovid forced Bas Sheva, is the true understanding. Let us now look at the pesukim with commentary. It says in Samuel II 11:4:

ד וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד מַלְאָכִים וַיִּקָּחֶהָ, וַתָּבוֹא אֵלָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב עִמָּהּ, וְהִיא מִתְקַדֶּשֶׁת, מִטֻּמְאָתָהּ; וַתָּשָׁב, אֶל-בֵּיתָהּ.

4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness; and she returned unto her house.

The Daas Mikra on this pasuk tells us what happened, "וַיִּקָּחֶהָ - [This refers to] Dovid [taking her] against her will. This language is like the language of the Torah by Sara (Avraham's wife). In Breishis 20:2 it says:

ב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל-שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ, אֲחֹתִי הִוא; וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ גְּרָר, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שָׂרָה.

2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife: 'She is my sister.' And Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

[So we see from this that וַיִּקַּח means to take against her will]."

It seems like, even according to the latter opinion in the Gemorah (That Bas Sheva was divorced and therefore not married), Dovid forced Bas Sheva (an unmarried woman) to have relations with him. Therefore, once Bas Sheva found out that Uriah had died and she mourned for seven days Dovid brought her into his house. This was Dovid following the Torah's command when a man forces an unmarried woman to have relations (Devarim 22:28-29):

כח כִּי-יִמְצָא אִישׁ, נַעֲרָ בְתוּלָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אֹרָשָׂה, וּתְפָשָׂהּ, וְשָׁכַב עִמָּהּ; וְנִמְצָאוּ.

28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

כט וְנָתַן הָאִישׁ הַשֹּׁכֵב עִמָּהּ, לַאֲבִי הַנַּעֲרָ--חֲמִשִּׁים כָּסֶף; וְלוֹ-תִהְיֶה לְאִשָּׁה, תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר עִנָּהּ--לֹא-יוּכַל שַׁלְּחָהּ, כָּל-יָמָיו.

29 then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.

(Although this pasuk refers to a virgin and Bas Sheva might not have been a virgin, the Torah Temima on Devarim 22:28 says that this only means the 50 shekalim are not given, but everything else applies. However, the Rosh on Kesubos Perek 3 Simin 8 says that even the 50 shekalim are required, but they are given to the woman that is not a virgin instead of her father. Irregardless, everyone holds that even by a non-virgin that is not married the man is required to marry her if she so chooses.)

However, the second time that Dovid brought Bas Sheva in to his house was not by force, it was her choice. As the end of the chapter (Shmuel II 11:27) tells us:

כז וַיַּעֲבֹר הָאֵבֶל, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד וַיַּאַסְפָהּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ, בֵּן; וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה דָוִד, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה.

27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and gathered her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

וַיַּאַסְפָהּ (gathered her) means, according to the Metzudas Dovid on this verse, that she came by her own will and was not forced by Dovid. That is why it uses the word gathered as opposed to took here.

(As a side point this teaches us something about the verse in Devarim that tells us if a girl, who is not married, is raped she marries her attacker. It does not mean she HAS to marry the one who forced himself upon her, but if she chooses to marry him then HE can never divorce her.)

So what are we supposed to take away from this story? It is not exactly a flattering story and it seems like it hurts people's faith in Judaism more than it encourages them. So what is the point of this story where a great man of Israel commits such a heinous crime?

I believe the lesson can be seen in the subsequent chapter (ibid 12) to the Bas Sheva Incident. There it says (ibid 12:9-13):

ט מַדּוּעַ בָּזִיתָ אֶת-דְּבַר יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע בעינו (בְּעֵינַי), אֵת אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי הִכִּיתָ בַחֶרֶב, וְאֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ לָקַחְתָּ לְּךָ לְאִשָּׁה; וְאֹתוֹ הָרַגְתָּ, בְּחֶרֶב בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.

9 Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the LORD, to do that which is evil in My sight? Uriah the Hittite thou hast smitten with the sword, and his wife thou hast taken to be thy wife, and him thou hast slain with the sword of the children of Ammon.

י וְעַתָּה, לֹא-תָסוּר חֶרֶב מִבֵּיתְךָ--עַד-עוֹלָם: עֵקֶב, כִּי בְזִתָנִי, וַתִּקַּח אֶת-אֵשֶׁת אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי, לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה.

10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou hast despised Me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.

יא כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, הִנְנִי מֵקִים עָלֶיךָ רָעָה מִבֵּיתֶךָ, וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶת-נָשֶׁיךָ לְעֵינֶיךָ, וְנָתַתִּי לְרֵעֶיךָ; וְשָׁכַב עִם-נָשֶׁיךָ, לְעֵינֵי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ הַזֹּאת.

11 Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

יב כִּי אַתָּה, עָשִׂיתָ בַסָּתֶר; וַאֲנִי, אֶעֱשֶׂה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, נֶגֶד כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.

12 For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

יג וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-נָתָן, חָטָאתִי לַיהוָה; {ס} וַיֹּאמֶר נָתָן אֶל-דָּוִד, גַּם-יְהוָה הֶעֱבִיר חַטָּאתְךָ--לֹא תָמוּת.

13 And David said unto Nathan: 'I have sinned against the LORD.' {S} And Nathan said unto David: 'The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

Dovid, after receiving such a harsh rebuke, immediately admits to the sin that he tried to cover up. No excuses, unlike Saul, only the simple truth. Dovid realized that G-D knows all, but he sinned because he was overcome by desire. However, unlike so many other kings, Dovid did not make excuses for his behavior or try and weasel his way out of the facts, rather he admitted his faults and took the punishment that he deserved. This punishment was also immediately reduced because of Dovid's attitude, obedience and subservience to G-D combined with truth and a will to do the right thing. In the end, Dovid did Teshuva (repentance) and that is all G-D asks.

This is the lesson that we can learn from the Dovid-Bas Sheva incident: Man sins, however, man's reaction to the sin matters much more and tells what type of person that man is. Does he have a good soul and admit his mistake and try to correct the wrong, or does he enhance the sin by denying his faults and go deeper down the rabbit hole? G-D only wants us to try our best, be honest and faithful. That is all we are capable of and that is all G-D expects from us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Giving Meaning to the Red Heifer

In this week's parsha, Chukas (Chukat), we have the mysterious commandment of the Parah Aduma (Red Heifer). This is what makes the name of the Parsha, Chukas, so appropriate. A Chok is a commandment that we do not know the reason for and is, in fact, something that the true reason is unknowable. This is why Rashi tells us on the second pasuk of this week's parsha (Bamidbar 19:2):

זאת חקת התורה: לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה:

This is the statute of the Torah: Because Satan (The Yetzer Hora: Etan's addition) and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]

Even though we are told that the commandment of the Para Aduma (Red heifer) can not be challenged based on human logic, that does not mean we can't learn valuable ideas from it. In fact, some of the most fundamental ideas found in Judaism can be understood through a proper dissection of the Para Aduma commandment. So, let's dissect the commandment (Bamidbar 19:2):

ב. זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הֹוָ־ה לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא
עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל:

2. This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid.

The question here is why should it be a Red Heifer that is perfect in it's redness(As Rashi tells us on this pasuk), it should have no physical blemishes and it should never have done any physical labor? I think that these details and their proper understanding can help us relate and give meaning to the commandment of the Red Heifer.

First, let's understand how the commandment of the Red Heifer works. As stated in Bamidbar 19, the ashes of the Red Heifer are combined with water and are used when a person comes in contact with a dead body. This person that comes in contact with a dead body becomes impure and needs to be sprinkled with the ashes of the Para Aduma in order to become ritually pure again. So the idea we should think about is, "How is a Para Aduma connected to a dead person?"

First, let us deal with the Hebrew word Para (פָרָה). Para here means cow, however, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch tells us that words that are spelled the same, although they have different meanings, have similar concepts behind them. The word Para can also mean to flourish or produce progeny. How interesting that something that symbolizes proliferation and life would be used to purify someone that became impure through death.

Next, we have the words Aduma Temimah (אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה) from the word Adam. Here it means perfectly red, however, the word Aduma can mean healthy or, as the first man was named, it can refer to man. However, it must be perfectly red because if it has two black hairs then it can no longer be called a Para Aduma because it is noticeably no longer a Red Heifer. Thus, we have the proliferating or healthy man found in the words of Para Aduma, according to Rav Hirsch.

The requirement that there be no Mum (מוּם) is for all korbanos. However, here we can take special notice of it because this is, indeed, not a korban. The Para Aduma is used to make water that will endow another with spiritual purity. Therefore, the Para itself must represent a state of being that the person wants to reach, no blemishes.

The last phrase in this pasuk tells us a great deal about this commandment. The phrase "upon which no yoke was laid" (אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל) hints to us the spiritual power of this commandment. What is the significance of the fact that this cow has never been put to work? For this, we have an excellent Maharal in Tiferes Yisroel in chapter one. He tells us:

"At the end of Tractate Kiddushin (82B) it says: 'We learned in a Braisa, Rebbe Shimon the son of Rebbe Elazar said, 'In all my days I never saw a deer that dried figs in the field, a lion that transported packages, or a fox that was a shopkeeper, rather these animals all get their livelihood without aggravation. However, these animals were only created to serve me (man), and I was created to serve G-D. So, just like these animals were created to serve me and have a livelihood without aggravation so too I, who am created to serve G-D, how much more so that I should have a livelihood without aggravation. Alas, I have made my actions disgusting and deprived myself of my livelihood for it says in Jeremiah (5:25) {Your sins have overturned these.}' This is the end of the Gemorah in Kiddushin. Behold, the Gemorah is explaining that the actions and work that man does for his livelihood are not because of man's greatness, rather these actions are because of his lack of perfection."

The Maharal uses the Gemorah in Kiddushin to teach us a very valuable lesson, man has to work because of his fall from grace. Working is due to a lack of perfection and holiness in a man. Therefore, we can understand that a Red Heifer that works has lost this spiritual and symbolic perfection. This is why a Red Heifer can not have ever had a yolk on its back, because this is a spiritual impurity. The Red Heifer must symbolize spiritual purity in order to purify a person who has come in contact with a dead person.

Now we can put all the pieces together and understand the meaning of the Red Heifer, at least on some level. So the "perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid" represents a proliferating or healthy man that has no spiritual blemishes and receives his sustenance without work. This represents what man was supposed to be before the sin of Adam eating the forbidden fruit! Thus, the point of the Red Heifer is to help us focus on what man was originally supposed to accomplish. What was that? The Maharal tells us that this is nothing other than the commandments from G-D. Originally, man was not supposed to die or work, rather man was supposed to follow G-D's commandments and everything else would be taken care of. However, once man "made his ways disgusting" as the Gemorah says, G-D made man work and die because man was unable to handle the responsibility of no death and no work. As the saying goes, "Idle hands do the devils work" and no hands are more idle than those who do not die or work.

However, what does this have to do with Bnei Yisroel? Why do they have to be constantly reminded that the only reason they had to come in contact with a dead person was because of Adam's sin? For this we turn to Rav Kook. He says (Kook, Midbar HaShur on Noach):

"At Mount Sinai, Israel reached the level of Adam before the Sin. Humanity would once again have enjoyed immortality, were it not for the subsequent sin of the Golden Calf (Talmud Bavli Avodah Zara 5a)."

This is why Bnei Yisroel must always be reminded of Adam's sin, because it was their's as well! Had they not sinned then we would again be living indefinitely. There would be no spiritual impurity from the dead. However, the Para Aduma is there as a reminder that we must constantly be watching ourselves and not give into sin. The disgusting actions that we perform like greed, lust, etc... must be curbed by our love and fear of G-D.

This enigmatic commandment can have great meaning to us if we concentrate on what it represents. Man was supposed to live forever and walk in the ways of G-D. By using the Para Aduma we are reminded that this IS still our ultimate goal, but the ease at which it was supposed to be attained has been altered. This was because of misdeeds and sin. Hopefully, we will all have the strength to overcome our base desires and focus on the idea of the Para Aduma, Man is supposed to live and follow in G-D's ways. However, the most important thing to realize about this commandment is that it applies to everyone. Every single person experiences death. There is not a single person that has not experienced death in some shape or form. Therefore, this commandment also teaches us that everyone is on the same level. No one has a pass. No matter how "great" you are, how rich you are, how many people listen to your words, you are just as responsible as everyone else. There is no pointing to someone else, everyone needs to be purified by the waters of the Para Aduma.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Being Happy With What You Have

In this week's parsha, Korach, there is a very unique type of language that is used. In Bamidbar Chapter 16:1 it says:

א וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן.

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took;

The question here is who took, what did they take, and what does taking refer to? There are many different understandings of what vayikach (take) means found throughout the commentators. I will focus on Rashi and Ramban.

Rashi says on the above verse:

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם. דבר אחר ויקח קרח משך ראשי סנהדראות שבהם בדברים, כמו שנאמר (במדבר כ, כה) קח את אהרן, (הושע יד, ג) קחו עמכם דברים:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2). Another explanation: He attracted the heads of the Sanhedrin among them with amicable words. Similarly, “Take Aaron [with words]” (20:25); “Take words with you” (Hosea 14:3) (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1). - [Num. Rabbah 18:2]

Rashi here is explaining that Korach is the one that separated himself from the rest of Israel and was followed by Dasan, Avirum and Oen. This has to be the case because only Korach was able to challenge Aharon for the Kehuna (priesthood) and this is why they separated themselves from the congregation of Israel. Also, if we go according to the second explanation of Rashi the vayikach only goes on Korach because it was through his compelling arguments that the heads of the Sanhedrin followed his rebellion.

I think there is a problem with Rashi's understanding for one main reason, the verse seems to be using the word vayikach (took) to be speaking about all the people in the verse (Korach, Dasan, Aviram and Oen) and not just Korach. The main reason I believe this is because of the vav in front of Dasan, Aviram and Oen. If the vayikach only went on Korach then, I think, there should be no vav. For example, when the Torah says in Bamidbar 1:17 יז וַיִּקַּח משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֵת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמוֹת it means that Moshe AND Aharon both "took" because there is a vav. Therefore, I am more partial to the explanation of Ramban which allows us to view the word vayikach as going on all the parties mentioned in the first verse and not just korach.

The Ramban says on this first pasuk:

"The meaning of the Midrash referring to vayikach korach is that he took counsel with his heart (his inner self) to do what it told him, for 'taking' is used as advice and thought. In the same way, ma yikachecha libecha, what thought did your heart bring you that you should think in secret 'there is no judgement and no judge' (Vayikra Rabba, 28:1) and not reveal that thought..... And Onkelos who translated "he separated himself" was presenting the general meaning as he often does, but not the literal wording. Thus he translated al devar korach (Num., 17:14) (lit. 'about the matter of Korach') as 'about the dispute of Korach' and bidvar bilaam (Num., 31:16) (lit. 'in the matter of Bilaam') as 'in the advice of Bilaam' for he gives the general meaning in his translation (and does not thereby contradict the way the Midrash understands the meaning of the word vayikach)." (translation found here)

Then Ramban tells us exactly why Korach, Dasan and Aviram's hearts took them to oppose Moshe. He says, also on the first verse:

"Korach was angered by the appointment of Elitzafan as leader [over the Levite family of Kehat] as our Sages say, and he envied Aharon, too, as it says, '… and you seek priesthood, as well.' Datan and Aviram were attracted to him, but not [in protest] over the privileges of the firstborn, for it was Yaakov their patriarch who removed it from Reuven and granted it to Yosef. Rather, they, too, explicitly state their claim: 'to kill us in the wilderness'; 'You have not even brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey.'" (Translation found here)

(The reason Oen is not mentioned here in the Ramban is because he was only part of the initial complaint, but as I point out here Oen backed down from his challenge of Moshe.)

The explanation of the Ramban seems to tell us that Korach, Dasan, Aviram and Oen all had complaints against Moshe, they had different reasons, but they all had contempt in their hearts for Moshe. This allows us to use the word Vayikach to explain how all of them "took" counsel from their hearts. This counsel led them to challenge Moshe's leadership.

I think there is a very valuable lesson that we can learn from this verse as explained by the Ramban. The Torah is teaching us a lesson in human character. People are going to be upset if they feel they are wronged. Korach thought he was passed over for some type of honor that he deserved. Dasan and Aviram thought that they were lied to about entering Israel. These complaints showed one main character flaw in these men, haughtiness. Each one of these rebels believed they were entitled to something that they were not. Korach thought he was entitled to the priesthood and Dasan and Aviram thought they were entitled to enter the land of Israel. Why did they believe these things? They were arrogant! Moshe did not even get to enter the land of Israel!

The Torah is telling this story to show how detrimental arrogance can be and how destructive this character trait can be. The MAIN point about this story is highlighted by the word vayikach. Vayikach is telling us that these people were overcome by their inner selfish desires. We can not afford to give in to our base desires like Korach, Dasan and Aviram. We need to focus and work on improving ourselves so that we are not jealous of what others have or that we do not have this sense of entitlement. In a world where everything comes from G-D, everything should be viewed as a gift and not something that is owed. This was the fatal mistake of Korach, Dasan and Aviram, they felt that they were owed that which they did not deserve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Can Anyone Think It is Against the Torah to Have the Modern State of Israel

I have been wondering this question for a very long time. How on earth can any Jew claim it is against the Torah for the Jews to have the modern State of Israel? It baffles me, so I went to look up some sources. The main literature for the contenders to the legitimacy of having a Jewish state is found in Tractate Kesubos (or Ketuboth). So, let's have a look, shall we.

In Kesubos (111a) it says:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, [that ye awaken not, nor stir up love (for the land of Israel), until it please]'.(Song of Songs 2:7) And R. Zera? — That (This verse in Song of Songs) implies that Israel shall not go up [all together as if surrounded] by a wall. (Rashi: Unified and with force, aka an army to conquer the land) And Rab Judah? — Another 'I adjure you' (Song of Songs 3:5) is written in Scripture (To teach that you can not come to Israel Unified with force). And R. Zera? — That text is required for [an exposition] like that of R. Jose son of R. Hanina who said: 'What was the purpose of those three adjurations? (The 2 just mentioned from the Song of Songs and a third in Song of Songs 5:8) — One, that Israel shall not go up [all together as if surrounded] by a wall (aka conquer the land with an army); the second, that whereby the Holy One, blessed be He, adjured Israel that they shall not rebel against the nations of the world; and the third is that whereby the Holy One, blessed be He, adjured the idolaters that they shall not oppress Israel too much'.

(Translation found at with my additions for clarity)

This is the text in the Gemorah that some like to use to say that Jews are not allowed to have the modern State of Israel. They go so far to say that having it is a sin. However, let us look at the sources that explain this Gemorah and I think we will be shocked at how ill conceived this challenge to the State of Israel really is.

First, let us understand how the State of Israel was founded, the UN general assembly gave the Jews land in Israel and said make a state. That is what happened. There was a vote that said the Jews get land for a state in Israel. If you do not want to take my word for it you can see the entire UN resolution here, UN resolution 181.

Now that we have established that the UN gave the land to the Jews in Israel and told them to make a state the question arises: Did this violate the idea of conquering Israel with an army? Thankfully, the Maharsha answers this question with little uncertainty. He says:

"This Gemorah is saying that we can not go up to Israel united with a strong force and build the walls of Jerusalem. By Nechemiah (Who did go up to Jerusalem and built the walls) we see that he had the permission of the Persian King."

Very interesting, so according to the Maharasha it is ok for the Jews to go up to Jerusalem with a united and strong force as long as they have the permission of the King. So, if Nechemia was able to rebuild Jerusalem and go up to Israel with a strong force after the destruction of the first temple and the only reason he did not violate the command from G-D that our Gemorah talks about was because he had the kings permission, how is he different from the modern state of Israel? Did the modern State conquer the land or were they given the land by the UN general assembly?

That is just exhibit A.

(Let me just say this. In the 9th century CE there was a kingdom called Khazaria which converted to Judaism. One of the kings there talked about sending an army to conquer Jerusalem. Apparently, THAT would have been a violation of the command from G-D.)

Next, I wanted to bring up something from the Rambam. In Rambam Shoftim: Laws of Kings and Wars: 11:3 he says:

ואל יעלה על דעתך שהמלך המשיח צריך לעשות אותות ומופתים ומחדש דברים בעולם או מחיה מתים וכיוצא בדברים אלו. אין הדבר כך. שהרי רבי עקיבא חכם גדול מחכמי משנה היה. והוא היה נושא כליו של בן כוזיבא המלך. והוא היה אומר עליו שהוא המלך המשיח. ודימה הוא וכל חכמי דורו שהוא המלך המשיח. עד שנהרג בעונות. כיון שנהרג נודע להם שאינו. ולא שאלו ממנו חכמים לא אות ולא מופת.

"Do not think that the King Moshiach needs to perform miracles and wonders and create new things in the world or revive the dead and things like this. This is not so. For behold, Rabbi Akiva was a great wise sage of the Mishna and he carried the vessels of Ben Koziba the King. He (Rabbi Akiva) would say that Ben Koziba was the Moshiach. Rabbi Akiva, along with all the other wise men of his generation, believed Ben Koziba to be the Moshiach until he (Ben Koziba) was killed because of his sins. Once he was killed then they knew he was not the Moshiach. The wise men never asked from Ben Koziba a sign or a miracle."

Rabbi Akiva, along with the rest of the wise men of his generation believed Ben Koziba to be the Moshiach. However, Ben Koziba had an army that conquered Israel and held it for 2 and a half years. All the while they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. This is known from archeological evidence and from history sources as well as Jewish sources. So, if a strong and united force is not allowed to conquer Israel, how was Ben Koziba allowed to do it according to all of the wise men of Rabbi Akiva's generation?

That is exhibit B.

Unfortunately, with my limited knowledge, I am only able to bring one more Iron clad proof that disproves the people that say the State of Israel is against the Torah. However, it is probably the most convincing argument for anyone that believes in Judaism and the Tanach.

If anyone who is reading this looks in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 they will be very confused and befuddled with the opinion that there can be no Jewish state until G-D gives it to us.

In Ezekiel 38 it discusses the war of the King Gog and his nation of Magog against the Jews in Israel. In Ezekiel 38:8-9 it says:

8 After many days thou shalt be mustered for service, in the latter years thou shalt come against the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples, against the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste; but it is brought forth out of the peoples, and they dwell safely all of them.

9 And thou shalt ascend, thou shalt come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many peoples with thee.

(The prophecy speaks about a war between the armies of Gog the king of Magog and the Jews that live in Israel. )

The compelling evidence continues with Ezekiel 38:14

14 Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say unto Gog: Thus saith the Lord GOD: In that day when My people Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it?

15 And thou shalt come from thy place out of the uttermost parts of the north, thou, and many peoples with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company and a mighty army;

16 and thou shalt come up against My people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the end of days, and I will bring thee against My land, that the nations may know Me, when I shall be sanctified through thee, O Gog, before their eyes.

(Read it yourself here)

The idea continues with even stronger words that reveal a nation in Israel. Ezekiel 39:1-10

1 And thou, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal;

2 and I will turn thee about and lead thee on, and will cause thee to come up from the uttermost parts of the north; and I will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel;

3 and I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand.

4 Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the peoples that are with thee; I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort and to the beasts of the field, to be devoured.

5 Thou shalt fall upon the open field; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.

6 And I will send a fire on Magog, and on them that dwell safely in the isles; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

7 And My holy name will I make known in the midst of My people Israel; neither will I suffer My holy name to be profaned any more; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.

8 Behold, it cometh, and it shall be done, saith the Lord GOD; This is the day whereof I have spoken.

9 And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall make fires of the weapons and use them as fuel, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the hand-staves, and the spears, and they shall make fires of them seven years;

10 so that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests, for they shall make fires of the weapons; and they shall spoil those that spoiled them, and rob those that robbed them, saith the Lord GOD.

If one thinks that the war of Gog, king of Magog happens after G-D already gathered in the exiles then they will be saddened to learn what the next part of chapter 39 says to disprove this belief. Ezekiel 39:25-29

25 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: Now will I bring back the captivity of Jacob, and have compassion upon the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name.

And they shall bear their shame, and all their breach of faith which they have committed against Me, when they shall dwell safely in their land, and none shall make them afraid;

when I have brought them back from the peoples, and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations.

And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, in that I caused them to go into captivity among the nations, and have gathered them unto their own land; and I will leave none of them any more there;

neither will I hide My face any more from them; for I have poured out My spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.'

So we see from here that there will be Jews dwelling safely in the land of Israel before Gog, King of Magog attacks us and after he is defeated then G-D will gather in the exiles from around the world to Israel. Sounds like there has to be a nation of Jews in Israel to be attacked by Gog and his armies before any in gathering of exiles can occur.

If anyone wants to add their ideas or sources to this let me know. Any questions are arguments feel free.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rambam- Yisodei Hatorah perek 5 halacha 3- Anti-Jewish Decrees and Sacrificing One's Life

וכל הדברים האלו שלא בשעת הגזרה אבל בשעת הגזרה והוא שיעמוד מלך רשע כנבוכדנצר וחביריו ויגזור גזרה על ישראל לבטל דתם או מצוה מן המצות. יהרג ואל יעבור אפילו על אחת משאר מצות בין נאנס בתוך עשרה בין נאנס בינו לבין עובדי כוכבים :

All of these cases are when there is no decree [against the Jews]. However, in a time where there is a decree, when an evil king is in charge like Nevuchadnezzar and his friends and they make a decree against the Jews in order to negate their religion or one of the commandments, then one must give up their life instead of transgressing even one of the regular commandments, whether they are forced to transgress in front of 10 Jewish people or the sin is only between the Jew and the non-Jew [that is forcing them to transgress].

The question here is what is a Jew doing wrong when a Jew is forced to transgress one of the commandments in the Torah? Is it a chilul Hashem (disgrace of the name)? It seems like, from the previous halachas in the Rambam, that this idea (of chilul Hashem) only applies in front of 10 Jews. What, then, is a Jew doing that is so severe that it is better that he or she give up their life rather than transgress one of the regular commandments, not even one of the three special commandments?

I think the answer lies in why the three big sins of illicit relations, murder and idol worship also require one to give up their life even when there are not ten Jews around. The effect that it has on a person is tremendous. When a person is living in a society where being a Jew is looked down upon and then they are forced to transgress a commandment in the Torah, this effects a person on a deep level. The person sees him or herself as part of something that is despicable to others. On top of that, when they transgress, they think that there is no harm in this transgression. Nothing happened to me so why should I continue to be a part of this nation that is oppressed? This mentality would lead to the downfall of Judaism. Therefore, in order to protect the religion and perpetuate it throughout eternity we need these laws and show that we will never surrender to these evil temptations.

In truth, if one were to transgress one of the commandments in this time, there would be no punishment for it. This rule was set in place in order to allow people to choose death over the transgression of the commandments. Usually a Jew is not allowed to sacrifice his or her life for anything. However, this rule was made in order that devoted people could stand up and show that they are proud to be Jewish and that even the most, seemingly, mundane commandment is dear to them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Free Will and G-D's Guidance

This week's Parsha is quite incredible. G-D tells us to send spies to the land and scout it out with Leaders of the tribes, supposedly great men. Then, when they fail and bring the rest of Bnei Yisroel to sin G-D tells Moshe, "I am going to wipe them out and just start all over with you." We were only saved because Moshe prayed for us, had anyone else been the leader we would have surely perished. However, if we take a closer look at this debacle we will be able to understand a much deeper lesson than that of the mistakes of our ancestores.

In Bamidbar (13:2) it says:

ב. שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם:
2. "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst."

I know that almost everyone has been told that Shelach Licha (send for yourself) means that when Bnei Yisroel heard they were going into Israel they asked G-D if they could send people first before entering the land. However, I think this reveals an amazing gift from G-D to man. The gift: free will to do what we please. Think about it, G-D just performed all of these miracles to bring us out of Egypt and He gave us food and water through clear miracles and the Jewish people still ask Him if they can send people to scout out the land before entering?!?! Are they serious? And if they didn't like the land what were they gonna do? Nonetheless, G-D does not force anything upon man so He allowed them to scout out the land before entering it.

However, G-D knows the essence of man, He understands our nature. G-D knew that just letting the Jewish people decide on their own who they were going to send and how they were going to scout out the land would definitely lead to disaster. Therefore, G-D told Moshe, "If you are going to send anyone they must be the most righteous and humble among you." In this way G-D allowed the Jewish people to have their free will, but tried to guide them towards the proper path without hindering their free will.

This can also explain a very perplexing statement made in the very next verse (ibid:3):

ג. וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן עַל פִּי יְ־הֹוָ־ה כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה:
3. So Moses sent them from the desert of Paran by the word of the Lord. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.

In case you missed that, this verse says that Moshe sent out the scouts BY THE WORD OF THE LORD. What??? If it was the word of the Lord why does it say in Devarim (1:22):

כב. וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ דָּבָר אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה בָּהּ וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן:
22. And all of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come."

Also, all the Medrashim and commentators say this as well, that the Jewish people requested that these scouts go. How, then, could Moshe have sent the scouts by the word of G-D?

So, using what was explained above, that G-D gives guidance to man's free will, will help us explain this predicament. G-D allows man to have free choice, but once the Jewish people chose to send people as scouts, He was not allowing just anyone to go and they could not choose any path they wanted. They had to see the best of the land and, as we said before, only the most righteous among them were allowed on this scouting trip. Thereby, G-D gave the Jewish people the best possible chance to succeed. However, it was all for naught. Even these great men and even this path that showed the best that Israel had to offer could not overcome their desires.

The question remains, what was their desire? Well, I will put it this way, they were living in the desert where all of their needs were taken care of by G-D, they did not have to work or do anything for that matter. All of this right after being slaves where the labor was back breaking and when they entered the land they knew that life would go back to normal. People would have to plow their fields and they would have to fight the armies of Canaan. Gosh, why would they WANT to enter Israel? They thought they knew better than G-D. They thought their lives would be better in the desert than in the land of Israel and that is why they did not want to enter. Only once they heard that G-D's wrath would come down upon them and their comfortable lives would be altered did they then desire to go up and enter the land, but at that point it was too late.

Today, we are no better than the Jews of the desert. We are always looking for a way to avoid work. Toil is something that we despise and we are always looking for the easy way out. If I was living in a situation where all of my needs were taken care of and then I was told I had to start working again, I would try my hardest to stay where I was.

The most important thing that, I think, we can take away from this is that although we have free will G-D tries to guide us in the proper direction. He did not just allow the Jews to fall without fighting for them, that is probably why He was so angry with them to the extent that He "wanted" to destroy them. Today, we are guided by G-D through the Torah and mitzvos. They teach us that we must make our decisions with free will, but when we make those choices the Torah is there to guide us on how best to avoid temptations that lead to our downfall. People will look at the Torah as prohibitive, but I see it as an enhancer of life. Does the person who eats 50 steaks and throws up enjoy his steaks more, or does the person who has his steak with wine and spices enjoy it more? True, the person who has only one has less, but as the saying goes "sometimes less is more."