THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
Chazak, Chazak, V'nizchazak
You can also read previous studies on this site.
THIS STUDY IS SPONSORED BY JOINE AND ELAINE GOLDSTEIN OF MONTREAL, CANADA, FRIENDS OF SO MANY JEWISH CAUSES. MAY ALL THOSE WOUNDED IN THE TERRORIST ATTACK ON INNOCENT CIVILIANS IN MACHANE YEHUDA SOON RECOVER. MAY GOD COMFORT ALL OF US FOR THOSE LOST IN THE MASSACRE, ESPECIALLY THEIR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS.
A. THE BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF MATOS
MOSHE SPOKE TO THE TRIBAL HEADS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, TO SAY (to the Jews): "THIS IS WHAT GOD'S ORDERED (you to oversee): WHEN A MAN VOWS A VOW TO GOD, OR SWEARS AN OATH TO FORBID SOMETHING TO HIMSELF-- HE SHALL NOT PROFANE HIS WORD; HE SHALL ACT IN ACCORD WITH ALL THAT LEFT HIS MOUTH (Num. 30:2-3)".
Moshe now teaches the laws of vows, reflecting the sanctity of speech, for the first time. Why now, pure vow?-- Facing imminent death, Moshe's prime concern is that others continue his life's work with Israel-- his major roles, teacher and king, were just assumed by Y'hoshua. But, as Chief Rabbi, he could also annul rash vows; the tribal heads (or Yehoshua?) were now to take over this function (Abarbanel). Last week's reading closed with the laws of pledges of voluntary sacrifices (29:39); such vows must be fulfilled by the 3rd ensuing holiday; we're now told that the vower's "word" is "profaned", should he not do so (Rashbam). Tribal heads are now also told to FORCE the Jews to bring their pledged sacrifices, if necessary (cf. UJA pledges-- see Matti Golan's With Friends Like You-- What Israelis Really Think About American Jews)-- while Israel's leaders must compel all Jews (including themselves) to observe ALL mitzvos, people tend to be especially lax about paying up pledges made during a crisis (Baal Haturim; cf. rash vows). Ibn Ezra denies that the Torah is written in chronological order (as Rashi, vs. Ramban); so he claims that the subsequently reported request of the 2 1/2 tribes to settle in the conquered Transjordanian lands preceded this section in fact; Moshe, at that time, made them vow to lead Israel in battle, and now stresses the importance of keeping such vows. Per Ma'am Loaz, the Torah juxtaposes vows to the preceding Sukkot offerings, to teach that vows are only proper as a means to acquire self-control, e.g. amidst the Sukkot harvest's rejoicing and drinking, liable to engender intoxication, ribaldry, etc. (cf. the harvest in Ruth).
DULY DIVERSE DIVERSIONS
Judaism discourages voluntary commitments, especially impulsive ones, which may not be fulfilled, e.g. conversion-- BETTER YOU NOT VOW, THAN VOW AND NOT PAY (Ecc. 5:3- 4); IF YOU REFRAIN FROM VOWING, THERE WILL BE NO SIN IN YOU (Deut. 23:23). Likewise, impatient zealots, tho they sometimes do great things, aren't to lead Israel-- Pinchas can't be Moshe's successor. Noam Zion, co-author with David Dishon of the fabulous Hartman Institute Family Participation Hagada ($20 postpaid), lectured on The Biblical and Talmudic Tradition of the Zealot: The Intersection of Narrative and Nomos, at the non-denominational (or multi-denominational!) Shalom Hartman Institute's 10th Annual Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar-- scholars, teachers and clergymen, especially rabbis, of all genders and denominations, as well as secular Jews, meet there each summer to study traditional texts and issues, amidst mutual respect and affection; insofar as Israel's creative secular society doesn't feel threatened by them, the government financed an Institute program, where 30 secular high school principals, led by Rav Donniel Hartman, developed comprehensive Judaic curricula for their schools two years ago; they returned, with about 70 teachers, this past year.
But most speakers at the simultaneous Rabbinical Council of America * 1996 convention, Judaism Facing the 21st Century, took the opposite approach-- they denounced the heretical non-Orthodox rabbis, who reject the Divinity and Unity of the Torah, as tho they led the Jews away from Judaism, rather than modern pagan culture; many such rabbis do indeed make innovations which threaten the unity of the Jewish people, e.g. patrilineal descent, mixed and homosexual marriages; many non-halachic "conversions" commit the alleged "convert" to no specific beliefs or practices; the "rabbis" who perform them do not themselves believe that the Torah is from God or take its commandments seriously (see The Condition of Jewish Belief, AJCOM). Rav Rafael Grossman of Memphis, former President of the RCA, feels that he's duty bound to alert innocent Jews to the non-traditional and non-authentic beliefs of such rabbis and temples, should they seek authentic Jewish tradition. He feels that Hartman's friendly affirming approach, tho pleasant and peaceful, effects little change in the traditionally heretical rabbis, while giving them unwarranted credibility; but the RCA's fire-and-brimstone ambiance, while based on truth, lacks peace and compassion; thus it may keep very many revolted and/or revolting Jews, who identify with reform, far away from Orthodoxy and Israel, preventing their possible return.
Several of Rav Dovid Hartman's former classmates, collegues and cohorts expressed regret that he didn't attend the RCA confab last year-- what would have happened had he done so, even if he wasn't his usual strident and outspoken self there? They should invite him to participate and speak there next year, broadening their perspective, sharing his secrets of success, and criticizing his present non-Orthodox views. Hartman identifies himself as an Orthodox rabbi by birth, upbringing and ordination, who directs a non-denominational (or multi-denominational) institute and an Orthodox Boy's High School; tho liberal and open to all, he praises the Orthodox world for doing so much to preserve, teach and spread Torah (and for having lots of children). In teaching non-orthodox rabbis Torah, he's simultaneously reaching all their congregants. The big 1995 RCA conference focused on the lack of Jewish identity in Israel; they even invited Masorati Prof. Eliezer Schveid to share his insights into the Israeli religious scene. But I have not heard of tangible results of their outrage, other than to preach to the already convinced, keep their spirits up, and ignite their holy wrath-- but they did pray mincha publicly, which should be normal procedure at all Torah events. They also give excellent lectures on Judaism to soldiers at the Israel Center, a great contribution to reformatting Israeli society.
I personally feel, as did my teacher, Rav Joseph Soloveichik, that the religious parties are squandering their newly regained power on prohibitory religious legislation; if their true aim is to teach authentic Torah, to spread the light, without making enemies for God and His Torah, they should do the opposite-- let non-observant Jews do whatever they wish, with no legal enforcement of religion, while demanding their fair share of broadcasting time, preferably a separate channel, on Israel's publicly funded #1 educator and shaper of values-- its presently perverse, non-Jewish and cheap, but expensive, TV. If they played it right, countless thousands could be televisioned back toward Judaism; Israelis might even begin to like truly traditional Jews, as in the USA, where, thank God, we have no power (Rav J. Soloveichik).
* The RCA-- may they soon gain as much money as their electronic namesake, whose symbol also heeds "its master's voice". 1997 FOLLOWUP: I attended part of this years confab, which was similar to previous ones; more people knew about it this year due to a good ad in the friday Post. As usual, Rav Moshe Tendler presented first rate Torah learning, while venting his wrath on reform clergy, portraying them, en masse, as a menace and devoid of Judaism. But I didn't have to voice my reservations, after meeting many of them at Hartman's confab, for the following speaker-- articulate, calm and balanced Bobby Brown, the PM's advisor on diaspora Jewry-- put the non-Orthodox movements into balanced perspective; he recognized both their genuine contributions to keeping many Jews Jewish, tho heretically so, and the importance of not turning their congregants off to Israel, often their last tenuous link to their Jewishness. Rav Tendler urged us all to also combat terrible deficiencies in the Orthodox community, such as abandoned wives (agunot), unethical business practices by Orthodox Jews, and yeshiva students who lack a basic moral quality, appreciation, and do nothing for their country and its army; he felt that Yeshiva students should even clean latrines in the army during their vacation; such a change of pace is the valid purpose of a vacation, not "having fun".
Chief Rabbi Lau told inspiring tales of many long assimilated Jews who turned up out of the woodwork and came out of their assimilated closets to hear him speak in way out places, e.g. Cordova, Mexico and Czechoslovakia. He stressed that committees and conferences are no substitute for the everyday task of teaching even the most isolated Jew and starting him on basic religious practices; Rav Dayan spoke on his doing so in postwar Salonika, as did Rav Marx of Romania, Rav Yoskowitz of Poland, and Rav Ben-Asulin of Madrid. Rav Dovid Messas of Paris told the sad tale of his father (Rav Meshash, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, often in France), who dreads the possible appointment of reform members to the Jerusalem Religious Council-- I guess that he has no hope of teaching and influencing them; does he know any reform leaders, or does he just accept their usual demonization by his collegues. Rav Ovadia Yosef blasted out the Yesha Rabbinic Council, equating them with reform, for promoting prayer on the Temple Mount, against Jewish Law, and urged the RCA to join his denunciation; while treating him politely, I assume that they will ignore his abuse of their forum, understanding that these learned rabbis probably rely on opinions of his right wing nationalist Chief Rabbinical opponents, Rav Gorin, z"l, and Rav Eliyahu. As usual, Rav Fred Hollander did a fine job of organizing and coordinating the confab; I hope that I'll finally make their mailing list, after many requests.
BRIEFLY BACK TO MATOS
Per Hirsch, Moshe had just reviewed ALL God's commandments IN DEPTH (the oral law); the law-giving process was now completed-- MOSHE SPOKE TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL ACCORDING TO ALL THAT GOD COMMANDED MOSHE (30:1). Moshe now adds that individuals and communities may also make vows, appropriate additional VOLUNTARY commitments, to better fulfill the law and Israel's priestly destiny (YF: but 6 obligatory laws, regarding manslaughter and murder, aren't given until Ch. 35; several laws are given only later in Deuteronomy! See Sefer Hachinuch, Introduction to Dvarim).
But Avraham ben HaRambam ** forbids embarking on a special voluntary extra-spiritual path, before one complies with all of God's obligatory mitzvos; he considers it "bribing" God (P. 147 in The High Ways of Perfection, the only Feldheim book, to the best of my knowledge, to bear the endorsement of a leading Reform Zionist (which belief is more problematic for them?) orientalist, Richard James Horatio Gottheil, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion, rather than of "g'dolim", and to be guided by Prof. Alexander Marx of JTS-- p. 123f); it's also on a much higher scholarly level than most of their other books; it was translated and annotated between 1927 and 1937 by Rabbi Prof. Samuel Rosenblatt of John Hopkins, supported by his father, famous passionate spiritual singer Yossele Rosenblatt-- interesting how an intensely emotional father may produce an intensely abstract intellectual son, tho Samuel also was a beautiful singer and an orthodox rabbi-professor who, like Hartman, united all elements of the Baltimore Jewish community (Irving Abramowitz). Samuel's grandson is popular Rav Jonathan Rosenblatt of Riverdale, married to Rebbe Prof. Yitzchak Twersky's daughter, Rav Dr. J. Soloveichik's granddaughter.
But once basic compliance with God's law is achieved, Avraham's special path may include an ascetic life, including remaining unmarried-- his models for such, besides post-Sinai Moshe, include Eliyahu and Elisha; others will carry on the human race (p. 22 ibid)! But he urges those who can't transcend sexual impulse to at least minimize their distraction from spirituality by having as few kids as possible-- kids take a lot of money and energy; this Jewishly atypical antipathy and aversion to women and family life continued for many generations in the Rambam's family, beginning with his father, Rav Maimon, who never wanted to marry, and despised both the ignorant little Rambam and his commoner mother, who died giving birth to him, an act which probably accomplished more for Torah than all the learning of scholars of the day (see our Chanuka study); Rambam never even mentions his wife or his mother. The Ramban, a doctor and fellow-ascetic (The Holy Letter, a pean to holy sensuality, was wrongly attributed to him for some time), greatly admired Rav Avraham, who, in turn, greatly admired spiritual Sufis-- he assumed that they were practising lost Jewish temple traditions, and wanted to re-introduce some of their customs, e.g. extensive bowing during prayer, into the synagogues.
** Avraham (1186-1237; some say he died much later; medieval history and chronology are always suspect) was Rambam's only and devoted son (he had some difficult daughters), born when he was 51; he continued in the abstract highly intellectual path of his father, with whom he studied Biblical and Rabbinic texts, as well as philosophy and medicine; in his Introduction to the Agada, printed as a preface to every Ein Yaakov, he propounds his father's belief that we are forbidden to follow the rabbis of yore in technical secular matters, which are not part of Israel's special Torah tradition. Rav Moshe Tendler cites Tos. M.K. 11 for the same proposition, but claims that any scientific knowledge upon which Chazal based halachic decisions was correct, and that such decisions are irreversible, despite scientific progress; he noted that July 1996's latest discovery in human physiology was already known to Chazal. Tendler, as usual, gave a brilliant talk at the RCA confab-- "Genetic Determination and Free Will". He described today's amazing breakthrus in genetics, probably mostly by great non-Jewish intellects (i.e. goyishe kep); how tragic that many Orthodox Jews (yiddishe kep) still, in such an advanced age, have primitive mentalities, focusing on silly magic, e.g. evil eyes and little red strings, bought from women who are obvious failures themselves, rather than entering the wonderful universal Divine world of science and nature. At 18, in 1204, Rav Avraham began to lead the Egyptian Jewish community, after his father's death, and helped bring many Karites back to the fold.
The sanctity and kind positive purpose of speech, man's unique Divine faculty, is the subject of part of last week's kulturkampf between Israel and Midian (cf. Bilaam's vicious tongue)-- Eternal Divine Image Man vs. Transient Pagan Higher Mammal. Per Torah, even one's most physical behavior, shared by other mammals, must express and reflect his eternal Divine essence, his life pursuit. Perverse Peor Playboy "Philosophy" sees man whirling thru life on a merry-go-round, wildly grasping for rings of pleasure and power. In 1989, just after we read of ancient Israel's orgiastic defection, Penthouse announced an Israeli edition! My comment: "May the publishers repent speedily, and use their money and talent to further positive family oriented causes; if not, let's pray they speedily fail!" 1990: So it was-- their business collapsed! (sometimes things do work out as we think they should!). Should we boycott stores selling such trash, e.g. in the T.A. Bus Station area, a disgrace to God and Israel?-- cf. Israel TV. Those who promote and sell such material automatically encourage their own children to adopt cheap values, regardless of what they teach them-- cf. Mei Eden's profane ads and cultural offerings.
So I hope that Jerusalem's non-kosher MacDonald's franchise will quickly become kosher or fail; a worldwide boycott of MacDonald's would help-- major Jewish Organizations and others, tho themselves non-observant, may well identify with many Jerusalem Jews' outrage at this massive non-kosher presence in the heart of the Holy City; Josh Wander initiated petitions to MacDonald's parent company, to no avail. But if the Jerusalem Rabbinate has set unreasonable conditions for MacDonald's to be kosher (cf. their Bernstein Hostel fiasco), they share responsibility for every cheese burger consumed (parve cheese substitutes are available!). So Orthodox groups who insist on halachic marriage for secular Jews are responsible for the resultant halachic adultery and bastardry.
BACK TO BUSINESS
The Jews were almost swept away by pagan orgies; Moshe's about to die. Two great public institutions now remind Israel of external and internal Divine reality-- Hirsch. (1) public sacrifices, powerful symbolic sensory messages, teaching the sanctification of primal drives; (2) binding vows: unique human speech must reflect Man's Divinity-- God created all "reality" with 10 Divine statements (Avot 5:1), corresponding to the Decalogue; so man both finds himself and re-perfects God's creation via his speech.
Moshe first teaches the laws of vows, as all laws, only to the tribal heads, to enhance their authority (Rashi-- vs. Abarbanel above?). Per Ramban, ONLY the leaders were addressed-- God didn't want the people to know that vows could be nullified, until their leaders saw the need for it! (YF: but all should know all laws! Ignorant folk would otherwise fulfill vows, which SHOULD be annulled; perhaps Ramban is also explaining why the laws of vows are only mentioned now, as Israel's about to enter Israel).
THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE GIRLS-- ANOTHER DIVERSION So R. Eliezer, unlike Ben Azzai, forbade teaching women Talmud, lest they discover that their merit can conceal adultery-- Jer. Sota 3:4; see M.T., T.T. 3:13, where Rambam deems most women unfit for Talmud, perhaps a reality in his age of uneducated women-- cf. his urging that they be kept in their homes and that the court may have them beaten if they don't fulfill their household duties; these statements may simply reflect his age, but also likely reflect the loss of his mother, his "abandonment" by woman, at birth-- see Shalshelet Hakabala and A Woman of Valor, Prov. 31:10f: "She opened her mouth with wisdom and a (Beshtian?) Torah of kindness-- not harsh Maimonidian or Brisker Torah-- was on her lips"; women need to learn only the law, not the theory behind it (Sefer Hasidim).
Aruch Hashulchan questioned women's ability to view Torah in an abstract dispassionate Talmudic manner. But Rav Leo Jung z"l said that Rav Eliezer only banned teaching them the above "dangerous" Talmudic passages in Sota (but how can we separate them?). So the Chofetz Chayim OK'ed the Bet Yaakov revolution, teaching women Torah in schools, tho not Talmud (Likutei Halachot Sota 21-- once women learn, should they learn together with men, separately or somewhere in-between?). Rav J. B. Soloveichik gave the first lecture in Stern College's Women's talmud program; his Maimonides School in Boston was coed thru 12th grade, including talmud-- Eve Solomon of the Rova is a fine product. One of the Rov's great pupils, Rav Chayim Brovender, publicly praised 2 outstanding female Torah scholars, Aviva Zorenberg and Tamar Ross; his Midreshet Lindenbaum trains young women in Jewish studies, including Talmud, on a high level; he favors granting degrees recognizing their accomplishments and their ability to teach others, but prefers to leave it to them as to just how they wish to do so. He reserves comment on whether such teachers should be called "rabbis" and on the exact scope of their activities, until specific situations are presented to him. Rav Y. Falk (on Tur, Y.D. 246 :15) encourages serious and intelligent women (many are such today) to study talmud. This especially applies to those who have leisure time from their household and maternal pursuits (isha chashuva-- cf. modern appliances and take-out foods). The late great Lubavitcher Rebbe also encouraged women to learn Talmud.
Others feel that the cold abstract detachment of Talmudic study (as math, physics and philosophy) will cool woman's natural ardor for bonding and kind nurturing, a pillar of the universe; males have only the vestiges of physical and psychological breasts, a message from the audio-visual division of God's curriculum (Stephen Jay Gould attempts to explain the biological function of male nipples in Bully For Brontoaurus: Reflections in Natural History). See "Words on Fire" for a modern feminist reaction to women's Torah study in Jerusalem today. See Prof. George Gilder's brilliant in-depth book, "Sexual Suicide", for a modern Harvard historian's reaction to modern feminism. Prof. Paula Hyman of Yale laughed at the book, rather than responding to it, when I suggested that participants read it to get the unpresented other side, after she gave a feminist address at an allegedly academic conference at HUC; most feminist academic conferences indeed more resemble religious revival meetings, ardently pushing a cause, than the dispassionate search for truth, supposedly the academic endeavor; so arrogant allegedly "scientific" H.U. professors of Bible often resemble crusaders, out to debunk the Bible and deprive it of its inspirational value, as the word of God, rather than being calm objective scholars.
SYNOPSIS CONTINUED: Daddy can NEGATE his 11 to 12 1/2 year old daughter's vows (those made before 11 are void), and a husband his wife's, IF they involve self-denial or mortification, affecting the home atmosphere (Hirsch, Ran: Nedarim 68a, Rosh 79a)-- e.g. she forbids herself Coke and Carvel, and is then impossible to live with! Rambam doesn't so limit daddy (Yad Ned. 12:1, see Ned. 79b). A husband can also SUSPEND those vows affecting their relationship, for its duration. Perhaps Moshe now hoped that God would negate His vow that he not enter Israel-- yet he eagerly obeyed God`s command to take revenge FOR THE JEWS against Midian, tho he was slated to die thereafter; but he ordered the Jews to take revenge FOR GOD against Midian (God and Israel are each concerned over what Midian did to the other). Only 1000 holy soldiers are taken from each tribe, plus 1000 Levite chaplins (Sifre, per Silberman). 600,000 profane Jews, however, were easily "conquered" by Midianite playgirls-- cf. Israel's battles with western culture, polluting what could be holy Israel TV, & its smashing success at Entebbe.
Israel slew all adult Midianite males, including 5 kings, and Bilaam (see San. 106a). Moshe was ANGRY with the officers-- the women, even those who seduced Israel to idolatry, causing 24000 to die, were kept alive; leaders are responsible for such failings, as is a husband who forces his wife to violate unannulled vows (Rashi). Tho there was no specific command to kill the women, it was common sense (a trait often lacking in scholars; see Mosrei Hashla-- cf. E. Berkowitz's Not In Heaven). Israel must now kill every Ms. Midianite who's slept with a man OR was old enough to have known a man (3 up-- Yev. 60b; but Abarbanel implies only those from teenage and up), and all male children. Such women may be irrevocably imbued with idolatrous sensuality. So returnees to Judaism, spiritual explorers, often lack the pure simple faith of those born and raised pious, but may well spot and criticize defects in pious society-- those who study Torah late in life are compared to ink written on smudged paper by rabbi Elisha ben Avuya (Avot 4:25), raised in a pious and learned family; he later became a heretic (cf. Rebbe Akiva); but his holy writings were still preserved (cf. Louis Jacobs, Moshe Greenberg, Nathan of Gaza, etc.). Menachem K. claims that Elisha may only refer to the intellectual quality of the Torah study, not its spiritual depth; but a broad background should aid, not impede, Torah learning, tho it may detract from one's commitment to its teachings (YF).
Midianite boys would grow up to identify with their own people, Israel's enemies, still extant elsewhere; as the stubborn and rebellious son, better that they die innocent than guilty, w/o Jewish victims (cf. the intifada-- can PLO "kids" be converted to Noachism?-- Yoel Schwartz wrote on Noachism in Arabic, French, Spanish, English and German); other Midianites indeed ruled a corrupt Israel for 7 years, until Gideon saved the repentant Jews (Judges 6; per Rav Simon, z"l, of Maimonides School).
So God may only fight the Arabs if Israel walks in His paths; but then even the Arabs may accept our leadership. Women have higher character-- Midianite female infants, not male, are considered redeemable (Hirsch). Moabite men and their descendants lack kindness, the basis of both the Torah and the Universe (see Prov. 31:26, Ps. 89:2-3, Ruth Raba 5:4, Guide II:53); tho converted, they can never marry native-born Jews; but Moabite women (e.g. Ruth, prototype of kindness) can (Deut. 23:4, Lev. Raba 34:8). Are those Jews who are cruel descendants of savage pagan rapists of their holy Jewish ancestresses?
Moshe next teaches laws of purifying captured pagan utensils, tho never used. This mikveh "Conversion" process dedicates them to holy Jewish "eating to live", vs. pagan "living to eat". Moshe forgot the laws of koshering used kitchen equipment; he indeed forgot laws whenever he got angry (Rashi)! So Eliezer taught these laws, which he'd learned from Moshe. Perhaps Moshe's grief that Midianites, created in God's Image, couldn't somehow be "kashered" made him forget how to kasher lowly utensils. After the executions, Moshe's told to divide captives and cattle between the fighters and the other Jews. Little virgin Midianites became Jewish servants or mates (Yev. 60b-- our ancestors?). The fighters had to give 1/500 to Divine purposes, other Jews 1/50 to the Levites. The chiefs-of-staff offered 16,750 shekels of gold before God, in gratitude that they'd lost no one-- when taxes are minimal, those successful may give much more on their own.
GOD BLESS AMERICA-- BUT SHOULD JEWS STILL LIVE THERE? The descendants of Gad and Reuven TOLD Moshe, Eleazer, and the princes that captured Transjordan, God's gift, was a great place for their many cattle-- Moshe didn't respond. They then ASK to stay there, rather than cross the Jordan. Their Jewish communities will occasionally visit Israel, and share their cattle fortunes with the United Jordanian Appeal. Moshe then explodes-- they're renewing the spies' cowardly anti-Zionism; their rejection of the holiest land will engender mass apathy to aliya-- Israel will again have to wander about the desert. Great communities in LA, Lakewood, or Golder's Green become affluent alternatives for Israelis too-- this may postpone the Messiah's coming. North American and Israeli Jewish academics and professionals conducted a high level dialogue in 1996, under the joint auspices and roofs of Ben Gurion University and Hebrew Union College; Leonard Fine, Shoshana Cardin, and other prominent North Americans joined Israeli luminaries, such as Avi Ravitsky and Avraham Burg.
B.G. President, Dr. Avishei Braverman gave an incisive sweeping overview of Israel and the Middle East today; one of the gracious hosts, HUC chancellor Prof. Alfred Gottschalk, tried to defend the recent reform schism of the Jewish people-- they rendered patrilineal descent sufficient for one to be considered Jewish, despite Jewish tradition that only one's mother, created "like His own will or personality, is the sole determinant of your soul essence, your Jewishness. He claimed that the Bible recognized patrilineal descent, stressing the censuses and tribal settlement per fathers' houses; but talmudic rabbis, confronted by so many Roman rapes, changed it!-- now it's time to change back. But his argument doesn't hold water-- there were wars and rapes in Biblical times too; conversely, the rabbis, as the Bible, never even suggested matrilineal descent re public male tribal status, e.g. who's a cohen; if Gottschalk were correct, they'd have to worry that a Roman was high priest! Also, given the high level of adultery today in western civilization (see The Penguin Book of Infidelities), of which reform is so much a part, HUC should share the rabbis concern and once again drop patrilineal descent!!! Those who dance with others' wives, against halacha, are far more likely to sleep with them!
Sociologist Charles Liebman presented the results of AJComm surveys, which showed far far greater Orthodox Jewish identification with Israel and connection to it than that of Conservative and Reform Jews-- if Israel's the beginning of the fulfillment of God's Biblical prophecies, and we deeply mourn our exile from it, it's a lot more important than as a mere center for Jewish culture. So surveys of Jewish families over four generations showed few non-affiliated or reform Jews surviving, and only a few more conservative Jews; but both modern Orthodox and haredi Jews had only 3% intermarriage and more children, leading to net growth, especially of the haredim. The Orthodox groups most stress Jewish education.
I just couldn't put down Matti Golan's With Friends Like You-- What Israelis Really Think About American Jews; a dialogue between an Israeli, "Israel", and an American, "Judah", the book reproduces a debate between the author and Eli Weisel, whom he considers a traitor to the Jewish people-- for settling in the U.S., welcoming yordim there, and avoiding Israel's army and wars, just as Moshe described the Gadites and Reuvenites above. Tho totally non-observant, he decries the reform and conservative attempts to make up new Judaisms, whose ultimate goal is to prepare the way for their total assimilation into American society, including intermarriage, howbeit disguised by meaningless superficial conversions, which entail no obligatory religious practices or beliefs.
Now the Gadites and Reuvenites offer to LEAD Israel in war (cf. young American yuppies giving a few years to Tzahal-- Sarel is wonderful!); afterwards they'll return to their families in Jordan. Moshe agrees (to avoid dispute-- Sporno). These potential Jewish Jordanians (Jordan was Palestine?) don't associate God with the conquest until Moshe sets the example (32:27). Then they only repeat his phrase-- "battle before God" (cf. pre-Begin and pre-Netanyahu Israeli leaders and Hatikvah-- the new improved Hatikvah closes with our true hope for thousands of years, TO BE A HOLY PEOPLE IN OUR LAND; see and spread this message in our bumper sticker). Gad and Reuven are joined by 1/2 of Manasha, whom they NOW invited to strengthen their diaspora community (Ramban and Abarbanel, vs. Josephus, Ant. 4:7:3). Their consolidation of the Jordanian conquest closes our portion. In Joshua 22:9-34 we see later tensions, arising from their non-traditional temples. Jordanian Jewry was later the first to be destroyed, exiled far from the holy land.
C. DIASPORA DEVOTEES
Rav Yehuda Henkin, of Otzar Haposkim and Tzahal Reserves, notes that Moshe dwells upon the anti-zionism of Gad and Reuven's fathers. Everybody makes mistakes and experiences setbacks; a grave sin may not be fatal if not repeated. Movements and trends, seemingly future waves, often turn out to be passing fancies ***. But Israel's new generation exhibited their parents' weakness, hesitancy to make sacrificial aliya-- Moshe concludes lack of Zionism is an integral part of Jewish civilization, almost impossible to eradicate. Woe to Israel if 2 generations, 40 years apart, both refuse to enter Canaan! "And here you've taken the place of your fathers, a CULTURE of sinful people... (32:14)". "Culture", "tarbut"'s root is "rabo", to multiply, reproduce, perpetuate.
Likewise, when generation after generation displays outstanding qualities, they're probably permanent national traits. Israel's devotion to Torah, commandments, and kind good deeds is a 2000 year pattern, unlike its devotion to creating a model Jewish State of Israel and fighting for it. Only 20% at most wanted to leave Egypt (Mechilta Bo 12, San. 111a). Few left Babylonia with Ezra and Nechemia to return and build the Second Commonwealth and Temple. Without persecution, the Jews would never return home (Genesis Raba 33:6). Yehuda Halevi bemoaned Israel's disinclination to leave comfortable exile (Kuzari 2:24). Many today even use religion to justify this, tho it's truly for other reasons, especially economic-- "God's now given us cattle land and we have cattle (32:4)"! Moshe knew that this major Jewish weakness (as Peorian Eilatian sensuality) aroused God's anger (32:10-14). Forefathers' failures must be taught as a warning to their descendants. So Rav A. Y. Kook stressed that one must be especially critical of one's revered teachers, whose mistakes and weaknesses (everybody, even Moshe, has some!) he's so likely to copy!
*** Yiddishists proclaimed that their secular "Jewish" culture would replace Torah-- ironically, only the most insular Haredim preserve Yiddish as a living language today! We see both the gradual degradation and the gradual death of secular Yiddish culture in Ruth Wisse's A Little Love in Big Manhattan, a study of two Yiddish poets, Mani Leib and Moshe Leib Halpern; in contrast, Amos Oz is compelled to confront the stubborn persistence, even the flourishing, of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Yiddish speaking Meah Shearim-Geula enclave, firmly entrenched in his own childhood turf:
"And everyone... expected that the establishment of the State would turn over a brand new leaf. `We have left yesterday behind us/ The path to tomorrow is still ahead', they would sing here in those days. Now 30 or 40 years have passed and we have left tomorrow behind us and yesterday is here upon us, with the smell of plucked chickens, of simmering fishes and tsimmes, with placards, in Yiddish, invoking excommunication and expulsion and curses (e.g. "The voice of outrage is raised over the abominable archeological excavations, which defile the rest and dignity of the departed and would steal their very bones. And for this will the land turn to desert such as was not known even in the days of the Demonic Oppressor, may his name be wiped off the face of the earth, who attacked living Jews. Yet these would attack even the dead in their repose, and so must the People of Israel put on sackcloth and ashes-- burn and strew garbage too?). Diaspora, with glass jars of cucumbers pickled in parsley and garlic on every window sill (YF: what in the world does equally obsessive Oz have against good homemade food? Does he prefer modern Israeli plastic jars?), with pale flesh, stooped shoulders. Diaspora, in the liturgy, in the jokes, in the sermons, self-satisfied. Diaspora, with all of its symbols and refinements. `Eternally unchanged... forever stagnant' (Bialik-- from In the Land of Israel, p. 19).
In the absorbing sophisticated Young Israel Viewpoint (Spring 1995), Alexandra J. Wall describes today's revival of Yiddish language and literature in U.S. culture and academic institutions, especially in translation. Aaron Lansky of the National Yiddish Book Center sums up his lifework: "I'm under no illusion that Yiddish will once again become a spoken language among Jews-- I'm not trying to revive the past, just to make it more accessible". But Sulitzer Rebbetzin Schifra Rubin disagrees in "Elevate Yourself to Speak Yiddish"; she makes a passionate appeal to restore Yiddish, a language of kedusha (!!), as the lingua-franca of today's Orthodox Jewry (!!!), viewing it as a religious duty (!!!!). She blames Satan for the incursion of English, an alien tongue, into American Yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools (!!!!!); as a less desirable alternative, she recommends speaking and writing a corrupt English, using Hebrew characters, in the tradition of Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic-- thus Jews will remain apart from our English speaking hosts (!!!!!!-- does this article reflect a turn to the right, a little less light, in Y.I., as suggested by one of its local rabbis?
Menachem K. claims that some of our ancestors used Hebrew characters for their corrupt German and Spanish only because they never learned to write in local scripts; the greatest German Torah scholars wouldn't dream of using Yiddish, spoken or written+; the late sorely missed Lubavitcher Rebbe's mom was able to speak Hebrew, but stopped doing so for a while when her son Leibel became a Zionist, then a supporter of Trotsky-- see our Balak study).
But the rebbetzin's romantic nostalgic Viewpoint article ignores several salient religious facts and factors (cf. Rebbetzin Jungreis' claim at The Israel Center that we don't have to worry about war with the arabs-- just trust in God!): 1) today's wonderful religious reality-- the revival of the only truly holy tongue, Hebrew, together with the beginning of our redemption. Rambam (who never spoke Yiddish!) was probably a much greater Torah scholar than any of East Europe's Yiddish speaking "gdolim"; his example of a "light mitzva", which may not be taken lightly (Avot 2:1, cf. 4:2) is-- to speak Hebrew. 2) only Hebrew can unite all Jews-- sephardic tradition is just as valid as ashkenazic. 3) Understanding Torah always took precedence over language-- the Talmud and Targumim are written in Aramaic, the Rambam in Arabic, Hirsch in German; my own teachers, Rav A. H. Leibowitz and Rav J. Soloveichik, both taught in English. East European Jews, especially the Orthodox, often retain, and even perpetuate, the insularity and narrowness of their non-Jewish environment.
True, we unfortunately have many Hebrew-speaking pagans, e.g. Oz, Canaanite Kaniuk, and Yehoshua, in modern Israel, but the rebbetzin ignores the similar profanation of Yiddish in 2nd Ave. theatres, popular newspapers, etc., and writers such as the brothers Singer. Her claim that "with the close of the 20th Century, more and more Jewish grandfathers and grandmothers cannot even understand their own grandchildren" is incredible-- not only do the vast majority of today's grandparents themselves speak English, but many of those who founded Y.I. have PhD's! (tho some of their grandchildren may abandon sophisticated modern life for misguided attempts to replicate a 19th Century Eastern Europe, a product of their own imaginations, aided and abetted by religious leaders who are experts at thought control and manipulation). What's basically an appeal to preserve medieval German lacks appeal; indeed, we find the greatest interest in our Yiddish music and films among German tourists, who can understand them better than most American Jews!
The logical conclusion of the rebbetzin's Viewpoint viewpoint, indeed, is that yiddish itself should have never arisen, abandoning whatever language was previously spoken by Jews; so outmoded East European "religious" clothing was itself newfangled hundreds of years ago, when previous styles were discarded. Many Yiddish-like languages have come and gone (see exhibits at the Diaspora Museum), but only the Holy Tongue of Creation and Torah is eternal and truly Jewish. May the rebbetzin and all her Viewpoint readers soon make aliya and join in the revival of God's own language, people and land.
I wonder if the Viewpoint's extensive kashrut supplement, featuring only the KOF-K group, is a joint effort to supplant the O-U in this realm. The organizations are similar, tho YI has halachicly stricter critera for synagogue affiliation; but the Kof-K seems overly stringent in banning cosmetics, paper plates, Play Doh, etc. on Pessach-- Rav J. Soloveichik noted that only chometz which is edible, tho made from edible chometz, is forbidden; KOF-K's VIEWPOINT article also ignores the bitul bashishim (ignoring of less than 1/60 admixed) of chometz, BEFORE Pesach.
NCYI's dynamic President Chaim Kaminetsky (also a proud patron of Ira Heller) in "Working at Working Together" advocates retaining existing separate Orthodox organizations, while coordinating their work via modern electronic media. A fine example is Viewpoint's printing Phil Chernofsky of NCSY's appreciation of NCYI's weekly Divrei Torah on E-Mail. Besides A-1 Divrei Torah from Rabbis Macy Gordon, Jeffrey Bienenfeld and Doniel Frank, the Viewpoint has many interesting and informative articles on political, moral and synagogue issues. I look forward to future issues!
D. A 2% INCOME TAX
The Torah levies a .2 to 2% religious tax on war spoil (cf. today's taxes and Shmuel's threat that the king will take 10%-- IS8:15). Apparently, God respects one's rights to his earnings; the opposite view, Israeli socialism, abets Jews' tendency to reject the challenge of Israel. Politicians are hardly saints; citizens resent their control of a huge % of national income, often used inefficiently and for questionable purposes (e.g. party funding, Beit Beryl and Shas). Ridiculous life-stifling regulations make yerida tempting-- why punish someone with a huge penalty just because he buys a car, especially if it has a 2001 cc engine, instead of 2000? Many politicians get theirs at government expense. Incentive to work and invest are destroyed by cumbersome bureaucracy and huge taxes. Why should a $300 US VCR cost $600-$800 in Israel? A Socialist mentality views normal modern living (for the masses) as wild luxury. High taxation is as counterproductive as rabbinic fulmination against heretics. The net effect of both is to drive people away; mild taxation of more and more-motivated earners may bring in more $$ than high sums squeezed out of a smaller dwindling resentful populace (see Israel's Dilemma, E. Sohar, and T'shuva, a tale of Arizona aliya, by Carolyn Keiler Paul).
E. TRUTH, CONSEQUENCES, AND A LITTLE WHITE OMISSION
THE SEAL OF THE HOLY ONE BLESSED BE HE IS TRUTH (Shab. 55a). GOD THE LORD IS TRUTH (Jer. 10:10). YOUR TORAH IS TRUTH (Ps. 119:142). "The Rabbis fully endorsed the Biblical demand for man uncompromisingly to honor his word... `Let thy yea be yea, and thy nay be nay. He who changes his word commits as heavy a sin as he who worships idols; he who utters an untruth is excluded from the Divine Presence'" (Hertz Chumash P. 730-- cf. politics and the deception by, and of, Yaakov). Yet not all that should be thought should be uttered, and not all that should be uttered should be printed. "A person should always admit to truth and proclaim the truth IN HIS HEART (Siddur)"-- but OMIT truth when someone's feelings may be hurt; God skips Sarah's mention of Avraham's aging, in repeating her words to him (Gen.18:12-13), tho no truncated account is 100% true.
As did Yaakov's sons, one may even MAKE UP a story to avoid fighting; they told Yosef that Yaakov had commanded him to forgive them (Gen. 50:16f); we know of no such command, tho Yaakov WOULD HAVE SAID IT. God commands such conduct-- Rav Natan, 1S16:2. Peace may represent higher truths, unity and love, transcending "truths" of detail in a world of illusion. God's Creation, via utterances, is "very good"-- our words must not only result in truth, but also in goodness, benefit; even true slander is forbidden. The talmud permits lying to deny one's great scholarship, in answer to ?? on one's intimate life, and to discourage others from taking advantage of a generous host (B.M. 23b-24a). Male sages may annul vows, if no one else is affected-- misapprehensions may have originally engendered the vow. The famous public annulment, Kol Nidre, starts our Yom Kippur liturgy. It was originally instituted to negate vows forced upon Jews by Islam and Christianity; they killed Jews who denied that God changed His mind. Hirsch and others opposed its perpetuation (see Tradition In An Age of Reform, Noah Rosenblum), but Hertz advocated its retention as a reminder of our persecution, of which we needn't be ashamed.
Even harmless lies are forbidden (M'norat Hamaor-- see Jer. 9:4); a God-aware man will keep even a promise made only in his heart-- AND SPEAKS THE TRUTH IN HIS HEART (Ps. 15:2). One mustn't claim credit for what he hasn't done; a heathen also may not be mislead (II 2:2). Faith entails the obligation to love truth, from which it stems; unfailing truth makes one's prayers heard and brings him close to God, i.e. "life in the world to come" (Ps. 145:18). Israel is that nation most inclined to follow Torah, called truth (Prov. 23:23). A redeemed Israel will exemplify truth-- THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL SHALL NOT DO INIQUITY NOR SPEAK LIES; NEITHER SHALL A DECEITFUL TONGUE BE FOUND IN THEIR MOUTH (Zech. 3:13, cf. 8:16; Kad Hakemach).
The search for truth is the essence of talmudic process. Medieval scholars insisted on reconciling reason and revelation. Prophets refused to ascribe to God traits which they did not experience (Yoma 69b; L. Jacobs, What Does Judaism Say About...?). Ariel Fogelman asked if a child who doesn't want to learn should pray to learn?. YF: "He should pray to want to learn!". But does he really want to want? Lack of truth and peace caused the respective destructions of the 2 Temples-- Torah, the only source of ultimate truth, was missing from the first Temple society; for peace and harmony with their neighbors (tourism?), Jews adopted perverse idolatry-- their slogan was: "peace! peace!, at any price"; men of truth were considered troublemakers (cf. Peres, Hebron). Children slipping away from Torah, amidst the bad influence of their friends and relatives, are ignored in the name of peace. Do we so ignore our personal and monetary interests? False prophets identify their compromise truth with the ancient truth. Peace must not preclude war against falsity (cf. inter- and intra-faith relations).
The 2nd Temple period had much Torah truth, but lacked peace-- everyone harbored groundless hatred for his fellow (cf. Bnei Brak elections). Scholars even fought to be chief rabbi. "Torah Truth" concealed pursuit of power and prestige. The corruption of human nature leads to alienation from mother nature. The Jew mourns and fasts for 3 weeks amidst summer beauty-- for the loss of political freedom (17 Tamuz) and the destruction of our spiritual center (9 Av). One day these fasts will be turned to summer rejoicing, nature again in harmony with man-- when the Jews will LOVE both truth and peace (Zech. 8:19); only then can Temple III arise and remain (Hirsch). Rav Dovid Hartman felt that Tisha B'Av 1967 was also a time to rejoice.
There's no exact formula for balancing truth and peace; Moshe stressed truth and Aharon peace-- Aharon would lie to enemies that each missed the other and was sorry for their fight (perhaps all humans, at least all Jews, love and feel part of each other at some unconscious primal level); this would bring them back together (ARN2 48-- the Bible tells little openly about Aharon, other than his being a prophet and coherent speaker; he's called "holy of God" in Ps. 106). But his tremendous desire for peace almost destroyed Israel with the Golden calf. One may disregard his parent's or teacher's request to join his hatred of his enemy; so we needn't ruin our chances for peace and friendship with civilized non-Jews today, just because of East European rabbis, who despised those rotten gentiles who tortured and persecuted East European Jews (Rav D. Hartman).
CHASSIDIC TRUTH: Pure truth doesn't exist in this world. One may be very far from falsehood, but no one's altogether truthful (Kossover). FROM A FALSE WORD, YOU WILL BE FAR (Ex. 23:7)-- i.e. from God, who despises falsehood (Sassover); Everything in the world can be imitated except truth. Truth that's imitated isn't (ultimate) truth (Kotzker-- find your own unique approach to God and Torah; don't just ape parents and teachers). See our Mishpatim study, F.
F. HE SHALL RULE HER?
Last week, some rights were given to women-- Tzalafchad's 5 Michlalah cum laude spinster daughters inherit IN LIEU OF SONS. Why don't women also negate their mates' bothersome vows? Is her husband simply "in charge of" his wife, as the father is of his young daughter? Rav Soloveichik, z"l, believed in full development of human potential, female too. To avoid this conclusion, he notes that this law of vows is a CHOK-- a mysterious Divine law which is impossible (one view in Rashi) or very difficult (Hirsch) to understand; M-F relationships may not be generalized from it. In any event, the power is minor. She can still act as she vowed and constantly repeat the vow! Eli Sagan (Freud, Women & Morality) claims that full female rights are a sine qua non for a moral world-- its morality will be based on the loving mother-infant dyad, rather than on anti-female Freud's fearsome superego, derived from male castration fears and Oedipal resolution (cf. Hassidut and Mussar). Rav David Hartman sees no reason to discriminate against women in any realm, including the rabbinate; his only concern is that all rabbis, regardless of sex or beliefs, be steeped in Torah, and willing and able to transmit it to their flocks. Both Rav C. Brovender and Rav S. Riskin have voiced similar sentiments, but in a less bold and outspoken fashion.
Torah may give the husband this veto as leader of household ritual, e.g. kiddush. He needs many formal public structures to reach God. Woman, however, is created "like His own Will", naturally holy. Vows may be unnatural to her. The male is the independent builder of his house-- his own vows are subject to scrutiny by his peers (but only if he so desires-- YF). His wife enters his house and makes it a spiritual home, permeated by her Divine spirit (Hirsch); her husband and sons then radiate rare sanctity in the gates of public activity (Hirsch on Ashet Chayil, Prov. 31:10ff). Anything which would kill that spirit can be negated by the husband, rather than a court.
This ritual authority at home, plus learning and public prayer in holy male "clubs"-- synagogues and yeshivas-- produced a higher male, preserved our "fathers' houses". So the Jewish people builds its beautiful tents of family and Torah. The 2 types of vows subject to a husband's approval affect 2 wifely duties-- to appear pleasant in appearance and manner, and to maintain intimate relations (R. Bachye). Rav S. Riskin feels that a husband has reciprocal obligations, so this explanation of his unilateral power is difficult. His power may just be simplified legal procedure-- if a woman vows, without considering her husband's adverse reaction, the court would certainly annul it; we save a lot of bother by having him do so directly (Rav G. Fleer; see Ned. 79b ff. But does she so desire?). A vow against a legal duty, e.g. of a kollel husband not to support his wife or of a wife not to spin, wash his hands and feet, or serve him (see Rambam, M.T. 21:1,3), is automatically void.
G. TO POSSESS OR BE POSSESSED
Gad and Reuven are exemplars of acquisitive possession-oriented man. Insensitivity to the primacy of holiness in humans leads to insensitivity to the primacy of humans. The 2 tribes finally agree to lead the other Jews' battles, but they put the security of their cattle before that of their children (32:16). Moshe gently hints (no yelling or condemnation-- a gentle voice turns away wrath) at their distortion of priorities, by reversing the order in his response (32:24); they take the hint, now even including their wives (32:26)! Moshe's humble combination of concerned gentleness and firmness is a model of "social criticism". So Rav D. Hartman affirmed objective halacha as the criterion of authentic Judaism, as opposed to however Jews choose to live as Jews; he treated Prof. A. Green with respect and friendship, while rejecting his opposing position (see The Shalom Hartman Institute's symposium on social criticism on video at TOP). Egotistic, insecure, and "cattle oriented" Dallas types have difficult intimate relationships. They vainly seek perpetuity and security in material conquest and building-- Novach of Menasha closes Matos by placing his name upon his conquered Amorite territory (32:42-- cf. impressive buildings today). THE NAME WAS LATER CHANGED! (Rashi; cf. alleged quick name changes of Israeli forests, back when there were more donors than projects!). The whole content of a noble life, thru great DEEDS of spiritual and moral faithfulness to duty, is the true Jewish link to eternity (Hirsch).
H. THE HAFTARA of Matos is Jeremiah 1
It's read with Pinchas, when Matos & Masay are combined. Jeremiah reluctantly actualizes his birth-destiny to be the mocked and despised prophet of imminent doom and destruction of idolatrous Judah and Jerusalem. God assures Israel, however, that He loves them-- their punishment's only to purify them for their ETERNAL MISSION (vs. Christian and Islamic views that God changed His mind!). Those who afflict them will eventually be destroyed.
A. THE BACKGROUND, & AN OVERVIEW, OF MASAY
THESE ARE THE JOURNEYS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, WHO WENT OUT OF EGYPT BY THEIR UNITS, BY THE HAND OF MOSHE AND AHARON (33:1).
The last few portions showed the state of the new generation's nation. They had the potential to be a model holy nation in Israel. Poised and confident, they were ready to conquer Canaan. They may have even felt superior to their fathers, who tragically blew their mission, filled with fear by the spies. The sons, however, were still tainted by unconquered and unsanctified passion and materialism-- ready victims of Ms. Midian and amber waves of Jordanian grain. They must now learn from both their fathers' greatness and their failure. The higher Exodus generation could have permanently conquered Canaan-- without firing a shot. Masay puts the 40 year trek in perspective; its terse list of all 42 stations and events will be explored, in depth and detail, in Dvarim. So we review our fallen state during the 3 weeks of mourning; this is a prelude to deeper introspection in Elul, self conquest on Yom Kippur, and return to God and Israel on Sukkot, the pilgrimage festival (Rav JBS).
On a broader level, the wandering Jew lives a basic human truth-- man's a stranger, quickly passing thru a desert toward the promised land; he's between 2 states of eternity-- before birth and after death. Every place the Jew rests is but a way station on the path to renewed contact with Divinity. So Avraham addresses the Hittites, as he prepares to bury Sara: I'M A STRANGER AND A SETTLER WITH YOU (Gen. 23:4). Yaakov tells Esav: I'VE BEEN A STRANGER (,THO) WITH LAVAN (Gen. 32:5). A wealthy tourist visited the Chofetz Chaim's poorly furnished home and asked where he kept his furniture? The sage replied: "Where's yours?". The puzzled tourist exclaimed: "But I'm just here on a visit!". The rabbi retorted: "Me too!".
This brief review of Jewish journeys teaches that each event, no matter how bad, gradually helps bring universal redemption, howbeit, sometimes, via a detour (Rav A. Kook). The 42 place names describe Jewish actions-- they don't appear elsewhere (Abarbanel). Each stop in their journey is a site of God's kindness, miracles, and salvations (Akadat Yitzchak). The Torah must list all the place names-- he who chances upon a place where a miracle was performed for Israel must bless God there (Tosefet Y'shanim). One's forbidden to return to Egypt by THAT Exodusian route, which must therefore be clearly deliniated (R. Y. Natanson).
42 stops and 7 returns in this space dimension correspond to 49 stages in ascending from the 49 levels of degradation in Egypt (Sfas Emes; cf. 49 days, counted from Pesach to Shavuot, in the time dimension). Our portion's a metaphor for the lifelong journey of a limited and narrow bound soul toward spiritual breadth and freedom. Egypt literally means narrow or binding places; Israel's described as a broadening land. It is a very slow and difficult road; each stage reached becomes a departure point for one still higher (The Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l). As Yaakov, Moshe reviews the Jewish past; following God in the barren desert entitled the Jews to the land of Israel (Sfas Emes). May stumbling thru our diaspora desert exile today yield equal merit.
B. A SYNOPSIS OF MASAY
The Jewish itinerary from Egypt to Moav Plains is tersely recounted. God warns the Jews, poised to conquer the land in Moav West Plains, that they must destroy (or be destroyed by) perverse idolatrous Canaanite culture (so Midianite floozies percipitated a plague among the Jews). Contemporary secular Israel, unfortunately, has an odd obsessive preoccupation with digging up, restoring, and displaying off-color relics of our decadent enemies, e.g. the Aphrodite exhibit at the Israel Museum. They may thus sublimate a basic drive-- the search for one's roots and a link to historical eternity. Those who ignore the challenge of true Zionism, to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me" (Ex. 19:6), become instead just another small Levantine outpost of western civilization. True Zionism is about 4000, not 100, years old.
The land was divided by lottery into 12 = portions, then adjusted to the size of each tribe (Vilna Gaon; some say smaller size was compensated for by greater resources). If the Jews won't drive out non-repentant idolators, they'll be influenced by their animalistic life-styles and driven from the land. Israel mysteriously only tolerates Jews whose State is based on Divinity, primarily manifested by a harmonious society. Those non-observant Jews who treat each other with kindness, peace, and love may have a more "religious" society than those ritually ultra-observant Jews, whose focus is internecine warfare. The borders of Israel, affecting many laws connected with the Land, are delineated, including most of Lebanon, approaching Damascus (A. Kaplan). All the Mediterranean islands (Rashi) and prominatories (Tar. Yonaton) are included-- see the messianic borders of Ezekial 47:20. Eleazer and Y'hoshua divide the land, assisted by princes, appointed for each tribe.
The tribes must provide, proportionate to their size, 48 Levite cities; 6 are cities of refuge for negligent manslaughterers-- compassionate holy Levites cure their spirits there; 3 are added in Messianic times. Each city must be surrounded by 1000 cubits of clear land; an additional round or square area of 1-2000 cubits shall be fields and vineyards (1 opinion-- see Sot. 27b, Yad. Shmitah 13:2, Chinuch 342, 408; Eruv. 49b, 51a). The 3 realms may not be interchanged. When the Jews return to Israel, "we'll fulfill this positive precept at once-- soon in our days, Amen!" (Sefer HaChinuch); most hold that future allocation of land to a 13th "tribe" (B.B. 122a) is for King Messiah, not Levites (M.T. Kings 4:8, vs. SM"G Neg. 276).
3 of the 6 cities were in the 9 1/2 tribes, who got their land, in Israel proper, via lottery; the other 3 were in the territory of the other 2 1/2 tribes, in Transjordan-- careless homicide was common there, a likely result of their insensitive unconcerned "cattle-first" personality syndrome-- cf. driving habits of owners of sex-symbol autos; some say Transjordanian Jews were more into taking revenge upon negligent manslaughterers.
Perhaps the proportionally higher number of such cities in Jordan was due only to the great distances to reach them, in sparsely settled cattle country. All murderers, even intentional, were sent to these cities before standing trial. Two witnesses, warning, and stated defiance are prerequisites to execution of a murderer, unless social order dictates otherwise. The family avenger may kill a negligent killer if he leaves the city of refuge-- the levite city is to protect him while reshaping his flawed personality, a cause and result of the incident; he's kept from regular society until the high priest dies. No ransom is taken for any killer, and the Temple is no refuge. Tzelafchad's daughters married within their own tribe, as ordered by Moshe, after complaints by the tribal elders that their land would leave the tribe; they too had to raise the problem to get a halachic remedy from Moshe. THESE ARE THE COMMANDMENTS AND THE JUDGMENTS WHICH GOD COMMANDED VIA MOSHE TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, IN MOAV PLAINS BY THE JORDAN NEAR JERICHO.
C. MAN AS DIVINE AVENGER
Rav Henkin asks how the Torah could sanction killing of a killer by the family avenger (cf. zealous killing of sinners in Mishna San. 81-2). True, Man's a Divine Image-- anyone killing him deserves to die; but the killer's a Divine Image too!-- "He who sheds man's blood, his own blood shall be shed by man, for He made man in the Divine Image"-- Gen. 9:6 . We might translate: "we may kill a murderer because we ourselves are made in the image of the Divine Judge (elokim)"-- God lets man act in His stead; just as He takes life, so may man-- under certain circumstances-- resolve issues of life and death. God, Whom we emulate, isn't just kind and merciful, but also great and powerful (M.T. Daot 1:6). God balances the legitimate demands of Tzlafchad's daughters and those of their tribe-- so must we balance the imperative to preserve all life with the necessity to punish the guilty. Rav Tarfon & Rebbe Akiva asserted that there would never be a death sentence, were they members of the Sanhedrin; R. Shimon b. Gamliel responds that they'd raise the murder rate in Israel (Mak. 1:10)! "Anyone merciful in a situation calling for cruelty will wind up cruel in a situation that calls for mercy (Ecc. Raba 7:16)". After Count Dracula impaled many wrongdoers, a valuable gold cup was safely left unguarded for 20 years! When stealing hands get cut off in Saudia, people leave their doors unlocked and no one dies or gets wounded in robberies. Deporting every Arab kid who throws a stone with vicious intent may end stone throwing. This controversy remains unresolved.
D. THE HAFTORA is JEREMIA 2:4-28, 3:4
Ungrateful Israel leaves God, Who's made them His unique people, for meaningless substitutes (e.g. "culture"); they defile the holy model land of Israel. Priests and Torah scholars lacked the spirit of God, while punctiliously following all details of the law; their dead knowledge couldn't open minds and hearts to God (M. Hirsch, also taught by the Besht & Rav Kook-- even great mystics, gurus, can be evil). Israel's secular leadership and prophets were also alienated from God. In bad times, Judah will realize the inefficacy of its God-substitutes, e.g. western culture and AIDS. BEHOLD FROM THEN ON YOU'LL CALL TO ME-- "MY FATHER, YOU'RE THE GUIDE OF MY YOUTH". (Jer. 3:4)
With God's help (and, hopefully, approval), we've completed our 13th or 14th trek thru Bamidbar's desert, Tamuz, 5757.