MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “The Language of G-d”

“THE NINE DAYS”

This Sunday evening, July 11, is Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the tragic month of Av.  It marks the second phase of the three weeks of intensified mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av.  During those nine days, we avoid consumption of meat and wine (with the exception of “Mitzvah Meals” such as Shabbos, Bris celebrations, and a few others) Like a mourner during Shiva, (R”L) we avoid bathing as much as possible.

We are supposed to feel the pain of the destruction of the Temples and all of the suffering our People have endured while waiting for the Final Redemption and the building of the Third, the permanent Temple in Jerusalem.

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“The Language of G-d”

Wouldn’t it be great to dialogue with G-d?  We could talk to Him and He would respond.  We’d be able to hear, from G-d Himself, the answer to all our questions.

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Aaron the Priest ascended Mount Hor in accordance with G-d’s command and died there…  (Numbers, 33:38)

“…in accordance with G-d’s command…” Our Sages make a very surprising comment on this event.   “G-d said to Moses, ‘Do Me a favor, and tell Aaron that he’s going to die, because I am embarrassed to tell him.”

This statement obviously requires explanation.  What could cause G-d to refer to Himself as “embarrassed”, and how would that embarrassment be prevented through Moses’ intercession?

Rabbi Elazar Shach explained this by pointing out the difference between Moses’ powers of prophecy as compared with those of other prophets.  As G-d Himself told Aaron and Miriam:

“…If there are prophets among you… I speak with him in a dream.  Not so is My servant Moses…”  (Ibid, 12:6-7)

The Talmud explains that Moses received a clear, illuminating revelation from G-d, rather than a dream or a vision, which was not as clear.  Rabbi Shach attributes this prophetic clarity of Moses to the fact that since he personally received the Torah, he had a much more clear understanding of G-d’s words.

G-d’s so-called “embarrassment”, explains Rabbi Shach, was due to the fact that since Aaron’s death was a punishment for an apparently minor transgression, Aaron would not fully understand why he was being punished.  He would not have a clear understanding of the full import of his “sin.”  Since his powers of prophecy were not as great as those of his younger brother, he would not fully comprehend the subtleties of the prophecy from G-d.  As a result, G-d’s judgment would not be fully understood.  Therefore, He was “embarrassed.”

By speaking with Moses, who had an illuminated understanding of G-d’s words, G-d insured that the message would be communicated in a manner which Aaron would fully appreciate.

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In other words, what we see here is that in order to appreciate prophecy, one must be fluent in the language of G-d.  That fluency is attained in one way, and one way only – through receiving the Torah.  Moses, as the receiver and transmitter of Torah from G-d to Israel was the one who best understood what G-d had to say.  Only he was capable of “translating” the message to Aaron.  Had Aaron received the prophecy himself, as great a prophet as he was, he would not have been able to fully comprehend it.

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I received a call the other day from a fellow who had come across one of my Torah Talk articles on the Web.  He congratulated me on my wisdom (?) and my sense of humor. (??????!!!!!)  He wanted to discuss an interpretation of the Torah he had come up with.

This gentleman proceeded to point out several questions on various passages in the Torah, which led him toward his conclusion.  I responded that a number of his questions were addressed by the Talmud, and I shared those answers with him.  In turn, he replied that there are always lots of opinions in the Talmud.  On that basis, he went back to his personal analysis of the text, implying that his answers are at least as valid as those of the Talmud.

I write to you every week, offering my humble interpretations of Torah, Talmud and Commentaries.  While I will sometimes offer what seems to be something of a novel approach, I always try to keep my comments in line with traditional Jewish Commentaries.  (In fact, there have been times that I’ve typed up a message and, after examining my writings in the light of Torah Commentaries, concluded that it was wrong, and deleted it without sending it.)

There are, “out there,” on the Internet and elsewhere, a whole assortment of self-appointed “experts” on Torah, Jewish Law, and especially Jewish Mysticism.  Like parrots who can repeat words without having a clue as to what they are saying, they will quote and misquote passages from all over, presenting a theology of nonsense that is swallowed up by people who know even less than they do.

As Rabbi Shach explained, the only way to understand G-d and His will is to be conversant in His language.  That language is NOT Hebrew; it is a language whose expertise is acquired through a lifetime of learning genuine, unadulterated Torah sources from teachers who continue the unbroken Tradition back to Moses.

I wonder if Rabbi Shach realized he was talking about himself.  Until he died in 2001 somewhere between the ages of 103 and 106, the Torah world beat a path to his door to glean wisdom from this great sage.  Rabbi Shach became the great man he was by dedicating a lifetime delving into the Torah he received from his teachers.

Do you want G-d to talk to you?  Be like Moses and Rabbi Shach; spend a century or so studying, and you may begin to pick up the lingo.  Till that happens, we are all better off if we listen to reliable interpreters who know what they are talking about.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Matos and Massei are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – MATOS

“The Pope and the Designated Hitter” (2007) 

(This article appeared, in abbreviated form, as an op/ed in the Jewish Press.  The article went on to be misquoted in several languages in Catholic Blogs and websites all over the world.  Lots of Catholics now love me and agree with me, and some despise me; and both groups do so for the same reason – because they have totally misinterpreted what I wrote!!  🙂)

Oh, man, are they ever angry!…

I don’t require my Christian neighbor to respect my religious beliefs.  His beliefs are his business; my beliefs are mine…Don’t worry about my soul… we’ll worry about our own souls, thank you…

The Pope believes I am wrong.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be much of a Catholic.  And that’s okay.  He can believe whatever he wants.  He just happens to be wrong…

Read more.

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“The Silverware Garden” (2005) 

One of the more common misconceptions in Kosher Law that I come across is the notion that I like to call “the  Silverware Garden.”  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they recall in their youth observing their mothers or grandmothers taking spoons, forks, and knives that had become non-Kosher and sticking them in the ground for a few days to make them Kosher.  There appears to be some mystical power of the earth to draw the non-Kosher status out of the utensils.  The truth is that this practice demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the process of Koshering vessels…

Read more.

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“First Things First!” (2003)

The Tribes of Reuben and Gad were wealthy.  They owned larger flocks of livestock than the other tribes.  They needed a place to graze those flocks.  That place was the East Bank of the Jordan River.

The two tribes asked Moses to allow them to inherit the East Bank…

A win/win situation.  Reuben/Gad get grazing land for their flocks.  The other tribes get to divide the  Land of  Israel ten ways, rather than twelve.

Moses, however, was not impressed…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – MASSEI

“The Long and Winding Road” (2011)

…Why does the Torah end with a SEEMINGLY unnecessary list of 42 stops that Israe lmade on their journey through the desert?  They are, suggests the Tzror Hamor, a reference to the 42-letter name of G-d.  Thus, the Torah begins Genesis with that name of G-d, and ends with that name of  G-d…

Read more.    

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“The Language of G-d” (2010)

Our Sages make a very surprising comment on this event.   “G-d said to Moses, ‘Do Me a favor, and tell Aaron … because I am embarrassed to tell him.”

This statement obviously requires explanation.  What could cause G-d to refer to Himself as “embarrassed”, and how would that embarrassment be prevented through Moses’ intercession?…

Read more.

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“Hey! Ya Never Know!” (2004)

… Joshua needed to get to the bottom of this.  All he knew was that SOMEONE had violated the ban; he needed to find out who the criminal was … Achan did not cooperate in the interrogation.  “Are you accusing me based upon a LOTTERY?  Is this how you search for criminals?  By coincidence?!  Why don’t you try drawing lots between yourself and Elazar the High Priest?  One of YOU will come out guilty!

Achan seems to have had a good point.  It appears that Joshua himself wasn’t sure…

Read more.

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“One Small Step for a Man…” (2002)

…I once heard movie critic Michael Medved asked on the radio how he maintains a spiritual life, in spite of his exposure to some of the non-spiritual (to be kind) elements of the world of “entertainment.”  Mr. Medved responded that …

There is something else Mr. Medved does to maintain a holier way of life.  He does it by keeping the spiritual level of his home on a higher plane than the average home.  He doesn’t…

Read more.

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“Say a Little Prayer for Me” (2001)

…How long a sentence did one serve for manslaughter?  That was dependent upon a factor that had no apparent relationship to the criminal or the crime:

He must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest).  After the death of the Kohain Gadol, the killer may return to the land of his possession.

WHY ARE WE PICKING ON THE HIGH PRIEST?  How do you think it made the Kohain Gadol feel to know that several convicts were eagerly anticipating his demise? …What did HE do wrong?

… in one respect, he WAS at fault…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 12:07 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Rabbi:
    I read your essay with interest this week. What particularly caught my attention was your interaction with the gentleman doing his own Torah exploration. It sounds as if you believe there’s nothing new under the Torah sun, or at least there’s nothing new that can be discovered by someone not steeped in years of Torah study. You don’t really believe that all the great questions and even some of the smaller ones have already been answered? You concede that G-d doesn’t speak Hebrew. I suspect that you believe that G-d doesn’t speak French or Spanish or Japanese or any other upper case language either. And aren’t we all conversant in or at least capable of becoming conversant in the language of G-d? I believe that understanding comes from where you find it. Have a peaceful Shabbos.

    • Bob,

      I need to clarify my point a bit.

      Have all the questions been answered? Yes and no. (How’s THAT for an answer?!)

      Every question has an answer. However, it is not within the purview of us mortals to be able to answer every question, nor are we even able to comprehend the answers to some questions when we hear them. (Case in point: G-d’s pointing out that even Aaron wouldn’t fully understand the reason for G-d’s displeasure with him. Additional case in point: the Holocaust. We can’t explain it, and I doubt we would fully understand the reason even if G-d explained it.)

      Every one of us, on his own level, is capable of asking, and ATTEMPTING to answer, all of life’s complicated questions. My point is that I wouldn’t question a surgeon’s diagnosis and prognosis by seeking a second opinion from an accountant. Regular people like you and me can try to understand Torah to the best of our abilities. But true Torah wisdom can only be acquired by those who dedicate themselves to a lifetime of true Torah learning, and yes, true Torah observance. Torah is not simply an intellectual pursuit; it is a way of life. Torah greatness is not academic; it is spiritual.

      Rabbi Sholom Schwadran was once invited to a Torah lecture by a non-practicing scholar. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ll approve of the lecture. I’ll only quote ‘kosher’ sources.”

      Rabbi Schwadron responded, “When you take all kosher ingredients and cook them in a non-kosher pot, the result is as ‘Treif’ as the pork that previously went into the same pot!”

      Many people claim that “a woman’s right to choose” is a fundamental Jewish concept. They define this as a Jewish concept mainly because many Jews believe that way. Based upon that logic, if “Jewish thinking” is based upon majority rule, should we say that driving on the Sabbath and eating in Chinese restaurants are also Jewish concepts?

      G-d understands all languages. The problem, I believe, is when people decide what they want to believe, and then try to mistranslate the Torah to match their non-Torah agendas. If I may take the liberty of quoting myself (from the top of every page of this website), “Anyone can read verses from the ‘Bible’; it is only with the insights of the Talmud and traditional Jewish Commentaries that one is able to learn TORAH.”

      Have a great Shabbos.

      p.s. So when are we getting together next? (I’m out of town all next week)


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