34 – B’MIDBAR (Numbers, 1:1-4:20)

“Can Familiarity Breed CONTENT?” (2010)

A fellow came up to me in Shul recently and asked, “Why is it so hard to pray with feeling?”

… I studied at a Yeshiva in Israel for six years.  Then I left Israel, not to return for twenty years.  Ten  years ago, I went back…

I went to the Kotel.  The Western Wall, the sole remnant of a magnificent Temple of G-d that the Romans destroyed two thousand years ago; a Temple that we pray every day to see rebuilt.  A Temple over which our People have shed millions of tears for thousands of years.

As Jewish Law requires, I tore my shirt the same way a mourner does at the funeral of a loved one.  I stood there at the ruins of our Temple in my torn shirt looking like a mourner.  But you know what?  Deep down, I didn’t FEEL like a mourner!

I couldn’t understand it.  At the Tombs of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs I was overcome with emotion.  Why was the site of our destroyed Temple different?

I’m a religious Jew.  I pray every day for the Messiah to come and for the Temple to be rebuilt.  I fast every Tisha B’Av, and join my People in mourning for the Temple.   Why did I not feel the same, deep emotions that I felt at those other places?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory…


“How do I Love Thee?  Let me Count the DAYS” (2009)

… Picture a wealthy man sitting in his treasure house counting his money.  How many times does he need to count?  He already knows, from the first count, how much he has.  Why does he continue?

Because he loves his money!!  Every gold and silver coin jingles as it drops back into the money bag.  He is so caught up with his love of money that he just sits there counting it, again and again and again.

That’s how much G-d loves you.  He adores you, His precious and beloved child!  Therefore He counts us, again and again and again.

We, too, have been counting…


“Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow!” (2004)

… Reuters listed the story in its “Oddity” category, citing a “ritual ban” by “an ultraorthodox sage.”  … The New York Times, that bastion of Jewish anti-semitism, examined the human-interest and business ramifications of the ban.  NewsRadio WCBS described a “demonstration” in Brooklyn.

Everything I read or heard in the media seemed to suggest a fringe (pun intended!) fanatic group of religious fundamentalists reacting with intolerance toward the beliefs and practices of others.  Chat rooms all over the web abounded with obnoxious off-color comments and jokes.

What’s going on?  The issue revolves around a temple in India where pilgrims offer their hair to a Hindu deity.  This hair is then sold as a fund-raiser for the temple.  Apparently, some of this hair has found its way into the wigs worn by religious Jewish women.  Rabbinic leaders have declared these wigs unusable, due to having been used for idolatrous practices. 

The media are going to town, describing Jewish women in a frenzy, lost without their precious wigs.  The news reporters especially enjoy telling us about group “wig burnings.”  Can’t you just envision the mob scene, as wide-eyed “ultraorthodox fanatics” launch the offensive hairpieces onto the raging pyre? … 


“Humility vs. Self-Esteem” (2003)

Life is filled with contradictions.  We are told to be humble.  Then the Torah tells us how great we are…


“Legacy Building” (2002)

I’ll never forget that night…February 14, 1979.  It was the evening when I first met the young lady who would eventually become my bride…

Rabbi Kagan, the leader of world Jewry, was, at the time, quite old. He asked the young man if he was a Kohain. The young man replied that he was not. “Why not?” asked the sage. “Because my father’s not a Kohain.” “Why not?” “Because HIS father wasn’t a Kohain.”

Once the youth was sufficiently confused by the interrogation, the Chofetz Chaim explained his point…


“Marching Orders” (2001)

… After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion…The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it crashing on the head of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was rage in the officer’s voice.  “Do you still think you are the Chosen People?” he yelled.

Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, “Yes, we are.” The officer became infuriated. He kicked the rebbe in the shin and repeated. “You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?”…  


35 – NASO

“How to Spell ‘I Love You’” (2010)

…Can this marriage be saved? SHOULD this marriage be saved? … 

An abbreviated  Torah scroll is written, with parchment, ink, and quill. All of the sanctity of a Torah will be invested into that little scroll. G-d’s name, in Hebrew, will be written on this scroll seven times and then erased.

Erased?! What happened to the respect that we’re supposed to have for G-d’s name? Are we actually expected to erase the holy name of G-d? … Why should we show such dishonor to G-d’s name? We normally go to great lengths to avoid such a thing. Why is His name suddenly expendable?…



“There Goes the Neighborhood” (2009) 

…The Tabernacle sat in the middle of the camp. The enclosed area of the Tabernacle was called “The Camp of G-d’s Presence.” It was surrounded by a second encampment, “The Levitical Camp.” As the name implies, that is where the Levites camped. The third encampment was where the other tribes camped. It was called “The Camp of Israel.” 

The Camp of Israel was a place of holiness; those who were defiled were required to stay out of the encampment until they could undergo a purification process: 

G-d spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the Israelites to expel from the camp everyone with Tzora’as, every Zav, and everyone who has been contaminated … 

Read more.


“Wine Not?” (2007) 

For some people, 365 are not enough. 

There are 613 Commandments in the Torah; 248 positive and 365 negative. While it is forbidden to add any Mitzvahs, there is a way that a person can accept additional prohibitions within the framework of existing commandments… 

A Nazir is a person who chooses to separate himself by prohibiting several activities that would otherwise be permitted: He does not consume grape products. He demonstrates his disdain for the social scene by allowing his hair to grow wild and unkempt. He lives a life of holy separation; he maintains a high level of spiritual purity, avoiding contact with the dead. 

The Nazir is a person who decides to get closer to G-d by removing himself from some of the physical pleasures that the world has to offer. He is a spiritual person who has voluntarily accepted upon himself a restrictive lifestyle… 

What is going on here? Is it good to be a Nazir or is it bad? Is it a sin to refrain from wine, or is it a sin to go back to drinking wine? 

The answer, in typical Jewish fashion, is that it depends… 

Read more.


“Once Upon a Bus Trip” (2004) 

… It seemed like just another weekend.  Last Friday, the girls of the Bais Yaakov High School in Monsey, New York, set off for a weekend of inspiration and unity at a camp in the Catskills.  They studied, prayed, and sang together over Shabbos.  Early Sunday morning they boarded the busses for their return to Monsey. 

While driving down a steep hill, the first bus went out of control, crashing through a guardrail.  The bus slid 25 feet down an embankment, ending up partially submerged in a river. 

The short story is that there were several girls with broken bones and stitches, and three with more serious injuries.  Everyone survived. 

The long story is much more complex.  Emergency workers and volunteers rushed to the scene.  Among the necessary items they brought were body bags.  Their use was anticipated.  The Chevra Kadisha, religious burial society, was summoned as well.  Fatalities were expected.  Miraculously, there were none. 

It would be the epitome of arrogance for me to presume to know why G-d provided this extra measure of Divine Protection to these precious young ladies.  However, I’d like to suggest we consider the following… 

Read more.


“Blessing the Blessers” (2003) 

… 1) Why is it the job of the Kohanim to bless the Nation? Why can’t ANYBODY do it?

2) Why does G-d need to have somebody bless us? Why doesn’t He do it Himself?! (After all, the Kohanim are simply asking G-d to bless us!)

3) Everybody lines up in front of the Kohanim to be blessed. When do the Kohanim get to line up in front of someone to be blessed? Who blesses THEM?!… 

Read more.


“Play It Again, Achira” (2001)

… Have you ever come into Shul and found yourself uninspired due to the fact that today’s prayers are identical to the prayers you said last time you were there? Wouldn’t it be nice if traditional synagogues would allow for some personal creativity in expressing our prayers to the Almighty? …



36 – BEHA’ALOSCHA (Numbers, 8:1-12:16)

“Let ‘Em Eat Doughnuts!” (2010) 

Some people are just never satisfied. 

…Manna falls from Heaven, and it tastes like whatever you feel like eating…However, there were objections.  Suddenly, everyone got hungry: 

Who will feed us meat?  We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt; the cucumbers and the melons; the leeks, onions, and garlic.  Our souls are dried out; there’s nothing to look forward to but manna!” …Ahh!  The good old days!  Make bricks, be whipped by your Egyptian taskmasters, build pyramids, and watch Jewish children thrown into the Nile.  Oh, and by the way, eat all the onions you want! … 


“G-d’s Partners” (2009) 

…Israel asked G-d:  “Master of the World!  Why are You telling us to light candles before You??!!  You are the Light of the World…” 

G-d responded:  “It is not that I need the light; rather I want you to give Me light just as I gave you light.  I want to raise your status before the nations of the world.  Let them say ‘Look how Israel provides light for He who illuminates the entire world.’ ”… 

This Midrash is fascinating!  It seems to be saying that G-d gives us Commandments as a payback — You scratch My back, and I’ll scratch Yours!  What is this Midrash trying to tell us?… 


“Who’s Your Brother?” (2006) 

… the Torah expects us to live a normal lifestyle.  G-d expects us to marry and raise children.  In fact, one requirement of a High Priest is that he be married. 

The one, single exception to this rule was Moses… 

Miriam happened to find out about this fact, and she wasn’t happy about it… 

Miriam and Aaron, loving sister and brother of Moses, discussed the matter in Moses’ presence.  This was done totally without malice.  It was an act of constructive criticism.

It was also a monumental mistake.  G-d was furious…


“Second Chance” (2005) 

“It’s now or never.” So goes the saying.  A missed opportunity can’t be made up.  … when the time for performing a Mitzvah passes, it is too late; nothing can be done to right the wrong … There is a Mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur.  You can’t say, on the day after Yom Kippur, “Oh, I was hungry yesterday, so I ate.  I guess I’ll fast today instead.”  Or, “Oh, last week was Rosh Hashanah, and I missed the sounding of the Shofar!  I’ll just do it now!” 

Sorry.  It doesn’t work… Some people in the desert were unhappy with this concept…


“The SEVEN Books of Moses?” (2004) 

… I picked up my six-year-old nephew from Yeshiva the other day.  There were all these cute little kids, rambunctious with pent-up energy after a full day of school.  They were happy to have some free time after the discipline of a classroom.  Finally!  The pressure’s off! 

There is nothing wrong with the above scenario.  Kids are kids.  The problem is when adults start acting like kids…


“Happy Passover . . . er . . .Chanukah!” (2003) 

Aaron was distraught.  

…For twelve days, leaders of the respective tribes of Israel presented their gifts for the dedication of the Altar.  …Each day, a representative of a different tribe tendered his generous gift.  Every tribe was represented.   Every tribe but one. 

Aaron and his fellow Levites were on the outside looking in.  They had not been included in the ceremony. …  Aaron feared that he and his tribe had been found unworthy of being part of the dedication of the Tabernacle …


“I’m the Greatest…and the Most Modest!” (2002) 

 … if Moses was so humble, how did he manage to garner the Chutzpah to debate with G-d? … And what about the way he spoke to the Pharaoh?  Moses showed throughout his career that he was a man to be reckoned with.  Not exactly a wimp! …

37 – SHELACH (Numbers, 13:1-15:41)

“Fringe Benefits” (2010) 

… Caleb and Joshua were in the minority.  The Israelites believed the negative reports of the majority and wanted to return to Egypt.  They feared for the welfare of their wives and children… 

Amazing.  These people personally witnessed G-d’s ability to wreak havoc on the infrastructure of the powerful kingdom of Egypt.  Yet, they were afraid of a couple Canaanite nations!?!   They saw the Ten Plagues and the drowning of the Egyptian cavalry.  They knew what G-d was able to do for them.  Didn’t they realize that with G-d’s help THEY COULD EAT THE CANAANITES FOR LUNCH??!!!


 “Around the Land in Eighty… um, FORTY, Days” (2007) 

It should have been a longer trip.  G-d sped it up. 

Twelve spies set off from the desert on a reconnaissance mission to check out the Land of Israel…Unfortunately, as a result of the negative report by a majority of the spies, the Nation decided that they’d rather not go.   And, as the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for; you may get it.  G-d decided to postpone the move for a while. 

…to walk the length and breadth of the Holy Land should take eighty days.  Miraculously, it took only forty.  And it’s a good thing.  The forty day “discount” saved us an additional forty years in the desert…


 “I’m Gonna Do What You Want … Whether You Like It or Not!” (2004) 

… Here’s where the story gets REALLY strange.  The Nation now realizes what a terrible mistake they just made.  G-d had said that they could have the Land.  They said, “No, thank You.”  G-d said, “O.K., never mind.”  Suddenly, they’re saying, “Now, wait a minute…”


 “Ten Times One Equals Infinity”  (2003) 

…  Why ask some strange rabbi to say Kaddish for my father when I can do it myself?!  This rabbi didn’t know and love my father the way I did.  Why should I let a stranger do what I should be doing?  So what if I can’t (read: won’t) go to Shul every morning?  Shouldn’t I be the one praying on behalf of my father?! …  Take nine of any righteous people you can think of.  Let’s say, for example, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Noah, and your Uncle Sidney.  No Minyan.  You can’t say Kaddish or any of several other communal prayers …


 “What Was Moses’ Last Name?”  (2002) 

… Caleb needed to get the attention of the mob.  How would he silence them?  He decided to pretend to insult Moses, calling him by his “last name” … 

Why is it offensive to be addressed by one’s last name?…


38 – KORACH (Numbers, 16:1-18:32)  

“A Good Fight With Your Wife” (2010)  

 Ah, there’s nothing like a good fight with your wife!  … You DO fight with your spouse, don’t you?  You really should, you know…  

Read more.


“Caleb, Korach, and Me” (2009)  

Never hit a guy when he’s on a roll; you have to try to get him when he’s down.   

You couldn’t put anything on Moses; he was at the top of his game.  He was The Man!  He straight-talked the Pharaoh, and led us out of Egypt.  He led us through the split-open waters of the Red Sea, and presided over our nation’s receipt of miraculous manna from Heaven.  Even when we sinned he was there for us.  He caught us worshipping the Golden Calf, but negotiated our forgiveness from G-d. 

Moses was great.  You just HAD to love him!  

Most people did.  One of the exceptions was Korach…  

Read more.


“Behind Every Successful (and Unsuccessful!) Man…” (2007)  

… Ever since the beginning of time, from Eve’s offer of fresh fruit to her husband to this morning when your wife asked you (again!) to take out the garbage, our wives have been right there telling us what we need to do. 

… Korach, along with his fellow Levites, (including Moses’ sons) had their hair shaven. Korach came home looking like Yul Brenner. Mrs. Korach reprimanded her husband for allowing Moses to degrade him like that … By the time she finished with him, he was prepared to take Moses on in an uprising designed to “take back our religion.” 

Korach ended up being swallowed alive by an opening in the ground. (“Thanks for the advice, dear!”) … 

Read more.


“Dead Wrong?” (2006)  

Some people are just exasperating.  They take positions that are totally devoid of logic.   

We, on the other hand, are paragons of correctness, totally removed from error.  Right?…   

Read more.


“Almond Joy” (2004)  

… How far should we go for positive PR? …    Any intelligent person HAD to understand by now that Moses was on the level…Why didn’t Moses tell them to take it as it is or leave it?  “I’m in charge and that’s the way it is.  If you don’t like it, go find yourself another desert!!” …   

Read more.


“True Blue” (2003)  

…  What difference does it make whether the blue is on the string or on the clothes?  For that matter, does it really matter what type of dye you use?  You want blue?  You’ve got blue!  What difference does it make whether the Mezuzah paragraphs are on the doorpost or in the room?  You want Shema Yisrael?  You’ve got Shema Yisrael!…  

Read more.


“Flat Tax” (2002)  

… The farmer works hard to grow his crops.  Along comes “Mr. Levine” (or Levy or Levitt, or possibly even Goldstein!) who didn’t work the fields and says, “I’m a Levite; I’d like my 10% please.” Mr. Levine, who has received his 10% of the farmer’s produce, must then give 10% of HIS take to “Mr. Cohen” (or Katz, or Klein, or Goldstein.)  

Why should the farmer and the Levite give the same percentage?  The farmer had to break his back to grow that wheat! The Levite gets a windfall! Let him pay more!  

Similarly, if I work hard 40 hours a week, I have to give 10% of my income to charity.  The recipient, who didn’t have to work for the money, should be “taxed” at a higher rate! (Lottery winnings are taxed at a higher rate than earned income.) Why is the worker treated the same as the gift recipient?…  

 Read more.


“There’s More to Being Right Than Just Not Being Wrong” (2001)  

Every rabbi has a few.  There’s always someone looking to challenge the leadership with complaints of imagined misdeeds.  Moses certainly had his share of detractors.  Most noteworthy in the group are Dathan and Abiram, adversaries since Egyptian days, and Korach, the star rabble-rouser of this week’s Torah Portion…  

Read more.


39 – CHUKAS (Numbers, 19:1-22:1)

“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010) 

… Ezekiel cites the special relationship between G-d and Israel… 

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean “You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ‘MAN.’  

What does the Talmud mean by, “You are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ’MAN”?   Certainly it can’t mean to humiliate Gentiles and to consider them less than human!  The Talmud is replete with references to the fact that all of humanity was created in G-d’s Image.  We share the planet with our fellow Children of G-d. 

So what does it mean?…


 “Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads” (2005) 

G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole.  Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.”  Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live… 

The symbolism is beautiful.  Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues.  Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes.  After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths.  They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly.  Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake. 

Great!  Just one question.  What’s the deal with the copper?…


“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004) 

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel) …  Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths. The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron. 

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses.  The men wept over the loss of their respected judge.  The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker… 

Moses and Aaron had different jobs… the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses. 

Whose approach was better?  Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?…


“Stone Drunk” (2002) 

… The People were thirsty.  … Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.” 

G-d was furious:  “Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.” 

 … the people witnessed a great miracle.  A rock was struck, and water flowed from it.  The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years!  How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part? …


“The Bigger They Are…” (2001) 

Og … organized an army against Israel, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor.  … Moses needed some encouragement: 

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him…” 

G-d doesn’t waste words.  He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og.  … Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before… 

What a Mitzvah!!  Og tells Abraham to go save Lot so he can be killed and Og can marry his widow!  With friends like Og, who needs enemies?!  How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?…


40 – BALAK (Numbers, 19:1-25:9)

“Rocky Road” (2010)

…What’s with this guy?!  He’s a sorcerer, the great Midianite prophet!  He is “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One.” (Verse 16)  How is it so hard for him to see that G-d doesn’t want him to do this? 

… it all started with a question.  G-d had asked Balaam, “Who are these people?” 

“Aha!” thought Balaam.  “G-d doesn’t know everything!  He needs to ask me who these people are!  If I play my cards right, I’ll be able to pull the wool over His eyes and curse His beloved Nation.”…


“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007) 

…Balak, the Moabite king, hired Balaam to curse Israel.  Now why, you may ask, would an anti-Semite like Balak need to hire someone to curse Jews?  Plenty of people would be happy to do it for free! 

Cursing, you see, is a great talent.  Some people do it better than others.  Balaam was a pro…


“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003) 

… There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites.  They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.” 

…  “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it.  All you have to do is…  

Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? …


“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?” (2000) 

… Balaam still didn’t get it.  Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace. 

What was going on in Balaam’s head?  How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake?  How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission?  How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?! 

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…




“The Pope and the Designated Hitter”

Published on February 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm  Comments Off on Archive –B’MIDBAR/NUMBERS  
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