Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Chukat – Tefillah Is Our Personal ‘Iron Dome’

Last month, Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Eretz Yisrael attempting to kill civilians—men, women and children. Most of the rockets targeting populated areas were shot down by the Iron Dome defense system. Still, Iron Dome was at times overwhelmed by huge simultaneous barrages of rockets. With Hashem’s help, there were only a small number of deaths compared to the huge number of rockets fired.

When klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim, until shortly before they entered Eretz Yisrael, they had a foolproof “Iron Dome.” The Clouds of Glory covering the Jewish nation protected them from any harm. They also served as a climate control system to keep the temperature surrounding Bnei Yisrael comfortable, even in the burning heat of the desert days and the bitter cold of the desert nights.

In the last year of their desert sojourn, however, Aharon HaKohen passed away and the Clouds of Glory surrounding klal Yisrael dissipated. It was in the merit of Aharon HaKohen that we had the clouds, and our enemies quickly noticed the change and launched a fierce attack. Indeed, the Gemara notes they were attacked specifically then because they saw that the Clouds of Glory had vanished. This is indicated in the pasuk that mentions Aharon HaKohen passing: “Vayiru kol ha’eidah ki gavah Aharon”—all the nations saw that Aharon had died. The Gemara says the word “vayiru” can be read as “viyara’u”—the nation was now exposed and visible to all, due to the dissipation of the Clouds of Glory.

The Midrash notes that although the pasuk says that the Canaanite king of Arad saw that the Jews traveled by “the way of the spies and he attacked Israel,” it was really the king of Amalek who disguised his people as Canaanites when they attacked. Amalek had attacked Bnei Yisrael once before after they passed through the Splitting of the Sea. Then, we were protected by the Clouds of Glory—a kind of “force field Iron Dome,” and Amalek was only able to reach the stragglers, the sinners who were banished from the protection of the clouds. Now, with the clouds removed, Amalek saw it was a fortuitous time to attack klal Yisrael.

Amalek attacked derech ha’asarim, by the way of the spies. Rashi says this is the southern side, the direction the meraglim (spies) used to enter Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael might still have had the merits needed for Divine protection despite the clouds being gone, but Chazal tell us that Amalek had the ability to attack the Jewish nation because of the sin of the meraglim. That sin caused us to be vulnerable to attack. This teaches a powerful lesson: when we perform mitzvos we build fortresses that protect us. In contrast, our aveiros (sins) create minefields that can harm us.

Why did Amalek dress his soldiers like Canaanim? The Midrash explains that Amalek knew the Bnei Yisrael would daven to Hashem to be saved. Amalek learned his lesson about the power of tefillah (prayer) from his first battle against Bnei Yisrael, where Moshe stood on top of a mountain flanked by Aharon and Chur, with his hands raised to heaven, spurring the Bnei Yisrael to daven to the Almighty and thereby defeat Amalek. Now Amalek was trying to sabotage the prayer of the Jewish nation. They thought their disguise would lead to a prayer for protection against someone else so they could be victorious. They knew Hashem fulfilled specific requests.

However, the Jews heard the opposing soldiers speaking the language of Amalek. It became unclear who they really were, so the people davened to be saved from their attackers in general, without specifying who that might be.

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk adds a twist to this Gemara. Bnei Yisrael already had a promise from Hashem that they would defeat the Canaanites so they wouldn’t need to daven to prevent an attack from them. Therefore, Amalek played a trick by dressing up like the locals so Bnei Yisrael wouldn’t bother davening. True to form, Amalek was clever, but their spoken words heard by Bnei Yisrael were their undoing.

In our own lives, we also have our Iron Dome—tefillah. Tefillah is a powerful force that is available to us at all times. This “system” is always active, always at the ready. We just need to lift our eyes toward heaven and ask for the specific help we need.

Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen On Pirkei Avot – Chapter 2 Mishna 5 – “And Do Not Judge Your Friend Until You Reach His Place.”


In this clause of the Mishna, Hillel tells us not to judge our fellow until we reach his place.  This seems to be telling us not to judge our fellow man in all circumstances unless we reach his place, which may be impossible, as we will discuss.

This seems to contradict another Mishna in Avos that tells us to judge every man favorably – here the Mishna does tell us to judge others, albeit in a positive manner.  Indeed, the Torah itself tells us, ‘b’tzedek tishpot es amisecha’ – to positively judge our fellow, yet here, Hillel seems to be instructing us not to judge in most, or maybe even all, scenarios.

It seems that there are two general areas in which we can judge our fellow: One is with regard to whether they actually committed the action that they seemed to have done. For example, if it appears that a person committed a sin, such as eating non-kosher food, I can judge him to say that he actually did not commit a sin at all because he was allowed to eat the food in order to save his life.  This is the kind of judging that is referred to in the Mitzva of ‘b’tzedek tishpot es amisecha’ 

The second area is where he unequivocally committed a sin or did something wrong, yet there is still the choice of how we look at the person – do we say he is a bad person or do we try to find mitigating factors that make his mistake more understandable at least?  It appears that this Mishna is referring to the second type of judging – even when it is clear that a person either sinned, erred, or expressed a negative character trait, there is still a requirement to view him in a fair manner, understanding the numerous factors that have led to the person acting in this way at this time.

In this vein, the Mishna comes to tell us that we cannot properly assert how guilty a person is for his actions, unless we know his ‘place’.  The question arises as to what exactly does ‘his place’ refer to?  One possibility is that it refers to the situation he was in at the time that he sinned – for example, he may have had a strong temptation at that time or may have been feeling spiritually weak to fight the yetser hara.  A broader approach is that ‘his place’ refers to all the numerous factors that have come together to contribute to who he is at this time.  That includes his whole life background, his family and peer influences and even his genetic leanings.  It would seem impossible to accurately gather all this information.  Therefore, according to this understanding, some commentaries hold that when the Mishna says the one should not judge his fellow until he reaches ‘his place’ it means that this is indeed impossible to ever be a fair judge of a person’s actions.

The commentaries also cite a Gemara[1] that gives an example of how we cannot judge others from different backgrounds or times.  When learning the Mishna that discusses the evil Kings who worshipped idols among other grievous sins. One of the great Amoraim, Rav Ashi described Menashe, one of the evilest of all the Kings, as his colleague, implying that Menashe was on a similar level to him in learning.  That night, Menashe appeared to him in a dream and noted that Rav Ashi called him a colleague.  Menashe then asked Rav Ashi a certain question in halacha, to which Rav Ashi did not know the answer.  Menashe exclaimed that he did not know the answer, and yet he calls himself a colleague of Menashe?!  After telling him the answer, Rav Ashi asked him why he worshipped idols if he was so learned.  He answered, “If you had been alive then, you would have raised the hem of your coat to run after them.”  The next day, Rav Ashi referred to the evil Kings as “our teacher”.  Rashi explains that the yetser hara to idol worship was so powerful at that time, that it was extremely difficult to withstand it.  Menashe was telling Rav Ashi, that someone of his generation would not have been able to withstand the desire to worship idols and would have done it with even more exuberance than he did.

This Gemara teaches us that a person cannot judge another person from a different generation who had completely different challenges and yetser haras.  And each person can have no sense of certainty that he would react any differently than the other person unless he was placed in that exact situation, which is an impossibility.


[1] Sanhedrin, 102b.