Rabbi Efrem Golberg Of The Boca Raton Synagogue – Parsha Behaalotecha – Remaining Humble

Towards the beginning of the parsha, the Torah describes that Aharon lit the Menorah, just as he was commanded. Rashi says l’hagid shevacho shel Aharon she’lo shina, this teaches Aharon’s greatness that he didn’t deviate .

Would we suspect for a moment that Aharon would fail to fulfill Hashem’s command or that he would distort the proper lighting of the Menorah? Why do we need to be told that Aharon didn’t change?

The Sfas Emes suggests that Rashi isn’t telling us that Aharon didn’t change from the command, but rather that Aharon attitude didn’t change. The enthusiasm, joy, excitement that Aharon brought to that first kindling remained each subsequent lighting and didn’t diminish at all.

Perhaps we can suggest another interpretation. The pasuk is revealing Aharon’s greatness she’lo shina , Aharon didn’t change. He was elevated to the status of Kohen Gadol, distinguished, prominent, prestigious and yet it didn’t have an impact on him. Aharon remained the same humble person he was before. His status, stature and prominence didn’t change him.

No matter our accomplishments or achievements, our roles or titles, the friends or following we have online or offline, like Aharon, we must remain humble, authentic and at our core, the same person we always were.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Behaalotecha – Making the Right Choices

Avi was sitting in a Jerusalem restaurant with a group of Israelis who had recently committed to keeping Torah and mitzvos. The waiter brought watermelon for dessert. One of the men picked up a watermelon slice and very loudly recited “Baruch atah … shehakol nihiyeh bidvoro” and took a big bite. Avi said to the man, “That was such a beautiful blessing. Thank you for allowing us to say ‘Amen’ to the bracha.” Avi then said, “I’m not sure you’re aware that since watermelon grows from the ground, the correct bracha is ha-adamah.” The man replied, “I know, but let me tell you a story. I was in the Six-Day war. My platoon was surrounded by Syrian tanks. We were low on ammunition and on soldiers. There was no way out. The commander said we should recite a prayer to save us from this very big danger. I did not know any prayers, but for some reason I knew the bracha of ‘Baruch atah … shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro,’ so I screamed the words as a prayer, placed a mortar in the cannon, shot and blew up a Syrian tank! Upon seeing what just happened, another soldier got up, said the same bracha shot his cannon and had another direct hit on the enemy tanks. This repeated itself over and over. I said to myself just now, if the blessing of shehakol was good enough for a Syrian tank, it’s good enough for a watermelon!”

It doesn’t exactly work that way. In Parshas Beha’aloscha, the Jews complained about missing the fish, squash and watermelon they freely ate in Egypt. How could they complain they ate fish and other delicacies when they didn’t even receive straw to make the bricks? Rashi quotes the Sifri who explains that their complaint was not about the food. The issue was that they now felt bound by the Torah’s mitzvos, whereas in Egypt, they were free of any commitments.

Rav Wolbe cautions that it is hard for us today to comprehend the complaints of the lofty generation who received the Torah. They weren’t looking to be free to do whatever they pleased. Rather, their complaints related to the mun. Delivery of the mun to individuals was very revealing! The midrash tells us the mun fell in different areas, depending on the person’s connection to Hashem. For the extremely righteous, the mun landed on their doorstep; the righteous – a few meters away from their house; the least righteous – outside of the camp. This made for a daily, very public display of where each person was spiritually! Many wanted to be free to eat their mun without their shortcomings being on display for everyone to see.

Indeed, one of the greatest gifts Hashem gave us is the ability to exercise free choice (bechira chafshis) to follow Hashem’s Torah. Although we are always bound and obligated to perform mitzvos, when we exercise our free choice to do so, this connects us to the Torah in a deeper way and makes the reward much greater.

We can also relate to the concept of free choice through Yom Kippur. We hopefully achieve high spiritual standards by the conclusion of Yom Kippur, but it’s hard to maintain these standards all year. As weeks pass, we don’t have the clarity and focus that we achieved on Yom Kippur. If we commit a sin and are not punished on the spot, that’s part of Hashem’s plan to give us free choice. The fork in the road is always there for us—good or bad—it’s our free choice.

My rebbe, Rabbi Elefant of the Mir Yerushalayim, says most of our daily decisions are not an exercise of free choice. Deciding which ice cream or flavored coffee we want is not exercising free choice. Real bechira is deciding to do a mitzvah or holding back from doing an aveirah (sin.) For example, we may restrain ourselves from saying a derogatory comment. Intellectually, it’s an easy choice. But in the moment, for some, it’s a big challenge! Or like our soldier earlier, do we use our own emotional approach to mitzvos and say “shehakol” on the watermelon, or follow the Shulchan Aruch and say “ha-adamah?”

How do we help ensure that we make the right choice?

Reb Yisrael Salanter suggests we study a topic of Torah a few minutes a day, specifically in an area we want to strengthen or perfect. For example, we may study the laws of kedusha (sanctity) of a shul/bais medrash, to help us refrain from talking during davening.

The mun was there for the Jews in the desert and its delivery method provided immediate spiritual feedback. We have free choice, but usually without immediate feedback. It’s our gift…and our opportunity for spiritual advancement.

Yacov Nordlicht On Parsha Naso – The Nazir Brings The “I” Of Old

This week’s parsha deals with the laws of the Nazir. At the end of the period of the Nazir’s abstinence, in order to finish the process, he would have to go to the Beis Hamikdosh and bring a series of korbanos. When the Torah relates this obligation in the end of the process of the Nazerus, it uses a very interesting lashon. Instead of simply saying that the Nazir should go to the ohel moed to prepare to bring his korbanos, the Torah says, “and he shall bring himself….”.

What’s this idea of bringing oneself? Why does he need to bring himself, why couldn’t the Torah have just said that he should bring a korban? What’s the pasuk trying to teach us?

The Meshech Chochma says an idea here which is relevant to everyday life. What’s the worst thing which happens when a person sins? Obviously, there’s the spiritual ramifications and the inevitable distancing from HaShem. But the Ba’alei Mussar say that there’s something even worse which results. And that is, that when a person sins, he begins to associate himself with the sin. Once he begins to associate himself with the sin, there’s no telling the depths to which he could fall.

Rav Wolbe in his sefer Alei Shur talks about the concept of the “ani hapnimi”, the “internal ‘I'”. Every individual has this internal sense of self, the essence of who he really is. One of man’s greatest avodahs in this world is to separate the “I” from the exterior outliers, such as the yetzer hara. That is, to realize that the yetzer hara is not “me”, but something which convinces me to do the wrong thing. Our avodah to realize that our actions exist outside of our essence. The essence, the “I” is the neshoma, something which is completely pure and good. If sometimes we’re swayed by the yetzer hara to sin, it isn’t the “I” inside of us sinning, rather an external force which influences us. Our greatest fault isn’t in the actual sins we do, rather it’s when we associate ourselves with our sins. When we allow our internal “I” to be defined by our actions.

We live in a society obsessed with labeling. There’s a term for literally everything. If a person has a problem stealing, he becomes a “kleptomaniac”. He begins to label and view himself in a certain way, and as a result, he defines himself as a certain type of person. Once he defines himself as that type of person, his future actions follow that definition. He begins to act as who he thinks he is.

A while ago, I received a call about someone I knew who was struggling with a certain problem which could yield a future addiction. I told the caller that it was imperative that this person not identify himself with the problems he was facing. He obviously can’t ignore it, but once he begins to identify with the problem, he’ll no longer be working to rid himself of an issue, he’ll be working on uprooting his very essence.

The goal of the Nazir was to reconnect with the internal “I”. The Meshech Chochma explains that a person would take the vow of Nazerus after falling prey to the yetzer hara and sinning. The goal of the thirty days of abstinence wasn’t merely to cut back on the “goodies”, rather it was to recognize that the yetzer hara isn’t his essence! That there exists a “me” besides for my taivahs! When a person would refrain from something for thirty days, he would begin to realize that there does exist a sense of self without the yetzer hara’s persuasion.

This is what the pasuk is trying to teach us when it says that the Nazir would “bring himself”. After thirty days of abstaining from worldly pleasures, he would be a different person, one who was in touch with his individual reality! When he would achieve such a state of mind, he would be able to “bring himself”; that is, he would bring the old “him” who was defined by his desires to the Ohel Moed to prepare to bring the korbanos.

Everyone falls in life. It’s one of the realities which is sometimes hard to come to grips with. The real question is how we deal with it. A person could let it consume him, or he could realize that a mistake was made and move forward. The only true way of moving forward is to realize who we are. The work we do on ourselves is to control the “eil zar b’kirbeich”, the “foreign god inside of us” referring to the yetzer hara. Its foreign, it’s not a part of us. In order to truly grow, we need to identify ourselves with the true goodness inside of us, and not the lowly desires on the outside. Only with such an understanding can we reconnect with ourselves and take further steps down the road in avodas HaShem.