Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Matot-Massei – Managing Life’s Journeys

I had the great zechus (privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael for eleven years, both as a single person in yeshiva and for six years as a “young married” with four children, including twins! Fourteen years ago, we moved to America, dreaming one day to return to our beloved land…but we’re still here. This past week, I experienced a slice of the dream, as I spent an amazing week in Eretz Yisrael with my son, who becomes a bar mitzvah after the summer.

It was beyond incredible – a walk back in time. I was able to visit all the places of my early married years. We roamed through Maalot Dafna, where we lived and sent our children to gan (nursery). We walked the streets of Har Nof, where I spent many a Shabbos with relatives, rabbis and friends. We met with many of my close Rebbeim. We also toured various parts of the country.

This trip coincided with Parshas Maasei, which lists all the different journeys of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until they were to enter the Chosen Land. The Torah even commands us to remember the entire journey – forty-two stages in total. The Sfas Emes says all individuals in their own lives, also have forty-two different stages through which they must journey. As it says in the second sentence of Parshas Maasei, “…v’eileh maaseihem – …” …and these are their travels. The numerical value of “v’eileh” is forty two, indicating there will be forty-two legs in every individual’s life journey.  

The forty-two legs of a person’s life are also alluded to in the first paragraph of Shema, which contains forty-two words and directs us to be close to Hashem and His Torah. From this we learn that throughout our life’s journeys, we must always remember it is Hashem Who is directing our path. This paragraph of Shema also says, “… vedibarta bam,” – “…you shall speak concerning them.” The word “bam” equals forty-two. The Gemara tells us this mitzvah is specifically referring to Torah learning. One must instruct and teach his children in the ways of the Torah. It can also mean one must teach his children about the forty-two different stages of life.

The Imrei Emes says there is a constant mitzvah to remember the Bnei Yisrael’s travels, as the Torah tells us, “Vezacharta es kol haderech,” – “You shall remember your entire journey.” There are different challenges in life and each one is a book in itself, as illustrated in Parshas Beha’alosecha, with the upside-down letter “Nun” bracketing the journey away from Har Sinai.

On my first day of this trip to Eretz Yisrael, I was going to the Koteland Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, where I learned for ten years. But where would I go first? The answer should be the Kotel, but my inner self led me to Mir Yerushalayim. I realized the Kotel represents the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People. For me, the Mir Yerushalayim, where I spent ten years immersed in Torah study, day and night, represented a place of incredible personal growth for me. This was my foundation stone for everything else I have since accomplished in life. Before I could confront the immeasurable destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People, I first needed to connect with my own inner source of direction and strength. I realized that rebuilding requires tools, and the Mir served as my inner toolbox.

We all have different stages and phases in our lives. In fact, as mentioned above, we have forty-two of them. Within these stages and phases, we have experienced various challenges that contributed to our development. In some cases we triumphed and in some cases we may have failed, but we learned from that failure. Wherever we find ourselves in our journey, it’s important to remember our accomplishments so far — they will give us the fortitude to move forward. Any failures, on the other hand, serve as a necessary pause for reflection, redirection and rededication, to move to the next leg.

As we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in this period of the Three Weeks, let’s not forget to tap into our inner reserves, review lessons we have learned from our experiences and goals we have accomplished on our journeys. This will help prepare us for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily in our days.

Rav Avrohom Genechovsky Zt”l On Parsha Matos-Masei – Discussing Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s Question Of Whether One Can Be Mephir Nedarim Bein Hashmoshos And Toch Kdei Dibur


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Pinchas – Creating A Foundation Of Holiness

A few years ago I experienced pain in my neck, shoulder, upper back and knee. I rubbed in a warming ointment, but it did not alleviate the pain. Massage helped, but only momentarily. I didn’t know what to do. I asked a doctor friend of mine for direction. He told me to stand straight with my feet slightly apart so he could observe me. “You are leaning slightly to one side, so you are out of balance” he said. He placed a little padding in one shoe, made a minor adjustment to my orthotics and the next day the pain was gone! Simple adjustments to put my body back in balance relieved me of all my pains. What a savior! I had been ready to go for a battery of tests, but a minor lift in my shoe and an adjustment of my orthotic resolved the issue.

I learned from this episode how important it is to operate with a “solid footing.” This is true both physically and spiritually, in our observance of Torah and mitzvos, as is demonstrated in Parshas Pinchas.

Many of the Bnei Yisroel got involved in two major sins. Many began to serve the idol Baal Peor. Additionally, many started to intermarry with Midianite women. Hashem sent a deadly plague as a punishment for Bnei Yisroel serving the idol Baal Peor and He instructed Moshe to impose capital punishment on those found guilty of idol worship. However, the plague continued and only ceased after Pinchas bravely and boldly killed Zimri, the Nasi (leader) of the tribe of Shimon, and Kazbi, the Midianite princess with whom he engaged in illicit behavior, to punish their decadence.

The intertwinement of Pinchas’s act with the end of the plague is quite puzzling. The Torah clearly states the cause of the deadly plague was a punishment for idol worship and Hashem specifically instructed Moses to kill all the offenders. So why should only the zealous act of Pinchas curb the plague and not the punishment of the idol worshipers? Further, the punishment for idol worship is capital punishment; however, illicit relations with a non-Jewish woman is a violation not culpable of the death penalty. So why did the halting of the immorality (by killing Zimri and Kazbi) save the Jews, rather than stopping the idol worship?

The Slonimer Rebbe answers with a fundamental principle from our great Rabbis. There are two major foundational areas in our service of Hashem – Emunah (Faith in Hashem) and Kedusha (sanctification of Hashem’s name through our elevated actions). When Jews strengthen themselves in these areas, it brings growth in all areas of Torah and mitzvos. When we slack off in either of these areas, the opposite is true. It has a negative effect on our whole approach to Torah and mitzvos.

With regard to Emunah (faith), our sages tell us all Jews have Emunah. Even when a Jew does not sense his Emunah, it is there deep down inside; it’s just covered up. Sometimes the root of a problem with Emunah is hard to locate. It could be an area seemingly unconnected. The evil inclination (yetzer harah) doesn’t attack Emunah directly. Hashem told the primal snake (which represents the evil inclination), “Man will pound your head and you will bite his heel.” Man will be in control of the area of the head – the mind, where Emunah is located. However, the way the snake will be able to attack man is through his heel. The heel represents Kedusha, as referenced with regard to the burning bush, where Hashem told Moshe to remove his shoes because he was walking on holy ground. When the evil inclination succeeds in lowering our adherence to Kedusha in our conduct, that is the opening for it to cause doubts in our Emunah.

The greatest strength of the yetzer harah is defeating us in areas of holiness. This is reflected in the order in which the Torah lists the two sins. First, it tells us the nation started to involve themselves in illicit relations and only after that does it mention the nation served Baal Peor.

With this principle we understand why the zealous act of Pinchas curbed the plague, and not the punishment of the idol worshipers. It’s because the sin of observing false ideologies is rooted in one’s inclination to lower his level of Kedusha. Once the root of the problem was eliminated, the plague was halted.

Let us focus on creating a solid footing for ourselves by infusing our everyday lives with Kedusha, which will protect our faith in Hashem and strengthen our adherence to Torah and mitzvos.