כל דבר אשר יבוא באש תעבירו באש וטהר… (לא:כג).
“Any object cooked in fire, must be purified through fire…” (31:23).
At the end of the war with Midyan, the Jewish victors were left with many spoils. In order to be able to use their newly won vessels of the gentiles they needed to kasher (purify) them, by removing the absorbed materials inside their walls. The formula for determining how to purify the vessel is simple and yet most fascinating. Rashi states the rule, “however it was used, that’s how it must be cleaned out.” If a pot was used over an open fire, then this was the heat required to burn out the non-kosher from it. If it was used for roasting, then that was the heat required. If it was only used for cold items, they simply had to rinse it off! (These laws still apply today with specific qualifications beyond the scope of this essay.)
This concept applies to our relationship with Hashem as well. We follow Hashem and strive to fulfill His commandments every day of our lives. Sometimes though we get sidetracked and commit a sin. Other times we get very sidetracked and commit a large sin. We then catch ourselves and desire to do teshuva, repentance. How is this to be done? The Seforim tell us that whatever body part was used to sin that limb must be used for service of Hashem. Also, however enthusiastically one acted to commit the sin, so too that is how much effort he must put in to repent! If, for example, one ran excitedly to go to a place that he should not have ventured, then in order to fully repent, he must correspondingly run excitedly to go to the Bais Midrash to learn or to daven! If one got distracted by a pleasurable sin and put in much thought to arrange for its actualization, then he should learn Torah and exert his mind to attain understanding.
The Arizal writes that when one goes to burn his chometz before Pesach and he gets near the fire and begins to sweat, this gains him forgiveness for his sins which he exerted himself to do and and perspired while pursuing them! Chometz represents the yetzer harah (evil inclination) and thus when one desires to burn the chometz he is symbolically ridding himself of the Evil Urge’s shackles. Thus, just as he welcomed the yetzer harah’s suggestions at an earlier time and exerted himself to sin, now, when he comes to receive atonement, he correspondingly breaks a sweat doing a mitzvah!
Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha’arey Teshuva I:15) states that when Dovid HaMelech felt that he had sinned to Hashem by following after his eyes, he cried to Hashem for forgiveness. He used the exact body part which he sinned with to do his repentance.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 84a) tells us that before Reish Lakish became the world-renowned Torah scholar he was a most successful thief! His specialized in sly stealing and dishonesty. The Seforim point out a beautiful idea. After he repented and accepted upon himself the yoke of Torah, he rose to heights in the Torah world. What is amazing is the specific quality which he became known for. The Gemara in Yuma (9a) tells us that any person whom Reish LaKish acknowledged as honest in business was unanimously accepted by all. Reish LaKish became the epitome of honesty. He took his bad trait and made it his strength! He transformed himself from being a pathological liar to a passionate advocate of truth! Indeed, this is parallel to the purification of the vessels. If there is tamey, impure substances, inside them, the only way to remove it is to counter the evil with an equally powerful surge of holiness!
Take It Slow
אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים (לג:א).
“These are the travels of Bnei Yisrael who departed from Egypt” (33:1).
The Torah enumerates all of the travels of the Jews throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert. Yalkut Reuveni makes a cryptic comment here. He states that אלה אלהיך ישראל, the serving of the Golden Calf as a God, caused אלה מסעי בני ישראל, the wandering of the Jews in the desert. This statement seems to defy our understanding! What is the connection between the two?
The Daas Sofer offers a deep insight here which I believe has tremendous practical implications to us all. In truth, geographically, Hashem could have brought the Jews directly from Egypt straight into Eretz Yisrael in a very short amount of time. However, since they were at such a low level of spirituality then, they first had to spend time ridding themselves of their Egyptian impurity to acquire the proper level for living in Hashem’s chosen land. Just as one who moves from a cold environment to a warm one may have trouble with the change of climates, and thus should make the move slowly, so too the Jews had to slowly prepare themselves for a new land which was filled with spiritual potential unlike their former decadent dwelling place. The trip had to be gradual, thus it took time!
The Yalkut Reuveni can now be understood. Indeed, the worship of the Golden Calf showed that the Jews still possessed in them the poison of Egypt. It showed that they were still docked at a lower level required of them in order to enter the land. They were therefore required to wander through the wilderness, slowly raising their spiritual standing to a holier plateau. Hence, we see how the Golden Calf warranted the wilderness travels! The lesson is that one must devote time to gradually achieve greatness!
Rabbeinu Bachayah explains Moshe’s first prophetic experience. Hashem led Moshe slowly towards perceiving Him in order not to shock him. Moshe first saw a burning bush and thought it to be a natural fire. As he approached it he saw that the tree was not being consumed, this convinced him that it was supernatural. Slowly, his mind probed the possibilities and then an Angel appeared to him. A voice like that of his father’s called his name until his mind developed further and finally Hashem called out to him directly. The process was gradual in order to give his mind time to fully comprehend the experience. Like a man who sat in a dark and black room, if he were to immediately emerge into the bright sunlight, this would damage his eyesight, rather he must gradually accustom himself to the light. This is how one achieves “enlightenment” of the mind as well. Deliberation and patient persistence is the key; not extreme and rushed actions. Thus, Hashem appeared to Moshe in stages.
Many times we are inspired with new ideas. This is wonderful and action should be taken immediately! But we must proceed slowly though, always remembering that if one takes a glass out of freezing ice-water and place it into steaming hot water, he will only remain with many shattered pieces! When one slowly works towards his goals, then he will be gratified by the results.
A Journey Forward
ויכתב משה את מוצאיהם למסעיהם על פי ה’ ואלה מסעיהם למוצאיהם (במדבר לג:ב).
“Moshe wrote the events of their journey to their destination… and the following are their travels and their happenings” (Bamidbar 33:2).
The commentators are confused as to why the verse repeats and switches the order of the words, “מוצאיהם למסעיהם, the events to their destination”. The verse ends by stating, “מסעיהם למוצאיהם, their travels and its events”. What is going on here?
The Dubna Maggid explains that there are two ways to leave a place. The first is to run away from where you are coming from. The second is to run towards the destination to which you are heading.
The Jews left Egypt with a focuson escaping the suffering they endured there, but Moshe was trying to teach them that their focus was incorrect. They should be leaving with the focus on where they were headed and how Hashem took them out to give them the Torah and Eretz Yisrael! The excitement should be focused on the destination, not the escape!
This is why the verse says that Moshe wrote “מוצאיהם למסעיהם”. His focus was on the destination where they were headed. However, the fact is that the Jew’s perspective was, “מסעיהם למוצאיהם”. They focused on the journey away from Egypt.
Life’s hurdles are seen through different lenses. There are always challenges; our choice is how we view them. If we are focused on the long term goal, then as we move forward through the challenges, we draw inspiration and hope for the great future that awaits us individually and as a Nation. However, one who is trying to escape and get away, will feel hindered and stopped by every setback.
Moshe taught the Jews that the proper perspective is to focus on the journey forward and to not look back and lose hope. Hashem sends us challenges with the goal of bringing us to perfection and success in living a Torah life. May we all rise to the occasion and achieve success and fulfillment.
Parshas Mattos and Masei always fall out during the three weeks between Shiva Asher B’Tamuz and Tishah B’Av. The Seforim (Shlah) teach us that we must learn a lesson from the weekly Parsha that relates to the calendar where it falls out. What is the connection?
Mattos begins by discussing the laws of Nedaim, vows. Rav Tzaddok HaCohen has a rule based on Chazal that the first time that a concept appears in the Torah, that is a manifestation of what the item/person is in the deepest way. The first time that we find the concept of Neder, a vow, in the Torah (not to be confused with “Shavuah” which is an entire different topic) is by Yaakov Aveinu. Beraishis (28:20) states that Yaakov vowed to Hashem that if Hashem would protect him and provide him with his needs, Yaakov would dedicate himself to Hashem.
Rav Gedalia Schorr zt”l points out that thus we see that a Neder is utilized to turn to Hashem and achieve closeness through recognizing that He is the sole provider. Chazal tell us that the Tzaddikim take on a Neder when the times get tough. They wish to bring themselves closer to Hashem.
This is the precise goal of the Three Weeks, we strive to connect with Hashem and to recognize that He is the only provider and One capable of redeeming us.
A Torah Principle
In this week’s Parsha we find the description of how to kasher vessels. The laws are spelled out describing the obligation and method in how to burn and eradicate non-kosher ingredients from pots and vessels. What is strange to behold is the introduction to this topic. It begins with the seemingly exaggerated words, “This is the law of all of the Torah (Bamidbar 31:21).” What is this grand statement all about?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986 ) offers great insight here. He says that the laws of kashering vessels teach us that just as a vessel can be cleaned and purified through great effort and toil, so too, a person should always know that no matter how dirty and impure he thinks his Neshamah is, he can always put in the effort to purify himself. This is a fundamental concept in all of the Torah. This is why the Torah introduces the topic with great stress and attention.
As we are in the Three Weeks and approaching Tisha B’Av, we can look at ourselves individually and nationally and feel hopeless and far from Hashem. However, the purpose of this time period is to inspire us and challenge us to take the next step in self-improvement and growth. It’s never too late to get back on track. In fact, it is only from the Three Weeks that we enter the month of Elul which heralds self-actualization and Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos. Our goal is to use this time to get closer to Hashem and in touch with our true selves and who we want to be.
Indeed, one of the most important parts of the Torah is the recognition that the Torah’s lessons give us the ability to transcend our animalistic tendencies and the shackles and limitations of earthy pull. Torah propels us upward and allows us to emulate the Divine. May we all merit to use this time for growth and achieving happiness and success.
The opening verse of the Parsha summarizes the theme. “These are the travels of the Jews that left Egypt… (Bamidbar 33:1).” The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser, 1809-1879) asks that this description seems strange, why does the verse talk about where the Jews left from as apposed to focusing on where they were traveling to: Eretz Yisrael?
Malbim offers a most beautiful idea. While it is true that the Jews were traveling towards a most special destination of the Promised Land, remembering where they came from and all of the steps that brought about their growth along the way is a most important Torah idea. Therefore, the Torah saw fit to mention the fact that the Jews were coming from Egypt. Their journey began with servitude and with Hashem putting them through a purification process as slaves. This brought them to greatness.
Indeed, the entire recounting of all the 42 stops is to remind the Jews about their trials, tribulations, and victories throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert. Rashi explains that the travels are enumerated in order to bring out the kindness of Hashem. By contemplating all of the challenges and all of the difficulties one was compelled to ask how he or she made it through. The only answer is with Hashem’s help.
When Adam was created, he was able to eat fruits from the tree and the branches and bark of the tree tasted like the fruit itself. This is to hint to the idea that every step of growth is really producing delicious and real results. When one watched a tree grow, he did not have to wait for the fruit at the end to see his efforts come to fruition, rather, as soon as the branch and bark appeared, the sweet taste was present. This is the deep reality of all endeavors. But it all changed when Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas. Now he was cursed that only by the sweat of his brow would he eat bread. The fruit would not be seen until all of the effort was put in. He would have to have Emunah to see that all of his blood, sweat and tears were producing and would shine forth in the end. This is most challenging and difficult. But the recognition of the this truth is most empowering and inspirational. This is the challenge of Olam HaZeh. We often don’t see or taste the “fruits” of our labor, our Torah and Mitzvos, our chessed and our efforts, but we have Emunah that Hashem will reward us in the World to Come. Every step of the way is building the most beautiful construct for us, just as every step of the way in Egypt brought the Jews to Har Sinai and every step in the desert brought them eventually to Eretz Yisrael. The wise man learns to savor each step of the way with the perspective that Hashem sees and counts every minute action of his and Hashem will reward him accordingly.
Where Are We Headed?
Origin and Destination
Kli Yakar presents a clear explanation. The Jews traveled forty-two journeys during their forty years in the desert. Most of their travels began in the direction forward from Egypt towards Eretz Yisrael. However, there were times that Klal Yisroel sinned and headed back in the opposite direction towards Egypt. The term “motzaeyhem” in the verse refers to leaving their place of origin, Egypt. The term “limaasaeyhem” is refers to the place of their ultimate destination, Eretz Yisrael.
The Full Story
The verse starts by saying “these are their journeys “motzaeyhem limaasaeyhem” which means that the Jews were traveling from Egypt to get to their destination of Eretz Yisrael. This traveling certainly was “Al Pi Hashem, according to the command of Hashem.” This is exactly what Hashem wished for, to bring them out of Egypt to arrive in the Holy Land. However, when they occasionally sinned, they went backwards and the verse describes this as “maasaeyhem limotzaeyhem,” they were going in the direction from Eretz Yisrael back to Egypt. The verse specifically omits the words “Al Pi Hashem” when referring to that second type of traveling because that was not Hashem’s plan nor did it meet His approval. That is how the Kli Yakar explains the verse.
In our own personal lives this message is relevant as well. We each know deep down the great things that we are capable of accomplishing in life. Our destination in life is to work towards maximizing our spiritual growth and to travel towards becoming the best person that we can be. We work hard to make the correct decisions and to travel towards the destination that is “Al Pi Hashem, according to the Torah’s guide.” May Hashem help us to keep the focus and inspiration strong.