“Cast thy burden upon the L-RD, and He will sustain thee.”
– Psalms 55:23, JPS 1917 Tanach
If we ourselves took responsibility for shouldering our burdens, without seeking help from H’Shem, how could we possibly bear our challenges in life? Even in seeking the help of others, if we do not also rely on the L-RD, then we are limiting ourselves and Him. It is as if we may unconsciously say to ourselves, H’Shem can not effectually change my situation for the better. Or, as is written in Torah, in no uncertain terms, “Is the arm of the L-RD too short?” (Numbers 11:23) So, we would do well to understand that H’Shem wants us to depend on Him. As is written, “in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“And there was no water for the congregation.” – Numbers 20:2
The well that provided water for the B’nei Yisrael in the desert, and “followed” them throughout their journeys, did so upon the merit of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess, and a coleader with Moses and Aaron. “For I brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). However, when Miriam passed away, “there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2). Miriam was a righteous person; so, in her merit the water had been provided to the Children of Israel for thirty-nine years. When she passed away, the well dried up.
The Sages ask why the mentioning of Miriam’s death occurs right after the description of the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heifer). The answer given is to exemplify that just as an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a righteous person bring atonement for the people (Mo’ed Katan 28a). Additionally, concerning the death of Aaron, who was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people” (Numbers 20:4), his death also brought atonement.
As commentary futher explains, “Wherefore is [the account of] Aaron’s death closely followed by [the account of the disposal of] the priestly garments? [to inform you] that just as the priest’s vestments were [means to effect] atonement, so is the death of the righteous [conducive to procuring] atonement” (Talmud: Moed Katan 28a, Soncino edition, www.halakhah.com). Therefore, both the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, because they were righteous persons, atoned for that generation.
In like manner, that the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heiffer) is perplexing, so too, is the chukat of the lifting up of the copper serpent in the wilderness. The red heifer’s ashes mixed with hyssop, crimson, and cedar wood, are placed in mayim chayim (living water), that serves to cleanse from the impurities associated with death. And, the copper serpent, when looked upon, healed the people who had been bitten by the serpents in the wilderness. Perhaps, these chukatim both symbolically point toward the atonement of sin (the bite of the serpent) that would otherwise lead toward a type of spiritual death, if not atoned for.
“O G-d, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?” – Numbers 16:22, JPS 1917 Tanach
It is written in Pirkei Avos that every controversy that is for the sake of heaven will endure, while every argument that is not “in the name of Heaven” will not endure. The discussions between Shammai and Hillel are an example of those that endure. The dispute of Korach was a rebellious argument that was not destined to endure (Pirkei Avos 5:20). Rather, Korach was destined to be punished from the beginning of human history, inasmuch that the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach and his followers is said to have been created on twilight of Shabbat Eve (Pirkei Avos 5:9).
Korach separated himself from the assembly of H’Shem. He purported to champion the people, inasmuch that he claimed that everyone was holy, saying that Moses and Aaron should not lift themselves “above the assembly of H’Shem” (Numbers 16:3, JPS 1917 Tanach); commentary explains that Korach wanted Aaron’s position of Kohein Gadol (High Priest) for himself. He did not recognize that both Moshe and Aaron were G-d appointed; rather, he felt that they unfairly took the positions of leadership for themselves. His accusation revealed his own intent.
With the rebellion looming over Moses and Aaron, poised to overthrow them, H’Shem told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation, so that He might destroy the entire congregation. Yet, Moses interceded on behalf of the people; in doing so, he addressed G-d as “the G-d of the spirits of all flesh.” In other words, Moses appealed to G-d, Who knows the hearts of all men, including their thoughts, inasmuch that in this specific case, He knew who was loyal to Him, and who was disloyal. So, Moses pleaded on behalf of the people that G-d would distinguish between the conspirators, and those of the people who still trusted in Him. As a result of Moshe’s heartfelt prayer, G-d decided to limit the extent of the punishment only to the guilty. This connotes G-d’s sense of justice, as well as His attribute of mercy.
“Behold, the eye of the L-RD is toward them that fear Him, toward them that wait for His mercy.” = Psalm 33:18, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.” – Psalm 1:1, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Notice that in these three are comprised all man’s position, either he walks or stands or sits.” – Radak on Psalms 1:1; sefaria.org
Where is the dividing line between the wicked and the sinful? And, can we sincerely count ourselves amongst the righteous? If the wicked sin intentionally, and the sinful are those who err by unintentional sins, because they are not careful, while travelling along the derech (path) of life, then where do we stand?
Incidentally, regarding, “nor stood in the way of sinners,” Radak further comments, that the righteous person “does not linger with, nor does he devote himself to them, neither does he remain in their company, lest he should learn of their works” (ibid.).
Moreover, the third category mentioned in the pasuk (verse), “nor sat in the seat of the scornful,” are the scorners, those who mockingly portray themselves as righteous, while degrading others.
If we can transcend all three of these negative categories, and root out any vestiges of similarities to these types of aveiros (sins), then we are “praiseworthy” in H’Shem’s eyes, even if we are not looked upon favorably by others.
How reassuring that G-d has taken it upon Himself to place a guard around truth, to ultimately prevent the erosion, decay, and dissipation of His divinely inspired words, so that truth may be preserved, ultimately for the use of mankind. And, this current time cries out for truth.
So, He also keeps His attention focused on all human beings, as is written, alluding to us, “He counts the number of the stars” (147:4); that is to say how much moreso, does He cause His awareness to be placed upon our paths. And, when we stray from our individual course in life, He will bring back His “devout ones” (Ps. 148:14).
“‘We came unto the land where thou didst send us, and truly it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.'” – Numbers 13:27
“H’Shem spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan’” (Numbers 13:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, this does not give the complete details, as later revealed in Torah. In Deuteronomy, it is written, “Behold, H’Shem thy G-d hath set the land before thee; go up, take possession, as H’Shem, the G-d of thy fathers, hath spoken unto thee; fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21, JPS).
These are words of encouragement; however, the people responded with caution, requesting of Moshe, “Let us send men before us, that they may search the land” (Deuteronomy 1:22, JPS). This is the prior conversation between Moshe and the people, before the opening words of the parashas, where H’Shem literally says, “if you would like to send men, send men for yourself.” In other words, H’Shem left the decision to Moshe, whether to grant the request of the people to send out spies into the land of Canaan.
So, proof of the goodness of the fruits of the land was brought back to the people; however, ten of the spies also brought an ill report of the land. They said, “howbeit the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great” (Deuteronomy 13:28, JPS). Rather than trust in H’Shem, that he would be their strength, the spies searched out the land in order to prepare a military strategy; yet, in their own estimation they saw themselves as “grasshoppers,” compared to the local inhabitants of the land (13:33).
The ten spies lacked self-esteem, as well as emunah (faith), they did not fully trust in H’Shem to bring them into the land. They saw a lack in their own abilities, not realizing that their strength was in H’Shem. When we put our trust in H’Shem, set our concerns aside, and acknowledge that our reliance on Him will bring our best intentions to fruition, in accordance with His will, then we can expect good results.
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“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” – Leviticus 26:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Do His will as if it were thy will. Nullify thy will before His will, that He may nullify the will of others before thy will.” – Pirkei Avos 2:4, traditional text
The parashas begins with a conditional set of blessings, dependent upon the observance of the commandments. By studying, contemplating, and resolving to bring these commandments into our daily lives, we will also be bestowed with the blessings of H’Shem. The “L-RD will give that which is good;” and our lives will be fruitful (Psalm 85:13, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The observance of the commandments is meant to lead us into a state of kedusha (holiness), so that our very lives may be sanctified through their performance. To serve Him (avodah) is the task of the “inner person,” wherein the battle is fought between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). We need to align ourselves with G-d’s will.
“The reward for a mitzvah (good deed) is another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avos 4:2). I.e., more opportunities to do good, will be given to us as we continue to observe the mitzvot (good deeds). These opportunities may require the use of our discernment, in tandem with the prevailing directives of our conscience. Through the negation of our will, which is often contrary to G-d’s will, we may mature according to His guidance in our lives.
“He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the L-RD continually.”
– Leviticus 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach
The menorah and the showbread table, respectively represent “spiritual growth” and “material prosperity.” Both of these provisions rest upon the incense mizbeach (altar), so to speak, inasmuch that the smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayer; thus, through our avodah, namely, service of the heart (prayer), we may acquire both spiritual and material blessings.
Additionally, according to the Steinsaltz edition of the Chumash, the menorah represents “purity and radiance” (Steinsaltz commentary on Leviticus 24:4). This makes perfect sense, in consideration of the pure olive oil that was used for the menorah; and, the light emitting from the wicks of the menorah. Thus, an added dimension is brought to the above-mentioned insight, namely, that our spiritual growth is also dependent upon leading a pure life, focused on righteousness.
“The appointed seasons of the L-RD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.” – Leviticus 23:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach
On “the fourteenth day of the first month,” the Pesach offering was made (Leviticus 23:5). A seven-day observance begins on the fifteenth of Nissan, when we refrain from eating chometz, during “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6). “Ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest” (Leviticus 23:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This was brought to the kohein [priest], on the day after the first rest day of Pesach. The offering is referred to in Torah as the waving of the Omer; it was only enacted after B’nei Yisrael entered the Promised Land.
“Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto the L-RD” (Leviticus 23:16, JPS). That is, fifty days were counted from the second day of Passover, onward until on the fiftieth day, the first wheat offering of the harvest was brought “unto the L-RD.” (The offering that was made prior to this – the Omer – on the second day of Passover, was the first of the barley harvest). Today, we refer to the fiftieth day after Passover as Shavuot, in commemoration of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).
In Autumn, we celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is considered a Festival, like Passover, and Shavuot; so, it is the third of the Festivals: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42, JPS). We build sukkot (booths) to commemorate the protection we received from the Clouds of Glory, while dwelling in booths, during our forty-day sojourn in the desert. On the eighth day, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret, symbolizing Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).
Netzach shebbe Netzach: Endurance within Endurance:
(The attribute of netzach may also be rendered as “victory” or “eternity”).
The attribute of Netzach carries the weight of eternity on its shoulders, in like manner that Atlas, in the Greek myth, carried the world on his shoulders. In truth, G-d carries both of these burdens for all of mankind. Yet, we may be made privy to them in a manner that is not burdensome: our place in this world, and our time in eternity is sweetened by the victory of life over death, as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. “He will swallow up death for ever; and the L-RD G-D will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The question is not often asked, what is the ultimate purpose of our lives? Nor, is the answer readily inferred from worldly knowledge; nor, deduced from general knowledge. Yet, G-d has placed eternity in our hearts, so that we might have a glimpse of eternity within us. Therefore, we are able to aspire towards that eternity, having sensed a time and place of continual existence in our heart. Otherwise, what reward will we have at the end of a life well-lived? If we endure the challenges of this life for the sake of monetary gain, pleasure, or posterity, then we are being misled by the false promises of this world.
Consider endurance of each and every day, living our lives for the sake of an eternal reward, knowing that this life is a test. “This world is like a vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule, that you mayest enter into the banquet hall” (Pirkei Avos 4:21). We are to prepare ourselves, through the refinement of our character, and living a morally upright life, according to G-d’s standard, for the sake of obtaining a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come). This begins upon our admittance into the coronation banquet of the King, at the beginning of the Messianic Era. For the soul lives on for eternity.