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מה טבו אהליך יעקב

How goodly are your tents, Yaakov. (24:5)

What impressed Bilaam about the Jewish tents? Bilaam saw that the entrances to one another precluded intrusions on the privacy of other families. Furthermore, tents refer to the batei medrash, study halls. (According to Rashi, it refers to the Mishkan and Batei Mikdash when they were extant). At first glance, tznius, privacy and modesty, and study halls do not seem to coincide, unless the Torah is suggesting to us that the study hall – or Torah study of those who occupy the bais hamedrash, who devote themselves wholly to studying Hashem’s Torah – should reflect tznius, privacy and modesty, in…

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וישלח מלאכים אל בלעם בן בעור

He sent agents to Bilaam ben Beor. (22:5)

Is it possible that, concerning all outward appearances, one not only manifests himself as righteous, but he even receives the fringe benefits and special treatment accorded to a tzaddik; yet, he remains throughout a despicable rasha, wicked person, of the lowest order? Yes! Bilaam showed us that it can be done. Bilaam was Hashem’s “gift” to the pagan/gentile world, so that they could not assert that they had no worthy spiritual leadership. Bilaam was on a lofty spiritual plane, a prophet of the highest order. He was the gentile world’s Moshe. So what happened? He refused to purge himself of…

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וישלח ד' בעם את הנחשים השרפים ... ויאמרו חטאנו ... והיה הנשוך וראה אתו וחי

Then Hashem let the poisonous snakes loose against the people … They said, “We have sinned” … that everyone who is bitten when he looks upon it he shall live. (21:6,7,8)

It was not the first time; once again, the people did not receive what they perceived they needed. Their first reaction was to complain, “This is no good; that is no good.” Immediately, they directed their discontent against Hashem. They did not doubt the authenticity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership; they had issues with Hashem’s guidance. They would never reach the Promised Land if they were to continue along this path in the wretched wilderness. Veritably, they had nourishment from the manna, but what about some real food and drink? Furthermore, obtaining manna was effortless, almost monotonous. They wanted some excitement…

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ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה

And they shall take to you a completely red cow, which is without blemish. (19:2)

The mitzvah of Parah Adumah, Red Cow, which is used to purify one who is tamei meis, spiritually defiled by coming in contact with a dead body, has become known as the paradigmatic mitzvah whose reason is beyond human cognition. Actually, this is true with regard to all mitzvos. We have no idea of the reason for any one of the 613 mitzvos; it is just that some are easier to relate to, because they are common-sensical. The laws of Parah Adumah are replete with anomalies. The most difficult to accept is the fact that the Kohen who carries out…

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זאת חקת התורה

This is the decree of the Torah. (19:2)

Rashi explains the concept of chok, a mitzvah whose Divine rationale eludes us. While Hashem certainly has a reason for every one of the Taryag, 613 mitzvos, the reason behind every mitzvah is beyond our grasp. Understandably, one might say that not all mitzvos are beyond our ken. Ostensibly, specific mitzvos – such as Kibbud Av v’Eim, Honoring father and mother – are rationally based. The Rambam (Shemoneh Perakim) distinguishes between mitzvos sichlios, rational mitzvos (which supposedly anyone who possesses a modicum of intelligence can understand on his own), and mitzvos shlmiyos, mitzvos we accept and perform purely because we…

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זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל

This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in his tent. (19:14)

Chazal (Berachos 63b) render the above pasuk homiletically, “This is the Torah – a man who dies in a tent. The Torah is not acquired only (unless) a person kills himself over it.” Obviously, such a compelling statement warrants considerable commentary. Simply, it teaches that in order for one to succeed in Torah study, he must view it as the essence of his life – without which he cannot survive. One must be prepared to devote himself totally to Torah study. The Torah is the life source of the Jew. The Vishnitzer Rebbe, Horav Moshe Hager, zl, offers a profound,…

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וירם משה את ידו ויך את הסלע במטהו פעמים

Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice. (20:11)

When Moshe Rabbeinu struck the stone, instead of speaking to it, as per his instructions from Hashem, his actions were considered to be sinful. As a result, he was not permitted to enter into Eretz Yisrael. The commentators offer a number of different explanations to shed light on Moshe’s error. Rashi says that altering Hashem’s command from “speaking” to “striking” was wrong. Other commentators attribute the error to his reaction, the derogatory manner in which he spoke to the people: Shimu na hamorim, “Listen, you rebellious ones/fools.” Whether the issue was becoming angry or referring to descendants of the Avos,…

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יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל... המה מי מריבה אשר רבו בני ישראל את ד' ויקדש בם

Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael…They are the waters of strife where Bnei Yisrael contended with Hashem, and He was sanctified through them. (20:12,13)

Had Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen demonstrated greater faith in Hashem by speaking to the rock, rather than striking it, Hashem’s Name would have been sanctified. The Nation would have derived the message: If an inanimate rock – which does not hear, speak, or require sustenance – carries out Hashem’s command (when spoken to), surely we (humans) should do so Ramban explains that Moshe and Aharon certainly were not lacking in faith; rather the phrase should be understood, “Because you did not cause them (the people) to believe in Me;” for if Moshe would have followed Hashem’s directive as commanded,…

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זאת חקת התורה

This is the statute of the Torah. (19:2)

The parsha begins with the words, chukas haTorah, statute of the Torah, when, in fact, it is addressing the laws of Parah Adumah, Red Cow, which is a chok, statute whose rationale defies human logic. In other words, the parsha should have begun with the words, “This is the statute of the Red Cow.” Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, takes a practical approach towards explaining this, saying that a corollary exists between Torah and Parah, in that the anomaly which distinguishes Parah Adumah as a chok likewise applies to the Torah. The primary chok of Parah Adumah (exclusive of the entire…

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ותמת שם מרים ותקבר שם

Miriam died there and was buried there. (20:1)

Though widely separated chronologically, the passing of Miriam HaNeviah is juxtaposed upon the laws of the Parah Adumah, Red Cow. This teaches us that, just as the offerings effect atonement for the nation, so does the death of a tzaddik, righteous person. This is an important lesson which should have been taught in parshas ha’korbanos at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra. Why of all the forms of sacrificial atonement is the Parah Adumah singled out to be the standard bearer of atonement and the lesson most closely identified with the death of tzaddikim? The Panim Yafos (Horav Pinchas Horowitz, zl,…

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