Matos - Masei
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Wandering No More
"Bais Din mandate is to impose the dictates of G-d's law in a manner that reflects man in the image of G-d, rather than G-d in the image of G-d."
This week we read the last two Parshios of Sefer Bamidbar (Book of Numbers). The fifteen topics contained in these Parshios were specifically selected to conclude Sefer Bamidbar. As we explained at the beginning of this Sefer, Bamidbar's focus is on the practical integration of G-d into the daily lives of the people. Therefore, it follows logically that the final Parshios should be the culmination of that integration process. I invite you to apply the overall focus of Sefer Bamidbar to the fifteen topics of these last Parshios and see if you can explain why they were chosen to conclude Sefer Bamidbar.
I would like to share one brief thought on the second to last topic, the establishment and laws of the Cities of Refuge. Why did G-d choose to conclude Sefer Bamidbar with this topic?
The integration of G-d into daily living demands discipline and sacrifice. Many of us are willing to commit ourselves to G-d's laws so long as we intellectually and emotionally agree with the Halacha (law). What happens when the Halacha imposes itself in areas that are emotionally charged and cognitively challenging? Do we submit ourselves to G-d's rules and demands, or do we dismiss them as too imposing, uncompassionate, and out-dated? Legally, we are obligated to accept all the laws, both biblical and rabbinic, whether we agree or disagree. Therefore, the Torah presents us with real life situations that exemplify the imposition and integration of G-d's laws even under the most difficult circumstances.
Few situations are as emotionally charged as the case of the inadvertent murder. Feelings of tragedy, loss, guilt and anger, are mixed with a desire for revenge on the part of the victims family and the need for self-preservation on the part of the murderer. Given the emotional confusion and inevitable confrontation between the two opposing sides, the Torah establishes a framework for the responsible expression of those emotions and feelings while providing a safe haven for the perpetrator.
At every step of the process, Bais Din is involved in overseeing, evaluating, and attempting to mediate a legally acceptable outcome. The court must decide whether the murderer has a right to safe haven. They must attempt to calm the victim's family and avoid additional bloodshed and tragedy. Bais Din's mandate is to impose the dictates of G-d's law in a manner that reflects man in the image of G-d, rather than G-d in the image of man.
The Cities of Refuge exemplify the integration of G-d into our lives that occurs when our acceptance is founded upon humility and subjugation, rather than cognitive and emotional agreement. That is why G-d chose to conclude Sefer Bamidbar with this law.
The Nine Days
The Nine days begin on Rosh Chodesh Av, Tuesday evening August 1, and end Thursday night August 10th. This interval of time imitates the period of shiva with some of its restrictions.
Washing and Cleaning Clothing:
It is forbidden to wash or iron clothing during the 9 Days even if a non-Jew does it. You may give clothing to the cleaners before the 9 Days even if they will be cleaned during the 9 Days. However, one may not pick up the clothing until after the 9 Days.
Freshly laundered clothing:
It is forbidden to wear new or freshly laundered clothing during the 9 Days, except for undergarments and socks. All garments to be worn during the 9 Days should be worn for a short time before the 9 Days begin. If clothing becomes soiled and you do not have a clean change, you may wash only that which you need. Small children's clothing that are constantly getting dirty may be washed during the 9 Days. Bed linens should not be washed or changed, except when truly needed. Purchasing new clothing, even if they will first be worn after the 9 Days, is forbidden. Sewing and all types of alterations are not allowed during the 9 Days. If needed, minor tears and buttons may be mended.
Eating Meat and Chicken and drinking wine:
Eating meat or chicken is prohibited during the 9 Days. Drinking wine or grape juice is also prohibited. These prohibitions do not extend to Shabbos or a Seudat Mitzvah such as a Bris, Pidyon Haben or Siyum. The custom is to have a young child drink the wine from Havadalah; however, is there is no young child, the one making Havdalah may drink.
Bathing and washing:
Among the more difficult restrictions to keep during the 9 Days is the prohibition against washing and bathing. Being that we are imitating the period of shiva, the expected attitude is one that does not care due to the enormity of the loss suffered. It is obvious that the Rabbis wanted us to act as if we are affected by the absence of the Beit Hamikdash in a manner that reflects a deep sense of loss in our relationship with G-d. Our culture, much more so than other cultures, places a priority on personal hygiene - the Halacha takes this into account.
The criterion established by the Halacha is: bathing for pleasure vs. bathing for necessity. The degree of necessity changes from person to person, so the Halacha expects some modification in our personal hygiene depending on the individual. Saunas, steam rooms, swimming, and other forms of pleasurable bathing activities are certainly prohibited during the 9 Days for every one. Small children are permitted to swim, bathe, etc.; however, we are especially vigilant during this period of time in supervising any activity that might contain risk.
Each of us must seriously assess our level of necessity however, everyone can take a quick, lukewarm shower, rather than a leisurely hot one, and still accommodate our need to be clean. Women preparing for the Mikvah are permitted to do so in the usual manner.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.