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Posted on July 5, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night

THERE ARE BASICALLY two kinds of mitzvos, Mishpatim, which is translated as Judgments, and Chukim, or Statutes. Mishpatim we think we understand, but Chukim:

This is the statute of the Torah: Satan and the nations of the world taunt the Jewish people, saying, “What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute,” [to say that God says] “I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it.” (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:1)

So basically, a chok, like the parah adumah—red heifer— in this week’s parsha, is a divine decree that we do not understand, but which we have no right to question.

Fine. But, doesn’t serving God basically mean not questioning anything He has told us to do? We can ask questions about mitzvos and history to understand them better when possible, but at the end of the day, isn’t everything a chok, even the Mishpatim? Isn’t there always something about the “logical” things in Torah that doesn’t make sense as well?

So what’s with the Satan and the nations of the world? What, until they made fun of us we did not question chukim, about why we can’t wear wool and linen together, or cook meat in milk, especially since gentiles do both without actually destroying the world?

Actually, no. At least not at the beginning.

It’s like the person who brings their friend a coffee to work each day, just as they like it. Each time they describe to the person behind the counter how to make the coffee just so their friend will enjoy it. It’s a hassle, and most people probably wouldn’t do it more than once. But this person gets such pleasure surprising their friend with their favorite coffee, and then seeing them enjoy it, that they never bother to ask them why they like their coffee in such an unusual way.

Until, that is, someone else at the office who does not like the friend questions it. “Why do you even go to the trouble?” they asking mockingly. “A regular coffee is one thing, but such a time-consuming concoction? They’re not worth it!”

At first, the friend pays no attention to the taunts. But one day they start to hit home when the person’s friend doesn’t come through for them in one situation, and they fall short in another. In the past, they would have just let it go. But the taunter’s words were planted into their mind, and they heard them each time they experienced disappointment. One day, they found themselves even telling their friend, “Listen, if you want a regular coffee, I’ll be happy to get it for you. But your special coffee…you’ll have to get that yourself!”

Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. But for the most part, we’re capable of taking the downs in stride if the ups make it worth it, and we won’t even complain beyond ourselves.

But it is amazing how fast that can change once we hear something that makes us question our relationship. All of sudden, the downs become magnified, and break a relationship that really ought to have continued. Some people can’t wait to get divorced and are happy that it happened. Others wonder how things ever got so bad, and wished they hadn’t.

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Shabbos Day

THE JEWISH PEOPLE fell in love with God at Mt. Sinai. It was an awesome and scary event, the giving of Torah, but that did not interfere with them also seeing Who God was. It led to an intense love that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives just to experience the Shechinah. It did not make a difference what God asked them to do…logical…not logical…all of it was a labor of love.

But the Erev Rav and their golden calf changed everything. It certainly altered the nature of the people and therefore, their relationship with God. As Tosafos explains, the Jewish people were over-anxious to leave Sinai and get on with their lives, and God took that personally, so-to-speak.

The incident of the spies continued this, and really showed how low the relationship had become. Since Eretz Yisroel is necessary for a close relationship with God (Kesuvos 110b), their rejection of the land was taken as a rejection of God as well. It can’t be a labor of love so much if the love itself isn’t what it used to be.

The Sitra Achra (Satan) senses that and uses it as his opening to weaken the bond between a Jew and Torah. His endgame is to get a Jew to stop keeping Torah altogether and, ideally, to stop believing in God. But like every great strategist, he first finds a vulnerability to exploit, and then expands his attack once he gets a foot in the gate. That would be the Chukim.

What does the secular world really know? Its knowledge is cumulative and very specific, and constantly subject to revision. It may know certain technical things very well, but it has a very poor grasp of the spiritual world simply, because it doesn’t know how to relate to it. Seeing is believing and they have a difficult time believing in what they can’t see.

Yet they talk with great confidence, to the point of mocking what they do not relate to. We’re all guilty of assuming too much about our power of understanding, but the secular world, especially the scientific one, goes way out there. They know so much compared to what came before them, but so little compared to what will come after them. No one has ever come close to proving that God doesn’t exist, nor will they ever. The amazing thing is how such seemingly bright people are prepared to risk so much really only based upon what they have yet to know.

So they taunt, and they taunt, and they taunt. It might be the Sitra Achra working through a person’s own yetzer hara, or he might be working through the minds and mouths of the secular world. But many a once-believing Jew has lost their confidence to believe after being taunted, in one way or another, and actually became a disbeliever. So far from the Sinai Experience, long after prophecy closed, God was too distant from them to justify, in their mind at least, doing that which seems strange to the rest of the world.

So how does the Gemora’s answer, which Rashi has quoted, help with that? It reminds us that as smart as man may become, he can never become as smart as God. It tells that, as logical as man may be, his logic is still very limited. This is what God reminded Iyov when he questioned God’s providence. “Were you there when I founded the earth?” God asked Iyov. If not, then how can you possibly know what is ultimately good for history and what is not? We don’t even know what is ultimately good for ourselves, let alone all of mankind!

Who said that just because something doesn’t make sense to man that it doesn’t make sense at all? That’s ridiculous. It’s arrogant. And, it’s downright dangerous and what eventually leads to our own self-destruction. You’d think that after thousands of years of proving this through history we’d finally get it.

If only.

Seudas Shlishis

THE MIDRASH SAYS that Miriam was the one responsible for the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, the redeemer of the Jewish people. It was she who convinced her father to remarry her mother despite Pharaoh’s decrees. This led to the birth of baby Moshe, who grew up to be redeemer Moshe.

And when they were forced to put Moshe in the basket on the Nile, her father and Gadol HaDor, Amram lost faith in her prophecy of a redeemer. But her faith never wavered, and she continued to look to Moshe as the Jewish people’s ticket to freedom, even after he disappeared for 39 years.

As a reward for her faith, the miraculous well of water that kept the Jewish people alive in the desert was named for her, Be’er Miriam. It followed them everything they went, just as Miriam followed Moshe everywhere he went, making sure that the needs of the people were taken care of, just as she made sure that Moshe was taken care of.

Unfortunately though, Miriam never lived to see the fulfillment of her dream of entering Eretz Yisroel. Unlike her well, which ended up at the bottom of the Kineret, she died in the desert like her brothers, Aharon and Moshe. And just as she brought Moshe into this world, so-to-speak, and set the redemption in motion, she took Moshe out of this world with her death, and halted the progress of redemption.

As the Midrash explains, the well dried up with the death of Miriam. God wanted to make it clear that the well had been in her merit. When it “died” with her, albeit temporarily, the point was made to the entire nation.

But it also set up the situation that led to Moshe’s hitting of the rock, and his punishment of not entering the land. As the Leshem explains, that was the difference between one person being able to bring the redemption on his own, and making it dependent upon the entire nation.

Moshe Rabbeinu had free access to the Ohr HaGanuz, with which he was born and with which God made all of Creation. It is the light that God used to perform the Ten Plagues in Egypt, split the sea for the Jewish people, and give the Torah at Mt. Sinai. When redemption comes, it is on the back of the Ohr HaGanuz, and since Moshe could access this light at will, he could also single-handedly bring the final redemption.

So why didn’t he? Does a multi-millionaire father give his son a big bonus if the son is reckless with money? Not if he loves the son and wants to protect him from himself.

Likewise, there was no point in bringing the redemption if the Jewish people weren’t ready for it yet. Each journey in the desert was supposed to be for that purpose, but time ran out. It’s like the multi-millionaire father dying before the son could do teshuvah, and find his way back into his father’s will. Likewise, when the redemption door shut on Moshe, the Ohr HaGanuz was also pulled back, and the clock ran out on the generation…and the hundreds of generations that have since followed.

Melave Malkah:

Ain Od Milvado, Part 7

I AM IN the process of publishing my first children’s book, b’ezras Hashem. But unlike all the other books I have written, b”H, this one requires some serious illustrating, so I took to fundraising to try and cover the cost.

This meant sending out a letter to my personal mailing list asking people to help out, if they would be so inclined. As always, a very, very small percentage of those on that list are ever so inclined, and the ones that are, are usually the same generous people who always help out on some level.

With the letter I attached the first chapter of the book, so people could see what it will be like, b”H. Or so I thought. Somehow the chapter did not get attached, and a few people pointed that out and asked for it. So, to rectify the situation, I sent the letter out again with the attachment this time, and what I thought was the same PayPal link to contribute.

Guess what. The PayPal link didn’t work this time, necessitating a third mailing, which was very risky since people do not like to be inundated with emails, especially solicitous ones. If it didn’t work this time, I was out of opportunities to get it right.

This type of thing usually doesn’t happen to me because the person I work with knows what he is doing, and I try to be careful to get things right the first time. Even though I put hours each week into writing each Perceptions at no cost to the reader, I know that I tread on thin ice when I send “extra” emails out.

But stepping back, you have to wonder about the divine providence involved. Nothing is by accident, and even human error is the result of the will of God. Sometimes we just happen to “miraculously” catch ourselves before making a mistake, and other times we completely overlook something we should never have missed. That’s divine providence at work.

I can’t say I know for certain why this happened to me and this project in particular. But one thing I got out of it, right or wrong, is that God wanted me to know that success is not because of what I get right or do well. As the Gemora says, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” (Brochos 3b). If we are successful at anything, it is because God makes us successful. Though our options may be limited when it comes to choosing our path to success, God’s are not. We have to do our part to get things right, but only He is the One Who can decide if we will, and how successful we will be.

Ain Od Milvado.