Friday, June 21, 2019



          It was late afternoon in the office. The employees had the glazed “4:30 pm look” in their eyes that waited longingly for the clock to strike 5 so they could go home. Suddenly, the CEO burst into the room and began screaming: “SAVE YOURSELF! SAVE YOURSELF! IT’S EVERYWHERE AND THERE’S NO ESCAPING IT!” Everyone looked up in terror as the CEO jumped up on a desk and continued screaming: “IT’S COMING UP THROUGH THE FLOORS! PROTECT YOURSELF NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN!” By now everyone was shouting nervously, “What’s going on? What is it?” The CEO stopped and stared sharply at all of them, “MEDIOCRITY!”
          In recent years, there has been great emphasis in the business world for companies to develop a meaningful mantra that adds focus and meaning to the workplace. Studies show that companies that have a mantra that includes promoting the betterment of people’s quality of life have better employee satisfaction, worker morale, and increase in overall production. It seems that having meaning is a greater motivation than monetary compensation.

          Chumash Bamidbar seems to begin with positive momentum. The nation is lovingly counted, each tribe is instructed about their flag and formation in the desert, various laws of the elite Levites are enumerated followed by the listing of the unique Korbanos the Nesiim brought during the consecratory days of the Mishkan, and the details the offering of the only Korbon Pesach brought in the desert.
          The Torah then relates about those who were ritually impure via contact with a dead body and were therefore exempt from offering the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan. They protested their exemption, complaining that they had lost out on bringing the Korbon Pesach. Their opening words were “למה נגרע - why should we be diminished?” Because they desired to perform the special mitzvah, Hashem instructed that there be a second opportunity to offer the Korbon Pesach a month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar, Pesach Sheni.
          But shortly after, it seems like everything begins to unravel. For much of the remainder of Sefer Bamidbar the Torah lists one tragedy after the next - the complainers, Miriam contracting tzara’as, the spies, the rebellion of Korach, Miriam’s death, Moshe striking the rock and being denied entry into Eretz Yisroel, Aharon’s death, the complaints about the Manna and being attacked by snakes, and the tragedy of the daughters of Midyan which Pinchos avenged.
          The whole series of tragedies begins with two seemingly innocuous events. First, Moshe asked his father-in-law Yisro to remain with the nation, “And you have been as eyes for us”[2], a guide for them during their travels in the desert.[3]
          Second, after almost a year of being camped at Sinai following receiving the Torah, the pasuk states, “And they traveled from the mountain of G-d for three days...”[4]
          From the Torah itself it seems as if the nation traveled exactly as they were instructed. Ramban quotes a Medrash however, that reveals that “they fled the mountain of G-d like a child running away from school.” The nation was afarid that G-d would impose more restrictions and commandments upon them, so they were relieved and gratified that it was time to leave the place where they received the Torah and all its laws.
          It was imperceptible to anyone who viewed the perfect precision of the nation’s first major travel in the desert. But beneath the veneer, there was a subtle negative attitude which set the tone for all the tragedies that followed.   

          The parsha contains two polar opposite attitudes and approaches. That of those who rebuffed their exemption and requested an opportunity to participate, and those who wanted to avoid further laws and commandments. Although it may be completely unapparent at the beginning, the difference between the person who embraces Judaism and loves it versus the one who fulfills his duties begrudgingly just going through the motions, may all be based in the initial attitude: Does he maintain a “למה נגרע” attitude or a [5]"כתינוק הבורח מבית הספר" attitude?
          When Eliezer was searching for a worthy wife for Yitzchak, his litmus test was if the girl would respond to his request for water by providing his men and his donkeys with water. When Rivka did so, he was immediately sure that she was the future wife of Yitzchak.[6]
          How could Eliezer have been so confident that Rivka’s offer was altruistic and genuine? Perhaps, she was trying to show off or thought Eliezer would pay her?
          The Alter of Norvadok[7] explained that the level of a person can be determined by how he fulfills a request made of him. When an ‘incomplete person’ is asked for something, he does only what is strictly necessary to fulfill his obligation. A ‘complete person’ however, will not be satisfied to merely fulfill the request, but will strive to do as much as he is able.
          Therefore, when Rivka offered to do far more than what was asked, Eliezer recognized that she was a person of genuinely noble character worthy to marry Yitzchak.

          When Moshe requested that Yisro remain with the nation, he used an expression of “you have been as eyes for us.” Ginas Chemed[8] explains that Moshe was telling Yisro that his mere presence served as an example and inspiration for the nation. When the nation would want to complain about how they nostalgically remembered how much better things were in Egypt despite the fact that they were cruelly enslaved, they only had to look towards Yisro. He had been part of the aristocracy of Egypt, enjoying all its prosperity and wealth, and yet had left it all behind to pursue the path of truth, which eventually led him to their camp in the desert wasteland.
          His presence would remind the nation how fortunate they were, the challenges of desert life notwithstanding. How could they complain about some measly conveniences they once had, when Yisro had cast away the lap of luxury to join them?![9]   
          Rav Mendel Weinbach zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim, would quip that he personally received tremendous chizuk from the ba’alei teshuva he worked with. Their emotional excitement to put on tefillin, observe Shabbos, and recite berachos inspired him to remember how fortunate he was to have been born into such an enriched and elevating lifestyle. That example infuses us with appreciation for what we have and gives us a feeling of not wanting exemptions and valuing every opportunity to serve Hashem.
          The parsha begins with the commandment to Aharon to kindle the lights of the Menorah every morning. On the words “And Aharon did so; towards the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps”[10], Rashi, quotes the Sifrei, “to relate to us the praise of Aharon that he did not deviate.”
          What didn’t Aharon deviate from? It would seem superfluous to state that Aharon fulfilled the commandment instructed to him?
          Aharon never deviated from performing the mitzvah in the same manner and with the same enthusiasm that he had the day he began. Such an attitude can only occur when one reminds himself constantly of the greatness of what he is doing and how fortunate he is to have been chosen to perform it. After forty years of daily lighting, Aharon still performed his task with alacrity, enthusiasm, and excitement. He never deviated from that passion and emotion.

          “Like a child running away from school” or “Why should we be diminished?” - the attitude we adopt is our choice, and all our Avodas Hashem will be affected by that decision.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The Following is the lecture I was privileged to give in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbas Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha 5778.
[2] Bamidbar 10:31
[3] According to Ramban Yisro acceded to the request. However, Seforno writes that Yisro refused and returns to his homeland.
[4] Bamidbar 10:33
[5] “Like a child running away from school”
[6] See Bereishis chapter 24
[7] Madreigos Ha’adam
[8] Published in 1914 by Rav Tanchum Gershon Biltzki zt’l, Derush 15
[9] According to Seforno that Yisro refused to honor Moshe’s request, the loss of his example was severe, especially as the nation resorted to such complaints shortly after his departure.  
[10] Bamidbar 8:3


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