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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 20 Issue 19
May 22-26, 2018 -8-12 Sivan, 5778 
Torah Reading: Naso
 Candle Lighting: 8:02 PM
Shabbos ends: 9:01 PM
Pirkei Avos, Chapter 1
 

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi
Essay ·
Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel

 

Parsha Synopsis

Naso
Numbers: 4:21-7:89

Completing the  headcount of the Children of Israel taken in the Sinai Desert, a total of 8,580 Levite men between the ages of  30 and  50 are counted in a tally of those who will be doing the actual  work of  transporting the  Tabernacle.

G‑d communicates to Moses the law of the sotah, the  wayward wife suspected of unfaithfulness to her husband. Also given is the law of the  nazir, who forswears  wine, lets his or her  hair grow long, and is forbidden to become contaminated through  contact with a dead body. Aaron and his descendants, the kohanim, are instructed on how to  bless the people of Israel.

The leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel each bring their offerings for the  inauguration of the altar. Although their gifts are  identical, each is brought on a  different day and is  individually described by the Torah.

A Word From the Rabbi

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TO INDULGE OR NOT TO INDULGE?
Something to Thing About...Something to Drink About...

A man one approached his Rebbe demanding an explanation as to what made him so great.
“You eat and I eat,” argued the disciple, “You say a blessing before you eat, as do I. So what makes you so much greater than me?”

“What you say is correct,” said the Rebbe, “Indeed, you eat and I eat; you say a blessing before you eat, as do I. But there is one small difference,” asserted the Rebbe: “You see, while you say a blessing so you can eat, I eat so I can say a blessing!”  

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Refraining from deriving pleasure - in the fullest sense - from this world, is only a fine preparation for avoda. Avoda itself is transforming the physical into a vehicle for G‑dliness. (Hayom Yom 17 Sivan)

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Should we all abstain from physical pleasures in order to become more "Holy" before the Almighty?

This week’s Parsha, Nasso, presents two somewhat peculiar laws back to back: The law of the Sotah – the wife suspected by her husband of committing adultery and the law of the Nazir – one who takes a vow of abstinence.

The former asserts that when a husband suspects his wife of having been unfaithful, she is forced to either confess or undergo a trial, in which she drinks a bitter potion. If she is guilty, it will cause her permanent injury. If on the other hand she is innocent, she will be blessed with a happy marriage and children.  Immediately following this section come the laws of a man or woman who forswear wine for a period of time as a form of religious experience.

The Rabbis (Talmud Tractate Sotah 2a) explain the juxtaposition of the two sections to imply that when a person sees a Sotah – a woman accused of adultery – he should accept upon himself the heightened spiritual responsibility of a Nazir.

The Torah hereby subtly intimates to the one who witnesses a Sotah in her state of disgrace, that drink may well have played a role in her current predicament. Realizing that overexposure to alcohol may have led to her promiscuity and ensuing disgrace, the Torah recommends that the observer take steps to protect against the same mistake.

The proximity of these two laws, hence, sheds light on the divergent status of the Nazir and his motivation to adopt the given restrictions. The Sotah follows her physical inclinations with little regard for Torah values. The Nazir, by contrast, has surrendered his physical needs and is committed to achieve a closer relationship with G‑d. Whereas the Sotah values physical pleasures over all else, the Nazir desires a greater connection with the Divine creator. No wonder that the Torah dubs him “Holy onto the Lord,” (Numbers 6:8).

Given the above, the view presented by some of the commentaries, that a Nazir is actually considered to be somewhat of a sinner – a fact which explains the law that at the end of his vow of abstinence he is required to bring an offering – is rather perplexing.

Amongst the offerings that the Nazir is obligated to bring upon the completion of his thirty-day term, described several verses later (ibid. 6:16), is a sin offering. This implies that he has done something wrong – he has committed some type of sin. Imagine that! In a span of a mere few verses, the Torah seems to have completely changed its position with regards to the character of the Nazir, from a “Holy” person, to a person who is in need of a “Sin offering.”

How are we to interpret the mixed message vis-à-vis the nature of this individual? It would appear that one who becomes a Nazir should be commended for his preventative action in protecting himself against the negative decline of the Sotah. So how is it that the Nazir is perceived to be in any way sinful? What type of sin has the Nazir committed?

In explaining this dichotomy, the sages assert that the Nazir has sinned by abstaining from worldly pleasures which G‑d has given us as a gift. This is to say that despite his good intentions to elevate his level of spirituality, by removing himself from the often detrimental effects of wine, he has failed to elevate this substance in the service of the Al-mighty.

This explanation, however, leaves a glaring difficulty. What, in the end, is the status of wine within Judaism? Is it something to be avoided, or something to be engaged? It seems like Judaism is trying to have it both ways – encouraging us to refrain and indulge in this particular substance at the same time. How is that possible?    

To make things worse, this is not the only place we find this seemingly inconsistent position towards wine and its effects, in Jewish instructional literature. The Talmud (Tractate Berachos 40a) for example, unequivocally asserts that “Nothing brings lamentation to the human race like wine.” The Torah criticizes Noach for choosing a vineyard as his first undertaking following the flood – an act which brought about the disgraceful incident with his son Cham. And yet we find statements by the sages that clearly extol the virtues of wine.

The Talmud (Pesachim 109a) for example, rules that one cannot experience true happiness on the festivals without wine. Similarly, we are encouraged to intoxicate ourselves with wine on the holiday of Purim, in order to achieve a level of closeness to the Almighty that is matched only by Yom Kippur. We tend to be left with no clear consensus on this matter, whether it a vice or a virtue.

Truth be told, this paradox is not limited to wine or alcohol alone, it rather holds true within all areas of human life and indulgence. We are cautioned, as an example, to “Sanctify ourselves in that which is permissible,” meaning, that we should refrain from indulging even in pleasures that are allowed, yet we are also forewarned that “In the future, a person stands to give an accounting for every possible enjoyment that he might have had in this world, from which he chose to refrain.” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12).

Much as with the Nazir’s consumption of wine, these ideologies seem to be utterly disparate, and yet they are both part of what the Torah demands of us. So what do we do? Do we indulge or refrain? How do we reconcile the two conflicting Torah directives?

Before we can answer this question we must recognize; as a general premise, that every substance on earth can and must be used in man’s spiritual growth and service of the Creator.

When Noach left the ark with his family as the lone survivors of the flood, the first thing he did was plant a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). A miracle occurred and beautiful grapes instantly grew, perfect for the making of wine. At that point, Noach could have taken the wine and recited some kind of Kiddush or blessing to Almighty for having saved him from the flood. Yet – overcome with depression over the desolate world that lay before him – Noach drank instead until he became drunk. This led to the shameful sin that was committed by his son Cham. Had Noach chosen the right path, it is said that he could have been the Moshiach (Messiah) and brought the world to its ultimate redemption.

We use the material substance of creation to serve G‑d in one of two ways, either by engaging it in a holy purpose, or by refraining from it for the sake of a holy purpose. There is, obviously, a higher form of spiritual accomplishment and transformation through engaging created matter in a holy act then through refraining from its use, albeit for the sake of G‑d.

Engagement is thus, as a rule, always the preferable means. We are instructed to refrain, only when there exists a lack of capacity to elevate by means of engagement, due to human flaw or weakness. By abstaining from wine, the Nazir is admitting that he is incapable of overcoming his desires. He cannot, as a result of weakness, use the gift of wine for its proper usage and therefore vows to abstain from it completely. True, he has recognized his weakness, but it would be a higher level if he could work to overcome it. His lack of ability to use the object for holiness is considered a sin for which he is obligated to bring an offering.

Given his current state, the Nazir, has made the right decision, since he is not able to elevate the alcohol, due to his weakness, and for this decision he is referred to as “Holy unto the Lord.”

It takes a strong and honest person to admit to his prevailing flaws and weaknesses. There is, after all, a human tendency to be blinded by self love. It is not uncommon for a person, upon seeing someone commit an abominable act, to apathetically dismiss the crime as being that of a lowly person, a transgression which he could never commit and which is therefore not at all relevant to him.

When we hear news about someone falling from grace, due to a shameful act of immorality, we often shake our heads in disbelief; musing how someone could ever stoop so low as to do something like that. We subconsciously pat ourselves on the back, feeling quite proud that we are not like that.  The Nazir is smarter than that. He realizes that none of us are free from the powerful influences of the evil inclination. When he encounters the Sotah, he realizes that her plight is relevant to him.

It takes a very upright and strong person to step up and do the right thing – to break the cycle of addiction and dependency. Not only does the Nazir recognize and admit to his weakness and vulnerability; he does the responsible thing by taking corrective action to prevent further decline. He doesn’t seek excuses; he doesn’t look for someone to blame or something to hide behind, he rather owns up to the situation and does the extremely difficult arduous thing of stopping his addiction in its tracks.

It is interesting to note the language the Torah uses in introducing the the Nazir: "A man or woman who shall separate “Yaflee” himself by taking a Nazirite vow. . ." (Numbers 6:2). Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, one of the leading grammatical commentators of the Middle Ages, points out that the word Yaflee comes from the same root word as “Peleh,” meaning an astounding or wondrous occurrence. As such, he translates the verse: "A man or woman who shall do something astounding by taking a Nazirite vow. . ." Most of the inhabitants of the world show little care throughout their lives for developing control over their appetite for bodily pleasures and addiction until it’s too late.

 The person that strives to curb his physical desires – subjugating them to his spiritual side – has done something truly remarkable. Still, the Torah reminds him/us that it is not yet the ultimate state of existence, because he is in a state of having to refrain from partaking and hence transforming, due to vulnerability.

The ultimate mission of man is to be in a state of self control, where the desire doesn’t dominate over him but visa-verse; he dominates over it – a state in which he is able to use it in the service of G‑d for the sake of G‑d, without becoming hedonistic or addicted by it.

This explains the aforementioned paradox, why sometimes we are enjoined to refrain from indulging even in pleasures that are permissible – “Sanctify yourself in that which is permissible”– yet, other times we are reminded of the fact that in the future, a person stands to give an accounting for every possible enjoyment that he might have had in this world, from which he chose to refrain.

The latter is referring to the ideal state, when the person is in full control of his animal inclination and thus is obligated to use every facet of creation in the service of the Creator. The former, on the other hand, is referring to a situation where the animal inclination is in control of the person. The only alternative, in that situation, is to abstain from even the smallest amount, so that he doesn’t fall prey to that selfish and hedonistic force.

The lesson of the Nazir is always read in close proximity to the holiday of Shavuos, it must hence contain particular relevance to the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai – the time when we received our mission as a holy nation and chosen people.

The Nazir can be seen as a model of our lives and priorities. The period surrounding Shavuot, is an especially ripe time for us to reaffirm our unique relationship with our Creator with the zealousness of the Nazir. Much like the Nazir, we must learn to value the spiritual – to strive and cultivate a closer relationship with the Almighty.

The example of the Nazir's singular purpose, to become holy and close to G‑d by withdrawing from the physical world, is a powerful remedy against the malady of materialism and hedonism which are prevalent today more than ever.

May learn from the Nazir's selfless devotion to G‑d, how to elevate the spiritual over the physical, so that it may become the dominant force within us – which is what the Holiday of Shavuos is all about. In the merit of all this may we witness the fulfillment of what has begun on the original holiday of Shavuos, with the coming of Moshiach BBA. 

 

Gut Shabbos!

 

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Rabbi Kahanov is the founder/director of Chabad in Northeast FL, consisting of 6 Chabad Centers
He is also the author of "What Chabad Really Believes"
If you like this, you might be interested in purchasing his book click here for more information 

 

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The Jealous Lover

G‑d talks to us in many voices: benevolent, authoritative, wrathful, romantic. Romantic? Just read Isaiah 54, or Song of Songs. Or listen to Him reminisce on our honeymoon: "I remember the kindness of your youth, your bridal love, following after me in the desert, in an unsown land..." (Jeremiah 2:1).

And like a jealous lover, He insists that ours be a monogamous relationship. Indeed, our sages regard the Seventh Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" as the extension and mirror-image of the Second Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me." (According to the Midrash, the first five Commandments correspond to the second five — see last week's Comment.) We're married to each other, G‑d is saying; the loyalty I expect from you is no less than that which you expect from your spouse.

Conversely, G‑d is also saying: human love is divine. Love between a man and a woman will attain its most glorious heights and richest depths only when it is true to its divine essence — when their place in each other's hearts and lives is as unequivocal as the Creator's place in His creation. When they can no more betray each other than a man can betray his G‑d.
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

Thoughts That Count
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You shall take a count (lit. "Lift the heads") of the sons of Gershon (Num. 4:22)

The "head symbolizes the brain and our higher faculties, which we use to learn and understand G‑d's wisdom. The Torah tells us to "lift our heads" - to constantly strive to learn more and more, for by doing so we will simultaneously "lift up" the rest of the "body," those commandments we perform with our other limbs. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

And every man's holy things shall be his. Whatever he gives the priest shall belong to him (Num. 5:10)

Someone once asked the fabulously wealthy Rothschild from Frankfurt exactly how much he was worth. Rothschild responded by quoting the verse, "And every man's holy things shall be his." "The only riches a person can count as truly belonging to him," he said, "are those he has used for good and holy purposes, such as giving charity and supporting Torah institutions. No one can take these away. The same cannot be said, however, for the rest of one's fortune..." (Fun Unzer Alten Otzar)

They shall confess their sin... and he shall made restitution (Num. 5:7)

The commandment of confessing the sin is in the plural, but making restitution is in the singular form. This, unfortunately, is the way of the world. To confess with our lips, to enumerate our sins, everyone is willing to do. But, when it actually comes to doing something concrete about our sins - to make restitution - not everyone jumps at the opportunity. The plural becomes singular. (Rishpei Aish)

The L-rd bless you and keep you (Num. 6:24)

The Priestly blessing is said in the singular because it is primarily the blessing of unity that the Jews need. (O'lot Efraim)

Because the service of the Sanctuary belonged to them; they were to bear it upon their shoulders (Num. 7:9)

Worshipping G‑d properly is hard work, requiring much effort and "elbow grease." The perfection of G‑dly service does not just happen by itself. "If one says, 'I have not toiled, yet I have succeeded' - do not believe him." (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)

Once Upon A Chassid

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My Lubavitch

Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites… according to their workload… But to the Kehos family he did not give any; for their's was [the most] holy work, they bore it on their shoulders…(7:6-9)

Every year, Reb Shlomo 'the Yellow', the melamed of Nevel, would walk to Lubavitch to spend the Simchat Torah festival with his rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer. Even in his later years when his strength had failed him, he refused to climb onto a wagon for even a minute; every step of the way was taken on his own two feet. "In my Lubavitch," Reb Shlomo maintained, "no horse will take part."

Once he said: "There will come a time when I shall stand before the heavenly court. What will I have to show for myself? What have I done with the years which have been granted me? We both know that the life of Reb Shmuel the melamed leaves much to be desired.

"But there is one thing that no one can take from me. My Lubavitch. Every year I came to the Rebbe. But imagine that when I present my Lubavitch before the heavenly court, along comes a horse claiming partnership; it was he, after all, who schlepped me to Lubavitch. The truth is, I can probably win my case against the horse, but I have no desire to have it out with a horse over my trips to the Rebbe. No horse will be involved in my Lubavitch!"

Tid Bits
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Yes, It's My Eighth Child
tid bit
Several months ago, I was getting my nails done when the tech, noticing my bump, innocently asks: “Is this your first?”

“No,” Isay and smile back.

“So, it’s not your first?” she asks again.

This time I relent, knowing what’s coming, and say, “It’s my eighth!”

“No,” she says. “I was asking if it’s your first child, not your first month.”

“I know exactly what you were asking,” I answer as she simply stares at me in disbelief.

And then, what always comes next for some reason . . . “But you look so young,” she marvels.

“That’s because I am young,” I insist, not quite sure of how old I should look for having birthed seven children!

When I was expecting my sixth child, my husband joined me as I went to get some routine blood testing. The phlebotomist quickly got over her shock that it was my sixth pregnancy, but oh the horror as she asked “all with him?” pointing at the bearded man in the doorway. As if, had it been with six different men, it would have made it all the more sound reasoning for having so many children.

A pregnant belly is always fodder for anyone and everyone’s input. Funny thing is, the comments are mostly predictable and almost always along the same lines. Among my pet peeves are remarks to my husband that this is somehow all because of him. Really? In 2018?

I actually find that a bit (read: very) offensive, as if I have no say in the matter—as if, somehow, this was a decision all his own. Which brings me to the fact that there was no decision, and the notion that we must need to be enlightened about this thing called birth control because clearly, we know nothing about it.

Here’s the thing: We have these children because we actually want them! Because we have been raised with the understanding that there is no better legacy we can leave behind than a generation of Jewish souls who will cast a light over this world that will be so bright the entire world will be permeated with love and kindness. Because we believe that there is no greater wealth we can amass than the nachas we get from our children—and the ones who come after. And that, “The crown of the elderly is the children of their children.”

It’s just a different frame of reference, another set of priorities. To us, bringing another member into our family is the greatest blessing we could ask for. Our children were counting the days until the new arrival would make its debut. And now that she has, the kisses are endless. I need to plead with them to let her sleep! The biggest gift our parents gave us is each other, and we are so fortunate to give this precious gift to our children. They will have each other always and forever. You just can never have too much love.

Upon boarding the plane with a 3-year-old, 2-year-old and a newborn, I heard a passenger say to another: “These are the people that have lots of children.”

It was many years ago, but I have never forgotten this comment. Not because I was hurt by it. Quite the contrary: It filled me then, and continues to fill me now, with so much pride.

Yes, we are the people that have lots of children. I’m proud of that. My hope is that our children feel the same.

Chana Vigler lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where she and her husband lead the local Chabad House as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

 

Notes From Israel

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