A Father’s Responsibilities (Shlach)

A Father’s Responsibilities (Shlach)

One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. -George Herbert

The people of Israel had just been punished with a decree of forty years of wandering in the desert. After the people’s lack of faith following the spies evil report about the Promised Land, God had had enough. The people whom He had taken out of Egyptian slavery, the people whom He revealed Himself to at Mount Sinai, the people whom He had cared for miraculously through their sojourn through the harsh desert had rebelled, had complained and had tried God’s patience one time too many. That generation would die in the desert. Only their sons, the next generation, would merit to enter the Promised Land.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the people of Israel were crushed and despondent due to God’s punishment. Immediately after the narrative regarding the harsh forty-year decree, God transmits a seemingly unconnected set of laws. He starts talking about when they will come to the land and types of sacrifices they will bring.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Numbers 15:2 (Shlach) explains that God is comforting the people of Israel after His harsh decree. He is promising them that the next generation will enter the Promised land, that the sons will inherit the land that their fathers were supposed to conquer.

Rabbeinu Bechaye goes on to explain that God was consoling the sons and looking after them as a father. He gives examples as to the different ways that God took care of the children of Israel as a father takes care of his son. Rabbeinu Bechaye takes the opportunity to discuss a father’s responsibilities to his son and goes on to enumerate what those five responsibilities are:

  1. To perform the Brit Mila (circumcision).
  2. To teach him Torah.
  3. To redeem him from the Kohen (only applicable to non-caesarian firstborn sons of non-Levite descent).
  4. To teach him a trade.
  5. To marry him off.

To perform the Brit Mila and to redeem his son from the Kohen are straightforward one-time events. To marry off a child is also generally a one-time event though it takes much more time and effort. To teach a trade is for (hopefully) a limited period, the purpose of which is to lead the son to financial independence. However, there is one obligation that can endure for the life of the father-son relationship: that of teaching the son Torah. The Torah is endless, and hence the obligation to teach one’s child Torah is one that can last a lifetime.

It is not dependent on the age or the circumstances of the son. The son can be an adult with his own children and grandchildren, yet there would still exist that obligation, that divinely ordained responsibility to stay connected to our children through the teaching of Torah.

May we have divine assistance and success in fulfilling all of our parental responsibilities.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the memories of Milly Buller, as well as Prof. Baruch Brody. Each was a parent of exceptional children. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

To the engagement of our son, Akiva, to Orelle Feuer of Netanya. Mazal Tov!

The Authority of Servitude

The Authority of Servitude

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. -Max De Pree

Some of the high and mighty of Israel contest the authority of Moses. Moses’ reaction is unusual. He falls on his face. He doesn’t debate with Korach and his followers. He doesn’t remind them that God chose him. He doesn’t mention that he consistently refused the job and repeatedly asked God to choose someone else. Moses, the unquestionable choice of God to lead the people of Israel, doesn’t do any of what we might expect him to do to buttress his position and exert his divinely-ordained authority.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 16:4 explains the rationale for Moses’ submissive response of falling on his face, as opposed to the myriad of stronger responses he could have faced this rebellion with.

Korach and his followers weren’t being rationale. They had an agenda, with little connection to the reality or history of their miraculous exodus from Egypt and the direct divine revelations they encountered in the dessert. Moses understood that it would be folly to debate these people. Furthermore, since God had appointed Moses, it was God’s job to reaffirm His decision that Moses was his choice. The discussion was out of Moses’ hands.

Rabbi Hirsch explains further:

“The veracity of a messenger can be confirmed only by the one who sent him; so, too, the authenticity of Moses’ mission can be confirmed only by God Himself. For this reason Moses does not utter a word to counter Korach’s accusations. If God would not consider it proper to refute Korach’s words by reconfirming the authenticity of Moses’s mission, then his mission was indeed at an end, and so “he fell on his face.”

However, we know that God did indeed intervene in a most dramatic way which cost Korach and the rebels their lives. The authority of Moses and Aaron is clearly demonstrated by God, to the eventual satisfaction of the nation of Israel. God retained the men that demonstrated true service and violently and destructively removed the self-serving demagogues.

May our varied leaders understand the meaning of service.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the authoritative team at Farsight, for their incredible example of service.

Clothes make the human

Clothes make the human

Modesty is the conscience of the body. -Honore de Balzac

In order to understand the Mitzva of Tzitzit, the commandment for men to wear fringes on the four corners of a garment, Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 15:41 takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, and the sin of the forbidden fruit.

Eve took the fruit because it seemed pleasurable. Adam and Eve ignored God’s direct warning and let their instinct for physical gratification supersede the spiritual reality they were a part of. That is when they lost their innocence. That is when they demonstrated the strength of their animalistic nature and the weakness of their human resolve. That is when they realized that their nakedness was a source of shame and embarrassment, for they proved themselves no better than animals, though they were blessed with a divine spirit, intellect, intelligence, free will. That is when they are exiled from the Paradise of Eden.

That is when God gives them clothing.

The clothing served two purposes: one, to cover the nakedness, to demonstrate that they are indeed human, distinct from animals, that there is such a concept as modesty, that our instinct for physical gratification must be controlled, channeled, even sanctified. The second purpose is to protect them from the environment. The world outside of Eden is one of thorns and thistles, where weather, the elements, the surroundings are no longer idyllic.

The language of the command of the Tzitzit warns not to go after “your heart and after your eyes,” exactly the error and language used to describe the sin of Adam and Eve. The Tzitzit is a direct reminder as to the primal purpose of clothing: We are humans, not animals. Do not give in to animalistic urges. We are spiritual beings encased in flesh and bone. The body, that source of potential physical pleasure, needs to be clothed, needs to be modest; physical pleasures need to be partaken in specific, healthy, constructive ways.

When we forget the lessons of Adam and Eve, when we “go after our hearts and after our eyes,” when we forget the concept of modesty, when we forget the intrinsic nobility of man, then we risk becoming little more than sophisticated animals, driven and controlled by our urges.

May our clothing ever be dignified.

Shabbat Shalom,



In support of Rabbi Joseph Dweck, a modest and dignified leader.

Vision of the Blind

Vision of the Blind

There’s none so blind as they that won’t see. -Jonathan Swift

blindThe darkness was complete. “I am your guide,” the disembodied voice stated. We were totally dependent on that voice and then the attached hand that guided each of us individually from time to time. We were in the “Blind Museum” in Holon, Israel. Our guide had a distinct advantage over us by the fact that he was blind. He could sense our positions from the sound of our voice. He could navigate the dark rooms and corridors easily. He was at home. We were strangers in a strange land.

The Sfat Emet on the Torah reading of Shelach for 5631 (1871) states that what we see can often deceive us. We must focus instead on the inner reality of each person, each thing and each situation. The outer layer that is visible to the eye often hides a much deeper and more meaningful reality.

Our sojourn through the darkness of the Blind Museum highlighted this reality. Just by the sound of our voice, the guide could tell something about our personalities, our concerns, our predicaments, besides our locations. We in turn got a sense of his kindness, his intelligence, his sense of humor, without laying eyes on him.

The Sfat Emet explains that the Sin of the Spies was that they let their eyes deceive them. They saw the outward impressive military might of the Canaanite kingdoms. This caused them to lose faith in God and His power over all of reality. If they would have ignored the sight of their eyes and understood and believed in the true inner reality, they would have had faith and they would have succeeded in their conquest of Israel.

Sometimes it’s better to ignore the evidence of our eyes. Sometimes the blind man sees more than we do.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Gabi, our guide at the Blind Museum, “Dialogue in the Dark,” at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon. Extremely recommended visit.

The Power of the Few

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shlach-the-power-of-the-few/

Baal Haturim Numbers: Shlach

The Power of the Few

Friends, I agree with you in Providence; but I believe in the Providence of the most men, the largest purse, and the longest cannon. – Abraham Lincoln

risk-board-gameOur individualistic society likes to give importance to the difference one person can make. We have innumerable accounts of how one person, standing up to many, overcomes public opinion, resistance, and ridicule and with faith and perseverance, triumphs against the odds of the many.

However, there is one area of human activity where most are of the opinion that numbers have a direct impact on results: War. Napoleon consistently overruns professional soldiers with masses of conscripted Frenchmen who marched over their well-ordered but fewer enemies. Though the Spartans held the Persians at the legendary Battle of Thermopylae for seven days, eventually superior Persian numbers won the day.

There are obvious exceptions. The battles of modern-day Israel have consistently pitted larger forces against smaller ones, with results that surprised the world. If we go back further in Jewish history we recall the victory of the humble Maccabeans against the mighty Syrio-Greco Empire in memory for which we still celebrate Chanukah more than two millennia later.

There is an unusual account in the Torah of a particularly unsuccessful Israelite battle. It occurs immediately after the Sin of the Spies, when the representatives of the Twelve Tribes returned from spying the land, gave a frightening report as to the strength of the Canaanite enemies and in turn caused panic and hysteria amongst the people of Israel. God punishes that generation of men to die in the desert and the entire Israelite nation to wander in the wilderness outside of Canaan for forty years.

However, after the punishment is decreed, men repent and issue a war cry, stating that they are not afraid and will proceed with the invasion of Canaan, as planned previously. But it is too late. Moses warns them that God is no longer with them and that they will fail. They ignore Moses’ warning. They attack and are soundly defeated by the Canaanites.

The Baal Haturim on Numbers 14:40 states that we are talking about an Israelite army of 600,000 that was not able to defeat a much smaller enemy. However, he goes on to recall how biblical Jonathan (son of King Saul) with just the assistance of one lad was able to rout an entire Midianite army. God has no qualm to save with many or with few.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the upcoming wedding of Andrea Klotnicki and Bruno Zalcberg. May they always triumph against all odds.

Coward’s Failure

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shelach-cowards-failure/

Netziv Numbers: Shelach

Coward’s Failure

“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.”  -Napoleon Bonaparte

Experience shows a direct correlation between courage and success on one hand and fear and failure on the other. That is not to say that fear is not normal or doesn’t have its place, but it certainly worsens the odds of any victory.

Shortly before what was meant to be the historic and divinely-assisted conquest of the Promised Land, Moses sends twelve princes of Israel, a representative of each tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan, Ten weak-hearted amongst them see giants in the land and are terror-stricken.

When these spies return to Moses and the Jewish people to report the results of their mission, they make a curious remark: “We were in our eyes as grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes.”

As poorly as they thought of themselves, that is how the fearful spies appeared in the eyes of their enemies. Their fear became their reality and redefined them, not only in their own perception, but in the perception of the world. The Netziv on Numbers 13:33 explains that with fear it is impossible to win. So while the spies’ attitude was unfortunate and led to the punishment of forty years of wandering, in a sense they were correct that the young Jewish nation could not win. Their fear insured that there was no chance they would conquer the land in their time.

May we overcome our fears, take courage and experience victory.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the athletic warriors competing in the World Cup. Good luck!


Jewish Anger Management

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shelach-jewish-anger-management/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Shelach

Torah Reading of the Week: Parshat Shelach, Shabbat June 1, 2013, Numbers Chapters 13-15

Jewish Anger Management

“Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of their soul.”  -Francis Bacon

In what seems like an almost incredible statement, Moses tells God to calm down. In the notorious story of the spies, the Children of Israel have upset God one time too many and He is ready to destroy them. Moses jumps into the fray and beseeches God to show “strength”:

 And now, I pray Thee, let the power of the Lord be great, as You have spoken, saying: The Lord is slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation. Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, and according as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ And the Lord said: ‘I have pardoned according to thy word.’ Numbers 14:17-20

According to the sages and well-codified by Maimonides (see here for announcement of upcoming Montevideo lecture series on this monumental Jewish sage) – anger is one of the worst traits possible and we must work hard to mitigate its expression.

Ibn Ezra explains how God was able to “overcome” His anger and what He needed to “strengthen”. God, among His infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and other omni-traits is extremely patient (infinitely patient? Not sure about that one).

According to Ibn Ezra, God, because of the great level of patience that He possesses was able to “break” his anger by strengthening further, with Moses’ cajoling, His patience. His anger was abated (somewhat) and instead of wiping out the people of Israel, He instead castigated the spies directly and doomed that generation to die slowly in the desert over the course of forty years of wandering, prohibited them from entering the promised land, leaving it instead for a less infuriating generation.

May we learn to strengthen our own levels of patience and break our anger whenever it rears its ugly head.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the complete and speedy recovery of Yosef Yehoshua ben Gila.