Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chukat 5774

This is the decree (chukat) of the Torah…let them take for you a red heifer.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2)

The mitzvah (commandment) of the red heifer is a paradox. People who came into a state of ritual impurity used the red heifer to purify themselves. However, the people who prepared or carried the ashes of the red heifer used to purify became ritually impure. The red heifer purified the impure and contaminated the pure.

When Torah does not provide the reason for a mitzvah, it is considered a chok, a decree. Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains that the performance of the mitzvah is completely independent of an appreciation for its rationale.

The Midrash tells that King Shlomo (Solomon), the wisest of all men, was able to understand so much, but failed to comprehend the red heifer paradox. He wrote in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 7:23: “All this I tried to understand with my wisdom; I said I would comprehend it, but it is still distant from me.” He spoke not only of the laws regarding the red heifer, but of all laws he could not comprehend and he concluded that all of Torah is above man’s reason because it is the word of G-d. Rabbis Yisroel and Osher Anshel Jungreis explain in Torah for Your Table that humans, as finite beings, cannot possibly fathom the Ayn Sof, the Infinite.

Why did G-d want the paradox of the red heifer to remain a mystery to everyone but Moshe (Moses)?

Writes Rabbi Frand: “There are many things in life that we will not understand in this lifetime. For instance, the old question of why the good suffer and the evil prosper is one of the most baffling paradoxes. Logic would dictate just the reverse…But this is the way Hashem (G-d) made His world, and we have to accept it. In order to help us accept this and the other paradoxes and enigmas of life, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of parah adumah (the red heifer).”

As parents, our children often ask difficult questions we cannot answer. When this occurs, we must be honest and frank. We should say, “I don’t know the reason. Only G-d knows.”  This might be shocking to our children who consider us all-knowing and all-powerful, like G-d. Children are accustomed to hearing us say “Because I said so” as the final word, so they can easily relate to G-d saying “Do this because it is a decree of the Torah.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Korach 5774

"And Korach took (separated himself).”  (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1)

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach challenges Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron). Chazal (the Sages) say that Korach had a vision that he would have great descendants, including the prophet Shmuel (Samuel).  He falsely assumed that he was righteous enough to be the progenitor of greatness. In fact, his sons were the ones who merited having righteous descendants.

What lesson can we learn from Korach’s mistake?

Writes Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah: “A man may possess tremendous potential and he may even have the capacity to see into the future, as Korach did. Yet, he can make one little mistake by not using this gift astutely and it tragically can cause his downfall…Instead of utilizing this prophecy as a catalyst for repentance, he [Korach] used it to impugn the leadership of Moshe.”

As parents, we must recognize our gifts. Our children have tremendous potential. Most of us have enough money to provide for our families, as well as to help people in need. We must make sure we appreciate these gifts and use them for the right purpose, the way G-d intended for us to use them. We must scrupulously avoid using our children to satisfy our own personal needs,or using our wealth to exert power and undue influence.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shelach 5774

In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe (Moses) sends out men to scout conditions in the Land of Israel. The men return and report seeing giants. “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 13:33)

What does the scouts’ report teach about how we see ourselves and how we appear to others?

The scouts thought that Israel’s inhabitants viewed them as small in size and easy to conquer. What really happened is that the spies felt small and grasshopper-like in their own eyes, so they believed that was the way Israel’s inhabitants would perceive them.

Adam Lieberman notes on the irony that the way we see ourselves is exactly how we think others feel about us. If we want people to feel differently about us, he advises that we have to change the way we feel about ourselves. For example, if we are able to see ourselves as worthy of respect and love, we will appear loveable and deserving of respect, and we will be respected and loved.

As parents, we want our children to think well of themselves so others will think highly of them and will want to be their friends. We can boost our children’s confidence and self-esteem by pointing out and praising their positive characteristics and expressing our pride in their efforts. They will internalize our good impressions and project a positive outlook to others.