Torah Fax

Friday, June 4, 2004 - 15 Sivan, 5764

Torah Reading: Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16)
Candle Lighting Time:  8:05 PM
Shabbat Ends: 9:15 PM

Take A Stand

oses was stumped. On the very first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, a group of people, having become ritually impure by coming in contact with the dead, had been denied the right and privilege to bring the Paschal offering. Not being satisfied to sit by the sidelines while the rest of the Jews brought their Passover sacrifice, or Korban Pesach, they demanded of Moses that they not be excluded from the rest of the community.
Moses, the Torah tells us in this week's parsha, did not have an answer for them, and so he consulted G‑d as to what they should do.  G‑d's response was to give them - and any subsequent person who may have missed the first opportunity to bring his Korban Pesach in a later generation  - to bring the Paschal offering a month later, on the 14th of Iyar.
In an earlier message, we discussed the powerful dual lesson that we can derive from this narrative: First that a Jew may demand of G‑d not to be excluded from serving Him.  Second, it is never too late to make up for one's past.
This week, we will dwell on another aspect of this episode; the way Moses told them to wait for G‑d's response. Moses said: "Stand and I shall hear what G‑d will command you." What did Moses mean when he said, "stand? "What would be wrong if they would sit? And if he simply meant that they should wait for him to get G‑d's answer, he could have used several Hebrew words for waiting. Why the word "stand?"
The simple answer is that since Moses was going to receive a Divine prophecy, it was important that they stand out of respect for G‑d's presence. Another way of explaining this entire episode and to understand the emphasis on the word "stand" is to apply it to our own situation. We can all see in the exchange between Moses and these unfortunate individuals who were excluded from joining their brethren in celebrating the Festival of liberation, how we may often feel when we experience the feeling of abandonment. Sometimes we feel that G‑d has forgotten us and we call out to Him, why have You forsaken me?
The Torah teaches us that when we have these feelings we must not suppress them. Instead we must go to Moses. Moses, in rabbinic literature, is representative of every Jewish leader, in whose soul, a spark of Moses shines brightly. There are times when the devoted leader can explain to us why we were abandoned. There are ways of looking at things that people of a higher spiritual composition can see that we cannot. When a person looks down at the landscape from his high perch he can see far more than those who are on the ground.
Yet, even a Moses can be stumped. There are events in our history, such as the Holocaust, that even the most sophisticated spiritual leaders could not comprehend. And rather than to make up some excuse for G‑d, the true leaders admit that they too are stumped. The Talmud relates how G‑d gave Moses a preview of future Jewish history. When he was shown how the great Sage, Rabbi Akiva, would be tortured to death by the Romans, he exclaimed: "Is this the reward for Torah?"
What does the leader do when he sees the inexplicable suffering of his people? He tells them to stand. Standing is the term that the Torah uses when it discusses witnesses. Unlike in our secular courts, where the witness sits in the witness stand (if ever there was an oxymoron), Jewish law requires that a witness must stand to testify.
Moses wanted the people who were denied an opportunity to serve G‑d and experience liberation to stand and be witnesses to this injustice. And Moses continues: "Stand and I shall hear what G‑d will command." The Hebrew word for command - Mitzvah - also means connection, because every Mitzvah is our way of connecting to G‑d just as it is G‑d's way of connecting to us. Hence, Moses says to these disenfranchised people: Stand and testify about your plight, and I shall hear how G‑d will connect again with you.
The only satisfactory response there is for all of the suffering of the Jewish people is for G‑d to once again take us into His embrace and show us how we are connected. A similar approach can be applied to the Holocaust and all subsequent suffering of the Jewish people, including the horrific event of terrorism that we have suffered from in the recent past. The Torah tells us that we have a right to complain. We have a right to go to our leaders and ask them, why have we been subjected to all of this suffering? Why can't we celebrate the Holiday of Liberation? Why are we still in exile?  And the genuine Jewish leader doesn't blame it on us - even as he is always exhorting us to improve - but rather he proceeds to demand of G‑d to show His love for His people and connect with them again, by bringing us the ultimate liberation, through our righteous Moshiach.
Moshiach Matters

A chasid persistently asked his Rebbe to tell him why the Messiah has not come and why the Redemption promised by the Prophets and Sages has not been fulfilled. The Rebbe answered: "It is written, 'Why has the son of Yishai not come, either today or yesterday?' The answer lies in the question itself: Why has he not come? Because we are today just as we were yesterday."

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