Torah Fax 

Thursday, July 24, 2008 - 21 Tammuz, 5768


Torah Reading: Mattot (Numbers 30:2 - 32:42)

Candle Lighting: 8:00 PM

Shabbat ends: 9:05 PM

Pirkei Avot: chapter 1


Fire and Water


This week's parsha of Mattot tells the story of the war the Jews waged against the nation of Midian. In the aftermath of the war, Elazar, the High Priest, taught the Jewish people how they should kosher the utensils that they captured from the Midianites.


This narrative actually serves as the basis for the laws of how to take a non-kosher utensil and make it kosher. The basic rule presented here is that any utensil that was used to cook its contents with water, must be purged by using boiling water. The logic behind this is that when one cooks a non-kosher product in a pot, that pot will absorb some of the taste of the non-kosher product. The way we can get the pot to expel its absorbed taste is by boiling water in that pot. This boiling process has the capacity to reverse the process of absorption. If, however, the pot that was used to cook the non-kosher food used only fire or heat - such as a baking pan or grill - then one must use fire to remove the absorption of non-kosher taste in the pot.


These laws, the Torah states, were taught not by Moses, but by his nephew, Elazar. According to Rashi this was because Moses had gotten angry with the Jews when they failed to follow his instructions. As a result he forgot these laws and it was Elazar who was compelled to teach them to the Jewish people.


It is intriguing that of all the Torah’s laws, Moses did not teach the laws of koshering utensils. What significance can be attached to this fact? Additionally, every law mentioned in the Torah can be applied to everyday experiences of life. What is the significance of purging the impurities from a utensil by water and fire?


Life is a constant struggle. We are always fighting a war against one obstacle or another. In the process of fighting against our enemy we may occasionally appropriate the "utensils" or instruments of our enemy. We may possibly absorb certain customs and mores that were never a part of our own culture. But such is the character of an engagement with a foe. In the terminology of the Chassidic classic Tanya: "One who wrestles with a dirty person, also accumulates some of the dirt."  In this context, the Torah instructs us to purge ourselves from these unwarranted influences.


Moses, therefore, was not chosen to be the one to transmit these instructions. Moses' level of holiness was so high he was beyond being affected by any involvement with the lowly world. Moses fought against Pharaoh-indeed, he grew up in Pharaoh's palace-and was never affected by it. In the terminology of Kabbalah: Moses' soul descended from on high, without having to go through the transformative process of descent from the highest spiritual realm (known in Kabbalah as the world of Atzilut-emanation) down to the lowest level, to our material world. Moses' soul-exactly as it was in its original pristine form-entered into his physical body. Moses thus could not be affected by engaging in battle with the world, because even "down here" he was truly "up there." He was never a part of this world but always a part of a higher world. G‑d thus orchestrated it that he would "forget" these laws and have Elazar reveal them instead.


Let us explain the deeper meaning behind koshering utensils. Generally, there are two levels of absorption: First when we confront a foreign culture, we might develop a sense of coldness and indifference to our own culture. Emblematic of this phenomenon was the way Jews who came to this country found it distasteful to dress in the traditional Jewish manner that was the norm in the Shtetel. Conversely, there are those who go further and actually develop a passion-fire for ways that are alien and even hostile to Jewish values. Both forms of absorption can be purged. One must use coldness and indifference to foreign values to expel the coldness and indifference to Judaism that one picks up in the process of engagement with foreign cultures. Similarly, one must use fiery passion for Jewish ideals to purge oneself from the misplaced fire and ardor we might have for the wrong ideals.


In Jewish law we are taught that while the method of purging through boiling water does not work for utensils that use only fire, the converse is not true. One may use fire to kosher any utensil even the one that was used water to absorb the forbidden taste and substance.


As we stand now poised to enter into the era about which the prophet predicts that all the impurities will be purged from the world, we should reflect on what the most useful method we ought to employ in this direction. Rather than having to use both "water" and "fire," we should focus all of our energies on setting our souls on fire; by instilling all of our Jewish efforts with fiery enthusiasm, known in Hebrew and in Chassidic parlance as Hitlahavut.. With this approach we can kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. We get rid of the icy indifference and hostility to Judaism while we simultaneously get rid of the misplaced passion for the wrong things as well. This fire that bursts forth from the core of our soul has the capacity to burn down the final remnants of the wall that separates us from a world of total goodness.


This week's parsha of Mattot tells the story of the war the Jews waged against the nation of Midian. In the aftermath of the war, Elazar, the High Priest, taught the Jewish people how they should kosher the utensils that they captured from the Midianites. 


Moshiach Matters 

It is central to Jewish belief that the era of Moshiach is not just a “time” when there will be peace and harmony. This Age will be ushered in by a human being, King Moshiach. Anyone who believes  in the “Era of Moshiach,” and even recognizes that it is who G‑d will bring it about - but fails to recognize the centrality of Moshiach the person, is considered as if he has denied the entire Torah.... (Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #356)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit  

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