This week, the Torah portion outside of Israel is both Parshat Chukat and Parshat Balak. The Torah portion read in Israel is Parshat Balak.
GOOD MORNING! The story is told that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'Av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "How come I wasn't informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"
If we know our history and understand it, then we can put our life in perspective. We can understand ourselves, our people, our goals, our values. We will know the direction of our lives, what we want to accomplish with our lives and what we are willing to bear in order to fulfill our destiny. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well, "If you have a 'why' to live for, you can bear with any 'how."
We are now entering the Three Weeks, the time between the 17th of Tamuz (June 27th) and the 9th of Av (July 18th). This is a period when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people. Why do we mourn the loss of the Temple after so many years? What did it and does it mean to us?
The Temple was a central focal point of the Jewish people. Three times a year - Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot - the Jews living in the Land of Israel came to worship and celebrate at the Temple. It offered us the ultimate opportunity to come close to the Almighty, to elevate ourselves spiritually. It represented the purpose of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel - to be a holy people united with the Almighty in our own land ... a Jewish state. That is what we seek to regain and that is why we mourn and remember the loss of what we once had.
What can one read to gain knowledge, get perspective, to understand who the Jewish people are and what we are about? Certainly, reading the Five Books of Moses is the place to start. I recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition. Nineteen Letters by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch will give a tremendous understanding of the Jewish purpose. Nine Questions and Why the Jews? by Praeger and Telushkin address central issues of the Jewish people. And then there is Judaism in a Nutshell: God by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf for people who are long on curiosity, but short on time. All are available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.
In Jewish cosmology, the Three Weeks are considered to be such an inauspicious time period that one is not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (July 10), one is even advised to push off court cases until after the 10th of Av (after July 19th). We refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self-reflection and improvement.
On the 17th of Tamuz, five calamitous events occurred in our history:
- Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf.
- The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep.
- The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple.
- Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah.
- An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.
The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continues until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance - to break the body's dominance over a person's spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.
It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein is a student of Jewish history. He named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) - you guessed it, Tamuz 17! (Want the source? Ten Minutes Over Baghdad.) For more history and understanding of the holidays, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov (available in bookstores or by calling toll-free: 877-758-3242). I also highly recommend http://www.aish.com/holidays. There are many excellent articles and insights on our website.
Torah Portion of the Week
Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (parah adumah) which was burned with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure.
Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceases to flow. Once again the people rebel against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth. However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)
Aharon dies. His son Elazar is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, then repent and therefore live.
The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us. (There are many questions which need to be asked. Please consult the original work and a good commentary.)
The second portion this week, Balak, is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, is granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe's level of prophecy. The Almighty gives Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, "If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it." Bilaam is an intriguing character - honor-driven, arrogant and self-serving. (Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.)
Balak, the king of Moav, desires to hire Bilaam for a fortune of money to curse the Jewish people. It is interesting that Balak believes in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thinks that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind). Bilaam is very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews (more for the profit motive than the prophet motive).
The Almighty allows Bilaam to travel to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tries to curse us and three times the Almighty places blessings in his mouth. Balak is furious! So, Bilaam gives him advice with hopes of collecting his fee - "If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol." Balak follows the advice and consequently the Almighty brings a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam's plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.
CANDLE LIGHTING - June 21:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 6:15 Hong Kong 6:51 Honolulu 6:58
J'Burg 5:05 London 9:03 Los Angeles 7:50
Melbourne 4:50 Miami 7:57 Moscow 8:59
New York 8:13 Singapore 6:54
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Kindness is the oil
that reduces the friction
With Special Thanks to