Parshas Bamidbar

Desert, But Not Deserted


And G-d told Moshe in the Sinai Desert in the Appointed Tent on the first day of the second month in the second year of the leaving of Egypt, saying... (Bamidbar 1:1)
As we have spoken about in previous years, Sefer Bamidbar is really the one that is meant to prepare the Jewish people to leave the desert to live in Eretz Yisroel. At first this may seem easy, since what is a desert compared to Eretz Yisroel? As difficult as life in Eretz Yisroel was bound to be at first, it certainly would be 'safer' than life in the desert!

However, a quick jog of the memory reminds us that the desert for the Jews who left Egypt was quite the idyllic environment. Recall how food fell from Heaven, water came from a traveling well, clothes didn't wear away, and Torah learning was the basic daily activity under the tutelage of the best teacher of all time, MosheRabbeinu. All of a sudden life in Eretz Yisroelseemed like life in the desert, comparatively-speaking.

Thus, leaving the desert meant a departure from a certain high level of materialistic security, that was supported by a certain high level of spiritual security, since the 'Clouds of Glory' hovered above and around the traveling Jewish camp. Furthermore, overt miracles were as commonplace for the Jewish people of that time as they are uncommon for us in our generation.

When we get to Parashas Shlach, we will be reminded once again that the 'Dor HaMidbar' (Generation of the Desert) had difficulty making the transition and rejected Eretz Yisroel. As a result of a disastrous scouting mission, they came back with the famous evil report about how "the land eats its inhabitants," etc., and as a result condemned themselves to an additional thirty-nine years of wandering in the desert, and death.

One might say that it is understandable that the Jews of that time rejected Eretz Yisroel, given the demands of conquering and settling the land. However, it becomes less understandable when one considers that it was G-d Who was leading them there and insisting upon their entry into the land. It wasn't like staying in the desert was an option G-d had held before them at the borders of Canaan. Like it or lump it, they had to go in!

If so, then how could they have made the mistake? What could they have been thinking of when they spoke loshon hara about Eretz Yisroel right under the auspices of the Divine Presence? To answer that, we need to understand what the desert was and is, particularly from a spiritual point of view. It will have a surprising application in modern terms.

Even though they saw the Clouds of Glory constantly encompassing them, nevertheless they felt the villainy of the S"M (the initials of the 'Obstructing Angel' whose role it is to spiritually challenge a person). They constantly worried that maybe the high level of light [taking care of all their needs] might end [and leave them defenseless against the forces of evil]. However, Moshe Rabbeinu knew full and well that they had been led into the desert, the 'kingdom' of the S"M, to test them, to go to war against him and to break him. (Drushei Olam HaTohu, 2:5:4:3)

In other words, though deserts are usually defined as physical wastelands, places that do not support physical life at all, that is only to allude to the fact that a true desert is a spiritual wasteland, places that do not support spirituality that well. They are the dominion of the 'Sitra Achra,' places in the world where the yetzer hara has an easy job of getting the better of a person, spiritually-speaking.

Thus, from a Torah point of viewpoint, a desert can exist right in the midst of a built-up city, where food and drink are plentiful and life is never boring, materialistically-speaking, of course. If spirituality is dead or close to it in that place, then as far as the Torah is concerned, it is a desert, or worse, an 'Egypt,' a place to be left behind for the spiritual security of Eretz Yisroel.

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"Like in the days of leaving Egypt I will show you wonders." (Michah 7:15)
Thus, the Generation of the Desert, along with the Erev Ravwill reincarnate in the final generation, "like in the days of leaving Egypt" (Michah 7:15). As well, Moshe will arise among them. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 20, p. 54)

"The land eats up its inhabitants!" is a cry that has reverberated throughout the many generations in exile until this very day. And ESPECIALLY so in this day, since barely a day goes by that Jews living in Eretz Yisroel are not murdered by terrorists. If it doesn't happen physically, then it certainly seems to be happening emotionally and psychologically.

At least, that is the way it seems to appear to the Jews of the Diaspora today. Enveloped in 'clouds' of physical security (though that is quickly diminishing in parts of Europe), life inEretz Yisroel, or even only YEARNING for life in Eretz Yisroel is out of the question for now, if it was ever an issue to begin with. Jews feel safer in the 'kingdom' of the Sitra Achra than they do in the place of which the Torah writes:

For, the land you are about to possess is not like Egypt from where you came, and in which, if you sowed seeds, you had to bring water to them as you would for a garden of green herbs. The land you are about to possess has mountains and deep valleys, and is watered by rain from the sky-a land which Hashem, your G-d, cares for, Hashem, your G-d pays attention to continuously the entire year. (Devarim 11:11-12)
and the Talmud elaborates:
G-d personally waters Eretz Yisroel; the rest of the nations receive sustenance through a messenger. (Ta'anis10a)

Eretz Yisroel receives rain, but the rest of the world just receives the residual. (Ta'anis 10a)

The rabbis of the Talmudic period (who happened to also live outside of Eretz Yisroel), felt so strongly about the spiritual greatness of Eretz Yisroel that they even admonished:
Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel, it is as if they worship idols. (Kesuvos 110b)
If so, then the next statement might not be as hard to swallow as it seems to be at first glance:
It is better to live in Eretz Yisroel in a city that is inhabited mostly by non-Jews than to live in a city outside ofEretz Yisroel that is inhabited mostly by Jews. (Kesuvos 110b)
Well, THAT sure flies in the face of conventional Jewish wisdom! Unless, of course, you consider that:
Anyone who walks four amos in Eretz Yisroel is assured a portion in the World-to-Come. (Kesuvos 111a)
Not only that, but:
One who lives in Eretz Yisroel lives without transgression. (Kesuvos 111a)
To whom does this refer? It can refer to someone who is sinless, but we are told by Shlomo HaMelech that even righteous people are not THAT perfect. Even if they were, then no matter where they live they are living without transgression, unless you hold like Rashi that just living outside of Eretz Yisroelcounts as a sin. (Yevamos 64a)

More than likely it is talking about someone who makes mistakes but tries hard not to. However, becoming cleansed of any sin is always a two-step process: teshuvah and kaparah - repentance and atonement. Teshuvah brings forgiveness, but it is atonement that removes the spiritual stain that a sin leaves behind.

However, the merit of living in Eretz Yisroel and of living in such close proximity to the Divine Presence is in itself a form of automatic teshuvah and kaparah. The intrinsic holiness of the land has cleansing properties for the person who does not resist such a level of spiritual connection to G-d and Torah.

For the time being, the door is closing on aliyah for many Jews today. Not only is it hard for them to make such a transition, and maybe even outright impossible, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for Jews of the Diaspora -particularly the North America Diaspora -to even find a single good reason why they should even WANT to live in Eretz Yisroel!

The only question is, "Who is closing the door on whom?"

The spies of Moshe's generation were pretty sure about what they saw and how they related to it, until G-d stepped in and revealed how HE felt about the situation. Then they did a 180 degree flip and begged to go, unconditionally. History tends to repeat itself, but not every detail must, and the starting point to breaking the chain of rejection if realizing just what a true 'midbar' is, who was given dominion over it, and how to leave it once and for all.

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You must count seven complete weeks from the day after the day of rest [the second day of Passover], from the day that you brought the omer for the wave-offering, until the day after the seventh week, a total of 50 days... You must proclaim that day as a sacred day, on which you will do no work. (Vayikra 23:15-16; 21)
Parashas Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbos in advance of the holiday of Shavuos. After all, the Torah was given in themidbar, and the Talmud tells us that one must make himself like a desert to receive Torah (Eiruvin 54b)- which is essentially that humility is a key trait for receiving Torah.

It is said that the fifty days between the celebration of the leaving of Egypt - the first day of Pesach - and the day that celebrates the receiving of Torah is divided into two parts: from Pesach until Lag B'Omer, and from Lag B'Omer until Shavuos. Thus, during the first 33 days the light that governed the redemption from Egypt dominates, only to be replaced by the light that was involved in the reception of Torah.

What is the practical difference between the two lights? The difference is that the first light has the ability to redeem a Jew from sources of spiritual impurity, to cleanse a person of the effects of being an Egypt of his own. However, the ability of the second light is to draw one close to G-d and Torah, and it allows a Jew to spiritually position himself in preparation to receive Torah each year on his own.

Having said this (somewhat late), we can have a better understanding of the work that has been cut out for us during the period of theOmer. Stage 1 in preparation of 'Kabbalos HaTorah' is to purify our camp. The Seder was to initiate a process that meant leaving our own personal Egypts in whatever forms they take. This means reorganizing our spiritual priorities and redefining our relationship with the materialistic world.

After having done this by the 33rd day of the Omer - Hod sh'b'Hod- a most 'glorious' day, we are ready to turn our sights in the direction of Har Sinai and the single most important event to change the history of mankind since Adam's sin: the giving of Torah. It is the time to begin molding ourselves into the biggest and strongest containers for Torah we can be, so when the light emanates down on Shavuos night, we are capable of receiving as much of it as possible.

In a sense, the first 33 days of the Omer are for developing a distaste of spiritual impurity and all that it employs to draw us in and swallow us up. For, while it is easy to hate and distance oneself from the likes of Hitler, may his memory be erased, and his evil philosophies, it is far less easy to do so from the parts of life that bring us physical pleasure, but which have no positive spiritual significance.

These too belong to the camp of evil, but since they serve us we have difficulty seeing their spiritual damage and little desire to do so. The only people who truly understand their power to ensnare a human being and enslave human consciousness is are the folks in 'Marketing and Advertising' in Hollywood.

The final 17 days, the numerical value of the Hebrew word 'tov,' which means 'good' and that which the Supernal Light of Torah was called upon in its revelation in creation, is for acquiring a taste for spirituality. It is one thing to despise evil, but something altogether different to love good, which is why there are so many nice people in the world, but so few who actually strive for spiritual excellence.

Like everything else in creation, the love of Torah is based upon understanding its importance and value to us. The more one appreciates his dependence upon Torah to achieve personal fulfillment and ultimately, his portion in the World-to-Come, the more one comes to love Torah and yearn to know it on the most intimate level. If a Jew does not feel such a love-sick desire to know and relate to Torah, it is not a reflection of any lacking on the Torah's part, but a measure of a person's own lack of comprehension of what Torah really should be to him.

As of this Shabbos, we are holding within a couple of days of completing the Omer-Count for 5762, and of the 3,314th Kabbalos HaTorah of history. It's a little late to start the process, for if G-d gave us 49 days to work it through each year, who are we to decide that we can do it in four days?

Nevertheless, we are not allowed to abandon trying, and as we approach the sixth of Sivan, the light of Kabbalos HaTorah becomes stronger and more powerful. If our drive for Torah also increases with each passing moment, then we can scale spiritual heights as we never thought possible, especially in so short a time.

G-d and Torah are calling us, as they have to billions throughout the millennia. Will we answer the call?

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Trust and Faith In G-d, Part 6

"One who trusts in G-d will be encompassed by kindness(Tehillim 32:10). Even an evil person who trusts in G-d, kindness encompasses him." (Midrash Tehillim, Mizmor32)
"It seems to me that any promise of good [from Heaven] cannot change for the bad, even if a person sins..., " as it says outright in Midrash Tanchuma, Parashas Vayaira, 13 (see there). However, concerning what was said by Yirmiyahu (18:10), that even good can be turned around for bad, this is referring only to instances when the cause of the sin was the trust itself, that is the person relied upon the good and this led to his behaving with indifference... As it says in the Talmud: For someone who says, "I will sin and Yom Kippur will atone for me," Yom Kippur will not atone." (Drushei Olam HaTohu, 2:5:4:3)

In other words, bitachon (trust in G-d) is not a reason for sin. A person cannot say, "Well, since G-d promised me that if I trust in Him things will go my way, therefore I will do all kinds of sins while at the same time trusting that He will help me out." Nice try, but no way.

Dovid HaMelech, says the Leshem, was talking about someone who tries to live by Torah, but, you know, being human, makes mistakes, even silly ones. They don't WANT to sin, but theyetzer hara is a powerful enemy who gets the better of even some of the more righteous people in the world, of which they are not yet, but they're trying. In their own way they are trying to be good.

For such people the Midrash's elaboration holds true. Yes, they will have to try and avoid sin in the future. Yes, they must repent for the ones already committed. Yes, atonement is necessary to wipe the slate clean every year. But no, the sins they have committed will not interfere in the good they have coming to them because they trusted in G-d. Yes, in spite of their past, G-d will help them of even the stickiest situations in life?

Completely? That depends upon the depth of their trust in G-d. It stands to reason that if they trust in G-d 60 percent, they can expect a 60 percent salvation from G-d, if 40 percent, a 40 percent salvation, and if 80 percent, an 80 percent salvation. And, if their trust in G-d is perfect, then they can expect, but not rely upon, the greatest of miracles.

To the average person, it sounds great, but unlikely. On the other hand, the 'average person' rarely rises to the challenge to test it out. Yet, if you speak to people who have they will tell you of the phenomenal miracles that have happened for them, how G-d got them out of this situation or out of that one. Others will listen in either disbelief, or shake their heads in amazement.

For, trusting in G-d and realizing the truth of Dovid HaMelech's statement is just one of those things that is only understood by those on the 'inside.' What better way to become initiated than to take the 'plunge.'

Have a great Shabbos and Shavuos. May we hear only good news, the best of all being that this final exile has indeed come to its end, and redemption is at hand.

Pinchas Winston

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