RABBI WINSTON'S WEEKLY PARSHA PAGE

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Parshas BeHa'alosecha

The NAME Of The Game

FRIDAY NIGHT:

Moshe said to Chovav, Moshe's father-in-law, the son of Reuel, the Midianite, "We are journeying to the place which G-d said He would give to us. Join us. You will benefit, for G-d has promised Israel good." (Bamidbar 10:29)
We've discussed this point in previous years, but it is an important one to review, and there is always something new to add to it, especially in current times, given the present conflict.

The starting point of the discussion is the question, why didn't Moshe refer to the final destination of the Jewish people by its proper name, instead of referring to it in terms of the will of G-d ("to the place which G-d said He would give to us")? Surely Yisro knew exactly where the Jewish people were heading at that point, and there was no need to shroud the final 'camp' of the Jewish nation in mystery.

To answer this question, we need to ask another one: Why does the Torah in this week's parshah use the name 'Chovav' for Yisro, as opposed to his proper name by which he was called in Parashas Yisro? After all, as Rashi pointed out back then, Yisro had seven names and each one had a separate meaning. Does the name change have anything to do with the fact that the original episode of Yisro occurred just in advance of our arrival at Mt. Sinai, and this final episode occurs just after our departure from Mt. Sinai?

To begin with, Rashi wrote:

He was called 'Yeser' ('additional') because (through him there was added) a section to the Torah: "You will provide, etc." (Shemos 18:21-27) He was called 'Yisro' because he became a convert and fulfilled the mitzvos and a letter was added to his name... He was called 'Chovav' because he loved (chibeiv) the Torah. (Rashi, Shemos 18:1)
Thus, the name 'Yisro' was only indicative of his acceptance of Torah and mitzvos, but the name 'Chovav' revealed how he felt about Torah and mitzvos. Why the transformation? Because 'Yisro' was his reality when he first arrived at the Jewish camp and Mt. Sinai, but staying with the Jewish people until they moved on from Sinai a year later, allowed him to develop an appreciation for the gift of Torah, and thus a love for Torah.

Moshe saw this transformation in his father-in-law and where he was holding with respect to Torah and the will of G-d. Therefore, Moshe spoke to him, not in terms of a physical land, of which converts do not have an official portion, but in terms of the fulfillment of the will of G-d that is relevant to every Jew, born and converted alike. It is the ULTIMATE destination of every Jew.

After all, even though Eretz Yisroel is a physical land, that land is only a projection of a spiritual level within the Sefiros themselves. There is an actual level within the Sefiros that bears this name, a level of G-d's light to which a Jew must attach to him or herself. The actual Land of Israel is the physical manifestation of this holy spiritual level, and therefore, it provides easy access to that level of Divine light, of Divine will.

Thus, in a very real sense Moshe was telling his father-in-law, "not only are we going to Eretz Canaan to transform it into Eretz Yisroel, but in entering the Holy Land we are going up as well to a level of unification with the Divine will that you have yet to experience here in the desert. 'Join us. You will benefit, for G-d has promised Israel good'."

However, Yisro was a man with a mission, as Rashi explains:

HE WENT TO HIS LAND: To convert his family. (Rashi, Shemos 18:27)
It wasn't that Moshe's offer had fallen on deaf ears. Rather, it was that Yisro felt there was something important he had to do before experiencing the sublime will of G-d as it can be felt and fulfilled nowhere else in the world other than in Eretz Yisroel. As a result, Yisro headed south back to his hometown instead, in order to share the good word of Torah with the rest of his family.

However, though Yisro may have left the Jewish people, Moshe, his son-in-law, left the Jewish people an important message about Eretz Yisroel for future generations. That message: If it is Torah you love and the will of G-d that you seek to fulfill, that is the essence of life in Eretz Yisroel -above and beyond any physical considerations.

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SHABBOS DAY:

And he said to Moshe, "I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you... (Shemos 18:6)
That was one dimension of the dialogue, specifically on the level between Moshe and his father-in-law. However, on another plane the discussion was a dialogue between two brothers, for Yisro came from Kayin and Moshe came from Hevel.

In fact, the first letters of the words, "Ani chosencha Yisro" - "I, your father-in-law Yisroel" (aleph-ches-yud), spell the word 'achi' - my brother. Thus, according to the Arizal, when Yisro first approached the Jewish camp with Moshe's wife and children, he sent Moshe a message: If you won't except me for who I am, then accept me into the Jewish camp because of who I was - your brother Kayin.

Indeed, says the Arizal, not only was Yisro from Kayin, but back in Parashas Shemos when Moshe killed the Egyptian who had the evil of Kayin's Nefesh within him, the newly rectified Nefesh went to Yisro, and on that day he converted to Judaism. So, it was if Yisro was saying to Moshe Rabbeinu: It was your rectification of the Nefesh of your brother Kayin that has brought me here today. Therefore, let me join you so that I can now complete the process of rectification you have begun.

More than likely this (sub)mission was not necessary for Moshe Rabbeinu to accept his father-in-law of many years to join the Jewish camp. It may even be that Moshe himself had already been aware of the information. However, it may have also added a sense of urgency to join up with Yisro and it may have helped to define another element of Moshe's mission on earth which was to help rectify his brother of old, Kayin.

If so, then this may also be a reason why Moshe urged his father-in-law/brother to stay on with the Jewish people, and why he phrased his plea in that manner. After all, even though the things we see and hear don't always register clearly on a conscious level, sometimes they do on a subconscious level.

For example, consider what G-d told Kayin back at the beginning of human sin:

G-d said to Cain, "Why are you angry and why do you feel dejected? If you did the right thing, would I not accept it? However, by not doing the right thing, sin crouches at the doorstep. It desires you, but you can rule over it." (Bereishis 4:6-7)
That had been the source of Kayin's problem from the start, not being able to accept the will of G-d and trying to impose his own on the situation instead. As the Shem M'Shmuel points out (Parashas Korach), this was hinted to in Kayin's name, which comes from the word 'kinyan' which means 'acquisition,' a term that also implies independence. However, 'Hevel,' which means 'breath,' implies humility.

So, as Yisro/Kayin was about to leave the camp and head back to Midian, to far less than an ideal Torah environment, Moshe appealed to a deeper level of Yisro's consciousness: You entered the camp on the premise of rectifying yourself as Kayin and our relationship from way back when. If so, then continue with us to a place where the will of G-d can most be fulfilled and complete that process. It was a nice try on Moshe's behalf, and probably made splitting ways that much more difficult. However, as we said earlier, Yisro had felt that before he could complete his mission as the bearer of Kayin's Nefesh at that time in history, he had to first discharge his family responsibility as Yisro, and trust that somehow this would also accomplish the former as well.

In fact, that is true for all of us. There is no question that today all souls are reincarnated, perhaps many times before. No doubt it is fascinating to find out just who we were in our previous lives, and sometimes certain healing processes depend upon knowing such knowledge. However, for the average person it is superfluous to be aware of such information that can, at best be distracting and worst, destructive.

Nevertheless, we are here in our present lives to rectify the mistakes of our previous lifetimes, on our way to complete rectification. If so, then would it not help to know what it is we did wrong in those previous lifetimes so that we can focus on fixing those problems now?

Well, yes and no, because figuring out our agenda of rectification in this world is part of the process itself for which we are rewarded in the World-to-Come. However, you can take it for granted that any spiritual weaknesses you may experience are not just shortcomings but personal tests. They are not to be overlooked but studied, understood and rectified, and in doing so all other aspects of rectification will take care of themselves.

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SEUDAH SHLISHIS:

For a whole month [you will eat meat] until it comes out of your nostrils! You [will] become disgusted with it, all because you have scorned G-d Who is amongst you and have cried before Him, 'For what purpose did we leave Egypt?'" (Bamidbar 11:20)
This is something one can't fully appreciate until one becomes a parent. Very few things insult to the bone than a child who overlooks the good a parent has done for him and instead focuses on imagined negative things. Worst yet, children often take something that is clearly a blessing and turn it into a curse from their perspective! Ouch! What parent wouldn't lose their patience with such a child and give it to them but good, one way or another?!

However, this is G-d we are speaking about, and the children were the Children of Israel, fully grown adults. Furthermore, how did the punishment fit the crime? The Talmud tells us that G-d only punishes 'measure-for-measure' - what does becoming sick of food have to do with longing for the good ole slaving days?

Unlike the spiritual world, the physical world has limits. By its very nature the materialistic world is limited, and therefore too much of anything pleasurable, or something that is normally pleasurable at the wrong time or in the wrong way, is more than the body can handle, and it will reject additional amounts. If one pushes those limits, then the normally pleasurable thing can turn into something of disgust.

Another limitation of the body is its memory. How quickly it forgets the pain it suffered when it is experiencing another, perhaps healthier pain. For example, some people will rejoin an abusive and unhealthy relationship that they had previously ended when the pain of being alone becomes more intense than the painful memory of abuse, only to break off again when the pain of abuse overshadows the pain of being alone.

This is just one of many such examples, but the solution for each is the same: intellectual clarity. We cannot count on our emotions to always support us in the path we take, and therefore we have to rely upon a clear intellectual viewpoint to guide us when our emotional footing becomes shaky and dangerous. Desire is a powerful and blinding emotion that has destroyed a lot of good in life, and is usually at the core of the rotting of most societies.

Having said that, we can now appreciate how the punishment of which G-d speaks above fit the crime of longing to return to Egypt. That they were struggling in the desert both, physically and spiritually, G-d knew and understood. That they were prepared to abandon their minds for their emotions was another story, for it indicated that the people who complained were being driven by desire and not intellect.

Thus, the pain they felt from a lack of meat caused the tremendous pain and suffering they had undergone in Egypt to seem small by comparison. It is no different than the person who is prepared to surrender a lifetime of spiritual accomplishments to satisfy a moment of physical desire. Even though he knows that when the fire of passion subsides, as it will quite quickly, he will begin to live a life of lies and deceit and self-destruction from which he usually cannot recover.

It is amazing how quickly the desirable can become disgusting, how something that symbolized excitement and success can become the symbol of unbridled passion and personal failure.

Thus, G-d wasn't simply punishing the complainers, He was warning them where their approach to life was taking them. He was telling them, us, what happens when passion and desire flip-flops reality and paints for us false pictures of pursuit. You can get what you want, G-d warns, but once you get it you won't even want it anymore. However, not only will you be stuck with it, but also with all the destruction that came with it in its wake.

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MELAVE MALKAH:

Trust and Faith In G-d, Part 8

Up until now, we have been discussing some principles regarding the concept of trusting in G-d. To the average person, trusting in G-d is like a contract to which both parties have agreed, G-d and humans. We, the people, agree to trust that G-d will protect us from harm's way in exchange for His actually doing so. What could be simpler than this?

The problem is that we never actually heard Him tell it to us personally, in His own words and with His own voice. It is just part of a tradition that we have and about which the holy books write. We can either believe them or not, which only adds to our lack of confidence in the system.

Furthermore, history has presented a far less than a perfect picture of the fulfillment of the 'contract.' People seemingly nicer than we are from generations that were seemingly better than ours, have suffered fates from which we were hoping that trusting in G-d would save us. Knowing that trusting in G-d does not deliver the goods we ordered 100 percent of the time, means that in every situation when we find ourselves up a creek without a paddle, we will be left to wonder if this is part of the failure percentile.

So, what's the point of putting all that positive energy into trusting G-d if, in the end, we're going to fall flat on our face anyhow, even if only sometimes? Who can handle the disappointment of being let down, and by G-d yet!

This is why many people would rather just go it on their own, even knowing that G-d is far more capable of helping them than they are of helping themselves. However, from ourselves we seldom expect much more than we know we are capable of achieving, which can be more reassuring than trusting in G-d Who might not come through.

The question is, for what are we trusting in G-d? Perfect personal safety? Financial security? A comfortable life? Are we in fact saying to G-d, "in exchange for my loyalty and belief, G-d, You make sure that my life is perfectly secure and comfortable."

This, of course, flies in the face of one of the shortest but most important fundamentals of creation: According to the effort is the reward (Pirkei Avos 5:22). Physical comfort is not the name of the game in life, and it never was, though it has become the basis of the Western lifestyle. If physical pleasure has a role in life at all, and it does, it is a wonderful BY-PRODUCT of being a human in a physical world while we pursue SPIRITUAL goals.

In other words, it is not material perfection that we seek, though our yetzer haras present convincing arguments to the contrary. It is spiritual perfection that we are here to try and achieve, and the only true concern a person, and particularly a Jew, is supposed to have is over wasting spiritual opportunities. That is, TRUE fear of G-d or fear of sin, for there is no greater sin than throwing away a spiritual opportunity and the eternal reward that was attached to it.

Trusting in G-d is not a painkiller. It is not something you 'take' to avoid pain, physical, mental, or otherwise. It is a declaration of belief that G-d made the world, runs the world, and sustains the world. It is a declaration, either verbal or in action, that G-d is good and only wants good for His creations and His created beings. It is an ultimate expression of confidence that there is a World-to-Come, an eternal reality that will make the events of this phase of history seem as if they never existed by comparison.

Hence, trusting in G-d is a spiritual and psychological portal that one climbs through from the deceptive and mundane, and often a physically but temporarily painful reality of this limited physical world, into the perfectly sublime and eternally pleasant world of Eternity. It's what makes life in this confusing and often dark part of existence meaningful by allowing the light of Eternity to break forth through the clouds of everyday life and to shine upon us.

Most important of all, it is not imaginary, like belief in the arrival of Moshiach himself. Today we live immersed in a world that acts as if history will go on forever as it is, controlled by nations that have very little understanding about what is truly right and truly wrong while we remain subject to their will. Knowing that one day this will all end and that evil will be eliminated from the world is a ray of hope for those who bear the brunt of such a spiritually uneducated world.

One day, after all the waiting finally comes to and end, Moshiach will come just as we were told he would, and the world will change dramatically; truth will reign once and for all, and G-d will be known to all. For those who merit to live into that period of time, our present period of history will just seem like a dream from which we have awoken, as if it never really existed. What today we can barely imagine in the future will be more concrete than anything we have ever known.

We live in a history that has many questions and not enough answers for the time being. Trusting in G-d is one of the most meaningful ways that we bridge the gap and smooth over the intellectual and spiritual potholes of life. Not artificially, though.

When the time is right, we will see that everywhere we used sincere trust in G-d to make sense of that which concerned and maybe even pained and scared us, we were right in doing so. Then we will see the good that all aspects of history were meant to achieve, and retroactively it will all become acceptable. Trusting in G-d is the way to begin enjoying the pleasure of that acceptability now on this side of history. That is the greatness and kindness one can expect for one who trusts in G-d and the way He runs His world.

Have a great Shabbos,
PW

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