Parashat Bamidbar 5781 – Imperfection is Perfect

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There is a beautiful Gemara [Shabbos 88b] describing an event that took place in Heaven prior to the giving of the Torah: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: When Moshe ascended to the Heavens to receive the Torah, the ministering angels said before Hashem: “Master of the Universe, what is a human doing here among us? Hashem replied: He came to receive the Torah. The angels said before Him: The Torah is a hidden treasure that was concealed by you 974 generations before the creation of the world, and you seek to give it to humans? As it is stated: “The word which He commanded to a thousand generations” [Psalms 105:8]. Since the Torah, was given to the twenty-sixth generation after Adam, the first man, the remaining 974 generations must have preceded the creation of the world. “What is man that You are mindful of him and the son of man that You think of him?” (Psalms 8:5). Rather, “God our Lord, how glorious is Your name in all the earth that Your majesty is placed above the heavens” (Psalms 8:2). The rightful place of Hashem’s majesty, the Torah, is in the heavens. Then, Hashem said to Moshe: Answer them as to why the Torah should be given to the people. Moshe said before Him: Master of the Universe, I am afraid lest they burn me with the breath of their mouths. Hashem told him: Grasp hold of My throne of glory and answer them as it is stated: “He causes him to grasp the front of the throne and spreads His cloud over it” [Job 26:9], and Rabbi Nacḥum said: This verse teaches that Hashem spread the radiance of His presence and His cloud over Moshe. Then, Moshe said before Him: Master of the Universe, the Torah that You are giving me, what is written in it? Hashem said to him: “I am Hashem your God Who brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage” [Exodus 20:2]. Moshe said to the angels: Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours? Again, Moses asked: What else is written in it? Hashem said: “You shall have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:3]. Moshe said to the angels: Do you dwell among the nations who worship idols that you require this special warning? Again, Moshe asked: What else is written in it? Hashem told him: “Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it” [Exodus 20:8]. Moses questioned the angels: Do you perform labor that you require rest from it? Moshe asked: What else is written in it? “Do not say the name of the Lord your God in vain” [Exodus 20:7], meaning that it is prohibited to swear falsely. Moshe queried: Do you conduct business with one another that may lead you to swear falsely? Moshe enquired: What else is written in it? Hashem said to him: “Honor your father and your mother” [Exodus 20:12]. Moses asked the angels: Do you have a father or a mother that would render the commandment to honor them relevant to you? Moses asked again: What else is written in it? Hashem replied: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal” [Exodus 20:13] Moses questioned the angels: Is there jealousy among you, or is there an evil inclination within you that would render these commandments relevant? Immediately they all agreed with Hashem, that He made the right decision to give the Torah to the people of Israel as it is stated: “Hashem our Lord, how glorious is Your name in all the earth” [Psalms 8:10], while “that Your majesty is placed above the heavens” is not written because the angels agreed with Hashem that it is appropriate to give the Torah to the people on earth.” This Gemara raises a few questions: 1) Why didn’t Hashem reply to them directly, why was it so important that Moshe does it? 2) How did the angels dare question Hashem’s decision? If it is requested from simple mortals like us to trust Hashem, despite our evil inclination, isn’t it even more so for celestial angels that witness Hashem’s omnipresence? 3) Why did Moshe feel the need to go through an entire list of arguments when a couple would have sufficed, as they all seem to go in the same direction? The Zohar teaches us that before the Bnei Yisrael “sanctify” Hashem daily by saying “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” the angels are unable to say it as it is too Holy. The logic seems reversed; We are the imperfect ones, as described in the above Gemara. To a certain degree, we enabled the evil penchant to take hold of us. So, if something is too holy for the angels, it is even more so too holy for us. Thus, the Holy Zohar revealed that we are the only one able to start the daily sanctifying process of Hashem. What is the secret behind it? When you think with logic you will get nowhere, as it is the anti-thesis of the Torah way of thinking. As it will be proven, justice can be reached only with Torah’s logic, not with Hellenistic’s logic. Moshe in his argument with the angels described the very evil penchants that face a human in this world. Yes, we will fall time and time over, but we will raise ourselves despite how painful it is, only in the Honor of Hashem and to return to Him. We were given Heavenly edicts in a mundane world and ordered to follow them. And, on a daily base, we are trying our best. Thus, when we fail we ask humbly forgiveness to Hashem. This is the biggest pride a Father can have from His Children. He gave them a mission impossible, to live in a physical world full of attractions, but to swim against stream. However, The Midrash [Bereshis] reveals that when angel descended on earth to prove to Hashem that they could remain as holy on earth as they were in heaven. The outcome was disastrous, the very next day they had already corrupted their ways and had sinned more that the wickedest human. They showed they were weaker than humans and had less conscience. In retrospective, who are Hashem true angels? Us, the imperfect ones, but despite our deficiencies and the world temptations we keep on coming back to Hashem. This is the reason Hashem cherishes our services, and we precede even the Celestial angels. Thus, the Torah is critical to our success, as only with it we can overpower the evil penchant: Torah [תורה [numerical value is 611, exactly as the na me of the names of the evil angels [לילית סמאל = [611, which the Zohar calls the great serpent. Let me share an inspiring Shavuos story with you: Many years ago, there lived in Tunis a worthy Jew named Matzliach. He was a great lover of Torah, though not an outstanding Torah scholar. He was not very rich, but generous in his charity contributions, and he was a G-d fearing man. Matzliach the Antique Dealer, as he was known, for he was a dealer in old wares and antiques, was well respected in the community. He was particularly praised for his special custom in connection with Shavuot, the Festival of Mattan Torah. Every year he would invite ten Torah scholars to his home on the first night of Shavuos, for whom he prepared a fine feast. After the feast they would all recite Tikkun and study Torah all night, in honor of the great festival of Receiving the Torah. It all started many years before, when Matzliach learned for the first time about the origin of the Jewish custom to stay awake on the first night of Shavuot. He was greatly surprised to learn that on the night before that great day when G-d was to give the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, they did not stay awake. Indeed, they slept soundly, so that when G-d descended on the mountain early in the morning to give the Torah to His chosen people, they were not there! So G-d let loose thunder and lightning which woke them up and sent them hurrying to the Mountain. Not that the people were not eager to receive the Torah. On the contrary, they had been counting the days – forty nine days, seven full weeks -from the day after they departed from Egypt, eagerly awaiting the great day of Mattan Torah. Yet the night before that great event, when one would have expected them to be too excited even to think of sleep, they slept more soundly than ever! Did they want to be well rested, refreshed and wide-awake for the great moment of the Divine Revelation? Be it as it may, it was a letdown. And so it became the custom of Jews everywhere to make up for it and stay awake the night of Shavuot, and in this way “correct” the wrong impression. This is what Tikkun means -“correction.” Well, Matzliach and his guests certainly observed this custom in a fine way, and it impressed and inspired the whole community. There was not a Jew in Tunisia who did not stay up that night. Old and young gathered in the synagogues to recite Tikkun and learn Torah all night, and special refreshments were served to help keep them awake. There came a time, however, when Shavuot approached and Matzliach found himself in a difficult situation. Business had not been good, and Matzliach simply had no money, not only for his usual feast, but not even for the needs of his own family in the way of food and wine for Yom Tov. Sadly he told his wife Mazal about his predicament, and she was greatly distressed “It is not so much our own need that distresses me,” the good woman explained, “but the fact that you cannot keep your fine custom. It is sad to think about it.” “But what can we do?” “Well, I still have my precious earrings,” Mazal said, taking them off from her ears. “Here, take them to the pawnbroker and get a loan till things will improve. You should be able to get enough for Yom Tov and for your usual feast. “G-d bless you,” Matzliach said gratefully. He took the earrings to the pawnbroker and obtained a tidy sum of money against them. As he was walking home cheerfully, Matzliach met the venerable Rabbi Hai Tayeb, Chief Rabbi of Tunisia. Matzliach greeted the Rabbi respectfully, and the Rabbi returned the greeting, obviously pleased to have met him in the street. “You saved me a trip,” the Rabbi said. “I’m going around collecting for our poor, so they, too, can celebrate the Festival of Mattan Torah with joy.” Without hesitation, Matzliach put his hand in his pocket and gave the Rabbi the money he had just received from the pawnbroker. The smile with which Matzliach gave the money pleased the Rabbi no less than the donation itself. “G-d bless you to do many Mitzvot and good deeds,” the saintly Rabbi said, as they parted. Slowly Matzliach continued his way homeward. “What am I going to tell my wife?” he wondered. Suddenly he heard his name called. “Ya, Matzliach! You’re just the man I want!” The caller was one of the royal servants of the Bey of Tunis. “His Majesty sent me out to buy a set of antique coffee-cups. I have no idea where to get them. But you are an antique dealer. Get them for me, and you will be amply rewarded,” the courtier said. “I will try my best,” Matzliach promised. If there were such cups, Matzliach knew where to find them, and find them he did. The dealer Matzliach went to was pleased to get rid of them; he had had them too long and despaired of ever selling them. Now he was pleased to sell them to Matzliach on credit, for he knew the Jewish antique dealer as a trustworthy man. Walking through the marketplace, Matzliach met the courtier again, for he was shopping for other things. “Did you manage to find the right cups for me?” the courtier asked eagerly. “Thanks to the One Above, I did.” The courtier took Matzliach with the cups to the Royal court and introduced him to the Bey. The king was very pleased with the cups. ” Just what I wanted,” he said. “I know that the Jews are now busy with preparationns for their festival. I am pleased that you took time out to find me these lovely cups. By the way, how are you doing with your preparations for the Festival?” “The truth to tell, your Majesty, I have not yet bought a thing for Yom Tov.” The king immediately ordered one of his servants to send to Matzliach’s house two sacks of fine flour, a jug of olive oil, and two choice live lambs. Then he asked Matzliach what he owed him for the cups. Matzliach told the king what he paid for them and his usual commission. “What? That’s all you paid for these precious cups?” the king said, much surprised. “Well, the ruler of Tunisia is not looking for bargains. You shall be paid their full value!” Matzliach left the king’s palace with a very large sum of money. Walking briskly home, whom should he meet if not the Chief Rabbi, again. “I can now afford to double my donation,” Matzliach said happily, as he handed the Rabbi an amount equal to his first generous donation. “Rabbi, your blessing was fulfilled,” Matlizach said, and told him how G-d was kind to him. “Thank G-d, we both did very well today,” the Rabbi said. “Have a happy Yom Tov.” And a happy Yom Tov it was indeed for Matzliach and his good wife Mazal. And what made them happiest of all was that this year, too, they were able to observe their custom of celebrating Tikkun-night as ever before

Rabbi Fridmann

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