Dvar Torah Masey 5776 2016 – Israel, Know Your Past

We read a very strange passage in this week’s Portion: וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys…”. (Num. 33,2) It is strange that the Torah repeats and emphasizes the various stops the Bnei Israel made during their journeys through the Wilderness. What intrinsic value does it have for us?

It is extremely important that our people know our past. The Torah says elsewhere: זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר וָדֹר, “Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation…” (Deut. 32,7) This is telling us to know what happened in previous generations, in previous years.

The truth is that this is part of the history of the Jewish people and it is tremendously important that we know it. The world we live in today makes many efforts to change the facts of the past. Think of the effort made by many people and nations today to deny the Holocaust. Think of the effort to deny Jews were ever in the Land of Israel. Lies are offered to the world today and people are gullible enough to believe anything.

It is tragic that even many of our own people are unaware of our own Jewish history. The Torah tells us in no uncertain terms that we must know our past.

Dvar Torah Parshat Masei 5774 2014

We read this week about the ערי מקלט, the Cities of Refuge. Six cities were to be designated as places of refuge for someone who killed another person accidentally. Three of these cities were to be named on either side of the Jordan. If the homicide was intentional and the necessary legal evidence was presented the killer was to be put to death. If he killed unintentionally, he is still responsible and has to flee to one of these specified cities and live there.

The question that presents itself is why he must be punished in this fashion when he did not intend to do anyone harm. It was merely an accident that he killed.

We can learn from this that a person is always responsible for all his acts. Chazal say: אדם מועד לעולם, “a person is always liable”. (BK 26a) One may think that he is exempt from hurting others if he did not intentionally act to do so. The Halachah, however, says otherwise. If you damaged or hurt someone intentionally or accidentally, you are liable for the damage you cause. A person should always be on guard and anticipate what may be the results of his actions.

Dvar Torah Parshat Matot-Umasei 5773 2013

After Bil’am failed his mission of casting a spell over the Children of Israel, according to the Talmud, he advised Balak to have the daughters of Moab and Midian entice the Israelites to sin. This advice was carried out and many Israelites perished as a consequence of their transgression.

In today’s Sidra we read that Hashem instructed Moshe: נְקםֹ נִקְמַת בְנֵי
יִשְרָאֵל , “Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites…” When Moshe instructed the people to arm to fight the Midianites he said to them: לָתֵת נִקְמַת יְקוָֹק בְמִדְיָן , “…to inflict Hashem’s vengeance against Median.” (Num. 31,2-3) Hashem called it Israel’s vengeance and Moshe called it Hashem’s vengeance. Why the change?

Moshe reasoned that the enemies of our people don’t hate us because we have strength or because we threaten them. They despise us because of our faith and our principles based on the Torah teachings. It is our way of life that differs from theirs. Thus it is not the Israelite’s vengeance, but rather that of Hashem.
This has been true throughout all ages. The Jew has been scorned and loathed, not because of his might, for he was not mighty. It was because of our way of life, because of our principles and for what we stand. That is totally contrary to their beliefs and their practices. That is also why the enemies of the State of Israel try to delegitimize it.

Dvar Torah Parshat Masei 5771 2011

The TorahMoshe recounts the journey in the Wilderness that the Israelites travelled when they left Egypt and made their long way to the Promised Land. He mentions all the stopovers that were made and reminds the people of incidents that took place in some of these spots.

In one of the stretches of land they traversed we are told: VAYISU MERFIDIM VAYACHANU BEMIDBAR SINAI, “They journeyed from Rephidim and they encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai.” (Num. 33,15) Though this is perhaps one of the most important stops they made, no mention is made that they received the Torah there.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein offers a reason and suggests that it is due to the fact that the Torah must always be considered as if it were just given. It was not to be regarded as a document that was given thousands of years ago at Sinai. It is not a revelation given for a time and space but rather a way of life for all times and for all places.

Though there was a definite purpose that Sinai was selected for this occurrence, it was secondary to the fact that the Torah was granted to us for all times and all places.

Dvar Torah Parshat Matot u’Masei 5770 2010

VAYICHTOV MOSHE ET MOTZE’HEM LEMASEHEM, “ Moses wrote their goings forth according to their journeys…” (Num. 33,2) This verse is found in the beginning of the Sidra. What follows is a list of all the stops made by the Israelites in the Wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Why was it necessary to tell us all these various stops?

There are two reasons that can be offered. Both very significant. First we are told about the difficult journey. It was not a pleasure trip as one experiences today when he comes to Israel on a fast jet. This trip took forty years with all the difficulties of a desert and the shortage of water and food. These necessities for life were made available to our ancestors miraculously.

Secondly, we are given this information to impress upon us how important it is to know our history. We must be familiar with our past to know how it came about that we came to Israel and why it is ours. It is also significant for us to know history in order to avoid the pitfalls that one faces in our times. By knowing the past we learn how to avoid the same problems in the present and we know how to deal with the trials and tribulations that confront us.

Dvar Torah Parshat Masey (Masei) 2008 5768 דבר תורה פרשת מסעי תשס”ח

In the Portion of Masey we are given a list of all the places that Bnei Israel traveled and camped when they left Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. In one particular verse we read that they journeyed from Marah and they came to Eilim where, we are told, there were SHTEIM ESRE EINOT MAIM, “…twelve wells of water”.(Num. 33,9)

They had come from Marah. The name means bitter and the place was so named because of the fact that the waters there were bitter. When the Israelites got there they complained to Moshe that they had no water and Moshe was instructed by Hashem to cast a tree into the water. When he did so the waters became drinkable.

The Chafetz Chaim pointed out that had the people had a little patience they would have come to Eilim where there were twelve wells and plenty of water. He makes the point that people should not be impatient. With a little SAVLANUT many of our problems could be solved.

Dvar Torah Matot U’Masei 2007 – 5767 דבר תורה מטות ומסעי

Usually when Hashem instructed the Bnei Yisrael about a Mitzvah the Torah tells us He told it to Moshe and Moshe conveyed the information to Aharon and then to other leaders and finally to the people. In this week’s Sidra we are given the laws concerning keeping one’s word, his oath and his vows and generally all that he promises. The Torah says: LO YACHEL DEVARO, “he should not break his word.” (Num. 30,3) What is different in this commandment is the manner in which Hashem conveyed this pertinent law. It does not say simply as always that Hashem spoke to Moshe to tell the people. Rather the Torah says that Moshe spoke to the RASHEY HAMATOT, the heads of the tribes. Why specifically to them?

We all know that when candidates are running for office they make all kinds of commitments. Even when in office they keep promising different things to all people for sundry reasons. Later they forget these promises and disregard their assurances. That is why Moshe especially directed his remarks concerning these laws to the leaders of the people. They especially should remember that whatever they promise they must fulfill.

It is a regrettable fact that in most instances today in politic life this is not the case. Promises are made only to be ignored when the time comes to fulfill them. Moshe wanted to avoid this injustice and so he spoke to the leaders first, emphasizing that although everyone is obligated to abide by their words, leaders who are prone to ignore them must be ever so more careful to remember and carry out their promises.