For the week ending 19 July 2014 / 21 Tammuz 5774

Parshat Matot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows especially the role of a husband or father in either upholding or annulling a vow. Bnei Yisrael wage war against Midian. They kill the five Midianite kings, all the males and Bilaam. Moshe is upset that women were taken captive. They were catalysts for the immoral behavior of the Jewish People. He rebukes the officers. The spoils of war are counted and apportioned. The commanding officers report to Moshe that there was not one casualty among Bnei Yisrael. They bring an offering that is taken by Moshe and Elazar and placed in the Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting). The Tribes of Gad and Reuven, who own large quantities of livestock, petition Moshe to allow them to remain east of the Jordan and not enter the Land of Israel. They explain that the land east of the Jordan is quite suitable grazing land for their livestock. Moshe's initial response is that this request will discourage the rest of Bnei Yisrael, and that it is akin to the sin of the spies. They assure Moshe that they will first help conquer Israel, and only then will they go back to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Moshe grants their request on condition that they uphold their part of the deal.


The Sound of Mussar

“They (B’nei Gad and B’nei Reuven) approached him (Moshe) and said: ‘We will build sheep-pens here for our livestock, and cities for our small children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Yisrael until we have brought them to their place’.” (32:16-17)

Everyone likes a pat on the back.

Or better still — a standing ovation from a 100,000-seater stadium.

Truth be told, success teaches us little in life. It just confirms how truly marvelous we always knew we were.

When someone pulls you up short and criticizes you, even if they’re wrong, treasure their words like jewels. Maybe there’s something in there that’s true.

We are a weak generation. We find even mild criticism difficult to swallow.

In the 19th century in Eastern Europe, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810–1883) developed the “Mussar movement”. The name “Mussar” derives from the Book of Proverbs (1:2), meaning moral conduct, instruction and discipline.

It’s difficult to get people to learn Mussar when the reigning zeitgeist is “positive re-enforcement”. If we don’t get our daily dose of PR we are in danger of folding up completely. To be sure, we are a weak generation.

Don’t get me wrong. Positive re-enforcement has an essential role in Mussar. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zatzal stressed that the way to perfect one’s character is to identify one’s quintessential virtue and strengthen it. However, a love of reproof is equally essential: "The ear that hears life-giving reproof will reside in the midst of the wise (Mishlei 15:31)".

When the Sfat Emet (1847–1905) was a young boy he once stayed up all night learning Torah with a friend. As the dawn started to break he lay down to sleep, exhausted from his efforts. It was nearing midday when the Sfat Emet’s grandfather — the Chidushei HaRim (1798–1866) — entered his room and gave him “mussar” for an entire hour about how his love of sleep had led to his failure to learn Torah with sufficient diligence.

The Sfat Emet listened to his grandfather’s words of rebuke with great attention and without any attempt to vindicate himself. His friend who was standing there was amazed, and afterwards he said, “Why didn’t you say something to defend yourself? After all, you spent the whole night learning!”

The Sfat Emet replied to him, “I didn’t want to interrupt my grandfather in the middle because I wanted to hear more mussar from him."

With that he picked up a Chumash and showed his friend a section in this week’s Torah portion, “They approached him and said, ‘We will build sheep-pens here for our livestock, and cities for our small children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Yisrael until we have brought them to their place’.”

The Bnei Gad and the Bnei Reuven only defended themselves after Moshe Rabbeinu had severely criticized them (32:6-9). However, from the beginning, the intention of the Bnei Gad and the Bnei Reuven had been to cross the River Yarden and be in the vanguard of the fight. Why then did they wait so long to vindicate themselves? Why did they stand silently while Moshe excoriated them: “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?” and “Behold, you have risen in the place of your fathers, a society of sinful people, to add more to the burning wrath of G-d against Yisrael, and you will destroy this entire people.” (32:14)

Pretty strong stuff (and this is only an excerpt).

Continued the Sfat Emet: “So why didn’t they stop Moshe at the beginning?”

He explained: “Because they wanted to hear more of the sound of mussar from Moshe.”

  • Source: based on Mayana Shel Torah

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