Parashas Matos 5780 – Serving Hashem with Joy

The Gemara Baba Kama 38a recounts Moshe saying, “And the Hashem said to me, do not be at enmity with Moav, neither contend with them in battle. What entered Moshe’s mind, that Hashem had to warn him not to undertake this action? Did he really intend to wage war with the Moabites without permission? Rather, Moshe reasoned an a fortiori inference by himself, saying: And if with regard to the Midianites, who came only to help the Moabites harm the Jewish people, the Torah said: “Harass the Midianites and smite them” with regard to the Moabites themselves, is it not clear all the more so that they should be smitten? To counter this logic, Hashem told Moshe: I have two virtuous fledglings to extract from them: Ruth the Moabite, who will be the foremother of the dynasty of David, and Naamah the Ammonite, Solomon’s wife, who will ensure the continuation of the dynasty. The Midrash relates that the Moabites retired when they heard Bilaam saying that Hashem’s approval was required. They realized then, there was no hope to defeat the Bnei Yisrael as Hashem loves and protects them, he will never agree to Bilaam nefarious plan. There was no chance that Hashem will accept Bilaam’s curses. Only, the Midianite Ministers of Bilaam remained. Therefore, When Bilaam advised Balack to entice Israel into harlotry, the Midianites were the ones who immediately jumped on the band wagon. The Talmud Sabbath 77b says: There are five dreads, [i.e., fear that the weak casts over the mighty]: The dread of the mafgia, [a small creature] over the lion; the dread of the mosquito over the elephant; the dread of the gecko over the scorpion; the dread of the swallow over the eagle; the dread of the kilbit, [a small fish], over a whale. The commentators ask how a mosquito can subdue a large elephant? How can a small subdue a whale that weighs hundreds of tons of muscle and bone?

The answer is that it uses the might of the strong against itself. When the whale, out of fear panics and runs away, sometimes its only option is to project itself on land and dies there. The elephant too, when the mosquito stings it the in the most sensitive areas, it enters a rage and starts racing through the woods to ultimately stumble on a trunk and die. Bilaam’s wickedness was to use Israel’s might against itself. Since their strength and might is conditional on Hashem being in their midst, and the only way was to impurify them through immorality. The Moabite females tried to entice the Jewish people but failed, as they were not familiar to immorality. However, it was the trade of the Midianite females, as the Midrash states that the Tribes were furious that Yosef was sold to Midian, as already then it was a place of harlotry. It was their way of life as can be drawn from the Talmud Sanhedrin 82b: “Rav Shesheis says: Cozbi was not her real name; rather her name was Shevilnai the daughter of Zur king of Midian. She was called Cozbi since she distorted [shekizzeva] her father’s instructions. He told her to submit herself only to the greatest of Israel [Moshe], and she submitted herself to the leader of a tribe. The king did not see anything wrong that his own daughter becomes a harlot! However, what sustains us and protects us from the Bilaam of every generation is our love for Hashem, our joy to practice the Mitzvos and the attention to the details of each Mitzva. We take pride to purchase beautiful Tefilin, Mezuzos and Esrog, despite the time and efforts invested. Our enemies come with their might and rely on it to crush us, but we counter them and defeat them with the name of Hashem. This story illustrates this beautifully: After lying unconscious for days, clammy with cold sweat and hovering between life and death, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk’s eyes fluttered open. His students, who were gathered around his bed, felt the dread constricting their hearts relax a little. A slow recovery followed, but he eventually regained his full health. Having glimpsed the afterlife, Rabbi Elimelech shared a story of his time in Heaven: Upon reaching Heaven, Rabbi Elimelech encountered Rabbi Avraham Azulay, author of the Kabbalistic book Chesed leAvraham. The two spent many hours strolling through different heavenly palaces, All the while, Rabbi Avraham kept expressing his admiration for the nascent Chassidic movement and wanted to show Rabbi Elimelech the rewards awaiting those them. As they climbed a small hill, a magnificent structure rose into view. The thunderous sound of Torah learning boomed from the tall, gleaming windows. It was a grandiose house of study.

Rabbi Elimelech approached the exquisite front doors and was pleasantly surprised to recognize a man standing there—the bookbinder from Lizhensk. “Mordechai,” chuckled Rabbi Elimelech, “What brings you to this yeshivah?” Mordechai replied, “I meant no offense, here I’m called ‘Reb Mordechai,” and “Despite my history as a rather simple Jew, things changed once I ascended here.” After my passing, I was brought before the Heavenly Court. The proceedings began and angels started loading the scales with my deeds. evidence of my sins overweighed my good deeds, and the Heavenly Court condemned me to Gehinnom. Overwhelmed by a sense of self-disgust, I accepted the verdict. I hastily exited the courtroom and began to walk down a barren road. The air around me shimmered with terrible heat, which increased with every step. The flaming borders of Gehinnom soon loomed into sight. Before I endured the heat any longer, a pair of anxious-looking angels stopped my advance. Something urgent must have occurred because they simply grabbed my arms and hurried me back to the courtroom. There, the most unexpected development waited for me: a queue of wagons, all overflowing with bulging sacks, were parked outside the court’s entrance. Who had brought these here? The wagons lurched into motion after me as I entered the courtroom. It was exactly as I had left it: the judges still sat on their benches, A frenzy commotion erupted as angels rushed over to the wagons, unloading large bags, and placing them on the side of merits. Gradually, the balance began to tilt in the other direction easing something off my troubled heart. Once again, I was too frightened to do anything other than just stand and stare. Finally, an angel placed a sack that tilted the scales to merits side. The judges stopped everything and declared a change in my sentence: rather than suffer the fires of Gehinnom, I was now awarded a share in Gan Eden. An ethereal voice resonated from the very walls of the court: “From now on, you will be known as Reb Mordechai.” I was free to go, But I was not going anywhere without answers. Thus, whomever I asked refused to reveal anything, but with persistence I learned what had occurred. Soon after I had left for Gehinnom, an angel called the Guardian of Pages to enter the courtroom to speak with the judges. He sought to absolve me of all charges. “We don’t reconsider cases after their verdict,” the court told him. Undeterred the angel said “Esteemed judges! Today, a simple man has passed away, who, as many others like him, didn’t study enough Torah and perhaps even committed a few sins due to his ignorance. Yet, he was honest and cherished the Torah dearly. Without a doubt, I can attest he honored the Torah like no one else. He was a bookbinder by trade. And even if he labored due to selfish reasons, binding books—Torah books— is a righteous trade. “Countless hours were invested in ensuring the tattered books returned to their owners as new. Nothing was ever left unfinished. He handled their covers with special care and thumbed through the worn pages as gingerly as possible. He never threw out pages, however frayed, even the blank end sheets. When he trimmed away the excess paper and glued the bindings, not a single word was damaged. And anything that remained of his work, he collected in sacks to store in his attic.” The angel scanned the judges’ faces. “I can show them to you if you want.” As those words left his mouth, an ethereal voice boomed from every corner: “One who honors the Torah is honored by Heaven in Gan Eden.” The judges, after a few moments of consultation, agreed to have a look at these sacks, which were brought in from the attic and counted in my presence. This is what altered the verdict in my favor! Even small Mitzvos done with joy and love can save us from Heavenly decrees, even more so from enemies. Serving Hashem with Joy is the solution to all headaches and miseries.

By Rabbi Fridmann * * 305.985.3461

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