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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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NUMBERS — 19:2 distance

Recall the definition of humility we developed in the chapter on that soul-trait: humility means occupying your appropriate space, neither too much or too little. The Torah provides a story about order that links clearly to humility. It describes how the people of Israel were told to organize themselves in formation for camping and traveling in the desert: "The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner, under the flag of their ancestral house. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Tent of Meeting" [this verse]. We read in a midrash that when G-d told Moses that the Jews were to be arranged in this specific formation, Moses complained that if he specified such an organization, there would be protest. "If I tell Yehuda to camp in the east, they will say they want the south, and so it will be with each and every tribe" (Midrash Rabbah). This story underlies the human tendency to rebel against imposed order. It doesn't matter if the order that is being forced to foisted on us is good, right, useful, or sensible. As long as our "rightful space" is being imposed, we don't want it: "If I tell Yehuda to camp in the east, they will say they want the south." Not that the south is necessarily better than the east or the north, it's just not what you told me to do, and that's the point. Sound familiar? Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space. All that it whispers in your inner ear can be reduced to "I want" or "I don't want." I want to have fun, cleaning up after myself is no fun. I want to keep accumulating stuff, and organizing it is not something I enjoy. I want my leisure, and setting things in order is work. Or… I don't want to take responsibility for my stuff. I don't want to do that. I don't have to. No matter what follows the word "I," there is no mistaking that the subject is "me." Hence the antidote here it would be humility. All the methods for cultivating humility that the Mussar Masters have formulated over the centuries come into play here. … Order is, after all, a kind of a submission of will, and humility fosters submission in place of the ego's self–assertion.

NUMBERS — 19:14 dies

Ben Bag-Bag said: Turn and turn about in it [the Torah] for ... there is no better portion for you than this. Pirkei Avot, Perek V, mishnah 25. ... From eighty to one hundred, says the earlier mishnah [24], man deteriorates and declines, on his way to his ultimate passing. Says Ben Bag-Bag, ובלה בה -- literally, "disintegrate in it." Even in these last decades, when health wains and fails, remain immersed in Torah. Said R. Jonathan: "Never should a man keep away from the beth midrash and the words of Torah, not even about the time of death; for it stated: This is the Torah, should a man die in a tent… Even at the time of death, be occupied with the Torah" [this verse, T.B. Shabbath 83b].

NUMBERS — 20:10 listen

R. Simeon b. El'azar said: … do not question [your fellow] at the time he makes a vow. Pirkei Avot, Perek IV, mishnah 23. Whence do you learn this?--From Moses. When he said to the Israelites, "Listen now, you rebels," [this verse] the Holy One vowed that he would not enter the [promised] land.… Said Moses, "This is a time of oath – taking; I have no need to speak now." Forty years he waited, and then he began to plead before Him. Said the Holy One to him, "Because you waited, go up to the top of Pisgah [and behold it with your eyes]" (Deuteronomy 3:27). This much his patience availed.

NUMBERS — 20:10 rebels

(Continued from Leviticus 19:17 rebuke WAGS 74-5). Rambam is of the opinion that this was Moshe Rabbeinu's sin at the mei merivah--he addressed the Jewish people in an angry manner, as the verse says, "Listen, rebellious ones…" [this verse]. Rambam explains that the simplest Jew of Moshe Rabbeinu's generation reached the same level of spiritual awareness as Yechezkel Ben Buzi the prophet. Thus, it was wrong of Moshe to express anger to people of such stature. Furthermore, the Jewish people understandably concluded that Moshe's anger was a manifestation of Hashem's anger toward them; in actuality, Hashem was not angry with them. Thus, in a certain sense, Moshe Rabbeinu was guilty of desecrating the name of Hashem.

NUMBERS — 20:10 rebels

It is a grave sin to speak against the Jewish people as a whole. The Midrash states that whoever serves as a leader of the Jewish people must be very careful how he addresses them. According to one opinion because Moshe said, "Hear now you rebels," he was told," therefore you shall not bring the assembly into the land which I have given them" (verse 12). Yeshayahu said to G-d, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of the people of unclean lips" (Yeshayahu 6:5). For this statement he was severely punished. Eliyahu said to G-d, "I have been very zealous for the Lord G-d of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant" (I Melochim 18:10). He was severely punished for his statement. (Yalkut Shimoni 764).

NUMBERS — 20:10 we

Excessive anger has a harmful effect not only on others, but also on ourselves. The Talmud teaches, "When a person becomes enraged, [even] if he is wise, his wisdom deserts him" (Pesachim 66b). According to the Torah, even Moses acted foolishly when angry. In the Book of Numbers, Moses becomes enraged at the Israelites with their constant whining about water. When G-d tells him to speak to a large rock, from which G-d will send water to satisfy the people's thirst, Moses disobeys G-d's command, and strikes it with a rod, saying, "Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?" [this verse] Although Moses surely did not intend it, the "we" implied that it was he and his brother Aaron (who was standing beside him), and not G-d, who were responsible for the miracle of the water that gushed fourth. His was a dangerous comment, and could have led the Israelites to believe that Moses himself was a god. He paid dearly for his loss of self-control, when G-d denied him entry into land of Israel (Numbers 20:12). Like Moses, many of us hit objects when we are angry. And, like Moses, many of us also pay dearly for the stupid things we say and do. For example, we may walk out of a relationship that should have been preserved, or refuse to reconcile with someone with whom we have had a falling out. If our wisdom deserts us when we are enraged, we must learn to hold our tongues, particularly when we are the most angry.

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