Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion:  Chukat

July 13, 2019  |  10/Tammuz/5779

The Guiding Light

Miriam — the Life Giver
by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
In Chukat, the Torah tells us about the death of the righteous Miriam. Immediately after her death, we are told that suddenly there was no water for anyone to drink. The Talmud teaches us that we learn from here that the well which provided the Jewish people with water throughout their tenure in the desert was in Miriam’s merit. What is the connection between Miriam and the water that kept the Jewish people alive for forty years?
The Kli Yakar explains that Miriam excelled in the trait of gemilut chasadim (bestowing kindness), as will be demonstrated below. As a result of this trait Miriam merited to be the source of the well (named Be’er Miriam after her) that provided the people with water, the most basic necessity that humans need to survive.
It is possible to expand on the Kli Yakar’s explanation: Miriam’s kindness was specifically directed towards the saving and maintaining of the lives of the Jewish people. This trait was expressed by Miriam from a very young age. For example, the Midrash tells us that after Pharaoh decreed to kill every Jewish newborn baby, Miriam’s father, Amram decided to separate from his wife, Yocheved, in order to prevent the inevitable death of any future sons. As Amram was the leader of the Jewish people, the other men followed his example and separated from their wives. Upon hearing this, the five year old Miriam rebuked her father, saying: “your decree is harsher than that of Pharaoh for he only decreed on the boys, but you have done so to the boys and girls.”  Amram accepted the rebuke and publicly remarried Yocheved and in turn everyone else followed their example and remarried. In this sense Miriam was the ultimate creator of life. If not for her, then untold numbers of Jewish children would never have been born, and Moshe Rabbeinu himself could never have come to life. As a result, Miriam is given an alternative name in Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles); that of Ephrath, (whose root form is “peru” which means being fruitful) because, the Midrash tells us; “the people of Israel multiplied because of her.”
A further example of her remarkable efforts at saving lives is her brave refusal to obey Pharaoh’s commands to kill the newborn baby boys. Instead, along with her mother, she did not kill the babies, in fact they assisted the mothers in giving birth to healthy children, and provided them with food and water. The Torah gives her another name, that of Puah, which, the Midrash also tells us, was in recognition of her great live-saving achievements; it is connected to the word “nofat”, “for she gave wine and restored (mafiya) the babies to life when they appeared to be dead.” Thus we have seen that Miriam’s greatness lay in her incredible kindness, and particularly with regard to the most fundamental gift, that of life. This is why the life-giving waters of the Be’er Miriam (the well of Miriam) were in her merit. Because she risked so much to provide life to others, she was rewarded with her desire being fulfilled through the miraculous supply of water that sustained the Jewish people in the desert for forty years.
Miriam’s appreciation of the value of life is all the more remarkable given the world that she was born into. The Yalkut Shimoni tells us that her name is connected to the word, ‘mar’ which means bitter because at the time of her birth the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Jewish people. It is a well known tenet of Jewish thought that the name of any person or item teaches a great deal about their essence. Evidently, the fact that Miriam was born during such a terrible period in Jewish history played a central role in defining the person that she became. She could easily have been bitter, unhappy about the desperate situation that she was born into. It certainly would have been understandable if she did not develop a great love of life given the pain and suffering that life seemed to offer. Yet her opposite reaction to her situation teaches us a new dimension in her greatness. She recognized the inherent value of life and kept faith in God that He would save the Jewish people from their dire situation. It was this persistent optimism that enabled her to persuade her parents to remarry, and the resultant birth of the Jewish people’s savior, Moses.
The example of Miriam teaches us a pertinent lesson: There is an increasingly popular perception that it is wrong to bring ‘too many’ children into a world that is full of pain and suffering. According to the proponents of this outlook, life is not something that is of intrinsic value rather it is dependent on the ‘life satisfaction’ that a living being can derive. Given the numerous challenges that face the world such as the dire economic situation, these people believe that it is morally wrong to bring yet another mouth to feed into life. Needless to say, this view is diametrically opposed to the Torah approach epitomized by Miriam. She saw life as indeed being inherently valuable. Accordingly, the most horrific situations did not justify giving up on bringing more life into the world, and on sustaining the already living.
May we learn from Miriam’s incredible appreciation for the value of life and emulate her achievements in bringing life to the world.

Straight Talk

Moses’ Mistake
by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
The story of Moses striking the rock is only a short seven verses of the Torah. And yet it is one of the most well-known stories of all. (Try it yourself: Write a story in seven sentences that will be remembered by much of the world three and a half millennia hence. You’ve got to be impressed.)
Getting back to the point, however, what exactly is the nature of Moses’ mistake? Does he get angry, does he lose his head for a moment, does he get impatient?
We need not conjecture. The Torah spells it out for us in simple Hebrew: Moses, the lawgiver, the one who brought the Ten Plagues to Egypt, the one who split the Sea of Reeds and produced manna from Heaven, “did not have enough faith in God” (Numbers 20:12). Now whatever “Moses does not have enough faith in God” may mean (and it requires some serious explanation), one thing is clear — this is no little mistake. It’s serious stuff. For the Torah to say this about Moses, and for God to ‘punish’ him by prohibiting his entry into the land of Israel, he must have done something pretty bad.
King Solomon tells us in Proverbs (24:16), “A righteous man falls seven times and rises. An evil man falls but once.” Every one of us, even Moses, transgresses. Every one of us makes mistakes. Often big mistakes. But the issue is not whether you make mistakes, it’s how you deal with the mistakes you make.
Steal once and you are not a thief. You are a good person who has stolen. Steal a number of times and you are still not a thief. You are a good person who steals. Identify with the act of stealing; see yourself as a thief – only then do you become a thief. A righteous man might steal, but he will try to change who he is. He may steal again and try to stop himself again. He may steal many times and “rise,” as Solomon says. He only becomes the evil man when he stays down; when he says that he cannot rise; when he gives up on ever being good and stops trying. By so doing, he creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Moses made a major mistake. In fact, he made a few major mistakes. And yet, he is considered the greatest man in Jewish history: the lawgiver, the teacher of all of Israel, the man who spoke to God “face to face.”
God does not demand, or even request, perfection. He merely asks that we strive toward that goal. There are many stumbling blocks along the way. And we are bound to stumble, and stumble again. But it’s crucial that we see them as setbacks, not defining moments.
We all make mistakes. It’s part of being human. But don’t identify with those mistakes. Don’t see yourself as being incapable of moving past what you have done. If you are a good person who makes mistakes, you will always rise again no matter how low you fall.
If, however, you see yourself as a “bad” person — i.e. since you are “a thief,” you might as well steal. In that case, you’ll stay down when you fall. And that’s the biggest mistake of all.

FAMILY PARSHA 

by Nesanel Yoel Safran
Let’s Be Friends
Everyone wants friends, but not everyone knows that one of the best ways to make friends is by giving to people. Aaron, the High Priest, was always helping and giving to others. We learn in this week’s Torah portion that because of this, when Aaron passed away, the entire Jewish nation wept and mourned as if they had just lost a good friend. Giving is the secret to friendship.
“Links in the Chain”
Barry slammed the door closed behind him, took off his bicycle helmet and plopped down on the sofa.
“Barry is that you?” called his mom from her office.
“Yeah, Mom,” he sighed.
“Home, already?” she said greeting him. “After spending all morning tinkering with your bike and getting it into tip-top shape, I figured you’d be out riding and playing for hours.” Barry shrugged his shoulders. “Play with who? Ever since we moved into this dumb new neighborhood, I’ve been bored stiff. Nobody ever calls or comes by, and when I ride my bike around, all the kids treat me like I’m the invisible man.” His mother nodded her head, put down the work she was holding and sat down next to him.
“Sounds like a serious problem.”  “Yeah, a big one,” Barry said glumly. “I think I’m going to just give up on making friends around here.”  “Instead of giving up, how about giving instead?” she asked.
“Huh?”  “I’ve always found that one of the best ways to make friends is to give to people. Then they just naturally come close.”
“Give what though?” he asked. “I hardly have any money — unless maybe you want to double my allowance?” “I don’t mean money,” his mom smiled. “Think of a way to give of yourself and share your special talents in order to help people. I bet you’ll soon have more friends than you know what to do with.” With that, Barry’s mom went back into her office to finish her work.
Give of myself? thought Barry. What do I have to give? About all I really know how to do is ride and fix bikes. He sat a while longer on the couch, but feeling bored, he decided to go back outside and ride some more — even if it would be by himself.
He didn’t get far when he saw a kid sitting on the sidewalk next to his bike. It looked like the kid’s chain had come off its gears and he was struggling unsuccessfully to get it back on.  He’s doing it all wrong, Barry thought to himself. He was about to just ride past him when he remembered his mom’s words — give of yourself, share your special talents to help people — and he pulled over next to the kid.
“Um, excuse me. Do you need some help?”  The kid looked up. “Oh, yeah, I guess I do. Do you know how to fix bike chains?”
“Sure,” Barry replied. “Let’s take a look. By the way, my name is Barry.”  “I’m Greg. Nice to meet you.”
As Barry worked on Greg’s bike, the two of them started talking and discovered that they have a lot in common. A few minutes later, Barry finished the job.  “Wow, thanks Barry.”  “No problem, Greg. My pleasure,” Barry smiled back. That’s when he noticed that a couple of kids had pulled up next to them.
“Um, hi. My name is Steve,” one of the kids said in a quiet voice. “You’re new here, right? I see you can fix bikes. My chain also keeps coming off its gears. Do you think you could look at it?”
Several hours of fun and about five bike repairs later, it was already getting dark when Barry heard his mom calling him home from their porch. He grabbed his own bike and said, “Gotta go guys.”
“Thanks for the help, Barry. And remember buddy, we’re all riding out to the pond tomorrow morning at 9:00. Don’t forget your bathing suit!” his new friend, Steve, called out to him as he left.
When Barry got home his mother asked, “Who are all those boys outside?”
“Just some new friends. We’re going to the pond tomorrow.”
“Great!”
“And thanks Mom. You were right about the giving idea.”
                                                                        *   *   *
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Without heroes, we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go.” — Bernard Malamud
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Little Moishie was saddened by the fact that his Zadie was in the hospital. So he decided to write
Zadie a “get well soon” card. Inside the card he wrote:
Dear Zadie,
Mommy tells me that you went to the hospital for some tests. I hope you get straight “A’s”!  
Love, Moishie
                                                                                                     *   *   *

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