Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Misguided Dreams
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Our Torah Portion deals with the terrible dispute that Korach began against Moses and Aaron, together with Datan, Aviram, On ben Pelet, and another 250 people, all people of renown.

This dispute was so terrible that the Mishna called it a dispute not for the sake of heaven (Avot 5, Mishna 17 ) because it left an impression and had an influence on disputes for generations to come.

After the dispute began, Moses called Datan and Aviram to come to him, and they refused to come. It is written: "And Moses sent to call Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, who said, "We will not come. Is it a trifling matter that you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness, and that you make yourself a prince over us?"(Numbers 16, 12-13)

Moses was very angry and also hurt. That was not the way to answer. But what was so offensive here? Was it that they said, "We will not come"?

Everyone already knew that Datan and Aviram did not accept Moses' authority, so obviously they would not meet him half way. The offensive point was that they said that Egypt, and not Israel, was a land flowing with milk and honey.

People knew from the beginning of the journey through the desert that Datan and Aviram were not ardent Zionists, but until this point their attitude had not been expressed in declarations. After this incident, things changed. Egypt is the land flowing with milk and honey, not Israel. Egypt is the centre of the world, not Israel. Egypt is the ideal country of their dreams, not Israel.

That hurts!

The Talmud tells us about the first man, "His dust was gathered from all over the world." (Sanhedrin 38). Rav Oshaya tells us in the name of Rav that the first man's body was made of dust from Babylon and his head of dust from the land of Israel. In effect, it has always been like that. Even when our bodies were in exile, our heads and hearts were in Zion. That is our history as a people.

"My heart is in the east and I am in the far west," wrote Yehuda Halevi in Spain in the twelfth century. That is why the words of Datan and Aviram are so offensive. To hear a Jew say that the land of Israel is not the land of his dreams is a very sad event.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Shelach Lecha

The Caleb Bridge

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

There are only two Parshiot in the Torah that contain the word "Lecha" (Thee or Thou). The first Parasha is Lech Lecha ("Get Thee Out") which tells us of Abraham Avinu and his arrival to the Land of Canaan and the second one is Shelach Lecha ("Send Thou Men") which we read this week and tells us of the spies, the twelve representatives of the tribes sent to Canaan to report back to the people of the state of the country.

I would like to build a virtual bridge between the Lech Lecha of Abraham Avinu and the Shelach Lecha of Moshe Rabenu. We are actually speaking of two "Aliyot" (migrations to Israel) that are very different. Abraham did not arrive by himself to Canaan, he was accompanied by his wife, his brother's son Lot and "the souls that they had gotten in Haran". This was an idealistic migration, with a deep theological background, and its goal was to spread the words of G-D in the new Land.

The tale of the spies is totally different. The ideal does not exist for them. They lack the bravery of Abraham. They want to see, visit, compare, calculate and only then to decide. Abraham Avinu, settled in the Negev Desert even though he knew that the grounds of Sodom and Gomorrah were green and fruitful. But he preferred the desert. Lot, his brother's son only saw the bounty of the land.

We belong to the generation of which the potential migration to or from Israel is closer to that of the spies than of Abraham's. Our generation (most of it) thinks more on the lines of not what I can do for the country but what can the country do for me.

RaSHI brings an interesting example for the virtual bridge we built between Abraham and the spies. In the first few paragraphs of our weekly Parasha it says "And they went up into the south, and (he) came unto Hebron" (Numbers 13, 22). It is odd that the Torah doesn't have them both in plural ("they went up" and "They came to Hebron"). Why start in plural and end in singular?

RaSHI says "Caleb alone went there, and he prostrated himself on the graves of our patriarchs and matriarchs (in Hebron)".

RaSHI shows an interesting point. While the spies were collecting military reconnaissance, security and economics mission, Caleb came into the country by himself to visit the grave of Abraham the Idealist. While the spies toured the country under the prism of profitability, Caleb toured the country under the prism of belonging. It is a paradox that Caleb acted as Abraham amongst the spies and Lot acted as the spies while with Abraham.

Caleb (and Yehoshuah Bin Nun as well) saw the same as the other spies saw. They also saw the fierce people who dwelled in Canaan and the "children of the Anak" (Giants). But still Caleb stood and said, "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!" (Numbers 13, 30)

Both Caleb and Yehoshoah understood that the country wasn't perfect, but it is ours. This is the bridge between the "Realistic" and "Idealistic". Between Abraham's model and the spies model.

They are the bridge between the Lech Lecha and the Shelach Lecha.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The most important Festival
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
After three months of dealing with technical and ritual aspects of Halacha, the Torah returns in this week's portion to the more legendary style of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. The portion of "Behaalotcha" includes the stories of the manna, Eldad and Medad, and the famous story of the Cushite woman that Moses had married.

My intention, however, is to return to an aspect of worship. Our portion raises the issue of the Pesach Sheni (The Second Passover). A group of Jews went to Moses and Aharon and asked them for a second opportunity to offer the Passover lamb. They knew that it was forbidden to prepare the offering while impure, and asked for permission to do so after they had been purified.

And they said to Moses and Aharon:

"Impure though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord's offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?" (Numbers 9, 7).

There are virtually no examples or precedents in Halacha for anything like this. (Perhaps one could compare this to the "Tefillat Tashlumim" as regards the rules of prayer). But this case is completely different. The second opportunity they wanted was not provided for with the Giving of the Law. There was only one Passover! This second chance was later granted simply because a group of Jews came and asked "why must we be debarred?". They demanded another opportunity to offer this festival sacrifice!

Almost no mention is made today, in any Jewish calendar, of this festival of the second Passover. True, it appears in all the calendars. But nothing very special is done on this date. We know not to say Tachanun on this date. There is also a popular custom among Hasidic communities to eat Matzah on the Pesach Sheni. But that is about all...

We do not have any other positive Mitzvah in the Torah which was initiated by the people and not by G-d. Even though they were absolved from performing the Mitzvah, they demanded a second opportunity, another chance. On this occasion, at least, the children of Israel reached a very high level of piety and devoutness.

Many things can be said about this desert generation. They were ingrates. They had a short memory. But here, on the issue of the second Passover, they proved that they were also virtuous. "Why must we be debarred?" they asked, "Why should we forfeit observing a Mitzvah?".

Perhaps this is why the second Passover, a festival which has virtually disappeared from the Jewish calendar, is actually the most important one of the entire year. It was established by both the initiative and the will of the children of Israel.