Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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At the beginning of Torah portion Masey (Num. 33: 2ff), the second half of this week’s double portion, Matot-Masey, Moses reviews all of the stages of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to this point, the end of the Book of Numbers, which is, in essence, the end of the wilderness journey as well.  The next book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, is a series of speeches, retelling what happened before.  A midrash explains Moses’ review through a parable of a king who takes his son to a distant land for a cure, and on the return journey points out to him all of the places they passed before and what they experienced there.  So, it is with God and the people of Israel.  Out of compassion and love for the people, God points out all of the stages, the highs and lows, that made this moment possible. (Hertz Chumash, p. 714)  

In this week’s parasha, Moses speaks to God about succession plans for leadership of the Israelite community.  Moses knows that he will not go into Israel, and now Aaron and Miriam are both dead.  Moses urges God:  “Let Adonai…appoint someone over the community…who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (Num. 27:17) One might read into these lines Moses’ disappointment that he does not get to see his mission through to the end.  He begs God not to keep the next leader from fulfilling his mission. The truth, however, is that few of us get the privilege of seeing all of our dreams and goals accomplished.  We have to accept some degree of “unfinished business” no matter how long we strive toward our goals or how many years we live.  But we should not mistake an incomplete mission for failure.   Instead, the quality of the journey and the good that we did along the way should be our focus.

This week’s parasha contains a story about a king, a prophet, and a talking donkey.  The King of Moab, Balak, implores a renowned foreign prophet, Bil’am, to go and curse the Israelite people, offering a handsome reward.   Echoes of Egypt’s Pharaoh abound, in Balak’s paranoid view of the Israelites:  “…they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can defeat them and drive them out of the land.” (Num. 22:6) Bila’am sets out to do the king’s bidding, but fails repeatedly as God intervenes, even speaking through the prophet’s donkey.   One commentator asks why Balak did not ask the prophet to bless his own people, instead of cursing another.  Beit Ramah concludes:  “He was so consumed by hatred that he forgot about his people’s needs and could think only about hurting his enemy. “  (Etz Hayim commentary, p. 895.)  We will take up this story at our Parashat Hashvuah (Weekly Torah Portion)study this Shabbat on Saturday at 9:30am. (Under the umbrellas in the BHT backyard.  Inside, if rainy or too hot.)  Join us!

April FOOD OF THE MONTH: Raisins

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