Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

What Would Moses Say About the Metal Detectors?

If you have been following the news over the last two weeks, you know that the government of Israel put up metal detectors – and has since taken them down – at the entrances to the Temple Mount for Arab worshippers to pass through. This is the location where our two Holy Temples stood–and we will be mourning them this coming Monday night and Tuesday.

The Arab world was up in arms over the installation of the metal detectors. We all know that it had nothing to do with the metal detectors themselves. They just didn’t want the “perception” that the Jews are controlling the site any more than they already are.

Why did this bother them so much?

Instead of trying to analyze the Arab mindset, let’s better spend a few moments looking at this week’s Torah portion to see what Moses teaches us about what kind of attitude we should have toward the Holy Land of Israel.

In Chapter 1, verse 8, the Torah says – paraphrased, based on Rashi’s commentary – “If you have faith in Me, you will see that I have already put the Land of Israel in your hands; all you have to do is come and take possession of the Land. If you come with complete faith, no one will contest it, and you will not need to go to war over it. In fact, weapons will prove unnecessary.”

Now, I am not an expert on Israeli security so I have no idea if it was a good idea to put up the metal detectors in the first place—or whether it matters that they took them down. 

What I do know is that it is important for us to look at this verse and learn a lesson.

What the Torah is teaching us is that when we believe that the Land of Israel is G-d’s gift to the Jewish people, and that the Temple Mount is the place where our temples once stood, and that the Mount is truly holy to us, then our faith will be so strong that the Temple Mount will not be contested and we will not need arms to protect it.

However, the reality is that we live in times of “exile” and this Monday night and Tuesday we will fast and mourn the destruction of our temples. But at the same time, let us pray that we should merit to see the days when our Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem on the site of the original Temples, in an environment of peace and prosperity with the coming of Moshiach.


Turn Your Dream Into Reality

There is an interesting Midrash that says if you dream about Pinchas by night, great wonders will happen to you by day. 

Pinchas was a zealot who took matters into his own hands – with the approval of Moses – and saved the Jewish people. In this week’s Torah portion, he is rewarded for his behavior. Seemingly, the reason for this is because the Hebrew word for wonders is peleh, which has the same first letter, P, as Pinchas.

However, this seems to be a silly reason. After all, Pinchas himself did not have miracles and wonders happen to him daily, even though he had a “P” as the first letter of his name every day of his life. So why, then, if I dream about Pinchas, will miracles and wonders happen to me when they didn’t happen to him?

 What is the deeper lesson here?

True, Pinchas might have experienced a miraculous event only one time in his life, but it was an exceptional time in his life; it was not an exception from his life. That is who he was: He was an exceptional person, but he did not have many opportunities for exceptional things to happen to him.   

Let me explain.

When we say in the Shema that we are committed to G-d with all of our heart, with our soul, and with our might, we mean that we are ready to die for G-d. We are ready to put our life on the line. Most of us never have the chance to be tested—thank G-d. But that isn’t to say that we don’t mean what we say.  We can still be fully committed.

You can be very committed to your job, to your marriage, to being a parent, or to being a good friend, and never be tested as to the extent your commitment holds (and we should never be tested). That does not mean that you are not ready. Many soldiers train for years and never see the battlefield. That doesn’t mean that they are not “battle ready.”

It is the same with Pinchas. His attitude about life was that he was always ready to do what was right. He was ready to put his life on the line for the cause. True, this opportunity only came once in his lifetime, but that one time revealed to us his true essence.

This is the deeper lesson of the Midrash. We should know what our inner resources are. Even if we just dream of it, we should know that we can bring our dreams to fruition. 

A Show of Strength

It is human nature that we all have fears and insecurities. The question is, should we hide this fact or share it?

On the one hand, when we share our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, we open ourselves up for positive feedback and advice; on the other hand, we also open ourselves up to ridicule. Even worse, the possibility then exits that others can take advantage of us.

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the king of Moab, Balak. He reveals an insecurity – that he is unsure how to fight the Jews – when he asks the leaders of Moab for advice. He sees this act as a good thing, so that he knows how best to conquer the Jews. Yet, we see in the story that the people of Moab become very scared. The fact that their king was looking for advice worked against him, because it was perceived as a weakness, not as a sign of strength. What should have he done?

Let’s contrast Balak’s behavior with the previous Lubavitch Rebbe, whose liberation from a Russian prison and exoneration from the death penalty is celebrated yesterday and today. When the Russian interrogators faced him, he showed not one bit of fear. He stood up to them and let them know that he didn’t fear them at all. The stronger he acted, the weaker they became. He wore them down, not the other way around.

From this example we see that when faced with our inner insecurities – which is natural – we have to publicly suppress them. We look fear in the face, and make it go away. Yes, at times we need to talk to someone about our challenges, sometimes even a professional, but we do that in private, not in the public square.

We don’t have to ignore our faults, but we have to make sure that they don’t define us. We can be in charge of how we define ourselves. When we project a sense of strength, we become strong. When we project a sense of weakness, we become weak.


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