Friday, July 30, 2010

Parshat Ekev - פרשת עקב

" הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. - Beware lest you forget Hashem your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, that I command you this day."
(דברים ח:יא)

Parshat Ekev is a parsha that is full of mitzvot. One particular one interests us in this Dvar Torah. The verses preceding the quote above detail the commandment to remember the 40 years the Jews sent wandering in the desert. In that time, we were sent the Mon (Manna when rendered in English for some odd reason) - a heaven sent food substitute that was pure spiritual nourishment. The verses there explain that it was food " אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ, וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ - that you did not know, and your forefathers did not know" (i.e. it was totally foreign and bizarre to us) so that we would learn to rely on Hashem and so that we would appreciate our place and role in this world better. Indeed, the narrative goes on to explain "לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ, כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְהוָה, יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם - in order to let you know; that man does not live by bread alone, but by every thing that issues from Hashem's mouth man lives."

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch writes in his commentary here that there was a reason why bread specifically is mentioned. At first, we might find it odd that that bread is mentioned - bread is a kind of food that requires man's input for it to be completed. One doesn't eat wheat by itself, as it is found in nature. For bread to be eaten, man must work on the wheat. With this in mind, we may understand the reason that bread is mentioned. Almost all people appreciate the wonders of the natural world. Anyone who picks an apple from a tree and eats it will agree with you that it is amazing that something so tasty can be found growing naturally. But a person who works hard on bread might be forgiven for thinking that he is at least an equal partner in the process of creating the food.

For this reason, close to this passage we find the verse quoted above - warning us not to forget Hashem and our responsibilities. There are plenty of commandments in this week's Parsha, but this specific passage merits the warning above. Why is that? Well, Rav Hirsch explains that if we look at the verse closely, we can see three categories מצוות (commandments), משפטים (ordinances/laws) and חוקים (statutes). Now, traditionally we regard the latter two as more severe categories of obligations toward Hashem. That being the case, there must be a good reason as to why מצותיו (His commandments) is listed first. Rav Hirsch posits the explanation that this category deals with the things that we derive enjoyment from in this world. Bread, and food as a general, is something that Hashem gave us to enjoy. It is a strong Jewish belief that everything in this world is created for man to make use of or benefit from.

The problem is, we are only human and susceptible to momentary lapses of appreciation of this fine gift. As such, Hashem makes a point of stressing that while we are to derive benefit from all "that issues from Hashem's mouth", we must be careful to never become lax and take for granted what we have in this world.

This D'var Torah is dedicated for the speedy recovery of יוסף בן חנינה לאה, the brother of a friend of mine. Please take a few seconds to think and/or pray on his behalf. Thank you.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Parshat V'etchanan - פרשת ואתחנן

"ואתם הדביקים ביהוה אלוהיכם חיים כלכם היום / And you who cling to Hashem your God, are living today"
(דברים, ד:ד)

Parshat V'etchanan is jam-packed full of events, ranging from Moshe's request to enter Eretz Yisrael to the recounting of the Ten Commandments through part of the text we recite daily in Kriyat Sh'ma. The focus of this D'var Torah though, is on the last Pasuk of the Levi's Aliyah in Rishon, quoted above. The pasuk is one well-known; each time we read from the Torah, it is recited by the entire congregation as a confirmation of how much the Torah means to us.

The verse is straightforward enough, but the Degel Machane Efraim makes an interesting comment on these words. He points out that it is well-documented in Jewish texts that three paragraphs of the Shm'a cumulatuively comprise 248 words. We learn that these 248 words correspond to the 248 limbs of the human body, and we believe that each word gives strength and vitality to a specific limb. Thus we believe that reading the Sh'ma helps sustain a Jew in this world.

There's a problem though, namely that the 248th word, אמת (Emet - truth), isn't part of the text of Sh'ma as it's found in the Torah. It's really part of the next paragraph, and we join the two paragraphs together and repeat the two words preceding it, and in that way we have our 248th word. But this solution doesn't seem too tidy at all. It all seems a tad arbitrary.

Fortunately, the Degel Machane Efraim resolves the matter with a neat suggestion as to why we do this. The text reads: "And you who cling to Hashem your God, are living today" but if we look closely, we may see that the word אתם (Atem - you) has the same letters as another Hebrew word - אמת. These two words are connected.

Furthermore, when the text says הדביקים (which means clinging/adhering), we may read it literally as an instruction for us to 'stick' something to something else. The insinuation as for us to attach the word אמת (Emet) to the paragraph that precedes it. And what will happen if we are to do this? Simple - the verse continues to bless Israel with life, "חיים כלכם היום - and you are living today" It is my wish that with our prayers, we may realise both our own inner capabilities and be able to make use of all the faculties of our bodies to realise them. Similarly, may we all be blesssed to really live life and grasp the truth of this world.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tisha B'Av, Sinat Chinam, and the Relevance of Fasting in Our Time

Last Friday, I came across an article on Haaretz's English website that absolutely incensed me. To summarise, Anshel Pfeffer, one of Haaretz's columnists, writes that "It is wrong to fast on Tisha B'Av" and calls for an end to the Jewish practice of fasting on this day.

While Pfeffer seems to think that he is justified in claiming that there is no need to fast on Tisha B'Av anymore — a claim I will firmly rebutt — to go so far as to call a continuation of such a custom "wrong" is objectionable indeed. Putting aside questions such as where he his new-found religious authority comes from, this article is highly distasteful and disrespectful to the generations before us. Beyond that, it is presumptuous and founded on a fatal mistake.

The Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av is one of the most significant of the Jewish calendar. Pfeffer opens his article with the following well-known tale to illustrate just how fastidiously the Jews have observed it:

There are variants to the apocryphal story, but all in essence are the same. Napoleon Bonaparte went for a walk one summer night (it could have been Paris or elsewhere in France or his empire ) and heard voices lamenting in a strange language. They may have come from a grand synagogue or a miserable hovel. Upon asking why the men inside were sitting on the floor and mourning, he was told these were Jews grieving for their destroyed temple in Jerusalem. "How long ago did this happen?" asked Bonaparte. "Eighteen-hundred years" was the answer.

"A nation that can mourn for so long the loss of its land and temple," the emperor is supposed to have said prophetically, "will return one day to their land and see it rebuilt."

This story serves not just to introduce Tisha B'Av to readers, but also to make a point; that the Jewish nation will be eventually be rewarded and will return to the land of Israel. Unfortunately, it is at this point that Pfeffer departs from the realm of the historical and starts to interpolate Jewish history with his own suppositions.

It is explained in the Talmud, (in the tractate of Chulin I believe,) that the reason for the destruction of the temple was an episode known as the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. To keep a long story short (quite literally), the tale characterises the fatal flaw of the Jews of the time; baseless hatred. After being slighted in public, Bar Kamtza goes to Casear and, employing twisted logic, slanders all those present at the scene of his embarrassment. Bar Kamtza's deeds set in action a chain of events that eventually led to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

In his article, Pfeffer claims that Tisha B'Av is "a date that has lost any relevance beyond the historical." Quite a remarkable claim to make, really. Apparently, his reasoning is that the Jews have returned to the land of Israel, and although there are those who have not yet made the move, they are not unable to, and so we cannot truly call them in exile. Moreover, he claims, the only reason that the temple has not as yet been rebuilt is because Jews don't really care enough for it to happen. Ironically, I agree with this last statement, but not with Pfeffer's logic.

"The exile is over," Pfeffer says. That is the crux of our debate, so let us consider the two positions. The gap between orthodox Judaism's stance on the exile of the Jews and the patriotic Israeli perspective is the most marked so they serve us well for drawing a comparison. (They also happen to be the camps within which Pfeffer and I fall.) The patriotic secular Israeli views the exile of the Jews from the land of Israel as a thing of the past. After all, the Jews now have a state in the Holy Land. What more could we want? Those subscribing to the orthodox Jewish view beg to differ, though. We do not deny that the existence of the State of Israel signals that the exile is drawing to a close. But without peace between Israel and its neighbours, we are still in exile. What's the difference between the Jews living in a ghetto in Europe and the Jews living in a larger ghetto called Israel, surrounded by hostile armies on all sides? We might have sovereignty and our own army, but if (G-d forbid) Israel loses but one war, it will have been defeated permanently. The exile is not over merely because we are surviving. The exile will only be over once we are allowed to flourish.

It is crucial to note that the reason for our mourning is not the resulting exile from Jerusalem and the Holy Land, though we are terribly upset about that, too. As a child, I learned that God 'explained' his actions, saying words to the effect of "I prefer pouring my wrath on an inanimate object such as the temple than having to wipe the Jews out completely." The exile is not merely that we were divorced from our homeland, the land of Israel. Over the last one hundred and fifty years, a great commotion has been raised over the importance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, but the truth of the matter is that Judaism is not a faith which centres around the land of Israel. No, the real reason we mourn on this day is because the Jews at that time were guilty of an inexcusable sin. Moreover, it is a sin that we are still guilty of to this very day.

'Sinat Chinam,' or baseless hatred as it may be rendered in English, has sadly not disappeared. The reason the temple was destroyed, we are in exile and we have fasted on Tisha B'Av ever since is because we dispayed a lack of unity. My umbrage with Anshel Pfeffer's article is not that he correctly points out that the Jews have returned to the land of Israel and that we should be grateful for this. This is true and we would indeed do well to celebrate this. Rather, I take issue with his mistaken assumption that exile is based merely on a physical connection with the land. I can assure you that it is much, much more than that. The land of Israel is worth a tremendous amount to us, but it is not the crux of Judaism. Judaism is far greater than just this; it is a system for developing realising ourselves. It is a system for connecting to God. And it is for building relationships between ourselves with one another.

The call to drop the ages-old practice of fasting on Tisha b'Av smacks of the Zionistic desire to leave behind the "old Jew", that stereotypical, superstitious, meek European weakling in favour of the New Jew of Zionism. While it is undeniable that the Jews have indeed returned to their ancestral homeland, not all is well on these shores. There are deep rifts between Jews. Terribly bitter feelings exist between the Orthodox and the Reform. The Haredim and then we have the National Religious sector are all too often at each other's throats, as well.

Politically, we are divided too. Has Anshel Pfeffer not noticed that the attacks by the Left and the Right on one another are only growing increasingly vitriolic? Each side shouts slogans, points the finger and blames the other. And in the process, we only get further away from peace.

The call to drop the old Jewish customs of the exile is an understandable one, but it based on a false assumption. We did not go through 2,000 years of exile for nothing. As a Jew, I believe that we may glean valuable lessons from everything that happens to us in life. We would do well to consider the value of these past two millenia and not do away with our traditions too hastily.

There's a lot to these "simplistic" traditions; they aren't mere superstition. We need to realise that coming back to Israel is a wonderful start, but it is only that. We know need to learn how to live with one another. Might I suggest that this Tisha B’Av we each take some time out to think of the conflicts that exist within the Jewish nation and ponder them.

I can give one example to start us off. As an orthodox Jew, I am aware that most in my community regard the reform and conservative movements in Judaism with a degree of distrust.* I too am worried by what these streams will lead to. I don't think it can be denied that this is a legitimate concern for an orthodox Jew to have. Unfortunately though, some people seem to think that this concern grants orthodox Jews carte blanche to attack people from these branches of Judaism. But this is counter-productive, and only serves to create and fuel animosity between ourselves. Orthodox Jewry needs to consider its relationship with reform Jews and make it unacceptable to hound and harass those who belong to other streams of Judaism. While we may disagree, we need to learn to respect one another.

If we can all take five minutes this Tisha B’Av to reconsider our relationships with one another, we may be able to bridge the gaps that exist between us. The Jewish nation might be returning to the land of Israel, but only once we are happy bedfellows with one another here will we see the end of the exile. Amen.

*Please leave a comment if you find this distasteful. I will consider rephrasing this passage if it comes across as offensive in any way. My point is to highlight a genuine concern of mine, but one that I can at least act rationally upon. I take this opportunity to repeat a saying of mine; "I don't value reform Judaism, but that needn't, and doesn't, stop me from valuing reform Jews."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Parshat D'varim and Tish'a B'av

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; בֹּאוּ, וּרְשׁוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם, וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם. – Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and inherit the land which Hashem swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.'
(דברים א:ח)

One of the principal beliefs in Judaism is that there is nothing in this world that can stop a person who really wants something; "אין דבר העומד בפני הרצון - There's nothing that can stand before one's will."

As Jews, we believe in a all-powerful God, One who is Master of the entire universe and who can turn anything to His will. We believe that if we can tune ourself in to this spiritual energy, we may access huge amounts of power. Given this belief, we may in turn better understand some of the events to occur in Jewish history; how it is that we have seen off multiple great nations and empires including the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Babylonians. We have witnessed them all come, leave their impression and then go. But the Jews still live on.

More recently, in 1967, Israel won the Six-Day war when the odds were stacked against us. It is said that the American military has a computer that processes all the recorded wars in history in an attempt to determine why the winning side was victorious and to gain insight as to what strategies and tactics can be used in the future. Apparently, this computer can "understand" all the wars put in its system, but for one. The 1967 Six-Day war is said to be incomprehensible; there was simply no way that the Jews should have won. There were thousands more troops fighting against Israel than for it. And yet we won.

The main idea to be understood is that part of being Jewish is to not be limited by nature. All the things described above are highly unlikely events in their own right. At the height of the Greek empire, who would have bet that the meek Jews would outlast the Greeks? And when the Roman empire was at its pomp, who would have cared to wager that the downtrodden Jews would be around long after they had disappeared? One lucky escape can be attribbuted to luck. But for this phenomenon to occur over and over again indicates something deeper at play; that the Jewish nation is not bound by nature's laws. If something has to happen; it will.

In the quote above from this week's Parsha, D'varim, Hashem shows B'nei Yisrael the land of Israel, telling them to behold it. Rashi explains here that if the Jews had gone in at that very moment, there would have been no need to fight to claim the land. But since they insisted on spying out the land, they were forced to take up arms and wage battle against the hostile people who were then residing in the promised land.

One of the things we learn is that if God wants something to happen, it makes no difference what the situation is - it will happen. If God wanted these hostile peoples residing in the land of Israel to quietly accept the arrival of the Jewish people, then that's precisely what would have happened.

Touching on the forthcoming fast of Tish'a B'Av, we know that the reason for the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash is because of Sin'at Chinam, baseless hatred, most clearly expressed in the Kamtza/Bar-Kamtza incident. This is the reason that is universally given for the resulting destruction, but Rav Ya'akov Chaim Sofer explains that if we look in the Talmud, we see that another reason is recorded in Masechet Gitin.

The account of one Yosef ben Matityahu, who lived through the time of this destruction, is recorded there. His account is completely different to the standard one, and he claims that the Roman army was large and strong, with healthy and well-armed soldiers. Standing against them, on the other hand, was the weak Jewish military. The Jews lacked food and arms. It was a total mismatch. Our would-be historian doesn't mention the Kamtza/Bar-Kamtza episode once. How can this be?

The answer is simple enough. As Jews, we don't care how it is that we lost in physical terms. We are more interested as to the spiritual causes of such events. As described above, there have been enough events over the course of history for us to know that our military disadvantage is wholly irellevant to the outcome of such a situation. If we could outlast all these other foes, there is no reason why we should suddenly capitulate in this battle. If you want to know how we lost the battle against the Romans and how the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed, refer to the words of Yosef ben Matityahu. But we don't want to know how, we need to knowwhy.

The message remains clear and relevant to this day. We need not worry about external threats. When it comes down to it, we need not fear at all. What we need to worry about is ourselves and how we relate to one another. If we really want to bring peace upon ourselves, we can do it.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and an easy fast next week.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Parshiot Matot and Massei – פרשיות מטות ומסעי

"וידבר משה אל ראשי המטות לבני ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר צוה יהוה. And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes, to the B'nei Yisrael saying, this is the word that Hashem commands."
~ Numbers 30:2

Normally I'd write about that which Moshe goes on to say but instead I'd like to discuss the manner in which Moshe speaks here.

The Sfat Emet raises the issue, noting that Moshe uses the opening statement "זה הדבר," as opposed to the word "כה," which is frequently employed by lesser prophets. The former phrase suggests a level of accuracy that the latter lacks - it roughly means, "This is exactly that which was said."

With this in mind, the Sfat Emet asks a question - why are some of Moshe's prophecies introduced with the word "כה?" The answer is simple but spectacular - that there are things in this world which cannot truly be understood or grasped. We can talk our way around these issues with analogies, allusions and the like, but our understanding will only ever be imprecise at best. We learn that one of the Rambam's 13 principles of faith is to believe that Moshe was Hashem's greatest prophet, a prophet who was far more highly receptive of God's will than any other man. And yet even Moshe, who had the ability to relate his prophecies with absolute precision, could sometimes not address the people with the words, "זה הדבר."

So what is this realm that we cannot really understand? The Sfat Emet explains that it is the "Olam HaZeh." (The World we live in, as opposed to the afterlife.) At first glance, this might seem a little odd; after all, don't we live in "Olam HaZeh," wouldn't the affairs of this world be things that we grasp? Wouldn't goings-on of the spiritual realm of the world to come, the "Olam Haba"; wouldn't they be more likely to be inaccessable to us?

On reading the words closely, we can understand the concept better. The word "Olam," of "Olam Hazeh," is linked to the word "Ne'elam," meaning hidden. The first word of the phrase, "Hazeh," serves to indicate something very specific - something that can be quantified and related to. When we say "Zeh" in Hebrew, or "this" in English, we typically refer to something that is a known quantity. If we put this two words together, we arrive at a contradiction; which world are we living in? Is it a hidden world or a revealed world? Is everything clear to us, or is it all hidden away?

It would seem that the Sfat Emet is subtly teaching that this world has two parallel aspects. It isn't one or the other, but rather a composite of these two elements. There are times when everything seems clear, moments when we can say "Zeh HaDavar." But equally, even to the greatest and wisest minds, there are moments that can only be referred to as a moment when we only partially understand what's happening - a moment that is best defined by "Koh."

In Kabbalah thought, man is referred to as an "Olam Katan," a little world. I think we may see a parallel here, too. Every person has moments where they think that they know themselves inside out. But then we learn something new about ourselves. Nobody knows us like we do ourselves, but even we can be surprised by ourselves if we look and listen carefully enough. I think we may take this experience and apply it to the world at large. Many times I personally have caught myself thinking that I know a lot, only for me to be humbled and find out that my knowledge is actually relatively insignificant and sadly incomplete. It is up to us to learn how to deal with moments such as this; do we act arrogantly and defy what we are learning, or do we take a step back and admit to ourselves that we have much to learn? It's a terrible thing to be stuck in the same mindset and never to budge, even after hearing of a valid disproof to your ideas. I only hope that we can all grow and adapt to whatever new knowledge we may learn in life.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom :)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Parshat Pinchas - פרשת פינחס

" צָרוֹר, אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִים; וְהִכִּיתֶם, אוֹתָם. כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, בְּנִכְלֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר-נִכְּלוּ לָכֶם עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וְעַל-דְּבַר כָּזְבִּי בַת-נְשִׂיא מִדְיָן, אֲחֹתָם, הַמֻּכָּה בְיוֹם-הַמַּגֵּפָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר - Harass the Midianites, and smite them; for they harass you, by their conspiracy that they conspired against you regarding the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague regardig the matter of Peor."
(Numbers 25: 17-18)

At first glance, one might regard the command above, vengeful and full-blooded as it seems, as stereotypically biblical. "Smite!" Always in vogue in the Bible, right? No harsher punishment for God to employ than to make use of the 'smite' button. Seriously though, and all jokes aside, we may learn a lot from the manner of punishment set aside for the Midianites. It's not just a simple matter of them crossing God's path and paying the ultimate price.

The Yalkut Lekach Tov brings a beautiful D'var Torah posited by Rabbi Leib Chasman in his sefer, Or Yahel. He explains that the Midianites were accorded an unusually heavy punishment. If we compare the punishment reserved for the Midianites with the punishments handed out to the Edomites and the Egyptians elsewhere in the Torah, we see that this 'smite' option clearly wasn't the only one that God had at his disposal. These two nations had both put the Jews to the sword, seemingly a far worse crime to that of the Midianites and the Moabites. While their punishment was strong indeed, we find an intriguing caveat recorded in Parshat Ki Tetzei, "לֹא-תְתַעֵב אֲדֹמִי, כִּי אָחִיךָ הוּא; לֹא-תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי, כִּי-גֵר הָיִיתָ בְאַרְצוֹ - You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land." (Deuteronomy 23:8) This seems rather unusual - why would we not abhor a people who tried to kill us? If not for people like this, then who?

To be sure, the Edomites and the Egyptians downright nasty to the Jews and The Torah certainly doesn't expect us to love them. But we are not to abhor these peoples - that level of distaste is to be saved for the nations who attempt to dissuade us from our religion. A few verses before the passage above, we read that "לֹא-יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי, בִּקְהַל יְהוָה: גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי, לֹא-יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל יְהוָה עַד-עוֹלָם - An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of hashem; even [after] the tenth generation; none of them may enter into the assembly of Hashem forever." (Deuteronomy 23:4) The reason given there is simple; not only did they fail to meet the parched Jews in the desert with bread and water, but they went out of their way to curse them.

All well and good. But why is it that the Egyptians and the Edomites get off lightly? The reason for the seemingly heavy punishment accorded to the Moabites and Ammonites may be sourced to a principle taught by the Jewish sages: "המחטיא את חברו קשה מההורגו." (Loosely rendered as "one who causes his fellow to sin is reckoned as worse than one who had killed him.")

Take for example our contemporaries who write theories decrying and mocking religion. Unfortunately, these are amongst the most highly respected people of our time. We might imagine that this while besmirching religion and perverting people's minds are certainly bad things, they surely cannot be as as evil as such a final act as killing one's fellow. Nevertheless, the Torah does not see things that way, as we have seen with the phrase above: "one who causes his fellow to sin is reckoned as worse than one who had killed him."

How can this be? Rabbi Chasman explains this different perspective well, pointing out that while a killer only kills his victim just the once, someone who perverts others tends to do so repeatedly. Once a killer dies, he can kill no more. But even after a writer and purveyor of sacrilegious and wickedness thought has left this world, their evil still lives on. Also the way in which they affect their victims is markedly different, as the Sages explain; "He who kills - in this world. But he who causes to sin - in this world and in the next world."

And now we may understand the logic of the decrees reserved for these respective nations. While it cannot be denied that the Egyptians, for example, committed a grave offence by murdering and oppressing the Jews, they only affected that generation of Jews. The punishment is very much measure-for-measure. The killer's affect is only temporary, we might say, and therefore the first three generations were denied to the right to enter the Jewish assembly. But nations like the Moabites who tried to curse the Jews forever, on the other hand, these people get exactly what they deserve and are denied that opportunity for eternity.

I think that there's a very relevant lesson we may take from this. We may not ever stumble across a Moabite or an Ammonite in our day-to-day lives, or ever get close to killing someone, we do each have the opportunity to affect other people's lives. We all are able to cause other people to act errantly.

Every day that we get into social situations where we can talk badly about others, for example. By allowing ourselves to enter such conversations, we legitimate them. Doubtless we would resent others talking about us that way, but we seem to care less when the subject of the conversation is someone else. Every single one of us is a leader to someone else, whether we know it, or indeed acknowledge it, or not. If we take care to act and talk in the right way, we can make a real impression on others for the good. And the same goes for the reverse. May we all understand our role in this world and only ever act as a good example for others.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom :)