Parshas Matos-Massei :
A Parodox of Protection?

By Rabbi Henoch Plotnik


"They killed the kings of Midian . . . and Bilaam, the son of Beor, was killed by the sword."

And so, the Torah relates the episode of B'nei Yisroel's (the children of Israel, or more commonly, the Jews) revenge against Midian. Rashi comments about the irony in the modus operandi B'nei Yisroel employed to exact their revenge against Bilaam, the evil prophet commissioned to curse B'nei Yisroel.

Bilaam's was a descendant of Esav (Esau). Esav's father, Yitzchak (Issac), told him, "and you live by your sword." In fact, Bilaam himself had not utilized his own "craft" of fighting with B'nei Yisroel by sword, but rather by the power of speech. The power of speech was Yaakov's (Jacob's) weapon! How fitting it was that Bilaam's ultimate downfall arrived not through Yaakov's strength, (the word of mouth) but through Esav's, the power of the sword!

Within our own practice of Torah and Mitzvos we also find two "crafts" that we utilize to beseech Hashem in times of need. One is the power of prayer, tefillah, our legacy, dating back to the times of the Avos (forefathers) -- and even Adam, the first man! We also know that learning Torah itself is a shmirah (protection) as we recite in the Hadran at the conclusion of every Mesechta (tractate of Talmud):

"When you lay down, it guards you."

 The Talmud says that the merit of Torah protects us even when we are not actually studying. These two powerful merits have always guarded and protected us throughout our long history.

??? A Paradox ???

An interesting paradox appears in Chazal. In Mesechta Shabbos the Talmud relates how King David, upon learning of his impending death, would not allow himself to stop learning for even one moment. He knew that as long as he was engaged in Torah learning, the Angel of Death could not take his life. The Angel of Death was able to strike only after he orchestrated a trick to cause King David to interrupt his learning.

On the other hand, we find in the Midrash that when Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) pleaded with Hashem to allow him entry into the Land of Israel he prayed with all his heart. As the Midrash implies, Moshe's prayers might have been accepted had he not taken the power of prayer for granted.

The question arises: Kind David was the author of Sefer Tehillim (Psalms), the "Abible of prayer". Moshe merited having the Torah named after him. (As the verse says, "remember the Torah of my servant Moshe." Would it not have made more sense for King David to utilize his "craft" -- the power of tefillah, -- to keep that Angel of Death at bay, and for Moshe to use his "craft" -- the power of the Torah -- to persuade Hashem to let him enter the Land of Israel? How can this be reconciled?

HaRav Eliach, Mashgiach (Spiritual Advisor) of Yeshivas Itri Yerushalayim suggests the following fundamental answer. The Torah certainly is protection from the Angel of Death, as King David demonstrated. Moshe Rabeinu had a different agenda. He attempted to destroy a gzar din (a decree). Prohibition to enter the land of Israel was Moshe’s punishment for "hitting" the rock. King David’s time was simply up. His years ran out, yet he was rendered untouchable as long as he was shielded by the act of actively engaging in Torah. Destroying a gzar din requires the other craft, the ability to appeal to our Maker face to face and beg for an appeal.

This idea is reinforced by the words of the Midrash that relate Mordechai’s reaction to Haman’s murderous decree against the Jews. Mordechai beseeched the heavens for merits to intercede on the Jews behalf. The Midrash relates that Torah rendered itself useless. The merit of the Avos was also deemed insufficient. Mordechai turned to Moshe Rabeinu for advice. Moshe responded: If there is a righteous Jew to daven on behalf of all Jews they still had a chance! As the Midrash relates, Moshe knew that in the face of a g’zar din, (which is etched in mortar and not blood,) the only recourse is tefillah. Nothing else will suffice.

On a basic level, the reason for this is that only through tefillah do we address Hashem "face to face". Tefillah allows us to speak directly to Him in first person. The Sefer Baruch She’omer quotes the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi in Berachos.

"The trait of Hashem is different than a human king . . . for when a person is befallen by a difficulty he need not scream and cry to any intermediary, only to Hashem himself, and he will be answered."

We have been given the great z’chus (merit) to approach Hashem in person, with all of our heart and soul.

May we utilize this opportunity and warrant the annulment of any "gzar din," and be back in the glory of His presence.

-Rabbi Henoch Plotnik

Published Sunday July 27, 1997


Rabbi Plotnick is the Rabbi of Adas Bnei Yisroel in Peterson park. He is also a former member of the Kollel.



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