Parshas Matos-Massai

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פרשת מטות-מסעי

In this week’s Parsha, we find Hashem commanding Moshe Rabeinu what would be the final מצוה of his life. נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים אחר תאסף אל עמיך – “Take vengeance for the Sons of Israel from the Midianim; and afterwards you will die and be gathered into your peoples” (Bamidbar 31:2). We must take notice of the clear implication in these words, that Moshe Rabeinu could not relinquish his career as the leader of the people and as the model for this holy nation unless he would first avenge his people by punishing the Midianites. Although the Midianites had done no physical harm to the בני ישראל, yet the sins which they had slyly caused the בני ישראל to commit had brought a destruction no less heinous than if the Midianites had slain them. And Hashem informs us here that this function of avenging the בני ישראל is so eminently necessary that Hashem declared Moshe Rabeinu’s career as still incomplete before the performance of this achievement of vengeance. Only after “you take vengeance for the בני ישראל, then you will have gained the last step of perfection and preparation for the Next World, and then “you will be gathered into your peoples.”

So what is this concept of vengeance that seemingly plays a significant role in the perfection of our character? Our minds seem to instinctively be repelled by such an idea. Don’t we all know so well, from our childhood years, that taking revenge is a trait of the wicked. לא תיקום ולא תיטור. So how can we be saying here, that revenge is a step forward towards perfection?! But in truth, that is only because we are learning how to think from the outside world. We misinterpret basic Torah foundations due to the influence of the gentile ideas. And we often don’t even realize it. You are sure that you’re thinking with your common sense, but really you are thinking along with the New York Times and the rest of the media that permeates our society. We are being trained by the media and the wicked liberals to be kind-hearted to the רשעים. We are being influenced by the liberal anti-Torah attitudes of those around us, to be accepting of everything – that all forms of wickedness are not only acceptable, but are to be glorified. But the loyal Jews, those of us who want to remain loyal to Hashem forever, will look into the Torah, to the words of Hashem, to learn how develop the proper and true Torah attitudes.

Chazal (Brachos 33a) tell us: גדולה נקמה – “How great is the revenge!” And the Gemara explains it with this introduction: גדולה דעה – “How great is knowledge!” And how do we see this? Because the פסוק says כי א-ל דעות ה׳ – “Because a Lord of knowledge is our G-d.” The word דעות, knowledge of Hashem, is a very significant word. And how do we know that? Because it is surrounded on both sides by the names of Hashem. On one side of the word דעות is א-ל and on the other side is ה׳. So if the word דעות is surrounded with the names of Hashem, then the word in the middle must be important.

I’ll give you a משל. Suppose you’re walking in the street and you see a person coming towards you. And on one side of him is the Satmerer Rav. And on the other side of him is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And this man is walking between them. So who is he? Well, he must be very important. It’s probably משיח. So too, the word דעות, knowledge of Hashem. It’s being surrounded by the names of Hashem, is coming to teach us of its utmost importance.

So the Gemara says, if that’s the case, then נקמה as well. Revenge must also be very important. It says א-ל נקמות ה׳ – “A Lord of vengeance is G-d.”
The word vengeance is in between the two names of Hashem. So are we going to say גדולה נקמה – “How great is Vengeance!”? Could that be true?! And the Gemara says, אין הכי נמי, it’s true. Just like דעה is of utmost importance, so too נקמה is most significant. And that’s because נקמה and דעה are the same thing. נקמה is דעת. Seeing the revenge on our enemies – on the enemies of Hashem – brings to דעת ה׳ – the true palpable recognition of Hashem.

Let me explain. The principle of Vengeance is essential for men’s understanding of Hashem. If the wicked remain unpunished, if the criminal act is not revenged, so men see injustice in the world and are therefore prone to think that the world is a chaotic and accidental place. Subconsciously, the sight of the wicked criminal walking free, cements in your mind that there is no justice. And therefore, in order to strengthen the important conviction that everything is under the just control of an all-knowing Master, men must be shown that the wicked are penalized. דוד המלך meant just this when he said הנשא שפט הארץ, השב גמול על גאים – “Be exalted, O Judge of the World; return recompense upon the arrogant” (Tehillim 94:2). When does Hashem become exalted in our minds? When He brings recompense upon the wicked! Hashem becomes exalted in men’s minds when they see that the wicked receive their recompense. The greatness of vengeance against the wicked, in its proper time and place, is of utmost importance because it is one of the foundations of דעת ה׳. Recognition of Hashem in a real and palpable way demands a straightening of accounts. For if not, where is the justice of Hashem? הצור תמים פעלו…צדיק וישר הוא. He is the perfect Judge.

The Gemara (Megillah 10b) tells us that Hashem did not permit the angels to sing His praises at the drowning of the Egyptians at the Reed Sea. Everyone knows that Hashem said to the angels, מעשה ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים שירה – “My handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you dare sing songs of praise to Me?!” And yet we see that Moshe and the בני ישראל did sing, and even rejoiced in every detail of the destruction of the enemy. אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל. And we continue the practice of rejoicing over the handiwork of Hashem drowning in the sea, by singing אז ישיר everyday, in order to remember that great event. So how are we to understand our rejoicing at the drowning of the מעשה ידיו of Hashem? Why are we different than the מלאכים?

And the answer is that men, unlike angels, must utilize such opportunities to gain more awareness of Hashem. Angels cannot make any progress, but Moshe and the בני ישראל could grow great by gaining more awareness and understanding of Hashem. And because awareness of Hashem is our function in life, Hashem gave us the opportunity to see Him most clearly, through the destruction He brought upon our enemies. Seeing the destruction of the מצריים with their own eyes, invigorated the אמונה in a perfect judge Who is guiding the world. And that’s why Hashem showed the בני ישראל the מצריים lying dead on the shore – because he wanted to offer his nation the gift of more awareness, more אמונה. In fact we must say, that if the בני ישראל had not sung praise at this sight of vengeance, Hashem would have declared: מעשה ידי טובעים בים ואתם לא אומרים שירה – “The work of My hands, my creations are drowning in the sea, and you’re NOT saying שירה?! I am expending human life for the purpose of your perfection and greatness, and you’re wasting the opportunity?!” And therefore, don’t waste the opportunity. Any form of נקמה on the רשעים that you can see in this world – whether big or small – is intended just for this purpose, to elicit from us songs of praise to Hashem. And these praises reinforce and strengthen our awareness of Him.

In the second Parsha that we lain this week, we learn of the importance of vengeance again, and this time as an actual דין that applies in Torah-law. The relatives of the murdered man are given permission to take revenge for their murdered family member by killing the murderer. “The Redeemer of the Blood, he shall kill the murderer” (35:19). Because the justified vengeance is given recognition by Hashem, it therefore overcomes all considerations of “rehabilitation” of the murderer. Seeing justice with our own eyes, is a most important foundation of tangible awareness of Hashem. Even if we were convinced that the murderer had become a truly righteous man, and even if he was not discovered until many years later, after he had become a Torah-Sage and an eminently holy man, he cannot be spared the retribution that Hashem demands. “There will be no atonement for the land for the blood that was shed on it, unless by the blood of him that shed it” (35:33). And that is because the sole true atonement is achieved only when the public actually witnesses the execution of the murderer. It is the seeing of the vengeance upon the wicked that vindicates Hashem’s judgement. And for that same reason the נקמת בני ישראל that we mentioned earlier, was not done by a plague from Hashem, but by the בני ישראל who were the גואלי הדם, the “redeemers of the blood” for their 24,000 brothers that perished because of the Midianite women.

Now the foolish person – and I know many of them – will tell you that he doesn’t see Hashem taking vengeance from the wicked. And it’s true; he really doesn’t see – because he has blinded himself with his foolishness. He’ll tell you all about the רשעים who are succeeding. The immoral filthy old man who sees only good times. And the wicked murderers who live in freedom. Corrupt politicians who are always reelected. And therefore, it takes effort to see the truth in this world. This world is a world of darkness, a place of confusion. It says in Tehillim (104:20) that תשת חשך ויהי לילה – “Hashem made darkness and it is night.” And the Gemara in Bava Metzia (83b) says the following: תשת חשך ויהי לילה – זה העולם הזה הדומה ללילה. “He made darkness and it is night,” is referring to this world that we’re living in. Hashem intentionally made this world a place of darkness so that men would have to put effort into making themselves a success. In this world you’ll have to use the light of your mind, a mind that’s filled with Torah principles, to see through the confusion. If you don’t learn to see things the right way in this world, it’s going to be too late for you in the Next World.

In Tehillim דוד המלך tells us רק בעיניך תביט ושלמת רשעים תראה. “If you would only look with your eyes, you would see the recompense upon the wicked” (Tehillim 91:8). All the cemeteries are full of wicked people who have died young. If you would only be willing to look, and not daydream your way through life! Here’s Princess Diana. A פרוצה. A זונה. And she’s travelling around with her Arab paramour; and then, all of a sudden there’s a crash and she was crushed like a cockroach. She was a nothing. An oisvurf going around in public with a man that was not her husband.

But the newspapers made her into a קדוש. The New York Times worshipped her. All the newspapers filled people’s minds with שקר. And the world leaders had to go to England to put a wreath on her grave. ממש a world of darkness. Why make a הספד on a wicked immoral woman?! If a cockroach gets crushed, do you make a הספד on the cockroach?!

And therefore, the foolish world didn’t see the vengeance of Hashem on the רשעים. No, they didn’t see anything. They were fooled by the stupid headlines! But the wise man saw through the darkness and grew in awareness of Hashem. And how does the wise man succeed in gaining דעת ה׳ while the fools continue to wallow in their foolishness? Because he is trying to look at what is going on around him and see through the darkness. He wants to see the the יד ה׳. Seeing vengeance upon the wicked is one of the most effective means of acquiring awareness of Hashem, but רק בעיניך תביט, you’ll have to keep your eyes open and look for the truth.

Here’s a Jewish man. I won’t mention his name here because he was a dirty fellow. He and his wife were publishers of a very wicked magazine – a filthy magazine. And one Friday night, they were travelling on their plane to a party. They were wealthy so they had a private plane. And all of a sudden the engines stopped working. It was terrible, I’m sure. I can’t even imagine the fun it was for them on the way down. They thought they had an appointment at a party somewhere, but really they had an appointment with the ground. And they kept their appointment. Now, when I heard about what happened, I thought about those words of Dovid Ha’Melech, רק בעיניך תביט ושלמת רשעים תראה – “If you would only use your eyes, you will see the retribution upon the wicked.” And so it was, the fool saw but he didn’t gain a thing. But the wise man will look, and grow great in the awareness of Hashem.

Thousands and thousands of wicked homosexuals – people who have proudly broken down all the morals of society – are dying like flies. Hashem sent the plague of AIDS upon them and they’re dying like flies. כן ירבו. So here’s a man, a Rabbi he calls himself, and he writes an article in the Jewish Week. A newspaper for the people who are interested in going to Gehenim. So he writes that Miller said AIDS is a punishment that G-d is bringing down upon the gays. “However,” he writes, “It’s absolutely clear to the medical community that AIDS is a certain virus that is spreading through certain forms of contact and that it has nothing to do with Miller’s G-d.” A lamdan this fellow is! And this lamdan, alav ha’shnubel, died a few months later – of AIDS! רק בעיניך תביט ושלמת רשעים תראה. The sight of the destruction of a רשע is a great gift of true knowledge – the knowledge that Hashem is running the world and that there will be punishment – sooner or later – for those who sin against Him. לי נקם ושלם – “To me belong the attributes of vengeance and retribution” (D’varim 32:35). The sights that Hashem shows man, are intended to be used by the intellect to create an awareness and tangible understanding of Hashem.

Now, the fact is that we do live in a world of darkness. An עולם הפוך where sometimes the רשעים do prosper. And therefore there is another very important עבודה, an important function of coming to awareness of a just master, who is in complete control. And that is the עבודה of Gehenim. Let me explain. If we today do not always see retribution upon evil-doers, we must therefore strengthen our awareness of Gehenim, where the wicked are certainly being punished even now. All of the enemies of Hashem are destined for a very severe retribution in the Afterlife. And this awareness of Gehenim, the place of true vengeance, is a most important corollary of the awareness of Hashem.

And even before Gehenim, we will have Moshiach come and instruct us and lead us in taking revenge. There’s no question that we will march on Germany and kill at least sixty-million Germans. And we will go to Lithuania and kill a few hundred thousand Lithuanians. And then we’d march on Poland. And it will happen! Oh yes, it will have to happen; what they did to us! הקדוש ברוך הוא will say, נקום את נקמת בני ישראל מאת הג׳רמנים. “Take revenge,” He will say. There will be a day of vengeance! Our future is based on revenge – and not because we’re a vicious and bloodthirsty people. No, no; not at all. But it’s because recognition of Hashem – דעת ה׳ – requires a straightening of accounts. And our whole future is דעת ה׳.

And even right now, they’re in Gehenim! Pay attention. You hear that noise?! They’re getting it in Gehenim. There is a terrible outcry in Gehenim right now. Hitler is in Gehenim right now. And he’s not the only one. It’s very crowded there. Very crowded! And very hot. And one of the important elements of Gan Eden is that the tzadikim are watching the suffering of these רשעים. And they are given front row seats. “The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; He bathes his feet in the blood of the wicked. And then men will say: Truly, there is reward for the righteous; truly, there is a G-d that judges the world” (Tehillim 58:11-12). And that’s because the Next World is all about דעת ה׳. And seeing the retribution upon the wicked is a straightening of accounts that is a most important part of becoming aware of Hashem and His perfection. The principle of justice, and the awareness of that justice, is not fulfilled unless the righteous witness the affliction of the murderers and atheists and their like. “And it shall be from one Rosh Chodesh to another and from one Shabbos to another, all flesh shall come and bow down before Me, says Hashem. And they shall go out and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorance for all people” (Yeshaiah 66:23-24). It is the seeing of vengeance upon the wicked that vindicates Hashem for those who seek דעת ה׳.

And therefore, it’s a big עבודה to make yourself aware of Gehenim. And it won’t come by itself. You have to think about it. Take a minute during the day to think about the great truth that right now, the accounts are being straightened in the Next World. The רשעים are actually all in Gehenim today. And they’re screaming. They’re screaming in pain. And they’re yelling משה אמת ותורתו אמת. But it’s too late for them. And you must think about this נקמה as much as possible because that knowledge, when engraved into your soul, will give you more דעת ה׳. More perfection.

And so we can understand what Hashem intended when He told Moshe Rabeinu to be sure to take vengeance on the Midianim before his death. נקמה is not the bloodthirsty act of anger that you imagine it to be. The Gemara in Brachos (33a) that we mentioned earlier says that נקמה is a great thing, a great opportunity, if used properly. במילתה מיהא גדולה היא. And Rashi explains: In a situation where נקמה is needed, it’s a very important thing. And what is the right place? Vengeance upon the wicked, a vengeance that brings to awareness of Hashem and a more tangible belief in Hashem is the נקמה that is praised. And even when we are not able to perform this function because of the might of the gentiles or other external reasons, yet we should at least desire that Hashem should do so.

And so let’s review the ideas we spoke about. For the sake of our progress, it’s a mitzvah to seek out the vengeance on the רשעים, by keeping our eyes wide open to Hashem’s retribution upon them. And when you are privileged to see the Hand of Hashem come down upon the wicked, you should sing in gratitude to Hashem, like the עם ישראל did when they say the Egyptians lying dead on the shore of the ים סוף. And that’s why it says (Brachos 9b) that Dovid Ha’melech said 103 chapters of Tehillim and he didn’t say the word הללויה, he didn’t say a special praise to Hashem, until he saw the downfall of the wicked. Dovid Ha’melech sang all forms of wonderful praise to Hashem. And each one has a different name, say Chazal. But he never sang the highest form of praise, he never said הללויה, until he witnessed the downfall of the wicked. יתמו חטאים מן הארץ ורשעים עוד אינם – “The sinners will be removed from the land, and there will be no more wicked,” and only then did Dovid say, ברכי נפשי את ה׳ הללויה – Now “my soul can bless Hashem, Praised is Hashem!” It’s so important! In order to get the complete emunah in Hashem, we must see the נקמה. And that’s the עבודה of רק בעיניך תביט that we said earlier.

And second – and as important – is that a person must always work on strengthening his belief and awareness of Gehenim, where the רשעים are being punished right this moment. Hitler is in Gehenim right now and he’s putting on a performance every day. Every day they revive him. They make him alive again with his flesh and his nerves. And every day they scrape off him and they hang him up and cut off pieces of him. And he’s screaming right now. He’s screaming all the time. And the tzadikim sit in Gan Eden and enjoy the music. Because now they see that הקדוש ברוך הוא is righteous. Without נקמה there can’t be righteousness. And the same way the tzadikim in Gan Eden can see the נקמה and grow in דעת ה׳, the more you think about this truth in עולם הזה, you will also grow in דעת ה׳.

And the person who learns these lessons that we are being taught from Hashem’s command to Moshe to take vengeance from the Midianites, will become more and more aware of Hashem. And that is the Emunah that we are striving for. Emunah is not mere conviction, but rather a state of perfection of the mind which has unlimited potential development. And because every degree of Awareness of Hashem is of supreme importance, Hashem taught us here the importance using the great gift of vengeance in this world and the next, to reach those levels of perfection.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.