We go now to a scene in the midbar, an episode that we read about every year when Parshas Chukas comes around, but it’s something we don’t study enough. If you have a chumash, you can look inside together with me and you’ll see something surprising. Open up to perek chaf alef, possuk tes zayin and we’ll read it together.וּמִשָּׁםבְּאֵרָה – And they arrived at a well (Chukas 21:16) There was some sort of well, a fountain of clean drinking water, that the Am Yisroel was encamped near.
Now pay attention; the possuk continues: הִוא הַבְּאֵר – This is the well, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הַשֵּׁם לְמֹשֶׁה– about which Hashem said to Moshe, אֱסֹף אֶת הָעָם – “Gather the people together, וְאֶתְּנָה לָהֶם מָֽיִם – and I’m going to give them water” (ibid.). Tell the people that I have a gift for them; fresh water for drinking, bathing and everything else.
Old Well, New Song
Now, Rashi holds – it’s a maamar Chazal too (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:25) – that this well was the be’er Miriam, the same well that had traveled with them in the Wilderness for forty years. And so the next passuk: אָז יָשִׁיר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת – Then they sang the following song, עֲלִי בְאֵר עֱנוּ לָֽהּ – “Come up O’ well, cry out to it,” means they sang a song of gratitude to Hashem: “Call out to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that the well of Miriam should continue to produce water like it always has.”
It means that even if you have a gift for many years already, you have to always turn to Hashem and thank Him and ask Him to continue to give it to you. It’s like a man when he comes home from shul in the morning and sees his wife, he thanks Hashem: “Thank You Hakodosh Boruch Hu for the gift of a wife,” – many bachelors wish they had such a gift – “and please keep her healthy.” That’s what a wise man does and that’s one way to understand this possuk.
New Well, New Song
But we should pay attention now to something that people don’t know. The Ramban (ibid. 31:17-20) says like this: “While in the opinion of some of our sages this well refers to the be’er of Miriam, it could refer to a different be’er – the pshat of the possuk is speaking about a different well altogether.” The Ibn Ezra says that too: V’einenah habe’er hanikreis be’er Miriam l’fi da’ati – “According to my opinion this well is not the well of Miriam.” It means that the Am Yisroel sang a song of gratitude to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for a new well of water. A song for a well? It pays for us to understand what this song was all about.
So we look a bit further in the possuk: אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הַשֵּׁם לְמֹשֶׁה – Hashem said to the Moshe, אֱסֹף אֶת הָעָם – “Gather the people together, וְאֶתְּנָה לָהֶם מָיִם– and I will give them water.” It means, nobody asked for it. Nobody complained that they were thirsty. In other places when the people complained, Hashem gave them water, but here they were satisfied with the water they had. This well was given to them without their asking. Hashem said, “אֱסֹף אֶת הָעָם – Bring the people together and I’ll give them a matanah. I’ll give them a gift of water even though they didn’t ask for it.” We’re talking about a new kind of a be’er here; a well that was given to them as a special gift from Hashem.
Now when this happened, it was a surprise. The Bnei Yisroel were very much surprised. For the first time, without their requesting it, Hashem presented them with a well of good water. It was a big fountain; like a flowing river enough for a whole nation. Such a thing is a big gift when you’re traveling in the wilderness; and so they began singing a song at that time.
The Critical Father
Now that song, you have to study. It’s a pity that people hear the ba’al korei read it and we don’t know what it’s all about. אָז יָשִׁיר יִשְׂרָאֵל – Then they began to sing, אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת – this following song. At that time they began singing this song and they continued to sing it always; they sang and sang these words as they journeyed in the midbar.
Before we go on, we must know that thirty eight years had passed since the story of Korach. In the chumash, Chukas follows right away after Korach but actually many years had passed. And for thirty eight years all they heard was that Hashem was displeased with them; אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה אָקוּט בְּדוֹר “For forty years I quarrelled with this people”. It was always tochachah and biting criticism. It’s a remarkable thing. He’s constantly belittling His people! Moshe Rabeinu too: שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים – “Listen up you rebellious ones.” Moshe criticized us – he was speaking for Hashem – and we felt very much ashamed of ourselves.
Reason To Sing
And now suddenly Hakodosh Boruch Hu showed us that He was favoring us! Ooh wah! Hashem loves us! We thought we had no favor in the eyes of Hashem, and suddenly it’s been shown to us that finally we have become perfect enough that Hashem is satisfied with us! He gave us a gift, a well of pure water, without us having asked for it!
And they were intoxicated! They became so full of happiness when they saw that, they began to sing this song! עֲלִי בְאֵר – Come up, o’ pit. And they said, “This well is not only a well of water. Water, that’s good too. But this is better than water. It’s a well of rotzon Hashem! It’s a demonstration that we have found favor in the eyes of Hashem.” Ooh wah! Now that’s something to sing about! Shiru lo, zamru lo! We sing to Him.
Now how did it happen that this change came about? What happened now? Pay attention to the following words and you’ll see how. The answer is part of the shira they sang and that’s what we’ll study now. When the people started seeing that Hashem was favoring them so they sang like this: בְּאֵר – This well that demonstrates the ratzon Hashem upon us, חֲפָרוּהָ שָׂרִים — was dug out by princes, כָּרוּהָ נְדִיבֵי הָעָם – it was hewed by the generous hearted people of our nation (ibid.)
Identifying The Princes
Now actually, you can’t dig a well in the desert. It’s a figure of speech; the possuk is telling us that this gift of Hashem was brought to us by the merit of certain human benefactors. Who are these princes and generous hearted ones who caused this change in Hashem’s attitude towards us?
In Micha (6:4) the navi states in the name of Hashem וָאֶשְׁלַח לְפָנֶיךָ אֶת מֹשֶׁה אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם – I sent before you Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were sent by Hakodosh Boruch Hu to change the character of the people. They were the ones tasked with this job of making the Bnei Yisroel a nation worthy of the favor of Hashem.
And though the Bnei Yisroel were already an excellent nation when they went out of Mitzrayim; Hashem loved them already then – they had been through so many privations; they had been perfected by the tzaros of Egypt – and they had remained loyal. And then they had seen so much of the greatness of Hashem! Yetzias Mitzrayim! Kriyas Yam Suf! The Mann falling! The nation was very great!
Pushing For Greatness
Nevertheless, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted still more of them. At Matan Torah He told them how much He was demanding of them. מִֽי יִתֵּן וְהָיָה לְבָבָם זֶה לָהֶם לְיִרְאָה אֹתִי … כָּל הַיָּמִים – I want that this attitude of theirs that they had at Kabolas haTorah should continue always (Devarim 5:25).
Now, that’s almost impossible. That the nation should always be in the state of inspiration that they were at Matan Torah?! Yes, that’s what Hashem said. Kol hayomim means, “That’s what I want forever. I’m always pushing for that level of greatness.”
And so Moshe, Aharon and Miriam got busy working on us, making us better. Va’eshlach – I sent them for that, said Hashem. And they changed us! They improved us!
Perfecting A Nation
For forty years we were under the supervision of these great personalities! Moshe’s leadership alone would have been enough to change the nation but there was Aharon too who was helping him. And Miriam had a tremendous influence on the women. Remember at the shiras hayam that Miriam went out and the women began to sing together with her, Ashira laHashem. It means that it wasn’t a one time thing. It was something Miriam always did. She was the teacher of the women.
And these three together worked for forty years – almost forty years – and they changed the nation! These great souls dug out that well by means of their perfection of character, their shleimus hamiddos and shleimus hada’as, and the nation began to become greater and greater in the eyes of Hashem. The people were changed from the top to the bottom until the entire nation gained the favor of Hashem!
And Hashem expressed that by the means of a gift that we didn’t even ask for. The waters of the well rose as a demonstration of Hashem’s love for them! It was a gift that meant the forty years wandering in the wilderness were a great success for our nation; they were the greatest years in the history of our people.
Part II. Attaining Perfection
The Meraglim Coverup
Pay attention now because I’m going tell you a little secret – others don’t know the chiddush you’re going to hear now. Everyone remembers how the Am Yisroel were punished to remain in the midbar for forty years because of the cheit hameraglim. Yom la’shanah, yom la’shanah – one year for every day you spent spying out the land (Bamidbar 26:34).
But the truth is not so! The entire story of the meraglim is a coverup for what Hashem wanted for the beginning. That was the plan lechatchila. Hakodosh Boruch Hu originally intended that they should be forty years in the midbar! Hakodosh Boruch Hu had that in mind from the beginning! He never thought otherwise.
Of course, He utilized the story of the meraglim as a lesson; because they were reluctant to go and fight with the Canaanim, so Hashem said, “ Because the meraglim spoke against going into Eretz Yisroel and they dissuaded you and you listened to them and wept, so I’m going to sentence you to be forty years in the wilderness.” Hakodosh Boruch Hu planned it to look that way, so that He could teach the lesson how people have to be beware of not trusting in Hashem, but actually that was His plan all along.
Why A Mishkan?
That’s why He commanded us to make a Mishkan that would be a portable building. Why did they make such a Mishkan to carry around? If it would be only for eleven days – achad asar yom until Kadesh Barnea – so they would be entering Eretz Canaan in less than two weeks (Devarim 1:2). You make a Mishkan like that for eleven days? You know the Mishkan was a very complicated thing. It had every kind of detail and it was all planned for a portable building; to be a portable Mishkan. All the efforts in Terumah and Tetzaveh, all the details of the Mishkan, were for the purpose of a building that you can take apart and put together.
Now, if they were supposed to go to Eretz Canaan right away and get settled they wouldn’t need such a building anymore. When they came to Eretz Canaan, they didn’t carry the Mishkan around anymore. In the days of Yeshoshua, they came to Shilo and they put it down and didn’t carry it anymore. The Mishkan was put in Shilo and it stood there 369 years, and it didn’t move.
So why was the Mishkan made portable if it was only for an eleven days journey to come to Canaan? It’s because from the beginning – even before the episode with the meraglim – it was intended to be used for forty years of traveling in the midbar.
Forty Years In Isolation
Some people will argue with me. They’ll say, “The meraglim was the sin that caused it.” Argue if you want. I’m telling the truth – that was the purpose. It was Hashem’s plan to make His beautiful nation even more beautiful. And that could only happen in the midbar where they were the am l’vadad yishkon, an isolated people without any connection to other nations. For forty years they encamped around the Mishkan and lived with Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, and that’s how they became great. Forty years together with Moshe Rabbeinu, forty years around the Mishkan, that was an unequaled hatzlacha in kedusha, coming close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu!
You know, if they had entered Eretz Yisroel immediately they would have scattered each one tachas gafno v’tachas te’einaso, each one on his own homestead. They couldn’t see the Mishkan every day! It might be in the center of the land somewhere, but it couldn’t be everywhere. And that great influence of seeing the Home of Hashem wouldn’t have been exercised. In the midbar center they always saw the dwelling where Hashem dwelt: וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – Hashem dwelled among them and they could point at His home. For forty years they saw ananeikavod overhead and ate bread that fell from the sky.
Seeing The Light
They saw Moshe Rabeinu for forty years! Do you know what that means to see Moshe Rabeinu? If we saw Moshe Rabbeinu just one time, even for just one minute, it would change us. Oh yes! We would never forget it. But if you saw him all the time and he was always teaching you, and you saw the light shining out of his face! It would bring you tremendous benefits.
Now, if they had entered into Eretz Yisroel immediately they wouldn’t see him anymore, maybe once in a rare occasion. There’s no question that they wouldn’t have made such progress. Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted them to be with Moshe Rabbeinu forty years in the wilderness; he should speak to them constantly and tell them what’s wrong with them and make them better and better. Being with Moshe Rabbeinu every day for forty years! He was the source of all the greatness! Forty years with Aharon and Miriam. What a happiness it was! What a success it was!
Forty Years In Kollel
For forty years, there was a kollel! They had nothing to do but learn Torah! Moshe Rabbeinu taught Torah every day! Every day he gave a lecture to Aharon and Aharon’s sons, and they went out and repeated it. The gemara (Eruvin 54b) tells us how Aharon repeated it to the elders, and the elders repeated it to the Klal Yisrael, so the people heard it a number of times; all day long they were mekayem b’shivtecha b’veisecha. The whole nation was busy talking in learning and asking questions.
It was one big kollel and Moshe Rabeinu was the rosh kollel. That was the idea of the midbar. They didn’t farm. They didn’t hunt. They had only one occupation, to study the Torah. That’s all they did all day long in the wilderness. Every day they received a stipend – food fell for them from the sky. And every Jewish tent was a mini yeshiva in that great kollel. They didn’t have any chadorim or Bais Yankevs. Every Jewish home was a Bais Yankev. The mother was teaching her daughter how to behave as a bas Yisroel and the father was teaching his sons Torah. Every family was a kollel family!
Nowhere To Hide
And by the way, it wasn’t Moshe, Aharon and Miriam alone. There was a system in the midbar, a system planned to create perfection. There were more than 78,000 dayanim managing the nation (Sanhedrin 18a). Every ten Jews had one of them who was a dayan over them, a sar asarah who cracked the whip when it was called for. Imagine – every ten Jews were supervised by a supervisor. And he was looking all the time. Are they fighting in that house? Did he say something unkind to his wife? Is the father teaching his son Torah or is he slacking off in his duties? Are the children talking loshon hara?
Every ten Jews had a mashgiach looking over their shoulders. And it wasn’t like today in the yeshivos where you can hide from the mashgiach. You can go out on the street to escape his watchful eye; you can stay home too. In the midbar there was nowhere to hide.
And every fifty Jews had a sar chamishim who was supervising all the time. He was making sure that the five mashgichim under him were doing their job and he had to report to the sar hameah. And they weren’t wasting time; each one was on the job and Moshe Rabbeinu saw to it that everyone did his duty. And they listened to him as he constantly reproved them.
Beautifying The Beautiful
Never again in our history were we subjected to such close scrutiny; there was such hashgacha that we became a perfect nation after forty years under these circumstances. That’s how the Am Yisroel became the Am Hashem. Only because they were together for forty years under Moshe Rabbeinu’s scrutiny did they become better and better. And at the end of the forty years, they were the best they could become.
Once we understand the function of the midbar, we look back now with the greatest gratitude for the fact that we were forty years in the midbar. Forty years changed the Am Yisroel forever! Never again did any generation have the opportunities to achieve such greatness, such perfection in every way.
And after those forty years the Am Yisrael were a new people – they were changed from head to toe. All the greatness they had acquired in Mitzrayim, all the greatness they had achieved at Kriyas Yam Suf and Har Sinai, was now augmented a thousand times over – they became much more beautiful now than they ever were before.
Parshas Balak Is Connected
And that’s what Bilaam was sent to teach us when that glorious period in our history was coming to a close. You remember at the end of the forty years when Bilaam climbed the mountain in order to see the Am Yisroel. He climbed a mountain overlooking the camp of the Bnei Yisroel and from the heights he looked down at the hundreds of thousands of tents and he said, Kimirosh tzurim erenu – “Iam looking at the nation from the top of mountains.”
What does that mean, that Bilaam looked at us “from the top of the mountains”? It’s like this: when you stand on the ground among the nations of the world like an ordinary human being and you see the Am Yisroel, you can think that they’re not much different than the other nations. They’re just ordinary people it seems. After all, they have noses just like everyone else has noses. They’re the same. Of course, if you’re a ma’amin so you know there’s a difference, but the truth is you think we’re pretty much the same.
But actually, if you want to understand the greatness of the Am Yisroel, you have to get off of the ground and view them with the nobility of mind. If you view them from the heights of understanding – not like a human being views other human beings; instead you view them with a clear-sighted view – you’ll be amazed at what you see. When you look down now from the mountains, mirosh tzurim, there’s no comparison between a ben Yisroel and an ordinary human being.
You’re seeing a nation that has no equal by far among all the peoples of the world. The best nations of today and of antiquity never even came close to the hamon Beis Yisrael, to the ordinary frum Jew.
There’s Nothing Wrong!
The Am Yisroel became so great during those forty years that Bilaam couldn’t view them from any other place. You have to view them from the top of a mountain! And it was from the top of that mountain – with a nobility of mind, with prophecy – that’s where Bilaam looked down at the Am Yisroel and said praises that were unequaled. He looked at the camp of the Am Yisroel and he uttered an encomium of such greatness, such adulation and admiration of Am Yisroel that there’s nothing to equal anywhere in the Torah.
You know, when we read what he said about us, at first it’s a tremendous surprise to us. He said, “Lo hibit avon b’Yaakov, velo ra’ah amal b’Yisrael – Hashem sees nothing wrong with you!”
Moshe Rabbeinu never said such words. Up until now we have the impression it was a generation of trouble makers, misonenim, complainers. And now Bilaam comes along and he says, Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, how beautiful is the Klal Yisrael. And it wasn’t Bilaam speaking – it was Hashem who was praising them! Bilaam said, אֵת אֲשֶׁר יָשִׂים הַשֵּׁם בְּפִי אֹתוֹ אֶשְׁמֹר לְדַבֵּר – I’ll speak only what Hashem tells me what to say!
A Gift For the Kallah
“You’re a perfect nation”, said Hashem. “I see no fault in you.” “How beautiful are your tents.” He praised them to the sky. And they became so perfect after forty years in the midbar that finally Hashem said, “Now is the time I’m going to show you how much I appreciate you, how much I favor you; I’m going to give you a beautiful fountain of water as a gift from Me to you.” It’s like a chosson who sends a present to his kallah – how much she needs a bracelet is not so important – it’s a demonstration of his affection; it means she has found favor in his eyes.
And that was that great happiness of gaining Hashem’s favor that was the reason for the shiras habe’er. It was a happiness that brought forth song – “Hashem recognized us and gave us honor!” You understand now why the Bnei Yisroel sang a song of happiness; they understood that the favor of Hashem demonstrated by the well was everything! That’s what they lived for. חַיִּים בִּרְצוֹנוֹ! Life is for achieving the favor of Hashem!
And so they sang, עֲלִי בְאֵר עֱנוּ לָהּ – Rise up, o’ well. What did they want to rise up? It means that the ratzon Hashem should continue. We should continue to find more and more favor in the eyes of Hashem. Because that’s the greatest happiness – to know that Hashem is happy with you.
Part III. Attaining Honor
The Great Exchange
Now you should pay good attention to these words because the subject of finding favor in the eyes of Hashem is very important; it’s actually the major achievement of life. I want to quote to you from the Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Avodas Elokim, Perek 3). He tells us like this: צָרִיךְ שֶׁיִּתְבָּרֵר – It must become clear to a person, שֶׁהַתְּמוּרָה עוֹדֶפֶת עָלָיו – that the effort he puts into making himself better in this world will be rewarded with a very great exchange; much more than you put in, you’ll get back.
What will you get? What’s the great thing you’ll get in exchange? Listen to the words of the Chovos Halevavos: וְהוּא רְצוֹת הָאֵ-ל אוֹתוֹ – That Hashem will like you; He’ll think well of you. You hear that?! The approval, the regard, of your Creator, that’s the great success that we should be aiming for. That Hashem should like you; that He should have a good opinion of you – there’s nothing as important as that!
The Best Ambition
Now, I’m sure many people never even thought about this idea, but we should always remember what Moshe Rabbeinu said (Shemos 33:13): “לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ – Hashem, I want You to have a good opinion of me.” And that should be the ambition of everyone – to find chein b’einei Hashem.
You know, many people are willing to deal with Hashem on a commercial basis – I’ll do mitzvos and You’ll give me reward; it’s a give and take, a business deal. But they’re not interested in what really matters – that Hashem should love them.
But the truth is, that’s what matters most – we’re learning now that Hashem’s favor is what really counts. The proper attitude is to want to find chein, v’nimtza chein b’einei Elokim – try to find favor in the eyes of Hashem. חַיִּים בִּרְצוֹנוֹ – that’s called life, when you gain the favor of Hashem.
You have to think about that seriously. “What could I do to make Hashem like me?” Maybe you’ll say, “Well, He’ll like me if I’m more serious; if I wouldn’t be such a leitz.” You’d be right if you said that. When you have a serious face and you don’t talk too much Hashem likes you. Isn’t that a good idea?
There are a lot of other good ideas too. There are various forms of self improvement that will make a man successful in this achievement and once you understand the importance of this subject, you’ll get busy with the idea of trying to find favor in the eyes of Hashem; you’ll look for ways and means of making progress in your character. You’ll always be on the lookout for how you could behave in such a way that will deserve the favor of Hashem.
Suffering For A Cause
Now, in order that we should spend our lives laboring to achieve His favor, Hashem implanted a desire in the human soul that is engineered to inspire us to this achievement. You know a person wants many things in this world – there seems to be no end to a man’s desires. But when we analyze it – both al pi Torah and according to our own investigations of the world around us – we’re going to come to the conclusion that what a person wants most of all is glory, honor. Not only we want it — we crave it.
Don’t we see people give up many things – even their lives – for the sake of glory? They’ll rush into the thick of the fray during battle – they’ll run ahead and risk their lives in the hope that someday in a little public square somewhere maybe there might be a little monument to them. Actually, what happens? There’s a statue in a park somewhere; people who pass by never look at it. Some goyim come there – not to read the plaque under the statue; they bring their dogs there to urinate. And by night the homeless sleep next to the statue and they do the same. But that imaginary glory was enough for them to give up lives.
There are artists who go to Paris and live in garrets. They starve for years and years painting away, one painting after the other. Maybe someday one of their paintings will be taken out and displayed! Ah! The glory of having your work hanging in a gallery! Writers too are sitting in basements, cold and hungry, and they’re sending in their stories to publishers one after the other in the hope that maybe someday they will be recognized.
Unemployment and Recognition
Not only among the gentiles. You see it in certain communities – I don’t want to point out where – but in certain frum communities it’s very widespread that people are starving because they don’t want to do certain kinds of work. It’s beneath their dignity and they prefer to suffer illness, poverty – many times they even chalilah die young because it’s beneath their dignity to go to work. They become ill because they don’t have enough money to support themselves properly; but they prefer that instead of having to lower their reputation by doing something beneath their dignity. They want to be known as Torah learners and although they stopped learning long ago – they lost their enthusiasm long ago already – but in order to maintain their reputation that they’re Torah learners, so they dress like talmidei chachamim and they don’t work and that’s their kavod. For the sake of that kavod, their families are suffering and they’re dying young too. It’s a great pity on them.
And even if you’re a tzaddik and you learned that hakinah vehata’avah vehakavod motzi’in es ha’adam min haolam (Avos 4:21), that the desire for glory is something to be despised, but we cannot go away from the fact of human nature – more than anything else you want “recognition.” “I don’t want kavod,” he says. “I just want recognition.” That’s an English word to camouflage kavod. But that’s all it is – camouflage. Kavod is the most urgent desire of the human soul! Not only is it one component of man’s character – it’s the core; it’s the center of all their desires. The craving of every human soul – more than anything else – is recognition.
Vanity Is Not In Vain
Now, we shouldn’t think this desire for kavod that we all feel is merely because of the perverseness of man, because of his wickedness. Nothing in the human character is an accident. You know, if you open up the hood of an automobile and you peer into the inside, if you see certain things you don’t understand, you’re not going to be foolish enough to think it’s an accident; that it doesn’t belong. You can be sure that the makers of that car didn’t waste a single nut or bolt. Each little piece has a purpose.
And you can be sure that Hakodosh Boruch Hu when He manufactured man, every part was placed there for a purpose. Not like these crazy fellows in the hospitals who peer into the body and say, “This is not necessary, it’s a ‘vestigial organ’. It could be that some hundreds of millions of years ago it was necessary for a stage of evolution, but right now it’s only causing problems, we have to operate and get rid of it.” They used to say that about the tonsils. Boruch Hashem, the only operation I ever had in my life was when they removed my tonsils. And to this day, I cannot forgive the evolutionists because the entire operation was based on this erroneous conception of vestigial organs. The doctors used to say, “any cold that a child has, the tonsils must be out by spring”.
Today they discovered finally that they know very little; Hakadosh Baruch Hu is not going to put in anything that’s not necessary. Like one scientist said: “I would be a rash man indeed to say that anything in the body is superfluous.”
Now, you must know that the same is for every emotion. Every emotion that is naturally found in man is there for a purpose. And if Hakodosh Boruch Hu put into the human mind the desire for glory, we must understand that it belongs there. Not only is it a component of man’s character – it’s the core; it’s the center of all their desires. The craving of every human soul more than anything else is people want recognition. Everybody wants to be important, and we can’t blame them. That’s how Hakadosh Baruch Hu made mankind, that the instinct for glory is the most powerful in the human heart.
Now, what is it Hashem’s fault if unthinking people misdirect this emotion for foolish ideals; for becoming a war hero or a painter? Hashem says, “You should want kavod, absolutely. Only you should want the right kind of kavod – kavod from Me! To find favor in My eyes, that’s the only kavod that matters.”
Picture Of A Hero
And in order to get kavod from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, there’s only one way. There’s only one way of getting that honor, that’s b’darkei haTorah! There’s no other way! Not by showing off, not by getting publicity. All those people whose names are in the newspapers, that’s not kavod. I’m afraid it’s the opposite. Let’s say, to have your name in the New York Times – that’s a hundred percent waste of ink. That’s not honor.
The movies have a poster outside. It shows a picture of a fellow, a wild fellow, a meshugener with a gun. What’s the gun for? To make him a hero! A gun doesn’t make you a hero – a gun makes you a murderer!
You want a picture of a hero? Take a picture of a frum Jew on the street. A Jew with a beard, black hat – that’s a picture of a hero. That’s the one who deserves honor! Here you have a mother pushing two babies in a carriage, with six older children holding on. Now, to the outside world, this woman is not the personification of a hero, of someone who deserves honor. Just the opposite, they think! She’s a plain woman. But when we listen to the words of our great teachers who taught us the ways of finding favor in the eyes of Hashem, so we know that ein kavod ella Torah! Only the darkei haTorah are kavod. It’s only those who walk on the path of Torah who are deserving of honor. This “plain woman” is it! She’s running a big operation, a big company. She’s the real hero!
Everything For Honor
And so, the woman in the house who is cooking and cleaning; she’s raising children and shopping and davening — as much as possible she should be doing everything just to find favor in the eyes of Hashem. Of course, it’s not easy in the beginning, to constantly be thinking that, but it pays for her to add this thought to everything she does. Not merely that she should have a successful home – no. She is doing it because she wants Hashem to like her.
And if you’re a businessman, you try to be honest always and you’re careful with all the dinim of choshen mishpat; you treat the customers with derech eretz and decency. But you don’t do it only so that people should like you – it’s because you want honor from Hashem!
A hero is the frum Jew with good middos, who is mekayem the Torah, and is trying to walk b’derech hayashar. People who have families, raising children to go b’derech hayashar they are our heroes.They are the ones we strive to emulate; and we do it for kavod – the right type of kavod, so that “Hashem will like you; so that He’ll think well of you” (Chovos Halevavos ibid.). Any other kavod doesn’t matter!
Germs In The Stadium
And that’s why there’s another ingredient that’s most necessary to understand and that’s the following: There’s no real kavod in Olam Hazeh! When you get kavod in this world, it’s really a ridiculous thing. What of it if people give you honor?! People honoring you? What does it amount to?
Imagine that you’re invited now to a gathering of 70,000 people in a big stadium, in Madison Square Garden let’s say, and you’re the guest of honor. Imagine such a thing; maybe you wrote a symphony or some other silly thing and now you’re being honored. 70,000 people have assembled to honor you and when you’re introduced they all stand on their feet and they’re applauding you. Ah! Ah ah ah! That’s a moment of life! I’m afraid you might need someone to hold you up – you might totter and fall down from excitement!
It’s as meaningless as could be! An hour later it’s all over. They go home and forget about you. And even if they’ll think about you, you know what it’s like? It’s like 70,000 germs in this square foot of rug in front of you applauding you. If 70,000 germs in the rug are applauding you, would you be excited? Imagine they’re applauding you right now. What does it mean? Nothing at all.
Nobel Is Not Noble
Here is a man who got the Nobel prize; he won the Nobel prize so he goes to the place where they give out the prizes and he gets honored and he’s given a big amount of money too; he’s very happy. But it’s nothing at all. You know, Arafat got the Nobel prize too. You understand now what a value it really has. A real peace lover, he was.
All the kavod of this world is empty – it’s as superficial as could be. When someone once wished to give a certain kavod to the Chofetz Chaim zichrono l’vracha, he said: “Kavod is kugel. And you don’t eat kugel on erev Shabbos.” Which means kavod is for the next world. Kavod is good, only not now; now it’s too early. It’s like eating kugel on erev Shabbos. When you eat kugel on erev shabbos it tastes good; it’s delicious. But it’s not the right time for it.
Kavod is not false, but you have to know where to use it. The next world is the place for getting kavod. Wait until Shabbos and then you’ll get what you deserve; the real kugel is the honor in the next world. There’s a real noble prize, given for real nobility, a prize that’s really worth something and it lasts forever. And it’s one million times – it’s not an exaggeration – it’s one million times more than this prize that he got. The real nobel prize is the kavod that an eved Hashem will get in the next world.
Hashem Claps The Loudest
The only applause that means anything is that Hashem should applaud you! There’s only one audience that we care about, and that is Hakodosh Baruch Hu. He is the audience in the Next World and it’s going to be some experience!
We should picture that in our minds. It’s important to take some time to picture what’s going to be. Hashem is sitting there on the grandstand and all around Him are the nevi’im; Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon and all the others are there too. The tanaim and amoraim, the rishonim and achronim, all the great people of all the generations down to today, and they’re all sitting and applauding you because you succeeded – you succeeded in your stay in Olam Hazeh.
You come now into the next world and they’re giving you a standing ovation. I’m just saying that in order to make it more palpable so you should feel it. Actually, Hashem is enough of an audience. He is the only audience that matters.
Surviving The Kavod
And when Hashem applauds you in the Next World you need so much strength to come to be able to withstand that experience. It’s like the man who suddenly gets a telegram: “A very wealthy man in France who was a great-great-uncle of yours died and he left you in his will; we couldn’t locate you until now. He left you a hundred million dollars.” So before the messenger gives you the message, he better give you a bottle of aspirin to take some pills because you might perish. Your heart won’t hold up. There was a story like that. A man suddenly got such news and he died on the spot. A true story. In “Believe It Or Not,” Ripley reports that story. He died on the spot.
When you come before Hashem and He smiles on you, it will be a million times more enjoyable than that. You’ll melt away in happiness! It’s too much for us to take! You’ll need special koach to survive. The Gemara says that when tzaddikim come before Hashem and Hashem smiles on them, it’s such a tremendous experience that He has to give them special strength to withstand such happiness. He gives the tzaddikim power to survive the kavod of the next world. That’s the kavod we care about.
The Dor Hamidbar Desired Glory
And that’s the kavod the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar cared about. For almost forty years they had trained themselves to think about nothing but that. “Will Hakodosh Boruch Hu be happy with me if I do this? Maybe I’ll find more favor in a His eyes if I do this.” Because they had achieved such a shleimus of daas, such a perfection of the mind, under the leadership of the “generous hearted princes,” so they knew that the favor of Hashem is what mattered most. That’s the greatest happiness; to know that Hashem is happy with you.
And because they desired the ratzon Hashem so much, when they saw that Hashem gave them a gift of a well without asking for it, that was a sign for them that they had gained Hashem’s favor in the most overwhelming matter! Hashem is happy with us! What could be better than that?!
And most important, it was an intimation of what was waiting for them in the World to Come! Not only is achieving the favor of Hashem the sweetest pleasure in this world, but it’s a portent of the much greater sweetness of the World to Come, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu will shine His face upon you and welcome you: “Yes, My child. You have found favor in My eyes and I love you!”