matos and masai

This Shabbos we read Parshas Matos and Parshas Masai. In Parshas Matos the Torah tells us of the instruction that Hashem gave to Moses to take retribution from the Midianites before he would die. When then the Jewish people were told of these instructions, the Torah tells us that the soldiers who had to fight were given over to do battle with the Midianites. Rashi asks, why does it say that the soldiers were given over to do battle, rather than just saying that they went to do battle? Rashi explains that this shows us the great love that the Jewish people had for Moses. Before they were told that Moses would soon die, Moses said “Another little and they will stone me!” (Exodus )Now that they heard that Moses would die after this battle, they refused to go serve. Since they realized that by going to do battle they were endangering the life of Moses, and bringing closer the moment that he would die, they refused to serve until they were forced to do so.

The Steipler Gaon once asked, why did Rashi feel it necessary to tell us that before this incident the Jewish people had been ready to stone Moses? Of what help is this in showing the love of the Jewish people for Moses by telling us of the issues that they had with him before?

In a beautiful analogy, the Steipler explains this based on the well known thought of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the Mussar (Study of self – perfection) movement. There was once a great scholar who had a son who was not following his ways. He simply had no interest in the study and practices of his father. This same scholar also had a student who was the apple of his eye, always looking to study every second that he could, and to learn from his teacher. One day, the great Rabbi was sleeping, and near him were both this son and the close disciple. A fire broke out. Immediately the Rabbi ran to save these 2 young men. Which one did he go to first? Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that he will always run to his son first. Even though on a conscious level the Rabbi may interact more with his student, deep down where his most powerful feelings are, he is connected to his son in the strongest way possible. The deepest and strongest feelings that a person has, explained Rabbi Salanter, are beneath the conscious level, and are brought out in special moments.

This is the lesson that Rashi is teaching us. True, the Jews had caused grief in the past to Moses. However, this was only outwardly acts. Their true feelings and emotions were brought out in that moment of truth when they heard that Moses would die after they went to war. At that moment the Jewish people showed the true love and connection that they had to Moses, to the point where they refused to go to war against their enemy if it would hasten his death.

This idea is something that we always must be aware of. The real ‘me’ often only comes out in a moment of stress, when we have to face who we really are and what we have to try to improve in ourselves.