Torah Talk With David Suissa

David Suissa and I discuss on my live cam this week’s two Torah portions — Maatot and Masei. Chabad commentary. Aish. Roundup.

Here are some of the notes I made of things I wanted to discuss (mainly taken from Chabad):

Ascetism leads to purity, purity leads to holiness, holiness leads to humility, humility leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to saintliness, saintliness leads to the [possession of] the holy spirit, and the holy spirit leads to eternal life.
(Talmud, Avodah Zarah 20b)
The Hebrew word midian means “strife”. Midian is the essence of divisiveness, which is the root of all evil.

Judaism is not pacifist. And Moses spoke to the people: “Arm yourselves… to take G-d’s vengeance on Midian” (31:3)

G-d said to Israel: It is you who have an account to settle with them, for they caused Me to harm you. But Moses said: Master of the worlds! If we had been uncircumcised, or idol-worshippers, or had denied the mitzvot, the Midianites would not have hated us. They only persecute us on account of the Torah and the precepts which You have given us! Consequently the vengeance is Yours; and so I say: “To take G-d’s vengeance on Midian.”
(Midrash Tanchuma)
“To take G-d’s vengeance on Midian” — for whoever stands against Israel, stands against G-d.
G-d sees the war on Midian as avenging Israel, for G-d’s foremost concern is for His people; the people of Israel see the war as avenging G-d, for they are concerned only with the honor of G-d.
(The Chassidic Masters
The proverb says: “A well from which you drank, cast not a stone into it.”

For it is a man’s duty to be free of blame before men as before G-d, as it is said: “And you shall be guiltless towards G-d and towards Israel.”
(Midrash Tanchuma; Mishnah, Shekalim 3:2)
I admit that as a single man, I often want to say, I’m gonna do what I think is right, who cares what other people think, but what other people think is very important. Prager says married people, parents, talk differently.

The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source.
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
Rebbe: Thus the people know that they were never simply “passing through” or “biding time” at a particular juncture in their journey. Their every encampment, no matter how short or temporary, was to have its center, its focus, its objective: its own distinct way of making G-d at home in their lives.
Pauses, interruptions and setbacks are an inadvertent part of a person’s sojourn on earth. But when everything a person does is toward the goal of attaining the “Holy Land” — the sanctification of the material world — these, too, are “journeys”. Ultimately, they are shown to have been the true motors of progression, each an impetus to the realization of one’s mission and purpose in life.
The great desert we each must cross in the journey of life is the product of what the Kabbalists call the tzimtzum (“constriction”): G-ds creation of a so-called vacuum within His all-pervading immanence, a bubble of darkness within His infinite light that allows man the choice between good and evil. For in order that our acts of goodness should be meaningful, there must also be the choice of evil.
Six cities of refuge shall they be for you (35:13)
The Torah includes six hundred and thirteen mitzvot (commandments)…. Of these, the mitzvot that can be observed today [following the destruction of the Holy Temple and our exile from the Holy Land] number, altogether, three hundred and thirty-nine. Among these are mitzvot for which a person becomes obligated only under certain circumstances, so that it is possible that never in his lifetime will these circumstances come about and he will never have the opportunity to do them–e.g., the mitzvah to pay an employee on time… The number of mitzvot that every Jew is obligated in is two hundred and seventy… Many of these, however, are binding only on certain days of the year or certain times of the day.
There are six mitzvot whose obligation is constant, and does not depart from the person for a single moment throughout his lifetime. These are: to believe in G-d, to avow His oneness, to renounce idolatry, to love G-d, to fear Him, and to avoid temptation to sin. They are symbolized by the verse, “Six cities of refuge shall they be for you.”
(Sefer HaChinuch)
Furthermore, the day on which “the tribes of Israel where permitted to marry into each other” was proclaimed a national holiday. In fact, this holiday–the 15th of Av–is declared by the Mishnah to be one of the two greatest days of the year! (the other being none other than Yom Kippur). There are a number of reasons given as to the specialty of Av 15th, but this is one of them. In other words, the merging of tribes is not only tolerable, but something to be celebrated.
Sometimes it is good not to intermarry with another tribe, and sometimes it is fine. The Torah does not worship inclusivity or exclusivity.
Many commentators and the Midrash itself found deeper meanings and moral lessons lurking behind the recitation and spelling of the name of the place itself. Such names as kivrot hataavah – the burial place of desire and lust – certainly bear out such understandings.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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