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  • Band Of Brothers

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    Rabbi Yissachar Frand relates an article. Major Jered Spencer, United States Army, graduate of West Point, wrote an Op Ed article in the New York Times. In the military there is a concept called band of brothers, it refers to soldiers who are in the same unit who fight together, eat together, sleep together, laugh together, and cry together. The bond is so closely knit that they become willing to risk their lives for their fellow soldiers. Anyone who ever saw the old "Combat" or "Rat Patrol" series knows the cohesiveness and respect each one has for his fellow in the unit. It doesn't matter if one is in the Israeli, American, or whatever army unit in the world, the "band of brothers" concept is real. Spencer was in Iraq in 2003 and in another tour of duty in 2008, and he noticed a profound change in cohesion of his unit in those five years. These are some notes that he conveyed that the reader might find intriguing.

    "I had forty men in combat in Iraq. We practically lived and slept in our vehicles. We ate together; we experienced missions together. The only real contact we had with the outside world was an occasional letter or infrequent phone calls. At that time, cell phones have not really arrived. When I returned in 2008, by this time our living quarters were fully equipped with 24-hour internet service and we had purchased cell phones from the Iraqis. Facebook was taking off and changing social media. Soldiers spent hours and hours on the computer lab, posting to their Facebook wall and sending messages to their friends. Astonishingly, this new burst of modern technology had a terrible effect on the cohesion of the group. They would criticize each other more often. I saw them arguing on what decisions to make. We went from a band of brothers to a band of tweeters."

    The 'band of brothers' concept has been established since war began. It has been a full proof signature act of brotherhood that ever existed. The goal is to focus on comradery, humanity one for all and all for one. What happened? How can one get so unfocused? How can this group unravel? There seems to be doubt cast in the relationship with their fellow comrades-in-arms. The focus on bringing men together to perform kindness to each other is gone. The drive and focus for the goal of brotherly love has been diluted.

    It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in the Torah. Ten of the spies whom Moses had sent to spy out the land came back with a report calculated to demoralize the nation. "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large ... We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are ... The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height ... We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Num. 13: 27-33)

    This was nonsense, and they should have known it. They had left Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world, after a series of plagues that brought that great country to its knees. They had crossed the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Red Sea. They had fought and defeated the Amalekites, a ferocious warrior nation. They had even sung, along with their fellow Israelites, a song at the Sea that contained the words: "The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away." (Ex. 15: 14-15)
    They should have known that the people of the land were afraid of them, not the other way around. How and why did they stray off the plan? They were riding high, steamrolling into Eretz Yisrael. The land of "milk and honey", here we come; this was the rallying cry, the focus throughout the exodus. How did they get off course? Furthermore, even more bizarre, this week's parsha tell an additional story of the Mapilim. (14:44) After the sin of the spies, G-d decreed that the generation would die in the desert and they won't enter Eretz Yisrael. A group of people known as the Mapilim decided they would go to Israel regardless.

    Rashi explains {Mapilim} implies force. These people made themselves strong and stubborn and they decided to go to the land with or without permission from G-d. Essentially, they were sinning in the reverse way. At first, when G-d told them to go, the Jews were apprehensive and scared, then when G-d took away the option, now, all of a sudden, they have the strong urge. Moshe said, "Why are you going against G-d decree; it will not succeed. Do not go up because G-d is not in your midst, lest you will be smitten before your enemies..."

    But they tried to go to the Holy land anyway. The verse tells us (14:45) "Amalek and Cana'an who live on the mountains went down and smote them." These verses are surprising. The previous day, everyone was afraid to go to the land, on the next day they were courageous and fearless. How can we explain this? How did they change their stance so quickly?

    The Chasam Sofer says the Mapilim were misguided tzadikim. Their focus was de-focused. He proves it from a Gemara in Shabbat. (96-97) How did Tzelafchad die? Reb Yehuda ben Beisera said he was one of the Mapilim and had good intentions. They wanted to repent and couldn't bear that they lost the opportunity to go to Israel. Interestingly, now we attach a prequel to the story of his daughters. Tzelafchad's daughter wanted to claim the right of inheritance of their father in the land of Israel. (Tzelafchad had no sons to inherit him.)

    In order to understand our problem, I say our problem for it haunts each one of us today, we have to go to the source. The nachash-snake was able to seduce Eve into eating from the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. By eating from this tree, Adam and Eve brought the yetzer hara-Satan into themselves. This means that they now constituted of a combination of the good that emanated from their pure soul, and the evil that came from the yetzer hara-Satan.

    The result of this was that they were now subject to the main weapon of the yetzer hara; confusion and with this confusion he will always attempt to un-focus the focus. When a person knows that something is clearly wrong, he will not do it. The yetzer hara's tactic is to convince him that this sin is actually not a sin at all, in fact it is the correct thing to do. Furthermore, he will convince him that his good deed was not as good after all.

    The Netivot Shalom (the Slonimer Rebbe) writes the following idea in his book. Every night we say in the Aravit prayer: "Remove the Satan from in front of us and from behind us". It is obvious to all of us what the purpose of the "Satan in front of us" is. Many times, we are on the way to do something positive and we find it becomes very difficult to accomplish the task. This is due to the "Satan in front of us" who tries to prevent us from doing mitzvot. In the most famous act of trust and love towards the Master of the Universe, the Sages tell us that the Satan wanted to get in the way of Avraham Avinu and not let him accomplish the Akedah [binding] of Yitzchak.

    But what is the significance of the prayer to remove the "Satan from behind us"? How can there be a "Satan behind us" if the mitzvah has already been completed? The Netivot Shalom explains that sometimes after we have already completed a mitzvah, or passed a nisayon [spiritual challenge] things don't work out the way we thought they would and we begin to "second guess" our righteous acts. We wonder whether or not we did the right thing. The Satan never gives up. He may lose battle after battle, but he does not give up the war so easily.

    What does the person think? What do the people around him think? This is the idea of "Remove Satan from behind us." After the good deed is done, the Satan does not want you to be at peace with it. Even if the person was not contemplating going back to where he came from spiritually, nonetheless, it is no longer the same. It is with a regret and remorse that one decided to do the right thing and become religious.
    The Sages tell us that a person only sins when a 'spirit of insanity' [ruach shtut] overtakes him- this means that he loses touch with his sense of right and wrong and therefore does the wrong thing, whilst convincing himself that it is actually the right thing to do.

    The Ben Ish Chai and Maskil leDavid both point out that the prayers which we recite stating "please prevent us from sinning" seem to contradict a well-known axiom, that 'everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven.' This means that the one thing that is completely in the control of man is the ability to choose between right and wrong. If we pray for things beyond our control, such as health and livelihood, it can be highly beneficial because those things are totally dependent on Divine Providence. However, praying to not sin would seem to have no benefit because God does not determine whether we sin - that is completely in our hands.

    The Ben Ish Chai explains that there are two different ways by which a person can come to commit a sin. One is where he has total clarity that a certain act is forbidden but he nonetheless decides to do it with a clear recognition that he is sinning. The second is where his yetzer hara (evil inclination) clouds his judgment and persuades him that this act is permissible; enabling him to rationalize that he is not sinning at all.

    The principle that 'fear of heaven is completely in our own hands' only applies to the first form of sinning, where a person is absolutely clear that acting in such a way constitutes a sin. In this area there is no benefit for a person to pray for God to stop him committing this sin; it is purely in his own hands and God cannot, so-to-speak, change his free will decision.

    However, this is not the case with regard to the second form of challenge where a person may genuinely believe that he is not sinning. The main factor that causes him to sin in such a case is lack of clarity as to the correct course of action. This is not completely within one's free will. When a person wants to do the right thing, but is at risk of being seduced by his yetzer hara, he can turn to God to help him not be clouded by its rationalizations. Therefore, in this situation it is beneficial to pray to God.

    We don't have to be in the army to cry over the loss of the "band of brothers". We can cry for it for it has hit us much closer "band of family". I once played for the reader a music video by the Maccabeats where the whole family was sitting around the dinner table and each one had a laptop in front of them. No one said a peep to their family members. Here, the Satan won; he used his primary weapon confusion. The primary goal was to focus on the family, to take advantage of the time with parents, children, and siblings. Satan convinced the individuals of the family that conversing at the table and saying I love you is secondary. The family missed an important moment in life and that is to enjoy and learn from each other. Satan altered the goals of life and threw clarity for a spin. Perhaps, it is similar to the spies an Mapilim whereas a burst of confusion is thrusted upon the situation, the primary focus derailed.

    Rabbi Asher Hurzberg relates a famous story of a king who sends his diplomat to another country but instructs him to not remove his shirt when he meets with their king and his advisers. When he got back, the king asked him how the trip went. He replied that it was good and the King would be happy. When he arrived there, the advisers looked at him from top to bottom and asked, "Are you a hunchback?" He responded "No." They persisted, ending up wagering $100,000 that he was. The diplomat thought "Boy, this is easy money." So he took off his shirt and showed them he wasn't a hunchback. The king's face turned red. "You fool I told you not to bet. I bet them $1,000,000 you would not take off your shirt."

    Let us stay focused on our primary goals and not get distracted by what seems enticing or for that matter reluctance due to fear for this is the weapon of the Satan. Let the band of brothers live on.

    Rabbi Avi Matmon

    This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbis Yissachar Frand, Elimelech Bidderman , Lord Jonothon Sacks, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Yonatan Gefen


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  • Bad Acting

    by gTorah.com

    When the spies returned, and delivered their pessimistic report, the people were distraught. Not knowing better, they lost faith in what would become of them, and by losing faith, they lost all they had going for them.

    Disappointed in what the people had become, God told them that they would be a lost generation; they would wander for 40 years, and die in the wilderness. They did not deserve the privilege of the Land of Israel, but their children would.

    When the people heard what their fate would be, they refused to accept it at first:

    וישכמו בבקר ויעלו אל ראש ההר לאמר הננו ועלינו אל המקום אשר אמר ה כי חטאנו – They rose early the next morning, and set out toward the crest of the mountain, saying, “We are prepared to go to the place that Hashem has spoken of, for we were wrong.” (14:40)

    Rabbi Shlomo Farhi explains that the language used in telling how this show of faith is a chiasm that echoes the story of Avraham.

    Avraham’s ultimate act of faith was rising early in the morning, and going to the crest of the mountain in the place God spoke of. His faith is absolute, when he says הנני- Here I stand.

    But it fails. What worked for Avraham does not work here, because Avraham was authentic, and this time it was not. Avrahams act of faith was corrupted into a show of faith.

    Avraham had faith before he knew where he was going. The comparison they were trying to evoke was false. They could say הננו, but that’s not where they truly stood.

    There is a difference between fracturing something, and breaking it. Each situation calls for something different. Their mistake was thinking that their mistake caused a fracture, and not a break.

    Introspection requires intellectual honesty to understand how to move past our mistakes. Think of the last person you hurt. What would it take to move your relationship past it?


    The men selected to scout out the land of Israel were no ordinary men. They were chosen because they held stature among the nation – they were great people, yet they gravely erred. One of the reasons Chazal understand to have motivated their plot was that life in the desert was simple and beautiful. God did everything for them, and the people were exposed at all times to the Almighty.

    They had the manna to eat, which would be sent based on worthiness and potentially taste of anything they desired. They had a wellspring that moved with the camp. They had Clouds of Glory which marked travel movements and shaded them from the harsh desert sun; and according to Midrash, flattened obstacles, cleared wild beasts, and possibly cleaned their clothing too.

    The spies concluded that this was an ideal way of life and engineered a report that would get the people to clamour to stay in the wilderness.

    The Sfas Emes notes that immediately afterward the story of the spies concludes, three mitzvos are revealed: separating challa, Tzitzis, and nesachim – wherein all sacrifices require additions from the mineral water 0, among them salt and spring water.

    The Sfas Emes notes that the sin of the spies was that they presumed to instruct God how things ought to be. These specific mitzvos show the flaw in their argument. God did not want us to live in the desert indefinitely, eating miraculous manna, drinking from the miraculous well, under the miraculous Clouds – the training wheels have to come off eventually.

    What man is independently capable of is elevating the mundane and material into spiritual . These mitzvos capture the concept.

    The manna was the bread that God sent to their doorsteps. The mitzva of challa requires that when baking a loaf of bread, a small section is set aside to remind that God is the true provider. The entire loaf is called “challa”, although the mitzva only pertains to the small bit set aside. The bread that has been planted, grown, cultivated and processed becomes more.

    The Clouds surrounded sheltered them and reminded them of God’s immanence and presence. Similarly, tzitzis ensconce and shroud a person – the stated aim is to remind the wearer of all mitzvos. Physical shelter and protection become more.

    The wellspring that followed them around was how they drank. Similarly, the nesachim of minerals and spring water accompanied every sacrifice. The literal translation of Korban is to draw close – things mundane as minerals become more.

    God does not want to give things to us for free, as this makes them cheap. The spies presumed to know that a life devoid of physicality was perfect, but these mitzvos serve indicate otherwise.

    Mankind has the potential to elevate everything into something spiritual – with just a little direction.


    Every day in Shema, the section of tzitzis is read:

    וְהָיָה לָכֶם, לְצִיצִת, וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת ה’, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם; וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם – You will wear these tzitzis. When you see them, you will be reminded of all God’s commands; and you’ll do them – and you won’t stray after your hearts and eyes. (15:39)

    Beyond the obvious implication of not dwelling on inappropriate sights, the Sfas Emes notes that this mitzva is mentioned soon after the tragic incident of the spies. The juxtaposition charges us to not make that generations’ mistake – וְלֹא -תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם – where eyes and hearts literally “scout”, leading astray.

    The Sfas Emes analyses their error.

    What if their worst fears had been confirmed, and they indeed faced a barren land, inhabited by hordes of strong, ruthless, well armed, well trained men? Would Hashem’s assurances and promises have meant less than if they had no knowledge of the matter?

    Certainly not. The scouting changed things from their perspective – but God certainly knew what lay ahead. This is שלח לך – for yourselves.

    Taking things as they appear is a character flaw that is caused by a deficiency in faith and trust. If they had truly believed and trusted Hashem, the episode could not have taken place. They’d never have sent scouts in the first place. This why the very next following words are לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתָי – not “remind yourself” so much as “never forget” – by internalisation.

    Ttitzis are said to protect a person. Perhaps by indicating that there is so much more than meets the eye – including the wearer!

    A part of the tzitzis requirement is to have a thread of techeiles, a shade of blue-violet. Parenthetically, there is a lot of debate about the source of the correct type of techeiles. To illustrate the gravity of the mitzva, one opinion states that tzitzis without techeiles are not tzitzis at all!

    Rav Hirsch notes that the spectrum discernible to our eye ends with the blue-violet ray – the same shade as techeiles; but additional magnitudes of light radiate unseen beyond the visible spectrum. Likewise, the blue sky is the end of the earth visible to us. Perhaps then, techeiles is the bridge that leads from the visible, physical sphere into the unseen sphere beyond. This again underlines the spies error.

    Man’s goal is not to strive for spirituality to the exclusion of the physical, but rather to use the physical drives as tools for human growth – note how the thread of techeiles on the tzitzis is the thread wound around the white threads to make a cord of tzitzis. This reflects the duty of the Jew to unite and elevate all available forces and tools to God’s service.

    The techeiles on tzitzis is the mini uniform reflecting the calling of the Jew – it should be no surprise that it is the standard colour of the Beis HaMikdash and Kohen Gadol’s clothing.

    The entire mitzva of tzitzis screams out that the spies could not have been more wrong. It’s not what you look at that matters; but what you see. Through tzitzis, we are entreated to think bigger and become more.


    There is a dichotomy regarding the Matza on Pesach. Is it poor man’s bread, indicative of slavery; or is it because of the redemption, that they were freed before they had time to prepare bread?

    The Sfas Emes explains that we cannot celebrate being freed from Egypt on it’s own; we must celebrate the fact we were enslaved as well. If we were capable of being a nation that could serve Hashem in freedom initially, we need not have been enslaved, and if we could serve Hashem in slavery, we weren’t in need of rescue. So being enslaved in Egypt was a key part of the process through which we became Hashem’s people. What transition took place in Egypt that created a nation capable of serving God?

    The Sfas Emes goes on to explain that by being in crushing slavery, the people were far beyond their comfort zones, and pushed way past the extremes of what they thought they were capable of. This was a life lesson to the people that the arrogance and ego of man could be removed, and a person could devote his entire being to something. This was a key stage in becoming Hashem’s servants – the people knew what it meant to give their all; which would not have been the same thing without the ravages of slavery.

    The Sfas Emes explains that this is what all evils and adversity in life are for – they educate us about our limits, and more than that, they show us the opposite extremes to which we can aspire, attain and transcend. This is the only purpose they serve, just like Egypt. If they weren’t there to help us become closer to Hashem, they would have no function, and therefore would not exist. This was the only way in people could have accepted Hashem as their King entirely; in the same way they had been entirely subjugated to Paroh, they could now subjugate themselves entirely to Hashem.

    This was the critical moment the Jews were born as a nation. As we say in Shema every day: אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלוקים – “That I took you out of Egypt to be for you a God” (Bamidbar 15:41). The causation is clear – we had to have been in Egypt before, in order to be taken out, to become everything we were meant to be. Being God’s people hinges on the need to have subdued arrogance and ego.

    This is what טוב אחרית הדבר מראשיתו means – “the end is better than the beginning” (Koheles 7:8). It was far from pleasant to be in Egypt, but what followed was receiving the Torah. The Sfas Emes tells us that our celebration of leaving Egypt must hinge around the fact that we became better once we left – we accepted Hashem as our King and our God, and we received the Torah. The first thing we did on being freed was for Hashem – this is why there is a concept of firsts going to Hashem, for example the korban Omer (and Pidyon haBen, bikkurim etc). This is what is so vital on Seder night, to relive the Exodus from Egypt. It is when we became God’s people.

    The Sfas Emes answers that this is why Matza correlates to both slavery as well as freedom – it is devoid of the ego, exemplified by chametz, yet it also correlates to the freedom – the process of freedom started when we were slaves. It is how we became truly free to serve Hashem. Our freedom stems from having not been free once.


    When introducing the story of Miriam, Rashi notes that it is juxtaposed with the story of the spies speaking ill of the land because the spies saw what had happened to Miriam, yet failed to learn a lesson about evil speech.

    The association is bizarre, and very problematic as a source for the lesson of not speaking negatively. Miriam spoke out against a human being – and the greatest to walk this earth to boot. Why would they apply the lesson to insentient, inanimate land?

    The Rambam teaches that the greater a person is, the greater exercise of humility required. The character appraisal the Torah gives of Moshe is emphatic:

    והאיש משה עניו מאד מכל אדם אשר על פני האדמה – Moshe was more humble than any person on the face of the earth.

    This may seem a little bit hyperbolic – but actually, indicates his level of humility – he made himself impervious to personal sensitivity – like the ground.

    The lesson they could have taken on is suddenly not bizarre at all. They ought to have taken heed that Miriam spoke ill of someone who was totally detached, and genuinely did not care – not only did he completely forgive her, he immediately prayed for her recovery. This being the case, we are able to grasp the juxtaposition of the two events.

    There is a phenomenally difficult, but very important lesson about sensitivity in speech here. In both cases, the error in speech was much more subtle than a straightforward, nasty piece of gossip. Yet Tisha B’Av and all tragedies in Jewish history have since ensued as a consequence.

    That the level required here is beyond us may be a valid observation, but think of the reverse; what with how powerful our speech clearly is, what could be achieved with dedication and perseverance?


    The spies returned from their expedition on the 9th of Av, culminating in what became the crucible and precursor of Jewish tragedy. The Gemara in Taanis teaches that when the Jews began to cry at the “reports” of what they were heading towards, Hashem pledged that the calendar date would be designated for genuine reasons to cry, for all generations.

    Moshe sensed that they would plot some kind of scheme – evidenced by the foresight to change his disciple’s name and pray for him:

    אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת הָאָרֶץ וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן נוּן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ – These are the names of the men Moshe sent to scout the Land. Moshe called Hoshea, son of Nun, “Yehoshua”. (13:16)

    The people who were sent were not the average rank and file; they were leaders of their respective Tribes – senior members in the camp. The Zohar says that what motivated them to exaggerate was the fear of losing their positions and office on entry into Israel. The perceived threat distorted their perception of Israel, and everything they saw was cast under a negative shadow.

    This poses a difficulty. Note that when Eldad and Medad started prophesying that Yehoshua would take up the leadership, Yehoshua exclaimed that they should be imprisoned – he was furious at the mere suggestion that he would become leader.

    If the spies false reports were predicated on a desire to lead, and Yehoshua had no interest in leading the Jews, then he would not lie to preserve the status quo. So what danger was he in, that Moshe changed his name and prayed for his well-being?

    The Kozhnitzer Maggid explains that whilst Moshe intuited that the spies may manipulate what they saw out of a desire to retain their position, he was equally concerned that Yehoshua would see things the way they did for the opposite reason; Yehoshua might try to delay entry into Israel, to avoid Moshe’s death and his own resultant rise to leadership. His humility could be his undoing!

    It doesn’t take too much to notice that negative traits cloud perceptions, and murk clarity, decisions and outlook. But perhaps positive traits can be equally harmful if imbalanced. The idea that a person can also be affected negatively by a positive characteristic is counterintuitive – and therefore frightening.

    An agenda is an agenda, no matter how altruistic the underlying motivation may be. If a person’s traits – whether humility, kindness, love of peace – create a preconceived parameter of how something out to transpire, then their vision is clouded, and facts will be perceived out of context. There is a figure of speech “rose-tinted spectacles…”. People often say “Personal interest aside…”, under the impression that such a thing can be done – but the Torah teaches that this is not so:

    לֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם – you shall not accept a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.” (Devarim 16:19).

    The bribe referenced is not necessarily cash – the Torah takes injury not at the bribe itself, but the result. Anything that clouds an objective view of reality, whatever “blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words,” is called a bribe.

    R’ Yissocher Frand notes that a person with perfect vision still won’t be able to see through frosted glass. Similarly, an agenda, even as noble as keeping Moshe Rabbeinu in power, could distort reality.

    If Yehoshua was susceptible to error due to personal agenda, it speaks volumes of us. But avoiding it is as simple as following Yehoshua’s lead – his teacher’s foresight saved him from succumbing to sin.

    The Mishna in Avos (1:6) says: עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר – Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend. We are enjoined to seek out a teacher or friend who sees through ourselves and our self-interest.

    Someone who can analyse and break down something complicated into its components is a worthwhile person to have around. They will remove many pitfalls.

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