Every Jew Is a Shiny Diamond
In instructing Moshe to take the census of b’nei Yisrael, the literal translation of what Hashem said is, “Elevate the heads of b’nei Yisrael.”
Parashas Bamidbar precedes Shavuos, when we commem- orate the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Prior to that great event, Hashem said to b’nei Yisrael, “You shall be unto Me a nation of priests, a sacred nation. You shall be a treasure to me from among all peoples.”
Although a person should be humble, one should never lose one’s sense of dignity and significance. There is a natural resis- tance to damaging something that is beautiful and precious. If we are aware of our own great value, we will never do anything that detracts from our greatness.
In taking a census, counting each individual, Moshe was instructed to elevate each person. Each individual is a precious diamond.
They should confess the sin that they did” (Bamidbar 5:7)
The words “that they did” are superfluous.
The Torah is saying that it is not enough to confess the sin. Sin does not occur in a vacuum. Sin occurs in a lifestyle that made the sin possible.
A recovering alcoholic on his thirty-fifth anniversary of so- briety said, “The man I once was drank, and the man I once was will drink again. If I go back to the lifestyle I led before I began drinking, I will drink again.”
When a person confesses a sin, one must also consider “that they did” — i.e., what kind of things did they do that made the sin possible. True teshuvah consists of a character change that renders repeating the sin impossible.
Man’s Search for Meaning
The Torah relates that the people (ha’am) were as if in mourning (Bamidbar 11:1) but does not say what they were displeased about.
The commentaries say that these people (ha’am) were the Egyptians that joined b’nei Yisrael in the Exodus. They were troublemakers all along. They were the ones who made the golden calf, challenged God to produce water in the desert, and advocated returning to Egypt. Now they were just griping for no apparent reason. They were unhappy with the Torah and had no ultimate goal in life.
If a person does not know what one is living for, one will be chronically discontented and will look for things to blame for the discontent. Such people are likely to turn to any of the addic- tions, which can give them momentary “highs,” which will only add to their long-term misery.
Believe That You Can
There were two episodes of spies sent to Canaan. Those sent by Moshe resulted in a disaster from which we still suffer thousands of years later, whereas those sent by Yehoshua result- ed in triumph. Why the radical difference?
Hashem had promised b’nei Yisrael the conquest of Canaan, but they lacked the necessary trust and faith in Hashem. They sent the spies to see whether they were indeed capable of con- quering the land. Yehoshua’s spies had no such doubt. They were only interested in what the best method was to achieve this.
This is a message for all time. If you question whether or not you can achieve your goal, there will be many doubts, and you may decide that you cannot do it. If you are determined that you will do it, but are just looking for the most efficient way, you will succeed.
In addiction, we cannot afford to think about whether or not we can recover. There is no option. If we are determined that we will recover, and we are looking for the best way to do so, we will succeed.
Korach challenged the right of Aharon to the kehunah.
Arguing that everyone has a right to kehunah, he performed the incense service, which may be done only by a kohen. He and his followers died, thus proving the authority of Moshe that Aharon was the kohen and that non-kohanim are not permitted to perform the services assigned to the kohein.
Hashem then ordered that the incense utensils be flattened and made into a covering for the Mizbei’ach, to serve as a reminder and warning to non-kohanim that they are not per- mitted to do the priestly service, lest they suffer the grave con- sequences that befell Korach. In other words, the Jews should learn from the history of the past to avoid repeating behavior that has ruinous consequences.
One of the classic features of addiction is the addict’s refusal to learn from the past. For years, every time he used alcohol or a drug, he suffered serious consequences. Yet the addiction drives him to think, “This time will be different.” It is said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. How true!
Humbly Asked Him to Remove
Our Defects of Character
In this portion, b’nei Yisrael complained that they have no wa-ter. Hashem tells Moshe to order a rock to give water. Since in a previous episode, Hashem told Moshe to hit the rock with his rod, Moshe does so again. Hashem then tells Moshe that he forfeited the right to enter Canaan with his people.
The Rambam says that Moshe’s sin was not the hitting of the rock but rather that he lost control of his anger and called b’nei Yisrael “rebellious.” Losing control over one’s anger is a serious violation, which the Talmud equates with idolatry.
We cannot help feeling anger when provoked, but we should at all times avoid going into rage. The Talmud says that when a person is enraged, his judgment is distorted, and “All the forces of Gehinnom dominate him” (Nedarim 22a).
In a letter to his son, the Ramban counsels him to avoid rage, because controlling one’s anger leads to development of fine character traits.
But what do you do if you fail to control it time and again? You ask Hashem to remove this defect of character and thus “make room” for the fine traits to enter.
The Enemy Within
The evil sorcerer, Bilam, tried his utmost to destroy Israel with curses, but Hashem foiled his plans and so twisted
his tongue that his words came out as blessings rather than curses.
Seeing that his efforts were fruitless, Bilam resorted to an- other maneuver. Knowing that Hashem despises debauchery, he arranged that the Midianites would seduce b’nei Yisrael to commit harlotry. This indeed angered Hashem, and twenty-four thousand Israelites died in a plague.
Bilam was a bitter enemy, but he could not harm Israel. However, when b’nei Yisrael surrendered to licentiousness, they became their own worst enemy.
We can defend ourselves against external enemies, but we are vulnerable to harming ourselves by inappropriate behavior.
Fellowship of the Spirit
Moshe asked Hashem to appoint a leader to succeed him, “a person who can understand and relate to each individ- ual” (Bamidbar 27:16, and Rashi). Hashem responded, “Take to yourself Yehoshua, a man in whom there is spirit.” How does Hashem’s response satisfy Moshe’s request?
The human being is a composite creature, comprised of a body and a spirit. The spirit is the force that directs a person away from self-gratification, to be devoted to a higher goal.
A person who is preoccupied with satisfying his own desires cannot empathize fully with others. The ability to relate to and understand each individual requires extraordinary empathy. Such empathy is possible only in a person who has subordinated one’s self-gratifying drives to the spirit.
In the Nusach Sefard siddur, the morning service reads, “The superiority of man over animal is naught, save for the pure soul.” We can pride ourselves in being dignified human beings only if our behavior is under the direction of the spirit rather than the animal body.
A Program of Rigorous Honesty
The Torah says that if a person makes a vow, “He shall not desecrate his word — according to whatever comes out of his mouth shall he do.”
The Torah places great emphasis on truthfulness. Breaking one’s word is a “desecration” of speech.
Perhaps animals do communicate, but they do not have the sophisticated speech that man has. Speech is a sacred gift, and lying is a desecration.
Addiction and lying are inseparable. The addict loses all sense of trust, and until one regains trust, there can be no meaningful relationships.
An absolute dedication to truthfulness is a cornerstone of recovery.