Friday, July 13, 2007

Mas'ei 5632 First Ma'amar

וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם .../Moshe wrote their departures for their travels …” This pasuk is somewhat awkward. The pasuk could have stated simply that Moshe recorded their travels or that he recorded their encampments. Why their departure points for their travels?

The Sfas Emes explains that there are places that have no intrinsic importance. Rather, they are important specifically because we distanced ourselves from them. The Torah refers to the encampments as journeys in order to accentuate this idea. The reason these encampments are listed is because we left them. As with the encampments so too, in life, there are many things whose primary raison d’être is to provide us the opportunity to improve ourselves by distancing from them.

We see that our intent and the way we relate to things affects the importance of those things. The Sfas Emes, expounding on this concept, explains that it is our intent directly affects the existence of things. When we create wealth, for instance, for the sake of heaven, that wealth has intrinsic spiritual value and thus it will endure. By the same token we give importance to negative aspects of this world by avoiding them thus recognizing their role in helping us to improve ourselves.

We find the idea clearly in a Midrash from parshas Matos. The Midrash says that when a person grabs wealth for himself by not recognizing God’s hand in it, he tends to lose it. The children of Reuven and Gad were wealthy. However, their love for their wealth caused them to separate from their brothers and remain outside of the land of Israel. As a result the tribes of Reuven and Gad were the first to be exiled. Had the children of Reuven and Gad recognized the hand of God in their wealth, they would have entered the land with the other tribes. Recognizing their abundance as a gift from God would have imbued lasting duration in their affluence.

Relating to this same idea another Midrash in parshas Matos states that the love the children of Reuven and Gad had for their assets caused them to give their assets greater importance than they gave themselves. We see that they told Moshe Rabbeinu that they would build enclosures for their flocks and only afterward would they build cities for their children. They were more concerned for their wealth than for their children. Paradoxically, by treating their flocks with secondary importance they would have ensured a perpetuation of their wealth. Treating them with primary importance caused their loss.

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