Blog - Torah Insights

Order in the Wilderness - במדבר


Order in the Wilderness 

The fourth book of the Torah has two names: (1) Bamidbar, which means "in the wilderness," and (2) Chumash Hapekudim, "the book of numbers." These two names are not just different; they are, in fact, diametrically opposed because "wilderness" implies chaos, whereas "numbers" implies order. 

Indeed, the first portion of the book elaborates, in great detail, on how the Jewish people were organized in camps while traveling through the desert. The Torah describes the precise number of people in the four camps, each of which included three tribes. In other words, the theme of the book, as reflected in the very first Parsha, is creating order in a place of randomness and chaos. 

We all engage in this same experience in our own lives. Essentially, all of the Torah is about combining "numbers" and "wilderness",bringing order to chaos. The physical world is a chaotic place. Every experience is isolated, each moment possessing its own definition and its own distinction. Our lives are full of tension and conflict; we are pulled in different directions by opposing responsibilities and conflicting forces. Seeing the unity within it all is challenging, and it is even harder to experience life as wholesome and holistic. 

Torah is the gift that allows us to discover the inner purpose of our life and creation, enabling us to see the internal unity in the universe. We discover how every aspect of our life contributes to the inner meaning of the world and to our overarching purpose. 

Essentially, the Fourth book of the Torah is the story of our life. We are called upon to bring "numbers”, order and meaning, to the "wilderness”, the physical world. We are called upon to transform the world of chaos into a place of order, purpose, and holiness. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes

Profit From a Loan or From an Investment? - בהר בחוקותי


Profit From a Loan or From an Investment? 

Do You Prefer to Profit from a Loan or from an Investment?

Clearly, the Torah prefers the profit from an investment to the profit from a loan. In this week’s Parsha we read the prohibition against paying or receiving interest from a fellow Jew: 

If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you.

You shall not take from him interest or increase, and you shall fear your God, and let your brother live with you.

You shall not give him your money with interest, nor shall you give your food with increase.

The difference between profiting from a loan and profiting from an investment, is that the person giving the loan is positioned to receive profit (the interest payment) regardless if the borrower receives a profit or suffers a loss, the borrower is responsible for repaying regardless of the outcome of the enterprise. In an investment, by contrast, the investor profits only if the underlying enterprise profits and will take a loss if the enterprise loses money.

Another way to look at it is that the lender seeks to profit from money that belonged to him in the past but no longer belongs to him. The money lent no longer belongs to the lender; thus, the lender is not responsible if the money is lost, or poorly invested. The investor, on the other hand, maintains ownership over the money invested, thereby incurring its losses but also benefiting from its profits.   

These two models, the loan and the investment, also exist in our relationship with G-d. We can choose the loan model, in which G-d gives us “money” - potential for success, yet the “money” is considered our own, and anything we achieve is exclusively our own accomplishment. Alternatively, we can choose to experience our relationship with G-d In the investment model, where G-d is a partner with us in our work, actively participating in our efforts. When we appreciate that G-d is an active partner in our efforts, we unleash a degree of holiness, spiritual meaning, and success far greater than the limited capacity of a created, finite, being.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Behar vol. 3 

Why Two Days of Holiday Outside Israel? - אמור


Why Two Days of Holiday Outside Israel?


In Biblical times, the dates of Jewish holidays were based on the sighting of the moon. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, was set by the court in Jerusalem, when witnesses testified that the new moon appeared in the sky, marking the beginning of the new month. By the time the fifteenth of the month (the dates of the Passover and Sukkot festivals) would arrive everyone in Israel knew when Rosh Chodesh and by extension, when the date of the holiday was. Yet, the communities outside of Israel were left in doubt as to the start of the holiday, as the news of the  precise date of Rosh Chodesh would not reach them in time. Therefore, the communities outside of Israel would celebrate two days, taking into account the two days that Rosh Chodesh could occur (depending on whether the previous month had 29 or 30 days), while the Jews in Israel would celebrate only one day. Even today, when the calendar is set and we know the precise day of the holidays, Jews outside of Israel celebrate two days of the holiday to perpetuate the custom and practice of their ancestors. As Maimonides explains: 


Wherever these messengers would arrive [before the celebration of the festivals], the holidays would be observed for [only] one day, as prescribed by the Torah. In the distant places, which the messengers would not reach [before the celebration of the festivals], the holidays would be observed for two days because of the doubt [involved]. For they would not know the day on which the High Court established the new month.

…In the present era, when the Sanhedrin no longer exists, and the court of the Land of Israel establishes [the months] according to the [fixed] calendar,according to law, it would be appropriate for [Jews] throughout the world to celebrate the holidays for one day alone. For [the inhabitants of] the distant regions of the diaspora and the inhabitants of Israel rely on the same [fixed] calendar and establish [the festivals] accordingly. Nevertheless, the Sages ordained [that the inhabitants of the diaspora] retain the custom of their ancestors. (Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon, Chapters 3 and 5)


The mystics explain that in addition to the historical, technical, reason, there is also a deeper spiritual reason. The holy land of Israel is far more intune to the spiritual holiness of the holiday. Therefore, for the Jewish people in Israel, one day is enough to connect to and internalize the spiritual energy of the day. In contrast, outside of Israel, there are additional layers of concealment of the Divine energy and light, therefore one day is not sufficient and more time and effort is required to achieve that which can be achieved in Israel in one day. 


While the mystical perspective emphasizes the disadvantage of the diaspora, the Chassidic perspective, taught by the Rebbe, transforms that disadvantage into an advantage. While outside of Israel, we are more distant from holiness, we are farther from the holiness manifest in Israel. Yet that distance creates a deeper longing and yearning for holiness. Then, when the holiday finally arrives, and we sense a measure of closeness to G-d, our joy is far greater than the joy of those in Israel who did not feel the pain of distance as potently. The increased, intense joy, born from the yearning due to the distance, is expressed in the additional day of holiness and celebration outside of Israel. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Toras Menachem vol. 74 p. 119


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