SALT - [Fast of 17 Tammuz] Sunday, 18 Tammuz 5776 - July 24, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 28
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      We read in Parashat Matot that following the war against Midyan, the officers who led the troops in the battle came forward to offer a donation to the Mishkan.  Specifically, they collected the gold jewelry of the Midyanite women which they seized during battle, and brought it as a gift for the purpose of achieving atonement (“le-khaper al nafshoteinu lifnei Hashem” – 31:50).  Rashi explains that they sought atonement for “hirhur ha-leiv” – inappropriate thoughts about the women of Midyan.  Although the soldiers did not repeat the sins they committed with the women of Moav and Midyan during the incident of Ba’al Pe’or, they were guilty of inappropriate thoughts, for which they sought atonement.

            The Rebbe of Kotzk associated this donation with the laws of kashering utensils which were taught to the soldiers upon their return from battle.  As they had brought with them the Midyanites’ utensils as spoils of war, they were told that these utensils, which had been used with non-kosher food, needed to be purged of the taste of that food before they could be used.  The Kotzker Rebbe explained that the concept of kashering symbolically alludes to the nature of the process of self-improvement.  Even though a utensil used with non-kosher food has since been thoroughly cleaned, and no particles of non-kosher food are visible on the surface, it nevertheless may not be used, because the taste of the non-kosher food is still embedded within the utensil’s walls.  Correspondingly, the Kotzker Rebbe explained, even after we have changed our conduct, the tendencies and character flaws that led to our mistake remain beneath the surface.  The military officers thus understood that the fact that no soldiers repeated the sins of Ba’al Pe’or was not good enough.  They detected that they were still plagued by weakness, by “hirhur ha-leiv,” which they needed to purge.

            This characteristically clever insight of the Kotzker Rebbe reminds us that growth and improvement is a long, complex process that cannot be expected to occur quickly or easily.  Even after we complete the first and most vital stage, of “cleaning the surface,” we must be mindful of the “taste” embedded in the “walls” of our characters, the flaws that remain beneath the surface, the negative tendencies within us that we must try, as best we can, to eliminate.  Introspection and change require us to carefully examine ourselves both outwardly and inwardly, to assess our speech and conduct, as well as our thoughts and attitudes, as part of the lifelong process of self-improvement and spiritual growth.