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Home » Mase'ei

Masei: Learning from Temptation

Submitted by on July 12, 2006 – 4:56 pmNo Comment | 2,688 views

Every Segment Counts

This week’s Torah portion reviews the forty-two journeys that our ancestors made through the desert. The Baal Shem Tov taught that every one of these segments represents a stage in our individual journey through life and our quest for spiritual fulfillment.

What are we to make of those segments where our ancestors sinned? How are we to incorporate episodes such as the golden calf, the false report of the ten spies and the burial of the tempted?

Of course one might argue that history teaches not only by commission but also by omission. Sometimes we look to history to teach us the negative consequence of sin, to help us navigate through the labyrinth of life and avoid possible pitfalls.

On the surface these answers are satisfactory, however, close scrutiny of these events reveals a deeper thread. These episodes all represent missed opportunities.

The Common Thread

  1. G-d summoned Moses to Mount Sinai to establish a relationship with the Jewish people, yet instead of pursuing this connection they turned to a Golden Calf.
  2. Moses sent the spies to Israel prepare the nation for eventual conquest of the land, yet instead of advancing this cause they set it back.
  3. G-d gave the nation Manna so they could experience the taste of heaven yet instead of appreciating it they spurned it.

These Episodes Represent Three Common Spiritual Failings

  1. Self-Centerdness: The Golden Calf represented self-centerdness. Every Jew has a G-dly soul and an animal soul. The G-dly soul wants that which is good for G-d, the animal soul wants that which is good for self. The animal soul can be persuaded that G-d is also good for self, but until such time the animal soul will spurn G-d and opt for self-serving pursuits. In opting for the Golden Calf our ancestors demonstrated that they chose gold (their own needs) over the wishes of the Almighty.
  2. Disconnect: The negative report brought forth by the spies represented a disconnect between the spiritual and the physical. The spies saw the physical challenge of settling a land; the pitfalls of nation building, the travails of establishing security, the hardships of balancing an economy and feared absorption into the physical would draw them away from the spiritual. They therefore shrank from what they perceived as a threat to their spiritual devotion.
  3. Temptation: The tempted nation represented the propensity to be tempted away from the valuable and important. Our vices are often noble. One may, for example, be tempted to study Torah at the hour of prayer or vice versa. One might be tempted to provide luxury for the family instead of giving to charity. We may be tempted to make Aliya when ourdiaspora community requires our presence. In short our Yetzer Hara drives us towards pursuits that are noble, only not timely.

How Do we Overcome these Propensities?

  1. Self-Centerdness: Through developing and nurturing our love for G-d till it grows into a raging flame that consumes our animal soul’s skepticism . This love demonstrates to the animal soul that worship of G-d is desired by self and beneficial to self. G-d’s response to the sin of the Golden Calf represented just that, a fire kindled by Moses (G-dly Soul) consumed the golden calf (Animal Soul).
  2. Disconnect: As a result of the spies’ negative report the nation was condemned to a forty-year journey. During this time the seeds of the oral tradition and Halacha were sown and it is this tradition that enables us to successfully balance our often-conflicting mandate. When we conduct our material business in accordance with the laws of Torah, when we apply Divine wisdom to help us navigate through life, when we devote time to Torah study in the midst of our hectic schedule we merge material involvement with spiritual devotion.
  3. Temptation: In this case we must learn to bury our temptation for the time being and summon it when the time is right. G-d’s response to the sin of temptation represented just that, the tempted nation was buried thus empowering us to bury our own temptations.
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