Switch Your Mental Gears

V’heivi es korbanah alehah asiris ha’eifah kemach se’orim lo yitzok alav shemen v’lo yitein alav levonah (Bamidbar 5:15)

Parashas Naso discusses the laws governing a sotah. She must bring an offering to the Temple, but it is unique in several respects. Her meal-offering is brought from barley instead of wheat, and it contains neither oil nor frankincense. Rashi explains that these requirements are symbolic comments on her actions. Her offering is brought from coarse flour because she acted coarsely. It is made from barley, which is normally used as animal feed, because she acted in a degrading, animalistic manner.

Although other meal-offerings are beautified with oil and frankincense (Vayikra 2:1), her offering contains neither. Oil symbolizes light. Frankincense represents the righteousness of the Matriarchs, but she veered from their path of piety.

Harav Ben-Tzion Bruk derives from here a refutation of a common mistaken attitude. People presume that they will be judged by the Heavenly Court based on the level they reached during their lifetimes. They assume that they will be rewarded for their good deeds and punished for their sins, but never do they entertain the possibility that they will be held to the strict standards of the righteous Chofetz Chaim, who grew to levels of piety unthinkable for the average person. However, Rashi teaches us that at the same time the sotah is punished, she is simultaneously held accountable for her failure to reach the high levels attained by the Matriarchs.

Harav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l, was once giving a lecture in South Africa about the importance of growth and change. After the lecture, a man came over to ask for guidance, as no matter how hard he tried to implement a regimen of daily Torah study, he never succeeded.

Rav Pincus answered him with a beautiful parable. When a person drives a stick-shift car, he starts out in first gear and accelerates until he reaches a certain speed. At this point he switches to second gear, until he again reaches a speed which requires him to shift to third gear. If the driver attempts to continue accelerating while remaining in first gear, he will eventually overheat his engine.

Similarly, Rav Pincus noted that while he had his own challenges in spirituality, finding time to study Torah daily wasn’t among them. Because his mind was in “Rabbinical gear,” the idea of passing a day without studying Torah was unthinkable. This man was stuck in “spiritual first gear.” Every time he attempted to “accelerate” his Torah study, his engine “overheated” and the project was doomed to failure. Rather than redouble his efforts to fit Torah study into his daily routine, Rav Pincus suggested the better approach would be to switch his self-view by shifting into spiritual second gear. At this point the Torah study regimen would naturally fall into place as conducive with his new self-image.

A person spends his time in this world trying to improve his ways; according to his level, he attempts to do more of the things he knows he should and to refrain from the actions he knows are beneath him. The lesson of the sotah is that a person should raise the spiritual bar by shifting gears and setting his sights even higher than he presently thinks feasible.

Q:      In dividing the tasks among the Levites, why were the most holy tasks — the responsibility for the Aron, Menorah, and Altars — assigned to the descendants of Kehas (4:1–20) and not to the children of Gershon, who was the oldest of Levi’s children?

Q:       Rashi explains (7:19–23) the symbolism of the offerings brought by each of the tribal leaders. Given that each of them brought identical offerings, why does Rashi explain the symbolism regarding the offering brought by the leader of Yissachar on the second day and not regarding the offering brought by the leader of Yehudah on the first day?

A:       Harav Shloma Margolis writes that the Torah is teaching us that it is incorrect to view certain actions as more important and others as less valuable. The assumption that it is more precious to Hashem to carry the vessels of the Mishkan, which Kehas did, than to transport the external curtains and coverings, as Gershon did, is a mistake. In reality, all forms of serving Hashem are equally important if performed for the sake of Heaven. He adds that the yeshivah in Kelm emphasized this concept by assigning the various cleaning tasks to the students, with the most senior students meriting the “lofty” position of cleaning the floors, which was intentionally done to teach them that there is no such thing as a degrading mitzvah.

A:      The Ramban explains that although their actions appeared identical on a superficial level, each leader had a unique intention behind his selection of the items brought in his offering. The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that Rashi explained the intentions of the second leader to hint to this point by implying that although these were the meanings for his offerings, the first leader had different intentions. Alternatively, Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, cites Rashi (7:19), who explains that the leader of Yissachar merited bringing his offering second because it was his idea for the leaders to bring these offerings. Since the project was his idea, Rashi explained the intentions behind it specifically in conjunction with his offering.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.