Economists speak of the “principle of revealed preferences.” This principle teaches that we can better predict what people will do based on their current behavior patterns rather than on what they say they will do. People most accurately reveal their real selves by their deeds, not by what they espouse.
Angel for Shabbat
As we prepare for the observance of Tisha B’Av, let us take time to ponder the mystery and the wonder of Jewish peoplehood. The Exodus was the formative experience that propelled our people into history, with the principles of freedom and human dignity.
Rabbinic literature includes the names and teachings of many great and well-known sages. Yet, the rabbi who is mentioned most often in our liturgy is Rabbi Hananya ben Akashya—an obscure figure about whom we know almost nothing. We quote him at the end of our Musaf service, before the kaddish; and after every public Torah study session, to introduce the recitation of kaddish.
This week’s Torah portion begins (Bemidbar 22:2): “And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Ammorites.” Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t tell us at this point who Balak is!
In this week’s Parasha, we read of the Israelites’ complaint of lack of water; of God’s instruction to Moses to speak to the rock; of Moses striking the rock to bring forth water; of God informing Moses that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Moses had erred; he and Aaron were told by God: “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Bemidbar 20:12).
The Pirkei Avot describes the controversy of Korah and his cohorts to have been “not for the sake of Heaven.” Their goal was to overthrow the leadership of Moses and Aaron, in the hope of seizing political power for themselves. They did not offer a positive agenda; rather, they preyed on the fears and frustrations of the public.
“And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Yehoshua” (Bemidbar 13:16).
Before Moses sends out the delegation of leaders to spy out the Promised Land, he changes Joshua’s name from Hoshea to Yehoshua. By adding the letter “yod,” the message is that the Almighty should bring salvation. Moses wanted to attach God’s name to his protégé.
(Actually, the Torah refers earlier to Joshua with the name Yehoshua [Shemoth 33:11], but the formal name change seems to have occurred in the episode of the spies.)
In the midst of relating laws concerning the various festivals, the Torah portion includes a verse concerning gifts to be given to the poor. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corner of your field, neither shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Vayikra 23:22).
This week's Torah portion discusses the laws of the sabbatical year, when farmers must let their land lay fallow. This "rest" for the land is a demonstration that the land belongs to the Almighty, not to us, and that we depend on the Almighty for our sustenance. In relating the laws of the agricultural sabbatical, the Torah states: "And if you will say, what shall we eat the seventh year?