Parshat Masei – Seeking Advice from Sages

By: Avner Friedmann


Our Parshah begins by summarizing the entire route of the Israelites in the desert on its forty-two encampments, from the Exodus until they were ready to cross the Jordan and to enter the Promised Land[1]: “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon. Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem…” Why was it necessary to state: “Under the hands of Moshe and Aharon”?

It is explained[2], that when an angel comes down to perform a mission in the physical world, he becomes clothed in a physical garment and when he concludes his mission he becomes stripped of this garment and reverts to complete spirituality. So it is when the soul of man descends to this world and takes on a physical body. The soul does not come to this physical world just to pursue its own personal desires, but to fulfill a unique spiritual mission assigned to it by HaShem. Therefore, every person should view himself as if he is an angel sent to this world to fulfill the Will of HaShem through Torah and Mitzvot.

However, since the average person cannot necessarily maintain such a high spiritual level, we need to seek the advice and counsel of the great spiritual leaders who are steeped in Torah and adhere to HaShem’s presence at all times. Because they have greater awareness of HaShem they can guide us in our personal life journeys, as the verse states, “The journeys…under the hand of Moshe and Aaron”. When Moshe commanded Israel to journey, they put their trust in him, even if they did not understand the specific reason for each journey.

From this we learn that when we have doubts about what path to follow in our life, we need to seek the guidance of the Tzaddikim (righteous individuals) and Chachamim (sages) of our generation, who will guide us according to “Da’at Torah” (Torah’s viewpoint). They inform us of HaShem’s will and help us realize our personal mission in this world.

However, one can ask, “By listening to the Chachamim am I not giving up my free choice?” In answer, does asking a doctor for his medical advice take away one’s free choice? On the contrary, by asking for the advice of an expert one is exercising his free choice! On the contrary, by not asking advice one is prone to making great blunders that can endanger his life. In the same way, seeking spiritual advice from people of greater spiritual awareness is the wise and correct way to exercise one’s free choice. By only relying on one’s own limited knowledge and awareness, he ends up choosing a path based only on his own natural inclinations and impulses, to his own detriment.

True free choice is to follow the will of HaShem, as it is written,“See, I have placed before you today life and goodness and death and evil…choose life!”[3] Though one may believe he has reason to do otherwise, if his priority is truly to do the right thing, then he will certainly seek guidance and clarity from those more knowledgeable than himself.

Moreover, the Torah tells us to always work on internalizing HaShem’s truth, as it is written[4]: “And you shall know this day and place it upon your heart that HaShem, He is the G-d in heaven above and upon earth below, there is nothing else”. A person who follows Torah wholeheartedly will ultimately be successful because, “The way that a man wishes to go, in that way they lead him”[5].

Torah refines and gives clarity to the righteous and the great Torah scholars[6], and prepares them to give direction not only on Torah matters, but on all worldly matters of daily life. There is no question in the world that the Torah cannot answer; all that is needed is the eyes to discover where it is written.[7]

The Ethics of the Fathers[8] tells us the following about the Tzaddikim: “(The Torah) garbs him with humility and fear (of G-d), it makes him fit to be a Tzaddik, a Chassid, upright and faithful…People derive the benefit of counsel and wisdom from him, insight and strength…(The Torah) bestows royalty and authority upon him and discernment in judgment; the secrets of Torah are revealed to him, and he becomes like a fountain which flows with an ever increasing strength and like a never ceasing stream. He becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of insult to himself; and (the Torah) makes him great and exalts him above all things.”

As long as the soul resides within the body, our purpose is not clear to most people; it is hidden from us so that we can exercise our free choice. With the guidance of ‘Da’at Torah’, we can successfully achieve our purpose and mission in the world.

[1] Masei 33:1.

[2] Netivot Shalom quoting Toldot Yaakov Yosef (Parshat Masei)

[3] Nitzavim30:15, 19.

[4] Vaetchanan 4:39.

[5] Makot 10:b.

[6] Emunah V’Bitachon, Perek Lamed

[7] Brought in the name of the Chafetz Chaim.

[8] 6:1.

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