Hadrash Ve-Haiyun Archives
It is a widely accepted Jewish custom to eat milk products on the holiday of Shavuos. The commentators give many reasons for this custom. One reason is that the Torah is compared to milk as it says in the posuk (verse) "Honey and milk is under my tong" (Shir Hashirim 4:11). Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) interpret this posuk as a reference to Torah study. Being that Shavuos is the holiday in which we received the Torah, we eat milk products as a symbolic reminder as to what has occurred on this day.
Another reason we eat milk products is to draw attention to the prohibition of eating meat and milk together. The commentators tell us that every day of the year corresponds to one of the negative commandments. For example the commentators devote much effort to show how tishah ba'av (the Ninth of Av) corresponds to the prohibition of eating from the gid hanashe, the sciatic nerve. Similarly, the holiday of Shavuos corresponds to the prohibition of eating meat and milk together. An allusion to this can be found in the posuk "The first of the fruits of your land you shall bring to the house of Hashem (G-D) your G-d, you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Shemos 23:19). The holiday of Shavuos is the earliest time in the year that we may bring our first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash. The fact the Torah juxtaposes the law of the first fruits to the prohibition of eating meat and milk together, reveals a relationship between the two. What is the symbolic significance of this relationship?
If a drop of milk falls on a hot piece of meat, the meat is prohibited due to the fact that the meat now contains a flavor of milk. However, if the piece of meat is sixty times the volume of milk, the meat is permitted. In this instance we say that the flavor of milk has been nullified by meat. If the meat is less then sixty times the volume of milk, and the piece of meat subsequently falls into a pot of meat that contains less then sixty times the volume of the meat, all the pieces of meat in the pot are prohibited. The novelty of the law is that even if all the pieces of meat together contain more than sixty times the volume of the original drop of milk they are still prohibited. The reason here is because we need sixty times the volume of the prohibited meat, not the milk.
The above mentioned law illustrates the principle of chatichah atzmah naasais neveilah, the piece itself becomes like a piece of non-kosher meat. When the drop of milk falls on the original piece of meat we don't view the piece of meat as merely a mixture of meat and milk but rather as a new entity that is completely forbidden, similar to a piece of non-kosher meat. Even the meat flavor that exudes from this piece is forbidden.
The principle of chatichah atzmah naasais neveilah is unique to the laws of meat and milk. With regard to other prohibited mixtures the Torah law states that the prohibited flavor becomes nullified. For example, if a piece of non-kosher fat fell on a piece of meat which is less then sixty times its volume and the meat subsequently fell into a pot that has more then sixty times the volume of the non-kosher fat but less then sixty times the volume of meat, the pot of meat is permitted. We view the first piece of meat as merely a mixture of non-kosher fat and kosher meat. Thus, even if we only have enough volume to nullify the prohibited fat, the remaining pieces of meat are permitted. In practice we are stringent and follow the principle of chatichah atzmah naasais neveilah even with regard to prohibited mixtures other then meat and milk but only out of stringency not due to the letter of the law.
Throughout the Torah and Rabbinic literature we find man described as a "basar vada'am," meat and blood. We have mentioned that on Shavuos it is customary to eat milk products as a symbolic reminder that the Torah was given on this day. We have also mentioned that we eat milk products to draw attention to the law that it is forbidden to eat meat and milk together. We may suggest that the purpose of eating milk products is to draw attention to the unique principle of chatichah atzmah naasais neveilah that applies only to law of meat and milk.
We would be tempted to believe that Torah study has little impact on our behavior and lifestyle. After studying Torah we are merely a mixture of meat and milk. We use the term meat here to refer to our physical bodies and the term milk as a reference to Torah. We would think that even when we devote time to Torah study we remain that same people as before only with an accumulation of Torah knowledge. The law chatichah atzmah naasais neveilah teaches us otherwise. Just as a combination of meat and milk is not viewed as merely a mixture of two dissimilar items but rather a new entity, likewise when we bring the milk of Torah into our bodies of meat we are transformed into a new people who live with the spirit of Torah.
Aaron and his sons shall come when the camp journeys and they shall take down the partition of the screen and cover the Ark of Testimony with it. They shall place upon it a tachash hide covering and spread a cloth entirely of techailes over it and set its staves (Bamidbar 4:5, 6).
In this weeks parsha (weekly Torah reading) we learn that as the Holy Ark journeyed through the desert it was sheltered with three coverings. First, the paroches that divided between the Holy and the Holy of Holies was removed and placed on the aron (Holy Ark). On top of this was placed the tachash hide and above this was laid a cloth of techailes (wool dyed royal blue). The commentators note that the order of the two upper layers was the opposite of the other utensils of the mishkan. Regarding them the posuk (verse) says that first they were covered with a techailes cloth and then a tachash hide. Why was the order of coverings different for the aron?
We may suggest that to an observer the techailes cloth evoked a feeling of awe. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) explain that the color of techailes is similar to the sea, the color of the sea is similar to the color of the heaven and the color of the heaven is similar to color of Hashem's (G-D's) throne. Thus, when one gazed at the techailes cloth he was reminded of Hashem's throne and was filled with a feeling of awe.
Chazal teach us that the tachash was a multi-colored wild animal that existed only during the generation of the Exodus. Its beautiful skin had six colors. The targum translates the word tachash as "sas'gona," which means "it rejoices over its beautiful colors." The Midrash (see Torah Sh'laima Shemos 48) tells us that just by looking at the tachash one's anxiety would dissipate. Its beauty evoked a feeling of joy. Indeed, the commentators explain that an alternate translation for the targum's word "sas'gona" is "it removed feelings of aggravation."
It is noteworthy that each utensils of the mishkan was covered with these two coverings, one evoked joy and the other fear. Indeed, chazal teach us that our approach to spirituality must be with both emotions as it says in the posuk. "rejoice with trepidation" (Tehillim 2,11).
However, there is a difference in how the coverings were layered. The commentators explain that the utensils of the mishkan are symbolic of the performance of various mitzvos (commandments). The outer covering of these utensils was tachash, the hide that evoked joy. When an onlooker gazed at the utensil he was filled with joy. Only after a closer examination would one discover the hidden layer of techailes beneath and experience awe. This is symbolic of our approach to mitzvos. When approaching a mitzvah one's initial emotion should be joy. Only after one performs the mitzvah and appreciates what the mitzvah represents will one attain a level of awe and fear of Hashem.
However with regard to the aron hakodesh it is the opposite. The aron hakodesh is symbolic of Torah study. Torah study is a delicate matter. One's initial approach to Torah study must be with awe and respect for the truth of the Torah and the Torah sages. Indeed in pirkei avos (6:6) where the mishna lists the forty eight steps necessary to acquire Torah first comes fear and later joy. Only with a mindset of awe will one succeed in mastering Torah knowledge and uncover the joy of Torah.
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Any man, if his wife will go astray and commit a trespass against him. (Bamidbar 5:12)
This week's parsha (Torah reading) introduces us to the laws of the sotah (the unfaithful wife). The posuk (verse) tells us that if the sotah is innocent she shall bear seed. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) explain this to mean that if this woman was childless she will now conceive. Another opinion has it that if she previously gave birth with difficulty she will now give birth with ease or if she previously gave birth to children with a dark complexion she will now give birth to children with a light complexion (Sotah 26a).
We may ask why should the sotah be blessed with conception, easy childbirth or healthy children if she is innocent? What relationship is there between the test of the sotah and the blessing of conception? Further, what exactly is the symbolic nature of the bitter waters in that they have the miraculous ability to test a sotah for her infidelity?
The Torah tells us that the bitter waters that the sotah is given to drink consist of three ingredients. They are: water, earth taken from the ground of the mishkan (temple) and the scroll that contains the parsha of the sotah. This significant part of the scroll is the name of Hashem (G-D) that was erased in the water.
It is noteworthy that a similar set of ingredients were used by Hashem to create man. The posuk says that Hashem formed man from the soil of the earth. The posuk immediately before this says that a mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil. Rashi comments that the mist was needed to moisten the earth to form man. Rashi compares the relationship between the earth and water used to form man to flour and water used to make dough. Finally the posuk concludes that Hashem blew a spirit of life into man's nostrils (Bereishis 2:6-7). We have here the same three basic ingredients: earth, water and Hashem.
We may suggest the test of the sotah involves a symbolic recreation of man. These same ingredients used to form man are used by the kohen (priest) to symbolically recreate man. It is important to note that the man being re-created is man before the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge. This creation represents holiness in its purest form. The sotah is given to drink from this creation. The test assumes that pure holiness cannot exist in an environment of defilement. If the sotah is guilty of sin, the purity of this potion will have a destructive effect on her.
However, in the event that the sotah is innocent, the act of creation will continue within her. She will conceive and have a child.
Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying so shall you bless the Children of Yisroel, Say to them… (Bamidbar 6:23).
The commentators are perplexed as to the nature of birchas kohanim (the priestly blessing). Simply it appears that the kohanim (priests) have an independent power to bless the Jewish people. However, we know that this cannot be, because only Hashem (G-D) is the source of all blessing. Thus it must be that the kohanim only act as Hashem's agents in channeling Hashem's blessing to the Jewish people. We may ask; if ultimately the blessing comes from Hashem, why do we need the Kohanim? Let Hashem bless us directly?
It is noteworthy that the kohanim bless the Jewish people with raised hands. What is the significance of blessing in this manner?
The only other place in the Torah where we find an interaction between two individuals that involves the raising of the hands is rabbinical ordination. Moshe was commanded by Hashem to ordain Yehoshua by placing his hand upon him. Let us suggest that because rabbinical ordination and birchas kohanim are the only two instances where hands are used then there must be a strong relationship between the two.
With regard to rabbinical ordination the commentators explain that the hands of the teacher are symbolic of the tradition that he has received from his teacher, etc… who in turn received from Moshe and who in turn received from Hashem at Mount Sinai. The teacher places his hand on the head of the student to symbolize the continuation of this tradition. Rabbinical ordination thus represents the continuation of the oral Torah.
There are two types of blessings. First there is what we may call a new blessing. This is when an individual due to his merits is blessed with something new. There is also what we may call an old blessing. This is when a person is found worthy to receive a gift that was originally given to another. If this individual is found worthy, the blessing is passed down to him. In the Torah we find many instances where Hashem promised to bless us if we do His Will. These blessings refer to something new. However, birchas kohanim represents the passing down of the old gifts that have been bestowed on our ancestors. Birchas kohanim is done is the form of rabbinical ordination where the kohanim who represent the guardians of our past ancestral blessings channel the continuation of these collective blessings to the current generation.
At the conclusion of birchas kohanim the posuk (verse) says that the kohanim shall place the name of Hashem on the Jewish people and I will bless them. The commentators are troubled as to the meaning of this posuk following the birchas kohanim. Perhaps we may interpret this to mean that in addition to the continuation of our ancestral blessing Hashem will also grant new blessing.
It is noteworthy that birchas kohanim is always read the week after Shavuos. We may now understand the significance of this. The theme of birchas kohanim is strongly related to our acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Just as we perpetuate the event of Mount Sinai through rabbinical ordination, likewise we perpetuate the collective blessing that Hashem has bestowed on our ancestors through birchas kohanim.
It is noteworthy that birchas kohanim is recited in Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel) every day whereas out side of Eretz Yisroel it is only recited on Yom Tov (a holiday). The commentators are perplexed as why this is so. There have even been unsuccessful attempts to enact the recital of birchas kohanim on a daily basis outside Eretz Yisroel. Why do we not recite birchas kohanim every day outside of Eretz Yisroel?
The central theme of birchas kohanim is the continuation of our ancestral blessing. The major thrust of these blessings that Hashem gave our ancestors was in connection with Eretz Yisroel. Thus it is only appropriate that we designate the daily recital of birchas kohanim only in Eretz Yisroel and not chutz la'aretz (outside the Land).
Afterwards the nazir will drink wine. (Bamidbar 6:20)
Among the restrictions that a nazir must accept upon himself is to abstain from partaking of grape products, most specifically wine. At the conclusion of the nazirus period the restrictions are obviously lifted. We may thus ask, why is it necessary for the posuk (verse) to explicitly state that at the conclusion of nazirus the nazir will drink wine?
Many of the commentators offer variations of the following popular solution. The Torah here is teaching that when one abstains from all forbidden foods and conduct, one should not say that it is because it is detestable. This would give the impression that even if not for the prohibition of the Torah one would still abstain from these foods and conduct. Rather, one should say that really I would like to partake of the forbidden, but I may not, only because the Torah has forbidden this to me. Such conduct demonstrates that one is only living his life for the purpose of fulfilling the laws of the Torah. This notion is expressed here with regard to the Nazir. In order that others should not have the impression that the reason why this individual has abstained from wine products is because he dislikes wine, the Torah commands the nazir to drink wine immediately upon the conclusion of his nazir period. This demonstrated that in truth he would enjoy to partake of wine products but the only reason he has abstained was because the Torah forbids it to him.
Expanding upon this idea we can understand the Gemara (Chullin 109b) that teaches us that all things that the Torah forbids for us in one place it has permitted their likeness elsewhere. For example, the Torah forbids pork but permits its taste in the brain of the shibutah fish. The torah forbids us to eat meat and milk but has allowed us to partake of this taste found in the udder of the animal. Why is the Gemara teaching us this? The answer is that by permitting the likeness of what is forbidden the torah is giving us the opportunity to show that the only reason why we do abstain from the forbidden is because the Torah says so. This is demonstrated in the fact that we do partake of the likeness of these forbidden items. This shows that we do truly enjoy and desire these things. Why then do we withdraw when it comes to other items that have their likeness? It must be because the Torah forbids this to us and for no other reason.
This idea is also the source of the popular custom of why many make (the) havdalah (separation ceremony) at the conclusion of pesach (Passover) on chometz, i.e., beer. We wish to show that the only reason we have abstained from chometz the past week is only because the Torah says to do so. Otherwise, we would have preferred to eat chometz as we do now at this first opportunity
Let us now suggest an additional homiletic interpretation for why the Torah states this seemingly superfluous statement that "afterwards the nazir will drink wine."
It is noteworthy that we find two separate reasons for drinking wine. The posuk in Koheles (10:9) says, "Wine gives joy to life." Likewise the posuk in Tehilim (104:15) says, " Wine causes the heart of man to rejoice." The Gemara (Pesachim 109b) also says that joy can only come through wine. Obviously, the posukim (halacha authorities) and Gemara convey that wine is associated with true joy and happiness. However, we also find that wine is associated with pain and suffering. The posuk (Mishlei 31:6) says, "give new wine to the destitute and old wine to the bitter of spirit, let them drink and forget their troubles, their toil they will no longer remember." Likewise, the Gemara (Eruvin 65a) says the wine was only created to comfort the mourners. Here we see that wine has a different effect, that of comfort.
The commentators explain that wine has the ability to deepen and magnify the mood that one finds himself in. When one is in the joyous mood, wine will intensify the mood by bringing out truer happiness. When one is looking for comfort the wine will likewise have the power to bring a more intense feeling of comfort.
It is noteworthy that although wine is served at both occasions, there is a difference in the way it is served. When served at a joyous occasion it is the host who serves himself. However, at a time of mourning, others serve the wine. This is expressed clearly in the posuk when it says, "give wine to those who are destitute." Likewise, the Gemara says that wine was only created to comfort the mourners. This also implies that others are serving the wine, just as it is the others who are providing the comfort.
With this idea we can now understand our posuk. By stating that after the conclusion of the period of nazerous the nazir shall drink wine the Torah is giving the nazir a blessing. The posuk informs the nazir that if he succeeds in carrying out this lofty mitzvah (commandment) of abstaining from the delights of this world for his prescribed period of nazirous he will merit the blessing that he himself will drink his own wine. This implies that only he will serve his own wine and not have someone else serve him the wine. Taking this implication together with our previous idea this translates into a lofty blessing that he will only drink wine only at joyous occasion and never suffer times of trouble where others will serve him wine in order to provide him with comfort.
If we take this idea a bit further we may have a new understanding of why on Pesach the custom is that no one dilutes or serves his own wine but must have someone else provide him with this service. We drink wine on Pesach because it is the drink of a free man thus conveying that it is a symbol of freedom. Yet, at the same time the custom is that the wine is diluted, poured or served by one other then oneself. Having these services done by others is reminiscent of the conduct in a mourners home. The message is that the freedom of Pesach for us is truly bittersweet. On one hand we celebrate the redemption of mitzrayim (Egypt) but simultaneously we seek comfort for our pitiful state of galus (exile). The dual symbolism of the four cups thus makes us yearn for our ultimate redemption.
Speak to Aaron and say to him when you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light. (Bamidbar 8:2).
In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn how Aaron was instructed to kindle the menorah. Rashi explains why this command is juxtaposed to the princes' inaugural offerings of the previous parsha. When Aaron saw that he and his tribe did not participate in the inauguration of the mishkan (sanctuary) his heart grew faint. Hashem (G-D) consoled him by telling him that his portion would be greater then theirs' because he would kindle the menorah. The commentators explain that the kindling of the menorah is considered "greater" because it is an actual service in the mishkan, whereas the inaugural offerings merely preceded the actual service.
Let us suggest another reason as to why the kindling of the menorah is considered greater then the inaugural offerings.
The service of kindling the menorah is broken up into two parts. The first part is called "hatavaas ha'nai'ros," the preparation of the lamps. The second part is called the "hadlakas ha'nai'ros," the kindling of the lamps. The hatavah service involves removing the residual ash and wicks from yesterday, and adding new oil and wicks in preparation for the new day. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) tell us that the hatavah is a more sacred service then the actual kindling, for only a Kohen may perform the hatavah, whereas anyone, even an ordinary Yisrael may perform the kindling.
We may note the nature of the hatavah is to connect the previous day to the present day. The residual ash and wick are the remainders of yesterday's service. The new wick and oil is part of today's service. This single service of removing the old and preparing for the new is symbolic of connecting the service of yesterday to today. With regard to no other service in the mishkan and mikdash do we find one that connects the past to the future. Each service begins fresh each day with no connection to what came before. The hatavah service is symbolic of our ability to serve Hashem by building upon the past and not just serve Hashem by serving him again and again. Parenthetically, we may note that the menorah is symbolic of the Torah study. This indicates that the ability to build upon the past is possible only if combined with Torah study.
Everyday, as part of the daily morning blessings we recite two blessings in honor of the Torah. The first blessing is "la'asok bidivrei torah." The second blessing is "asher bachar banu." The commentators offer many reasons as to why we recite two blessings. Let us present a few of them. One approach takes note that there are two parts to the Torah, the written Torah and an oral Torah. The two blessings simply correspond to the written and oral Torah. Another approach notes that all our blessings may be broken up into two categories. One category covers all the blessings that are recited before the performance of mitzvos(commandments). The second category covers all the blessings that are recited before deriving pleasure from this world. These two categories usually do not overlap. The study of Torah is unique in that it fits into both categories. We have a mitzvah to study Torah and we also derive pleasure from its study, therefore we recite two blessing, one for each category. A third reason is offered by the Levush. He explains the with regard to food we recite two blessings. One blessing is recited before we eat and a second blessing after we eat. Similarly, the first blessing we recite on the Torah in the morning is the end blessing for yesterday's study of Torah. The second blessing is the new blessing for today's study of Torah.
Let us suggest another reason. As mentioned above the kindling of the menorah is symbolic of studying and teaching Torah. We also mentioned that the service of the menorah may be broken down into two parts, the hatavah and the kindling. We may suggest the first blessing we recite over Torah corresponds to the hatavah. The essence of the hatavah is to connect the service of yesterday to today, the past to the future. This is indeed the theme of the first blessing. After the main text of the blessing we continue to pray that the words of Torah be sweet in our mouth and not depart from our children, grandchildren and all future descendents. We empathize that it is our wish that the Torah be transmitted from generation to generation without a break. We pray for that connection, similar to the connection the hatavah provides. The second blessing is then recited to correspond to the actual kindling of the menorah, the Torah we plan to study and fulfill on this day.
Speak to Aron and say to him, when you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light (Bamidbar 8:2).
The word beha'aloscha in the above posuk (verse) is loosely translated as "kindle." The literal translation of this word is "when you raise." Indeed, Rashi comments that due to the Torah's precise selection of this word, chazal (our sages of blessed memory) derive that there was a platform with steps in front of the menorah upon which the kohen would "raise himself" to properly see the preparation and kindling of the menorah. The menorah was approximately the same height as an average man and the preparation and kindling of the lamps could not be seen from above and performed with precision without the kohen being elevated.
It is noteworthy that with regard to the mizbayach (altar) the Torah states, "You shall not ascend with steps upon My Altar, so that your nakedness shall not be uncovered upon it" (Shemos 20:23). Chazal teach us that instead of steps, there was a long ramp upon which the kohanim would ascend. The gradual incline of the ramp would prevent any slight exposure of the kohanims legs as they ascended. This is in contrast to the possible exposure that occurs when taking wide steps to ascent steps. Rashi there explains that the reason for this requirement was due to the holiness of the stones of the mizbayach.
We may ask, why did the mizbayach have a ramp and the menorah have steps? The reason the Torah gives for the prohibition of steps in connection to the mizbayach appears to apply to the menorah as well. The question may be compounded by noting that the mizbayach was located in the courtyard whereas, the menorah was located inside the holy chamber, a place with a higher degree of sanctity. Certainly the menorah should have had a ramp and not steps due to its own holiness and the holiness of the place.
Homiletically, we may suggest that the reason why the Torah is concerned that a kohen's legs not be slightly uncovered is not only because of the holiness of the altar but also in order to prevent a kohen from becoming slightly embarrassed. Indeed, the first mention of the body being uncovered in the Torah is associated with embarrassment. The posuk says that before the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge Adam and Chavah were without clothing and were not embarrassed, implying that after the sin they were embarrassed (Bereishis 2:25).
The mizbayach is place were one offers animal and meal sacrifices to Hashem. This is symbolic of sacrifices that one makes in life in order to properly serve Hashem. The Torah emphasizes that when one makes sacrifices to serve Hashem he must not feel embarrassed in any way whatsoever. Embarrassment may cause regret or resentment of the sacrifices that one makes in honor of Hashem. A sacrifice must be offered with dignity and honor.
However, the lighting of the menorah is symbolic of Torah study. The Mishna teaches, ve'lo ha'bayshan lomaid (Avos 2:6), the one who is embarrassed will not succeed in his Torah study. In order to succeed in Torah study one must be willing to take the risk of embarrassment. The Torah emphasizes this by requiring the menorah to have steps in contrast to the mizbayach which has a ramp.
Hashem (G-D) said suddenly to Moshe, Aaron (Moses and Aaron) and Miriam "You three go out to the Tent of Meeting." And the three of them went out. (Bamidbar 12:5)
The above posuk (verse) describes the timing of the event with the Hebrew word pisom, which is translated "suddenly." It is noteworthy that this word is found only twice in the entire Torah. The other instance is with regard to the nazir (Nazerite). The posuk there says, "If a person should die near him (the nazir) unexpectedly, all of a sudden and make his nazirite head impure, he shall shave his head on the day he becomes purified; on the seventh day he shall shave it (Bamidbar 6:9).
It is noteworthy that with regard to the nazir the Torah used a double expression of suddenness, "bi-peshah pisom" whereas here with regard to Hashem revealing himself to Moshe, Aaron and Miriam the Torah uses a single expression of "pisom." The double expression of nazir connotes a greater degree of suddenness. We may ask why the difference?
The two cases represent opposite situations. The case of the nazir involves a holy individual. The commentators note that the sanctity of the nazir is comparable to that of the kohen gadal (high priest). This is seen from the fact that they both share the same laws with regard to whom they may not defile themselves. The posuk proceeds to instruct the nazir what laws he must follow in the event that he suddenly becomes contaminated with the most severe form of contamination, that being corpse contamination.
On the other hand, in our parsha (Torah reading) Moshe Aaron and Miriam are suddenly presented with the opportunity to speak directly with Hashem. Direct communication with Hashem represents an intense degree of spiritual experience.
Both situations are similar in that there was no preparation or warning. The events happened suddenly. The difference lies only in that the suddenness of the nazir was contamination and defilement, whereas the revelation of Hashem to Moshe, Aaron and Miriam was holiness.
In life many events occur suddenly without warning. Some of these events are opportunities for spirituality and others can G-d forbid be the opposite. Although one can not prepare fully for the unexpected, yet one can take precautions in how to deal with these situations if they do arise.
The above contrast of expression suggests that efforts of precautions necessary to protect from situations of defilement are greater than efforts of preparation for spirituality. Defilement may come; "be-pesha pisom," a double degree of suddenness whereas holiness will only come "pisom," a single degree of suddenness. This contrast hints that the forces of evil are greater then the forces of good. We need to focus more attention on how to deal with not becoming defiled than with elevating ourselves to higher levels of spirituality.
And this is the workmanship of the Menorah beaten out gold to its base, to its flower, it is beaten out; according to the image that Hashem showed Moshe. (Bamidbar 8:4)
The Torah here informs us that the Menorah shall be fashioned from one piece of metal shaped by being beaten with a hammer. It is noteworthy that there are a total of three utensils that have this requirement. One, the aforementioned menorah. Two, the two silver trumpets of Moshe mentioned later in this parsha (portion) (10:2) and three the kruvim (cherubs) (Shemos 25:18).
The symbolic message of a utensil being fashioned from one mass of material is extraordinary strength. When a utensil is fashioned from many parts it contains an inherent weakness. Because its source was one of separate parts, it will always run the risk of breaking and returning to its original state of separate parts. However, when a utensil is fashioned from one mass, it contains the strength of one unit that does not run the risk of breaking into many parts.
Each utensil found in the Torah is symbolic of an ideal. By requiring specific utensils to be fashioned from one mass, the Torah is conveying that there are specific ideals that require extra strength. The three that have such requirements are the ideals symbolized by the menorah, trumpets and kruvim.
The menorah is symbolic of the study of the oral Torah. In order to master the teachings of the oral Torah extraordinary strength is required. Indeed, the Gemara states a person will not acquire true understanding of Torah unless he gives up his life over it. This is interpreted to mean that one must fully apply himself to its study.
The second ideal that requires strength is that which is symbolized by the silver trumpets. The trumpets are symbolic of Jewish leadership. Only, the Jewish leaders may use the trumpets. They were used for various functions like assembling the congregation, assembling the princes and informing the congregation that it was time to travel further. The message is that Jewish leadership requires extraordinary strength. A leader is always in danger of misguiding his constituents in the wrong direction. He is in danger of being swayed and persuaded by the unscrupulous of the congregation. To overcome these difficulties, he must gird himself with super-human strength.
The third ideal that requires extraordinary strength is symbolized by the kruvim. The Gemara notes that the word kruv is closely related to the word kravia, which is translated as child. Indeed, according to one opinion the kruv had the appearance of a child. The commentators thus note that the kruvim that rested on top of the luchos (tablets) symbolize Jewish education. The message here again is that Jewish education requires extraordinary strength. The children are the future of the Jewish people. Everything and anything must be done to guarantee a perfect and uncompromized environment of opportunity for the children.
To summarize, there are three things that require extraordinary strength: The study of Torah, leadership and education.
Going one step further, we may suggest that because only these three utensils have the unique requirement of being fashioned from one mass of material, the Torah is indirectly teaching us that these three are strongly interrelated. If we start with the menorah the message is that true study of the oral Torah, symbolized by the menorah can only be when it is transmitted from the leaders, i.e., the trumpets, to the children, i.e., kruvim. Likewise, when starting with the trumpets, the symbol of the Jewish leaders, the conveyed message is that the primary role of a Jewish leader is to guarantee that the children receive a proper education of the oral Torah. Finally, when looking from the vantage point of the kruvim the message is that Jewish education must includes the doctrine of respect and reverence for the oral teachings of its leaders and elders.
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them to make for themselves tzizis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations; and they will place with the tzizis of each corner a thread of blue (Bamidbar 15:38).
In this week's parsha we learn about the mitzvah (commandment) of tzizis. The mitzvah of tzizis involves tying cords of threads to each of the four corners of a garment. The Torah says that the purpose of this mitzvah is to remind us to perform the commandments of Hashem (G-D). We would assume that each of the four tzizis have no more sanctity or purpose than the others. However, the commentators inform us that this is not so. The two sets of tzizis in the front of the garment serve a different function than the two sets of tzizis in the back of the garment.
The Chasam Sofer explains that this is derived from a Midrash. When the Jewish people were about to cross the sea of reeds the angel Gavriel called out to the sea and demanded that it split in front of the Jewish people in merit of the two sets of tzizis that the Jewish people will wear in the front of their garments. After the Jewish people crossed the sea of reeds the angel Gavriel demanded that the sea return to its normal state and drown the Egyptians behind the Jewish people in merit of the two sets of tzizis that the Jewish people will wear on the back of their garments.
In Jewish law we also find a difference between the tzizis in the front of the garment and the back of the garment. It is customary to place on top of a talis (prayer shawl) an atarah (decoration).. One reason given is so that we always wear the garment with the same two tzizis in front and the same two tzizis in the back. If not for the atarah we might accidentally wear the talis upside down, resulting in the reversal of the two sets of tzizis. Another example that highlights the difference between the front and back tzizis is the law that it is preferable to insert the front two tzizis into the garment before the back two tzizis.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the tzizis in the front of the garment are a reminder for us. They remind us to perform the mitzvos of Hashem. The tzizis in the back of the garment serve as a reminder for others that they also perform the mitzvos of Hashem.
When we put on a talis and make a brachah (blessing), it is customary to completely wrap ourselves with the talis and briefly cast behind us all four tzizis. What is the reason for this custom?
There is a famous story from the Sanzer Rav zt"l about a person who wanted to change the moral climate of the entire world. After campaigning for some time, he came to the realization that he would not succeed in bringing change to the entire world. However, he reasoned that he could at least change his country. Shortly thereafter he realized that he could not do that either. He then focused his efforts on his own city. After failing again he tried his neighborhood, his friends and then his family. When everything failed he said, let me at least change myself. Soon he became aware that he could not do even that. At that point he realized that if he could succeed in changing himself he could change the entire world.
When we put on a talis we attempt to influence ourselves and others. We tend to think that our influence on others is not related to our own conduct. To reject such a notion we take the two tzizis in the front of the garment that are intended to influence us and cast them behind together with the other two tzizis that are intended to influence others. This act conveys that our influence on others will only be as good as how much we can influence ourselves.
Speak to the children of Yisroel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of techeiles (color) (Bamidbar 15:38).
In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn about the mitzvah (commandment) of tzitzis. Ideally, each corner of the garment should include a thread of techeiles. Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) teach us that this thread serves as an inspirational reminder. The color of techeiles is similar to the color of the sea floor, the color of the sea floor is similar to the color of the heaven and the color of the heaven is similar to the color of Hashem's (G-D's) throne of glory. By gazing at the techeiles thread we enter a process that ends in being reminded of Hashem's throne of glory.
Rashi (Bava Metzia 61b) explains that there are two way to produce the color of techeiles. The halachikally (Jewish law) correct way is to extract the dye from a sea creature called the chilazon. The chilazon is a rare sea creature that appears on land only once in seventy years (Menachos 44a). Due to the fact that it makes its appearance on land only once in seventy years the dye produced from the chilazon is very expensive. The other halachikally invalid way to produce this color is through an extract of the indigo plant. Since the indigo plant is commonly found, the dye produced from it is relatively inexpensive. The Gemara warns that Hashem will punish anyone who hangs wool dyed with the extract of the indigo on his garment claiming that he possesses techeiles.
We may ask, if chazal teach us that the reason we place a thread of techeiles is so that we gaze at its color and be inspired to remember Hashem's throne, what difference does it make as to the origin of this color. As long as it is the right color it will remind us of Hashem's throne.
There are two ways to produce the color of techeiles, the hard way and the easy way. The hard way involves waiting up to seventy years for the chilazon to appear. The easy way is to extract it from a commonly found vegetable plant. Homiletically, we may say that when one performs a mitzvah it is as if he appears before the throne of Hashem and presents Him with a gift. When one performs a Mitzvah spontaneously without any thought or preparation it is as if he took a shortcut to appear before Hashem. He was come before Hashem with indigo. However, when one prepares to perform a mitzvah correctly it is if he took a long arduous road to come before Hashem. He has come before Hashem with techeiles.
When we look at the techeiles we are reminded not just of our destination to Hashem's throne but of the journey as well. Just as one waits with great anticipation for seventy years for the chilazon to appear and appreciates its great value, likewise we are reminded that we must approach the performance of mitzvos with anticipation and appreciate what it means to have an opportunity to perform a mitzvah.
The contrast between techeiles and indigo teach us that it is not only the destination that counts but the journey as well.
And Moshe (Moses) called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshuah (Joshua) (Bamidbar 13:16).
In the above posuk (verse) we learn that Moshe changed the name of his student Hoshea to Yehoshuah. Rashi explains that this action was a form of prayer. Moshe prayed that Hashem (G-D) should save him from the evil counsel of the spies. Indeed, the new name Yehoshuah is an acronym for the phrase "may Hashem save." It is noteworthy that with the change of name, Moshe omitted the name of Yehoshuah's father "Nun." We would have expected the posuk to say "And Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshuah the son of Nun." Yet the posuk simply concludes that Moshe called him "Yehoshuah."
Perhaps we may suggest that this omission conveys that Moshe blessed Hoshea that he be worthy of being called by his own name rather than just the son of a great person. Great lineage is certainly an attribute. However, the best lineage is one's own accomplishments. Moshe blessed Hoshea the son of Nun with a double blessing. The first blessing was reflected in the change of name, the second was that he be worthy of being called by his own name.
It is further noteworthy that later in the parsha (Torah reading) the posuk refers to Yehoshuah as "Yehoshuah the son of Nun" (14:30,38). Here we see the combination of Moshe's new name with the name of his father, Nun. We may ask, what is the significance of this?
In the beginning of parshas Vayakel, the Midrash Tanchumah says that every person has three names. The first name is that which is given by one's parents. The second name is that which one is called by others. The third is the name that one makes for himself. The simple interpretation of the Midrash is that a person has three completely different names. However, we may ask, how is the name that one makes for himself different than the name given by his parents and the name with which he is called by others?
In our parsha we find that Yehoshuah has a total of three names. The first was "Hoshea the son of nun." The second was "Yehoshuah," and the third was "Yehoshuah the son of Nun." We may suggest that these three names correspond to the three names of the Midrash. The name that his parents gave him was "Hoshea the son of Nun." The name that he was called by others was the name that Moshe gave him "Yehoshuah." The name he made for himself was that which the Torah calls him by "Yehoshuah the son of Nun."
A name represents the essence of a person. Parents attempt to instill their values, beliefs and ideals in their child. This is reflected in the name that parents choose to give their child. However as a person matures and acclimates to society, he discovers his unique purpose and role. This is reflected in the name that he is called by others. At times the role that one sees for himself in society is at odds with the ideals and values instilled by his parents. The goal of man is to synthesize the name his parents have given him and the name that he is called by others. This is what it means to make a name for oneself.
This idea is seen from Yehoshuah. He was called one name by his parents, a second name by Moshe. However the name he made for himself was the synthesis of them both, "Yehoshuah - the son of Nun." The Midrash may now be interpreted to mean that the three names are in truth one. The third name, the name that one makes for himself is the synthesis of the first two.
And it shall be for you tzitzis and you shall see it and you shall remember all the commandments of Hashem (G-D) and perform them and you shall not spy after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your God. (Bamidbar 16:39,40)
The commentators are bothered as to why the posukim (verses) mention twice the requirement that we shall perform the mitzvos (commandments) upon seeing the tzitzis. Further, why with regard to the second mention of performance does the posuk emphasize "all" the mitzvos whereas regarding the first reference the posuk mentions simply the mitzvos without an emphasis on "all" the mitzvos?
It is noteworthy that the word spy appears twice in our parsha. The first reference is in the beginning of the parsha regarding the twelve spies that Moshe sent to inspect Eretz Yisroel. The second reference is in the parsha of tzitzis where we are warned not to spy after our eyes after which we stray. The commentators explain that this similarity links the two sections. We may ask, what is the relationship?
The commentators explain that there are two possible attitudes that the spies could have adopted as they went on their mission. The first attitude is based on the underlying belief that the Jewish people would conquer the land no matter what they find. Inspecting the land would not determine if they would conquer the land. The fact that Hashem had given it as a gift to the Jewish people was itself enough reason to conquer it. The reason for spying was only to understand the nature of the land. The mission was to discover where the roads, rivers, strongholds and weak points are. The goal was to collect vital strategic data. Only after mapping the land and accumulating sufficient data would they have the ability to plan how to go about conquering the land.
The second possible attitude would be to inspect the land and determine if it is worthy of conquest. Should the spies discover that the land is undeveloped and not suited for cultivation they would reject the gift of Hashem and return to Egypt or seek some other land to live in.
Moshe sent the spies with the assumption that they had adopted the first attitude. Indeed chazal (our sages of blessed memory) teach us that originally the spies were righteous and did have a proper attitude. However, as time went on they became corrupt, rebelled and adopted the second attitude. When they discovered that the land was not to their liking, they spread slander in an attempt to reject Hashem's gift.
At the conclusion of the parsha Hashem gave the Jewish people the mitzvah of tzitzis as an attempt to atone and prevent the reoccurrence of the likeness of this sin. First, the Torah says that we should look at the tzitzis, perform the mitzvos and not stray after our eyes. This alludes to the second attitude mentioned above. We are to look at the tzitzis and remember that the performance of the mitzvos is not a matter of choice but rather something that we must do. We are not to stray after our eyes like the spies in the beginning of the parsha who strayed with their eyes and developed the attitude that the inheritance of the land is a matter of choice.
The Torah then tells us to look again at the tzitzis, remember the mitzvos and perform them in order to be holy. Here the Torah implies that we should deeply study the mitzvos and attempt to uncover their moral and ethical teachings so that not only will we physically perform the mitzvos but also perform them with holiness. This was the attitude the spies should have adopted in their mission. Their goal should have been to understand the nature of the land in order to prepare for conquering and settling.
Thus by linking the section of tzitzis with the spies we may conclude that we are required to give the tzitzis a double look. First we must remember that the performance of mitzvos is not a matter of choice, and second we are reminded to look deeply into the mitzvos and uncover the nature of the mitzvah.
The first reference of performance does not include a reference to "all" the mitzvos. This is because here we are discussing the actual performance of the mitzvos. Not every Jew has the ability or even the obligation to perform every single commandment, thus the word "all" is omitted. However, regarding the second reference the word "all" is included. This refers to the in depth study of the essence and nature of the mitzvos so as to understand its deeper meaning and ramifications. After extraction the essence of a mitzvah one may perform its moral teaching even if one does not have the ability or obligation to perform the mitzvah in its literal sense.
It was the next day, Moshe (Moses) came to the tent of the testimony and behold the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a flower sprouted a bud and developed almonds. (Bamidbar 17:23).
In the aftermath of Korach's rebellion Hashem (G-D) commanded Moshe to take a staff from each tribe's leader and put them in the sanctuary together with the staff of Aaron. On the next day it was discovered that the staff of Aaron miraculously sprouted a flower, a bud and almonds. This was in contrast to the other leaders whose staves remained unchanged. This miracle made it clear to all that it was Hashem who selected Aaron to serve as the kohen gadol (high priest) in the mishkan (sanctuary) and not Moshe.
The commentators note that in the development of almonds there are three stages. First a flower develops; next, a bud develops. At this stage the flower falls off. Finally the bud turns into an almond. The only thing that should have been discovered the next day is the almond. The flower should have fallen off and the bud by now has turned into an almond. Why then does the posuk (verse) mention all three? The commentators derive from this that miraculously all three steps of development of the almond remained on the staff. What was the significance of this?
Part of Korach's rebellion was his complaint as to why Moshe chose Aaron to serve as kohen gadol and not someone else. Korach claimed that the entire nation is equally holy (Bamidbar 16:3). Hashem did reveal Himself to the entire Jewish people at Sinai and elevated them all to an exalted degree of holiness.
Hashem responded to this complaint with the miraculous budding of Aaron's staff. The focus point of the miracle was not so much the almonds but rather the addition of the flower and bud. It may be true that the entire nation is holy. Yes, the entire nation bears spiritual fruit like an almond. However, the only one that had a complete and natural development with flowers and buds was Aaron. The exalted sanctity of the Jewish people at this time was due to a relatively short but intense exposure to Hashem. However, Aaron's faith and relationship with Hashem had been established much before this. It was Aaron who led the Jewish people before Moshe returned from Midyan and who served as their leader in some of their most difficult times. Aaron's exalted degree of spirituality developed naturally. He developed flowers and buds. He arrived at his position without skipping any steps.
Indeed, the posuk concludes the mention of the almonds with the words "vayigmal shekaidim" which has been translated above as "developed almonds." Rashi here notes that this word is related to the development of a child as the posuk says "the child grew and was weaned" (Bereishis 21:8). The development of the almonds alludes to the natural development of a human being starting with childhood. The message here is that Aaron's degree of holiness was a product of a long natural development without any shortcuts. He thus deserved to serve as the kohen gadol.
It was the next day, Moshe (Moses) came to the tent of the testimony and behold the staff of Aaron (Aaron) of the house of Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a flower sprouted a bud and developed almonds. (Bamidbar 17:23)
In this weeks parsha (Torah reading) we learn that Hashem (G-D) ordered Moshe to take a staff from the leaders of each tribe and place them in the Tent of Meeting together with the staff of Aaron. The staff of Aaron miraculously brought forth a flower, sprouted a bud and developed almonds. This Divine sign made it clear to all that Hashem had chosen Aaron to serve as the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and that he had not taken the position unjustly. We may ask what is the symbolic significance of the bringing forth of a flower, the sprouting of a bud and the development of almonds? Why was this particular sign used to prove Aaron's worthiness for the position of Kohen Gadol? Further what exactly was the complaint of the leaders of the tribes that prompted this Divine sign?
With regard to the menorah the posuk (verse) describes the three different types of ornaments it had. They are the goblets, knobs and flowers. Beneath each lamp was a flower, knob and three goblets. The Torah also instructs us that they be "mishukadim." This word is simply translated as decorated. Rashi on this posuk comments that it is not clear if the decoration was applied only to the goblets or to the flowers and knobs as well. The Rambam writes that in practice all three were decorated. Rashbam explains that the decoration of "mishukadim" is the image of almonds. The root of this word is the same as the Hebrew word for almonds which leads to the interpretation that the decoration was the image of almonds. It emerges that the menorah has three separate items that were decorated with the image of almonds.
In our parsha we learn that the development of the almonds on the staff of Aaron took place in three stages. The first was the flower, the intermediate step was the bud and the final step was the actual almonds.
We may now suggest that the three ornaments on the menorah correspond to these three steps. The decorated almond flower of the menorah corresponds to the almond flower of the staff of Aaron. The decorated almond knob of the menorah corresponds to the almond bud of the staff of Aaron and the decorated almonds goblets of the menorah corresponds to the actual almonds of the staff of Aaron. To one who observed the menorah it had the appearance of the blossoming of almonds in their various stages as did the staff of Aaron.
Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) teach us that the almond is the first fruit to blossom. Chazal also teach us the menorah corresponds to the Oral Torah. We may suggest that the symbolic significance of the development of almonds on the menorah is that the study of the Oral Torah brings swift spiritual growth.
In the beginning of parshas Beha'aloscha, Rashi tells us that during the inauguration of the mishkan (tabernacle) all the leaders of the tribes brought inaugural sacrifices. Aaron who was not chosen to offer an inaugural sacrifice felt badly. Hashem told him that he need not feel bad for he was chosen to light the menorah which was more precious to Hashem than the sacrifices of the other leaders. Perhaps it was this honor that made the other leaders jealous. They also wished to participate in this chosen service. Hashem then publicly displayed that it was only Aaron who was worthy of lighting the menorah. The sign was the blossoming of a flowers, bud and almonds. This was the same decorations that were part of the menorah. Hashem displayed that Aaron had excelled in the quality of swift spiritual growth and was therefore fit to light the menorah that also possessed the decoration of the blossoming of almonds that symbolize swift spiritual growth to those who are occupied with it.
Alternatively we may suggest as follows: One of the honors that Aaron performed in his role as Kohen Gadol was the wearing of the breastplate. The breastplate was sacred for it contained the name of Hashem. It is important to note that the breastplate was placed on the heart. Indeed, the posuk says that they shall be on Aaron's heart (Shemos 28:30). Further, Aaron was commanded to wear the tziz. The tziz was a head plate that had the name of Hashem embossed upon it. The posuk says it shall be on Aaron's forehead (Shemos 28:38). Finally Aaron was selected to light the menorah. The menorah has an exalted degree of holiness because it was fashioned by Hashem. Chazal tell us that Moshe was perplexed as to the details of the Menorah. Hashem then instructed him to deposit the block of gold into the fire and Hashem fashioned the menorah.
The common denominator of the above three is unique sanctity. The wearing of breastplate and the tziz contained the name of Hashem and the menorah was the creation of Hashem. Perhaps it was this closeness to Hashem that aroused the jealousy of the leaders of the tribes.
In response, Hashem had the staff of Aaron produce a flower, bud and almonds. It is noteworthy that the targum translates the word flower as lavlavin which is closely related to the word le'ev which is translated as heart. Chazal teach us that the targum is sacred. It was given at Sinai together with the Torah and contains many secrets and interpretations of the Torah. With this we may suggest that the blossoming of the flowers symbolized that Aaron's heart was pure and was therefore worthy to wear the breastplate and carry the name of Hashem upon his heart.
The staff then sprouted a bud. The Hebrew word for buds is tziz. This is the same word used by the Torah for the head plate. This symbolized that Aaron's mind was sacred and worthy of carrying the name of Hashem that was embossed on the tziz.
Finally the staff developed almonds. As explained above this corresponds to the menorah that was decorated with the image of almonds. This symbolized that Aaron was worthy to light the menorah as well.
As for these fire pans…they shall make them into thinned out sheets as a covering for the Altar... As a reminder to the Children of Israel, so that no alien person who is not of the offspring of Aaron shall draw near to bring up the smoke of incense before Hashem and he shall not be like Korach and his assembly. (Bamidbar 17: 3-5)
The posuk (verse) in Melachim (Melachim I 8) informs us that Shlomo Hamelech constructed a new large stone mizbeyach (altar) to replace the copper plated mizbeyach of Moshe. We may ask, whatever became of the thinned out sheets of copper that plated Moshe's copper mizbeyach. Did not Hashem command that the copper plates should serve as a reminder that one who is not from the family of Aaron not serve in the mishkan (temple) or beis hamikdash?
It is noteworthy that the Ralbag (Melachim I 8) writes with regard to the stone altar of Shlomo Hamelech that in was indeed plated with copper. His proof is from the simple reading of a posuk in Divrei Hayamim (Divrei Hayamim II 4) that states that he (Shlomo Hamelech) made a copper mizbeyach. The simple interpretation of the posuk is that Shlomo fashioned a [stone mizbeyach in the place of the] Copper one [of Moshe]. However the Ralbag gives a more literal translation which states that it was made from copper. He then reconciles the obvious contradiction from Melachim by explaining that its structure was from stone but it was plated with copper. However, the Ralbag does not explain what forced him to deviate from the common understanding to his novel interpretation.
We may now suggest that his reason is from our posuk here that commands that the copper shall serve as a reminder of Korach's Rebellion. The posuk does not give a time limit for this remembrance, leading us to assume that it shall be forever.
In conclusion, we have a solid basis to suggest that the outer mizbeyach in the beis hamikdash was always plated at least partially with the copper, not as commonly perceived as purely stone.
Alternatively, we may suggest as following: first it is important to emphasize the sin, which the copper reminds us of. The children of Korach were neither Kohanim, nor the offspring of Kohanim and thus not permitted to offer incense upon the Mizbeyach.
Next, let us note that stone is the perfect symbol of the connection between parents and their offspring. The Hebrew word for stone is evan. Evan has three letters aleph, beis and nun. The first two letters of the word together read av, translated as father. The last two letters together read bein, translated as son. They both however share the middle letter. We see here that the word evan in its entirety represent the connection between father and son. Perhaps the symbolic similarity between stone and the connection between father and son is eternity. Just as stone does not decay so too as long as the there is a son, the father is eternalized on this world even after his passing.
The sin of Korach was that he was not a son of Aaron and thus was not permitted to serve. When the mizbeyach was replaced with stone it no longer needed the copperplate reminder because now its very essence was a reminder. The stone of the mizbeyach itself conveyed the message that if you are not connected to the father, i.e., Aaron, you may not offer sacrifices upon it. The posuk in Divrei Hayamim that calls the stone mizbeyach "copper" emphasizes this very point. Calling the pure stone mizbeyach "copper" indicates that the reminder is no longer its copper plated surface but rather its essence.
This is the statute of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying, speak to the children of Israel and they shall take to you a perfectly red cow, which has no blemish and upon which a yoke has not come. (Bamidbar 19:2)
Regarding the parah adumah (red cow)we may ask three questions. First, the posukim (verses) continue to relate that those who were involved with the preparation and application of the parah adumah become tamai (ritually impure) in the process whereas the contaminated person upon whom the water and ashes were applied becomes pure. We may ask, if the parah adumah has the capacity to purify the contaminated then at the very least it should not contaminate the pure? Second, why is the purification process of parah adumah limited only to corpse contamination? Why did the Torah not require the same process for all forms of contamination e.g., bodily emissions and contact with animal and insect corpses? Third, chazal (our sages of blessed memory) relate that as a reward for Avraham declaring "I am but dust and ash" (Bereishis 18:27), his descendants were gives the mitzvah (commandment) of parah adumah. We may ask what is the connection between the ashes of parah adumah and this statement of Avraham?
Chazal instruct us that we may not perform any mitzvah in the presence of the dead. For example, one must be careful that his tzitzis are not openly displayed in their presence. The reason is that it would appear as if we are mocking the dead. By performing a mitzvah in their presence we silently display our superiority in that we can still perform mitzvos whereas they cannot. We may derive from this law that contact with the dead involves at the very least the risk of subconscious thoughts of superiority and haughtiness.
Let us suggest that these subconscious thoughts of superiority are the root cause of corpse contamination. The remedy lies in being sprinkled with the ashes of parah adumah. As the ashes are applied, the contaminated person is forced to reflect on the humbling words of Avraham, "I am but dust and ash." This rude awakening is sure to counteract any prior feelings of superiority. We may now understand why this method is only performed for corpse tumah. With regard to other forms of contamination their source has no connection to feelings of superiority.
Above we noted that those who were involved with the preparation and application of the parah adumah became contaminated in the process. Certainly, the trait of humility is noble, honorable and worthy of pursuing. However, this is only true where one brings himself to a such a state of humility. Surely, it is not the place of any person to humble another no matter how noble and grand his intensions are. We may learn this form the parah adumah. The application of the ashes served to humble the contaminated person by reminding him of Avraham's humbling statement, "I am but dust and ash." However, those who prepared and applied the ash water became contaminated in the process. This is because they were involved in overseeing the humiliation of another. This is comparable to coming into contact with the dead. Both cases breed subconscious thoughts of superiority.
The parsha (Torah reading) of parah adumah begins with the words "this is the statute of the Torah." The commentators are perplexed as to why the word "Torah" is connected with the laws of parah adumah. Seemingly, the posuk should have been written, "This is the statute of the parah adumah." By linking the word "Torah" to the laws of parah adumah the posuk conveys that Torah in general has much in common with parah adumah. We may ask, what is the connection? Above it was explained that the central theme of parah adumah is humility. Thus, the conveyed message is that as a prerequisite for accomplishment in Torah one needs the trait of humility. Indeed, the posuk elsewhere compares torah to water. Chazal teach us that just as water descends to the lowest places, likewise Torah only attaches itself to those who are truly humble in spirit.
For there is no food and there is no water and our soul loathes this insubstantial food. (Bamidbar 21:5)
The posuk (verse) here inform us of the extreme disgust Klall Yisroel (the Jewish people) had for the maan. The Midrash teaches that one of the miraculous traits of the maan was that its taste conformed with the fantasy of its consumer. We may then ask: why did Klall Yisroel exhibit such disgust for an item that can produce any pleasurable taste they desired?
Rav Menachem Mendel of Riminov suggests that that while the maan assumed any taste the consumer conjured up, nonetheless the maan was different in that it lacked aroma and appearance. The Gemara (Talmud) teaches that a blind man does not derive full benefit from his food since he does not have the pleasure of seeing it. All the more so, Klall Yisroel did not derive full pleasure from the delicacies they imagined since in addition to lack of appearance it also lacked aroma.
Let us suggest an alternative solution. We must first preface our interpretation with three points.
The commentators ask: what blessing was recited on the maan? Two suggestions are offered. The Ramah Mipano suggests that in contrast to our blessing of "who bring forth bread from the earth," they recited, "who brings forth bread from the heavens." The Bnei Yisaschar suggests that no blessing was recited at all. Perhaps we may bring a proof to this suggestion from the Gemara (Berachos 35) that says that one who derives benefit from this world without reciting a blessing is as if he has committed the sin of mielah. The Gemara implies that the need to make a blessing is only on items whose source is this world. The Maharsha (Chaggiga 12) teaches us that the maan is food of the next world. It would thus emerge that there was no obligation to recite a blessing on the heavenly maan.
The second point is a Gemara (Berachos 35) where we find Reish Lakish posing the following contradiction. In one place the posuk states that the entire world, i.e., heaven and earth, are in the domain of Hashem (G-d). Elsewhere the posuk states that only the heavens are in the domain of Hashem but the earth has been given over to Man. Reish Lakish answers by explaining that one posuk was stated in reference to before one recites a blessing and the other in reference to after the recital of a blessing. Before one recites a blessing every earthly object is still in the domain of Hashem, however by reciting a blessing and thus acknowledging that its source is Hashem and He has given it as a gift to man, he has earned the right to enjoy the item and it now enters his domain.
The final point is a psychological insight rooted in Chazal (our sages). A person only attains satisfaction from something that he earns. The satisfaction one derives from his standard of living is considerably reduced if his livelihood derives from gifts or handouts. The commentators explain that this is one of the reasons why Hashem created this world and did permit the soul of man to immediately enter the next world. If man would immediately enter the eternal bliss of the next world, he would not enjoy it. He would feel ashamed that he did not deserve it. Therefore, man was given the opportunity to earn the next world by entering this obscure world and choosing right over of wrong. In Chazal this concept is called "food of embarrassment."
Taking these three points together we may now understand why Klall Yisroel complained about the maan. As we have explained before, according to one opinion Klall Yisroel did not recite a blessing on the maan. The maan thus remained in the domain of Hashem. Klall Yisroel was supported from the table of Hashem. They were denied the opportunity to earn their keep, even to the point of acknowledging it with the recital of a blessing. It was for them literally the "bread of embarrassment" and thus they derived less then complete satisfaction in spite of the ability of the maan to conjure up any taste they imagined.
Come and I will advise you what these people will do to your people in the end of the days (Bamidbar 24:14).
In the Torah we find only two people who prophesized about the end of the days. They are Yaakov (Jacob) and Bilaam. With regard to Yaakov the posuk (verse) says, "Yaakov called for his sons and said assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of the days," (Bereishis 49: 1). With regard to Bilaam the posuk says "Come and I will advise you [what to do to these people and] what these people will do to your people in the end of the days (Bamidbar 24:14, see Rashi and Targum). It is noteworthy the contrast of expression used to describe the "end of the days" by both Yaakov and Bilaam. Yaakov described the end of the days with an emphasis on what will happen specifically to the Jewish people. Indeed the posukim proceed to enumerate Yaakov's spiritual blessings to his children and their descendents that will fully mature at the end of the days. In contrast, Bilaam's emphasis was on what the Jewish people will do to the nations of world. Bilaam's prophesy described the military might and conquest of the Jewish people at the time of the end of the days.
Hashem (G-D) revealed to both Yaakov and Bilaam the same snapshot of the "end of the days," yet they both saw something different. Yaakov saw the spirituality of the Jewish people whereas Bilaam saw the mundane physical and political prowess of the Jewish people. A person sees what he wants to see. Yaakov, a spiritual giant saw spirituality. Bilaam, a power hungry egomaniac saw power and honor.
Everyday we recite the shemah. The words of shemah are "Hear O' Israel Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one. The simple interpretation of this posuk is: Hashem who is recognized today only by the Jewish people as G-d of the world will ultimately be recognized by all of mankind as G-d. This will occur in the end of the days.
It is noteworthy that Yaakov was blind when he called together his children in order to reveal his vision of the end of the days and bless them. The posuk says and Yisroel's (Yaakov) eyes were heavy with age, he could not see (Bereishis 48:10). On the other hand Bilaam boasted that his vision was with open eyes (Bamidbar 24:16).
It is customary to cover the eyes when reciting shemah. The simple reason given is so that we remove any distraction from our sight in order facilitate proper concentration. Homiletically we may suggest that we cover our eyes to indicate that when we recite the shemah and look forward to the coming of the end of the days, we embrace the spiritual perspective of Yaakov who was blind and not the mundane perspective of Bilaam who saw it with open eyes.
So said Balak son of Zippor "do not refrain from going to me, for I will honor you very much and everything that you say to me I shall do …" Bamidbar (22:16,17)
The parsha (Torah reading) opens with Balak, the king of Moab, attempting to hire Balaam to curse the Jewish people. The posuk (verse) relates that Balak attempted to persuade Balaam to curse the Jewish people in exchange for "great honor." In using honor as a form of compensation the posuk conveys that Balaam's weakness lie in his insatiable appetite for honor. The Mishna in pirkei avos teaches that desire for honor is one of the most detestable character traits. The Mishna relates that such a character trait can even drive out a person from this world. Obviously, the wicked Balaam was not exactly a person who leaps out of the pages of Pirkei Avos. Ultimately, Balaam failed in his mission and was not rewarded with the honor that was so dear to him.
Later in the parsha we learn about the donkey that miraculously rebuked Balaam. Chazal teach us that the donkey died immediately thereafter. Rashi explains that the reason for its death was because Hashem had pity on the dignity of a human being, i.e., Balaam. Had the donkey remained alive, it would have evoked the unpleasant memory that an animal rebuked a human being. Harav Menachem Mendel of Rimonov tz"l goes further to explain that had the donkey remained alive it would have been instrumental in bringing about a great sanctification of the Hashem's name. Upon seeing this animal one would have been reminded of the great miracle that occurred and been inspired to follow in Hashem's ways. Yet, Hashem chose to slay the donkey and by doing so, sacrifice His own honor in order to preserve the honor and dignity of a human being. Every human being is created in the image of Hashem and is thus due some token of honor. Chazal describe this minimal honor as "kavod habrios," which is literally translated as the "honor of human beings." It is noteworthy that this lesson was taught even with regard to the wicked Balaam who wished to destroy the Jewish people. Even a wicked person is due some token of honor just for the fact that he too is created in the image of Hashem.
Let us make the following observation. Balaam is perhaps the only person that the Torah records as an individual who actively sought honor. Balaam is also one of the only individual that Hashem (G-D) openly bestowed honor "just for the sake of honor." This was demonstrated when Hashem killed the mule that had rebuked him and thus removed the evidence of his disgrace. Here we have two different types of honor. The first is the honor that Balaam sought, a positive display of honor and grandeur. This is an honor that highlights the great qualities, talents and abilities of an individual. The second type is the honor that Hashem bestowed, a negative form of honor. This type of honor is in essence nothing other than the absence or removal of shame.
Hashem message to Balaam and all those who identify with his weakness is that one should not seek the positive form of honor. Such activity will only result in failure. Honor is a gift. It is given solely to those that Hashem see fit. However, one can satisfy his desire for honor with the second type, the absence of shame. Even the wicked Balaam was granted the minimal degree of such honor just by being created in the image of Hashem" To magnify this type of honor one need only remove oneself from evil conduct and evil deeds and occupy himself with Torah and Mitzvos. The more one molds himself in the image of Hashem the more shame he has removed from himself and thus the more honor he has attained. Indeed three times a day we pray in the shemona esrei "that we shall not be ashamed forever." The explanation is that we seek divine assistance so that we not stumble in our performance of torah and mitzvos (commandments) and thus be shamed in this world and the next.
Every shabbos mevarchim we pray that we be granted a "life of honor." Many of the commentators are perplexed as to the interpretation of this prayer. Above it was mentioned that seeking honor is an evil character trait. How then may we pray for such a thing? We may suggest that what we seek is the second type of "kovod" (honor). The type of honor that Hashem bestowed on Balaam. This is the honor of being created in the image of Hashem. We seek the absence of shame. We pray that we be successful in our performance of Torah and Mitzvos and thus not suffer from the everlasting shame of failure.
Our father died in the wilderness but he was not among the assembly that was gathering against Hashem in the assembly of Korach, rather he died of his sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father's brothers. And Moshe (Moses) brought their case before Hashem (G-D). (Bamidbar 27 3-5)
In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn how the daughters of Tz'leph'chad requested a portion in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) despite the fact that the law of inheritance does not apply to daughters but only sons. The Torah tells us that Moshe presented the question to Hashem. Hashem responded that their request was valid and they shall receive a share in Eretz Yisrael no different than had they been sons. The Midrash notes that Moshe here uncharacteristically did not know the answer to the question. The Midrash explains that this was a punishment for Moshe for saying that difficult questions of law be presented to him for resolution. These words conveyed that nothing was too difficult for Moshe. Here Moshe was forced to concede that there were things that were beyond him.
Let us suggest an additional homiletic explanation as to why Moshe could not decide this matter.
Immediately after the laws of inheritance, Moshe asked Hashem to choose a successor for the Jewish people who would lead them into Eretz Yisrael. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) tell us that Moshe truly desired that his own children succeed him. Hashem told Moshe that this was not His plan. Moshe's children were not worthy. Instead, Yehoshua (Joshua), his disciple who toiled and served assiduously would be his successor.
The Midrash asks what is the connection between these two sections of the Torah? The Midrash answers that Moshe felt that the daughters of Tz'leph'chad did not deserve to inherit their father's portion of land because they were not included in the counting of the Jewish people and would not participate in the conquest of the land. Nevertheless, Hashem decided that they were to receive a portion. Based on this law, Moshe reasoned that his sons should inherit his position although they too were not worthy. Hashem explained to Moshe that Jewish leadership is different than the laws of inheritance.
Let us extend this thought a bit further by reviewing the words of the daughters of Tz'leph'chad. "Our father died in the wilderness but he was not among the assembly that was gathering against Hashem in the assembly of Korach, rather he died of his sin." These words had a powerful impact on Moshe. Moshe realized that similar words would one day be said by his own children. "Our father Moshe died in the wilderness. He did not die due to the sin of the generation but for his own sin." Moshe's death was not due to the sin of the spies and Jewish people who complained about not being able to conquer the inhabitants of the land. This sin resulted in the decree that the entire generation die in the wilderness. Moshe's sin occurred when in his attempt to produce water for the Jewish people he hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Chazal explain that this resulted in the loss of a higher degree of sanctification of Hashem's name for which Moshe was held accountable. Moshe's children would continue to argue like the daughters of Tz'leph'chad that although they are not worthy nevertheless "give us a possession among our father's brother." Just as Aaron's children inherited Aaron's greatness let us also inherit our father's greatness. The daughters of Tz'leph'chad's words made Moshe realize that his own children would want to assume his position of leadership after his death.
It is a well known law that a judge is not allowed to rule in a case where he has even the smallest degree of personal interest in the outcome. Furthermore, if the judge has a relationship with any one of the participants he may not rule. Moshe understood that the answer that would be given to the daughters of Tz'leph'chad would be relevant to himself and his children. Moshe thus had no choice but to remove himself from the case and present it to Hashem.
May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them who shall take them out and who shall bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd (Bamidbar 27:16,17).
In this week's parsha (weekly reading) we learn how Moshe (Moses) requested of Hashem that He appoint a new leader for the Jewish people to take his place. Moshe addressed Hashem with the title "G-d of the spirits of all flesh." What is the significance of this unusual title?
It is important to note that Hashem has many names. In our prayers we sometimes address Hashem as "our Father." At other times we address Him as "our King." Throughout the Torah we find that Hashem is addressed with many different titles. Indeed, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are nothing other than thirteen different titles of Hashem. The commentators explain that the name of Hashem changes with the context and circumstances of any given situation. When we beseech Hashem for mercy we address Hashem with a title of mercy. This conveys our awareness that Hashem is the Merciful One. When Judgment is called for, we address Hashem with a title of Judgment. This conveys our awareness that Hashem is the True Judge. The same is true for all other attributes. The fact that Moshe here addressed Hashem with the title "God of the spirits of all flesh," indicates that a unique set of circumstances existed.
We may suggest that the title "G-d of the spirits of all flesh." is the title of Hashem in His capacity as the ultimate shadchan i.e., matchmaker. Indeed, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 68, 4) relates that Hashem devotes a significant portion of His day for arranging shiduchim.
In response to Moshe's request, Hashem said "take to yourself Yehoshua son of Nun a man in whom there is spirit and lean your hand upon him" (Bamidbar 27:18). Rashi comments that the phrase "whom there is spirit" is to be interpreted as meaning a man that may go "against" the spirit of each individual. In other words, a man who has exceptional interpersonal skills. We may assume that because this is the interpretation of the words "whom there is spirit" in Hashem's response, it is likewise the interpretation of Moshe title of Hashem "G-d of the spirits." Moshe wished to convey that he recognized that Hashem truly understands how to relate to every individual.
It is noteworthy that this same expression is used in connection to the relationship of husband and wife. The posuk (verse) says, "Hashem, G-d said it is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper against him" (Bereishis 2:18). In this posuk the Torah describes a wife as one who is "against" her husband. This is simply interpreted as meaning that a wife understands her husband and can relate to him accordingly.
In connection to the relationship of husband and wife the posuk also says, "Therefore man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh." (Bereishis 2:24) Rashi explains that the phrase "one flesh" is to be interpreted as referring to the child of the husband and wife. In the flesh of the child the husband and wife become one. Homiletically this may be interpreted as meaning that climax of a successful marriage if the birth of children who unify the virtues of both parents. The Torah describes this climax with the phrase "one flesh."
When Moshe addressed Hashem, his title included the phrase "of all flesh." The commentators struggle to understand the meaning of this.
Homiletically we may interpret, "G-d of the spirits of all flesh" as a title for Hashem in his capacity of the ultimate shadchan. This phrase may be interpreted as meaning, Hashem is the only One who truly knows which two people can successfully relate to each other and achieve the goal of "and they shall become one flesh." Moshe recognized that there were many people who were qualified to lead the Jewish people. Many people had the necessary credentials. However Jewish leadership is more then just credentials it involves skill in interpersonal relationships. Not every leader is appropriate for every generation. Different types of leaders are needed in different generations. Moshe thus invoked the title of Hashem as the ultimate shadchan in his prayer for a new Jewish leader. Jewish leadership is also "bashert."
Hashem (G-D) said to (Moses) Moshe take to yourself Yehoshua (Joshua) bin nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him… And he (Moshe) leaned his hands upon him and commanded him as Hashem had spoken through Moshe. (Bamidbar 27:18,23)
The above posuk (verse) records the very first rabbinical ordination. Rashi here notes a discrepancy. Hashem originally commanded Moshe to confer ordination on Yehoshua by putting one of his hands upon his head. Yet, when Moshe fulfilled Hashem's command, the Torah records that he leaned with both his hands. Rashi explains that Moshe fulfilled Hashem's request generously, above and beyond what had been called for. Rashi goes on to explain that Yehoshua like was like a vessel, which is full and brimming over. We may ask, what is the significance in the difference between two hands as opposed to one hand that prompted Rashi to give this interpretation.
The commentators note a similar discrepancy regarding the tablets. In parshas (reading) Ki Sisa the posuk says, "Moshe turned and descended from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hand" (Shemos 32:15). Here the tablets are described as resting in one hand. Yet, in parshas Ekev when the posuk describes the very same event, it says, "So I (Moshe) turned and descended from the mountain and the mountain was burning with fire and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands (Devarim 9:15). Here the tablets are described as resting in both of Moshe's hands. How do we explain this discrepancy?
Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) teach us that although Torah is a gift from Hashem, a person is given the ability to acquire it to the degree that it can be considered his own. This concept is expressed in our Torah blessings. Before we read from the Torah we recite a blessing where we refer to the Torah as "His (Hashem's) Torah." Upon concluding the Torah reading again we recite a blessing. Here we describe the Torah as "our Torah." The commentators explain that through reading and studying Torah, we can acquire it to the degree that we can call it ours.
There is a major difference between the description of the giving of the tablets in Ki Sisa and Ekev. In Ki Sisa the giving of the tablets is described from the perspective of the Torah. From the Torah's perspective Moshe is mentioned in second person. The posuk says "the two tables of the testimony in his hand." However, in Ekev, Moshe describes the same event from his perspective. Thus, Moshe mentions himself in first person. The posuk there says "and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands." In Ki Sisa where the Torah records the event from its perspective it says that Hashem placed the Torah in only one of Moshe's hands. In Ekev, where Moshe describes what happened from his perspective, he says that he received the Torah with both of his hands. This is explained with the above concept. Hashem originally gave His Torah as a gift to Moshe. This gift was placed in only one hand. However, through Moshe's personal self-sacrifice and diligent study of the Torah in heaven for forty days, he acquired the Torah to the degree that it was considered to be resting in both of his hands. The second hand is thus symbolic of Moshe's personal acquisition.
Hashem instructed Moshe to place one hand on Yehoshua. What is the symbolic meaning of conferring rabbinical ordination through the resting of the hand? The most basic and obvious qualification for rabbinical ordination is the thorough knowledge of the entire Torah. Hashem's gift of Torah was described as something that was given to Moshe and placed in his hand. When leadership was now to be transferred to Yehoshua, Hashem instructed Moshe to transfer to Yehoshua the same gift that was given to him. Just as Hashem placed the Torah in only one of Moshe's hands, so too Moshe was instructed to place that single hand on Yehoshua. However, Moshe placed his second hand as well. The second hand is symbolic of Moshe's personal accomplishments and experiences that he acquired through his own self-sacrifice. Moshe did not just relay to Yehoshua the contents of the four parts of Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), but taught him the fifth part as well. He imparted to him his personal experiences and insights. He transmitted to Yehoshua what it took him a lifetime to understand and acquire.
Moshe's actions define the essence of rabbinical ordination and Jewish education. It is not sufficient for a teacher to transmit just the technical laws and text of the Torah. By doing so the teacher has only fulfilled his obligation of placing one hand on his student. The teacher has failed to follow in the example of Moshe who placed both hands on Yehoshua. A teacher should ordain his students his second hand as well. A Torah educator must strive to instill in his students the flavor and spirit of a true Torah perspective.
30:2 Moshe (Moses) spoke to the tribal leaders of the children of Israel saying, This is the matter that Hashem (G-D) has commanded.
30:3 If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to initiate a prohibition upon himself, he may not profane his word. He shall do all that he said.
In the beginning of this week's parsha (Torah reading), we learn about the laws of vows and oaths. The parsha begins with the expression "This is the matter." Rashi quotes a Midrash that notes how Moshe in Egypt began his prophecy with the words "So says Hashem, at about midnight I will go out over the land of Egypt." The Midrash then notes that other prophets also began their prophesies with these same words: "So says Hashem." Here however, Moshe outdid himself and surpassed all others by beginning this prophecy with the words "This is the matter."
The simple interpretation is that the words "This is the matter" connotes a greater degree of clarity than the words "So says Hashem." It is difficult to see however why the Midrash interprets this statement as prophesy at all. Prophecy is simply understood as a revelation of what will occur at a future time. All we learn here are the laws of vows and oaths. Why does the Midrash consider the laws of vows and oaths a prophecy more so then any other law that Moshe taught the Jewish people?
The first time we are introduced to the concept of vows is in parshas Vayeitzai. When Yaakov (Jacob) traveled to Charan to seek a wife, he stopped to pray to Hashem for protection. He vowed that if Hashem would protect him and permit him in return in peace he would build a sanctuary for Hashem and tithe all that he owns. The posuk (verse) records Yaakov vow with the words "And Yaakov vowed saying." Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) note that the word "saying" appears to be superfluous and therefore expound it as meaning that Yaakov spoke to all future generation saying that they too should take vows in times of trouble. Chazal teach us that it is generally forbidden to take vows because of the severe punishment that awaits one who fails to fulfill a vow. As we learn from Yaakov, however one may do so in times of trouble.
We may suggest that when Moshe taught the laws of vows to the Jewish people, he was predicting that times of trouble would come when it would be necessary to take vows as a source of merit in dealing with these difficult events. Thus, the teaching of these laws was indeed an indirect prophecy that difficult times lay ahead.
We may now have a new understanding of the difference between Moshe and the other prophets. The other prophets began their prophecy with the words "So says Hashem." Other prophets warned the Jewish people about future events. Their focus was rebuke. They warned of hard and difficult times that would come if they would not change their evil ways. Their prophecies, however, did not include instructions on how to deal with the situation if and when it would come. Moshe surpassed them in that he taught the Jewish people how to deal with the hard times by earning merit through the taking of vows.
These are the journeys of the Jewish people who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions under the hand of Moshe (Moses) and Aaron. (Bamidbar 33:1)
In Parshas (the Torah reading) Masei, the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people are reviewed. These journeys encompass forty years of traveling from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel) through the desert. The commentators are perplexed as to why the Torah gives such importance to these journeys by reviewing them here in our parsha. The Shelah Hakodosh explains that these journeys are a microcosm of the Jews journey throughout history. The backdrop of the desert represents the exile. The different locations in the desert correspond to different parts of the world, where the Jewish people have found themselves throughout history. Each journey corresponds to a major era in our history. By studying what occurred at each stop in the desert we may gain a Torah perspective on how to deal with the trials and tribulations that occur at the various places we find ourselves throughout our galus (exile).
We are familiar that the Torah is divided into five books. However, let us take a closer look. In parshas behaloscha we come across two posukim (verses) that describe that traveling and encampment of the ark (Bamidbar 10:35,36). These two posukim are surrounded with upside down (Hebrew letter) nuns. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) explain that these upside down nuns serve to mark off these two posukim as a separate book onto itself. Indeed, in the realm of halachah we learn that if a worn out Torah scroll is in danger of being destroyed on Shabbos, selected rabbinical restrictions are lifted in order to facilitate it being saved. However this leniency only applies if at least eight-five letters remain intact. This minimum is derived from the fact that the two posukim mentioned above contain exactly eight-five letters and are considered a complete book due to mark of the upside down nuns.
If these two posukim are considered a separate book, the book of Bamidbar is in reality three books. The first book of Bamidbar includes all posukim from its beginning until these two posukim. The second book is these two posukim by themselves and the third book is the posukim that follow these two posukim through the end of Bamidbar. Now if we take these three books and add the other four books of the Torah i.e., Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Devarim, then we have a total of seven books.
One of the utensils in the Beis Hamikdash was the menorah. Chazal teach us that the menorah is a symbol of Torah. The commentators go to great lengths in explaining how every detail of the menorah corresponds to a different aspect of Torah. We may therefore ask what is the symbolic significance of the menorah having exactly seven lamps?
We mentioned above that in truth there are seven books of Torah. Let us therefore suggest that the seven lamps of the menorah correspond to the seven books of the Torah. The first lamp on the right corresponds to the book of Bereishis, the second to Shemos, the third to Vayikra, the forth to the first section of Bamidbar, the fifth to the two posukim mentioned above, the sixth to last section of Bamidbar and the seventh to Devarim.
Among the daily miracles that took place in the Beis Hamikdash was the miracle of the ner maaravi i.e., translated as the western lamp. The kohanim would pour into the menorah enough oil for it to burn one night. Miraculously, the ner maaravi would remain lit the next day. There is a dispute among the commentators as to exactly which candle of the menorah was called the "ner maaravi." According to one opinion it was the second to last candle. It was called the western lamp because it was the first lamp that could be called "west" relative to the last lamp that stood at extreme east. What is the symbolic significance of a miracle occurring to the second to last candle of the menorah?
According to the symbolic relationship between the books of the Torah and the candles, the ner maaravi corresponds to the third section of Bamidbar. If we take a closer look at this section we may note that a significant part of this section deals with the travels of the Jewish people through the desert which culminates in the complete review of their travels as recorded in our parsha.
We mentioned that the journeys of the Jewish People in the desert correspond to the journeys of the Jewish people throughout history. All the lamps of the menorah produced light. This corresponds to the fact that all sections of the Torah provide us with spiritual guidance. However, only the ner maaravi produced miraculous light. The miraculous light corresponds to the section of the Torah that describes the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert and symbolically throughout history. This miraculous light awakens us to the awareness that despite the wanderings, sufferings and persecution of the Jewish people through history they will miraculously continue to survive and shine.
For he must remain in his refuge city until the death of the kohen gadol (High Priest). After the death of the kohen gadol the murderer may return to the land of his possession. (Bamidbar 35:28).
In this week's parsha (Torah reading) , we learn about the laws of the inadvertent murderer. The Torah instructs the inadvertent murderer to take refuge from the relatives of his victim in specially-designated cities of refuge and remain there until the death of the kohen gadol.
Rashi explains that the freedom of the murderer is dependent upon the death of the kohen gadol because the kohen gadol is partly responsible for the murder; he should have prayed that such a tragedy would not occur.
Let us suggest an additional explanation. The commentators make it clear that although the murder was unintentional, the murderer was still negligent. He should have been careful to prevent even a possibility that he might cause another's death. Indeed, when the death was completely out of his control he is exempt from entering the cities of refuge and the relatives of the victim are not permitted to harm him.
The root cause of the inadvertent murderer's guilt was his failure to value the life of another person. Although he did not consider the life of another very valuable, it was very dear to the victim and his family.
The murderer is sent to the cities of refuge, which were run by the Levim. The Levim did not engage in worldly matters to support themselves. Instead they were supported by the Jewish people. They spent their days immersed purely in spiritual pursuits.
Every person has role models. The field of occupation and interests of each individual cause him to look up to the pioneers and leaders of that particular field. The kohen gadol was certainly cherished by the entire Jewish people. The ones who appreciated him the most, however, were the Levim. It was they who were occupied with spiritual pursuits and had the background and sensitivity to appreciate the unique qualities of the spiritual leader of the Jewish people.
It is thus paradoxical that when the inadvertent murderer is sent to the cities of refuge he must wait for the death of the kohen gadol. It is only natural for the inadvertent murderer to at least subconsciously anticipate the death kohen gadol. His freedom depends on it. The life of the kohen gadol was thus not very dear to him. The murderer however finds himself surrounded by people who idolize the kohen gadol. The life that is of not much value to the inadvertent murderer is of the utmost value to those around him. This is the measure for measure that that the Torah meted out to the inadvertent murderer. This mindset is exactly what brought him there in the first place. He did not value the life of another that was of great value to others. He will now be forced to reflect upon this for his remaining days in the cities of the Levim.
For he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and after the death of the Kohen Gadol the killer shall return to the land of his possession. (Bamidbar 35:28)
In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn about the cities of refuge. The Torah teaches us that if one accidentally kills another person he must be exiled to the cities of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Rashi provides two reasons as to why the murderer's stay in the city of refuge is dependent upon the life and death of the Kohen Gadol. The first reason given is because the Kohen Gadol's mission is to make the Divine Presence rest upon Jewish People and thereby extend their lives. The murderer has done the opposite. He has removed the Divine presence from the Jewish people by shortening the life of an individual. The murderer is not worthy of coexisting in society together with the Kohen Gadol. He must be exiled until the death of the Kohen Gadol.
A second reason given is because the Kohen Gadol bears partial responsibility for what has occurred. Had the Kohen Gadol prayed with more intensity he may have prevented this tragedy from happening. The death of the Kohen Gadol serves as atonement. Only then may the murderer leave the city of refuge.
Perhaps we may suggest an additional homiletic interpretation as to why the murderer goes free open the death of the Kohen Gadol.
In parshas Chukas we learn about the death of Aaron HaKohen. Immediately after, the Torah tells us that the Canaanite King of Arud heard that the Jews were traveling in the desert and waged war against them. He succeeded in capturing a single captive. Thereupon the Jewish people made a vow to Hashem saying "If You will deliver this people into my hand, I will sanctify the spoils to Hashem (G-D)." Hashem listened to the vow of the Jewish people and delivered the people into their hand. The Jewish people sanctified the cities and called the place Charmah (Bamidbar 21:1-3). What is the deeper understanding of these sequences of events?
Rabbi Yeshayah Lenchitzs shlitah explains as follows: The commentators explain that the first time a word or concept appears in the Torah is when we can find a deeper meaning of its essence. The very first time the concept of vows appears in the Torah is in the beginning of parshas Vayeitzei. The Torah tells us that Yaakov made a vow to Hashem saying "If Hashem will be with me and guard me on this path that I am going; and gives me bread to eat; and clothing to wear; and if I return in peace to my father's house; and Hashem will be my G-d; then this stone which I have set up as a monument will become a house of Hashem and of all that You give I will surely give a tenth You (Bereishis 28:20-22). Yaakov here declared that he will build a dwelling place for Hashem in fulfillment of the vow. We derive from this that there is an association between a vow and a dwelling place for Hashem. Indeed, Rabainu Bachya notes that the Hebrew word for vow is neder. This word shares the same root as the Hebrew word dar which means "a dwelling place." Rabainu Bachya explains that when one makes a vow he creates a symbolic dwelling for Hashem. The simple interpretation of this concept is that due to the fact that one is bound by Hashem to fulfill his word, it is as if Hashem is residing near him and constantly reminding him of his duty. When making a vow, one has symbolically created a dwelling place for Hashem together with him. (See Sefer Or Gedalyahu parshas Matos for an elaboration.)
In this week's parsha Rashi tells us that when Aaron died the Clouds of Glory departed (Bamidbar 33:40). The Clouds of Glory were a manifestation of the Divine Presence that protected the Jewish people in the desert. Due to their departure, the Jewish people were vulnerable to attack by the enemy. Rashi continues to explain that this was the reason why precisely now the Canaanite King decided to attack. The Jewish people in their attempt to restore the Divine Presence took a vow. As mentioned above a vow creates a symbolic dwelling place for Hashem. The purpose of the vow was to reestablish the dwelling of Hashem's Presence among the Jewish people, similar to the protection that the Clouds of Glory provided in the merit of Aaron.
With this understanding we may suggest that the reason the murderer leaves the city of refuge upon the death of the Kohen Godal is because this law serves as a reenactment of the death of the very first Kohen Godal, Aaron HaKohen.
A murderer is a person who requires physical protection from the avenger of blood. The murderer however is not only in danger physically but also spiritually. The fact that he was responsible for the death of another person requires him to closely inspect his spiritual standing. He is exiled to the cities of refuge. These cities not only provide physical protection from the avenger of blood but also serve as a spiritual rehabilitation center for the murderer. The spiritual and physical protection of these cities is provided in the merit of the current Kohen Gadol, similar to the how the Clouds of Glory provided shelter and protected the Jewish People as they traveled through the desert in the merit of Aaron HaKohen. However when Aaron died the clouds of Glory departed. The Jewish people no longer had the merit of Aaron to protect them. They were on their own. Similarly, when the Kohen Gadol dies, the protection provided in his merit is gone. No longer will the murderer be sheltered due to the merits of the Kohen Gadol. The city of refuge that served as the murderer's Clouds of Glory have departed. The time has come for him to take responsibility for his own spiritual protection. As he reenters society he must be sure that his spiritual conduct is up to par and thus cause the Divine Presence to rest upon him and protect him. This is similar to how the Jewish people restored the Divine Presence by taking a vow.
We may further suggest that this is why parshas Matos and Masai are juxtaposed and often read together. The first section of Matos is devoted to the laws of vows. A significant portion of Masei is devoted to the laws of the cities of refuge. The two are dependent and related to each other. The cities of refuge represent the concept of being sheltered and protected by the Divine Presence in the merit of others; whereas, the concept of vows represent to concept of being sheltered and protected by the Divine Presence in one's own merit.
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