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Parshas Bamidbar / Shavuos - Vol. 12, Issue 30
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Our Sages teach that everything written in the Torah is recorded because of its relevance to every Jew in every generation. Why are the seemingly trivial details which dominate Parshas Bamidbar, such as the arrangement of the encampments of the various tribes, significant and relevant to us?
Rav Aharon Kotler suggests that although this information seems like historical facts with no practical application to our lives, the parsha is in fact teaching us a very relevant lesson: the value that Judaism places on seder (organization). Instead of allowing the Jewish people to set up their own camping arrangements based on their personal preferences, the Torah insists that they specifically encamp together with other members of their tribe and additionally prescribes the positions of the various tribes relative to one another. This arrangement was in effect for the duration of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.
Rashi writes in Parshas Emor (Vayikra 24:10) that the blasphemer was the son of Shlomis bas Divri and the Egyptian taskmaster that Moshe slew. Because his mother was descended from Dan, he attempted to dwell among the tribe of Dan, but they refused him because his father was not from their tribe. Although one person camping out of place (which was still the tribe of his mother) would seem to be insignificant, the tribe of Dan understood the critical value of preserving order and refused to allow him to camp among them. Although the particular laws about the formations and configurations of the encampments do not currently apply to us, the lesson about the value of serving Hashem in an orderly and disciplined fashion is one that we can each apply in our daily lives.
In Parshas Bamidbar we are taught that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people had fixed locations for their encampments. Each of the tribes had a specific location relative to the other tribes where its members were to encamp. Three of the tribes encamped in the north, three in the south, three in the west, and three in the east. The tribe of Levi, together with the Ark, encamped in the middle of the circle formed by the other tribes. What lesson can be learned from this setup?
The Chofetz Chaim explains that just as the heart is located in the middle of the body, so too the Ark which contained the Torah and Tablets was located in the middle of the camp so that it would be equidistant from every Jew. Similarly, the Bimah on which the Torah scroll is placed when it is being read is located in the middle of the synagogue. This teaches us that the Torah is equally accessible to every Jew. The Chofetz Chaim adds that our Sages teach (Taanis 31a) that in the World to Come, the righteous will form a circle to dance around Hashem, who will be in the middle of the circle. Although Jews seem serve Hashem in ways radically different from one another, as long as their intentions are for the sake of Heaven and they keep the mitzvos, they will all celebrate together. At that time we will discover that the Jew who seems diametrically opposed to us is in reality on the other side of the circle but just as close to Hashem.
There is a widespread custom to stay up at night on Shavuos engaged in Torah study. The Magen Avrohom (494) suggests that this custom developed because the Medrash teaches that the Jewish people at Mount Sinai overslept on the day of the giving of the Torah, and Hashem had to wake them up in order to present it to them. To rectify their mistake and to prevent ourselves from making a similar one, we demonstrate our eagerness to once again receive the Torah by remaining awake the entire night. In Yerushalayim, many of those who stay awake proceed to the Kosel just before dawn for an uplifting sunrise prayer service, where they can receive the Torah together with countless other Jews who have also travelled there from their respective neighborhoods. For many years, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg adopted this practice, staying awake on Shavuos night to learn Torah in his yeshiva, Torah Ohr, and then walking with his students to the Kosel for the morning prayers. The trip from his yeshiva in the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Yerushalayim to the Kosel is quite lengthy, and one year toward the end of his life, Rav Scheinberg's wife expressed her concern that he no longer had the energy required for the long round-trip walk, and she suggested that he remain behind and pray locally.
Rav Scheinberg disagreed with her and felt that he was physically capable of making the trip, so to resolve their difference of opinion, he decided to conduct the Gorel HaGra, a special procedure transmitted through oral tradition to a few select individuals in every generation, which involves opening a Tanach and receiving guidance from Hashem based on the verse to which it opens. In Rav Scheinberg's case, the verse to which he opened was (Tehillim 29:11) Hashem oz l'amo yitein - Hashem will give strength to His nation, which he interpreted as a Divine message that Hashem would give him the strength he needed to make the arduous journey to the Kosel. When one of Rav Scheinberg's students heard about this incident, he pointed out that the end of that very verse states Hashem y'varech es amo ba'Shalom - Hashem will bless His nation with peace. He suggested that perhaps the Heavenly response was from the latter half of the verse, not the former, and was an indication that the Rosh Yeshiva should opt for shalom bayis (marital harmony) by heeding his wife's advice.
When Rav Scheinberg heard his student's interpretation, he was astonished. He explained that just because he and his wife disagreed on the proper course of action, their difference of opinion was in no way personal and had no bearing on their shalom bayis. He decided to utilize the Goral HaGra to clarify the appropriate course of conduct, but regardless of the response it gave, the sublime peace that reigned between them would remain intact and unaffected. In addition to opening a window into the life of a great Rav, this fascinating story also contains a universal lesson for each of us, that differences of opinion between rational, intelligent people are healthy and normal, and as long as we do not allow them to become personal, they should have no bearing on our underlying relationships with others.
Prior to the giving of the Torah, Hashem told Moshe to instruct Bais Yaakov - the women - and B'nei Yisroel - the men - a verse which was immortalized by Sarah Schenirer when she coined the name "Bais Yaakov" for schools for Jewish girls. Since the Torah refers to the men as the "sons of Israel", why does it describe the women as the "house of Yaakov", when "daughters of Yaakov" would seem to be the appropriate parallel?
Rav Meir Shapiro explains that when a person becomes ill, there are hypothetically two ways for a doctor to treat him. The standard procedure is to prescribe medication, although another theoretical option would be to design a room in which the air is saturated with the appropriate antibiotic. The first option has the drawbacks that it only helps one patient and requires active administration, whereas the latter could benefit many people without any effort on their parts.
Similarly, in fighting the universal illness known as the yetzer hara (evil inclination), men follow the prescription of the Gemora (Kiddushin 30b) to repel it through Torah study. Although the latter option isn't currently feasible for medical purposes, Jewish women nevertheless use it to ward off spiritual illness. As the backbones of the family, they imbue the entire home with an atmosphere of holiness and spirituality. This automatically benefits not only themselves, but also their husbands, children, and all who are fortunate to enter their homes.
This is alluded to in a well-known verse (Mishlei 1:8) Shema b'ni mussar avicha v'al titosh toras imecha - Listen my son to the rebuke of your father, and do not forsake the teachings of your mother. Shlomo found it necessary to instruct a person to listen to the lessons of his father, while a mother's wisdom permeates the very air of her house and is absorbed without any effort. It is to teach and emphasize this idea that the Torah refers to the women not as the daughters of Yaakov, but as the house of Yaakov.
The Gemora in Bava Basra (14b) teaches that Megillas Rus is considered the first book of Kesuvim (Holy Writings) and was written by Shmuel Hanavi. There is an opinion in the Gemora that maintains that Iyov lived before the events of Megillas Rus, and according to this opinion, the Gemora questions why the book of Iyov is not considered the first book in Kesuvim. The Gemora answers that Iyov is considered a book of suffering, and we do not want to begin Kesuvim with themes of punishment.
The Gemora points out that Rus could also be considered a book that contains suffering, and it answers that the suffering in Megillas Rus has a happy ending, in that Dovid, who authored songs and praises to Hashem, was descended from Rus and justified all of the travails and difficult times that she endured. In light of the fact that Shmuel lived several generations after Boaz, it is difficult to understand why so many years passed from the time that the episode recounted in Megillas Rus occurred until it was written down. Why wasn't it recorded at the time of the events?
Rav Shlomo Alkabetz writes that the purpose of Megillas Rus is to teach the halacha (Yevamos 76b) of Moavi v'lo Moavis, that when the Torah forbids (Devorim 23:4-7) a descendant of Ammon or Moab to marry into the Jewish people, the prohibition only applies to male descendants, but not to the women. As a result, the conversion and marriage of Rus, who was a female descendant of Moab, to Boaz was legitimate, and the ancestry of Dovid Hamelech and ultimately Moshiach is proper.
After Dovid expressed his willingness to fight Goliath and the royal armor of the much taller Shaul miraculously shrunk to fit him perfectly, the Gemora (Yevamos 77b) records that Shaul grew worried and wondered if this was an indication that Dovid would become the next king. His advisor Doeg responded that before asking if Dovid is fit to be king, one must first ask if he is even fit to marry a Jewish woman, for Doeg maintained that the prohibition applies to both male and female Moabites. At that point, a tremendous legal dispute arose regarding the status of Dovid's lineage. Only after one of those present declared that he had an oral tradition from the Bais Din of Shmuel that the prohibition only applies to males was the matter settled, which is difficult to understand. If the Megillah establishes Rus's legitimacy, why was all this necessary? Wasn't it resolved in the times of Rus and Boaz?
Rav Shlomo Alkabetz explains that Megillas Rus had not yet been written to clarify the matter, as evidenced by this dispute. When the question was raised, it was sent to Shmuel Hanavi for resolution. Shmuel ruled upon it by writing a responsum that contained four chapters, a responsum that we call Megillas Rus. Because the practical application of the more general legal question about female Moabites that was presented to Shmuel was the legitimacy of Dovid's background, he ended off the Megillah by listing Dovid's lineage as a way of providing his approbation to Dovid by honoring him and tracing his ancestry back to Peretz. This ruling was so authoritative that Shaul, who would have been predisposed to rule like Doeg and invalidate Dovid, responded by giving his own daughter Michal to Dovid as a wife.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Hashem commanded Moshe (1:3) to count every male over the age of 20 who was fit to go out to battle. Does this mean that the elderly and sick, who were unfit for war, were not included in this count? (Sifsei Chochomim, Aderes Eliyahu, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh 1:20, HaEmek Davar, Ayeles HaShachar, Shaarei Aharon)
2) The Torah relates (1:47) that in counting the total number of Jews, Moshe did not count the Levites. Immediately thereafter, Hashem commanded Moshe (1:49) not to count the tribe of Levi together with the rest of the Jews. If he was only commanded not to do so at this time, why did he previously refrain from doing so of his own accord, and how did he know that this was Hashem's Will? (Ramban)
3) The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they won't accept the Torah, this will be your burial place. If Hashem's intention was to frighten them so that they would accept the Torah, why did He transform the mountain into a barrel, which isn't particularly scary, instead of simply picking it up and leaving it looming over their heads like the scary mountain that it already was? (V'HaIsh Moshe)
4) Many mitzvos may be performed by appointing an agent to do so on his behalf (Kiddushin 41a). Can the mitzvah of honoring one's parents (Shemos 20:12) be done via an agent? (Har Tzvi)
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