If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Bamidbar - Vol.
5, Issue 31
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Ach es mateh Levi lo sifkod v’es rosham lo sisa b’soch B’nei Yisroel (1:49)
This week we begin the book of Numbers, which begins with a census of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains (1:1) that the purpose of these frequent counts was to demonstrate Hashem’s love for the Jews. He counted them after they left Egypt, and again after the sin of the golden calf to know how many remained. As Hashem prepared to rest His Divine presence among them in the Mishkan, He counted them yet again. Hashem stressed to Moshe that he should not count the Levites when performing this census, but they were instead counted separately. This is difficult to understand. If the Levites were the tribe that performed the service inside of the Mishkan, they surely should have been included in this count.
Rashi explains that Hashem wanted them counted separately because He knew that everybody who was part of the general census would die in the wilderness as a result of the sin of the spies. Since the Levites had demonstrated their tremendous piety and loyalty in refusing to take part in the sin of the golden calf and in punishing the transgressors, Hashem wanted to spare them from this fate and insisted that they be counted alone. This concept is difficult to understand. Why was it necessary to count the Levites separately in order to protect them? If they didn’t take part in the sin of the spies, why would they have been punished together with the other Jews simply by virtue of the fact that they were counted together with them?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that although the Levites were righteous, there are times when, difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, Hashem judges not only individuals but also communities. In this case, Hashem knew that there would be a judgment made against the entire nation for the sin of the spies. The decree would mandate that anybody who was part of the community, as defined by the recently-conducted census, be punished together with them. The only way for the Levites to be spared was for them to be counted alone, which would define them as an independent entity and spare them from the decree.
Rav Chaim adds that fortunately, this attribute of Hashem’s justice works for the good as well. When a person is part of a larger community of righteous individuals, he is able to benefit from their cumulative merits. This may protect him even if his own personal merits are insufficient.
Rav Chaim led the flight of the Mir yeshiva across Europe and Asia during the Holocaust. True to his teachings, he stressed to the students the importance of sticking together during this horrible period of Divine judgment. Amazingly, in spite of the tremendous national suffering which struck the Jewish nation during that period, the Mir yeshiva and its entire student body escaped completely intact and unscathed.
Although the census of each of the tribes may seem like historical trivia with no application to our daily lives, Rav Chaim teaches us that this isn’t the case. The lesson is that if we affiliate ourselves with a righteous community and volunteer to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy health, happiness, and good blessings.
V’ha’chonim alav mateh Yissochor v’nasi liv’nei Yissochor Nesanel ben Tzuar … matzeh Zevulun v’nasi liv’nei Zevulun Eliav ben Cheilon … U’mateh Gad (2:5-7, 14)
There was once a complicated and difficult Din Torah in the city of Vilna which required Rabbinical arbitration. The two sides requested that the Vilna Gaon preside over the Beis Din that would hear and rule on the dispute, but to their surprise, he refused. When they pressed him for an explanation, he explained that one of the individuals chosen to sit as a judge on the Beis Din was a businessman who wasn’t sufficiently learned to be involved in the resolution of the case. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 3:4) forbids a judge from sitting on a Beis Din together with somebody who is unfit for the position, such as one who isn’t a Torah scholar. In fact, the Sm”a comments that the rulings of laymen are generally the opposite of those of Torah scholars.
The Vilna Gaon continued his explanation by offering a beautiful hint to this law. In listing the formations and configurations of the Jewish encampments in the wilderness, the Torah lists four groups of three tribes, each of which encamped in a different direction around the central Mishkan. In each list of three tribes, the verse which mentions the third tribe always begins with the letter “vav,” which serves to connect that tribe to the preceding tribes.
However, there is one exception. The tribe of Zevulun, which represented the businessmen and merchants, is the third tribe listed in the encampment of Yehuda in the east, yet it doesn’t begin with a connecting letter “vav.” The Gaon explained that this is because the second tribe in the list is that of Yissochar, which consisted of Torah scholars. The Torah intentionally omitted the connecting “vav” to hint to the aforementioned law. When it comes to clarifying and ruling on Torah laws, there may be no connection between the competent Torah scholars and the insufficiently-learned businessmen.
Vayamas Nadav v’Avihu lifnei Hashem b’hakrivam aish zarah lifnei Hashem b’midbar Sinai u’banim lo hayu lahem vay’cha’hein Elazar v’Isomor al p’nei Aharon avihem (3:4)
The Rav of a town in Europe once passed away. Because his son was too young to fill his position, the leaders of the community hired another Rav to take his place. Several years later, the son matured and reached a level at which he was capable of serving in his father’s stead. The new Rav expressed resistance and argued that although a Rav’s son is legally entitled to inherit his father’s position and fill the role if he is fitting, in this case the son had been too young at the time and therefore lost his right of succession.
The dispute was brought for resolution to Rav Meir Shapiro. He cited the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:26), which explains that the Torah emphasizes the fact that Nadav and Avihu died without any children to teach that if they had indeed had offspring, their children would have precedence in taking their places. It was only because they died without children that the verse concludes that Elozar and Isomar were therefore eligible to serve in their father Aharon’s stead.
Rav Shapiro noted that this Medrash is difficult to understand. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Nadav and Avihu were under the age of 20 when they died. Even if they had left descendants, those children would clearly be under the age of Bar Mitzvah at the time of their deaths, which would invalidate them from inheriting the position and serving in the Mishkan. If so, how could the Medrash infer that had Nadav and Avihu left behind progeny, they would have preceded their uncles (Elozar and Isomar) in filling a position for which they were ineligible?
Rav Shapiro concluded that we may deduce from here that even in a case when the inheritors are too young at the time of death to fill the role which is rightfully theirs, they never relinquish their claims to the position, which they are entitled to fill upon their maturity. As a result, Rav Shapiro ruled that the son of the first Rav should now inherit his father’s mantle.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rav Avrohom of Zunsheim, a little-known Rishon who authored a work called Tikkun Tefillin, points out a number of fascinating parallels between the tefillin which is worn on the head and the encampment of the Jewish people in the wilderness. How many similarities can you find?
2) Rashi quotes (3:1) the Gemora in Sanhedrin (19b), which states that whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. The Gemora there similarly teaches that whoever raises an orphan in his home is considered to have given birth to him. Can one who is unable to have children fulfill the mitzvah of having children through these methods, as it will be considered as if he gave birth to them? (Chochmas Shlomo Even HaEzer 1:1, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Even HaEzer 76, B’Soraso Yeh’geh Milu’im 25, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)
3) Rashi writes (3:29) that because the family of Kehas encamped next to the tribe of Reuven, Dasan and Aviram were caught up in Korach’s rebellion and punished. He derives from here the importance of having righteous neighbors. If somebody is forced to choose between living next to a neighbor who publicly desecrates Shabbos and a neighbor who is known to constantly be engaged in fights and disagreements, which neighbor should he choose? (Ayeles HaShachar)
4) The tribe of Levi contained the holiest Divine servants, yet it numbered only 22,000 (3:30), substantially less than any of the other tribes. What is the reason for this anomaly? (Ramban, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, HaEmek Davar, MiShulchano Shel Beis HaLevi, Kovetz Maamorim)
© 2010 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to email@example.com
Shema Yisrael Torah Network