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 Parshas Bamidbar-Shavuos - Vol. 7, Issue 31
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Se'u es Rosh kol adas B'nei Yisroel (1:2)

There is a mystical idea that the content of the parsha read each Shabbos is connected to the events of the upcoming week. It is interesting to note that Parshas Bamidbar is usually read on the Shabbos preceding Shavuos. What possible connection could there be between a parsha which deals primarily with counting the tribes and the festival on which the Jewish nation received the Torah?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that as Jews around the world excitedly gear up to personally reaccept the Torah and reaffirm their commitments to its study, the evil inclination attempts to derail them. It argues that their Torah study is so limited in quantity and quality that it is insignificant and even, G-d forbid, a waste of time. The yetzer hara shows a person that his more intellectually-gifted friends are able to learn more hours and more pages and to retain their knowledge better than he could ever hope to do. As Jews get excited for the universal custom of staying up all night on Shavuos engrossed in Torah study, a person may be tempted to opt for a good night’s sleep after realizing that the most he could accomplish in an entire night could be learned on an even higher level by the Rav in a mere 10 minutes.

To counter this flawed argument, the Torah precedes the holiday of Shavuos with the reading of Parshas Bamidbar. The parsha begins with Hashem’s command to conduct a census of the Jewish people, but it is written using a peculiar expression. Instead of instructing Moshe to “go count the people,” the words used translate literally as “pick up the heads of the Jews.” Why did Hashem use this awkward expression when commanding Moshe about the census?

Rav Moshe explains that just as a contemporary Jew could get discouraged in his service of Hashem when comparing it to others, certainly one in the wilderness, who lived in the shadows of Moshe and Aharon, could be susceptible to the same fallacy. He may feel that although he is “worth” 1, those around him are “worth” 100, leaving him despondent. Hashem used this peculiar expression because when every Jew realizes that in the census he is counted as the same 1 as every other Jew, he will recognize how valuable his efforts are in Hashem’s eyes. This understanding will allow him to “pick up his head” and hold it high with a newfound self-confidence.

Although others may seem light-years ahead of us in the quantity and quality of their mitzvos, the lesson of Parshas Bamidbar is that everybody is judged separately in Hashem’s eyes, based on a personalized benchmark of what he is capable of doing. A person who overcomes his own struggles to maximize his individual potential should certainly enter Shavuos prepared to accept the Torah with his head held high.

Vayeilech ish mi'Beis Lechem Yehuda (Rus 1:1)

Megillas Rus begins by recording that due to a famine, Elimelech traveled with his family from the land of Israel to Moab. The Baal HaTurim notes that the expression "Vayeilech ish" - and a man went - appears two times in Tanach, once in reference to Elimelech and once in conjunction with the birth of Moshe (Shemos 2:1), "Vayeilech ish mi'beis Levi" - a man (Amram) from the house of Levi went (and married Yocheved, Moshe's mother). As the use of this expression seems to connect Moshe with Megillas Rus, Rav Dovid Cohen points out a number of fascinating parallels between the lives of Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech in the introduction to his commentary on Megillas Rus,.

Moshe was considered the first redeemer, as he took us out of slavery in Egypt, and Dovid is associated with the final redeemer, as Moshiach will be descended from him. Moshe wrote the five books of the Torah, and Dovid’s Sefer Tehillim is divided into five books. The fathers of Moshe and Dovid – Amram and Yishai, respectively – are two of the four people whom the Gemora (Shabbos 55b) mentions as having died without ever sinning.

Moshe’s father-in-law Yisro was the first convert after the giving of the Torah, and Dovid was descended from Rus, who is considered the prototypical convert, from whom many of the laws of conversion are derived. In fact, the names Rus and Yisro contain the same letters except that Yisro has an additional "yud," which has a numerical value of 10 and connotes the fact that he joined the Jewish people at the time of the Aseres HaDibros (10 Commandments).

The Medrash (Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 2:5) teaches that both Moshe and Dovid were both born already circumcised. Dovid was born and died on Shavuos, the day on which Moshe’s basket was placed into the Nile River (Shemos 2:3) and on which he later received the Torah. Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that this is because the purpose of a King is not just to lead the people and provide for their needs, but to make the nation accept Hashem’s Kingship and to make sure that they observe the Torah's laws. In essence, Dovid and his descendants executed the very purpose for which Hashem gave the Torah to Moshe, and for this purpose he was born on the day that it was given.

Ki el asher tailchi ailaich (1:16)

Despite Naomi's repeated attempts to persuade Rus to return to her homeland in Moab, Rus insisted that she would never part from Naomi, declaring passionately that she would go wherever Naomi went, would sleep wherever Naomi slept, Naomi's G-d would be her G-d, and she would die and be buried together with Naomi.
Rashi understands that each of these promises made by Rus was her response to a specific mitzvah or concept that Naomi taught her in order to determine her commitment to Judaism. Specifically, Rashi explains that Naomi taught Rus about techum Shabbos (the boundary of the city beyond which one may not travel on Shabbos), yichud (forbidden seclusion between a man and a woman), the 613 mitzvos, idolatry, the four types of the death penalty which are meted out by the Sanhedrin, and the laws governing the burial of those who are killed for capital sins, respectively.

Why did Naomi teach these concepts specifically in this order? She went from the most lenient to the most stringent – beginning with the Rabbinical prohibition of techum Shabbos, followed by yichud which in some cases is Biblical, then the 613 commandments which are even more stringent, followed by idolatry, the death penalty, and separate burial even after death for severe sins. The Gemora in Yevamos (47a) derives from here that a potential convert is taught light mitzvos and stringent ones, which is difficult to understand. If he is willing to accept the strict fundamentals of Judaism such as idolatry, wouldn’t he automatically accept the less stringent mitzvos? Why do we need to specifically inform him of these areas as well? The Meiri explains the need for light mitzvos because non-Jews can’t comprehend that Hashem could care about and have laws governing “trivial” activities such as the order in which we get dressed and the way in which we go to the bathroom.

Judaism, on the other hand, believes that there is no place void of Hashem and spirituality, and we sanctify even seemingly mundane physical activities. A non-Jew believes in a separation, that our earthly human needs have no connection to holiness and are in fact intrinsically irreconcilable with it. Their “holy” people take vows of chastity and poverty. Therefore, if a non-Jew brings an offering to the Temple, it must be completely burned on the Altar, because he is unable to comprehend that eating could have anything to do with piety and sanctity. We therefore emphasize this point to a prospective convert to make sure that he understands and accepts this fundamental idea in Judaism.

L'mi ha'naarah ha'zos (2:5)

When Boaz observed Rus gleaning in his field, he asked his servant who she was. The Gemora (Shabbos 113b) finds this behavior unusual, questioning, “Was it the way of Boaz to constantly inquire about women?” The Gemora answers that Boaz saw in Rus two traits which piqued his interest: wisdom and modesty. Rashi explains that her modesty manifested itself when she collected standing ears of grain while standing up, but for stalks on the ground, she sat down to pick them up instead of bending over.

At this point in time, there was tremendous confusion regarding the legal permissibility of marrying a female Moabite such as Rus. Rav Dovid Cohen suggests that the tznius (modesty) demonstrated by Rus helped convince Boaz that she was permitted. The Torah provides the reason that one may not marry a Moabite or Ammonite (Devorim 23:4-5): because they didn’t come out to greet you with bread and water when you were leaving Egypt. In arguing for the permissibility of marrying female Moabites who have converted to Judaism, the Gemora in Yevamos (77b) suggests that this was only a complaint against the males, who were expected to come out to greet us, but the females were not expected to come out because it would be considered immodest.

The Gemora questions this reasoning, as even though it would not be modest to come out to greet the male Jews, they still should have come out to greet the females. The Gemora answers that all of the glory of the King’s daughter is inside, so it is not considered a deficiency on the part of the female Moabites that they did not do so. Nevertheless, Rav Dovid Cohen suggests that Boaz felt that it was necessary to demonstrate that the trait of modesty does in fact run in the Moabite national gene pool, and when he saw the tznius of Rus, this helped confirm for him her permissibility.

However, although it is praiseworthy that Rus was so modest while collecting, this doesn’t answer the Gemora’s question. Weren’t other Jewish women equally tznius? Did Boaz inquire about every modest Jewish woman that he encountered? Rav Moshe Dovid Valle explains that poverty can destroy all semblance of a person’s humanity, as he becomes so focused and fixated on his hunger and need for survival that he forgets all other considerations. Even at this difficult time, Rus conducted herself with dignity, and her tznius remained intact and attracted Boaz’s attention. Boaz was astonished by her ability to preserve her equanimity, in contrast to the other poor collectors, who were lenient when it came to concerns of modesty and stealing grain to which they weren’t entitled.

Rav Shlomo Brevda adds that this is even more amazing when considering that Rus was descended from Lot, who was lacking specifically in these two areas. His shepherds was admonished by Avrohom's shepherds for allowing their sheep to graze in fields that didn’t belong to him (Rashi Bereishis 13:7), and Lot immodestly bore children through his own daughters (Bereishis 19:30-38). In light of this, Boaz couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by Rus’s strength, which explains why he asked his servant, “Who is this woman, and from where did she get such tremendous determination?”

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Torah emphasizes (1:1) that the giving of the Torah at Sinai, which is celebrated on the upcoming holiday of Shavuos, took place in the wilderness. Why did Hashem specifically choose to give the Torah in such a barren location? (Darkei Mussar)

2) Parshas Bamidbar contains Hashem’s instructions regarding the placement of the encampment of the various tribes (2:2). The events of the parsha occurred approximately one year after the Exodus from Egypt (1:1). Why didn’t Hashem instruct them regarding the order of the encampments during their first year in the wilderness? (Emes L’Yaakov)

3) Rashi writes (2:2) that the tribes encamped 2000 cubits away from the Mishkan so that they would still be permitted to travel there on Shabbos. As the prohibition against traveling outside of the techum is only Rabbinical in nature, why were they required to encamp within 2000 cubits of the Mishkan? (Ayeles HaShachar)

4) On the night of Pesach, we say that if Hashem had brought us before Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us. What would have been the benefit of coming to Mount Sinai if Hashem didn’t give us the Torah? (HaSeder HaAruch pg. 414-415, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Mishmeres Ariel)

5) The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jews were encamped at the foot of Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they don’t accept the Torah, "sham te'hei kevuraschem" - there will be your burial place. Wouldn’t it be more grammatically correct to say ôä – here – you will be buried? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

  © 2012 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


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