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Vol. 7 No. 35
Disciplining a large group of people is never an easy task; the larger the group, the more difficult it is to discipline them. But to take an entire nation consisting of some 3,000,000 people, fresh out of slavery, and to lead them out from civilisation into a desert in an orderly manner, without provisions, would appear to be an impossible task. Moshe Rabeinu succeeded in doing just that, and more; he actually succeeded in maintaining them as a well-controlled unit, putting down each of the handful of threatened mutinies with devastating speed and thoroughness - always maintaining full control of the situation. This speaks volumes of Moshe Rabeinu's unique powers of leadership, rendering him, beyond doubt, the greatest leader who ever lived.
In spite of this, there must have been some factor or factors which served to mould the B'nei Yisroel into such an incredibly orderly unit, who communally obeyed instructions at all times, or at worst, who were open to correction. Whether it was the various acts of rebellion, due to the lack of food, of water, or to the other travails of desert-travel, whether it was the episode of the golden calf or the spies, the rebellion of Korach or the immoral sin of Ba'al Pe'or, in each and every case, Moshe Rabeinu took control of the situation and, within twenty-four hours, the sinners had been reprimanded or punished and the nation had fully repented and was functioning as a unit once again.
Perhaps B'nei Yisroel were a weak-willed people who, after so many years of slavery, no longer had minds of their own. They had become a nation of 'softies', who couldn't say 'boo to a goose'. They were now a nation to whom obedience was second-nature, who were ready to follow their leader like lambs follow the shepherd, simply because they had no character - a nation devoid of personalities. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.
It is evident from numerous sources that whatever the B'nei Yisroel did, they did out of strong convictions, not due to a lack of them - leaving Egypt to follow Moshe and "Na'aseh ve'nishma" (publicly proclaimed by the whole of Klal Yisroel) are two cases in point. These displayed a strength of character unequalled by any other generation since. So if anything, it was their strength of character which served as the cause of their remarkable unity throughout the forty years in the desert, not their weakness.
Nor can we attribute that unity to a natural tendency towards amicable co-existence. Maybe they were simply peace-loving people to whom harmonious co-operation came naturally and instinctively. Maybe that was the secret ingredient, that led to the incredible team-spirit, resulting in turn, to "Na'aseh ve'nishma", the building of the Mishkon and the appointment of thousands of law-officers and policemen, inter alia, all of which were accomplished without a single dissentor.
That was most certainly not the case. If they attained levels of team-spirit unheard of by any other nation in any other era in history, it was despite their strong individualistic characters, not because of their tendency towards unity. And this is evident by the nature of those occasions when Klal Yisroel did rebel - this was clearly not the work of instinctive harmony-seekers. And besides, Rashi informs us I n Yisro (Sh'mos 19:2) that the only occasion on which they achieved total (quarrel-free) unity was at Har Sinai. All other encampments, points out Rashi (quoting the Mechilta), were accompanied by the usual petty grumbles and quarrels.
It seems that they were a nation comprising as many strong-willed, egotistical individuals as there were people. So it is all the more remarkable that Moshe Rabeinu succeeded in moulding them into the self-controlled disciplined unit that they became, and that they co-operated so fully with him in achieving this incredible feat. We have only to look at the South African Blacks, who were granted, not their freedom, but equal political rights, and the resulting chaos, the daily cases of murder, theft and rape that transformed South Africa into the most crime-riddled society in the world - to appreciate the magnitude of Klal Yisroel's feat in the desert.
There must have been some common goal that overshadowed any tendency for each person to go his own way and to create the anarchy that was to have been expected. And that common goal must have been more powerful than the combined wills of hundreds of thousands of men.
The most powerful act of selfless unity ever demonstrated by any nation was undoubtedly the proclamation of "Na'aseh ve'nishma!", pronounced by some three million people at Har Sinai 'like one man, with one heart. Those two words would change their lives and their life-styles forever, turning them into servants of G-d and subjugating them and their children till the end of time to do whatever G-d would ask of them.
Nor was this proclamation the result of a sudden inspiration, a sudden spontaneous decision on the part of Klal Yisroel to mend their ways and to become the nation of Hashem. The wording of that proclamation and the unequivocal and unanimous character of its expression may have been spontaneous, but the actual receiving of the Torah with all its ramifications was most certainly not. From the moment that Klal Yisroel were informed of the impending exodus from Egypt, they already knew that the objective of that exodus was to receive the Torah (which they knew to be the very purpose of the creation) at Har Sinai. That is why they counted the forty-nine days of the Omer, linking Pesach to Shevu'os and that is why, in the fever of supreme excitement that surounded their arrival at Har Sinai, they attained that unique level of unity currently under discussion.
Clearly then, it is the Torah that imbued them with that power of unity, enabling them to maintain at all times the communal discipline of which we have spoken - as Chazal have taught us: Yisroel, Torah and G-d are one - Torah is the force that unifies G-d and Yisroel.
Adapted from the Or Ha'Chayim
"Count the congregation of Yisroel" (1:2).
Rashi explains that Moshe was told to count the people now because Hashem placed His Shechinah upon them. On the first of Nisan the Mishkon was erected, and on the first of Iyar they were counted.
Bur surely, asks the Or ha'Chayim, if that is the reason that Hashem wanted them counted, He should have ordered Moshe to count them before the Mishkon was set up in Nisan, not afterwards?
To explain why Yisroel were counted in Iyar, the Or ha'Chayim first points out that in Pikudei, when Yisroel were counted after many of them had died following the sin of the Golden Calf, they numbered 603,550 - 3,550 more than when they left Egypt (in a matter of six months). This increase occurred in spite of the many thousands who had died in various forms of death that struck them because they had worshipped the Golden Calf.
In glaring contrast, in the counting that took place here, a full six months after that of Pikudei, they numbered exactly the same as they had then. How strange, he comments, that there had been not the slightest increase! And this is even more baffling when one considers that, for the entire duration of the construction of the Mishkon, not one Jew died, as the P'sikta writes. Then what happened to all those people who turned twenty during that period?
The Or ha'Chayim solves the mystery by pointing out that, whereas the tribe of Levi was included in the counting of Pikudei (in keeping with the Mishnah in Shekolim [1:3], which writes explicitly that the Levi'im gave a half-shekel too), they were not counted here, as the Torah clearly states (1:49).
That being the case, Klal Yisroel actually increased by more than 22,000 (the total number of Levi'im). This also explains, he says, why the Torah needed to stress that the Levi'im were not counted, a fact which is self-evident from the fact that no details are given of their being counted (as the Torah gives by all the other tribes). It can only be to dispel the obvious question as to how it is possible for Klal Yisroel not to have increased at all since the last count. So the Torah provides the answer - because this time, the Levi'im were not counted.
This also explains why G-d waited until Iyar to count them. He deliberately waited until their total (without the Levi'im) tallied with their total in Pikudei (with them) before having them counted, so that we should know by exactly how many they had increased.
The same P'sikta (that nobody died during the period that the Mishkon was being constructed) will also help to explain why the numbers here and in Pikudei tallied according to Rashi. Rashi maintains that 'the birthday' of every Jew in the desert was arbitrarilly designated the first of Tishri (Rosh Hashonoh). That being the case, nobody would have turned twenty between the count in Pikudei (which took place in Tishrei when they began donating for the Mishkon), and the count here (which took place in Iyar of the same year). Neither did anyone die between the two counts. So it is hardly surprising that their numbers remained unchanged.
A Strong Nation
"All those who go to war, you shall count" (1:20).
On every occasion that Yisroel were counted, the Torah sees fit to stress that it was those who went to war who were counted.
With a subtle twist, the Or ha'Chayim points out that the Torah is not telling us that the criterion for being counted was to be in the army, but rather that all those who were of age to be counted were fit to go to war. This was an incredible miracle, he concludes, the likes of which no other nation on earth has ever experienced.
Sorry, I'm Booked
The twenty-two thousand Levi'im (who were not first-born) redeemed twenty-two thousand of the first-born, and it was only the remaining two-hundred and seventy-three first-born who needed to pay five shekolim in order to be redeemed.
Why is it, asks the Or ha'Chayim, that the first-born of today need to be redeemed? Why can each first-born not be redeemed automatically by a Levi, like they were in the desert?
The reason for this is, he answers, because the moment a Levi redeemed a first-born, he and his offspring, until the end of time, were chosen to serve. Consequently, they were no longer available to redeem the other first-born in their respective generations.
When we brought the Korban Pesach in Egypt, we effectively accepted G-d as our King, and when we pronounced "Na'aseh ve'nishma" at Har Sinai, we undertook to do His bidding - exclusively. When He referred to us as "Am Segulah", a unique kind of relationship came into being. We became His servants, dedicated to serving Him, and He became our Master, dedicated to looking after our interests.
To enable us to serve G-d, He gave us a constitution, partly in writing, partly oral, a constitution which guides us in every facet of human endeavour. And to help us understand the constitution, He instructed us to follow the sages, and at different times in our history, the sages were aided by the Kohanim, the prophets, the kings and even by direct Divine guidance in the form of the Urim ve'Tumim.
All major decisions of national interest, such as the choosing of a king, or whether to go to war, were decided by the king, in conjunction with the Nevi'im, the Urim ve'Tumim and the Sanhedrin, but never by the people, and the reason for this is plain enough - our task is to perform the will of G-d, and the will of G-d can only be determined by those who are the most conversant in His ways, and as such, the most competent to present it. The will of the people is in no way a reflection of the will of G-d and is therefore not asked for, when determining what is expected of them. If anything, the people must learn to bend their will to that of the will of G-d as it is interpreted by their spiritual leaders, majority notwithstanding. Any alternative to that is inconceivable.
A great sage was once asked by a count, why the Jews do not follow the gentiles, who are in the majority. He replied that we only follow the majority when we are in doubt, but not when we know what is right. And it is precisely the same here. When we are in doubt, we ask our sages to clarify the situation. Having done so, their decision remains final and no majority, however sizeable, can change that.
Democracy was created to dispense with dictatorship, but when we have a hierarchy of sages who run the state by Torah-law which is Divine, there is no place for democracy.
It is noteworthy that, whenever the people tried to prevail upon their leaders to run their affairs their way, the result was disastrous. See what happened when, in the desert, the people took the law into their own hands, instead of consulting with Aharon and Chur, and built a Golden Calf!
See what happened when they decided to send spies, changing the agenda that G-d had prepared for them upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel.
And see what happened when the people confronted Shmuel and demanded a king, when, as Shmuel pointed out, Hashem was their King.
Each of these episodes ended tragically, with far-reaching repercussions that would effect us all deeply, right down to this day. Because granted, democracy might be preferable by far to dictatorship, but that is for the non-Jew, whose constitution is man-made and therefore fallible. As far as we Jews are concerned, our constitution is Divine, and therefore infallible. That being so, unbridled democracy borders on sacrilege, since it undermines the authority of the Torah, of the Torah-sages and even of G-d Himself.
Judaism teaches the importance of doing the will of Hashem, not the will of the people!
It is true that in today's society, in the absence of a powerful universally-accepted body of Torah sages, let alone prophets or kings, the only practical way of deciding certain issues, such as choosing a government, national or local, is through democratic vote. The moment however, the issue encroaches on anything that is rooted in the Torah, it leaves the realm of democracy. It is not subject to revision, overhaul or change. It lies totally and exclusively in the hands of the Torah-sages to interpret and in the hands of the people to carry it out.
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