Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 9   No. 31

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That's Why G-d Chose Us
(adapted from the Sha'ar bas Rabim)

When Yisrael received the Torah, the nations of the world became jealous of them. They wanted to know why Yisrael were chosen over and above them. But G-d silenced them by asking them to bring their family trees and compare them to those of Yisrael.

That is why, immediately after the Pasuk 'These are the Mitzvos which G-d commanded the B'nei Yisrael on Har Sinai' G-d asked Moshe to count Yisrael. Because Yisrael only merited to receive the Torah on account of their pure yichus (Yalkut).


Rashi in Pinchas (26:5) describes how, when the Torah came to list Yisrael's genealogy, the nations of the world derided them. 'Do you really think', they said mockingly, 'that the Egyptians had jurisdiction over their bodies and not over their wives'?

So what did Hashem do? He attached His holy Name to each name, "ha'Chanochi", "ha'Palu'i" and so on, a 'Hey' on one side and a 'Yud' on the other, a Divine testimony that every family was pure. Family purity (in the broader sense) is a trait that stands out in K'lal Yisrael over and above all the other nations. Because of it, we merited to receive the Torah.


The Sha'ar bas Rabim however, explains the Medrash quite differently. He cites the Gemara in Avodah-Zarah. The Gemara (2a) relates how, in the time of Mashi'ach, Hashem will place a Seifer-Torah in his lap and announce that whoever studied it should come and receive his reward. Immediately, says the Gemara, the gentile nations will come and complain that if Hashem had held the mountain over their heads like He did with K'lal Yisrael, they too, would have accepted it. They too would have studied it and become eligible for the same reward as Yisrael.

But Hashem will reply by pointing to the seven Mitzvos which the gentiles broke consistently. And if they found just seven Mitzvos too difficult to observe, He will ask them, how would they possibly have coped with six hundred and thirteen?


This can be compared to a father whose son and stepson fell ill. The doctor examined them and prescribed for each the same bitter medicine which they both refused to take. The father however, forced his son to take the medicine, and in a short time, he recovered. The stepson, whom he did not force, and who took a long time to shake off the illness, asked him why he had forced his stepbrother to take his medicine but not him. His father replied that, on a previous occasion when he had taken ill, and the doctor had prescribed a sweet-tasting medicine, he had spat it out and declined to take it. So he figured that if he displayed such sensitivity towards swallowing a sweet medicine, he would ever condescend to take a bitter one?


And that is what Hashem will answer the nations of the world. They will argue that although they assumed the Torah to be bitter, Hashem, who knows the truth, should have forced them to take it. 'Why did He not hold the mountain over their heads, they will ask, like He held it over the heads of Yisrael?

And Hashem will reply that He had once given them seven Mitzvos, which even they had to admit, were sweet. Yet they refused to keep them. So what was the point of holding the mountain over their heads, and of forcing them to accept the Torah? If they couldn't observe seven Mitzvos, how could they expect to keep six hundred and thirteen?


And that is what the Yalkut means, says the Sha'ar bas Rabim. In response to the query of the nations of the world (why they were not forced to accept Torah like Yisrael was), Hashem's reply was that they should bring, not their family tree, but their family history. He was telling them to take a look at how their fathers had failed when they were given a mere seven Mitzvos, and to contrast that with the fathers of Yisrael, who had undertaken to keep all the Taryag Mitzvos even without having been commanded. Little wonder then, that He had coerced Yisrael to accept the Torah, and not the nations of the world.


Yisrael inherited a legacy of sanctity from their fathers, who had served Hashem with all their heart and with all their soul. Consequently, deep inside they were basically good. If after that, they had some misgivings, the good inside them could be brought out with a little coercion. Not so the nations of the world, who inherited nothing from their fathers ('Bring Me your family-tree!'). They were rotten to the core, evil and impure. Consequently, forcing them to receive the Torah would have achieved nothing (Atzei Eiden and Me'orei Aish).


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the P'ninei Torah)

To Count or Not to Count

"And G-d spoke to Moshe ... " (1:1).

'Out of His love of them, Rashi explains, He counts them all the time. When they left Egypt, He counted them, and when they fell by the Eigel He counted them (to know how many remained). Then when He came to rest His Shechinah on them, He counted them again; on the first of Nisan the Mishkan was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them'.


The Pasuk in Hoshei'a (see opening Pasuk of the Haftarah) states "And the number of B'nei Yisrael will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because it is so numerous". In answer to the Kashya, that the Pasuk opens with "And the number will be", implying that Yisrael can be counted, and continues "which cannot be counted ... ", Chazal explain that one Pasuk refers to a time when Yisrael behave, the other, to a time when they do not.

Presumably, it is when they do not behave that they can be counted, and when they do, that they will be too numerous to count.

In that case, how can Rashi say that out of love, G-d counts Yisrael all the time, seeing as it is only when they have sinned that they can be counted?


The No'am Elimelech therefore, explains the Chazal the other way round. When they do not behave, he says, it is forbidden to count them, because, he says, compared to the nations of the world, they are so few that they become Bateil be'Rov. When they behave however, they may be counted, because, precious as jewels, they cannot become Bateil (they may be few quantitatively, but not qualitatively). According to the No'am Elimelech, it is not a matter of whether they can be counted, but whether they ought to be.


There are however, other ways of answering the original Kashya:
Perhaps what Rashi means is that, even when they misbehave, and need to be punished (as happened in the Desert), so intense is G-d's love, that, even then He counts them at every opportunity. Yes, they can be counted when they misbehave, and indeed, that is when G-d counts them.


Alternatively, the Pasuk in Hoshei'a is referring to the future (as the wording of the Pasuk suggests). Yisrael will increase at a tremendous rate. So much so, that when they behave, they will become innumerable, and even when they misbehave, they will be as numerous as the sand by the seashore. But in the desert, they had not yet reached that stage.


Strong and Healthy

"From twenty years and upwards all those who go out to the army in Yisrael" (1:3).

What the Pasuk seems to be saying, points out the Or ha'Chayim, is that all those who were counted were fit to be conscripted. An incredible miracle, he comments. Not one man was too weak or too ill to join the ranks! Which other nation could boast a hundred per cent conscription rate?

And that in spite of the back-breaking work that they had only recently been subjected to; work which, by normal standards, would have incapacitated many people, if not most.

No doubt, this was due, at least in part, to their special Divinely-prescribed diet - the Mon to eat and the water from Miriam's Well to drink.


Heads or Tails

" ... ish rosh le'veis avosav hu" (Each man shall be the head of his tribe" (1:4).

When Moshe appointed the leaders, he was not to choose people whose claim to fame was their Yichus (whose fathers had been leaders), but people who were themselves fit to lead.


Two Jews were once involved in an argument, when one of them began to boast about his Yichus.

'With you', his friend retorted, 'your Yichus ends; with me, it begins'!

And that explains the prayer that we say on Rosh Hashanah, asking G-d that 'we should be a head and not a tail'. This seems to clash with the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, that one should rather be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox). What we ask for on Rosh Hashanah is to begin a new line of Yichus, and not to end an old one.


When Rav Yosef from Rud'zin made Tena'im for his grandson with the daughter of Reb Hirsh from Riminov, he first listed his great Yichus and then asked Rav Hirsh to do the same. Rav Hirsh replied that he did not have an auspicious Yichus. His parents were both upright, simple Jews, who died when he was only ten, at which point he was apprenticed to a tailor to learn the trade. 'Two things my master taught me', he concluded. '1. 'Not to spoil new things, and 2. to repair old ones'. One must be careful to maintain one's Yichus, but one must be ready if necessary, to build a new one.


Gone Missing

"To the sons of Shimon ... their counted ones to the numbers of names ... " (1:22).

The word "their counted ones" ('pekudav') does not appear by any of the other tribes. Why does the Torah then use it specifically with regard to Shimon, asks the Birkas Avraham?

Perhaps, he suggests, it is because the tribe was destined to be decimated in the fortieth year, after the episode with Zimri ben Salu. The Torah is therefore hinting here that although this was the number of souls that there were now (rendering Shimon one of the largest tribes), this would change drastically later (to render them one of the smallest tribes).

We might add that the word "Pekudav" has connotions of missing (or being reduced), and that the Torah is therefore hinting that their numbers would later be reduced (see Ba'al ha'Turim Bereishis 50:24).


That's Why They Had to be Counted

"These are the counted ones whom Moshe and Aharon counted ... And the counted ones of Yisrael were ... And all the counted ones of Yisrael were" (1:44-46).

Why, asks the K'sav Sofer, does the Torah find it necessary to repeat the words "And the counted ones" three times?


In answer to this question, he first cites a Ramban. The Ramban gives three reasons as to why Yisrael were counted in the first place: 1. So that Moshe and Aharon should set their eyes on every Jew and ask for mercy from Hashem on his behalf (the source of going to a Rebbe with a k'vitel); 2. To ascertain who was fit to go into the army; 3. To demonstrate G-d's love of His people, who came down to Egypt numbering seventy souls, and left in the relatively short period of two hundred and ten years later, numbering more than six hundred thousand (not counting the eighty per-cent who died in the plague of darkness). And these three reasons are hinted in these Pesukim - 1. "These are the counted ones whom Moshe and Aharon counted; 2. And the counted ones of Yisrael were ... all those who would be conscripted to the army"; 3. "And all the counted ones of Yisrael were six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty".


Knowing Hashem in All One's Ways

"As they encamped so they traveled" (in the same formation) 2:17.

It is impossible to serve Hashem incessantly, without a moment's break. Each and every individual needs to rest in between one act of Avodah and another, or between one journey and the next (one perhaps, a little more, the other, a little less, but something ... ).

That is what the Pasuk means here "As they encamped ... " according to the way they encamped ("chonu" [they encamped] notice, contains the same letters as 'nochu' [they rested]), so they traveled. The better you rest, the better you travel!


Reb Shmelki from Nikolsberg would sleep sitting up, his candle held between his fingers, so that when it would burn down and the flame touched his hand, he would be forced to wake up.

One day, Rebbi Elimelech from Lizensk paid him a visit. He managed to prevail upon him to lie down and sleep, and he quietly went and closed the window.

The Rebbe slept soundly until the following morning. When upon awakening, he noticed that his mind was much more lucid than usual, he declared 'Now I understand that it is possible to serve Hashem even by sleeping'.


Coming to See

"And they (the B'nei Kehos) shall not come to see the Holy vessels being covered, and die" (4:20)


The Torah could have just written "And they shall not see". Why did it need to write "come to see"?

Rebbi Shlomoh Kluger explains this with the Halachah that one is only guilty of Me'ilah (benefiting from Hekdesh) if it was possible to have avoided doing so, but not if the pleasure was inevitable.

That is why the Torah writes "And they shall not come and see". If they would inadvertently see the Holy Vessels, they would not be liable, but if they came in order to see, they would be liable to die (at the Hand of G-d).



The Chronological order of events in the Chumash
(based mainly on the Seider ha'Doros)


Bamidbar & Naso

(Rosh Chodesh Iyar): G-d instructs Moshe to count Yisrael (between the ages of twenty and sixty). They number 603,550. ... The arranging of the four camps ... The Levi'im are counted independently (between the ages of one month and fifty); they number 22,000 ... The division of Levi into three Batei Avos, Gershon, Kehas and Merari ... Organizing the taking down of the Mishkan prior to traveling ... The Parshah of Gezel ha'Ger ... Sotah ... Nazir ... Birkas Kohanim (which must have been said before Rosh Chodesh Nisan - perhaps the three Parshiyos prior to it were too). The designation of the Levi'im to replace the Levi'im certainly was, since the actual ceremony in Beha'aloscha took place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, as we learned earlier.


(The 20th of Iyar): The Parshah of Camping and Traveling ... The two trumpets ...Yisrael leave Har Sinai (where they have been for ten days short of a year) ... The order of traveling ... They enter Midbar Paran ... Yisro accedes to Moshe's request and leaves together with them ... The Aron ha'Kodesh goes three days ahead of Yisrael ... "Vayehi bi'neso'a ha'Aron ... "
(the 22nd of Iyar): Yisrael grumble about the journeyings ... Kivros ha'Ta'avah. They complain that they want meat ... The seventy Elders, Eldad and Meidad ... Thirty days of quails ... Thousands die.


(the 22nd of Sivan): Chatzeiros ... Miriam and Aharon speak lashon ha'ra about Moshe ... Miriam is expelled from the camp for seven days.


(the 28th of Sivan): Yisrael travel from Chatzeiros. They arrive in Midbar Paran.


Sh'lach Lecha & Korach

(the 29th of Sivan): The episode with the Spies ... They spy the Land for forty days.


(the 8th of Av): The Spies return ... Yisrael cry that night. It is designated as a night of crying.


(the 9th of Av): The Ma'apilim: Some people, in defiance of Moshe, decide to go to Eretz Yisrael. They are attacked by the Amaleiki and the Cana'ani, who rout them ... The Parshiyos of Nesachim (drink-offerings) of Chalah, of the Sin-offering required for Avodah-Zarah transgressed inadvertently and of Tzitzis. The man who gathered wood on Shabbos (who some say was Tz'lafchad) is stoned to death.

Korach's rebellion occurs around this time ... The people complain again ... Aharon uses the Ketores to stop the ensuing plague, which takes 14,700 lives. The test of the sticks. Aharon's stick blossoms. The tribe of Levi is designated to help the Kohanim to guard the Mishkan ... The twenty-four Matnos Kehunah.


(the 17th of Ellul): The ten spies who brought the bad report of Eretz Yisrael die a horrible death.


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