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

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Vol. 10   No. 34

This issue is sponsored anonymously
in loving memory of our dear uncle
Yehudah ben Leib z.l.
on his first Yohrzeit

Parshas Bamidbar

The Four Camps

Rabeinu Bachye, describing the four camps (Yehudah, Reuven, Efrayim and Dan) in great detail and from various angles, explains the 'signs' referred to by the Pasuk as flags. Each flag was of a different colour (corresponding to the colour of its stone on the Choshen), and contained a picture (depicting a major characteristic of that particular tribe). The camp actually resembled the K'ruvim which Yechezkel saw (in his vision of Ma'aseh Merkavah). Indeed, the Medrash explains how Machaneh Yisrael is a replica of the Machaneh Shechinah, which Yisrael witnessed at Har Sinai, and their desire to emulate it was granted. Perhaps we always read this Parshah the week before Shevu'os precisely because it is so reminiscent of Ma'amad Har Sinai, and because it demonstrates so clearly that they attained their elevated status (like the angels that support G-d's throne), on account of their having accepted the Torah.

The flag of Yehudah was deep blue and contained the picture of a lion. It was flanked by Yisachar (blue, with a picture of the sun and the moon) and Zevulun (white, with a picture of a ship).

The flag of Reuven, which was red, contained the picture of mandrakes. It was flanked by Shimon (green, with the picture of Sh'chem ) and Gad (white and black, with a picture of troops).

The flag of Efrayim, which was deep black, contained the picture of an ox. It was flanked by Menasheh (deep black, with the picture of a bison [or a unicorn]), and Binyamin (a mixture of all the colours, with the picture of a wolf).

The flag of Dan, which was sapphire-blue, contained the picture of a snake. It was flanked by Asher (oil-green, with the picture of an olive-tree) and Naftali (diluted wine, with the picture of a gazelle).


Yehudah, whose camp reflected that of the Angel Gavriel (with Ezriel and Shamiel), signified power, whereas he, together with Yisachar and Zevulun were all Ba'alei Chochmah (which, as we see in the Amidah, always has first priority).

Reuven signified Teshuvah (of which Reuven was a leading proponent [the first to open the gates of salvation and mercy, when he saved Yosef]), which comes second to Chochmah. Together with Shimon and Gad, he reflected the camp of the Angel Micha'el, the Angel of mercy and Chesed (together with Chochviel and Pedi'el). Perhaps that is because Shimon (who was not blessed by Ya'akov) required an abundance of Divine Chesed, whereas Gad, who lived on the border, required constant Divine mercy.

In the middle was the Camp of Levi, comprising twenty-two thousand men, corresponding to the twenty-two thousand angels which surround the Shechinah, and which descended upon Har Sinai at the time of Matan Torah. The Levi'im (Moshe, Aharon and his sons on the east, Kehas on the south, Gershon on the west and Merari on the north) surrounded the Ohel Mo'ed on all four sides, just like the four camps surrounded them on all four sides (Yehudah on the east, Reuven on the south, Efrayim on the west and Dan on the north). Consequently, the Camp of Levi, as well as that of the Shechinah, was situated in the middle of Machaneh Yisrael.

Ephrayim together with Binyamin and Menasheh formed the camp of Gevurah (as the Pasuk writes in Tehilim "Before Efrayim, Binyamin and Menasheh arouse Your might"), since Gevurah comes after Torah and Teshuvah. And because Yeravam ben N'vat descended from Efrayim, they needed to be cured, which is why their camp symbolized that of Refa'el (together with Z'vadi'el and Achzi'el), and that is also why they encamped in the west, which is where the Shechinah (the antidote to idolatry) was situated.

Dan received the two golden calves that Yerav'am made. And because he brought darkness to the world with his idolatry, he camped in the north, where the sun never shines. And with him was Asher, who provided oil to light up the darkness, and Naftali, who was "satiated with goodwill and full of G-d's blessing", all to atone for that sin. And the corresponding angel is Uriel (the Angel of light, together with Daniel and Rema'el).


In fact, this order goes back to well before Matan Torah. As the Medrash explains, the twelve tribes encamped around the Mishkan, duplicated the order in which the sons of Ya'akov buried their father. Before he died, says the Medrash, Ya'akov ordered Yehudah, Yisachar and Zevulun to carry his coffin on the east, Reuven, Shimon and Gad, on the south, Efrayim, Menasheh and Binyamin on the west and Dan, Asher and Naftali, on the north. Yosef and Levi should not carry him, he said. It was not befitting for either of them to carry the coffin of a dead man, Yosef, because he was a king, and Levi, because he was destined to carry the Aron of the living G-d.

If they would obey his instructions, he added, they would later merit that the Shechinah would rest on their children in exactly the same way. Indeed, when Moshe came to arrange the camps, worried that Yisrael might not accept his arrangement, G-d reassured him that he had nothing to fear, since this arrangement was an age-old tradition, handed down to them from Ya'akov Avinu.


Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

What's in a (Jewish) Name!

"To their families to the house of their fathers, by the number of names" (1:2).

When the nations of the world queried why G-d favoured Yisrael over and above them, He replied "Bring Me your birth certificates, just like Yisrael brought theirs". Yisrael's lineage was pure. And that in turn, was the result of Yisrael's high standard of morality in Egypt, Chazal explain, a fact which could not be said about the gentiles.

And that in turn, was the result of the great efforts Yisrael made to remain different than the Egyptians, culturally. One of the things that this entailed was retaining their Jewish names, as Chazal have said, 'they went into Egypt as Reuven and Shimon, and they left as Reuven and Shimon, and not as Ruby and Simon.

And that is what the Pasuk is hinting here when it writes "To their families to the house of their fathers, by the number of names" - they attained the former, on account of the latter.


Multiple Reasons

"These are the numbers which Moshe and Aharon counted ... And all the numbers of Yisrael were - all those who went to war in Yisrael ... And their numbers totalled six hundred and three thousand . . . . " (1:44-46).

The Torah repeats the word numbers no less than three times, the K'sav Sofer observes.


He attributes this to the three reasons for counting Yisrael at this time. Firstly, in order to appear before Moshe and Aharon, be mentioned by name and receive a blessing from them, as the Ramban explains.

Secondly, in order to determine those who were fit to go to war, and thirdly, to inform them of G-d's kindness towards K'lal Yisrael, who entered Egypt with seventy souls, and left with six hundred thousand.

And that is why the first Pasuk mentions that they were counted by Moshe and Aharon, the second, that it was those who would go to war who were being counted, whilst the third Pasuk gives their total number.


The Tribe of Zevulun

"The tribe of Zevulun". (2:7).

When listing the four camps, the third tribe in each camp begins with a 'Vav' (i.e. "u'Mateh Gad", "u'Mateh Binyamin" and "u'Mateh Naftali"). The sole exception being Zevulun, which begins "Mateh Zevulun" .

The reason for this, says the Ba'al Haturim, is because the 'Vav' has connotations of being secondary, and the Torah wants to make it clear that Zevulun, who provided Yisachar with sustenance, were not considered secondary at all. They were equal partners with them, sharing in Yisachar's Torah just as Yisachar shared in their wealth.

The same idea is expressed in Zevachim (2a), where the Gemara speaks about Shimon Achi Azaryah. There too, Azaryah fully supported his brother Shimon. So, to stress the importance of someone who supports a Talmid-Chacham in this way, Chazal refer to Shimon as Shimon, the brother of Azaryah.


Interestingly, in next week's Parshah, we find the exact opposite Limud. The Torah, listing the inaugural sacrifices brought by each of the twelve princes, begins the list of each prince with the word "Korbono" ('his Korban was ... '). There is however, one exception. By the tribe of Yehudah, the Torah writes "ve'Korbono" (with a 'Vav'). This is in order to lower Nachshon ben Aminodov, Prince of Yehudah, a peg or two, to prevent the fact that he was honoured with being the first to bring his Korbanos from going to his head, and causing him to becomes conceited. So the Torah begins with the word "ve'Korbano", as if to say that the other princes brought their Korbanos, and he brought his too.


Of Things to Come

"And next to them (the tribe of Efrayim) was the tribe of Menasheh" (2"20).

By each of the second tribes in the four camps (Yisachar, Shimon and Asher), the Torah writes "And the one that camped next to them" [ve'ha'chonim olov]). Why, by Menasheh, asks the Meshech Chochmah, does the Torah omit the word "ve'ha'chonim"? To answer the question, he says, let us compare the respective numbers of Efrayim and Menasheh at this count, with the equivalent numbers at the count in Pinchas, forty years later.

At this count, Efrayim totaled forty thousand, five hundred, and Menasheh, thirty-two thousand. Whereas in Pinchas, Efrayim had dropped to thirty-two thousand, and Menasheh had jumped to fifty two thousand, seven hundred (which is why the Torah places Menasheh before Efrayim there, he adds).

The Torah omits "ve'ha'chonim", the Meshech Chochmah concludes, in order to begin with the word "ve'olov", which has connotations of climbing, because Menasheh was destined to climb ahead of Efrayim in numbers.

And that is what the Torah is hinting here.


Two Halves Make . . .

"And Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem ... " (3:4).

Why, asks the Sh'nos Chayim, does the Torah write the word "died" in the singular ("va'yomos"), instead of in the plural ("va'yomusu"), which would have been grammatically correct?

And he answers according to the opinion that they died because they did not marry. An unmarried person, as is well known, is considered like half a person. Consequently, it was really two half people who died. Consequently, the use of the singular form here, actually hints at the sin that caused their death, for had they married (and become two people), they would not have died.


Perhaps one can also ascribe the singular application of "va'yomos" to the fact that they died from the same stroke at exactly the same moment, giving the impression that they died one death, and not two.


Two Heads

"Count the B'nei Levi" (3:13).

Why does the Torah not use the word "le'gulgelosam" (according to their heads [which it uses constantly when counting the other tribes]) when counting the tribe of levi?

The answer, says the Tif'eres Yonasan, lies in Chazal's statement that although it is not uncommon for a baby to be born with two heads, it is unusual for it to survive longer than twelve months.

The other tribes were counted from the age of twenty, by which time anybody born with two heads would have died.

Levi on the other hand, were counted from one month, leaving open the possibility that there were among them some babies with two heads. Assuming that the Torah counts a child with two heads as one person, it would have caused problems to have written "le'gulgelosom", which suggests that a baby with two heads should count as two people. See also Rabeinu Bachye (1:20)


Clearing the Mizbei'ach

"And they shall clear the ashes from the Mizbei'ach and spread over it a purple cloth" (4:13).

This Pasuk supports the Rishonim who hold that although the removal of one shovel-full of ashes from the Mizbei'ach each day was a Mitzvah, clearing the rest of the ashes from the Mizbei'ach was not (see Rambam and commentaries, Temidin u'Musafin 3:13). Because the very fact that the Torah issued a command to clear the Mizbei'ach when they travel, implies that on other days, it was not necessary to do so (Rav Shpiegelglass).

The proof does not seem to me to be conclusive however, because it does not contend with the possibility that they might have been ordered to break camp in the afternoon, say.

In that case, there would already have been a small accumulation of ashes on the Mizbei'ach, which would normally have been cleared the following morning, but which they now had to clear before they traveled.


Saving the B'nei Kehos

"Do not cause them (the B'nei Kehos) to die ... And this is what you shall do to them so that they shall live ... And they will not come to see ... " (4:18-20).

It seems from the commentaries (see Seforno and Chizkuni) that the Torah issued two commands to ensure that the B'nei Kehos did not, in their eagerness a. to perform the Mitzvah of carrying the holy vessels of the Mishkan and b. of carrying the Aron ha'Kodesh, forfeit their lives.

Firstly, it ordered Aharon and his sons to enter the Mishkan first, on their own, to dismantle it, before the Levi'im even arrived. And secondly, Aharon and his sons alloted each ben Kehos a specific task, so that he knew already in advance which vessel he would have to carry. In this way, each of the B'nei Kehos would enter the Mishkan in orderly fashion and take up his position next to the vessel that he was meant to carry. In this way, many lives were saved.


The Amidah

(based mainly on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")

Ki Lo Samu Chasodecho - me'Olam - Kivinu Lach

The Iyun Tefilah offers two explanations to the word 'me'olom'. It might form a phrase together with the words that follow it 'We will always long for You (in which case it has connotations of 'le'olom') or 'we have always longed for You'. Or it might go together with the words that precede it 'And the Mercifuil One whose kindnesses last forever, we long for You'. The Ya'avatz opts for the latter interpretation, which is based on a Pasuk in Tehilim (25:6).


It seems to me however, that the words 'We long for you', is too curt, and is not the style that Chazal usually adopt in Tefilah. In any event, the Nusach Ari, which adds the word 'ki' (ki'me'olam kivinu lach'), precludes the second interpretation entirely.


ve'al Kulam Yisborach ...

The Iyun Tefilah remarks that one ought to read, not 'Yisborach ve'yisromam', but 'yisborech ve'yisromem', since the only time these words occur in T'nach is in Yeshayah (65:16), where they are spelt with a 'Tzeirei' and not with a 'Patach'. Presumably, the same will apply to the same words that appear in Kaddish. Interestingly enough, although many people read the first two words of Kadish with a 'Tzeirei', few do so here, or on the same words in Kadish.


The Eitz Yosef explains the words much in the same way as Chazal explain 'noro sehilos', namely, that however many praises and thanks we utter, Hashem's is exalted still higher, and he cites the Pasuk in Nechemyah (9:5) ''They will bless Your honoured Name, which is blessed and exalted over and above all blessings and praises".


Tamid le'Olom Vo'ed

'Incessantly', the Eitz Yosef explains. We will praise Hashem without a break, and what's more, we will do so forever, until the end of time.


ve'Chol ha'Chayim Yoducho Sela

The word 'Chayim', the Eitz Yosef points out, is formed from the first letters of the four words 'Chovush, Yisurim, Yam and Midbar (captured, suffering, sea and desert), the four troubles for which one recites Birchas ha'Gomel , to thank G-d for having saved him from them.

The source of these words, he adds, is Chizkiyahu ha'Melech, the first person to recover from an illness. When he got up from his sick-bed, he thanked G-d, and said " ... because from the grave one does not thank You, nor do the dead praise You. Those who are alive, like myself, will thank You today".

And that also explains the continuation of the B'rachah 'and they will praise Your Name '.


ha'Tov Shimcho

Hashem's Name is 'Tov', because that is the essence of His being, as we say in 'Ashrei' "G-d is good to all, and His mercy extends to all His creations".


u'Lecho No'eh Lehodos

Chazal warn against speaking the praises of a human being, for fear that one will come to speak bad about him (and there is no such person who does not possess some fault or other). That is why we conclude the B'rachah "because Your Name is Good, and You it is nice to praise". G-d is unique, in that He has no faults, and there is not the least concern that one might start speaking about them (Eitz Yosef).


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