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

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Vol. 11   No. 31

This section is sponsored by the
Jaeger and Peters Families
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l'iluy Nishmas
Alexander Zysha ben Meir z.l.
whose Yohrzeit is on 27th Iyar. b.h.

Parshas Bamidbar
Incorporating Shavu'os

Counting Yisrael

Rashi at the beginning of the Parshah, explains that when counting Yisrael, one is obligated to give half a Shekel. The half-Shekel is really arbitrary. The main thing is those who are being counted give something, to avoid a head count. That is why, on the two occasions that King Shaul counted the people (both in wars against the Plishtim), he ordered the soldiers to give once, lambs, and once, pieces of clay (see Rashi Shmuel 1 11:8), which he then counted.

Rashi also writes that from the fact that the Torah gives the minimum age at which a person could be counted as twenty, adding the words "all those who go out to war", the Torah is also teaching us that the age of conscription is twenty. The Ramban queries Rashi's interpretation of the words "Yotze Tzovo". He suggests that the Torah is not referring here to war at all, but to the minimum age that a young person is eligible to attend meetings, because, he explains, every gathering of people is called 'Tzovo' (and he illustrates this with a number of examples).

Be that as it may, the Torah teaches us here that someone who is below the age of twenty is not eligible to be counted, in addition to the prohibition of counting directly, even people who have reached the age of twenty,. And regarding this latter point, the Torah is even more explicit in Ki Sisa, where it writes that counting Yisrael by means of the half-Shekel, and not directly prevents the outbreak of a plague.


David Hamelech did count Yisrael, and a plague did ensue. The Ramban in Bamidbar explains that it is highly unlikely that David would have erred so blatantly as to commit a sin about which the Torah specifically implies that a plague will ensue. The Ramban's contention is interesting, in view of the Pasuk (Shmuel 1 24:1), which attributes David's sin to G-d Himself, who was angry with Yisrael (for having rebelled against David), so He sent the Satan to induce David to count Yisrael, in order to be able to punish them for their sins. In that case, seeing as David was not acting of his own mind, but under Divine influence, the Ramban's point is not clear - unless we explain that in spite of that, David would not have sinned quite as blatantly, or to put it differently, G-d would not have caused David to sin in a way that was so blatantly against Torah law, or perhaps He would not have wanted David Melech Yisrael, to portray himself in such a poor light by doing something that was so obviously wrong.


In Ki Sisa, the Ramban suggests that perhaps David erred in thinking that the prohibition of counting directly was confined to the occasion that Yisrael built the Mishkan, but not to later generations. But in the current Parshah, he finds this version of David's error unacceptable. And what's more, even if we were to explain that this is what G-d put into his head, he adds, on what grounds did Yo'av, who did in fact protest mildly, agree to carry out his instructions? There can be no question that one is not obligated to obey instructions, irrespective of who issued them, if they contravene Torah law, in which case Yo'av ought to have refused. Better still, what was to stop him from asking the people for a half-Shekel per head (which would have prevented the ensuing plague from breaking out).

Consequently, the Ramban suggests there that David's sin was based on one of two other errors, neither of which is quite as explicit in the Torah as counting the people directly.

Either, he suggests, David counted the people without any justified reason, only because he had a sudden urge to know how many subjects he had. This explanation (which is the one that the Radak adopts there) is borne out by the words of Yo'av's protest "May G-d increase the people ... a hundredfold, why does my master the king want to do this?" And he even quotes a Medrash Rabah that explains it in this way.

Or else, he counted them from the age of thirteen, and not from the prescribed age of twenty, as we explained earlier. And when the Pasuk concludes that their number totaled one million, one hundred thousand swordsman, the Pasuk does not mean that they were all of military age, but that he only counted those who were strong and were either fit to wield a sword at that time, or they would be when they came of age.

In spite of all this, however, the Ramban ends up citing the Gemara in Brachos (62b), which specifically ascribes David's sin to the fact that he made a head count, and did not ask for a half-Shekel (and this is also how the Metzudas David explains David's error).

If that is so, then both David and Yo'av erred. And this can be understood in one of two ways. We can either ascribe the error to the Ramban's theory that the prohibition applied only to that time, or to the fact that they were simply under the influence of the Divine will, as we already explained.

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Parshah Pearls

Reuven and Shimon's Atonement

"... by the number of names, according to their heads (le'gulgelosam) " (1:20).

The Torah uses this word with regard to the tribes of Reuven and Shimon exclusively, the Rosh observes. And the reason for that, he says, is because Ya'akov rebuked them severely, when he blessed his other sons, and they now needed a kaporoh for their respective sins (Levi had been severely rebuked by Ya'akov too, only he and his tribe had made amends through their virtuous behaviour in Egypt, as we have explained on other occasions, and no longer required a Koporah [see also 'Hashem Responds' which follows]). So the Torah uses the word "le'gulgelosam", the same word that it uses in connection with the half-Shekalim, which come to atone.


Hashem Responds

"Only do not count the tribe of Levi" (1:49).

This was in order to preclude them from the impending decree that Yisrael would die in the desert and not enter Eretz Yisrael, because they were G-d's special legion (see Rashi).

To explain how they earned such a distinction, the Rosh cites a Gemara in Yuma (38b) that when someone brings himself a little close to G-d, G-d brings him closer still. The tribe of Levi came close to Hashem, in response to Moshe's call "Whoever is for Hashem, come to me", so Hashem responded by bringing them very close to Him. So much so, that He entrusted the sanctity of the Sanctuary to no-one but them.


Ya'akov Set the Scene

"Each man by his flag, according to the signs" (2:2).

What does the Torah mean by "the signs", asks the Rosh?

The Medrash describes Ya'akov Avinu's instructions concerning his burial to his children before he died.

They were to carry his coffin with utmost dignity, he told them. Neither an Egyptian nor any of their children, some of whose mothers were Cana'anite women, were to touch it. Only they were permitted to transport it; Yehudah, Yisachar and Zevulun 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 was not to carry it since he was a king, and Levi, because he was later destined to carry the Aron ha'Kodesh (and it was not befitting for him now to carry the Aron of a dead person).

And the time will come, Ya'akov added, that G-d would rest His Shechinah among them, and arrange them in exactly the same formation.

His sons followed his instructions, and the time had now arrived to arrange the Camp of Yisrael in the prescribed manner. When G-d told Moshe to do so, the latter (who for some reason did not seem to know about the above episode) expressed concern that the people would begin to squabble over who would encamp where. If he will instruct so and so to encamp in the east, he argued, he will want to camp in the south ... . Indeed, Moshe knew the Jewish character well (see Rashi, Devarim 1:12).

But G-d reassured him that he need not worry. In fact, Yisrael did not even need Moshe to tell them where to camp, because they already had exact instructions from their father Ya'akov, regarding the location of each tribe, and they all fell into line immediately.


Yehudah Comes First

"And those who encamped on the east ... the flag of the Camp of Yehudah" (2:3).

Yehudah always came first, says the Rosh. Their Nasi (Nachshon ben Aminadav) was the first to bring his Korban (Naso 7:12); Yehudah was the first to go to war (Shoftim 1:2); and Yehudah will be the first to receive the news of the coming of Mashiach (Nachum 2:1 [may this take place soon]).

And that explains, he writes, why a little earlier in the Parshah, when the Torah is presenting us with the numbers in each tribe, it finds it necessary to write "And the sons of Reuven, the firstborn of Yisrael were ..." (a seemingly superfluous piece of information). It is to explain why there, the Torah exceptionally begins the list with Reuven and not Yehudah.


Advance Information

"All the counted ones of the Levi'im ... were twenty-two thousand" (3:39).

It was no coincidence that G-d descended on Har Sinai with twenty-two thousand angels (see Tehilim 68:18), the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos explains.

He foresaw that the rest of Klal Yisrael would sin by the Golden Calf, and that the tribe of Levi would not. So He took with him angels corresponding to the tribe of Levi.


For the Love of Yisrael

"Count for Me all the firstborn males of B'nei Yisrael" (3:40).

'For the love of Yisrael', says the Rosh quoting a Medrash (quoting Hashem), 'I changed the order of things. I wrote in the Torah "And the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb". Yet I did the opposite. I redeemed a lamb with a donkey. Yisrael are called a lamb (Yirmiyah 3:17), and the Egyptians, a donkey (Yechezkel 23:20); and I killed the Egyptian firstborn, and sanctified the firstborn of Yisrael'.


Bechorei Yisrael Yes,
Bechorei Levi No!

"And you shall take five Shekalim per head (for each of the two hundred and seventy-three Bechorim who remained un-redeemed)" (3:47). And this Mitzvah remains in effect in every generation. Every firstborn who is born requires redemption. The question arises, asks the Rosh, why the Levi'im do not also continue to redeem their firstborn Levi'im, like they did in the desert?

And he answers, because every Levi who is born is a direct descendent of the original Levi'im, who were already redeemed then. Whereas the firstborn of Yisrael are not necessarily descendents of those who were redeemed in the desert (and even those who are, are unknown).


A Double Miracle

"And Moshe took the money of the redemption from the additional ones" (3:49).

Rashi explains how Moshe wrote on twenty-two thousand pieces of paper 'ben Levi', and on another two hundred and seventy-three pieces he wrote 'five Shekalim', all of which he placed in a box, and mixed. Each firstborn then came and drew a lot from the box (according to the Rosh, it was the firstborn's father who drew the lot on behalf of his son).

That is the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah. In the Medrash. Rebbi Nechemyah argues that the lot would only be absolutely fair if there were as many pieces of paper that contained' five Shekalim' as there were that contained 'ben Levi'. Consequently, Moshe had to write two sets of twenty-two thousand, two hundred and seventy-three papers; on one of which he wrote 'ben Levi', and on the other, 'five Shekalim', following which each Bechor drew one piece of paper from the box.

The problem with this is what would happen say, if all the Levi'im drew 'ben Levi' or if they all drew 'five Shekalim'. The answer he says, is that this simply did not happen. This lot (like all lots), was Divinely inspired, and G-d made sure that twenty-two thousand firstborn drew 'ben Levi', and the remaining two hundred and seventy-three, 'five Shekalim'. Another one of an endless stream of open miracles that Yisrael witnessed in the desert!

* * *


(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 307:
To Bring a New Korban from Wheat on Shavu'os

It is a Mitzvah to bring on Shavu'os, two Chametz loaves from the new crop of wheat. The Torah refers to this as a 'new Minchah', as it writes in Emor (23:16-17) " ... and you shall bring a new Minchah to Hashem. From your dwellings you shall bring as a wave-offering, two loaves consisting of two tenths of an Eifah".

This is how the loaves were prepared. They would bring three Sa'ah of new wheat, which they would rub and then beat by hand (as they did with all Menachos). Then they would grind it and sift it twelve times in twelve different sieves. After forming the sifted flour into two loaves, they would place yeast into the baking tin. Each loaf was seven Tefachim long and four Tefachim wide, and its height, four finger-breadths. They were square-shaped (not rounded), and had to be baked before Yom-Tov. On the following day, once they had been waved, they were eaten by the Kohanim during the day and up to mid-night of Motza'ei Yom-Tov.

This Minchah was the first of the Menachos that were brought from the new wheat-harvest.

Together with the loaves, they would bring seven lambs, one bull and two rams as an Olah, one goat as a Chatas and two lambs as a Shelamim. Besides this set of Korbanos (which is specified in Emor 23:13) they also had to bring the Musaf -offering of the day, consisting of two bulls, one ram and seven lambs as a burned-offering, and a goat as a sin-offering (as prescribed in Parshas Pinchas). After the loaves had been waved, they were eaten by the Kohanim together with the Shelamim.

A reason for the Mitzvah the author already elaborated on in the Mitzvah of Sefiras ha'Omer (Mitzvah 306), where he based it on the importance of the Torah which was given to us on that day.

Another reason that incorporates the Omer and the Sh'tei ha'Lechem he bases on the fact that the former comprises barley flour and the latter, wheat loaves. Wheat is basically a human food, in which case it needs to be prepared in a way that human beings generally benefit from it. Barley on the other hand, is animal fodder, and it does not therefore, require the same sort of preparation. And as the author already explained with regard to the Korbanos in general, a person's heart is aroused in accordance with the deed that he performs and the way in which he performs it. The more Chashuv the Korban, the more his heart becomes aroused. Presumably, the author is referring to the fact that on Pesach, before the Torah was given, we were like animals, only attaining the level of human beings (the purpose of the Creation) on Shavu'os, when we received the Torah. And that is the thought process which is sparked off by the difference between these two Menachos.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... that if new wheat is not to be found, one brings wheat 'from the attic' ...and that one should not use wheat that was brought by thick clouds, because it is not clear whether it falls under the category of "from your dwellings" required by the Torah. Bedi'eved however, one has fulfilled one's duty even if one did ... the kneading of the dough and the shaping had to be performed outside the Azarah, and the baking, inside, like all other Menachos ... the baking of the Sh'tei ha'Lechem does not over-ride Yom-Tov (let alone Shabbos), because, regarding cooking on Yom-Tov the Torah writes "Lochem" (from which Chazal extrapolate "Lochem", 've'Lo li'Gavohah' (for your needs, but not for Hashem's).

The waving of the lambs is performed whilst they are still alive ... the Kohen Gadol takes one of the two loaves, the second is divided among the twenty-four groups of Kohanim who serve in rotation in the Beis- Hamikdash on a weekly basis. The remaining details are recorded in the 4th, 5th, 8th and 11th chapters of Menachos (Chapter 6, Hilchos Temidim u'Musafim in the Rambam).

This Mitzvah applies when the Beis-Hamikdash is standing, to men but not to women. The author then refers here to what he wrote in connection with the Omer. This is what he wrote there:

And even Yisre'eilim are obligated to assist in fulfilling this Mitzvah, like the emissaries of Beis-Din, who would go into the fields the night before (the night of Erev Pesach), prior to its cutting, and prepare sheaves of wheat for cutting, as the Gemara explains in Menachos. The main obligation however is bringing the Minchah, waving it, bringing it next to the Mizbei'ach and taking the Kemitzah from it and burning it on the Mizbei'ach, all of which may only be performed by Kohanim. Nevertheless, since all Yisrael do have a part in it, as we just explained, and what's more, the basis of the Mitzvah is connected with the new crops, something which everybody needs, we can safely list it among the Mitzvos that are incumbent on the whole of B'nei Yisrael.


Mitzvah 404:
To Bring the Korban Musaf On Shavu'os

Yisrael are commanded to bring the Korban Musaf on the day of Shavu'os, which is the sixth of Sivan, as the Torah writes in Pinchas (26:26-30) "And on the day of Bikurim, when you bring a new Minchah to Hashem, on your festival of weeks ... ". A reason for the Mitzvah - The author already explained in Mitzvah 299 (to bring the Musaf on Pesach) that by bringing a special Korban in honour of Yom-Tov, it drives home the fact that Yom-Tov is a special day, prompting a person to treat the day accordingly.

This Mitzvah applies when the Beis-Hamikdash is standing, to male Kohanim only. If they contravened it and failed to bring the Korban Musaf in its right time, they have annulled a Mitzvas Asei, and they will have to bear their sin. The rest of Yisrael are absolved, because it is the Kohanim who bear the brunt of the Mitzvah of Korbanos. However, should a Yisrael be aware of the deficiency, and remain silent, he too, shares in the guilt, because ultimately, all the matters of the Beis-Hamikdash are the responsibility of the whole of Yisrael, and this is particularly true of the Korban Tamid and the Musaf.

* * *

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Fire, Water and Desert

The Medrash tells us that the Torah was given with three things: with fire, as the Torah writes "because Hashem descended upon it with fire" (Sh'mos 19:18); with water, as the Torah writes "the land trembled, and also the heaven ... dripped water" (Shoftim 5:4); and in the desert.

This teaches us, the Medrash concludes, that Torah, just like these three things, is Hefker. The message here is twofold. Firstly, it teaches us that nobody has the right to monopolize Torah (perhaps it even hints at what Chazal say that just as G-d gave us the Torah free of charge, so too, are we obligated to teach it to others free of charge [like something that is Hefker]). And secondly, it teaches us that Torah is easily available to everybody, provided one applies oneself. Just as nobody has any good reason not to acquire a precious Hefker object, so too, does one have no excuse not to acquire Torah. True, not everybody has a Gemara kop (though many people would discover that they have, once they gave it a fair try). Nevertheless, if one cannot learn Gemara, then what's to stop him from learning Mishnah, Halachah, Medrash, or Chumash. Maybe he will argue, he doesnt have a kop to learn at all ...

The Medrash tells the story of a fisherman who explained to Eliyahu ha'Navi that he was incapable of studing Torah, because he was not intelligent.

'Tell me', Eliyahu responded, 'What is your profession?'

'I am a fisherman', he answered.

'And how do you catch fish?'

The fisherman proceeded to explain to Eliyahu how one catches fish and, in response to his next question, how to make nets. 'Now tell me', said Eliyahu, 'Do you not think that the same G-d who issued you with the brains to do all that, cannot issue you with the brains to study Torah?'

It is really a matter of willpower, as Chazal have taught 'Nothing can stand before a person's determination!' And if one's determination is not that strong, there is always Tefilah, which they say, achieves half ('Tefilah osah mechtzah'). Notice how the word tefilah spells 'Helft' backwards, which at one and the same time, is the Yiddish word for 'half' and for 'help'.

And if for whatever reason, that does not work, there are always tears, about which Chazal say'The gates of tears are never shut'.


And here's another possible reason as to why the Chachamim picked specifically these three elements to describe Matan Torah.

It is well-known that the basis of Torah is good Midos, which Torah helps develop, whilst at the same time, it helps overcome the bad ones, for so Chazal said (Kidushin 30b) 'I created the Yeitzer ha'Ra and I created Torah as the antidote'. Rebbi Chayim Vital explains that, based on the four elements, fire, water, wind and earth, the four basic bad Midos are pride, desire, evil speech and despondency. The equivalent good Midos being humility, satisfied with one's lot, speaking Divrei Torah and Simchah.

That being the case, it would appear that the three elements of which we are speaking, fire, water and earth, correspond exactly to the Midos of pride, desire and despondency, which the Torah was given to counter, whilst the Torah itself is corresponds to the Midah of bad speech, for which it is the Tikun (remedy). And it corresponds to the wind, the fourth element with which G-d created the world.

* * *

Shavu'os Sapphires

(Adapted from the Ta'amei ha'Minhagim)

Ani le'Dodi ve'Dodi Li

Besides the obvious seven weeks of the Omer that precede Shavu'os, firmly linking it to Pesach, there are two reasons for the name 'Shavu'os', says the Ta'amei ha'Minhagim. 1. Because, following our acceptance of the Torah, G-d swore that He would never exchange us for any other nation whilst we swore that we would never adopt any other deity; 2. Because before receiving the Torah, Yisrael counted seven weeks, like a woman who needs to count seven clean days before she becomes Tahor for her husband. This teaches us that, first we need to separate from our Tum'os and adopt a pure heart. Only then will we be ready to receive the Torah.


Trees and Plants

The reason that we place trees in Shul on Shavu'os, is to remind us that on Shavu'os, G-d judges us on the fruit of the trees, so that we should Daven for a successful fruit harvest (Magen Avraham). The G'ro however, negated this Minhag, due to the gentile custom of placing trees in their houses on one of their festivals.

It is also customary to scatter vegetation in Shul and in the house, says the Levush, to remind us of Har Sinai, about which the Torah writes "also the sheep and the cattle shall not graze in front of that mountain", a clear indication that the area of Har Sinai contained pasture land for the animals.

Come to think of it, the fact that Yisrael were able to feed millions of sheep and cattle over the forty years in the desert (aside from the miracle of the Manna, which was not used to feed the animals), constituted a major miracle in its own right.


With Thunder and Flashes of Lightning

To explain why Matan Torah was accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning, the Divrei Shaul quotes the Ya'avetz, who writes in his Sidur that people came out of the sea and proceeded to sing with such sweetness that, if they had not begun to beat on drums to drown the sound, the listeners' souls would have left their bodies.

And if that is true of the voices of human beings, says the Divrei Shaul, imagine the effect that the sweet sound of G-d's Voice would have had on the people. So He arranged for thunder and lightning flashes, to offset the sweetness of His Voice.


Two in One

In one of the Piyutim for Shavu'os, the Paytan wrote 'And they opened their mouths and they said 'Hashem is One'. Now when did Yisrael say that, asks Rebbi Shalom mi'Belz?

The answer lies in the Gemara in Makos (24a) which explains that we heard "Anochi" and "Lo Yihyeh Lecha" from G-d's Mouth directly. You see, after each Dibur (commandment of the Aseres ha'Dibros), Yisrael responded with either 'Yes!' or 'No!', whichever was appropriate. This was not however, possible, in the case of the first two Dibros, which G-d said simultaneously, and after which neither 'Yes!' nor 'No!' was appropriate. So they responded with 'Hashem Echad!', incorporating both.


The Importance of - Me!

Why did G-d recite the Aseres ha'Dibros in the singular, asks Rebbi David Deitsch?

He explains that when it comes to responsibilities, people tend to play down their own importance. After all they say, there are plenty of angels in heaven and Tzadikim on earth who serve Hashem with great fervour, so what difference will it make if (little) me - (a title that one reserves for the odd occasions that involve responsibility) joins their ranks or not?

Therefore G-d said "I am Hashem your G-d ... ", obligating each and every Jew to behave as if he was the last, surviving Jew, and to believe that if he fails to serve Hashem, then nobody will.


Yisrael's Saving Grace

Reb Dov Baer from Mezritch cites Chazal's interpretation of the use of the singular during the Eseres Hadibros. Chazal describe how Moshe Rabeinu pleaded with Hashem to forgive Yisrael, seeing as Hashem had spoken personally to him and not to the rest of K'lal Yisrael, when He announced "Anochi Hashem Elokecho" (and not 'Elokeichem').

And he explains with this the Pasuk in Va'eschanan, where Moshe told the people "I stood between Hashem and you, and you did not ascend the mountain, saying ... I am Hashem your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt ... ".

Now the word "saying" appears meaningless. However, he explains, Moshe was reminding Yisrael of G-d's kindness in allowing him alone to ascend Har Sinai, forbidding them to join him, so that He could say "Anochi Hashem Elokecha". For this is what gave Moshe the opening to defend their worshipping of the Golden Calf with the argument that "Anochi" and "Lo yih'yeh lecho" was never said to them in the first place. It was their saving grace.

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