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

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Vol. 12   No. 36

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Parshas Bamidbar

The Firstborn are Mine

"Because I acquired all the firstborn; I sanctified them for Myself on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt ..." (3:33).

The K'li Yakar questions the significance of this statement. It cannot mean that G-d chose the firstborn at that time, raising their status by designating them to serve Him in the Beis-Hamikdash, since we know from the story of Ya'akov and Eisav that this was a role filled by the firstborn from time immemorial. And besides, he says, the appointment in Egypt consisted of nothing more than an obligation to be redeemed of five Sela'im (though neither the amount nor to whom it should be paid, are mentioned there). There is nothing there to suggest any sort of appointment to an elevated status. That being the case, he asks, what is the connection between the 'appointment' of the Bechorim there and the current appointment of the Levi'im, which was indeed a raise in status?

Perhaps, he suggests, the appointment of the Levi'im was not an elevation in status either. Perhaps G-d was placing upon them the yoke of serving Aharon and the Kohanim, (as the Torah writes "They are given to him") replacing the yoke of redemption that he placed around the neck of the Bechorim?

But that too, is not feasible, he says. If G-d 'burdened' the latter in order to save them from the plague of Makas Bechoros (a merit which they would not otherwise have deserved), on what basis did He 'burden' the Levi'im? Is it perhaps because they did not participate in the worship of the Eigel?!


Before proceeding with the K'li Yakar's own explanation, let us take a look at that of the Seforno, who offers his own unique approach, which in fact, solves the K'li Yakar's problem.

The Jewish firstborn, the Seforno explains, were not guilty of sinning any more than the rest of K'lal Yisrael. However, being the most prominent members of the community, they deserved to be punished for the sins of that generation.

Consequently, when G-d killed all the firstborn in Egypt, they were not worthy of being saved from the widespread plague (as the Angel of Egypt would later argue at the Yam-Suf - 'These worshipped idols and these worshipped idols! Why does the one merit salvation more than the other?') So what did G-d do? He sanctified them for Himself, on the one hand elevating their status by designating them for His own Holy service, and on the other, rendering them forbidden to perform any mundane work (like a Hekdesh animal, which may not be shorn or worked with). And to enable them to indulge in their personal activities, He placed on them a Din of redemption, like Hekdesh, that re-enters the realm of Chulin upon redemption. Now this redemption may have permitted them to indulge in their own activities; it did not however, free them from the holy service, which they were destined to enter after Matan Torah. Only due to their participation in the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d rejected them and chose the tribe of Levi in their stead.


It seems to me that, according to the Seforno, the firstborn were destined to serve Hashem even before Makas Bechoros (as the K'li Yakar pointed out, and as the Seforno himself indicates by commenting on the opening words of the Pasuk 'The Avodah belonged to the Bechoros already before'). Indeed, that was why Ya'akov fought so hard to deprive Eisav of the honour. What happened at the time of Makas Bechoros was two-fold: 1. G-d sanctified them, turning an age-old custom into a holy service. 2. He added the prohibition of indulging in mundane work. And it is the latter aspect of the sanctification that required redemption. Once they were redeemed however, the initial privilege to serve Hashem remained, until G-d transferred it to the Levi'im and once they were redeemed, the Or ha'Chayim adds independently, they and their children remained dedicated to Hashem's service, and future generations of firstborn (who were not necessarily the children of that first generation), continued to require redemption.


Let us now return to the explanation of the K'li Yakar (who presumably, avoids that of the Seforno, because of its implication that every firstborn is forbidden to work until he is redeemed, a fact which has no basis anywhere in Torah she'be'al Peh).

He therefore concludes that what G-d presented to the Levi'im was a major appointment, and not one of mere servitude (as the Torah writes in connection with Korach [16:9] "Is it too little for you that G-d divided you from the congregation of Yisrael to bring you close to Him"). The firstborn were destined to receive this appointment, and would indeed have done so, had they not sinned by the Golden Calf. That was when they were replaced by the Levi'im, one Levi for each of the twenty-two thousand Bechorim, except for two hundred and seventy-three Bechorim who were in excess of the Levi'im. And it was to counter the anticipated objections of these two hundred and seventy-three Bechorim that G-d stated the above Pasuk. Knowing that they would protest, citing the argument that, having lost the privilege of serving Hashem to the Levi'im, why should they also be penalized with a five-Shekel fine, simply because there were not enough Levi'im to redeem them? So G-d overruled their objection. "I acquired the firstborn ... ". 'I saved them from death then, leaving them with one debt of gratitude, and now they sinned at the Golden Calf, adding a second debt to the existing one. What claim can they possibly have against Me?'

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

Counting and the Shechinah

"Count the B'nei Yisrael ... " (1:2).

Counting each member of Yisrael, explains the Sh'loh, led to the Shechinah resting in K'lal Yisrael. How so?

Each individual now realized his value as an indispensable member of the community. Without him, there would not have been six hundred thousand, but five hundred and ninety-nine thousand ... . And this was even more conspicuous in the desert, where all the numbers were round ones.

Chazal have said in Kidushin (40b) that a person should always consider the world to be half worthy and half unworthy, and that the performance of only one Mitzvah will tip, not only his own scales, but the scales of the entire world, to the scale of merit; whereas one sin will tip them to the scale of condemnation.

In the desert then, this lesson was easily learned, as each person appeared before Moshe to be counted. This would have led each person to reflect on the above, and to do Teshuvah and improve his performance of Mitzvos, which in turn, would have enabled the Shechinah to rest in Yisrael, so as to tip the scales in Yisrael's favour.


Yisrael Forever

A 'Davar she'be'minyan' (something that is counted) our sages have taught, cannot become Bateil (annulled in a larger number).

G-d wanted Moshe to count K'lal Yisrael, says the Chidushei ha'Rim, in order that they should be considered a 'Davar she'be'Minyan', never to become Bateil among the nations of the world. No matter what happens, they will always retain their identity.

But the Din of 'Davar she'be'minyan', you may well ask, is only mi'de'Rabbanan? That, he explains, is in respect of a number which is only mi'de'Rabbanan. But one which the Torah itself prescribes (such as the counting of K'lal Yisrael), cannot become Bateil min ha'Torah!


A Soldier in G-d's Army

"From twenty years and onwards, all those who are conscripted in Yisrael ... " (1:3).

At the age of twenty, says the Chidushei ha'Rim, a Jew becomes punishable at the hand of Beis-Din shel Ma'alah (the Celestial Court). That is when his battle with the Yeitzer ha'Ra begins in earnest; that is when he becomes a fully-fledged soldier who goes out to wage war. For so Chazal have said 'If someone comes to kill you, get him first'.

And that is what the Tana means, when he says in Pirkei Avos (5:21) 'Twenty is the age to pursue' - at twenty the Beis-Din shel Ma'alah begin to 'run after' a person (to take him to task), therefore he should make sure that he pursues the Yeitzer-ha'Ra in anticipation, and puts him in his place.

Because the best method of defense is attack!


The First K'vitlech

"And they established their genealogy according to their families" (1:18).

Each person, Rashi explains, appeared before Moshe by name with a written record of his birth and two witnesses to establish his tribe.

The Ramban explains how, as each person appeared before Moshe and Aharon, they would look at him with a good eye and pray for his well-being (in the way that all Tzadikim do), and this would be advantageous for the community at large as well as for the individual.

We learn from the Ramban that when someone visits a Tzadik and presents him with a request to Daven on his behalf, he not only mentions his name, but he does so in writing.


Strictly speaking, "va'yisyaldu al mishpechosam ... " means 'and they were born to their families'.

This is because at the time when they built the Mishkan, they were like new-born babies, says the S'fas Emes. Yisrael had sinned, and the construction of the Mishkan, proof that G-d had pardoned them for the sin of the Golden Calf, caused them to become reborn.

In addition, he explains, as long as they were in the desert, they were totally dependent upon Hashem for all their needs, like an infant is dependent upon his mother.


Four Minus Two Makes Two

"B'nei Naftali ... " (1:42).

By all the other tribes, the Torah writes "li'V'nei Re'uven" ... "li'V'nei Shimon ... ". Why then, did the Torah choose to omit the 'Lamed' specifically by the tribe of Naftali, asks the Panim Yafos?

He explains that when the total of K'lal Yisrael turned out to be exactly the same as that of the previous count (see Rashi), the Torah found it necessary to list the numbers of each tribe (which did not tally with the earlier ones).

Consequently, it introduced each tribe with the words "li'V'nei ... ", as if to say that of that total, this is how many there were belonging to this tribe, and this is how many there were belonging to that tribe. When it came to Naftali however, this was not necessary, since they were the last tribe to be counted, and by subtracting the total of the other eleven tribes from the total, we would know how many they were anyway. So the Torah leaves out the 'Lamed' and writes "b'nei Naftali", so as not to omit one tribe ...


Blessed with Daughters

...(Ibid.) The Ba'al ha'Turim answers the previous question differently. He explains that the Torah uses the word "b'nei" with regard to Naftali, because it was the only tribe which comprised more daughters than sons. This also explains why Ya'akov Avinu chose to bless Naftali of all sons, by referring to him as "Ayalah Sheluchah (a hind let loose [in the feminine])".

By the same token, the Ba'al ha'Turim concludes, in Parshas Pinchas, where Yisrael are counted again, the Torah uses the word "b'nei" with regard to all the tribes. This is because that counting took place after the generation of the spies had died, and since the women did not die, each tribe comprised a majority of women.

Incidentally, the Ba'al ha'Turim in Pasuk 36 is noteworthy too ...


The Two Aronos

"li'V'nei Yosef, li'V'nei Efrayim" (1:36).

Grammatically speaking, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, it would have sufficed to omit the second 'li'v'nei' and to write 'li'v'nei Yosef, le'Efrayim". Only Yosef, due to his royal status, did not participate in carrying Ya'akov's Aron from Egypt, and Ya'akov decreed that only those who did would surround the Aron in the desert (meaning that they would be listed as tribes). That is why Efrayim and Menasheh, who replaced their father in carrying Ya'akov's Aron, were also chosen to replace him as tribes. Consequently, the Torah makes a point of using the same expression in connection with them ("li'V'nei") as it uses in connection with all the other tribes (even though it is grammatically superfluous).

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 337:
Not to Cheat in Business (cont.)

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike. Someone who contravenes, and who knowingly overcharges or underpays his fellow-Jew to the tune of a sixth or more, has transgressed this La'av. Less than a sixth, the Chachamim in Bava Basra (90a) permit a merchant to earn for the benefit of the community so that people should find what they need ready for use wherever it may be. The La'av is not however, subject to Malkos, since there is a Mitzvah to return the excess.


Mitzvah 338:
Not to Pain a Fellow-Jew with Words

It is forbidden to hurt a fellow-Jew with words, to say something that will cause him pain, in a way that leaves him unable to protect himself. Therefore, our sages have said that one may not remind a Ba'al-Teshuvah of what he used to do before he did Teshuvah'; If he is stricken with an illness, one may not suggest that he is being made to suffer for his sins (like Iyov's friends said to Iyov). And if one meets merchants looking for corn, one may not advise them to go and purchase it from someone whom he knows does not sell it. Nor should one ask a shopkeeper the price of an object when he has no intention of buying it. It is about such cases such as these that the Torah writes in Behar (25:17) "Ve'lo sonu ish es amiso".

The reason for this Mitzvah is clearly to create peace among the people. Peace is a great thing, for it is the source of blessing; whereas strife and dissent on the other hand, bring in their wake many curses and calamities.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Chachamim issued many warnings in connection with not hurting people in any way and not putting them to shame. They took the issue to extremes when they said for example, that one should not even look over an object when one does not have the money with which to purchase it. One should also take care to avoid saying anything which contains even the hint of a curse. The Torah is extremely particular about this La'av, seeing as people tend to take these matters very much to heart, often more so than Ono'as Mamon (being cheated). Indeed, the Gemara in Bava Metzi'a (58b) says 'Ona'as Devarim is worse than Ona'as Mamon, since the Torah writes in connection with it "And you shall fear your G-d". It is impossible to list all the possible cases that involve causing people pain. Therefore every individual must take care as far as possible, to avoid doing so, because G-d knows every step and every movement that a person makes, as the Pasuk writes in Shmuel 1 (16:7) "For man sees with his eyes, but G-d sees into one's heart". The Medrash records many incidents in this regard to teach us the ethics involved in speech. The main topic is discussed in Bava Metzi'a (ibid.).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, both to men and to women. Even when telling off one's own children one should take care not to upset them more than is absolutely necessary. One who does go easy with them on this account will earn himself life, blessing and honour. Someone who transgresses on the other hand, and causes pain to those whom the Chachamim have warned not to, such as a Ba'al Teshuvah and a sick person, has contravened this La'av, though he does not receive Malkos, since it does not involve an action. One should bear in mind however, that the Master who has commanded us this Mitzvah has the means to issue the transgressor many lashes strap or no strap. On the other hand, it does not seem logical, for someone to remain silent whilst he is at the receiving end of verbal abuse, since a person is not an inanimate object. And what's more, his silence will be taken for acquiescence to the insults that are being heaped upon him. Indeed, the Torah does not expect a person in such a situation to behave like a stone, to remain silent to those who curse him and to those who bless him alike. The Torah does command however, to keep well away from this trait, so it is advisable to give argumentitive and insulting people a wide berth. Someone who does, will avoid getting involved in it altogether, because a person who is not prone to arguments does not normally become the subject of verbal abuse either, except perhaps at the hand of a few fools, and who takes fools seriously anyway?

In the event that one is faced with a situation where one is forced to respond to somebody's insults, a wise man counters with dignity and sweetly, without getting angry, for 'anger rests in the bosom of fools'. What one must do is to parry the attacker's slander, to set matters straight in the eyes of the listeners, and then leave the ball in the court of the slanderer.

The principle of answering the fool is further enhanced by the Pasuk in Sh'mos (22:1), which permits one to kill the person who is breaking into one's house via an underground tunnel, to avoid suffering a loss of property (to save his life, it would suffice for him to leave the house to avoid confrontation). It is clear that the Torah does not require a person to suffer a loss at the hand of his friend without trying to prevent it, for what difference does it make whether the loss is monetary or the result of verbal abuse.

There is however, a category of people of such piety that they would allow the slanderer to have his say without uttering a word, for fear of becoming angry and overstepping the mark. And it is about such people that the Gemara says in Shabbos (88b) 'People who are put to shame but do not embarrass others, who hear their shame but do not reply, about them the Pasuk in Shoftim (5:312) writes "And His loved ones are like the sun rising in its might". Cont.

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