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

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Vol. 5 No. 32

Parshas Bamidbor

Counting Yisroel

'So intense is G-d's love for Yisroel, that at every opportunity, He counts them. When they left Egypt, He counted them; when they fell at the Golden Calf, He counted them - to know how many remained. And then, when He came to rest His Shechinah with them, He counted them again - on the first of Nissan the Mishkon was erected, on the first of Iyar He counted them.' Rashi (Bamidbor 1:1)

The First Count

The first of the three counts listed by Rashi is not clearly described in the Torah, but presumably, it refers to the possuk in Parshas Bo (12:37), where the Torah writes that some 600,000 men left Egypt, besides the women and children. One can assume that, if the Torah presents a round figure, there must have been a count.

The Second Count

The second count is the one recorded in Parshas Pikudei (38:26), where the figure now stood at 603,550. It took place, not immediately after the sinners by the Golden Calf had fallen, as it would seem from the wording of Rashi (and as the Sifrei Chachomim appears to have understood) but when they began donating towards the Mishkon - after Yom Kippur, almost three months later - (as Rashi specifically writes in Ki Sisso [30:15]). The silver of those half-Shekolim was melted down and used to form the sockets that held the planks of the Mishkon in place.

The Third Count

The third count is the one described in our Parshah. This count arrived at the same total as the previous one, and the money was used to purchase the public sacrifices. It is the only one of the three donations (described by Rashi in Terumah) that would later become obligatory in the form of an annual donation, with which all the communal sacrifices were bought, and which is perpetuated in the reading of Parshas Shekolim each year in the month of Ador and the subsequent giving of the 'half Shekel' before Purim.

The Ohr ha'Chayim poses two questions: firstly, seeing the Mishkon was erected on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, why did Hashem wait to count the people until Iyar? Surely, the time to have counted them was in the month of Ador, to collect the half-Shekolim before Nissan, in order to buy the sacrifices for the coming year (which begins in Nissan), as the halochoh prescribes? Secondly, it is not clear why by this count, which took place more than six months after the second, the number had not increased. This is particularly perplexing, he adds, considering that, according to Chazal, not one single Jew died during that period (due to the fact that they were busy with the construction of the Mishkon). So what happened to all the people who turned twenty during that half-year period? Were they not included in the count?

The Ohr ha'Chayim explains that whereas, in the previous counting, the tribe of Levi, who had not yet been appointed to act as the chosen tribe, were counted, this time (now that they had been appointed), they were not, as the Torah specifically writes later in this Parshah (1:47). In other words, the twelve tribes had increased by exactly 22,000, corresponding to the number of Levi'im who had been counted at the second count, but not at this one.

With this explanation, says the Ohr ha'Chayim, we can also explain why Hashem postponed this counting until Iyar. He deliberately waited until the current total of Yisroel, excluding the Levi'im, would tally with their total on the previous count, where they had been included.

If we learn like Rashi, who explains that a birthday at that time was determined, not by one's natural birth-day, but by the calendar - i.e. that each year, when Rosh Hashonah arrived, a person'a age increased by one year - not only is the Ohr ha'Chayim's problem solved, but the source of his question (namely, that nobody died during that period) is actually part of the answer. For on the one hand, nobody died during that period (i.e. between Tishri and Iyar), but on the other, nobody turned twenty either, which explains why the numbers were the same at both counts.

Parshah Pearls
Parshas Bamidbor

Betrothed and Married

The Medrash compares the opening possuk of Bamidbor to a king who married a number of wives. He was not happy with them however, so he divorced them. Eventually, he found a poor, young orphan girl from a good family. So he called his Shushbin (best man) and informed him of his plans. But this time, he said, he would write her a kesubah (a marrriage contract) and record the exact time and date, something that he had not previously done when he married his earlier wives.

G-d too, had found it necessary to destroy the generation of the flood, that of the Tower, the cities of S'dom, and the Egyptians. But none of these dates were recorded. However, when he 'married' Yisroel, he treated them differently - because they were the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov - with them he carefully recorded the date of their marriage, as the Torah writes "And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Desert of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month of the second year of their Exodus from the Land of Egypt."

This Medrash, comments the Kli Yokor, considers the day on which the Torah was given as the day of Yisroel's betrothal to Hashem, and the day on which the Mishkan was set up as that of the marriage.

This conforms with Chazal, who, commenting on the possuk in ve'Zos ha'Brochoh "Moshe commanded us Torah, an inheritance for the community of Ya'akov" (Devorim 33:4) explain: 'Do not read an inheritance ('Moroshoh'), but betrothed ('Me'orosoh').' And from here they derive that a gentile who studies Torah is guilty of the death-sentence, since the Torah wrote "lonu... moroshoh", as if to say that Torah is our betrothed, and a non-Jew who studies it, is guilty of adultery (Sanhedrin 59a).

Whereas in the final Mishnah in Ta'anis, they refer to the day the Mishkon was set up, as Yisroel's wedding day.

Furthermore, the Torah itself hints at these two occasions, when at Har Sinai it refers to the Torah, and at the completion of the Mishkon, to Yisroel, as the bride (see Rashi Sh;mos 31:18 and Bamidbor 7:1 respectively).

This explains, writes the Kli Yokor, why the Mishkon was erected ten months after the Torah was given, because ten months is one of the official periods given to a bride to prepare her twenty-four ornaments for her wedding day - as Lovon said to Eliezer "Let the girl stay for a year or at least for ten months" (Bereishis 24:55).

So too, did G-d betroth Yisroel with the two stone tablets (instead of a ring), and gave them ten months (from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until Rosh Chodesh Nissan) to prepare the twenty-four books of the T'nach - until they would become unified with Him, through the wedding ceremony - i.e. the setting up of the Mishkon.

And since the wedding celebration extended one month, it was not until the first of Iyar that Hashem recorded the 'wedding'.

The Torah is the Kesubah, and the date of the marriage is recorded there, like it is in every kesubah, to enable us to claim the seven lands that were designated for our kesubah, (Eretz Yisroel), writes the Kli Yokor. In other words, should we ever become exiled from those lands, and others settle there and claim ownership, we will be able to produce our kesubah and to show them that whenever their title-deeds were stamped, our document of ownership preceded theirs, and that the land is rightfully ours.

The Largest Tribe

The largest tribe appears to have been Yehudah, whose 74,600 exceeded that of Don (62,700) by almost 14,000. But that is not to say that Yehudah was the tribe that proliferated the fastest in Egypt. In fact, that distinction went to Yosef, whose children, Ephrayim and Menasheh totalled 72,700 (only marginally less than Yehudah), and to whom we will have to add the 200,000 men who left Egypt thirty years prematurely, and who were killed by the inhabitants of Gas (as is recorded by the Targum Yonoson at the beginning of Beshalach). Or to be more precise, we will have to add one-fifth of that total (to match with the four-fifths who died from the rest of Yisroel during the plague of darkness).

So, if we add 40,000 (one-fifth of 200,000) to 72,700, we will arrive at a total of 112,700, an excess of approximately sixty per cent over Yehudah.

The phenominal increase of the tribe of Yosef, can be attributed to the blessing of Ya'akov, who blessed Yosef that his children should not be subject to Ayin ho'Ra, (the evil eye) which, according to Chazal, causes many deaths.

(The Mitzvos Asei)

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

36. To take the four species on Succos - as the Torah writes in Emor (Va'yikro 23:40) "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day (of Succos), the fruit of an esrog tree, the branch of a date-palm, myrtle-branches and willows that grow by a brook" - referring to one lulav, one esrog, three hadassim and two arovos. They must be taken the way they grow (and not upside down). The moment one picks them up, one has fulfilled the mitzvah. The mitzvah may be performed at any time during the day (notwithstanding the principle to perform a mitzvah as early as possible). The Rabbonon ordained that one should take the four species during each of the seven days of Succos, with the exception of Shabbos, on which they forbade taking them - even when the first day of Succos falls on Shabbos, because they were concerned that one may (inadvertently) come to carry the lulav four amos in the street. Each of the four species is vital to the mitzvah, so the mitzvah cannot be performed with less than all four.

A borrowed lulav may not be used on the first day (nor on the second in Chutz lo'Oretz), but is kosher on the other days. Therefore, on the first days, instead of lending one's friend his lulav, one gives it to him as a gift, but on condition that he returns it. A stolen lulav is invalid all seven days. Although we bind the lulav, the hadassim and aravos, but not the esrog, the esrog should nevertheless be held together with the other three species whenever they are taken (including during the hakofos).

Shaking the lulav in all six directions is a Rabbinical mitzvah, both when one picks up the lulav and during Hallel and the Hakofos. The moment a child knows how to shake lulav, he is obliged to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav in order to educate him in mitzvos, to fulfill the mitzvah of Chinuch.

This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times, to men but not to women (see previous mitzvah).

37. To refrain from work on Sh'mini Atzeres (the eighth day of Succos) - as the Torah writes in Emor (Va'yikro 23:36) "On the eighth day is a holy calling". Its din is the same as that of the first day of Pesach (see mitzvah 25).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.

* 38. To give charity to the poor of Yisroel - as the Torah writes in Re'ei (Devorim 15:8) "You shall open your hand to him" etc. And our sages (in the Sifri there) learn (from the double expression of "Poso'ach tiftach") that one should give even a hundred times (and even to the same man, if necessary) if one is able. And furthermore, the Torah writes in Behar (Va'yikra 25:35) "And you shall support him, the proselyte and the resident" (which refers to a ger toshav, a gentile who undertakes to fulfill all seven mitzvos of the Noachide code, whom we are obliged to sustain - though the concept of ger toshav does not apply nowadays).

One is obliged to give the poor man in accordance with his needs, and according to what he lacks: for example, if he does not have clothes, then one is obliged to supply him with clothes, and so it is with all his other needs.

If the donor cannot afford to provide him with all his needs, then he must give him whatever he can, according to his own means. (All of this pertains to a poor man who asks one person for assistance, but if he is asking many people, then each person is not obligated to provide the poor man with all his needs singlehandedly, but proportionately with all the other donors.

To be continued

About the Mitzvos
Not to Delay a Mitzvah

It is wrong to delay a mitzvah, but one should see to fulfill it the moment it falls due. The Mechilta learns this from the possuk in Parshas Bo (12:17) "u'sh'martem es ha'matzos" (and you shall guard the matzos - take care that they do not become chometz) - 'do not read ha'matzos', says the Mechilta, 'but ha'mitzvos' - since the letters are the same. 'Do not allow the mitzvos to become sour, but perform them at once' the Torah is teaching us.

The Gemoro in Pesochim learns from the Akeidoh, where the Torah writes (Bereishis 22:3) "And Avraham arose early in the morning" - to slaughter his son - that 'those who are keen, perform mitzvos early'.

The principle of not delaying mitzvos, besides its moral and ethical implications of performing mitzvos out of joy and with alacrity, has serious halachic ramifications, inasmuch as the moment a mitzvah falls due, one may not eat or indulge in any other time-consuming activity - even Torah study, as the Shulchan Oruch rules with regard to the mitzvos of Kriy'as Shema, Tefillah, tekiy'as Shofar and lulav among others. And this applies no less to mitzvos whose source is only mi'de'Rabbonon, such as lighting the Menorah on Chaunkah and reading the Megillah on Purim.

Some maintain that, so strong is this principle, that even if one will be able to perform a certain mitzvah more perfectly or more beautifully later, one should not delay, but go ahead and perform it as soon as one can. But others maintain that it is preferable to wait, and to perform the mitzvah in an improved fashion later (see Torah Temimah Parshas Bo Chapter 12, note 159).

Give and Give Again

The Rambam explains the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos 'And it all depends on the number of deeds' to mean that it is preferable to perform a mitzvah many times in a small way, than to perform it once in a big way. He applies this concept particularly to the giving of tzedokoh, where it is better as a rule, to distribute a hundred shekel, shall we say, to a hundred poor people, than to give it all to one poor man. And the reason for this is, he says, because the more times one gives, the more one becomes accustomed to giving, and the easier it subsequently becomes to give, and giving, after all, is the essence of Judaism (as Rebbi Dessler z"l writes), whether one is giving to G-d or to one's fellow man.

Perhaps this is also hinted in what the Torah writes in Re'ei (see also The Mitzvos of Today, Mitzvah 38) "Pose'ach tiftach es yodcho lo" - 'Open your hand to him, and open it again." For the more times you open your hand, the more you will turn into a giver.


To Leave the Land

When Avrohom arrived in Eretz Yisroel and found a famine raging there, he immediately left for Egypt. Evidently, there is nothing wrong with leaving Eretz Yisroel per se, when faced with starvation. True, the Ramban (based on a Zohar) does take Avrohom Ovinu to task for doing so, but that is due to Avrohom's super-level of emunah - he should have had faith in Hashem to provide for him, even in a famine, and it is unlikely that anybody else would have been taken to task in the same way. And besides, Avrohom was found guilty because leaving Eretz Yisroel was a direct contravention of the specific instruction he had received from G-d to go and live in Eretz Yisroel, as the Ramban himself writes. But leaving Eretz Yisroel under certain dire circumstances is not considered sinful as such.

There are two reasons as to why Elimelech was punished so severely for leaving Eretz Yisroel. Firstly, he did not leave because of the danger of starvation. He was a wealthy man, and, as is often the case when there is hunger, a wealthy man has access to means of livelihood, whilst others starve. Elimelech was punished because his departure from the Holy Land was due to stinginess - he was afraid of (or perhaps was fed up with) the numerous knocks at his door for help. He was well-off, he had, most others did not, and he was running away from his obligations, moving away from the extreme test of chessed that the Divine Providence had thrust upon him and expected of him, however difficult and trying that might be. In an effort to preserve his comfortable life-style and his wealth, he left Eretz Yisroel, together with his family, and went to live in 'the fields of Mo'ov' (a nation, it just so happens, with whom Klal Yisroel is forbidden to have too much contact).

Secondly, because "they arrived in Mo'ov and they stayed there" (Rus 1:2). Unlike Ya'akov Ovinu, about whom the Ba'al Haggodoh testifies that 'Ya'akov did not go down to Egypt to settle there, only to sojourn', Elimelech arrived in Mo'ov, liked what he saw, and decided to remain there. And perhaps these are not two reasons, but one. Ya'akov Ovinu did not want to go down to Egypt (even to see his beloved son Yosef, after twenty-two years of separation). He went because G-d had ordered him to. And it is because he went reluctantly that, from the start, he, together with his family, never intended to settle there, but to leave at the earliest possible opportunity. And that explains why, however far their children degenerated in Egypt, they did not intermingle with the Egyptians, they did not intermarry. And it also explains why they were able to leave Egypt at such short notice when the time arrived.

Elimelech, on the other hand, went to live in Mo'ov out of choice, a choice not in accordance with halochoh at that, as we explained earlier. Consequently, one sin leads to another, and he and his family no sooner arrived there, than they decided to stay.

And look at the consequences. They lost everything: their greatness (Elimelech, as his name suggests - 'elai-malchus' - was worthy of becoming king - indeed, he was the son of Nachshon ben A Prince of Yehudah); their wealth (that they had tried so hard to preserve); and their lives (Naomi survived only because, as a wife, she dutifully followed her husband out of Eretz Yisroel, not of her own volition). Moreover, they lost their dignity, when Elimelech's two sons married two Moabite princesses - the very dignity which the whole of Klal Yisroel in Egypt, due to the trend set by Ya'akov Ovinu, at the inception of the golus, managed to retain.

Incidentally, Dovid ha'Melech too, ran away from Eretz Yisroel, and what's more, he himself referred to living in Eretz Yisroel as "cleaving to the inheritance of G-d and leaving it, like serving other gods". That is because, as the Ramban explains, Eretz Yisroel is the only country in the world over which G-d's Divine Providence is direct, not through the medium of other heavenly super-powers. Yet nowhere do we find him being censured for having done so. This is, no doubt, due to the same two reasons under discussion: because a. he left, not because he wanted to, but because he was forced to, as he himself wrote "because they have driven me away today, from cleaving to the inheritance of G-d, saying, 'Go and serve other gods!"; and b. he returned at the earliest possible opportunity.

Interestingly, it was those very same qualities which Elimelech lacked, and which caused him to lose everything that he had, that brought Rus greatness, fame and happiness.

Boaz already praises the superb chessed of Rus, displayed in the way she remained with Naomi, 'sticking it out through thick and thin', and in the way she remained loyal to the memory of her husband Machlon, by not going after the many young men she encountered in her daily trips to the fields in search of food. The antithesis of Elimelech, she willingly left the comforts of Mo'ov to go and live with Naomi in Eretz Yisroel, in spite of the extreme hardship that she must have known would face her there. Elimelech lost his rights to sovereignty. Rus not only became the mother of royalty, but she was later destined to sit on the throne made especially for her, by her great-great grandson Shlomoh ha'Melech - next to his own.

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