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

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Vol. 4 No. 35

Parshas Bamidbor

For the Love of Yisroel

Rashi opens the Parshah with a description of Hashem's love for Yisroel, evident from the many times that He counted them, and what does one count, if not things that are precious?

Other than this opening theme, the Parshah, as such, does not appear to stress significantly, Hashem's love towards Klal Yisroel. Yet the Medrash Tanchumah teems with examples of that love, seen from every conceivable angle. It is as if the Medrash is writing in anticipation of Mattan Torah, which is always read the following Shabbos, and which is the source of the very love of which we are speaking. Here are some of the Tanchumah's comments.

The Medrash points out how Hashem gave all the details of place and time, when He counted Klal Yisroel - in the desert, in the Ohel Mo'ed, on the first of the month, in the second year, and of the second month. All these details are a demonstration of Hashem's esteem for Klal Yisroel.

See in contrast, writes the Medrash, how when it comes to recording the events pertaining to the nations of the world - such as the generation of the flood and the destruction of the Egyptians - no dates and no details are given, because they are not important in G-d's eyes.

The Medrash then describes how Hashem led Yisroel in the Desert. He reclined them like kings, appointed three redeemers to look after them (Moshe, Aharon and Miriam). He surrounded them with seven clouds of Glory, which protected them, killing all the snakes and scorpions in their path, flattened the mountains and filled in the ravines. And their áclothes grew together with them. Is that the normal treatment that one would expect to receive in a desert?

If the nations of the world only realised, says the Medrash, that, were it not for Yisroel, the rain would not fall, and the sun would not shine, because it is only in Yirosel's merit that they do indeed operate.

The nations of the world are compared to straw, since G-d derives no benefit from them. Yisroel, on the other hand, are compared to a storehouse of wheat. Why is that? Because Hashem derives pleasure from them, when they read the Shema, daven and bless His Name every day, every hour and over every single item. There is no nation, the Medrash continues, that Hashem endears like Yisroel, and that is why He gave them a "T'luy Rosh" (elevated them) like He Himself has a T'luy Rosh - as the possuk writes, "ve'hamisnasei le'chol le'Rosh"; in fulfilment of the possuk "and He raised the horn of Yisroel, a praise for all His pious ones, for B'nei Yisroel His close relative, praise Hashem". And so the possuk writes "And Hashem will place you above all the nations of the world".

It was a great act of love on the part of Hashem to Yisroel when He organised them into flags (the four camps, each consisting of three flags) like the angels, in order that each tribe should have its own identity. The Medrash gives a moshol of a king who discovered that all the barrels of wine in his wine-store had turned sour, until he managed to find one that was sound. The vinegar is the nations of the world, the wine, Klal Yisroel.

Hashem refers to Yisroel from among all the other nations as His faithful pigeon. The Medrash describes how He brought them to the wine-cellar - Har Sinai ("yayin" has the numerical value of seventy, and it refers to Torah, which can be explained in seventy different ways).

And from another angle, Torah has forty-nine facets of Taharah, and forty-nine of Tum'ah - the numerical value of "ve'diglo Olai ahavah". (Shir ha'Shirim 2:4) Rav Chanayah says that at first, anyone who would point at the bust of the king, would be condemned to death, yet the Jewish children point to G-d's Name, and He loves them for it.

Yisroel were holy and great in their formation (of the four flags), and the nations of the world looked at them and were amazed.

The Medrash describes how the nations of the world invited Yisroel to join their ranks, and attempted to lure them into accepting, by offering them high positions. But Yisroel refused. They told them, in no uncertain terms, that they could never match the greatness that Hashem proferred upon them with the four flags. And more than that, whenever they sin, He forgives them.

Who has ever heard of someone finding grapes in a desert? Yet Hashem found a great metziyah - Yisroel - in the desert, like one "finds grapes in a desert", in the words of the Novi Hoshei'a.

The world was desolate until Yisroel left Egypt, and it was dark until they received the Torah. And it was only when they arrived at Har Sinai and received the Torah that the world lit up.

Hashem then surrounded Yisroel with Clouds of Glory, and taught them understanding through the words of Torah. In fact, so powerful was His love for them, that He guarded them like the pupil of His eye. He loved them to such an extent, that He asked them to build a Mishkon for Him, so that He could leave the Heavens and come and live here on earth, because He yearned to dwell with them. And not only that, but He even told Moshe to arrange flags for his Name, because they are His children, and they are His hosts.

And finally, the Medrash Tanchumah explains how, when Hashem descended on Har Sinai, He came with twenty-two thousand chariots of Angels, arranged in camps, as the possuk writes, "Dogul me'revovoh". Yisroel expressed their desire to be organised in the same way, and Hashem replied, "If that is what you want, that is what you will get!"

ON THE THIRD DAY (Based on the Gemoro Shabbos, 87a)

Everyone knows that Moshe added one day, to postpone Mattan Torah. Hashem instructed Moshe to prepare Yisroel for the third day. But Moshe decided to add one day, so he told them to prepare for three days - three full days.

But what not everyone knows is that that is the opinion of Rebbi Yossi, according to the Rabbonon, the Torah was indeed given on the third day, as Hashem had said. And what not everyone knows is that, according to Rebbi Yossi, the Torah was given, not on the sixth of Sivan, but on the seventh.

In fact, both opinions agree that the Torah was given on Shabbos. Their dispute is based on which day Rosh Chodesh Sivan fell. According to Rebbi Yossi, Rosh Chodesh Sivan fell on Sunday, whereas in the opinion of the Rabbonon, it fell on Monday.

In this way, there is no problem with Sefiras ho'Omer, since, according to both opinions, they counted forty-nine days - though it is interesting that, in the opinion of R. Yossi, had the Torah been given on the day that Hashem had planned, they would only have counted forty-eight days, and not forty-nine.

It is also interesting that the Shloshes Yemei Hagboloh, as we know them (the 3rd-5th Sivan), the third day was Shevuos itself. does not tally with either of the opinions. Why not?

Because according to Rabbi Yossi, the Shloshes Yemei Hagboloh took place on the 4th, the 5th and the 6th of Sivan (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) whilst if we follow the Rabbonon's line of thought, there were only two days of Hagboloh (Thursday and Friday), the 4th and the 5th of Sivan. The third day of Hagboloh was the sixth of Sivan, the actual day of Mattan Torah.

The famous Chazal that "Yom ha'Shishi" (the concluding words of the creation, in Bereishis) refers to the 6th Sivan, will go according to the Rabbonon, but not according to Reb Yossi. See also end of "History of the World".

History of the World ( Part 33) (Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)

The sixth of Sivan falls on a Shabbos - the strong tone of the Shofar - Moshe approaches the black cloud and receives the ten commandments - the people hear "Onochi" and "Lo Yi'hye lecho", then the elders gather and ask Moshe to be the go-between for the remainder of the commandments.

Moshe approaches the Cloud and Yisroel stand at a distance - Hashem tells them the Parshah of "You have seen that I spoke to you from the Heaven" and the entire Parshah of Mishpotim. Then Moshe descends to teach the people, after which Hashem again calls him to ascend the mountain, and the Cohanim and the seventy elders with him.

Moshe descends and tells the people the ten commandments, and Yisroel reply "Whatever Hashem spoke we will do!". Moshe then records all of these words. All of this takes place on the sixth of Sivan. The day of Mattan Torah, like the day that they left Egypt and the day that they crossed the Yam Suf, lasts thirty-six hours.

Rabeinu Sa'adya Gaon and Rabeinu Hai Gaon are buried beside Har Sinai. At the foot of the Har Chorev lies the cave of Eliyohu Ha'novi.

The seventh of Sivan: Moshe builds an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve "Matzeivos", in order to bring Yisroel into the covenant with the covenant of the blood, and he sends the first-born to bring sacrifices. Before finalising the covenant, he takes the Seifer-Torah which he wrote on the previous day and reads it out to the people in order to guage their thoughts of the previous night. They respond by calling out, "Whatever Hashem speaks we will do and we will hear" (or obey). Moshe takes the blood of the sacrifices and sprinkles it on the people. He then ascends the mountain, where he remains for forty days. He ascends for the second time on the seventeenth of Tamuz. (According to Rashi in Ki Sisso, it is the nineteenth.)

Moshe ascends Har Sinai for the third and last time to receive the second Luchos on Rosh Chodesh Ellul; he descends forty days later with the Luchos - on Yom Kippur, with the message "Solachti kidvorecho!".

The first Luchos were brought down on Thursday, the second on Monday, which is why Ezra arranged for leining to take place on these two days - and that, in turn, is why Beis-din chose to sit then. (All this concurs with the opinion of Rebbi Yossi, according to whom Rosh Chodesh Sivan fell on the Sunday and the Torah was given on the seventh of Sivan.)

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE HAFTORAH (Bamidbor) (Hoshei'a 2:1-22)

Counting Yisroel is not intrinsically a good thing. That is why two conditions must be met before one proceeds to do so: 1. That one only counts them indirectly, but never directly, such as taking from each one a half-shekel; and 2. That one only counts them when there is good reason to do so. (Ramban)

That explains why, when Dovid Ha'melech took a census without justifiable cause, a plague immediately ensued.

One of the reasons for this is because Yisroel have been promised that they will be numberless, like the stars and like the dust. To count them therefore, is to restrict them, to confine them to a nation that has a defined number.

Furthermore, counting Yisroel prevents the opportunity of an increase in numbers through G-d's Divine blessing. This is because our sages have taught us (Bovo Metzi'a 42a) that there is no brochoh to be found in something which has been counted. As long as the number remains unknown, G-d is likely to send a miraculous increase in the money, the crops or the people. The moment the number is revealed, that miracle is unlikely to occur, since it is not G-d's way to perform open miracles, in this manner. This idea is contained in Rashi, who writes at the beginning of Devorim (1:11), how Klal Yisroel complained to Moshe, who had blessed them, that G-d should increase them a thousand-fold: "Moshe, why do you restrict our brochoh?" they said. "G-d has already promised Avrohom that we will be as numerous as the stars?"

"What I told you," replied Moshe, "is my brochoh. G-d will bless you just as He promised."

It is in this vein that the Novi Hoshei'a begins the Haftorah: "And the number of B'nei Yisroel will be like the sand by the sea-shore, which can neither be measured nor counted."

Rashi, quoting a Gemoro in Pesochim, writes how Hoshei'a changed the direction of his prophecy. At the end of the first chapter he wrote that G-d had told him to call his two children, "Not My people" and "I will not be with you!" He immediately follows that negative prophecy with the positive prophecy which we are currently discussing, continuing with the words, "and it will be that, instead of saying about them 'You are not My people', it will be said that they are the sons of the living G-d".

This change, explains the Gemoro, came about, following G-d's instructions to Hoshei'a to divorce his wife, immediately after she had born him three children. That caused him to realise how wrong he had been in suggesting to G-d that, if Yisroel had sinned, then He should exchange them for another nation. He now acknowledged that, if it was difficult for him to divorce his wife, a prostitute whom he had married by Divine command - as part of his series of prophecies, then how much more difficult must it be for G-d to divorce His beloved nation, and to exchange them for another. That explains why, although He continues to castigate Yisroel, warning them of the heavy consequences of their constant sins, he is also careful to leave open the option of teshuvah.

And it is in the spirit of teshuvah that he concludes the Haftorah with references to the early Yetzi'as Mitzrayim. He speaks of serving G-d out of love, rather than out of fear, and of the total abolition of idolatry in all its forms. And he speaks of the idylic situation of peace, involving the wild beasts, the birds and the insects, and above all, the human race, that will take place in time to come.

Finally, the Haftorah concludes with the beautiful pesukim that we recite when putting on our Tefillin - "And I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness and with justice, with kindness and with mercy. And I will betroth you to Me with faith and you will know G-d." Rashi explains that in return for the righteousness and justice that we perform, G-d will repay us with kindness and mercy, proving this sequence from various sources in Tanach. And G-d will betroth us to Him with our faith in all the promises of the prophets that were to sustain us throughout the long golus night.

The Redak connects the triple-mention of betrothal to the three exiles - Mitzrayim, Bovel and Malchus Edom. Each redemption is compared to a betrothal. The Novi here is assuring us that the short-comings that were blatant during the first two redemptions will be eliminated in the time of the third. Consequently, because the first exodus was only temporary, our freedom and independence soon coming to an end, the Novi therefore writes "And I will betroth you to Me forever -the next time we leave golus, it will be permanent.

They desecrated the Shabbos and married non-Jewish women when they left Bovel after the second golus. And they also retained their Jewish servants in enforced servitude; there was neither righteousness nor justice, neither loving-kindness nor mercy. Therefore Hoshei'a promises that when the time comes for the third and final ge'ulah, these four things will be present - because they will have done teshuvah.

ORPOH (A sequel to "Rus and Orpoh" - Midei Shabbos 5755)

The Gemoro in Sanhedrin (95b) describes how Orpoh tried to kill Avishai ben Tzeruyah, when he went to rescue Dovid from the clutches of her son Yishbi be'Nov (Goliath's brother) - but she failed, and it was Avishai who killed her.

Orpoh was a Moabite, and it is not at first clear what she was doing in the land of the P'lishtim. Chazal however, explain that, when she left Naomi to return to her country, she became a prostitute. However, she was not favourably accepted by her own people (presumably, because she was tainted as a result of her marriage with Kilyon the Jew). So she went to live with the P'lishtim, where she was welcomed.

It is remarkable how a woman, who was so close to converting, to the point that she was barely discernable from her sister Rus, should become an arch-enemy of the very Jewish people with whom she had been on the verge of merging. She and Rus had at first demonstrated the same willingness to break with their idolatrous past; both had initially declined to accept Naomi's forceful persuasion, in spite of the many hardships and tribulations which they knew lay ahead.

What distinguished them was the powerful determination, which Rus possessed, but which Orpoh did not. This is similar to the stark contrast between Terach and his son Avrohom. Terach set out from Ur Kasdim for Cana'an (in the knowledge that it was a country conducive to spiritual growth), but he allowed himself to be diverted by the good life of the then modern-day Choron. Avrohom, on the other hand, set out to go to Eretz Cana'an, and, as the Torah testifies, he arrived in Choron.

Once the decision to do something has been reached, one should go for it, come what may.

What we still need to understand is, how Orpoh was capable of falling so far - so fast. On one day, she has the loftiest aspirations of adopting the holier life-style of a Jewess, with her mother-in-law Naomi set as her role model - and, that very same night, Chazal say, she had returned to her idolatrous practices of the past, and had indulged in no less than a hundred promiscuous acts, as Chazal have described. In fact, she is called Orpoh, because of the root-word "oref"(the back of the neck) because she turned her back on her mother-in-law, in stark contrast to Rus, whom Boaz praised for the kindness that she displayed towards Naomi.

When someone is granted a surge of Divine inspiration to grow, but does not rise to the occasion, then it is not only a matter of a lost opportunity, but worse than that, the vacuum left by the squandered opportunity is filled by "that eternal prosecutor", the Yeitzer Ho'ra, and the person, instead of rising, falls.

Similarly, we find with the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva, who died during the Sefiras ho'Omer, because they squandered the opportunity of spiritual growth which comes each year at that time, with the approach of Mattan Torah. Granted, there the negative reaction to the vacuum was a Divine one, due to the fact that someone who does not grow, automatically declines, as Chazal have said: nevertheless, we do see, after a failure to utilise a given opportunity to grow, there follows a negative reaction to fill the vacuum, either from a Divine source in the form of immediate retribution (perhaps in the case of Tzadikim, such as the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva), and sometimes on the part of one's own Yeitzer Ho'ra, in the vein of "Averah goreres aveirah". (It is possible that the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos also hints at both concepts.)

Looking at it from another angle, we could compare the transition that took place in Orpoh to that of Amnon (son of Dovid Ha'melech), who, after the rape of his "step-sister" Tomor, was filled with a deep hatred of her.

When one distorts love and abuses it, the result is that the love turns to hatred. Since Orpoh too, allowed the love of the Jewish people to disipate, by turning her back on Naomi, it was natural that that love, presumably also on account of the vacuum, should turn into hatred. It became a matter of "if you can't join 'em, beat 'em".

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