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

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Vol. 23   No. 44

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas Zelig Asher ben Shmuel Ber and Chana z"l

Parshas Masei

The Wanderings in the Desert

"These are the journeys of the B'nei Yisrael who left the Land of Egypt in their legions led by Moshe and Aharon" (33:1).


Rashi, citing R. Moshe ha'Darshen, explains that the Torah goes out of its way to list all the locations where our ancestors encamped during their forty years wandering in the desert, in order to stress G-d's lovingkindness. In spite of having sentenced them to spend forty years in travelling, one should not for one moment think that he led them incessantly from one water-hole to another without rest.

Not at all! Of the forty-two journeys listed here (corresponding to the 42 letter Name with which G-d created the world), one can deduct 15 (from Ra'amses to Rismah) which took place before the episode of the spies, and 8 that occured after Aharon's death (from Hor ha'Har till the Plains of Mo'av) which, in turn, took place after the 40-year decree had terminated) - leaving only 20 journeys over thirty-eight years, of which 19 were spent in Kadeish, when they did not travel at all.


Rashi, in the name of R. Tanchuma, compares the current Parshah to a king who took his sick son to a distant land to obtain a cure. On the return journey, the Medrash explains, the king pointed to the places where they had stopped on their way out and commented 'Here we slept!' 'Here we were cold!' 'Here you caught a cold!' This illustrates that the relationship between G-d and us is that of a father to a son. Indeed, so intense is G-d's love of Yisrael that even when we sin, He watches over us and provides us with all our needs. See how, in the desert, even as they rebelled against Him, the Manna continued to fall, the well, to provide water and the clouds of glory, to protect them from the elements and from their enemies. Why, even when Yisrael go into exile, G-d accompanies them and suffers with them (Kevayachol)!


In a third interpretation of the seemingly unnecessary listing of the wanderings in the desert, the Ramban, quoting the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, explains that there will come a time when the nations of the world will refute the fact that Yisrael lived a miraculous life in the desert. Not at all, they will say; They simply moved about and encamped on the outskirts of the desert, always remaining close to inhabited lands where food and water was readily available. That is why the Torah makes a point of listing all the places through which they passed and where they rested, so that generations to come will see for themselves how far from the truth those allegations really are. They will thus understand that Yisrael survived forty years travelling in terrain where one man, let alone an entire nation could not survive even for a day - as Rabeinu Bachye succinctly puts it.


Rabeinu Bachye presents an additional explanation of the Torah's lengthy description of Yisrael's travels. The Torah, he explains, wants to stress the `concept of Hashgochoh K'lolis (communal supervision), to demonstrate, firstly, that there is a G-d, and secondly, that He lovingly watches over K'lal Yisrael. For a nation numbering a few million people were able to subsist for forty years in one of the most untamed deserts in the world was irrefutable proof that there is a G-d who rules nature, and that He does not leave them to their own devices - as some people believed.

That is why, he continues, the Torah, the greatest of all sources of wisdom, goes out of its way to describe the series of deserts that Yisrael traversed "That great and frightening desert with its snakes and scorpions" "Not a place of seeds, fig-trees, vines or pomegranate-trees" where "thirst prevails because there is no water" "A land where no man passed, an uninhabited land", as described by the Torah itself.

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Parshah Pearls

Pinpointing the Exodus

At the beginning of the Parshah (in Pasuk 3) the Torah writes that Yisrael left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month. Yet in Parshas Re'ei (16:1) it writes that G-d took them out from Egypt in the night!

We can explain this apparent discrepancy as follows. The Pasuk in Re'ei is referring to the moments after midnight, when Moshe refused Par'oh's orders to take Yisrael out of Egypt immediately. To which Moshe replied that Yisrael are not robbers, who need to run away in the middle of the night in order to escape capture. He explained to Par'oh that they intended to go out in the middle of the day in full view of the Egyptians, and with their blessings. Until now, Moshe had pleaded with Par'oh to let the people go and he had said no. Now the tables were turned. It was Par'oh who was pleading that Yisrael should leave, and Moshe said no! This was true freedom - they had left the domain of Par'oh and entered the domain of Hashem, and they would go out when He gave the order, not Par'oh. Hence the night of the fifteenth of Nisan was the beginning of the Exodus, the day was its culmination.


The Borders of Eretz Yisrael

The first half of chapter thirty-four specifies the borders of Eretz Yisrael clearly and succinctly - going from the south to the west, to the north to the east. Roughly, the southern border is from the southern tip of the Yam ha'Melach to the Mediterranean - going in a slightly southerly direction from east to west up to the north-eastern tip of Egypt. The western border followed the Mediterranean Sea up to Hor ha'Har, and included islands that were close to Eretz Yisrael. The northern border appears to coincide with the northern border of Lebanon, whilst the eastern border, which began way north of Yam Kineret, ran all the way down the eastern borders of the Kineret, the River Yarden and the Yam ha'Melach. This incorporates the whole of modern Israel and Lebanon.

The Torah deliberately precludes the East Bank of the Yarden (incorporating Jordan), since it had already been partitioned by Moshe - and, unlike Eretz Yisrael proper, was not divided by lots. The Seforno explains that the Divinely-inspired lots were a privilege that only the latter enjoyed, but did not extend to Eiver ha'Yarden, which was on a lower level of Kedushah.


United at Last

A most unusual phenomenon is that of the Leining of the weekly Parshah differing in Chutz la'Aretz than that of Eretz Yisrael. And of course, it creates a problem for Chutznikim who visit Eretz Yisrael for the duration of the 'discrepancy', who inevitably miss a Parshah,


The cause of the problem is the fact that this year, Pesach in Eretz Yisrael began on Shabbos, and ended on Friday, as a result of which they Leined Acharei-Mos on the following day. That Shabbos however, coincided with the last day of Pesach for the Chutznikim - leaving them to Lein Acharei-Mos the following week - one week behind.

I don't recall why they did not catch up by Leining Acharei-Mos and Kedoshim or B'har and Bechokosai together. In any event, they catch up with their brothers in Eretz Yisrael this week, when they Lein both Matos and Mas'ei.


A ben Chutz la'Aretz who happened to be in Erez Yisrael last week (Parshas Pinchas) received an extra treat in the form of the Haftarah of Pinchas - a rare occurrence in Chutz la'Aretz, where Matos & Masei are almost always Leined together (as they will be this year), in which case Pinchas is the first of the three weeks - on which the first of the special Haftaros ('Divrei Yirmiyahu') is read.

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