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

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Vol. 12   No. 45

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Parshas Mas'ei

Tooth-picks and Shofros
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

The Dubno Maggid tells the story of a young Talmid-Chacham who spent the first few years after his wedding, living with his father-in-law, who was a businessman, and being supported by him whilst he studied Torah in the local Beis-Hamedrash, as was customary in those days. Eventually, the father-in-law decided that the time had come for a parting of the ways. It was high time, he figured, for his son-in-law to branch off on his own and make his own Parnasah. So he provided him with a lump sum of money, and sent him off to the fair in Leipzig, to try his hand at business. The son-in-law however, was something of a Batlan (not overly business-minded), and with the money, he purchased a few wagons-full of tooth picks. When he returned with his 'metzi'ah', his father-in-law, none too impressed, berated him harshly. 'Sh'lemiel', he said to him! The goods you purchased are useless. I will not be able to sell them in a hundred years!'

Left with no choice, he placed the tooth-picks into his warehouse, and sent his son-in-law back to the Beis-Hamedrash to continue with his studies.

A few more years went by, and the father-in-law reappraised the situation. After all, his son-in-law's family was growing and it was high time that he became independent. So one day he called him over, and giving him another sum of money, he sent him back to Leipzig together with a stern warning not to buy tooth-picks or anything like that. It was the month of Ellul however, and the budding businessman figured what a good idea it would be to purchase a huge consignment of Shofros, just in time for Rosh-Hashanah. And that is precisely what he did, returning to his father-in-law proudly displaying his timely purchase.

'Batlan that you are', his father-in-law could barely restrain himself. 'What have you done? You have bought enough Shofros to last until the Shofar of Mashi'ach is blown. What on earth will we do with them all?'

So the Shofros joined the tooth-picks in the warehouse, and the son-in-law went back to the Beis-Hamedrash.

Time passed, and the father-in-law began wondering what to do with all the 'priceless merchandise' that was cluttering up his warehouse. Till he hit on the idea of calling in two experienced merchants, one of whom he sent off with the wagon-loads of tooth-picks, to get rid of them in the most expedient way possible, the other to do likewise with the consignment of Shofros. A few days later, he received two letters, one from the first merchant, informing him joyfully that he had managed to swap the tooth-picks for ... a consignment of Shofros; the other, from the second merchant, who could not get over his good fortune at having so quickly managed to dispose of the Shofros ... in exchange for a consignment of tooth-picks.

'You see', said his son-in-law when he heard what happened. 'Even a seasoned merchant like you stumbled over a business deal. So what do you expect of me?'

'Fool that you are', his father-in-law replied. 'How can you compare the two of us? I began with two useless loads of merchandise. So what did I lose? Nothing.

You on the other hand, set out with a handsome sum of money, which you simply squandered on goods which had no value. That is inexcusable!'


By the same token, Yirmiyah ha'Navi, in this week's Haftarah (2:11), admonishes Yisrael "Does a nation swap its god, even though it is not really a god? Yet My people swapped His Honour for something worthless".

No-one would take a nation to task for exchanging one useless god for another. Yet the nations of the world did not do this. They remained loyal to the god of their choice. It is Yisrael, who had the One and only G-d as their own G-d, who is guilty of giving Him up in favor of a god that could not help them if it wanted to. And the Navi elaborates "Because My people perpetrated two evils; they forsook Me, the source of spring water (and they did this) to dig themselves pits, broken pits that do not hold water!"

The nations of the world would have lost nothing, the Dubno Maggid concludes, by switching from one god to another. They would not even have evoked their initial god's wrath. But Yisrael gave up their honour and pride, the living G-d, for idols of wood and stone, with which to make tooth-picks. The trouble is that even that benefit was denied them, since one may derive no benefit from Avodah-Zarah.

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Parshah Pearls

Escape and Destination

"And Moshe wrote their departures according to their journeys ... and these are their journeys according to their departures" (33:2).

Someone who is running away from his enemy without knowing anything about the nature of his destination, is primarily concerned with making good his escape, without placing too much interest in his destination. Consequently, he is constantly counting the miles between his country of origin and his current location.

On the other hand, somebody who is well acquainted with his destination is more interested in arriving there, so he tends to measure the distance still remaining between himself and his destination.

The B'nei Yisrael, who were not aware of the beauty of Eretz Yisrael, were only concerned about how far they had traveled from their country of departure, to place as great a distance as possible between it and them. Moshe on the other hand, who knew all about Eretz Yisrael, was constantly noting the distance that still remained until they arrived in Eretz Yisrael (the Dubno Maggid).


And No Egyptian Barked Either

"And the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom G-d had smitten, and He punished their gods" (33:4).

After the final stroke that G-d had dealt them, one might at least have expected some nasty comments from the Egyptians, if only to give vent to their frustration, the K'li Yakar explains. But no! G-d wanted the Exodus to be total. As He had told Moshe, when Yisrael left Egypt, it would be with the full compliance of the Egyptians, so that nothing should mar Yisrael's feelings of freedom. And that is precisely what happened. Contrary to human nature, it may have been the dogs that did not bark at midnight, it was also the Egyptians who remained silent the next morning.


Two Birds with One Stone

"And you shall distribute the land by means of lots" (33:54).

The Parshah begins and ends with the destruction of the seven Cana'ani nations and of their idols. Why then, asks the K'li Yakar, does the Torah place this Parshah in the middle?

The task of destroying their numerous images was no easy one, he answers, which carried with it two problems. Firstly, that of 'a public pot', where each person relies on the other to do whatever job needs doing. Here too, there was a real suspicion that each tribe would assume that the other tribes were destroying the images, and that they were absolved. Secondly, that each tribe would attempt to select for itself an area that contained as few images and Bamos as possible. The Torah therefore killed two birds with one stone by informing them here that the land would be distributed by means of lots. On the one hand, no tribe would be able to choose their piece of land, and on the other, whoever was lax in killing the Cana'anim who lived in their allotted territory and taking possession of it, would have nowhere to live.


No More Sanhedrin, But ...

"And these shall be for you a statute of judgement for your generations" (35:29).

The Gemara in Kesubos (30) teaches us that even though the institution of Sanhedrin is currently non-functional, and as a result, the four Miysos Beis-Din are not practiced, the Din of Miysos Beis-Din is still applicable (at the hand of G-d). Consequently, someone who deserves to be put to death by stoning will falls off a roof or will be knocked down by a wild beast . By the same token, someone who killed inadvertently and deserves to be exiled to a city of refuge, will be forced to move from one place to another (like G-d decreed on Kayin "No vo'nod tih'yeh bo'oretz", even though there are no cities of refuge nowadays). That is what the Torah is hinting in the words "And these shall be for you a statute of judgement for your generations".


The Great Protection

"Six cities of refuge you will designate for the murderer to escape there. And on top of that you shall add another forty-two cities" (35:6).

The six cities of refuge, says the Oheiv Yisrael, are the six words "Sh'ma Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod", and the remaining forty-two, the Parshah of "ve'Ohavto", totalling forty-eight words.

However much a person has sinned, whatever punishment he deserves, there is no better escape than Kabolas Ol Malchus Shamayim coupled with love of G-d. That is bound to save a person from all the prosecuting angels that threaten to engulf him.


Divine Precision

" ... and he shall remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol" (35:25).

Rashi gives two good reasons to explain the connection between the murderer and the Kohen Gadol.

Here is how the K'sav ve'Hakabalah, citing the Rosh, explains it.

It is clear that not all murderers share the same level of guilt. Some are more guilty, others less. There may even be some who are virtually innocent, and who deserve no more than a very small degree of punishment. By connecting the length of the murderers' stay in the city of refuge to the death of the Kohen Gadol, G-d created the vehicle by which to mete out to each murderer the exact measure of punishment that he deserves. And He does this by orchestrating each person's murder (see Rashi Mishpatim 21:33) as close to the Kohen Gadol's death or as far away from it as he deserves, not one day earlier and not one day later.


Awesome Responsibility


In his second explanation, Rashi tells us that the Kohen Gadol's involvement in the duration of the murderer's stay in the city of refuge was the direct result of his failure to pray on Yom Kipur that no murder should take place in Yisrael. And who said he hadn't?

We know that there is no such thing as a sincere prayer in vain. Every such prayer reaches its destination, and is answered, though not necessarily in the way that one might have envisaged. A person may pray asking for success in a certain venture, which Hashem knows is not good for him. So he may not succeed in that particular venture, but Hashem will take his prayer and store it away for another occasion, to help him perhaps, in another endeavor in which he might otherwise have failed.

A Kohen Gadol on Yom Kipur it seems, is different. When he stands on the day that he is so involved with G-d, and prays, then G-d will listen and answer his prayers - exactly as he intended.

The Levush elaborates - the Kohen Gadol now faces a situation, he explains, where a lot of people are Davening for him to die. Why is that? Because they yearn to leave the city of refuge and return home (which is why the mothers of the Kohen Gadol used to distribute all sorts of goodies to the inhabitants, as Chazal have taught). And what's more, Hashem will listen to their prayers, and the Kohen Gadol will die prematurely, because it is due to his failure to pray that the murders occurred in the first place. The Kohen Gadol gets what he deserves, Midah ke'Neged Midah.

Two amazing things emerge from this Chazal - the awesome responsibility of a Kohen Gadol towards the whole of K'lal Yisrael (and anyone who is able to save his fellow-Jew through prayer), and Hashem's awesome Midas ha'Din.


In Order of Age

"And Machlah, Tirtzah, Chaglah, Milkah and No'ah were married ... " (36:11).

Rashi in Parshas Pinchas, commenting on the fact that the Torah here switches Tirtzah and No'ah, explains that there, the Pasuk lists them in order of their wisdom, whereas here it lists them in the order of their ages, which coincides with the order in which they were married.

We can learn from here, says the Chasam Sofer, that according to Da'as Torah, one should not marry off a younger daughter before an older one, even if she is cleverer than her older sister.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 407:
Not to Profane the Vows that We Make

We are commanded not to renege on our verbal undertakings, even if we did not mention the word 'Neder' or 'Shevu'ah'. For example, if someone declares forbidden on him all the fruit in the world, all the fruit of any particular country or any specific species of fruit, then he is obligated to abide by that undertaking; and this ruling will apply even if he declares his own wife forbidden on himself. It is in connection with statements such as these that the Torah writes in Mattos (30:3) " ...Lo yacheil devoro", which the Sifri translates as 'he shall not profane his words'. In effect, it is forbidden to undertake to do something and not fulfill one's undertaking. The Gemara in Shevu'os (20b) states that Konomos are subject to "Lo Yacheil ... " too, and so is anything that one promises to bring as a Korban or to give to Bedek ha'Bayis (the repair fund of the Beis-Hamikdash), to Tzedakah or to a Shul. Other undertakings however, such as to do one's friend a favour, or to do something (that is not a Mitzvah) or not to do it, even though it is not a nice thing to break a promise, and it is only someone of low standing who would do so, are not generally included in the La'av of "Lo Yacheil Devoro". Nevertheless, it is with regard to all the above that the Torah writes in Kedoshim "mi'D'var sheker tirchok (distance yourself from falsehood)". The Ramban is of the opinion that Nidrei Gavohah (Nedarim of a Mitzvah, that one vows to G-d) and Nidrei Bituy (that are unconnected to a Mitzvah) are two separate Mitzvos, as the author will explain in ki Seitzei (in Mitzvah 575).

A reason for the Mitzvah of Nedarim and Shevu'os the author already explained in Parshas Yisro, in the Mitzvah of 'not to swear falsely' (Mitvah 30).

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... Chazal extrapolate from the Pasuk "He shall not profane his words" that others (such as three ordinary people or one expert) may (as the author explained in the previous Mitzvah). And this even extends to Hekdesh and Tzedakah, as long as they have not yet reached the respective Gabai, and even to Terumah and Chalah, which one has not yet given to the Kohen. All these can be nullified ... and all other details of the Mitzvah are explained in Maseches Nedarim (and in Yoreh Dei'ah Si'man 203).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike. And someone who negates it by declaring a vow or who forbids something on himself (without making a specific Shevu'ah), and fails to adhere to his word, has contravened it. He does not receive Malkos however, since it does not involve a positive act. And when the Gemara in Temurah (3a) states that someone who swears, makes a Temurah or curses one's fellow-Jew using the name of Hashem receives Malkos, that pertains particularly to someone who makes a Shevu'ah, but not to the La'av of "Lo Yacheil" or to accepting an Isar on oneself without making a specific Shevu'ah.

* * *

(Adapted from the Ta'amei ha'Minhogim)

When announcing Rosh Chodesh, we refer to the month of Av as Menachem Av, with reference to the Aleph-Beis, with which G-d created the world. All the Kinos follow the Aleph-Beis, and when we are redeemed from Galus, the Aleph-Beis will at long last be comforted (Ramasim Tzofim).

In addition, 'Av' refers to G-d, who is our Father, and, since G-d suffers together with us in Galus (as the Pasuk writes in Tehilim "I am with them in their troubles"), Menachem Av expresses the hope that He too will be comforted with the coming of the Mashi'ach (D'vir ha'Mutzneh).

Perhaps we may add that Menachem is the name of Mashi'ach, in which case it is merely a reminder that whatever evil connotations the month of Av may have, it is also the month in which Mashi'ach will be born.


It is forbidden to buy new clothes or shoes (even though they do not require a 'Shehechiyanu'). Cutting one's nails is permitted until the actual week in which Tish'ah be'Av falls, and even then it is obvious that li'Ch'vod Shabbos, it is permitted (see Magen Avraham and Taz). The P'ri Megadim even permits cutting one's nails on Erev Tish'ah be'Av which falls on Shabbos, li'Ch'vod Shabbos.

A woman is permitted to cut her hair right up to Tish'ah be'Av (seeing as some permit her to do so even when she is an Aveil (after seven days [Orchos Chayim citing the Panim Me'iros]).


The prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine during the nine days (in order to minimize one's Simchah) applies even on Rosh Chodesh (even though Se'udas Rosh Chodesh is a Mitzvah), because Aharon ha'Kohen died on that day (for which reason there are even some people who fast then [Nezirus Shimshon]).

Someone who always recites Birchas ha'Mazon over a cup of wine iaseidocs obligated to continue to do so even during the nine days (Hagahos Minhagim).

The B'nei Yisaschar citing the Kol Eliyahu permits eating leftover meat from Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh during the nine days And there are other Poskim who agree with this (one reason for this is so that people should not be forced to limit their purchases for Shabbos, thereby detracting from Oneg Shabbos).

The Ya'avatz permits serving meat and wine to a Talmid-Chacham guest from out of town during the nine days, and to partake of it together with him. The reason for this is a combination of two statements of Chazal 1. Someone who benefits from a Se'udah at which a Talmid-Chacham participates, it is as if he had benefited from the Shechinah, and 2. Receiving guests is akin to receiving the Shechinah.


When looking for leniences with regard to the nine days, one should always bear in mind that the House of our G-d deserves that we curtail our pleasure and shed a few tears over its destruction.

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