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

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Vol. 4 No. 43

Parshas Mattos-Massei

To Put One's Own Interests Last

Moshe Rabeinu was fully aware that the war with Midyon would be his final act, since he had been told that immediately following the victory, he was destined to die. In fact, he held the power to delay his death by delaying the war with Midyon. He might even have postponed it indefinitely, thereby extending his life by months and even by years. But he did not! Not only did he hasten to obey Hashem's instructions to mobilise the army immediately, but, adds Rashi, he even did it with simchah. He had always placed Yisroel's interests before his own, as we find at Har Sinai, where he would descend straight from the mountain to the people, oblivious to the needs of his own family and to his own personal interests.

And ultimately, he would separate from the wife whom we can assume, he loved dearly, because married life would inevitably interfere with his personal role as leader of Yisroel. His current alacrity in mobilising the troops was therefore totally in keeping with his character, and he considered it his pleasure to avenge the shattered dignity of his people, by thrashing the perpetrators of the disgustingly immoral scheme, even to the total exclusion of any thoughts of his own death. So intense was Moshe Rabeinu's love for his people, that his own life meant nothing in face of their disgrace. ("If You will not forgive them", he had said to Hashem at the golden calf, "then blot me out from the book that You wrote!").

In stark contrast, Chazal, in the Medrash Rabbo, portray the reactions of Moshe Rabeinu's successor, Yehoshua bin Nun, who believed that he would die only after the conquest of Cana'an and the distribution of Eretz Yisroel among the twelve tribes would be completed. Quoting a possuk in Yehoshua, they accuse him of procrastination, of taking fourteen years to conquer and distribute the land when it could have been accomplished sooner. But, instead of living longer, he incurred G-d's anger, and the hundred and twenty years life designated to him were curtailed to a hundred and ten.

Not for one moment may we believe (chas ve'sholom) that Yehoshua's postponement of the capture of Eretz Yisroel was a conscious one. Yehoshua bin Nun, besides being Moshe Rabeinu's successor, was also a Novi, and when we consider that he was chosen to succeed Moshe Rabeinu on the merit of his sheer diligence and dedication to Torah, in a generation which Chazal describe as the greatest one of all time, we must realise that he was one of the most outstanding leaders of all time - second only to Moshe Rabeinu himself. We can therefore safely assume his procrastination to have been entirely in the subconscious. Doubtless, he had other reasons, solid reasons, based perhaps on tactical and strategic integrity, which would ably have justified his delays in the conquest of Cana'an. However, these reasons were evidently sparked off by his subconscious desire to prolong his life, and then utilised as the total justification of his delaying tactics.

Alternatively, this desire to live, simply played a supportive role, causing the inevitably slow progress of war to slow down still further.

Moshe Rabeinu, on the other hand, genuinely loved the people as much as he loved himself. He was also disciplined to such a degree, as to give Hashem's demands and wishes sole priority in his mind, to the total exclusion of his own well-being - indeed, to the total exclusion even of the least effort to prolong his life. So complete was Moshe Rabeinu's love of Hashem and of Klal Yisroel, that his emotions were governed by them too. Neither subconscious counter-interests nor deeper emotions could interfere with his duties towards his G-d and his people, for his subconscious and his emotions were dedicated to them too!


The final Parshah in Pinchas deals with the Mussofim. After giving all the details of what one is required to bring on each Yom-tov, the Torah concludes "These you shall bring before G-d on your festivals, besides your Nedorim (animals that you vowed to bring as sacrifices) and Nedovos (animals that you designated as sacrifices without taking a prior vow)" etc.

Having introduced the concept of Nedorim, albeit in the area of Korbonos, it is necessary to ensure that someone who makes such a neder, fulfills it. From the opening two pesukim of Mattos, we learn that it is up to the heads of the tribes, alias the Beis-din, to force those who take vows to keep them.

The Rashbam links the two Parshiyos even further. He explains how the Torah deliberately mentions the bringing of one's Nedorim on Yom-tov, since it was on Yom-tov that one would usually bring one's Nedorim, in order to avoid transgressing "Bal-te'acher" (the negative mitzvah of not bringing a Korban after its time has expired) before the termination of the third Yom-tov after making the vow. As the Gemoro explains in the first chapter of Rosh Hashonoh (to avoid negating the positive mitzvah of "and you shall come there, and you shall bring there" [Devorim 12]), one would need to bring the Korban already before the termination of the first Yom-tov.

Consequently, the sequence of the two Parshiyos is abundantly clear; "G-d informed Moshe that Yisroel are obliged to bring their Nedorim on Yom-tov, in order to avoid transgressing 'Bal te'acher'. Moshe therefore went and instructed the heads of the tribes to teach the people not to break their vows, not to transgress 'Bal te'acher' by bringing their Nedorim after Yom-tov."

With this explanation, the Rashbam answers the question that was put to him - why does the Parshah begin in such a casual way? Since when does the Torah begin a new topic by telling us how Moshe told mitzvos to the people, without first informing us that Moshe received these instructions from G-d? Now the answer is clear - the mitzvah of Nedorim is contained in the Parshah of Mussofim, and it is there that G-d issued His instructions.

Having established that the Torah is speaking about Nidrei Hekdesh, perhaps we can now explain why the Torah somehow omits the din of "Hatoras Nedorim", mentioning it only by way of hint. Whereas one may nullify most Nedorim, and it is usually even a mitzvah to do so, that is not the case with Nidrei Hekdesh. Nidrei Hekdesh should be fulfilled, not nullified. That is certainly a good reason for the Torah to avoid any direct mention of Hatoras Nedorim.

R. Bachye differs slightly from the Rashbam. He writes that, having told us about "Nidrei Hekdesh" in the previous Parshah, the Torah now adds that there is also such a concept as "Nidrei Hedyot" (ordinary nedorim) and that these may be nullified. It is clear on the one hand, why the Torah only refers to the nullification of vows with regard to Nidrei Hedyot, and not Nidrei Hekdesh, as we explained earlier. But the question that we asked earlier, why does the Torah refer to Ha'toras Nedorim only by way of hint, and not directly, remains unanswered, according to R. Bachye.

The Ba'al Ha'turim also writes: It is the heads of the tribes, i.e. the Beis-din, who nullify vows of Yom-tov, just as they are the ones who fix the dates. And similarly, when Yisroel are in trouble, their leaders take vows (as Yiftach did), as we find with the captains of thousands, who, after the war with Midyon, said to Moshe Rabeinu, "And we have brought the 'sacrifice (gift) for G-d'. And we find this too with Yiftach, though in that case, the story took a rather unfortunate twist.

(Adapted from the Rambam: Chapter 5 Hilchos Rotzei'ach)

It is a mitzvah for an inadvertent murderer to go into exile to a city of refuge. The "murderer" goes into exile only if the murdered man died immediately. But if he languished even for a brief period before dying, the "murderer" is exempt, because we must contend with the possibility that the murdered man caused his own death (the Ra'avad disagrees with this ruling).

Initially, whoever murdered, had to escape to a city of refuge (of which there were forty-eight) from which the Beis-din of the town where he had committed the murder, would take him and judge him.

If the Beis-din sentenced him to death, then they would carry out the death-sentence; if they decided that he was innocent, they would set him free; but if they considered him an inadvertent murderer, they would send him back to the city of refuge. On the way back to the city of refuge, the Beis-din would hand the "murderer" two talmidei-chachamim, whose job it was to convince the "go'el ha'dam" (the next of kin - should he catch up with him) that the act was performed inadvertently, and that he should therefore show compassion towards the murderer. Despite the Torah's permission to kill him, they would plead with him to overlook the "murderer's" sin and let his anger subside.

If the go'el ha'dam caught and killed him, he was not punishable, either the first time or the second that the "murderer" ran to the city of refuge.

Should the "murderer" leave the city of refuge for any reason whatsoever, the go'el ha'dam had permission to kill him, and anyone else who did so, was not punishable. There are three kinds of Shogeg: the one which is close to "o'nes" - circumstances beyond his control; the second, close to "meizid" - a grossly careless act that is similar to one performed on purpose; and the third, a regular "shogeg".

An example of the first category is someone who was pulling a barrel upwards, using a rope, when the rope snapped and fell on the person below. In this case he will be set free. An example of the second category is someone who threw a large stone into the street, which fell on someone and killed him. He does not go into exile to a city of refuge, but is obligated for the rest of his life to be on guard against the go'el ha'dam, who will not be punished should he find him and kill him.

A standard case of shogeg is if he is lowering a barrel by means of a rope, when the rope snapped, etc. That is the case when he escapes to a city of refuge, and is safe from the hands of the go'el ha'dam, as long as he remains there - until the death of the Cohen Godol.

(Mattos-Massei) (Yirmiyoh 2:4-28; 3:4)

G-d complains bitterly as to how Yisroel have forsaken Him, the women as well as the men. The sages and the masses have all forgotten the G-d who took them out of Egypt and who brought them to their beautiful land. It is incomprehensible that an entire nation should give up their Omnipotent G-d in exchange for wood and stones. And it is in that vein that the Novi bemoans the Cohanim for not teaching the people to worship G-d, the Torah-scholars for studying Torah with their mouths, but not with their hearts (Redak), the kings for rebelling against G-d and the (false) prophets for prophesying in the name of Ba'al.
Go and check out, G-d chided Yisroel, whether the inhabitants of the islands of Kittim or the inhabitants of Kedor exchange their useless gods for others, and you will discover that your behaviour is unprecedented. Who were the Kitti'im and Kedorim? Rashi explains that they were nomadic tribes, who used to carry their gods from one place to another, and even they did not relinquish their gods. Yet there were Yisroel, whose G-d carried them for 40 years in the desert ("like a nurse-maid carries the baby" - Bamidbor 11:12), exchanging Him for another.

Our Rabbis also say, Rashi adds, that the Kitti'im worshipped water, and the Kedorim fire, and although they knew that water extinguishes fire, this did not deter the Kedorim from retaining their god, yet Yisroel relinquished their G-d, although they knew that neither fire nor water could affect Him.

The Dubno Maggid illustrates this with a striking parable: A young man once spent the first few years after his marriage at the table of his father-in-law, as was the custom in those days. The day arrived for the young son-in-law to go into business. His father-in-law gave him his promised "nadan" and sent him to the fair in Leipzig to start a business. But the young man, who possessed not a shred of business-sense, returned with a few wagon-loads of tooth-picks. The angry father-in-law sent him back to the Beis Ha'medrash.

Another few years went by and the father-in-law, loathe to support his son-in-law indefinitely, decided to give him another try. So once again, he sent him to Leipzig with a second "nadan" - and with a stern warning not to purchase tooth-picks or anything so useless and unsaleable. This time, the Shle'miel found a real metzi'ah - a huge assignment of shofros, which he proudly presented to his father-in-law. His father-in-law was furious. For lack of a better plan, he resigned himself to his losses, sent the "batlan" back to the Beis Ha'medrash, and put the two useless loads into storage.

After a while, he had an idea. He hired two agents, one to "get rid of" the tooth-picks, the other, the shofros, though neither was aware of the other. Not long afterwards, the father-in-law received two letters: one from the merchant with the tooth-picks, who was proud to inform him that he had managed to barter the tooth-picks for - a load of shofros! The other was from the second merchant, who was thrilled to have got rid of the useless shofros. He had exchanged them for tooth-picks!

At this point, his son-in-law attempted to defend himself. "You see," he told his father-in-law, "even such experienced merchants got caught in this deal, so how can you blame me?"

"You fool," replied the irate father-in-law, "Each of the two merchants set out with useless merchandise, so they can hardly be blamed for exchanging it for equally useless merchandise. But you were sent to Leipzig with good solid money, and look what you came back with!"

And that is precisely what the Novi was telling Yisroel, concludes the Dubno Maggid (explaining possuk 11). "Even if a nation were to exchange their god, it wouldn't be a terrible stupidity, since what he worships is not really a G-d at all. But My people exchanged My honour - that of a great and living G-d - for one that is useless - gods of wood and stone!

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