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

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Vol. 6 No. 38

Parshas Mattos-Masei

Unbiased Wisdom
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)


The beginning of wisdom acquire wisdom, and with all your acquisitions acquire understanding" (Mishlei 4:7).

Shlomoh ha'Melech is teaching the people here that the first knowledge to gain is the knowledge of Torah, and that, having acquired that knowledge, they still need to acquire understanding - the ability to understand one thing from another. Because the one is not complete without the other.

And because understanding is the perfection of wisdom, Shlomoh advised that, if need be, one should give away all one's wealth in order to obtain it - because understanding constitutes true wealth.


Shlomoh also found it necessary to stress the importance of making the study of wisdom one's first priority, because when someone gives precedence to the study of other forms of wisdom, they turn his heart away and instil him with false opinions and ideologies. But if he studies the wisdom of Torah first, then, when he 'constructs other buildings' on that basis, they will no longer have the power to turn him away from the truth.

Because the wisdom of Torah is compared to purified silver, as Dovid ha'Melech wrote in Tehilim (12:?) as opposed to other sources of wisdom, which are compared to silver which has not been purified, seeing as they contain impurities and a mixture of various ingredients. So whereas the latter can cause a person to lose his faith, our Torah contains no impurities, just like the purified silver belonging to the master of the land. He fashions from them vessels for eating and drinking, which contain no other materials at all.


That is why Shlomoh wrote here "The beginning of wisdom, acquire wisdom" (meaning 'when you set out to acquire wisdom, first acquire the wisdom of Torah). Because someone who fails to study the wisdom of Torah first, and who did not see how the Torah elaborates on the great miracles and wonders, will find himself drawn after the power of nature and the belief in evolution. For the very reason that nature is called 'teva' is because it is synonymous with 'drowning', because one sinks in its murky depths down to the bottomless abyss, unless one takes the necessary steps to avoid it. And just like a person who has never learned to swim, is likely to drown when he falls into the sea, so is one who acquires the wisdom of nature likely to cast doubts upon the signs and wonders that were performed with Yisroel through Moshe, to believe only in the regular events which are conceivable to the logical mind.

He will even go so far as to say that the miracles that took place in the desert were really natural events; he will argue that the desert through which Yisroel wandered for forty years was just like any other desert, close to inhabited territory, like those deserts in which the Arabs travel. This is semi-desert country, in which it is possible to plough and to sow, and even to subsist off the fruits and the herbs that grow there (as the Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim). Or perhaps he will theorise that it was a desert teeming with water-wells, which will explain why Yisrael had no problem obtaining drinking-water.


It is in order to root out false theories such as these and to fix in our hearts once and for all, the belief in those wondrous miracles, that the Torah informs us in no uncertain terms that that desert was not like other deserts, as it is written "who led you in that great and fearful desert, containing snakes, serpents and scorpions". It was not close to inhabited land and was therefore not subject to ploughing and sowing. In fact, nothing could grow there, as the Torah records "It is not a place of seeds, figs, vines, or pomegranates". And there was no water there at all, as the Torah writes "And there is no water to drink". Moreover, it was a desert in which no man could survive for even a day, certainly not an entire nation consisting of men, women and children, who survived for forty years, as the possuk testifies "a land through which no man passed and where no man resided" (meaning that it was not possible to remain alive there).

And it is in order to reinforce this belief in our hearts that the Torah goes into great detail to relate the events of the forty-two journeys that Yisroel travelled, mentioning them all by name. Because the benefits in listing them are two-fold, both in the short-term, and in the long. In the short-term: that the incredible wonders should become known among the nations who lived in that generation, who had heard of the fame of Egypt and who knew that it was impossible for anyone to survive there. And in the long-term: so that it should become known to future generations, in order that it becomes as clear to them as to those who experienced it, and that they pass on to their children and grandchildren until the end of time, how Yisroel remained there for forty years, not in a natural way, but in a miraculous one. So too, were all of their experiences miraculous, by means of the Cloud and through the two redeemers, Moshe and Aharon.


Parshah Pearls

Adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim


Seeing Double

"A thousand per tribe, a thousand per tribe for all the tribes ... you shall send to war" (31:4).

The reason that the Torah repeats "a thousand per tribe" explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, is because, in fact, two thousand men from each tribe went into battle against Midyon, not just one. This was to compensate the twenty-four thousand who fell in the plague caused by the daughters of Midyon.


Perhaps the Torah divides them into two groups to hint that one thousand went to fight, whilst the other thousand guarded the camp (see Rashi Bereishis 14:24). This would also explain the double expression used in the following possuk. And this is further enhanced by the possuk after that, where the Torah writes "And Moshe sent them to war, them and Pinchos", repeating the word "them", to hint at the second group of twelve thousand men.


Moshe and Elozor

"And Elozor the Kohen said to the troops ..." (31:21). Rashi explains that Moshe forgot to explain to them the laws of kashering vessels - because he became angry, and anger causes a person to forget ...

The Ba'al ha'Turim has a different explanation. According to him, Moshe had been speaking to the captains, who came back from battle with booty consisting of valuable clothes, which did not require kashering. Elozor on the other hand, was speaking to the troops, who brought with them a variety of household goods. Consequently, it was they who needed to be told about kashering vessels.

Alternatively, he says, Elozor ha'Kohen was in charge of initiating the purification of both the soldiers and the vessels from tum'as meis - an ideal opportunity to teach them about kashering the vessels at the same time.


Age v. Strength

"And the B'nei Reuven and Gad had large flocks ... And the B'nei Gad and Reuven came and said to Moshe" (32:1-2). According to the Ibn Ezra, the Torah, in the second instance, places Gad before Reuven, because they were the ones to initiate the idea (Rashi, in Bamidbor 7:19, presents a similar concept in the name of Rebbi Moshe ha'Darshen).


The Ba'al ha'Turim explains however, that the Torah first gives precedence to Reuven, because he was the older of the two, and then to Gad, because he was the stronger; in fact, he says, the men of Gad were so powerful that Gad's war victims were easily discernable, because they were able to sever the head together with the arm in one stroke (as the Torah testifies in ve'Zos ha'Brochoh). Later in the parshah (starting from possuk 25), the Torah constantly places the B'nei Gad first. This would go well with either explanation, either because they were the instigators of the plan, or because there, the stress is on the role that they will have to play in the forthcoming conquest of Cana'an, where Gad would be the more prominent.


Hey, Where Did U Come From?

The tribe of Menasheh, it will be noticed, is not mentioned at all until possuk 33. Suddenly, they appear on the scene, after the plans were already finalised (which makes one wonder whether they were subject to the conditions that Moshe had arranged with Reuven and Gad - or is it Gad and Reuven?).


The Ramban suggests that after Reuven and Gad began to divide up the land, they realized that it was too vast an area for so few tribes, so they looked for more tribes to join them. Half of Menasheh, perhaps because they too, had a lot of sheep and cattle, accepted the invitation to join them.


Parshas Masei


"And the B'nai Yisroel travelled from Ra'amses and they encamped in Sukos" (33:5). It was called Sukos, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, because that is where the Clouds of Glory joined them, covering them like a Sukah (a hint perhaps, for Rebbi Akiva, who holds the mitzvah of Sukah is to commemorate the Clouds of Glory).


The Sin Desert

"And they travelled from the Reed Sea and they encamped in the Desert of Sin" (33:11). The desert was initially called the 'Desert of Sin', explains the Ba'al ha'Turim. However, after the Ten Commandments were given to Yisroel there, a 'yud' was added to its name, and it became known as the 'Desert of Sinai'.


Dofkoh and Olush

"And they travelled from the Desert of Sin and they encamped in Dofkoh ... and they encamped in Olush" (33:12-13).

Dofkoh was so called because that is where they ran out of bread, and their hearts beat faster.

And Olush enjoyed its name from Avrohom's instructions to Soroh "Lushi va'asi ugos" (knead dough and bake cakes). As a reward for his unique hachnosas orchim, Hashem rewarded his children with the mon (which first fell in Olush).


The Three Kohanim Gedolim

The inadvertent murderer had to remain in the city of refuge until the Kohen Godol died. The Torah mentions Kohen Godol no less than three times in this Parshah, remarks the Ba'al ha'Turim, to hint to the three different Kohanim Gedolim whose death set the murderers free to return home, safe from the relatives of their victims: 1. A Kohen Godol who was anointed with the anointing oil; 2. A Kohen Godol who was initiated by wearing the eight clothes (e.g. in the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh, when there was no anointing oil); 3. A Kohen who had deputised on Yom Kippur for the Kohen Godol who was tomei, and who had to stand down when the Kohen Godol re-gained his status of taharah, and returned to his post. If any of these died, the murderers would be released from the cities of refuge.



Chart I

(The Year Following the Exodus from Egypt)

Year 2448 (1310 BCE)

Nisan 15
Ra'amses - The Exodus.

Sukos - The Clouds of Glory.


Pi ha'Chiros - They encamp in front of Ba'al Tz'fon.

Nisan 21
The Yam-Suf - Crossing of the Reed Sea.

Nisan 24 Moroh - Yisroel are given the mitzvos of Shabbos, Kibud Av vo'Eim and Dinim - The bitter water - A man (acc. to some, Tzlofchod) gathers wood on Shabbos.

Iyar 1
Eilim - They find 12 springs of water and 70 date-palms.


Midbar Sin

Iyar 15
Dofkoh - The dough that they took with them out of Egypt terminates.

Iyar 16
Alush - The Mon (and quails) begin to fall. It will continue to sustain them for exactly 40 years.

Refidim (Masoh u'Merivoh) - There is no water. Moshe is told to strike the rock - Amolek attacks. Yehoshua staves off the attack.

Sivan 1
Midbar Sinai - Yisro arrives with Moshe's wife and two sons (according to those who say that he came before Mattan Torah).

Sivan 6
Har Sinai - The Torah is given - Moshe ascends the mountain for 40 days.

Sivan 16
Yisroel worship the Golden Calf.

Sivan 17
Moshe descends with the Luchos and smashes them.

Sivan 18
He destroys the Calf and punishes the sinners.

Sivan 19
He ascends Har Sinai again to pray for Yisroel.

Av 29
Moshe descends for the second time.

Av 30
He fashions the second Luchos.

Ellul 1
He ascends the mountain for the third time.

Year 2449 (1309 BCE)

Tishri 10
Moshe descends with the Luchos.

Tishri 11
He sits to judge the people and to teach them Torah - He appoints judges following the advice of Yisro - He instructs the people about the construction of the Mishkon. They begin donating.

Tishri 12-13
The donations continue

Kislev 25
The Mishkon is ready to be erected.

Adar 23
The Mishkon is erected and taken down by Moshe, who serves in a white long-shirt, for seven days. The seven days of inauguration.


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