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

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Vol. 8   No. 38

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Parshas Matos-Mas'ei

Apportioning the Land
Part I

"And you shall inherit the land by lots, according to the families; to the many you shall give a larger portion, and to the few, a smaller one" (33:54).

Rashi, commenting on 26:54, where the identical phrase appears, explains that each tribe received a portion of land proportionate to its size, and that is how Targum Yonasan translates it, too. In effect, this implies that Eretz Yisrael was allocated equally among the recipients. Each tribe received a portion of land commensurate with the number of members (which meant, either according to those who left Egypt, or according to those who ultimately entered Eretz Yisrael - two opinions which we will discuss briefly later), whereas each person received the same amount of land.

This being the case, Ya'akov's gift to Yosef (turning his tribe into two tribes), will have meant there would be two princes, two flags, and two divisions of land, but no difference whatsoever in the amount of land that the tribes and the families would receive.


The Ramban however, disagrees. Surely, he argues, when Ya'akov Avinu told Yosef that Ephrayim and Menasheh would be to him like Reuven and Shimon, he was intimating that they would receive a double portion of land, and not just of prestige. And besides, he points out, after stating (in Va'yechi) that any children subsequently born to Yosef would be called after their brothers (Ephrayim and Menasheh, and not new tribes), Ya'akov Avinu specifically adds the word "re. their inheritance". Based on these and other proofs, the Ramban therefore insists that, even if we were to concede to Rashi's basic explanation, we would have to admit that each and every member of the tribes of Ephrayim and Menasheh received a double portion of land (like a first-born does), in order to implement Ya'akov's instructions.


In fact, the Ramban disagrees with Rashi's basic explanation too. The Gemara in Bava Basra (121a) does indeed discuss the possibility that the land was apportioned per capita (like Rashi), he points out, but it concludes that it was divided into twelve equal portions. (Interestingly, Rashi on this Pasuk seems to hint briefly at both explanations). Consequently, each tribe received an equal portion of land, and the Pasuk under discussion is referring, not to a larger tribe or a smaller one, but to the number of families (i.e. the more families in the tribe, the less each family received). Indeed, the Pasuk there specifically mentions "families". And this goes particularly well with the opinion of Rebbi Yoshiyah, who maintains that the Land was apportioned according to the people who left Egypt (Malbim). Because what the Pasuk is then saying is that if, for example, a father left Egypt with ten sons over the age of twenty, then they would receive ten portions within that tribe, despite the fact that only five grandsons over the age of twenty entered the Land. And conversely, they would receive only five portions in the reverse case (see Rashi 26:55).


There is one problem with the Ramban's explanation however, which, as explained above, is based on a Gemara in Bava Basra. The problem is from an earlier Gemara (117a), which cites a dispute between Rebbi Yoshiyah (quoted earlier) and Rebbi Yonasan. The Gemara there queries Rebbi Yonasan from the episode related in Yehoshua (17), where the tribe of Menasheh complained bitterly to Yehoshua that their allocation of land was insufficient, due to the significant increase in numbers (from 32,000 in Bamidbar to 52.000 in Pinchas). According to Rebbi Yonasan, who maintains that the Land was distributed according to those who entered Eretz Yisrael, what were they grumbling about, asks the Gemara? Now according to the Ramban, in whose opinion each tribe received an equal size portion of land, why is the problem aimed in particular, at Rebbi Yonasan. According to Rebbi Yoshiyah too, they had no reason to complain, because they were in no worse position than any of the other tribes. On the contrary, there were a number of tribes larger than theirs, and if anything, they are the ones who should have complained.

In essence then, Menasheh's complaint is really only justifiable (logically if not halachically), if we assume that a. the Land was apportioned per capita (the larger the tribe, the larger the portion of land), and b. like Rebbi Yoshiyah, that the land was distributed according to those who left Egypt (leaving Menasheh with a small portion of land, but with vastly increased numbers).

This leaves us, not so much with a Kashya on the Ramban, as with a discrepancy between the Gemara cited by him, which concludes that the land was divided into twelve equal portions, and the Gemara which clearly indicates that it was not.

(to be continued)


Parshah Pearls
Matos - Masei
Parshas Matos

(adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
The Beis-din and Vows

"And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes ... when a man makes a vow ... " (30:2/3).

The Torah juxtaposes "the heads of the tribes" to the Nedarim and Nedavos (the various gifts that one undertook to bring on Yom-tov in the form of Korbanos), at the end of the previous Parshah. The Ba'al ha'Turim explains that this is a form of warning that the Torah imposes on the Beis-din to force people, if necessary, to fulfil their vows. And it is also a hint that they are the ones who fix Yom-tov on whichever of the two eligible days they decide.

And at the other end, the Torah follows with the Parshah of the battle with Midyan, because when Yisrael are in trouble (when they go to war), the leaders make vows, like Yiftach did. Indeed, following the battle with Midyan, the leaders told Moshe "And we have brought the Korban of the people (referring to the vow that they had taken before going to war)".


A Deaf Man Tells No Tales

"And her father remains silent on the day that he hears it" (30:5)".

"And her husband hears, and on the day that he hears he remains silent" (30:8).

The latter Pasuk, which contains the words "hears", is the source of the Gemara in Nedarim, which rules that if the father is deaf (even though he is able to speak, and is therefore capable of annuling his wife's neder) he is disqualified from doing so. The Torah does not use this word in the earlier Pasuk. However, the fact that it does use the same expression "remains silent" is a hint that we learn the one from the other, and that a father who is deaf cannot annul his daughter's Nedarim either.


An Extra Yud

" ... and after that, you (Moshe) will be gathered to your people (meaning that he will die)" (30:2).

The word "your people" ('amecho') is written with an extra 'yud', a hint that Moshe's death is mentioned ten times in the Torah.


A Thousand per Tribe, a Thousand per Tribe

This suggests that Moshe actually sent two thousand per tribe to fight against Midyan. That makes a total of twenty-four thousand, and corresponds to the twenty-four thousand that fell following the debacle of Ba'al-Pe'or.

Perhaps the Torah splits them into two groups, because, as Chazal have taught us, when the army of Yisrael would go to war, half the soldiers would fight, whilst the other half stood guard over their personal belongings, a tactic that they learned from Avraham Avinu. In that case, one thousand per tribe went to war and one thousand guarded the vessels.


Bil'am the Sorcerer

"And Bil'am ben Be'or they killed by the sword" (31:8).

The Pasuk in Yehoshua adds "And Bil'am ben Be'or the sorcerer ... ". This teaches us that they brought Bil'am before Moshe and he sentenced him to death for having practiced sorcery (though it seems a chidush to say that gentiles are forbidden to practice sorcery, in the first place).


It Depends Who You're Talking to

"And Elazar the Kohen said to the soldiers ... " (31:22).

Elazar taught them about the dinim of hag'olas keilim (the kashering of vessels), whereas in the previous parshah, Moshe taught them the dinim of purification from tum'as meis (see Rashi pasuk 21). This is because when Moshe spoke, it was to the captains who brought back precious garments and the like (which needed to be purified); Elazar on the other hand, was speaking to the soldiers at large, who came back with household vessels which required hag'oloh.


Who's the Most Important

"And Reuven and Gad had a lot of cattle" (32:1).

In deference to Reuven, the oldest of the brothers, the Torah places Reuven before Gad. From now on however, it is invariably Gad who will be mentioned first (see for example, Pasuk 2, 6 and 25), because they were superior fighters, and those whom they had killed stood out by the way they had been decapitated.

The Ramban adds that the B'nei Gad are also mentioned first because they were the instigators of the plan currently under discussion.


Eight Times

"The B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven" are mentioned eight times in this Parshah, a hint that they would later go into exile eight years before the rest of the ten tribes.

This is what the Pasuk in Mishlei (20:21) means when it writes "An inheritance that comes initially with confusion, will not be blessed in the end". Instead of "Nachaloh mevoheles" (with a 'hey') it writes "Nachaloh mevocheles" (with a 'ches' - whose numerical value is eight).



"ve'Ovar lochem kol chalutz" (And all armed men shall pass ... (32:21).

The word "chalutz" appears one other time in the Torah, in Ki Seitzei (25:10) "Beis chalutz ha'na'al" (in connection with the mitzvah of Chalitzah), the alternative to Yibum.

This hints to what Chazal have said 'Whoever went to fight in David ha'Melech's army, would give his wife a get (on condition that he failed to return), so that, in the event of his death, his wife would be exempt from Yibum.

It appears from here that Moshe Rabeinu introduced this custom, and that David ha'Melech took his cue from him.


The Seven Years ...

"And all the armed men shall cross the Jordan River before Hashem" (ibid.)

"Before Hashem" is mentioned in this Parshah seven times, hinting at the seven years that it took to capture Eretz Yisrael.


(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

187. ... That an employee may not take away any of the produce with which he has been working, nor may he take more than his fill to give to others - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (23:25) "and you shall not place (any produce) into your vessels".

Refer also to Mitzvas Asei 65.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


188. ... not to prevent an animal from eating whilst it is working - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (25:4) "Do not muzzle an ox whilst it is threshing".

This La'av extends to all animals and beasts, and to all forms of work that pertains to crops that grew from the ground, irrespective of whether they were detached or still attached. Nor does it make any difference whether one muzzles the animal whilst it is actually working or beforehand. And one transgresses even if one stops the animal from working vocally. In any way that one makes the animal work whilst not allowing it to eat, one has transgressed. Neither does it make any difference to whom the animal belongs, and one transgresses even if the owner is a gentile.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


189. ... not to take the mother with the baby (birds - in the event that one comes across a bird's nest) - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (22:6) "When you come across ... do not take the mother with the babies".

Refer also, to Mitzvas Asei 74.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


190. ... not to leave any obstacle lying around the house - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (22:8) "Do not cause bloodshed in your home".

Refer also to Mitzvas Asei 75.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


191. ... not to destroy a fruit-tree during a siege - as the Torah writes in Shoftim (20:19)

"When you besiege a city ... do not destroy its trees".

This La'av is not confined to the time of a siege, but extends to cutting down a fruit-tree by way of destruction whatever the circumstances. Someone who does so is due to receive Malkos. If one breaks a vessel, tears a garment or demolishes a building (by way of destruction), he receives Makas Mardus (Malkos mi'de'Rabbanan).

One may however, fell a non fruit-bearing tree, even if one does not need its wood. And the same applies to a fruit-bearing tree that has become old, and it is no longer worth one's while to tend to it. Chazal gauged this as less than a quarter of a kav of olives (thirty-six egg-volumes) and a kav of dates. It is also permitted to cut down a fruit-tree if it interferes with the growth of other fruit-trees, damages one's neighbour's field or if the value of the wood exceeds that of the fruit (since the Torah specifically forbids felling a fruit-tree by way of destruction, but not when it is beneficial to do so).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


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