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

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Vol. 10   No. 42

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"Hodu la'Hashem ki tov, ki le'olom chasdo"

Parshas Matos-Masei

Living in Eretz Yisrael

The Torah commands Yisrael to drive out the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael before taking possession of it, and to destroy their houses of worship, their images and their altars. And the Pasuk continues "And you shall dispossess the land and dwell in it, because to you I have given the land in order to possess it".

Rashi explains the first half of this Pasuk to mean that it is only if Yisrael would drive out the inhabitants from their land that they would be able to dwell in it. But as long as other nations were living there, they would not reside there permanently. The Seforno adds that they may well succeed in capturing the land, but they would not succeed in handing it over to their children.

In light of the Mitzvah of killing every Cana'ani man, woman and child, the Or ha'Chayim asks why this Pasuk is necessary. Surely, having killed the Cana'anim, there would be nobody left to drive out. And he explains that either the Pasuk is talking about non-Cana'ani people living in the land, or about Cana'anim, who, for some reason or other, Yisrael were unable to kill.

A few Pesukim later, the Torah goes on to warn Yisrael that if they fail to drive out the current inhabitants, they will be a constant thorn in their side, causing them endless suffering. This implies physical suffering (in the way that we suffer from our local enemies in modern times). Yet the Pasuk then warns that what G-d planned to do them he will do to us, and we will be the ones to be expelled from the land, suggesting that they will lead us astray spiritually, causing us to forfeit our right to live in Eretz Yisrael, as the Seforno explains.

The Ramban combines the two explanations. First they will cause Yisrael to stray after their gods, and then G-d will allow them to turn on us and do attack us, before expelling us from the land.


According to Rashi's interpretation of the above Pesukim, this Parshah does not incorporate a Mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban disagrees with Rashi however. He interprets "And you shall dispossess the land and dwell in it" as a dual Mitzvah, to drive out the current inhabitants from there and to live in it. Consequently, he says, if Yisrael were to decide to capture another country and inhabit it, they would be contravening a Mitzvas Asei. And, he adds, it is also the source of the Sugya in Kesubos (110b), which prohibits leaving Eretz Yisrael, and gives a woman who refuses to move with her husband to Eretz Yisrael, the status of a rebellious woman.

And this concept is repeated by the episode of the spies, where Moshe said to the people "Go up and possess it". And then, when they refused, he called them rebels.


The Or ha'Chayim quotes the two opinions, concluding that Rashi's explanation appears to be the correct one, because according to the Ramban, the Pasuk ought to have ended "because to you I have given the land in order to dwell in it" (rather than ''in order to possess it"), since that is the essence of the Mitzvah. In fact, Targum Yonasan and the Rambam, apart from many other commentaries, agree with Rashi too.

Yet the Ramban maintains that his explanation is basically the correct one. Aside from the proofs that he brings from the Gemara, there appear to be a number of good reasons why. First of all, all the verbs in the current Pesukim ("ve'horashtem", "ve'ibadtem", "te'abeidu", "tashmidu", "ve'hisnachaltem") are Mitzvos. Is it not strange that one solitary verb in the group, "vi'yeshavtem", should be a statement? Secondly, the many Mitzvos that the Torah issues in connection with the land - to drive out the nations who live there, not to sell a gentile a house in Eretz Yisrael, to distribute the land by means of lots ... , will be more meaningful, if living there is a Mitzvah. And this is compounded by the many, many Mitzvos that result from living in Eretz Yisrael (e.g. building a Beis-Hamikdash, Korbanos, Matnos Kehunah and Leviyah ... ).

Thirdly, the fact that the Pasuk in question switched from "ve'Horashtem es yoshvei ho'oretz" to "ve'horashtem es ho'oretz", suggesting that it is now talking about inhabiting the land itself, and not driving out the inhabitants (which was the gist of the earlier Pasuk), as Rashi explains.

And as for the Or ha'Chayim's proof, the Ramban will explain the Pasuk to mean that G-d gave us the land to possess (in its entirety) and not to share with others (even whilst performing the Mitzvah of dwelling there). And that explains why He commanded us to drive out the inhabitants before inhabiting it.


In any event, however one explains the Pasuk in question, its literal translation conveys a relevant message to cover today's situation in Eretz Yisrael - "And you shall dispossess the land and dwell in it, because to you I have given the land in order to possess it". Our future here is assured only as long as we alone live here. Whereas our exile from it is inevitable, as long as we allow others to share it with us (let alone giving them part of it).


Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
Parshas Matos

Perhaps He'll Die in the Middle

"A man who declares a Neder to Hashem" (30:3).

That is why the Pasuk writes in Koheles (9:12) "Because no-one knows when he is going to die" (Medrash).

It is not initially clear what the Medrash means with that.

The Kedushas Levi (and others) however, cite the Gemara in Nedarim 10, which warns a person who wishes to bring a Korban, against declaring 'la'Hashem Korban', in case he dies after pronouncing the Name of Hashem, before he has a chance to say 'Korban'. Consequently, he should declare the words in the reverse order 'Korban la'Hashem' - just as our Pasuk indicates. Now the quotation from Koheles makes perfect sense. It is precisely because nobody knows when he is going to die that the Torah writes here "Korban la'Hashem", and not "la'Hashem Korban".


For the Love of a Mitzvah

"And Moshe spoke to the people saying 'Gather men for the army' " (31:3).

Even though Moshe knew that he would die immediately afterwards, he did this gladly, without delay.

What indication is there, asks the K'li Yakar, that Moshe did it gladly?

He first remarks that although G-d instructed Moshe to avenge the honour of Yisrael, Moshe instructed Yisrael to avenge the honour of Hashem. The truth of the matter is that by inducing Yisrael to sin, and causing twenty-four thousand people to die, the Midyanites sinned both against G-d and against Yisrael.

G-d therefore told Moshe that He was willing to forgive Midyan for what they did to Him, but He would under no circumstances forgive them for what they had done to Yisrael.

Moshe on the other hand, was afraid that since it was Yisrael's own honour that was at stake here, the moment they heard that Moshe was destined to die immediately afterwards, they would refuse to enlist (which is in fact what happened). So he tried (in vain) to prevent this from happening by commanding them to fight Midyan to avenge G-d's honour (and not theirs). He figured that, even if they were able to forego their own honour, they would certainly not be able to forego His.

If Moshe had had the least misgivings about fighting Midyan, due to the fact that it would hasten his death, then there was nothing to stop him from carrying out G-d's instructions to the letter, to encourage the people to demonstrate on his behalf. Whereas in fact, he did exactly the opposite, in an effort to try to prevent such a demonstration from taking place. What better proof could there be, that, not only did he agree to carry out G-d's instructions, but that he did so gladly. Evidently, in his eyes, performing the will of Hashem took precedence over his own life.


Yisrael and Their Leaders

"And there were handed over from the thousands of Yisrael" (31:5).

This teaches us says Rashi, the extent of love that Yisrael bear their leaders. Before they heard that Moshe was due to die, Moshe complained "They all but stoned me". But the moment they were informed that his death was linked to the war with Midyan, they refused to go, and had to be handed over by force.

Why, asks the Sh'loh, does Rashi add the piece where they nearly stoned him? What does that have to do with the love that they bore him?

And he explains that when Yisrael have complaints against their leaders, it can have one of two meanings. Either they really mean business, blaming their troubles on their leaders in a serious way, or they see the leader as a father, and only voice their grievances in the way that people tend to take liberties with their parents, and demand their needs in a way that they would not dream of doing with anyone else.

Indeed that is why Moshe said in Beha'aloscha "Did I conceive this people, did I give birth to them" (implying that if he had, their complaints would have been justified).

From the fact that, when it came to the crunch ,Yisrael demonstrated their love towards Moshe, by their reluctance to lose him, it was clear retroactively that their bitter grievances were only because they saw Moshe as a father, not because they really felt bitter towards him. In their heart of hearts, they really loved him.


It seems to me however, that we might explain the Rashi differently. Even if we assume that Yisrael 's grievances were expressed with feelings of bitterness, that was only because of their troubles. It is perhaps similar to Chazal, who say of Iyov (who blasphemed G-d) 'A person cannot be taken to task for what he says (or even does) when he is in a state of pain'. Here too, Yisrael may have used strong words against Moshe, but that was only because they were suffering. Deep down in their hearts, they loved him, and did not blame their troubles on him (even though on the surface, it looked as if they did). Because if they had, they would have been only too pleased to see the end of him.


Common Sense

"And Moshe was angry with the officers ... how could you let the females live!" (31:14/15)

The truth of the matter is, says the Sh'loh, that Moshe had not instructed them to kill the women. So why was he angry with them for not doing so?

From here we see that something which is logical should be acted upon, without waiting for instructions. Similarly, he says, Bilam admitted to the angel that he had sinned for not having realized that he (the Angel) was standing in his path. It seems that even not realizing something that one should, is sometimes considered a sin, too.


Parshas Mas'ei

The Finite and the Infinite

"These are the journeys of B'nei Yisrael whose hosts left Egypt, by the hand of Moshe and Aharon." (33:1).

We find in the Medrash that because the redemption from Egypt took place at the hand of human beings, it was not permanent, and it had to be followed by another exile and redemption.

The final redemption however, will take place at the Hand of G-d Himself, in which case it will be permanent.

And this is hinted here in our Pasuk, the Kosnos Or explains. "These are the (subsequent) journeys of B'nei Yisrael", because they went out of Egypt at the hand of Moshe and Aharon. Otherwise, there would not have been any subsequent journeys. They would have traveled to Eretz Yisrael, never to have left it again.

And it is also hinted in the first letters of "Eileh Mas'ei B'nei Yisrael", which are equivalent to those of Edom, Madai, Bavel and Yavan (Nachal Kedumim).


That Makes All the Difference

"And G-d carried out judgement against their gods" (33:4).

In Parshas Bo, the Pasuk writes "And I will carry out judgement against all their gods" (12:12). Why did the Pasuk insert the word "all" there, and omit it here?

In Parshas Beshalach, Rashi explains that the only Egyptian god that remained intact after Makas Bechoros, was Ba'al Tz'fon, which G-d left standing, to mislead Paroh, causing him to chase Yisrael to the Yam-Suf, in order to drown him and his army there. After K'riy'as Yam-Suf, it seems, Ba'al Tz'fon went the way of all the other idols (since it served no more purpose, and there was no reason to spare it).

Consequently, in Parshas Bo, where G-d spoke in the future, foretelling what he intended to do to the gods of Egypt, He was able to say that he would destroy all of them, because that was what He eventually did.

In our Pasuk however, which is recording what G-d had already done at the time of the Exodus, it was not possible to write about 'all the gods', since at that time, Ba'al Tz'fon was still standing (Birchas ha'Shir).


Greater Even than Ba'al Tz'fon

The Birchas ha'Shir also explains with this, why Yisro said, with reference to 'K'riy'as Yam-Suf', "Now I understand that Hashem is greater than all the gods" (Sh'mos 18:11).

What exactly was it that Yisro saw at K'riy'as Yam-Suf that he had not seen by the miracles that preceded it (see also Rashi there)?

The answer, explains the Birchas ha'Shir, lies in Yisro's experience in the field of idolatry, where he had been a senior priest for many years. When Yisro realized that Ba'al Tz'fon remained standing of all the Egyptian gods, he harbored doubts about Hashem's Omnipotence, for here was a god who could stand up to Him and survive His wrath. Perhaps Ba'al Tz'fon was even more powerful than Hashem, he thought.

But then when he saw that first the Egyptians were drowned, and then Ba'al Tz'fon himself was destroyed, he realized G-d's strategy, and how He had deliberately engineered Ba'al Tz'fon's survival in order to lure the Egyptians to the Yam-Suf. It was not only G-d's methodology of punishing measure for measure that impressed Yisro, but the fact that He truly was "greater than all the gods" - even than Ba'al Tz'fon!



The Amidah
(based mainly on the Sidur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")

The B'rachah of Sim Shalom (cont.)

ha'Mevoresh es Amo ba'Shalom

The reason that every Tefilah ends with a B'rachah for the whole of K'lal Yisrael, says the Eitz Yosef, is because the Chachamim initiated the Tefilos to follow the same pattern as the Temidim, and at the termination of each Avodah, the Kohanim would bless Yisrael.

The word 'Shalom' appears four times in this B'rachah, corresponding to the four exiles.


The Dover Shalom explains that we say 'Sim Shalom' only at Shachris because of its close links to Birchas Kohanim (and it is in the morning that the Kohanim Duchen). Consequently, at Minchah and Ma'ariv, we substitute 'Sim Shalom', with 'Shalom Rav'. (See also Acharis le'Shalom, who adds that also at Minchah on a Ta'anis Tzibur, since the Kohanim Duchen then, we say 'Sim Shalom') In fact, this is the opinion of the Hagahos Maimonis, who points out that at Shabbos Minchah too, we say 'Sim Shalom', because it mentions the blessing of Torah, and we Lein at Shabbos Minchah (this also serves as an additional reason to say 'Sim Shalom' at Minchah on a Ta'anis Tzibur).

The Sidur of the Rambam however (and many other texts) do not mention 'Shalom Rav' at all.


Yih'yu le'Rotzon Imrei-Fi

It is customary to recite the Pasuk "Yih'yu le'Rotzon Imrei-Fi ... " before 'Elokai', and one is forbidden to answer Kadish, Kedushah or Borchu before having said it.

Note, that we ask G-d to accept the words that we utter and the thoughts of our heart. Initially, it would appear that words that we utter with our mouths that do not incorporate the thoughts of our heart are meaningless. After all, Chazal do refer to Tefilah as 'Avodah she'ba'Leiv' (the service of the heart), because without the heart's participation, a prayer is no more than 'parrotry'. David Hamelech too, wrote in Tehilim "Hashem is close to all those who call Him, to all who call Him in truth", implying that if one does not Daven in truth (with sincerity), one may as well not Daven at all.

The Iyun Tefilah however, explains that "Yih'yu le'Rotzon" is a petition to Hashem to accept "the words of my mouth'' (pertaining to the words that we do not Daven with Kavanah)," and "the thoughts of my heart" to those that we do. And he explains it with a Gemara in B'rachos (34b). Chazal state there that someone who has difficulty in concentrating during the entire Amidah, should at least exert himself during the first B'rachah to make sure that he does. And if he does, it will be considered as if he had Davened the entire Amidah with Kavanah.



No sooner have we concluded the Amidah, than Chazal give us the opportunity to Daven a personal Tefilah. In contrast to the rest of the Amidah, which is written in the plural (since we are Davenning for the whole community and not just for ourselves), this final prayer, which is personal, is written in the singular, beginning with the first word 'Elokai'.


Netzor Leshoni mei'Ra ...

It is noteworthy that almost the entire text is based on our spiritual needs, rather than on our material ones. Moreover, the first thing we ask from G-d is to help us guard our tongues, because our speech is the first thing that needs to be put in order. A Ba'al Lashon-ha'Ra cannot expect any form of Divine assistance. Even his Torah-study will not receive a Divine blessing as long as his mouth is unclean. That is why we first ask G-d 'Netzor leshoni mei'ra (guard my tongue from evil) ... ' and then 'P'sach Libi be'Sorosecho (open my heart to your Torah) ... '.


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