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

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Vol. 11   No. 39

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Parshas Matos-Masei

Leaving an Escape Route

When Yisrael fought against Midyan, Targum Yonasan explains, they only surrounded them on three sides, leaving the fourth side open for those who wanted to flee. In fact, this is subject to a dispute in the Sifri, between the Chachamim, who say that they surrounded them on all four sides, and Rebbi Nasan, who concurs with Targum Yonasan, that they only surrounded them on three. The Malbim ascribes the Chachamim's view to G-d's command to Moshe to avenge what Midyan did to Yisrael, making it clear that mercy and escape were not the order of the day. Indeed, the Torah records that they killed every male. According to Rebbi Nasan, it is almost impossible to understand why no-one escaped.

Interestingly, the Rambam, in Hilchos Melachim 6:7, rules like Rebbi Nasan, adding that this is a tradition ('mi'pi ha'shemu'ah'), since it is certainly not written, or even hinted, clearly in the Pasuk. And the Ha'amek Davar explains that it is common to interpret "ka'asher tzivah Hashem", which is Rebbi Nasan's source for his ruling, in this way.


The Torah Temimah cites the Yerushalmi, which refers to the three letters that Yehoshua sent to the Cana'anim before entering Eretz Yisrael. In them, he gave the Cana'anim the three options of fleeing, entering into a peace-treaty with Yisrael (on Yisrael's terms) and finally of fighting. He assumes that Yehoshua learned the first option from Moshe Rabeinu, who left the third side open in his war with Midyan. And he goes on to equate Rebbi Nasan with the Yerushalmi, concluding that this is the Rambam's source for his ruling like Rebbi Nasan and not the Chachamim.

But this cannot be, for as the Radvaz points out, the Rambam's ruling to leave the third side open for the enemy to escape does not pertain to Milchemes Mitzvah (i.e. the conquest of Cana'an and the battle with Amalek), where the Torah forbids leaving anyone alive, in which case nobody is given the opportunity to escape. The three letters, on the other hand, to which the Rambam refers in an earlier Halachah, were sent to the Cana'ani nations as well.

Clearly then, the Cana'anim were initially given the option of a peace treaty as was the option of fleeing (which the Girgashi did). But once they declined, the initial offer, those options were withdrawn. In that case, it is not possible to equate Rebbi Nasan with the Yerushalmi.

In any event, the Torah Temimah contradicts himself, by then giving Rebbi Nasan's reason as a war tactic. A cornered enemy, he explains, with his back to the wall and no escape route, tends to become ferocious. The Meshech Chochmah agrees with this theory. He adds that history is proof of the numerous occasions when a losing army turned the tables and emerged victorious, simply because there was no escape route. Give the enemy the opportunity to flee, and you have eliminated the likelihood of such a situation developing.

As a matter of fact, the Meshech Chochmah uses this theory to answer the Ramban's Kashya, as to why the Rambam does not list leaving one side open as one of the Taryag Mitzvos. He attributes it to the fact that, according to the Rambam, it is a war tactic, as we explained, and not an independent Mitzvah.

The Ramban he explains, considers it an act of kindness, another branch of the option to make a peace treaty, by giving an enemy (whom one is not obligated to annihilate) a chance to escape, turning it into an independent Mitzvah. And he also cites the Ramban's version of the Sifri as 'Give them the fourth side' (in the form of a command), as opposed to our version 'He left the fourth side open' (which is merely a statement of fact, and also helps explain why the Rambam does not include it as a Mitzvah).

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Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Rosh on the Chumash)

The Parshah of Nedarim

"And G-d spoke to the heads of the tribes ... this is the thing that G-d commanded" (30:2).

The Rashbam was asked where Moshe was commanded about the Parshah of Nedarim, which has not been specifically mentioned prior to this point. And he replied by pointing to last week's Parshah, where the Torah writes "These (the Musaf Korbanos) you shall do for Hashem besides your Nedarim (whatever you vowed to bring) and your Nedavos (that you promised with your lips)". In connection with all of that, the Torah writes (in the following Pasuk) "whatever comes out of one's mouth one shall do".

Indeed, it is clear that the Pasuk there refers to all vows (even outside the realm of Korbanos). Otherwise, why did the Torah then need to add "your Olos, your Menachos, your Nesachim and your Shelamim"?

See also Ramban.


Killed by the Very Same Sword

"And Bilam ben Be'or, the sorcerer, they killed by the sword" (31:8).

The Rosh heard that this was the very same sword that Ya'akov stuck in the pile of stones beside the monument which he and Lavan erected between them. They both vowed at the time that whoever would pass that spot to harm the other one would be stoned by the stones of the pile and slain by the sword.

That is why Bilam's leg was squashed against those very stones on his way to curse Ya'akov's descendents (See Targum Yonasan), and that is why they now killed him with that same sword.


A Basic Difference

"Whatever is used with fire pass through fire ... " (31:23).

The question arises why, just as Yisrael were commanded here (following the defeat of Midyan) to receive Haza'ah (from the ashes of the Parah Adumah) and Tevilah, and to Kasher the dishes that they captured in battle, had they not been commanded to do the same after the defeat of Sichon and Og (in Parshas Chukas)?

There are some who explain that the battles against Sichon and Og took place in the fields and the forests, where there where no household dishes for Yisrael to capture, whereas the war against Midyan took place in Midyan itself, where Yisrael plundered their houses.

This may explain why it was not necessary to Kasher their vessels, comments the Rosh. But it does not explain why, having defeated and killed the armies of Sichon and Og, they did not need Haza'ah and Tevilah. After all, even those who hold that a gentile does not render Tamei through Ohel, agree that he does render Tamei through touching and carrying?

The Rosh therefore answers that Sichon and Og were different, inasmuch as they were considered part of Eretz Cana'an, and in connection with the conquest of Eretz Cana'an the Gemara in Chulin (17a) teaches us that everything became permitted, even Chazir, and even Tum'ah, in which case Yisrael did not require purification. And this is also inherent in Rashi in Devarim (1:4), who explains how Moshe waited until Yisrael had captured the land of Sichon and Og, which he describes as 'part of Eretz Yisrael', before rebuking them. Midyan, on the other hand, was certainly not considered part of Eretz Yisrael. Consequently, no Isur was waived, and there was no reason why the Dinim of Tum'ah should not apply.



And Their Judges Too

"And with their gods Hashem (Elokim) dispensed justice" (33:4), meaning that He destroyed them .

This is how most commentaries translate the word "Eloheihem" (see for example Targum Yonasan). The one exception is the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, who translates "Elohim" as 'their judges', which is what the word often means (see for example Sh'mos 22:7).


Two of Each

" ... from the south to Kadesh Barne'a" (34:4).

It seems from this Pasuk that Kadesh Barne'a is part of Eretz Yisrael. But how can that be, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T (quoting Rav B'chor Shor), when Moshe Rabeinu, who never crossed the Yarden, sent the spies from Kadesh Barne'a, as the Pasuk in Yehoshua (14:7) testifies?

He therefore suggests that there were two places that bore the same name. Indeed, the Gemara in Makos states that there were two towns called Kadesh. Similarly, Rashi points out, there were two Hor ha'Hars, one on which Aharon ha'Kohen died, and the other, in the north-west of Eretz Yisrael, as the Torah describes (in Pasuk 7).


When Murder is Rampant

"Three of the cities you shall designate on the other side of the Yarden, and the other three in Eretz Cana'an ... " (35:14).

What, asks the Gemara in Makos (9b), in Eiver ha'Yarden three and in Eretz Yisrael also three! (Remember that only two and a half tribes dwelt in Eiver ha'Yarden, as against nine and a half in Eretz Yisrael).

Yes, the Gemara replies, in Gil'ad (of Menasheh) there were many murderers.

So what if there were, asks the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos? 'Murderers' implies people who kill be'meizid (intentionally), whereas the cities of refuge were for people who killed be'shogeg (unintentionally)?

No problem, he replies, the Gemara there (10b) has already described how G-d would bring together to one inn, two murderers, one be'shogeg and one be'meizid, each of whom had killed without witnesses. Once there, the former would be descending a ladder, when he would slip and fall, on top of the latter, who 'happened' to be sleeping at the foot of the ladder, and kill him. Only this time, there would be witnesses.


The Da'as Zekeinim's answer however, is seemingly inadequate. The Gemara is speaking in a case where there were two categories of murderers to begin with. And what's more, the prime purpose of G-d's manoevering there, was to punish the murderer be'shogeg (because if it was to punish the murderer be'meizid, He didn't need a murderer be'shogeg to perform that task. Why, the murderer be'Meizid could just as well have lost his footing and fallen off the ladder himself).

So the question remains, how did the fact that there were many murderers in Gil'ad justify additional cities of refuge for murderers be'shogeg?

It therefore seems to me that people do not tend to sin be'shogeg unless they are already lax in that particular area of Halachah, and tend to transgress it be'Meizid. Someone who is lax in a certain Mitzvah will inevitably transgress it more often - be'shogeg as well as be'meizid. The logic behind this being that a person who does not really care about a particular issue will never guard himself against transgressing it, be it be'Shogeg or be'Meizid. And the same will apply to a society which is lax in a certain area. Consequently, if murder was common in Gil'ad, many murders be'shogeg are bound to have taken place there too.

And that is what Chazal meant when they said 'in Gil'ad there were many murderers' - be'meizid, but inevitably be'shogeg, too.


Yo'av ben Tzeruyah

"And you shall not take a ransom from a murderer" (35:31).

Should he run to a city of refuge to escape the death penalty, the Da'as Zekeinim M.T explains, one takes him from there and puts him to death. And what's more, even with regard to someone who seizes the 'horns' of the Mizbe'ach, the Torah writes in Yisro (21:14) "from My Mizbe'ach you shall take him to die".

And so we find with Yo'av, captain of the army of David, who fled to the 'Tent of Hashem' and took hold of the 'horns'' of the Mizbe'ach.

The question is, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., how Yo'av, who was an outstanding Talmid-Chacham and head of the Sanhedrin, could even think that he would escape the death-penalty by doing so?

Not at all, he replies; that wasn't his intention. Yo'av knew that someone who is killed by the Beis-Din is not buried in the family tomb, but in a special graveyard reserved for those killed by the Beis-Din. So to ensure that he did not suffer such a fate, he held on to the horns of the Mizbe'ach. In this way, he hoped that Beneyahu ben Yehoyada, who had been sent to take him to Beis-Din, would kill him as an emissary of the king. And in this way, he would not forfeit his rights to be buried in his family tomb.


Chazal explain that David asked his son Shlomoh to arrange for the death of Yo'av, for divulging the contents of the letter that he (David) had written, instructing him to see to it that Uriyah ha'Chiti was killed in battle (albeit under heavy pressure).

But how can that be, when the Pasuk specifically attributes David's orders to Shlomoh to the fact that Yo'av had killed the two Tzadikim, Avner ben Ner and Amasa ben Yeser in cold blood (and notto the letter) ?

The Da'as Zekeinim M.T. therefore merges the two reasons. Yo'av's real sin lay in the fact that he had killed Avner and Amasa, both of whom the people suspected (not without good reason, as per the circumstances there), Yo'av had killed on the king's orders. And what prompted them to believe that, was the letters that Yo'av had shown around regarding the death of Uriyah ha'Chiti. After all, they figured, if David was guilty of such intrigue once, he might just well be guilty of the same, on the other two occasions.

Therefore, to prove his innocence beyond any shadow of doubt, his only option was to issue Yo'av with the death-sentence for having done so, a clear indication that he had no hand in the murders.

Another difficulty that the Da'as Zekeinim M.T raises is why David did not want to kill Yo'av himself. And he ascribes that to the fact that Yo'av was his own flesh and blood, since Yo'av's mother Tzeruyah, was his sister. And that was something that he could not bring himself to do.

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(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 408:
For Yisrael to Give Cities to the Levi'im to Reside in, which also Serve as Cities of Refuge

Yisrael are commanded to give residential cities to the tribe of Levi, who did not receive a portion in the land, as the Torah writes in Masei (35:2) "Command the B'nei Yisrael to give to the Levi'im from the inheritance of their possession cities in which to reside". And later in the Parshah it says "All the cities which they give to the Levi'im shall total forty-eight". Some of these cities were designated to act as a refuge for 'murderers'. As a matter of fact, all the cities served as a refuge, and in Parshas Shoftim, the Chinuch will explain in what way those cities that were designated differed from those that were not.

A reason for this Mitzvah ... it is known that the tribe of Levi is the chosen tribe, who were singled out to serve in the House of G-d. They were not given a portion alongside Yisrael, of fields and vineyards. Nevertheless, they did require cities in which to live, they, with their children, their infants and all their livestock. And because of their superior level, their numerous good deeds and their great esteem, their land, over and above that of any of the other tribes, was chosen to gather in those who murdered be'Shogeg, in the hope that the land that was sanctified with their Kedushah would atone for them.

And furthermore, seeing as they are men of good heart, known for their exceptional Midos and wisdom, they will not bear hatred towards the murderers who seek refuge with them, and will not lay a hand on them, even if they killed one of their friends or relations. Because they know that the murderer killed inadvertently, without hatred. For it is about this tribe that the Torah writes "Who says to his father and mother, I have not seen you ... ". In other words, the tribe of Levi are special in that whatever they do, it is always aimed at doing what is right and with the intention of arriving at the truth. They do not do things for the love of a person, even for the love of their father or mother, their brothers or their children, on whose behalf there is a natural tendency to direct one's actions. Not so the tribe of Levi who tend to do only what is the right thing to do. See also what the author wrote in Parshas Behar (Mitzvah 342 'Not to Change the Layout of the Open Areas of the Cities of Refuge).

The Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Dinim of the Mitzvah are few. The author has already discussed some of them in Mitzvah 342, and others, he will discuss in Parshas Shoftim, in Mitzvah 520 (Separating the Cities of Refuge) ... and the rest of the Dinim are to be found in the Rambam Hilchos Sh'mitah Chapter 13.

This Mitzvah applies when Yisrael are living on their land. It applies to the community at large, and particularly to the leaders. In time to come, after inheriting Eretz Yisrael, and settling it, we will once again be able to fulfill it; may it happen soon in our days, Amen.


Mitzvah 410:
A Mitzvah on Beis-Din to Send Someone who Killed Inadvertently from his City to the City of Refuge and on the Murderer Himself to Go There

Beis-Din are commanded to exile someone who killed inadvertently from his city and to settle him in a City of refuge, as the Torah writes in Masei (35:25) "And the congregation shall return him to his city of refuge ... and he shall remain there until the Kohen Gadol dies". The murderer himself is included in this Mitzvah too, for so the Torah writes (35:28) "Because he shall remain in his city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol dies".

One of the reasons for this Mitzvah is due to the severity of the sin, since it causes destruction to the world. For Chazal have said that someone who murders on purpose, even if he kept all the Mitzvos, will not be spared from judgement, as the Pasuk writes in Mishlei ... . Consequently, when a person kills inadvertently, for the tragedy that he caused, he deserves to suffer the pain of exile, a punishment that is comparable to the pain of death, since he is separated from his friends and from his birthplace, to live with total strangers. On the other hand, there is a great advantage in this Mitzvah, in that, as long as one remains inside the city of refuge, he is safe from the hands of the avenger (the closest relative of the murdered man, whom the Torah permits to avenge his blood, only if and when he finds the murderer outside the city of refuge). For the Torah had pity on the murderer, who after all, only sinned be'shogeg. So it gave him the opportunity of saving himself from being killed unjustly, by remaining within the walls of the city of refuge.

And it is also to the advantage of the relatives of the murdered man, who do not need to see the murderers face always before their eyes, in the location where he performed his evil deed. For all the ways of the Torah are pleasant.

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