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

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Vol. 16   No. 39

This issue is sponsored jointly
by Mrs. Lesley Hamilton n"y
l'iluy Nishmos
her dear husband
Michoel ben Avraham Nosson HaLevi z"l
who was niftar on 2 Tamuz
and her beloved mother
Sara bas Avraham van Gelder z"l
whose Yohrzeit is on 16 Tamuz
l'iluy Nishmas
Nechama Bracha bas Eliezer a"h
on the occasion of her Shloshim.
May she be a meilitz yosher
for her family and the whole of K'lal Yisrael.

Parshas Matos-Masei

For Good Reasons
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

R. Bachye gives four good reasons as to why the Torah sees fit to list here all the forty-two journeys that Yisrael traveled in the desert.

Firstly - it comes to dispel the notion that the desert that Yisrael traversed was a small desert, close to towns, like those inhabited by nomadic tribes, where one is able to grow plants and survive for long periods. By going over the route taken by Yisrael, one realizes that this was a large desert, where survival was impossible, and it was only through Divine protection and guidance that Yisrael were able to survive, as the Pasuk writes explicitly in Va'eschanan (5:15) "Who led you in this vast and terrifying desert, snakes and serpents and scorpions". Whereas the Pasuk in Chukas points out how, in the arid land in which they were traveling, no seeds could grow - "no figs, no grapes, and no pomegranates", and above all, there was "no water to drink!" It was, as Yirmiyahu ha'Navi describes it, a land through which no man had passed and in which no man had settled (2:6).

A person could not survive there for a day, yet our ancestors survived for forty years, not one man, but around three million people!

And this in turn, says the author, serves to strengthen our belief in G-d's Creation of the world, and refutes completely the theory of evolution.


Secondly - it reminds us of G-d's unlimited mercy towards K'lal Yisrael. Even though G-d decreed on K'lal Yisrael to move around in the desert for forty years, do not for one moment think, that they traveled ceaselessly during that period, without break and without respite. Not at all! During those entire forty years, they traveled only forty-two journeys, as we shall now proceed to explain.

In the first year Yisrael traveled fourteen journeys, from Ra'amses through to Rismah, from where they sent the spies. From the death of Aharon in the fortieth year until they arrived in the Plains of Mo'av, they traveled another eight. This means that during the entire thirty-eight period between the first year and the fortieth, they traveled only twenty journeys. And out of that period of time, Chazal inform us, they spent nineteen years (half of their traveling-time) in Kadeish. It emerges that due to G-d's abundant kindness, He made us travel a mere nineteen travels in as many years. Added to that, all their basic needs were provided for; they had a daily supply of food (via the Mana) and drink (Miriam's well), their clothes grew on their very backs, whilst the Clouds of Glory and the Pillar of Fire guided Yisrael through the treacherous Desert. And these same two Royal Emissaries not only protected them against all their enemies, as well as against the elements, both by day and by night, but they also flattened any mountain and killed the snakes and scorpions that stood in their path.

Yisrael's travels in the Desert, R. Bachye explains, did not follow any organized format. In one place they encamped for nineteen years; in another, only a day or a night. But every detail was Divinely planned, all according to the signal given by the Cloud. And it is to teach us that they traveled in the desert, not like lost sheep, like the proverbial 'wandering Jew', but in pleasant circumstances, with all their needs provided, even more so than their contemporaries living in civilized countries.

That is why, to explain this Parshah, Chazal give the Mashal of the king who took his sick son to a distant country to be cured (see Rashi 33:1).


Thirdly - listing all the travels and encampments serves to teach us that everything that happens to K'lal Yisrael is determined by Yisrael's devotion towards G-d. This explains why the Torah sees fit to mention all the places by name, since those names with pleasant connotations ("and they encamped in Har-Shafer" [Beautiful Mountain] or "They encamped in Miskah" [sweet] on the one hand, reflected a change of heart on their part from bad to good, evoking the Midas ha'Rachamim that shielded over them and protected them. Whilst on the other, when the Torah records that "they encamped in Charadah" [trembling], " … in Dafkah" [battering or beating] and " … in Marah" [bitterness] it presents us with a connotation of their having turned away from G-d, and G-d's negative response in the form of the Midas ha'Din, which was subsequently meted out to them to punish them.

And it is in this connection that the Yerushalmi writes that when Yisrael grumbled about their journeying in the desert, the 'guards encircled the Camp of Yisrael for fear of the night'. The guards, the author explains, are the Midos, good or bad, depending on the circumstances. And the Yerushalmi is teaching us that when Yisrael turned away from G-d, the Midas ha'Din (which is compared to night-time), prevailed.


Fourthly - the list hints to the future, since as the prophets indicate, the future redemption will follow the same pattern as the initial one from Egypt. Just as there they went from Egypt into the desert, so too in the future, will many of the exiles go into the desert, passing through the very same places as the Torah lists here, as the Navi states in Yechezkel (20:5 [with reference to the future redemption] "And I will take them out to the desert of the nations"; and just as He did after Galus Mitzrayim, G-d will then lead them and sustain them there, before leading them back to Eretz Ysrael. And this explains, according to R. Bachye, the repetition of the word "motzo'eihem" (their goings out) at the beginning of the Parshah. "And Moshe wrote their goings out" … "and these are their journeys to their goings out". The Torah writes the first one with reference to the Yisrael's exodus from Egypt, and the second one with reference to their exodus from the current Galus. And in the same fashion, having already written "These are the journeys of B'nei Yisrael" with regard to the past, the Torah repeats " … and these are their journeys …" with regard to the future - as the Navi prophesies "And it will be on that day that G-d will once again show His hand to acquire the remnant of His people … " (Yeshayah, 11:11). 'May Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu in His mercy let this happen soon, very soon; May we rejoice and be happy with Him!'

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

The Parshah of Nedarim

"And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes, to the B'nei Yisrael saying …" (30:2).

The simple explanation, says R. Bachye, is that the heads of the tribes should convey the information to the people.

Chazal however, explain that "the heads of the tribes" refers to 'a yachid mumcheh' (a single expert), and "B'nei Yisrael" to a Beis-Din of three ordinary people (who can also adjudicate in money-matters), both of whom are eligible to annul vows. He also explains the connection to the previous Parshah of the Yamim-Tovim, in that the Pasuk there (29:39) mentioned the Nidrei Gavohah (the Korbanos that one vowed to bring to Hashem) that were generally brought over Yom-Tov. And the Torah is now coming to teach that besides the Nedarim mentioned there, there are also Nidrei Hedyot (private vows) that need to be dealt with.


Reuven & Gad

"And the B'nei Reuven and the B'nei Gad had an abundance of cattle … . And the B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven came …" (32:1).

Although the Pasuk opens with the B'nei Reuven, who were sons of Ya'akov's main wife, whilst the B'nei Gad were the sons of the maidservant, when they appeared before Moshe, the order is reversed. This is because, as Moshe indicates in ve'Zos ha'Brachah, the B'nei Gad were mightier warriors that the B'nei Reuven. And in that capacity they were not afraid to live in Eiver ha'Yarden, far from the masses of their brethren who were destined to live in Eretz Yisrael proper. That is why they came up with the idea to live in Eiver ha'Yarden, and that is why the Torah mentions them first.


Getting One's Priorities Right


Commenting on this Pasuk, R. Bachye cites a Medrash which states that wealth only lasts when it is Heaven-sent, but not when it is grabbed. And it refers to two of the world's wealthiest men - Korach of the Jewish people, Haman of the gentile nations, who both perished because their wealth was not Heaven-sent, but grabbed greedily.

Similarly here, the B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven were exceedingly wealthy. They owned vast flocks of sheep. The problem was that so attached were they to their property that they were willing to separate from the community and live on their own in Chutz la'Aretz in order to safeguard it. That is why they were the first to go into exile, as the Pasuk in Divrei Hayamim 1. (5:26) testifies. And so Chanah said "G-d makes poor and He makes rich, He lowers and also raises" (Shmuel 1, 2:7), which the Medrash interprets as - 'With the anger (af) that He brings against one person, He raises the other'.

As for the two tribes in question, says the Medrash, the Pasuk writes in Koheles (10:2) "The heart of the wise man is on his right (i.e. his interests lie in spiritual matters), whereas the heart of a fool is on his left (he cares more about material things). This refers specifically to the B'nei Reuven and the B'nei Gad, who confused their priorities by giving precedence to their money over and above their families when they declared " … Let us build pens here for our sheep and cities for our children (22:16). 'By your lives' said G-d, 'there is no B'rachah in that … ', as the Pasuk warns (20:21) "Property that is seized hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end".

Finally, the Medrash quotes the Pasuk in Mishlei (23:4) "Do not tire yourself out to become rich, forebear from your own understanding". For who is truly wealthy? One who is happy with his lot! As it is written in Tehilim (128:2,) "When you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy and it will be good for you!"

See following Pearl.


Good Intentions Overridden

"And N'vo and Ba'al Me'on with altered names … " (32:38).

Rashi explains that these two cities were named after their idols, which explains why the B'nei Reuven saw fit to change their names.

R. Bachye places many of the other cities listed in the current Pesukim in the same category. And he bases this on Targum Unklus, who adds the prefix 'Beis' (a prefix that is common with regard to idols) to a number of the places listed in the current Pesukim.


In fact he goes further, and places the Avodah-Zarah that they worshipped in the category of 'Kitzutz Neti'os', which is in effect, a total rejection of G-d. And he ascribes Reuven and Gad's motive to remain in Eiver ha'Yarden to a desire to transplant this extreme form of idolatry with the worship of the One and only G-d, just as the other tribes would do when they entered Eretz Yisrael. They were afraid that if they crossed the Jordan River together with the other tribes, then other nations would come and rebuild the current cites, re-dedicating them to the same gods to whom they had been dedicated before Yisrael captured them.

A commendable and noble thought to be sure. Yet Moshe Rabeinu already taught us that their prime motive was their lust for money (see previous Pearl). And it is always the prime motive that determines the righteousness of one's actions or otherwise.

* * *

(Parshas Masei)

'These are the journeys of B'nei Yisrael, who left the land of Egypt, whilst miracles were being performed on their behalf, at the hand of Moshe and Aharon' (33:1).


'And they traveled from Pi ha'Chiros and crossed the sea; When they left the sea they walked along the sea-shore gathering jewels and pearls … ' (33:8).


'… they traveled from Chatzeros and they encamped in Rismoh, a place where Rosem-trees grew' (33:18).


'And they traveled from Rismah and encamped in Rimon Poretz (Rumana [Pomegaranate Trees?] where large fruit grew). And they traveled from Rimon Poretz … and they encamped in Livnah, where bricks for building were available' (33:19/20).


' … they traveled from Risah and they encamped in Keheilos, the place where Korach and his company ganged up on Moshe and Aharon. And they traveled from Keheilos and encamped in Har Shafer (the Mountain with Beautiful Fruit)' (33:22/23).


' … they traveled from Har Shafer … and they encamped in Charadah (a place where they trembled at the evils of death'). And they traveled from Charadah … and encamped in Makheilos (a place of gathering). And they traveled from Makheilos and they encamped at the foot of Makheilos' (22:24-26).


'And they traveled from Tarach and encamped in Miskah (where the water was sweet) 22:28.


' … They traveled from Chashmonah and they encamped in Moseros (a place of chastisement). And they traveled from Moseros and they encamped in B'nei Ya'akon (where there were narrow water-wells)' (22:30/31).


'And they traveled from B'nei Ya'akon and encamped in a place where there were "windows" in the rocks, which was called 'Gudgoda. …

They traveled from Gudgoda and they encamped in Yotvas (a place that was nice and pleasant). 22:32/33.


' … they traveled from Yatvoso … and they encamped in Avronah (on the other side of the river). And they traveled from Avronah and encamped in Etzyon-Gaver (the town of the rooster). …they traveled from Etzyon-Gaver and they encamped in the Desert of Tzinei (the Iron Mountain) in Kadesh (R'kam)' 22:34-36.

* * *

Nevuchadnetzar and the Sanhedrin
(Translated from Kol Agados Yisrael)

It happened one day that the five kings whom Nevuchadnetzar had placed under Tzidkiyahu's jurisdiction, came to Yerushalayim. Tzidkiyahu invited them to his palace, and the topic of conversation turned to King Nevuchadnetzar.

'There has never been such a cruel and harsh king as Nevuchadnetzar since the day G-d created Heaven and earth and created man!' they declared.

At that point, Tzidkiyahu recalled how he had seen him eating a hare alive, and he described the gruesome scene to them. The kings heard the story and they declared 'That is precisely to what we are referring! There is not a person in the entire world who can match his wickedness and his cruelty!'


The moment the visit came to an end and they left Tzidkiyahu's palace, they departed from Yerushalayim and went straight to Bavel, where they asked for, and were granted, an audience with the evil King.

'You remember how you raised Tzidkiyahu above all the kings in your realm, and granted him the right to appear before you any time he wished? Well', they said to him, 'Know that he has betrayed your trust in him. He has forgotten all the kindness that you showered on him, and is giving you a bad name in Yerushalayim. He is telling everyone how you eat hares whilst they are still alive'.

When the King heard this he was furious. Without wasting a moment, he traveled straight to his headquarters in Rivlah and summoned the Sanhedrin. When they arrived and stood before him, he noticed their dignified appearance. He ordered special armchairs to be brought for them to sit on, and bade them be seated.


'Read me the words of your Torah', he ordered them; 'I want to hear them!'

The Sanhedrin did as they were commanded, and proceeded to read and translate the Chumash as Nevuchadnetzar listened. When they reached the Parshah of Nedarim (in Parshas Matos), Nevuchadnetzar stopped them. 'Tell me', he said, 'Is there any way that a person can absolve himself from a vow that he made?'

'To be sure he can', the Sanhedrin replied, 'All he needs to do is to go to any of the sages and have his vow annulled'. Upon hearing these words, Nevuchadnetzar was seized with an uncontrollable fit of anger. 'You have just signed your own death-warrant!' he screamed at them. 'You are the ones who annulled the great oath that Tzidkiyahu made when he swore to me never to divulge what he saw. I will therefore avenge myself for my honour that has been desecrated!'

And without another word, Nevuchadnetzar had them removed from their armchairs. He then ordered them to be bound to the tails of fast-running horses, to be dragged along the ground from Lud to Yerushalayim, a torture that not one of them survived.

* * *

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