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

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Vol. 17   No. 39

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יעל ברכה בת אליהו יעקב ויהודית אוזבורן נ"י
שתזכה לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים

Parshas Matos-Masei

A Neder and a Shevu'ah

"A man who makes a Neder (a vow) to G-d (la'Hashem) … " (30:3).

Commenting on the word 'la'Hashem', R. Bachye explains that this has no connection with the actual wording of a Neder, which takes effect irrespective of whether one uses the name of G-d or not. Consequently, if someone declares 'noder ani, or 'nishba ani (I vow or I swear) that I will do such and such', his Neder takes effect, even though he did not mention any of G-d;s Names.

And the reason that the Torah adds the word "la'Hashem", he explains, is to teach us that a Neder takes effect even on something that is for Hashem - i.e. a Mitzvah, which is not the case by a Shevu'ah. Consequently, someone who makes a Neder to negate a Mitzvah is obligated to uphold his Neder, whereas if he makes a Shevu'ah to negate a Mitzvah, not only is he forbidden to keep it, but he will receive Malkos for having made a 'false' Shevu'ah.


To understand the difference between the two, R. Bachye explains, we need to examine the difference between the formation of a Neder and that of a Shevu'ah.

A Neder, he explains, is - when a person vows not to have benefit from a certain object; a Shevu'ah on the other hand, is where he obligates himself to do something or not to do it.

The former, Chazal call an 'Isur Cheftza' (where the object becomes forbidden to him); the latter, an 'Isur Gavra', where he becomes forbidden to the object (or to perform the act). In the latter case, where a person say, makes a Shevu'ah not to eat Matzah on the first night of Pesach, or not to sit in a Succah on Succos, his Shevu'ah is not effective, since he already took an oath on Har Sinai that he would do these things, and, based on the principle that one Shevu'ah cannot negate another Shevu'ah, he cannot now take an oath that he won't.

In the former case however, where he renders Matzah or a Succah forbidden, his Neder takes effect, since the Mitzvah is not for the Matzah to be eaten or the Succah to be sat in, but for him to eat Matzah and to sit in a Succah, so his Neder does not directly contravene the Shevu'ah that he made on Sinai, and therefore takes effect. He may well be obligated to annul his Neder in order to fulfil the Mitzvah, but until he does, his Neder is binding.


The author supports this explanation (which is really based on Gemoros in the first two chapters of Nedarim) with diverse expressions that the Torah uses regarding Shevu'ah and Neder. Regarding the former, the Torah writes in Vayikra (5:4) "Or a person who swears to utter with his lips … to do bad or to do good", which Chazal interpret to mean 'to do bad to oneself (such as fasting) or to do good to oneself (such as eating)' - things that are basically voluntary/permissible; whereas regarding the latter, it writes (in the current Pasuk) "Whatever comes out of his mouth he shall do" - incorporating something that is a Mitzvah as well as things that are voluntary.


In connection with the concept of the Shevu'ah that we swore at Har Sinai, R. Bachye citing the Medrash, explains how Yisrael in Galus accept the kings' jurisdiction with regard to taxes and monetary obligations, but when his commands clash with those of the Torah, we are bound by the Shevu'ah that we made at Har Sinai (and subsequently at Arvos Mo'av - see final Parshah Pearl). And the Medrash goes on to cite the episode of Chananyah, Misha'el and Azaryah. When Nevuchadnetzar ordered Chananyah, Misha'el and Azaryah to prostrate themselves before his grand image, this is how the Medrash elaborates on the Pasuk in Daniel (3:16) - based on the fact that they referred to him both by his title (King) and by his name (Nevuchadnetzar) presents their reply - "We are not afraid to answer you in this matter. As far as taxes and head-taxes are concerned, you are the King. But when you command us to worship idols, you are Nevuchadnetzar - you have no more jurisdiction over us than a dog, since we have no authority to abrogate the oath that we made at Har Sinai!'.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

Only Moshe Could Do That

"Conscript from your ranks men for the army, and they will 'attack' Midyan … " (31:3).

Moshe knew that he was destined to die following the war against Midyan, as Rashi explains, yet this did not deter him from promptly mobilizing the troops.

R. Bachye, citing the Medrash, points out that in this point his Talmid Yehoshua did not take his cue from his Rebbe. When he came to fight the kings of Cana'an, says the Medrash, he said 'If I defeat them now, I will die immediately afterwards, like Moshe did after he defeated the Midyani'.

So what did he do? He began to draw out the war with the thirty-one kings; one here, one there. As the Pasuk testifies "A long time did Yehoshua wage war with these kings". So Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu said to him 'Is that what you did? I will shorten your life by ten years!' For Yehoshua was worthy of living a hundred and twenty years, like Moshe Rabeinu; but he only lived till the age of a hundred and ten.

That is what the Pasuk says in Mishlei (19:21) "Many are the thoughts of man, but it is G-d's plan that will prevail!"


Jewish Soldiers

"And they brought (the booty) to Moshe … " (31:12).

This teaches us the soldiers' integrity, says R. Bachye quoting the Medrash. They declined to take any of the war-spoils for themselves without permission. It is about them that Sh'lomoh ha'Melech wrote in Shir ha'Shirim (6:7) "Your teeth are like a flock of sheep!" - even your men of war are all righteous.


Marrying 'Out'

"And every daughter who receives an inheritance … And the inheritance shall not be moved from one tribe to another" (36:8). Although the basic prohibition for an only daughter to remove her father's inheritance to another tribe was confined to the generation that conquered Eretz Yisrael, it seems that subsequent generations, short of actually forbidding it, frowned upon women who did it.

And that would explain the custom to call a woman who was due to inherit her father and who married a man from another tribe a 'Zonah', which ordinarily means a prostitute.

Hence, R. Bachye explains, the Navi in Shoftim (11:1) refers to Yiftach ha'Gil'adi (who subsequently became a Shofet) as the son of a Zonah. Not chas ve'sholom because she was a prostitute, R. Bachye explains, but because she was an heir who married a man from another tribe.


The Hand of Moshe

"These are the Mitzvos and the Judgements that G-d commanded through the hand of Moshe … " (36:13).

R. Bachye points to the equivalent Pasuk which concludes Seifer Vayikra, and which does not mention the Judgements. It does so here, he explains, because this Seifer has incorporated all the Dinim of inheritance and of murderers, which fall under that category.

He also asks why the Pasuk at the end of Vayikra says " … which G-d commanded Moshe", whilst this Pasuk uses the phrase " … which G-d commanded through the hand of Moshe"?

He ascribes this to the fact that the covenant that G-d made with K'lal Yisrael at the end of Vayikra was broken, as Chazal have said 'Even as the King was sitting at the wedding-feast they sinned', abrogating the covenant. That is why, when Moshe saw the letters flying out of the Luchos that he was holding in his hands, he threw them down and broke them.

But here, at Arvos Mo'av, R. Bachye explains, when the second covenant was established between G-d and K'lal Yisrael, mountains can be moved and all the rocks can be relocated, but this covenant is irretractable, and the cord of love cannot be snapped'.

For (unlike the first one) this covenant we accepted upon ourselves with an oath and with a curse. The Pasuk in Ki Savo (28:69 [at the end of the Tochachah]) sums it up when it writes "These are the words of the covenant that G-d commanded Moshe, to make with the B'nei Yisrael in the land of Mo'av, over and above the covenant that He made with them at Chorev"

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"Avenge the vengeance of B'nei Yisrael" (31:2).

The Torah juxtaposes this to the Parshah of Nedarim, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, to teach us that, although one should avoid making Nedarim, one is permitted to do so in time of trouble and war. A good example of this is that of Yiftach, before his battle against Midyan (See Haftarah, Parshas Chukas).


"And Elazar the Kohen said to the men of war … " (31:21).

When, in the preceding Pesukim, Moshe told the returning soldiers about purifying themselves, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, he was speaking to the officers, who brought with them, not pots and pans, but valuable articles of clothing, which did not need to be Kashered. Elazar, on the other hand, was talking to the regular soldiers, who brought back pots and pans. That is why it was necessary to teach them the Dinim of Hag'oloh (Kashering).

See also Rashi.


"And the sons of Reuven and the sons of Gad had abundant livestock, very much! … . And the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuven came … " (32:1/2).

Commenting on the switch of precedence from one Pasuk to the next, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains that, on the one hand, the Reuven was the firstborn, which explains why they took the lead and were the first to approach Moshe, whilst on the other hand, the b'nei Gad were the mighty warriors, whose enemies corpses were distinguishable from all others (as the Pasuk writes in ve'Zos ha'B'rachah).


Eight times, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, the Torah mentions 'the b'nei Gad and the b'nei Reuven' in this Parshah.

Correspondingly, in the Pasuk in Mishlei (20:21) "If an inheritance is seized hastily (mevuheles) in the beginning, it will not be blessed" the word "mevuheles" is written with a "Ches" (mevucheles) instead of a 'Hey'. And in deed, they were not blessed - they were exiled eight generations before the other tribes.


R. Bachye cites the same Pasuk, when in the previous Pasuk, he explains how the b'nei Reuven and the b'nei Gad placed more emphasis on their property than on their families, when they asked Moshe to allow them to build pens for their sheep and cities for their children. That is why there was no B'rachah in their work - as the Ba'al ha'Turim just explained.




" … and you shall destroy (ve'ibad'tem) all their prostration stones … " (33:52).

The word "ve'ibad'tem" appears in Parshas Re'ei (12:3) " … and destroy (ve'ibad'tem) their names from that place". This hints at the ruling that requires whoever destroys any form of idol, to root out every vestage of it, until nothing is left.


" … If he struck him with a stone that fills the hand (be'even-yad), which is large enough to kill … " (35:17).

The word "be'even" appears on two other occasions; one in Mishpatim (21:18) " … and a man struck his friend with a stone (be'even) and in Shmuel 2 (14:26) " … two hundred Shekels by the king's weight (be'even ha'melech)".

If Reuven strikes Shimon and kill's him with a regular-size stone (be'even), the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, then it needs to be measured in the hand (be'even-yad) to ensure that it was large enough to kill, before convicting the murderer. But if it was an extraordinarily large stone (a king-size stone), then it is not necessary to measure it.


"And He caused it to fall (vayapel) on him and he died" (35:23).

The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the same word occurs in two other places - 1. In Bereishis (2:21) "And He caused a deep (vayapel) sleep to fall upon Adam"; 2. Tehilim (78:28, in connection with the quails) ""And he caused them to fall (vayapel) in the midst of the camp".

This hints at the Medrash which explains that more than the quails killed those that ate them, they killed when, as they descended, they fell on their heads with great force.

This is "He caused it to fall (vayapel) on him and he died". Then, as another Medrash explains, the best of them ate and died immediately, whereas the most wicked among them felt sick, and went to bed, where they languished up to a month, till they died in their sleep. And that is "And He caused a deep (vayapel) sleep to fall upon … ".




'And the Egyptians were burying all the firstborn among them that G-d had killed, and G-d also punished their gods, the idols of metal melted, those of stone broke into pieces, those of earthenware cracked and those of wood were cut up, and their animals died' (33:4).


'And the B'nei Yisrael travelled from Pilusin (Ra'amses) and they encamped in Succos, where they were protected by the seven Clouds of Glory' (33:5).


'When the wicked Amalek heard that Yisrael were coming, he joined forces with the Cana'anim and ruled in Arad, though his residence was in the south. He waged war with them but they destroyed him and all his cities' (33:40).


'And they travelled from Tzalmonah in Punon, the place where G-d sent fiery snakes to attack them, and their cries ascended to the Heavens' (33:42).


' ... they travelled from Divon, the House of Mazel, and they encamped in Almon Divlosoymoh; there too, the well was hidden from them, because they abandoned the words of Torah which are as sweet as a juicy fig ('Divlosoh').


'And the congregation shall save the murderer from the hand of the one who is after his blood, and they shall return him to his city of refuge ... and he shall remain there up to the time that the Kohen Gadol dies ... and because he did not Daven on Yom Kipur in the Kodesh Kodshim that Yisrael should not stumble in one the three cardinal sins (idolatry, adultery and the spilling of innocent blood), which he had the power to prevent with his prayers, that is why he is destined to die that year' (35:25).

* * *

Yirmiyahu ha'Navi
(Adapted from Otzar Ishei ha'T'nach)

As long as Yirmiyahu was in Yerushalayim, it was not destroyed. As soon as he left it, it fell (P'sikta).

Nevuchadnetzar promised Yirmiyahu that, on the day that he entered Yerushalayim, he would authorize him to save whoever he pleased. But when that day arrived, Yirmiyahu was not in Yerushalayim, and he was unable to arrive until the day drew to a close (Chida quoting a Medrash).

'Master of the World', Yirmiyah asked G-d, 'Of what sins am I guilty that of all the prophets who preceded me and who came after me, You destroyed the Beis-Hamikdash through me?'

Back came the reply 'Before I even created the world, I already designated you for that job!' (P'sikta Rabah).

Yirmiyahu ha'Navi left Anosos (his home-town) on his way to Yerushalayim. He raised his eyes and from a distance, he saw smoke rising from the burning city. 'Perhaps', he thought to himself, 'Yisrael have done Teshuvah, and are bringing Korbanos, and the smoke that I see is the smoke of the Ketores rising from the MIzbei'ach ha'Zahav!'

Hopefully, he climbed up on a wall to see better. The sight that greeted him was heaps of stones that had once been the Beis-Hamikdash, and the locked walls of Yerushalayim.

'Oy!' he cried out, 'You persuaded me Hashem (to leave Yerushalayim), and I allowed myself to be persuaded!'

'Which way did the 'lost ones' go?', he cried, 'I will go and join them!' He found the path that was full of blood, the ground soaked with the blood of those who had been slain. He looked at the ground and he saw the footsteps of the little children who were being taken into captivity; he bent down to the ground and kissed them.

When he eventually caught up with the captives, he embraced them and kissed them. He wept when he saw them, and they wept when they saw him. He raised his voice and said to them 'This happened to you because you did not listen to the words of my prophecy!' They had nothing to say.

When they reached the River P'ras (the Euphrates), Nevuzraden (the Babylonian general who would later convert) gave him the option of accompanying him to Bavel.

Yirmiyahu considered Nevuzraden's offer, but he came to the conclusion that if he would go with the exiles to Bavel, there would be nobody to comfort those who remained in Yerushalayim. So he took leave of them to return to Yerushalayim. When the exiles saw Yirmiyahu leaving, they burst into tears; 'Yirmiyahu our father', they sobbed, 'Why are you forsaking us?' Back came Yirmiyahu's reply 'I call upon heaven and earth to testify that had you wept just once whilst you were in Tziyon, you would not have been exiled!'

And so Yirmiyah left them weeping bitterly (P'sikta Rabah).

Hakadosh-Baruch Hu said to Yirmiyahu 'Either you go with the exiles to Bavel, and I will remain here (in Yerushalayim), or you remain here and I will go with them to Bavel!'

To which Yirmiyahu replied 'If I will go with them to Bavel, what can I do to alleviate their situation? Better that You go with them, since You are able to help them' (Pesichta, Medrash Eichah).

[To be continued]

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