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

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Vol. 22   No. 39

This issue is sponsored
in honour of Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski n"y
- an inspiration to us all

Parshas Matos-Mas'ei

The Other Side of the Yarden
(Adapted from the Ramban)

"And they said 'If we have found favour in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; don't take us across the Yarden!' " (32:5).


This constituted a special request on the part of Reuven and Gad to receive their heritage in Eiver ha'Yarden, rather than in Eretz Cana'an proper, where they would otherwise have received it.


Bearing in mind that Sichon and Og were kings of the Emori, which was one of the seven nations that G-d promised Avraham, why did the two aforementioned tribes need a special request to live there? Moreover, what did Moshe intend to do with that area of land, which in fact, they had already captured, and currently belonged to no-one? See what the Ramban writes in Parshas Chukas (21:21) regarding these problems, in connection with the letter Moshe sent to Sichon offering him peace on Yisrael's terms.


'The request to pass through Sichon's land was Moshe's innovation to appease Sichon. Because in reality, the land of Sichon and Og were part of the heritage of Yisrael, since it belonged to the Emori. That being the case, strictly speaking, had Sichon accepted Moshe's peace-terms and opened their borders, all the cites' inhabitants would have been subservient to Yisrael and would have had to pay them taxes. Only Moshe knew that Yisrael were not destined to capture all ten nations (incorporating Amon, Mo'av and Edom). He therefore wanted them to capture all the territory on the west bank of the Yarden, so that they should all live together in one combined area - and the west bank is the land that the Torah describes as 'flowing with milk and honey'.

Proof of this lies in the fact that, had the B'nei Reuven and the B'nei Gad not made their request, he would have left it barren. (Other commentaries suggest that he would have designated it as pasture-land for all of Yisrael's sheep and cattle.)

Furthermore, our Rebbes have said (in Bamidbar Rabah, 7:8) in connection with the ten levels of Kedushah regarding Eretz Yisrael - that Eiver ha'Yarden is not fit to have the Beis-ha'Mikdash built in it and for the Shechinah to dwell there.

The commentaries point out however, that this last statement cannot possibly be taken literally, since the Beis ha'Mikdash cannot be built anywhere else outside Yerushalayim either, and before Yerushalayim was chosen, anywhere outside Shiloh.

The Ramban must therefore be referring, not to the Beis-ha'Mikdash, but to a public Bamah, which could be built anywhere in Eretz Yisrael before Shiloh was chosen and during the period between Shiloh and Yerushalayim.


Gad & Reuven's Inheritance

"If the sons of Gad and Reuven will cross the Yarden then give them the land of Gil'ad as a heritage" (32:29).


At this point in time, the Ramban explains, Moshe did not distribute the entire portion of Sichon and Og's territory to the B'nei Gad and Reuven. He only gave them some of the cities in the land of Gil'ad (which was ideal pasture land), namely the cities mentioned a few Pesukim later - which they fortified and in which they settled their wives and children. And he left instructions with Yehoshua and the princes of the tribes to give them the rest of the land, on condition that they fulfilled their part of the bargain that he was about to make with them.

Incidentally, Moshe later included part of the Tribe of Menasheh, who volunteered to join the B'nei Reuven and Gad, to inhabit the huge area that was too large for the two tribes to fully populate.


In the event that they refused to cross the Yarden at the head of the troops, then Yehoshua was to remove the women and children from the cities (by force, if necessary) and take them with the other tribes into Eretz Cana'an, where the two and a half tribes would inherit together with the rest of Yisrael.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ramban)

The Parshah of Nedarim

" When a man makes a Neder he shall not profane his words, like all that comes out of his mouth he shall do" (30:3).


The Torah talks about keeping one's word, and it talks about a father and a husband annulling the Nedarim of his wife and daughter. It does not however, mention directly having one's own vows annulled (See following Pearl). Moreover, the Ramban points out, even with regard to annulling the vows of one's wife and daughter (which is only permitted under very limited conditions), this is not said directly to the people, as most Parshiyos in the Torah are, but only to the heads of the tribes.

Clearly, says the Ramban, the Torah is hesitant about annulling vows. It would prefer that people avoided vows altogether (as the Gemara explains in detail at the beginning of Maseches Chulin). Indeed, the Gemara in Nedarim (66b) discussing the Torah's vague statements in this regard explains 'in order not to treat Nedarim lightly'.

Another Gemara (in Shabbos 32b) stresses the seriousness of not treating Nedarim with respect, by pointing out that on account of the sin of Nedarim, one's wife and children are prone to die.


Hatoras Nedorim

"He shall not profane his words" (Ibid).


The Gemara in Chagigah (10a) extrapolates from here that 'He' (the one who declared the Neder) is not permitted to profane his words, but others may 'profane' it for him. That says Rav Yehudah Amar Shmuel, is the only basic source for the concession to annul vows, and it is what the Mishnah there is referring to when it says 'the Heter Nedarim flies in the air, and has nothing substantial to rely on'.


After discussing the points that we raised above, the Ramban explains why the Torah inserts the Parshah of Nedarim at the beginning of Matos. It is because, at the end of Parshas Pinchas, it referred to Nidrei Hedyot (the Nedarim and Nedavos that people bring in the realm of Korbanos [20:39]), such as Olos and Shelamim. The Torah now teaches us that there is also such a thing as Nidrei Hedyot (mundane Nedarim that a person makes - and which he must take care to fulfill).


Parshas Mas'ei

The Travelling Snake

"And they travelled from Hor ha'Har and encamped in Tzalmonah in Punon in Ovos" (33:41-43).


These three journeys occurred immediately following the episode with the copper snake, recorded in Parshas Chukas. There however, the Pasuk writes that they travelled from Hor ha'Har directly to Ovos, omitting the two other locations listed here.

To resolve the omission, the Ramban explains that from the time they grumbled about travelling, Moshe put up the copper snake on the stick, which he held aloft continually, both when they travelled and when they encamped in Tzalmonah and Punon, taking it down only when they reached Ovos.

Since the Pasuk there (21:4) is discussing the narrative of the copper snake, it mentions only the location where it was raised and where it was taken down.


Unfortunately, the story did not end in Ovos.

The Gemaa in Pesachim informs us that sometime later. Yisrael took to worshipping the copper snake (which had been used to miraculously stop the plague that struck them when it was first made), until Chizkiyuhu ha'Melech finally broke it.

* * *

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