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

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Vol. 12   No. 44

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
R' Nosson ben R' Mayer Lehman
whose 10th Yohrzeit will be on 27th Tamuz,
and who still remains an inspiration

Parshas Matos

Don't Start with Yisrael!
(Based on the Kochav mi'Ya'akov, cited in the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

In the World to come, says the Kochav mi'Ya'akov, G-d will punish the nations of the world, not only for their own sins, but also for the sins that Yisrael committed, and continue to commit, throughout the long and bitter Galus. Why is that? Because when Yisrael sin, it is on account of the troubles and the persecutions that they suffer at their hands. Our tormentors deprive us of even the minimum peace of mind and other conditions that are needed to study Torah and keep the Mitzvos, so they will have to suffer the consequences of their cruelty.

Proof of this lies in the fact that the moment Yisrael were freed from the yoke of the Egyptians, they followed Hashem into the desert, where they rose from the lowest levels, to which they had sunk in Egypt, to the greatest heights. There in the desert, where there was nobody to subjugate them, they studied Torah and fulfilled the Mitzvos. See how the Pasuk (2:2/3 [in this week's Haftarah]) describes them ...

"So says Hashem, 'I have remembered the kindness of your youth (when you had just become a nation), the love of your nuptials (at Har Sinai); when you followed Me in the desert, in a land which cannot be sown' ".


And he illustrates this with the following parable ...

A Rav once had an extremely promising son, a Talmid-Chochom, who also possessed wonderful character-traits. He married him off to the daughter of a simple villager, and after the wedding, the son went to live in the village, where he was surrounded by ignorant, unrefined people. With the passing of time, the son not only got used to his surroundings, but slowly he began to adopt the habits and the mannerisms of his new friends. The moment his father became aware of this, he brought his son back home.

When the Mechutan wanted to know why ('Whose fault is it if your son has become slack?'), the Rav replied ...

... 'Can you not see that my son is essentially a wonderful person with exceptional Midos? When he lived with me, he was a true Masmid (diligent scholar) and a Yerei Shamayim; and it is only since he moved to the village, and came into contact with its unlearned residents that he began emulating their example. Clearly then, you are largely to blame for the change for the worse that has come over him.

In similar vein, when the nations of the world will ask G-d why they are being punished for the misdeeds of Yisrael, He will point out to them how, the moment they left Egypt, they followed Him to a barren desert, to do His bidding and go in His ways. "Yisrael is intrinsically holy to Hashem", as the Pasuk continues, "and all those who 'consume them' (causing them to go astray) will be held guilty, (and) evil will befall them".


The Medrash, commenting on G-d's comparison of Yisrael to sand (Vayishlach 32:13) explains the above Pasuk somewhat differently ... If one takes a fistful of sand, says the Medrash, and adds it to a dough or to a cooked dish, it will cause whoever eats it to break his teeth. In the same way, whoever takes spoil from them or who steals from them in this world, will 'break his teeth' in the World to Come - because they are holy, not just potentially, as we explained above, but factually holy, as the above Pasuk writes "Yisrael are holy to Hashem. They are the first of His produce; whoever consumes them will earn the death penalty (because that is the punishment for eating Kodshim)".


As a matter of fact, these are not really two diverse explanations at all, but two parts of one. Yisrael, who proclaimed 'Na'aseh ve'nishma!' at Har Sinai, are described there as "Mamleches Kohanim ve'Goy Kodosh". Consequently, the nations of the world, who declined to follow Yisrael's example, are considered Zarim (non-Kohanim), who are not allowed to eat [Kodshei] Kodshim. That being the case, when they subjugate Yisrael, they are guilty of performing two sins - 1. abuse of Hekdesh (symptomatic of looking down on Yisrael, when really they ought to be looking up). 2. divesting Yisrael of that very same Kedushah, which is what happens when they cause us to sin, as we explained.

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

Nedarim Are Not for Everyone

"And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes ... "(30:2).

The Ma'or va'Shemesh explains the specific connection between the heads of the tribes and Nedarim in the following way. Based on the Pasuk in Eikev (10:20), Chazal have taught that only someone who fears G-d, serves Him and cleaves to Him (the same Pasuk in Va'eschanan [6:13] incidentally, omits this latter requirement) is permitted to take an oath, and what's more, they said, one's fear of G-d has to be on a par with that of Yosef and Iyov, and one may have no occupation other than the service of G-d.

Now such people are rare indeed, a treasured few in each generation. No wonder then, that the Torah mentions the heads of the tribes, for those are the people most likely to fit the above description. They are not just the ones who are authorized to annul vows; they are also the ones who really ought to be making them.


A Tough Battle


Why, asks the Kometz ha'Minchah, are all these requirements necessary before one is permitted to make a Neder or a Shevu'ah?

The Gemara in Kidushin (30b) teaches us that the Yeitzer-ha'Ra puts all his efforts into making us sin, and were it not for the Divine assistance that Hashem offers every Jew who asks for it, we would not stand a chance against such a powerful foe.

G-d may well offer His assistance with regard to the Mitzvos that He commanded us (after all, fair is fair), but when it comes to the Mitzvah of fulfilling one's Nedarim, that is a different matter. That is a Mitzvah that one has taken upon oneself, in which case Hashem will say to us 'This is not something that I asked you to do; it is something that you took upon yourself. 'You undertook to do it, you fight the Yeitzer ha'Ra yourself'. Faced with such a losing battle, the Torah therefore advises us that unless we have the necessary weapons (a rather large portion of Yir'as Hashem, Avodas Hashem and D'veikus), we don't stand a chance.

Not so, you may well ask? For does Tosfos there (31a) not explain that when we volunteer to perform a Mitzvah (without having been commanded by G-d), it is relatively easy to see it through, since the Yeitzer-ha'Ra only bothers us when we have been commanded?

That may be true of Mitzvos that we volunteer without a declaration. Nedarim on the other hand, that we have verbally undertaken to do, become a Mitzvah, and the Yeitzer ha'Ra will fight tooth and nail to prevent us from fulfilling them. It comes out that with Nedarim, our candle burns at both ends. On the one hand, we have to contend with the Yeitzer-ha'Ra's onslaught, whilst on the other, we cannot expect Divine assistance for something which we took upon ourselves, not by Divine command.


A True Jewish Leader

"And Moshe told the people saying ..." (31:3).

Rashi explains that even though Moshe knew that he would die immediately after the battle with Midyan, he carried out G-d's command joyfully, without any delay.

When a king goes to war to avenge his people's honour, it is far from certain that he is doing it out of devotion towards his people. When all's said and done, the king needs the people's support, for without them, he is not a king, and so he has yet to prove that he did indeed fight in their defense and not for his own honour.

In the case of Moshe, says the K'sav Sofer, Moshe's motive could not be questioned. As a matter of fact, it was to demonstrate to the people Moshe's love for them, that G-d informed him that the battle with Midyan to avenge Yisrael's shame and his death were interwoven. So when Moshe reacted by mobilizing the army immediately, fully aware that he would die straight afterwards, and that there was nothing in it for him, K'lal Yisrael would know once and for all, that his love for them was so strong that he gave their honour precedence over even the most basic instinct of self-preservation.

That is why Yisrael responded by refusing to fight, placing Moshe's life before their own self-esteem, until they were sent by force.

Maybe the so-called leaders of today might learn a thing or two (about the qualities of leadership) from Moshe Rabeinu. Come to think of it, they might learn a couple of other things from Moshe Rabeinu too.


Twelve Plus Twelve Makes ...

"And Moshe sent them to war, one thousand per tribe, them and Pinchas" (31:6).

This teaches us, says Rashi, that Pinchas was equal to all of them.

In that case, says the M'lo ha'Omer, to all intents and purposes, twenty-four thousand men went to war against Midyan. This was significant, he says, inasmuch as twenty-four thousand men fell after the episode of Ba'al-Pe'or. So it required the equivalent number of Tzadikim to avenge their blood.

The Ba'al ha'Turim arrives at the same conclusion, only he bases it on the earlier Pasuk "A thousand per tribe, a thousand per tribe", indicating that in fact two thousand troops from each tribe went to war - a total of twenty-four thousand.

How will the Ba'al ha'Turim explain the current Pasuk, you may ask? "A thousand per tribe" clearly implies that the army consisted of twelve thousand soldiers, and not twenty-four?

Perhaps this Pasuk is referring to those soldiers who actually fought, whereas the earlier one incorporates those who guarded the camp, as Rashi taught us in Lech-L'cha (14:24).


And the Tribe of Levi Too

" ... for all the tribes of Yisrael" (ibid.)

To include the tribe of Levi, comments Rashi.

If that is so, thirteen thousand soldiers ought to have gone to war. Why does the Pasuk say twelve?

The Sifsei Chachamim cites the Mizrachi, who answers that Efrayim and Menasheh were only counted as two tribes in connection with the inheritance of the Land. Consequently, in the battle with Midyan, which was an act of revenge, and not part of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, they were counted as one tribe.

It is not clear however, how this answers the initial question. When Rashi speaks about including the tribe of Levi, this implies that there was an extra tribe, and not that Levi merely replaced one of the two tribes of Yosef?

The Chidushei ha'Rim however, explains that thirteen thousand men did indeed go to war against Midyan, and when the Torah gives the figure as twelve thousand, it does so with reference to those that had to be forced to go (albeit in order to protect Moshe, as we explained earlier). The tribe of Levi was different however, as we already saw in connection with the Golden Calf. As the Pasuk teaches us in ve'Zos ha'B'rachah, their love of G-d outweighed even that of their parents and children. So when G-d ordered them to go and fight, they went to fight, oblivious to the fact that Moshe would die immediately afterwards. That is why they were not counted together with the twelve thousand.


From the Haftarah

If Not Now, Never

"And he (Yirmiyah Ha'navi) said 'I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth'. And He (Hashem) said 'Do not say I am a youth' " (1:6/7).

What is wrong with Yirmiyah declaring that he was a youth, if that is what he was?

The Ahavas Yehonasan cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin (35) who say that G-d performed a kindness with K'lal Yisrael, by bringing the Galus forward by two years (see Rashi Va'eschanan (4:25), because had He waited for those two years to elapse, Yisrael's level, already on the decline, would have deteriorated so drastically, that they would have had to completely destroyed.

Yirmiyah, anticipating that G-d was about to send him to forewarn the people of the impending Churban, and clearly unaware of the above D'rashah, was simply trying to buy time for Yisrael. He argued that he was but a youth. Perhaps in a couple of years time, when he was more mature, he would be ready to go on the mission that G-d wished to send him. 'Don't say that!' was G-d's reply. Because that is a recipe for disaster. If we wait those couple of years, Yisrael will have to be wiped out completely. Better get on with it now, thereby granting them an opportunity to survive.


That is why, a few Pesukim further G-d showed Yirmiyah a stick with almond blossoms (Makeil Shakeid), which blossom quickly, accompanied by the words "because I am rushing (Shokeid Ani) to fulfill My words.

And it is for the same reason, says the Avnei Azel, that G-d said in Daniel (with regard to the Churban of the first Beis-Hamikdash "And G-d rushed the evil (va'Yishkod Hashem) and brought it on them, because Hashem ... is righteous" Indeed, it is with the Pasuk in Daniel in mind that G-d told the Navi here "Because I am rushing (Shokeid Ani) to carry out My words". And that is why G-d told Yirmiyah (with reference to the Makeil Shakeid that he saw) "Heitavto Lir'os", which means not only that he saw well, but that what he saw was a good thing, because it was the fact that G-d was rushing to carry out His decree that gave Yisrael the right to continue to exist.

Interestingly, this was not the first time that G-d employed these tactics. Already in Egypt, prior to the Exodus, He turned on the heat, making the bondage even more unbearable than it already was, in order to give Yisrael the opportunity to leave Egypt. If He had not done that, the commentaries explain, another moment in Egypt would have seen them sink to such low levels, that they would not have been worthy of redemption.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 406:
The Annulment of Vows

Another proof that the Charatah must be retroactive is the fact that the entire concept of Hataras Nedarim is based on the Gemara in Shevu'os (26a) which learns from the Pasuk "ha'Adam bi'Shevu'ah" that a Shevu'ah (or a Neder) that is made be'Shogeg (by mistake) or be'O'nes (by force ...) is not valid, or, as Chazal put it 'if one's mouth and one's heart are not of the same accord'. Consequently, the above conditions will not be fulfilled if current Charatah (that is not retroactive) would be acceptable, as they will in a case of retroactive Charatah, where the Noder admits that he would not have declared the Neder had he known the circumstances at the time ... There are some great Poskim who are of the opinion that even though the Halachah is like Rava quoting Rav Nachman, who rules that a. a Chacham can annul any Neder with Charatah, and b. he can even annul a Neder that has been made in the name of the G-d of Yisrael, the Minhag nowadays is not to annul the latter on the one hand and on the other, to confine the nullification to Nedarim that are similar to any of the four Nedarim cited by the Mishnah in Nedarim (which we discussed last week). In addition, one only annuls vows for the sake of a Mitzvah (such as to make peace between husband and wife or between a man and his fellow-Jew, and the likes) ... The Gemara in Bechoros (36b) permits any three Hedyotos (ordinary people) to annul vows, even if two of them are unlearned, provided they understand what one explains to them, and provided the third one is learned. Alternatively, one Mumcheh (a Dayan, who is an expert in the laws of Nedarim) can annul a Neder, or anyone who has been granted permission by someone with Semichah, to annul vows. Some Poskim give a Chacham the Din of a Mumcheh, even nowadays, when there is no Semichah. However, the majority of Poskim disagree with them. Consequently, Hataras Nedarim today requires three 'Dayanim' ... If someone retracts from one's Neder (or Shevu'ah) within 'Toch K'dei Dibur' (the time it takes to say 'Sholom aleichem Mori (or Mori ve'Rebbi)', the Neder is cancelled ... A father may annul any Neder that his daughter makes, whereas a husband may only annul Nedarim that entail self-affliction or that affect the intimate relationship between him and his wife ... The Gemara also discusses the Din regarding someone who declares that all the Nedarim that he will make over the forthcoming year, or over the next ten years, shall be annulled ... the principle that although 'S'tam Nedarim Lehachmir' (to be strict), their interpretation is Lehakeil (lenient) ... that one cannot declare forbidden something that is not his ... and the Din of Reuven who declares his loaf forbidden to Shimon ... Even though Reuven is forbidden by oath to give benefit to Shimon, he may nevertheless pay his debts and learn with him the oral Torah (but not T'nach, since people tend to pay for T'nach lessons) ... Someone who makes a Neder not to eat meat, is permitted to 'eat' gravy, but if he specifies 'this meat' then the gravy of that meat is included in the Neder ... The Chachamim say that when it comes to Nedarim and Shevu'os, we go after the vernacular of the place where he declared the Neder, in their language and at that time ... Hafaras Nedarim (of a father and husband) lasts one day (up to the nightfall after the moment when he hears about the Neder, but not a full twenty-four hours), since the Torah writes in Matos "on the day when he hears it" ... and the many other details, are discussed in Maseches Nedarim (and in Yoreh Dei'ah Si'man 233).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere to men but not to women, who are not eligible to annul Nedarim. Someone who annuls a Neder in a way that contravenes the Torah's specifications has negated this Mitzvah, even though his annulment is not effective (as we explained at the outset).

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