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

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Vol. 14   No. 34

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Gittel bas Chana z"l

Parshas Sh'lach Lecha

In the Desert

The commentaries are puzzled by the Torah's introductory comment to the episode of the man who gathered wood (or whatever it was that he was guilty of) on Shabbos - "And Yisrael were in the desert". To be sure Yisrael were in the desert, and that is where they had been since Parshas Beshalach, when they left Egypt, so why does the Torah see fit to mention it here?

The Torah is actually speaking derogatorily about Yisrael, Rashi explains, citing a Sifri, to teach us that this took place much earlier, when they had only just arrived there, and after they had kept only one Shabbos, as the Gemara explains in Shabbos (118b).

The Da'as Zekeinim M.T. puts it nicely: Commenting on this Gemara, they point to the wording in the Pasuk "and they were (va'yih'yu) in the desert ... and they found (va'yimtze'u)", which implies that no sooner had they entered the desert, than this episode occurred. Incidently, they also support the theory that the Mekoshesh was Tzelofchad, from the fact that the word "eitzim" plus the 'Beis' (of be'Yom) that follows it, possesses the same numerical value as 'Tzelofchad'.

Interestingly, the Ramban, in dealing with the same problem, arrives at the exact opposite conclusion to that of Rashi. The Torah juxtaposes the Parshah of the 'Mekoshesh' next to the Meraglim, he comments, because they took place at the same time. In fact, he says, the Torah says "And Yisrael were in the desert", because it occurred following the decree to remain in the desert for an extended period of time (which took place only after Tish'ah be'Av of the second year).


Rabeinu Bachye suggests that "in the desert" is merely a reference to the constant miracles that they experienced there, such as the daily falling of the Mon. These miracles proved to Yisrael, beyond the slightest shadow of doubt, that G-d created the world (as only the Creator of nature could interfere with its laws so dramatically). And it was in that setting that the Mekoshesh chose to deny the creation, by desecrating Shabbos. Among other explanations, he also cites that of the Ramban, adding that by breaking Shabbos, and based on the principle that one Jew is responsible for another, the sin of the Mekoshesh merely goes to prove, that aside the sin of the Meraglim, Yisrael deserved to remain in the desert for an extended period of time, seeing as they were guilty of such terrible sins as Chillul Shabbos.


The Or ha'Chayim adopts a different approach entirely. He cites Rav Yehudah Amar Shmuel in Shabbos (96b), who defines the Mekoshesh's sin as carrying four Amos in the street, in conjunction with the Gemara there on 6b, which draws a distinction between the desert when Yisrael traversed it and the desert when they did not. Rashi explains that as long as Yisrael traversed the desert, it was considered a public street, whereas nowadays, when the desert is not a public domain, it is not.

Consequently, when the Mekoshesh carried there, he was Chayav for carrying in a Reshus ha'Rabim, and that is why the Torah stresses here "And the B'nei Yisrael were in the desert ... ", because had that not been the case, the Mekoshesh would have been Patur.


However, the Or ha'Chayim points out, this explanation will not hold water according to the Rambam, who maintains that a desert is always a Reshus ha'Rabim and when Abaye draws a distinction between when Yisrael traversed the desert and nowadays, he explains, he means that one of the B'raisos fails to insert the desert in its list of items that constitute a Reshus ha'Rabim (not because it is not a Reshus ha'Rabim, but) because nowadays, it is not common for people to go there. According to the Rambam then, we will have to find another reason as to why the Torah mentions 'the desert' here.


The Or ha'Chayim therefore cites another Gemara (on the same page) where a B'raysa defines the Mekoshesh's sin as detaching wood from a tree. But how can that be, he asks, when the Gemara in Chulin disqualifies using desert sand for the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam (to cover the blood of the Shechitah of a bird or of a wild animal) because it is arid and nothing can grow in it? So what did the Mekoshesh detach?

And that, he explains, is why the Torah saw fit to stress the fact that Yisrael were currently residing in the desert, and the Medrash informs us that wherever Yisrael went, the roving Well of Miriam would water the area, and gardens and orchards would sprout there. And that accounts for the trees that supplied the Mekoshesh with wood to detach.

And what's more, the Or ha'Chayim concludes, the same explanation will fit with the explanation of Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, who attributes the Mekoshesh's sin to piling up wood in the location where it grew.

* * *

Parsha Pearls

Two Kinds of Inability

" ... Due to the inability of Hashem to bring this people to the land that He swore to them, He slaughtered them in the desert" (14:16).

Rashi, commenting on the word the Torah uses for inability ("yecholes"), comments that it is a noun.

The Gemara in B'rachos (32a) asks why the Torah says "Yecholes" and not 'Yochol'. In answer, R. Elazar explains that Moshe was citing the nations of the world, who would now say that Hashem had destroyed Yisrael because He had become weak like a woman, and was unable to save them, Chas ve'Shalom, from the seven Cana'ani nations. And when Hashem retorted that they had been witness to the miracles that He had performed at the Reed Sea, Moshe replied that if Hashem had been strong enough to defeat the Egyptians, it did not follow that he would be able to defeat the Cana'anim, who were more powerful than the Egyptians.

R. Elazar seems to differentiate between 'yochol and 'yecholes', in that, whereas the former is masculine, the latter is feminine.

But this is strange, asks the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro, since 'Yecholes' is a noun, not a feminine adjective? To explain the issue, using the word 'Kodosh' a an example, he point out how nouns can sometimes be divided into two categories: Given that Kedushah means sanctity;'Kodosh' and 'Kodesh' describe a person who possesses it, the former, absolutely, the latter only at that time. In other words, a 'Kodosh' are two branches of the word, describing two categories of people: 'Kodosh' is someone whose sanctity is permanent, whereas 'Kodesh' applies to somebody whose sanctity is temporary (like Hekdesh, which under certain circumstances, can go out to Chulin).


And in the same vein, 'Yecholes' describes somebody who is able at the time, whereas 'Yochol' refers to a person whose ability is everlasting.

Hence the Gemara asks why the Torah uses the word "Yecholes" and not 'Yochol', seeing as Hashem's ability is everlasting. To which R. Elazar replies that the nations of the world would now say that Hashem had destroyed Yisrael because He now realized that He was unable to fulfill His promise and defeat the Cana'anim, and had become weak like a woman. Yes, He had been able to defeat the Egyptians, but not the superior forces of the Cana'anim.


And it was in reply to that argument that Hashem relented, and said "I have forgiven you like your words!"


" ... Like Your Words"

"I have forgiven you like your words!" (14:20).

Just a few Pesukim earlier, Hashem told Moshe that He would smite them with a plague, which Moshe took to mean that He would destroy the entire nation in one fell-sweep. And that is what prompted Moshe's subsequent Tefilah, as we explained in the previous pearl.

In fact, says the Seforno, Moshe misunderstood Hashem, who really meant that He would wipe them out slowly, over the course of the next forty years, to avoid the very Chillul Hashem that Moshe referred to. In fact, the phrase "Solachti ki'devorecho", ought to be translated (not as "I have forgiven you like your words", but) as "I (already) forgave you like your words".

And that explains, the K'sav ve'ha'Kabalah adds, why the Torah uses the word "Solachti", in the past tense.


Choosing His Time and Place

"But, as I live, the Glory of Hashem will fill the whole world" (14:21).

The thrust of Moshe's query was why G-d needs to kill them so quickly, in a way that elicits the argument that His ability is limited.


When a human king wants to punish a person who sinned against him, he needs to act swiftly, for two reasons. Firstly to prevent the culprit from escaping to a place where the king has no access; secondly, in case he (the king himself) dies before the death-sentence has been carried out.

G-d is unfettered by such restrictions; He lives forever and the entire world is His domain. Consequently, there is nothing to stop Him from biding His time and punishing those who sin against Him when He sees fit.

That is why Moshe said " ... if You will kill this nation like one man (as if You were one man) ... ".

And that is why G-d answered "I have forgiven (or I already forgave) like you spoke as I live and the Glory of Hashem fills the whole world" ('I have no restraints, neither on account of time, nor on account of location'! (P'ninei Torah, citing the Abarbanel in conjunction with the K'li Yakar).


Ten Means Ten

" ... and they tried Me these ten times" (14:22).

'As implied', says Rashi.

To understand Rashi we need to look at the Rashbam, who says that ten simply means 'a lot', and he cites a Pasuk in Vayeitzei (31:7) " ... and he (Lavan) switched my wages ten times", plus a Pasuk in Iyov. In other words, just like the number sixty, which the Gemara often uses to signify a large number, and not specifically sixty, so too does the Torah use the number ten to stress a large number without being specific.

Therefore, says the Ra'al Natanson from Berza'n, Rashi comments 'as implied', to preclude the opinion of his grandson, the Rashbam. In Rashi's opinion, when the Torah says ten, it means ten.


No Pardon for the Sin of the Spies

"Why do you transgress the word of Hashem, and it (what you are doing) will not succeed" (14:41).

Why is it, asks R. Bunim from P'shischa, that Hashem pardoned Yisrael for the sin of the Golden Calf, but not for that of the Spies?

The main ingredient of Teshuvah, he explains, is that the knowledge that one has sinned and that there is no remedy for his sin, causes the sinner profound grief.

As long as the sinner believes that he can rectify what he did wrong, and that he has nothing to worry about, his Teshuvah is incomplete.

When Yisrael sinned by the Golden Calf, they were not aware that Teshuvah helps, and were therefore broken-hearted. Hence their Teshuvah was readily accepted; whereas when they sinned by the Spies, they already knew that Teshuvah helps and were therefore complacent about their sin, as their current actions demonstrate. That is why Hashem declined to accept their Teshuvah.

I would suggest that another difference lies in the fact that whereas in the case of the Golden Calf, Yisrael were ashamed of their sin (as the Torah testifies when it records that they removed the crowns that they had only recently received, when they proclaimed 'Na'aseh ve'Nishma'), here they felt no shame at the terrible thing that they had done. And where there is no shame, there can be no genuine Teshuvah.


The Mekoshesh & Tzitzis

"And the entire congregation took him to outside the camp ... Speak to B'nei Yisrael and say to them that they shall make for themselves Tzitzis" (15:36-38).

Why does the Torah juxtapose the Parshah of Tzitzis next to that of the Mekoshesh, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T.?

When the Mekoshesh broke Shabbos, Moshe pointed out to Hashem that in the Tefilin it is written "in order that the Torah of Hashem shall be in your mouth", an indication that Tefillin serves as a reminder not to sin. But since Hashem commanded that Tefillin should not be worn on Shabbos, there was nothing to prevent the Mekoshesh from sinning.

So Hashem replied that He would present them with another Mitzvah which, like Tefillin, stops the wearer from sinning, but which, unlike Tefillin, applies on Shabbos too - and that was the Mitzvah of Tzitzis.


Why was the Mekoshesh in Jail

"And they placed him under guard because it had not been explained what should be done with him" (15:34).

Rashi comments that, although they knew that someone who desecrates Shabbos receives the death-penalty, they did not know which of the four deaths to mete out to him.

Even if they did know, says the P'ninei Torah, it is possible that, on account of the Medrash which states that Tz'lofchad (or whoever the culprit was) sinned le'Shem Shamayim (to demonstrate the seriousness of Chilul Shabbos [see Targum Yonasan]), they were not sure whether to put him to death or not, since his intention was a positive one.

G-d however, ordered them to carry out the death-penalty, because otherwise, people would proceed to perform all sorts of abominations le'Shem Shamayim, and where would it all end?

It seems to me, however, that if G-d, who can read the innermost thoughts of man, knows man's motive for sinning, man does not. In which case, it is not possible to explain Moshe's dilemma in that light.

* * *


"Send for yourselves sharp (intelligent) men and they will spy out the land … " (13:2).


"And these are the names of the men that Moshe sent … and when Moshe saw the humility of Hoshei'a, he changed his name to Yehoshua" (13:14).


"And what are the advantages of the land; whether the fruit is luscious or whether it is inferior, whether it has fruit-trees or not. Make a Chazakah on the land (i.e. acquire it), and take some of the fruit. They left on the twenty-ninth of Sivan, the season when the grapes ripened" (13:20).


" … they arrived at the Valley of Eshkol and they cut from there a branch and a cluster of grapes, which two of them carried on a pole on their shoulders, and likewise from the pomegranates and the figs" (13:23).


"And they spoke derogatively about the land that they had spied … and all the people in it are men with bad Midos" (13:32).


"And now may the strength of Hashem be magnified and may You be filled with mercy on them, and make me into a large nation just as You said You would" (14:17).


" … the men who spoke derogatively about the land died on the seventh of Ellul; worms came out of their navels and entered their mouths, where they proceeded to consume their tongues together with the palate … . And they were buried before Hashem, following the plague" (14:37).


"And they hurried to ascend the mountain before dawn-break; but the Aron which contained the covenant of Hashem, as well as Moshe, did not move from the camp" (14:44).

* * *

(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 389:
That the Kohanim should not perform the Avodah of the Levi'im, nor Vice-Versa

Neither may the Levi'im perform the Avodos of the Kohanim, nor the Kohanim, the Avodos of the Levi'im. Each must perform the Avodos that are designated to it, as the Torah writes in Bamidbar (4:19) " … every man to his work and to his burden". The prohibition however, occurs in Parshas Sh'lach L'cha (18:3), where the Pasuk says to the Kohanim (with regard to the Levi'im) "But to the holy vessels and to the Mizbei'ach they shall not come near", and when it continues "And neither they nor you will die", it is intimating that the Kohanim are included in this La'av, in that they are equally prohibited from performing the Avodos that are designated for the Levi'im. And the Sifri says that " … to the holy vessels and the Mizbei'ach" is the warning, and "they will not die", the punishment. But this only teaches us the prohibition and the punishment of the Levi'im who perform the tasks allotted to the Kohanim. How do we know that the reverse applies too? Therefore the Torah adds "also they". And from where do we know that the La'av includes switching from one Avodah to another? Therefore the Torah adds "also you". And in this vein we find that when R. Yehoshua ben Chananya went to assist R. Yehoshua ben Gudgoda to close the gates, the latter told him to turn back because, seeing as he was a member of the choir, and not a gatekeeper, he would earn himself the death-penalty (at the Hand of Hashem) by helping to close the gates. Likewise, a Kohen who performs the task of a Levi is Chayav too, though he is only subject to Malkos, but not to Miysah bi'Yedei Shamayim. The Mechilta reiterates some of these Halachos, and adds that even though the expression "lo yikravu" (do not come close) that we quoted earlier, has connotations of touching, it is for performing the Avodah that they are Chayav and not for touching alone.

A reason for this Mitzvah is based on the fact that the Avodah of these two groups is particularly precious and holy. That is why it needs to be protected against despair, laziness and forgetfulness; for any task that is incumbent upon two or more people is more prone to negligence than one that is incumbent upon one person only. Since it often happens that each person relies on his friend to fulfill it, until in the end, neither of them actually does it. By way of a Mashal, Chazal say that 'a pot belonging to partners is neither hot nor cold'. That is why it is so important to designate. Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah …Chazal list fifteen officers who were in charge of overseeing the smooth running of the Beis-Hamikdash's affairs. One was in charge of the time-table, whose job it was to work out the time that the first Korban had to be brought, and then to see that they got on with it. He would announce 'Arise, Kohanim, for the Avodah; Levi'im, for the Duchan (where they would sing), and Yisrael for the Ma'amad (to stand by the Korban Tamid as representatives of the people). The moment they heard his voice, they would all make their way to their various positions … Specific Kohanim and Levi'im would serve that day, since Moshe, Shmuel and David divided them into twenty-four groups, as we learn in the Gemara in Ta'anis (27a). They would serve in rotation, each group for one week. Each group was sub-divided into (six or seven) families, and each group of families served one day. The leader of the group was responsible for appointing each member of the day's group to his specific task, so that everybody knew precisely what he had to do … A chorister was not permitted to assist a gatekeeper, or a gatekeeper, a chorister. The second officer was in charge of closing the gates; the third, the guards, whilst the fourth was responsible for organizing the choristers, etc., just as the Mishnah in Shekalim (5:1) explains … and the remaining details, are discussed in various locations throughout Kodshim, in the Sifri and in the Mechilta, as we stated earlier (see also Rambam, Hilchos K'lei Mikdash, 5:3).

This Mitzvah applies in the Time of the Beis-Hamikdash to male Kohanim and Levi'im. A Levi who contravenes it and who performs an Avodah that pertains to a Kohen, or even a task that is designated to his fellow Levi, is Chayav Miysah bi'Yedei Shamayim, as is a Kohen who performs the Avodah pertaining to a Levi, though he is not Chayav Miysah, as we explained above. It seems however, that a Kohen who assists another Kohen does receive the death-penalty (at the Hand of Hashem).

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