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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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Ch. 16, v. 21: "Hibodlu mitoch ho'eidoh hazose" - Separate yourselves from this congregation - Note that the concept of separating from the troublemakers is expressed in four different terms. Here we have "hibodlu," in verse 24 "hei'olu," in verse 26 "suru," in verse 27 "va'yaalu," and in 17:10 "heiromu," four different terms for the same basic concept to "distance/separate from."

This is an attempt at sorting this out in an orderly manner:

1) The Rasham on 17:10 raises the issue of "hibodlu" and "heiromu." He answers that "heiromu" connotes distancing oneself further, which is appropriate here, as the plague had already begun, "heicheil hano'gef."

2) The Paa'nei'ach Rozo and Rabbi Moshe of Coucy's teacher also tackle this and answer that "hibodlu" is used when those who are to separate themselves are mixed in with the others (This is clearly demonstrated in Vayikra 11:47, where it says, "L'havdil bein hato'mei u'vein hatohor," which Rashi explains means to differentiate between ritual slaughtering that is acceptable, when the majority of the windpipe is cut, and not acceptable, when only a half is cut.), while "heiromu" is used when they are already separate, but are being commanded to distance themselves even further. Moshe came to discuss the matter with Doson and Avirom in chapter 16 and was right next to them, but in 17:10, after the earthquake and the fire of death, people separated themselves from anyone who was sympathetic to Korach's cause.

3) Rabbeinu Chaim Paltiel says that "heiromu" is used when the intention is to respond quickly, as was surely in place when "heicheil hano'gef."

4) The Kli Yokor says that "hibodlu" is used where the command is for the rank and file bnei Yisroel to act, while "heiromu" is used when it applies only to Moshe and Aharon, who were already on an elevated level, and the command to them was expressed in the same manner. (The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh disagrees with this, as he clearly states that the command "heiromu" was to be told to those of the bnei Yisroel who were not part of the uprising or complainers.)

5) In a bit of a lengthy insight offered in Sedrah Selections 5765, "heiromu" is explained by the Baal Mo'ore Voshomesh, which relates to "va'yiplu al pneihem." It is most interesting, so make sure to see it.

6) The Meshech Chochmoh explains that "hibodlu" is used when the separation consists of a physical parting, as we find by the lacerating of the nape of the avian offering, "lo yavdil." "Heiromu" is used when the intention is to elevate oneself. Moshe told Aharon that the plague had actually begun even though Moshe wasn't eye witness to it, because Hashem said "heiromu," meaning that the complainers had fallen in their spiritual level, and this was obviously apparent through their being struck by the plague. Thus even though "heiromu" is a command to the rank and file, they are elevated in comparison to those who have fallen spiritually and are victims of the plague.

Now we have the difference between "hibodlu" and "hei'olu/va'yei'olu":

1) The Sforno seems to totally equate "hibodlu" with "hei'olu."

2) Rabbeinu Zecharioh says that when they were together, as was the situation when they assembled at the entrance of the "ohel mo'eid,"

"hibodlu" is used, meaning to distance themselves. When they are in their homes and are asked to evacuate and distance themselves, "hei'olu' is used. When the command targets Moshe and Aharon, the most elevated of people, "heiromu," a term in kind, is used.

3) "Hei'olu" is used when the intention is to ascend. The command was to separate themselves from the evildoers and go towards the Mishkon. It was always set up on a hill (similar to the Beis Hamikdosh, which was built on a mountain). (Ro'isi) We now go on to "suru:"

This is further complicated by virtue of Hashem's telling Moshe to tell the bnei Yisroel "hei'olu," and Moshe's saying "suru," and then when they complied the verse reverts to "suru."

Note that Moshe says to turn away from the tents of "Ho'anoshim horsho'im ho'eileh" (16:26). Moshe calls them evil, not part of Hashem's command, which was without titles. Moshe gave an extra push to have them separate themselves by calling Doson and Avirom EVIL, which would in all likelihood motivate the bnei Yisroel to cooperate. The verse goes on to say that they complied as per the term of Hashem "va'yei'olu," not needing the extra push. Moshe rightfully called Doson and Avirom EVIL because Doson hit Avirom back in parshas Shmos, and Moshe called Doson a "rosho." (This is a new insight into being swallowed into the ground, as they tattled on Moshe that he killed an Egyptian and hid him in the ground.) Targum Yonoson ben Uziel says that they were called "r'sho'im" because they were deserving of death for earlier transgressions.

"Hasoroh" is a term used for moving away from a spiritual value, in this case evil, because it will influence you, as in "Sur meira" (T'hilim 34:17). Although we also find "suru" by Lote's advising the angels to turn to his home (Breishis 19;2), we might say that since all the other residents of Sdom were evil, as is proven by their being destroyed totally, "suru" again means to turn away from those who might influence you negatively. (See Rashi there, who explains "suru" differently.) We likewise have "turning away" when one turns away from good, "V'sartem vaavadtem elohim acheirim" (Dvorim 11:16), which Rashi explains that it means to turn away from the Torah, and Medrash Hagodol says to turn away from the path of life to the path of death, both spiritual concepts.

Ch. 16, v. 30: "Ufotz'soh ho'adomoh es pihoh uvoloh osom" - And the ground will open its mouth and will swallow them - Why did Moshe find this to be an appropriate manner of disposing of these rebellious people? Based on the medrash on the words "b'zose teidun" (verse 28) that Korach denied the validity of the "oral Torah" (The gemara Yerushalmi Sanhedrin and the Yalkut Shimoni #752 say that Korach denied Toras Moshe, saying that Moshe made up the mitzvos.), the Ponim Yofos (whose yahrzeit is 4 Tamuz) answers this question. The gemara Shabbos 88a says that at the time of the giving of the Torah, Hashem suspended Har Sinai over the bnei Yisroel and threatened them. If they would accept the Torah all is good and fine, but if they wouldn't Hashem would drop the mountain upon them and there would be their burial. Tosfos there, as well as others, ask why there was a need for coercion, given that the bnei Yisroel seemingly accepted the Torah quite willingly, as per their response of "naa'seh v'nishmo" (parshas Mishpotim). Medrash Tanchuma on parshas Noach #3 answers that the acceptance was only for the written Torah but not the oral Torah.

Korach, who did not accept the oral Torah, was deserving of the realization of Hashem's threat, and in turn was buried alive. He adds that this also gives us a deeper understanding of the words of the gemara Shabbos 105b, that one who does not properly eulogize a Torah scholar deserves to be buried alive. When a Torah scholar dies the written Torah remains untouched. However, there is a tremendous loss of oral Torah that would be transmitted by the Torah scholar. One who does not properly eulogize him displays a strong disregard for the oral Torah and in turn deserves to have the punishment meted out to one who does not accept the oral Torah, which is being buried alive.

An answer offered by the Admor Rabbi Zev of Strikov is that we know that Moshe was so modest that he considered himself lower than everyone upon the FACE of the earth (Bmidbar 12:4). In other words, he considered himself on the level of equal to the earth itself, while everyone else was UPON the face of the earth, above him. Korach, who complained that Moshe lorded OVER the nation, saying that he held himself loftier than all, deserved in kind to be BELOW where Moshe considered himself, i.e. below the earth.

Ch. 17, v. 3: "Hachato'im ho'eileh" - These sinners - Translated literally, we have "these SINS." When someone is so enmeshed in sin, he and the sin become one, hence the "chotei" and the "cheit" are one. We find the same by the skin affliction "tzoraas." The Torah says that if the "nega" is from its head to its foot, he is not defiled. The "nega" has no head nor foot. Since the person who sinned so grievously deserves being afflicted by a "nega," he and the "nega" are considered one. We find the same in the positive realm. King Dovid was so involved in prayer that he said, "Vaani s'filoh," I am prayer. (Haksav V'hakaboloh)

Ch. 17, v. 3: "Hachato'im ho'eileh b'nafshosom" - These sinners against their souls - This is the common translation. However, the Ponim Yofos offers a novel translation. In the previous verse Hashem tells Moshe to tell Elozor the Kohein to collect the pans that held incense in them. At first glance this would obviously mean that he would have to walk among the people who died from the plague, and in turn he would become defiled through "tumas meis." Our verse tells us otherwise. "B'nafshosom" means "while their souls are still within them," i.e. while they are still alive. They were struck by the plague, but it took time to die.

Ch. 17, v. 10: "Va'yiplu al pneihem" - And they fell on their faces - The Baal Haturim says that although they fell on their faces, here they did not pray. However, Targum Yonoson ben Uziel says that they did pray. Following the opinion of Targum Yonoson ben Uziel, the Haa'meik Dovor explains that since Hashem said "Vaacha'leh osom k'roga," His intention was to strike all the guilty people dead in one swift action, in a moment, as was done in Egypt to the firstborn. Moshe and Aharon prayed for clemency and this accomplished that Hashem was willing to punish over an extended period of time and also that they would first take ill. This gave Moshe the opportunity to tell Aharon to bring the incense and stand between those who already died and those who hadn't. This could not have happened had they died in one fell swoop. This dovetails with the insight of the Ponim Yofos in the previous offering.

Ch. 17, v. 11: "Kach es hamachtoh v'sen o'lehoh aish v'sim k'to'res" - Take the pan and put fire into it and place incense - The Ibn Ezra takes note of the definitive pan, "HAmachtoh," and the non-definitive incense, "k'to'res," not "HAk'to'res." He ends with "V'hamaskil yovin," the wise man will understand. Although I am not a wise man, I will attempt an explanation. The incense offered daily in the Mishkon was donated by all of the bnei Yisroel through their annual "machatzis hashekel." The 250 who brought incense brought their own. People had the improper opinion that "k'to'res" is a very lethal offering. Moshe wanted not only to stop the plague, but to also show that when used properly, it brings life, not death. This lesson would be lost on the people if Aharon were to bring publicly donated incense. Although Moshe told him to bring THE pan, i.e. the one Aharon used in the Mishkon, nevertheless, he told Aharon to place non-sanctified incense into the pan, the same as the 250 men did. Since this "k'to'res" would save lives, it will be clear to all that the deciding factor is if the incense was being brought by a true Kohein, and not if the incense was "tziburi" or personal.

I feel that there is some weakness in this explanation, as it is very unlikely that Aharon had incense in the proper proportion that was not sanctified, as the Torah prohibits making it unless it will be used for the Mikdosh. A better explanation would be greatly appreciated.

Ch. 17, v. 27: "Hein govanu ovadnu kulonu ovodnu" - Behold we have died we are lost we are all lost - These three seemingly repetitive expressions are explained by the three Targumim. Targum Yonoson ben Uziel and Targum Yerushalmi both say that they refer to the three types of death that they had just experienced, death by fire, by the earth swallowing, and by plague. What is most interesting is that Targum Onkelos lists the three types of death as by SWORD, by the earth swallowing, and by plague. Where do we find death by sword in this incident? To answer this, a second question should be asked. Why does Targum Onkelos leave out death by fire, which is clearly stated in the verse? These two questions cancel out each other. Death by sword means death by fire. By the plague of the smiting of the firstborn the Torah refers to it as "zro'a n'tuyoh." The Hagodoh says that "zro'a n'tuyoh' means "cherev," sword. Commentators on the Hagodoh ask the same question. Where do we find death by sword in the plague of smiting of the firstborn? One answer is that it refers to the firstborn killing those who were not willing to send away the bnei Yisroel immediately. Another answer, and this is the relevant one to this insight, is that Hashem's sword is FIRE. (We find Hashem killing people by fire numerous times in the Torah, by Sdom, by Nodov and Avihu, by the "k'tzinim" who complained about the difficulties in traveling non-stop.)

Ch. 18, v. 1: "Atoh uvo'necho uveis ovicho itoch" - You and your sons and your father's household along with you - Rashi says that "uveis ovicho" refers to the descendants of K'hos, Aharon's grandfather. Rashi continues by saying that "I will place the punishment of the outsiders who will sin with matters that are holy that have become your responsibility, upon you. You are responsible to tell any outsider who comes near to not touch any of the holy objects."

Sforno explains that if the outsiders touch holy items because of the laxity of the Kohanim or L'viim the punishment will come to rest on the heads of the guards. It is logical to assume that if the guards do their job properly, and in spite of this an outsider touches the holy objects, only he will be punished.

Rashi on the words in Yeshayohu 53:11, "Vaavonosom hu yisbol," writes that this is the manner of all righteous people, that they carry the burden of others' sins, as we find, "Atoh uvo'necho tisu es avone Hamikdosh." If the Kohanim are lax, this is not uniquely the lot of the righteous, as anyone who is lax must bear the responsibility. Obviously, this means that even when they have done their duty properly, they still bear the consequences.

Although not conclusive, it seems from both Rashi and the Sforno that when the Kohanim are lax the resultant punishment is visited only upon them and NOT the outsiders. The Rivosh in his commentary on verse seven clearly states that the punishment the guards receive does not in any way absolve the perpetrators. (The multiple punishment safeguards the sanctity of the holy objects, as the outsiders are liable for punishment, which is in and of itself a strong deterrent, and the guards also being subject to punishment assures that they will do their maximum to keep outsiders from touching the holy objects.)

Ch. 18, v. 2: "Vilovu ei'lecho visheirsucho" - And they will escort you and they will serve you - Rashi says that this means that the L'viim will join you to warn "ALSO the outsiders" to not come close to them. The word ALSO is quite puzzling, as whom else besides the Yisroelim are they to keep at a distance. Yoseif Hillel therefore amends the text in Rashi and deletes the word "gam," ALSO. Perhaps "gam" refers to minors or stray animals.



See also Oroh V'Simchoh - Meshech Chochmoh on the Weekly Parsha, Chasidic Insights and Chamisha Mi Yodei'a

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