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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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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 and it took time to die.

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 to be 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. 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 of 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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