by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS VO'ES'CHANAN 5760 BS"D
L'ILUY NISHMAS OVI MORI R' CHAIM B"R SIMCHOH Z"L HK"M
Ch. 3, v. 23: "Vo'es'chanan" - The M.R. Dvorim #11 says that Moshe prayed to Hashem 515 times to annul the vow restricting him from entering Eretz Yisroel. His prayers were to no avail. The medrash says that the word "vo'es'chanan" alludes to this, as its numeric value is 515.
The Ponim Yofos explains how we arrive at this number of prayers. He says that Moshe began praying for permission to enter Eretz Yisroel on the day that he was told that he would not enter. This was on the day that Miriam died, the 10th of Nison. On that day Moshe sinned with "mei m'rivoh." He continued to pray until after conquering Sichon and Og and entered Arvos Moav. The M.R. Bmidbar 19:18 says that the war with Sichon took place in the month of Elul. If we calculate three prayers a day on weekdays and four for each Shabbos and Yom Tov, we arrive at 515 prayers towards the end of Elul. This calculation fits with the medrash but does not pinpoint exactly 515 prayers, as a few more or a few less prayers would also work out.
The Pnei Yehoshua on Brochos 32a gives us a calculation that explains why there were exactly 515 prayers. Rashi on the words "bo'eis ha'hi" in our verse says that Moshe felt that after conquering Sichon and Og the vow made by Hashem to prohibit him from entering Eretz Yisroel might be null and void. This took place on the 15th of Ov, the day that the death of the final group of 15,000 people who died annually because of the sin of the spies had conclusively ended, as is stated in parshas Dvorim 2:16, "Va'y'hi kaa'sher tamu anshei hamilchomoh lomus." (See B.B. 121b and Rashba"m and Tosfos there for further clarification.) Moshe prayed for an annulment of the decree from the 15th of Ov until his death on the 7th of Adar of the following year. This is a total of 200 days if we alternate 30 and 29 days per month. This gives us 4 months of 30 days each and 3 months of 29 days each. The month of Ov has only 16 days of prayer starting from the 15th. 16+29+30+29+30+29+30+7 days of Adar = 200. On Shabbos one does not pray for the personal needs of an individual. This takes away 28 Shabbosos that occur in 200 days. We are left with 172 days x 3 prayers a day = 516 prayers. We subtract one prayer as Hashem only communicated with Moshe by day (There is disagreement by some on this point, as they posit that Moshe received prophecy by night and by day.) and on the first day of these prayers he only prayed twice to enter the land. This leaves us with exactly 515 prayers.
There seem to be three difficulties with this calculation:
1) One does not pray for the personal needs of an individual on Shabbos nor on Yom Tov. This would require a further reduction of the first and last days of Pesach and one day of Shovuos.
2) This seems contrary to the M.R. mentioned by the Ponim Yofos that the conquest of Sichon took place in Elul, so entry into Arvos Moav could not have taken place earlier than Elul.
3) Moshe's prayers began after the conquest of Sichon and continued until the day of his death according to the Pnei Yehoshua. The verses seem to indicate that he ended his beseeching right after the conquest, not that he began then.
To answer the difficulty of prayer for an individual on Shabbos and Yom Tov, which the Ponim Yofos counted, it seems that the need for Moshe to enter the land and continue to be the leader of the bnei Yisroel is ample reason to consider it a need of the community at large, not only the need of an individual. Indeed, the gemara Taanis 9a says that Moshe is considered to be of the same stature as a congregation.
Ch. 4, v. 12: "Kole dvorim a'tem shomim" - In Moreh N'vuchim 2:33 the Rambam writes that hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" does not mean that the bnei Yisroel actually heard the words of these two mitzvos articulated. Rather, they heard a most awesome celestial sound. This sound brought the bnei Yisroel to the realization that "Onochi ......" and "Lo y'h'yeh ......" Perhaps this is indicated in our verse , "Kole dvorim a'tem shomim," - you hear a voice of words - but not the words themselves. Another allusion to this might be from later in our parsha, "Atoh ho'reiso lodaas" (4:35), - you were SHOWN to know, but did not hear it, since the verse does not say "Atoh SHOMATO lodaas," "ki Hashem hu ho'Elokim," - this is "Onochi," "ein ode milvado," - this is "Lo y'h'yeh."
The Chasam Sofer says that the words "kole dvorim a'tem shomim" refer to the last eight Commandments, as we heard the first two directly from Hashem. This explanation goes according to the Ramban who argues with the Rambam in the beginning of Sefer Hamitzvos regarding counting "lo saa'seh l'cho fesel, lo sishtacha'veh," and "lo so'ovdeim" as separate mitzvos.
Ch. 4, v. 14: "Laasos'chem osom BO'ORETZ" - Rabbi Shimshon R'fo'el Hirsch points out that the bnei Yisroel are responsible for all mitzvos out side of Eretz Yisroel as well, save the mitzvos that are land bound or Mikdosh connected. The intention of our verse is to say that we should do them in any location, as indicated by the cantellation of "zokeif koton" on "laasos'chem osom," indicating a stop in the phrase before the word "bo'oretz". This means that the mitzvos are to be fulfilled everywhere. Afterwards there is the add on of "bo'oretz," where the mitzvos are done in the best manner (See Ramban Dvorim 11:18).
The Meshech Chochmoh explains these words by saying that "laasos'chem" means to FORCE you to comply, as we find in the gemara K'suvos 77a, "Ein M'ASIN ello lifsulos." On the basis of the words of the Rashb"o on the gemara Shabbos 88a the Meshech Chochmoh says that the rule of the religious courts forcing people to fulfill positive mitzvos (K'suvos 86a) only applies once the bnei Yisroel live in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, "laasos'chem osom," - to FORCE you to do them is only "bo'oretz."
Perhaps another explanation can be offered along the lines of the Meshech Chochmoh. In the desert when people did not comply with Hashem's mitzvos He furthered the manna from them and their portions required much preparation before being edible, as mentioned in the gemara Yoma 75a. However, Hashem always gave them manna even if they sinned greatly. However, upon entering Eretz Yisroel, the Torah says, "Hishomru lochem ...... v'sartem, v'otzar es hashomayim v'lo y'h'yeh mottor v'ho'adomoh lo si'tein es y'vuloh va'avadtem m'heiroh ......" (Dvorim 11:16,17). Hashem clearly tells us that when not complying in Eretz Yisroel He will force us to do the mitzvos under threat of otherwise being driven from the land through lack of sustenance.
Ch. 4, v. 15: "V'nishmartem m'ode l'nafsho'seichem ki lo r'i'sem kol tmunoh b'yom di'ber Hashem a'leichem b'Choreiv mitoch ho'eish" - How do the first three words of this verse flow with the rest of the verse? This question is even stronger with the interpretation of the gemara of the first three words of our verse. The gemara Brochos 32b relates that a highly placed minister passed by a "Chosid" who was praying and the minister greeted him. The person who was praying did not interrupt his prayers to respond. The minister waited until the prayers were completed and said, "For your impudence in not responding to me I could have put you to death with no fear of any negative consequences. Should you not have responded even in the middle of your prayers since your Torah requires you to guard your life, as is written 'V'nishmartem m'ode l'nafshoseichem?'"
What is the connection between guarding one's life and not seeing a graphic vision of Hashem when the Torah was given?
In verse 12 it says, "Ki lo r'i'sem t'munoh zulosi kole." The Malbim and the N'tzi"v raise the question that the last two words of this phrase seem superfluous. They interpret these words to mean that Hashem did not appear to the bnei Yisroel in a graphic vision, "zulosi kole," - there was only a vision of a voice. This means that the bnei Yisroel saw the letters of the words of the first two Commandments in the air above Har Sinai.
The gemara Shabbos 88b says that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said that after hearing each of the Commandments the souls of the people left them, as it says in Shir Hashirim 5:6, "Nafshi yotzoh v'dabro." They were resuscitated by Hashem with the dew that will be used at the time of "t'chias ha'meisim." The departure of their souls can be understood as being a result of the powerful experience of seeing the letters of the words emanating from Hashem. Seeing that which is normally heard is a spilling over of the senses, indicating an extremely powerful spiritual experience, with the vision of letters serving as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual.
If they would have been exposed to a graphic vision of Hashem, "t'munoh," then the experience would have been much stronger, causing such a great cleaving to Hashem that the departure of their souls from their bodies would be on the level of "k'los nefesh," a total extinction of their souls as they cleave to Hashem. Hashem wanted to minimize the miracle of resuscitating them and gave them a limited vision of only the letters. Their revival was thus not as extreme a miracle.
We can now understand the flow of the words of our verse. "V'nishmartem m'ode l'nafsho'seichem," - guard exceedingly your wellbeing. You can learn this from the fact that you did not see a graphic vision of Hashem at Matan Torah. This would have caused a total extinction of your souls, which would have required a colossal miracle to revive you. If Hashem limited the vision to minimize the level of your souls' departure, you can learn from this to guard your lives.
The Maharsh"a in his "chidu'shei halochos" on the gemara Brochos 32b d.h. "ksiv" explains our verse as simply saying that one should guard his soul from sinning by creating a graven image, as the Torah mentions shortly thereafter in verse 16. This can be shown by the fact that Hashem did not expose the bnei Yisroel to a celestial vision at the time of Matan Torah. Although the gemara says that the beginning of the verse teaches us that one should safeguard his life, this was only the interpretation of the minister, but is not the proper understanding of these words.
I am perplexed by the words of the Maharsh"a as Tosfos on the gemara Shvu'os 36a d.h. "U'shmore naf'sh'cho" clearly states that we derive from the words "V'nishmartem m'ode l'nafshoseichem" that one may not injure himself. (Please note that there is a printing mistake in the text of Tosfos, and in the place of the word "mei'v'hishomru" it should say "mei'v'nishmartem.) We see from this that Tosfos accepted the interpretation of the minister in Brochos 32b as accurate. As well, the simple flow of the story seems to indicate this, as the "Chosid" who did not respond during his prayers, afterwards explained to the minister why he did not interrupt his prayers, but did not tell him that he had incorrectly interpreted the verse.
Ch. 4, v. 34: "O hanisoh ...... asher ossoh LOCHEM ...... L'EINECHO" - Why does the verse use a plural form LOCHEM and then end with the singular form L'EINECHO? Rabbeinu Bachyei answers that this verse encompasses all that had happened to the bnei Yisroel in Egypt until their exodus. The Name of Hashem that was invoked to bring this about was E-H-Y-H (Shmos 3:14). The numeric value of this Name is 21. Our verse begins with the letter Alef and by using the singular form for the last word L'EINECHO rather than L'EINEICHEM it ends with a Chof. The combined value of these two letters is also 21. The merit to leave Egypt was that the bnei Yisroel would receive the Torah (Ten Commandments) at Har Sinai, "b'hotziacho es ho'om miMitzrayim taavdun es hoElokim al hohor ha'zeh" (Shmos 3:12). Similarly the Ten Commandments begin with an Alef, "Onochi," and end with a Chof, "l'rei'aCHo." As well, both our verse and the Ten Commandments contain all the letters of the Alef Beis.
A GUTTEN SHABBOS KODESH.
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