Back to Parsha Homepage

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS MASSEI

Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth. (33:2)

The pasuk relates that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote motza'eihem l'maseihem, "their goings forth according to their journeys." This idea is repeated at the end of the pasuk - only this time the order is reversed, with their journeys preceding their goings forth. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the change in the wording is significant and purposeful. The beginning of the pasuk presents Hashem's view of their travels. The pasuk closes with the nation's view of their forty-year sojourn. When Hashem had them break camp, it was always for the purpose of reaching a new goal, a fresh plateau, for which the new encampment was most suitable. Each masa, journey, reflected progress, moving forward, setting out on a new trip. Therefore, motza'eihem, their breaking-up/goings forth, were all for a goal, a purpose, reflecting G-d's intention.

The people maintained a different perspective on their journey. Wherever they were, they expressed dissatisfaction. They were rarely happy, always finding something to complain about. They wanted to move on, seek new adventure, excitement. Staying in one place was boring. Thus, as soon as the signal was given to break camp, they were excited - not because of where they were going - but because of where they were leaving. They had no goals, no objectives; they just wanted to move on. Their purpose was not the destination, but rather, the journey.

Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, offers a pragmatic explanation for the variation of sequences found in this pasuk. He begins with a simple question. The Torah lists forty-two encampments which the Jewish nation set up in the wilderness. The places are designated by name. How are we to understand this? The Navi Yirmiyahu (2:6) attests to the barren, desolate nature of the wilderness, a land in which no human being had previously either lived or even tread. If so, how did these encampments become geographically distinct? Nothing was there.

Obviously, explains Rav Kanievsky, they were barren and desolate prior to the arrival of Klal Yisrael. Once they had settled there, the Well of Miriam supplied the water, and the people did the rest. Soon the desert began to bloom; the "place" developed a character, and it became a city. When the nation was summoned to the next encampment, they left a fruited plain which was now ready to become home to the next visitor.

The cities were all given names based upon their relationship vis-?-vis the Jewish People. They transformed desolation into habitation. Therefore, when the Torah addresses these "goings out" as they left for their forty-year sojourn, they had no destination. They had no clue where they were going; furthermore, wherever it was that they were going, it had no name. It was as if the "place" did not exist. It was only after they left that the area achieved distinction. The nation was originally going l'maseihem, for a journey; wherever Hashem took them, they were going. Forty years later, in retrospect, the places had names. The Torah could now record that we understand the rhyme and reason, goal and objective, to each one of their encampments.

We may add that this idea applies, likewise, to the journey called life. We end up in different places. When we arrive at each, we really have no idea why we are in this place as opposed to another place. Why this yeshivah, when I originally wanted to go elsewhere? Nu - I will make the best of it. Why am I in this city, when my original plan was to make my fortune in another city? Often the places that we "stop" along the way to our ultimate "destination," at the time, have no meaning to us. It is only later, in retrospect, that we see how everything fits into G-d's master Plan.

We may derive another lesson from here. We make the place. We have the ability to transform a barren, desolate wilderness into a lush region of distinction. We give it its name. Our actions, our initiative, our positive endeavors, create an area whose enduring legacy reflects our presence there. The region has new significance; its vitality and vigor persist even after we have moved on. As always, there is a flipside. As our positive endeavors concretize the positive identity of a locale, the negative consequences of our neutralizing efforts may have left a bad taste, infamously perpetuating an ignominious designation to this place. When we review the names of the forty-two encampments listed in the parsha, we observe that all was not well; a number of places are recorded in infamy. It is not always up to us, but we have played quite a leading role in establishing the identity of many places.

The Canaanite King of Arad heard… of the approach of Bnei Yisrael. (33:40)

Rashi teaches that the king of Arad heard of the passing of Aharon HaKohen, thereby signaling the end of the protective barrier of Ananei HaKavod, the Pillars of Cloud. They felt that it was a message that the Jewish People were now vulnerable to attack. Apparently, when the king of Arad attacked, the Jewish People had no idea that it was linked to the passing of Aharon HaKohen. Indeed, they attributed Aharon's death to his participation in the sin of Mei Merivah, the waters of strife, when the stone was hit instead of being spoken to. The attack from Arad was, as far as they were concerned, an isolated, unrelated event. It was only now, as Moshe Rabbeinu was reflecting on their various encampments in the wilderness, that they put two and two together and realized the true motivation for Arad's attack.

Is this not always the way it is? We go through life with nary a care in the world. Things happen - events occur - but, in our minds, they are unrelated. We are clueless to what takes place around us, because we are not prepared to think, to ask the "what" and the "why" - because it might impinge on our comfort zone. It is so much easier to travel the road of life without applying ourselves to its implied messages. It is only later, in retrospect, out of hindsight, often when it is too late to effect a change, that we wake up and wonder: Could things have been different?

We view life through the prism of our mortal vision, which is severely restricted. We see only what is available to us, and, furthermore, most often, only what we want to see. Thus, we are confronted with challenges which, for many, are insurmountable. We are not all capable of "waiting" until we are enlightened by the passage of time. A few years ago, I came across a dvar Torah in which Horav Yissachar Frand quoted a beautiful exposition from Horav Avraham Yehudah HaKohen Schwartz, zl, author of the Teshuvos Kol Aryeh, which graces the hakdamah, preface, to his sefer.

When Yaakov Avinu was descending to Egypt, he was concerned, and rightfully so; this was a land of perversion and evil. Hashem told him, "Have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up; and Yosef shall place his hand over your eyes" (Bereishis 46:3,4). Concerning the end of the pasuk, "And Yosef shall place his hand over your eyes," The Zohar HaKadosh makes a cryptic comment, "This is what the secret of Krias Shema is all about."

Exactly what is the Zohar teaching us? The Kol Aryeh illuminates the Zohar based on a passage in the Talmud Pesachim 50a, where Chazal distinguish between Olam Ha'zeh, this world, and Olam Habba, the World to Come. In this world, when one hears good news, he recites the blessing, HaTov u'Meitiv, "He, Who is good and does good"; on hearing bad news, he recites, Baruch Dayan ha'Emes, "Blessed is the true Judge." In Olam Habba, however, only one brachah is recited, "He Who is good and does good." Chazal apply this teaching to explain the pasuk in Zecharyah 14:9, V'hayah Hashem l'Melech al kol ha'aretz, bayom ha'hu yiheyeh Hashem Echad u'Shemo Echad, "And Hashem will be King over the entire land (world); on that day He will be One and His Name will be One."

In his commentary to the Talmud Pesachim, the Tzlach explains that, in this world, we see events as they appear before our eyes. A tragedy is viewed as a tragic, unfortunate experience. Occasions which appear to be good and wonderful, are, likewise, viewed as such. True, there are those special, spiritually-elevated individuals who are able to confront the unfortunate with extreme faith, uttering the famous dictum gam zu l'tovah, "This too is for the good." This, however, is not the norm. Most people perceive a dichotomy between "good" and "bad" news. Thus, they recite two different blessings, each addressing the individual situation - as they see it at the moment - here and now. In Olam Habba, when we will no longer be restricted by time, we will be able to see events in the context of the bigger picture. We will, therefore, recite only one brachah, because we will see clearly that everything is inherently good.

The Kol Aryeh quotes his Rebbe, the venerable Chasam Sofer, zl, who explicates Moshe Rabbeinu's dialogue with Hashem. Moshe asked, Har'eini na es Kevodecha, "Show me, please, Your Glory" (Shemos 33:18). Chazal explain this as a reiteration of the age-old request, "Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?" Hashem responded, "You will see My Back, but My Face may not be seen" (Shemos 33:23).

The Chasam Sofer presents the idea, "My Face may not be seen," as a reference to understanding the deeper meaning of events as they occurred. By nature of his corporeality and limited vision, man is incapable of understanding the idea of the suffering of the righteous and the prospering of the wicked. It runs counter to everything in which we believe. Only when man stands with Hashem and looks "back," reviewing all of history in one perspective, is the unique vision of seeing things in their proper context within his grasp, thereby enabling him to appreciate that all events are for the good. This is what is meant by looking from the "Back" - in retrospect, through hindsight and total vision, unhampered by the restrictive parameters of time.

This is the meaning of Hashem Elokeinu - Hashem (Who) is our G-d - Hashem Echad - Hashem is One: We believe that Elokeinu, which is derived from Elokim - the Name of G-d which reflects His Attribute of Strict Justice (Middas HaDin) - and the Name of Hashem, Yud Kay Vov Kay - the Name which represents His Attribute of Mercy (Middas HaRachamim) - are Echad, one and the same. Thus, the seminal declaration, Shema Yisrael, the verse that accompanies the Jew as he leaves his mortal life, is, in fact, an affirmation of the belief that while, at times, Hashem appears to be acting with Strict Justice and, at times, He seems to show boundless compassion, it all emanates from the Name Hashem, the One G-d - the Name Yud Kay Vov Kay - the Name of Hashem which is associated with mercy.

We are taught in the Talmud Berachos 13b that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi would cover his eyes when he recited Shema. Why do we cover our eyes? Based upon the above, we understand that Shema declares our belief that whatever we confront is the result of Hashem's Mercy. Let us not fool ourselves. So many troubles appear before our eyes that this becomes increasingly difficult to accept. It is difficult for us to say unequivocally that it is all good - when our "eyes" tell us it is not good. Therefore, it is best that we cover our eyes and do not look. If we do not "see" the troubles - even allegorically - they will be much more palatable.

What greater example of gam zu l'tovah, all of this is for the good, is there than the life of Yosef HaTzaddik? He was: maligned and hated by his brothers; hounded and thrown into a pit; sold like cattle to pagan merchants who, in turn, sold him as a slave in a country where hedonism had been elevated to the level of art; libeled by his master's wife; placed in a dungeon with Egyptian derelicts for twelve years. What must have coursed through Yosef's mind during all of this misery? Ultimately, the dungeon was his source of salvation from which he rose to stardom as the viceroy of Egypt and savior of his family.

Yaakov Avinu feared descending to Egypt. He knew the vicissitudes, both physical and spiritual, to which his family would be subject. Hashem assuaged him, saying, "Yosef will put his hands over your eyes." Despite everything that Yosef went through - he came out on top, with everything working for the best. "This is the secret of Krias Shema," says the Zohar - "Hashem Elokeinu - Hashem Echad." The Krias Shema tells us that it is all good; it will all work itself out.

I could have selected from a plethora of stories that underscore the idea that we are clueless as we go through life. We must maintain our conviction and believe that everything will work out. We may not ignore any incident by relegating it to the dung heap of coincidence, because there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything is part of Hashem's Master Plan. The following episode - which my Rav, Rabbi Aharon Dovid Lebovics, related this past Shabbos - accentuates this idea.

This story was originally told by the hero's son, who is a fine ben Torah. His father was a pilot, originally trained by the Israeli air force. Upon retirement from the military, he took a position as a commercial airline pilot. Slowly, he began to gravitate towards Jewish observance. Although he had been raised in a totally non-observant home, he felt a tug at his heart, knowing that, for a Jew, observance is like air: one must have it to survive. He was far from observant, but he was not prepared to renege Judaism totally. Therefore, when his flight schedule for the next few months showed that he would have to fly on Rosh Hashanah, he immediately called around to see if another pilot was willing to trade days with him. One pilot agreed, but, in order to make it worth it for him, he wanted one more flight. In other words, he would take the Rosh Hashanah shift on the condition that the Jewish pilot gave him one other flight.

The Jewish pilot needed the money, but he felt committed enough that he was not going to fly on Rosh Hashanah, so he relinquished one more flight. That second flight which he gave up to allow him to observe Rosh Hashanah was United Airlines flight 93, which was a tragic victim of a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. By trading a few dollars for his religious conviction, he ended up saving his own life.

As to the cities that you shall designate, there shall be six cities of refuge for you. (35:13)

Moshe Rabbeinu designated three cities on Eivar haYardein, the eastern bank of the Jordan River, as Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge. The other three cities in Eretz Yisrael proper were to be designated by Yehoshua once the nation had conquered and divided the land. Clearly, the numbers appear disproportionate, given the fact that only two and one-half tribes made their homes on the eastern bank, while the other nine and one-half tribes resided in Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that, sadly, murder was more prevalent on the eastern bank. While this applies to premeditated murder, Ramban explains that the preponderance of murders would possibly cause the murderers to cover up their insidious behavior by claiming that their acts had been inadvertent. This would allow them to make a mad rush for the nearest city of refuge. Additionally, we may suggest that, in a society in which human life has little value, it is not unusual for more "accidents" to occur. People are just not as careful, because they do not care as much.

Rashi teaches that, although Moshe designated the eastern bank cities while the nation was still in the wilderness, they did not become cities of refuge until Yehoshua had designated the other cities in Eretz Yisrael. The Or Sameach offers an inspirational reason for this. Imagine someone who inadvertently kills while Klal Yisrael was yet in the wilderness. He must immediately flee to the city of refuge where he becomes a pseudo-prisoner until the passing of the Kohen Gadol. The Kohen Gadol at that time was Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen. The Torah writes that Elazar was to partner with Yehoshua in conquering and dividing up Eretz Yisrael - a process which took fourteen years. Therefore, the unintentional murderer was acutely aware that a sentence to serve in the Ir Miklat was certain to last at least fourteen years.

To what does this man have to look forward? He has absolutely no hope of leaving the Ir Miklat for a minimum of fourteen years. While waiting - hoping - that the Kohen Gadol was going to die sounds gruesome, to the individual languishing in the city of refuge, away from his family and friends, it is his only source of hope. Now, he has none, because the present Kohen Gadol, Elazar, was going to be around for a while. A man who has no hope, has no life. Therefore, the Arei Miklat in Eivar haYardein did not go into effect until the Land had been conquered and divided. We all need hope.

A father and his young son were interred in Auschwitz. The two were all that remained of a once thriving family. Chanukah was fast approaching, and the father was concerned that he and his son light the menorah. It would probably be the last time. Out of some scrap metal which he was able to find, he fashioned a makeshift menorah. For candle wicks, he tore a few threads from his prison uniform. For oil, he used a pat of butter which, through great difficulty he was able to obtain from one of the guards.

The young boy was shocked by his father's behavior. After all, to get caught would mean certain death for everyone on their block. How could his father endanger them all just to light a "candle"? Furthermore, by using the butter for oil instead of food, he was wasting precious calories. He challenged his father, "Surely, it is better to place the butter on a crust of bread than burn it for nothing." The father looked at his son pensively and replied, "My child, both you and I know that a person can live a long time without food, but, I tell you, that a person cannot live a single day without hope. This flame is the fire of hope. Never allow it to be extinguished. Not here - not anywhere. Without hope there is no life."

For he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:28)

Rashi explains that the Kohen Gadol's passing is connected to the unintentional murderer's freedom, because as the generation's primary spiritual leader, he should have prayed that accidental fatalities not occur during his watch. Chazal teach that the mothers of the Kohanim Gedolim would bring food to the unintentional murderers as their way of petitioning them not to pray for the premature death of their son. Why was it the Kohen Gadol's mother who brought food to the inmates? Why not the Kohen Gadol himself? After all, it was his life that was on the block.

In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisrael offers two answers. First, it was below the dignity of the Kohen Gadol to bring food. It would make it appear as if he feared the inmate, lending support to the premise that, had he been more circumspect and prayed with greater intensity, the accidental tragedy would not have occurred. Thus, to preserve the dignity of the Kohen Gadol, he personally did not interact with the unintentional murderer. His mother, however, had boundless love for her son. She would go to the ends of the world to protect him and prolong his life.

Second, if the unintentional murderer were receiving care packages from the Kohen Gadol, every down and out poor man would claim that he killed unintentionally and present himself at the gates of the city of refuge to seek asylum. If his mother was bringing the goodies, he would fear that, due to her advanced age, she would have very little time left to do this. The poor man was taking quite a chance. The Kohen Gadol's mother might pass away, and her son could serve for many more years. The poor man would not be ready to take such a chance. It would be a disaster for him to be stuck in the Ir Miklat, city of refuge.

Another question should be addressed. What about the Kohen Gadol's wife? Did she not care about her husband's life? Perhaps we might suggest that the Kohen Gadol's mother had a personal investment in her son. He quite possibly was a Kohen Gadol, having reached this exalted status as a result of his mother's exemplary modesty. Chazal teach that Kimchis merited seeing her seven sons become Kohanim Gedolim. When queried how she merited such nachas, spiritual satisfaction, she replied that even the beams within her home had never seen her hair exposed. She exemplified the epitome of dignity. It is consistent with the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim 45:14, Kol kevudah bas melech penimah, mi'mishbetzos zahav levushah, "The dignity of a princess is in her modesty, and her garment is made of gold embroidery." A woman of such outstanding modesty deserves children who will wear the golden vestments of the Kohen Gadol.

The Kohen Gadol was the product of the unique dignity of his mother. She made him. It, therefore, is reasonable that the bond of filial love which exists between mother and son supersedes any other love - even that of a wife for her husband. Therefore, it was the mother who "charged" herself with sustaining the inmates in the city of refuge.

Apparently, the prayers of these unintentional murderers had great efficacy, if the mothers went out of their way to keep them happy. Why? Imagine, on one side we have all of Klal Yisrael praying for the Kohen Gadol's longevity. This included the gedolei Yisrael, the nation's spiritual leaders, members of the Sanhedrin and all of the Kohanim. The Kohen Gadol himself must have also prayed that he live. Yet, we see that the prayer of the unintentional murderer can overpower the prayers of everyone else. How?

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, offers a powerful insight which should give us all something to consider. The murderer prayed with greater intensity, because his freedom depended on it. When a person prays like his life depends on it, he is answered! This man knew that, as long as the Kohen Gadol lived, he would be stuck in this city. He must get out. He was climbing the walls. This motivated his prayer. When we pray to Hashem for salvation, it must be with the feeling that we understand that there is absolutely no other recourse. Hashem is not the last resort; He is the only resort.

If the unintentional murderer's prayer has such efficacy, why should a good meal, a few cookies, some dessert, change his mind and make him suddenly comfortable in the city of refuge? Rav Galinsky explains that this is the power of negios, vested interests. Once he receives a good meal, he has been bribed, such that the intensity accompanying his prayer has been cooled. When the passion is no longer vibrant, neither is the prayer.

V'limaditem osam es b'neichem l'daber bam. And you shall teach it to your children to speak in them.

The Talmud Shabbos 31a, relates that after one's mortal tenure in this world has come to a final conclusion, his neshamah ascends to the Heavenly Tribunal and is questioned concerning its achievements in this world. Chazal say the first question is: Nasasa v'nasata be'emunah, "Did you carry out your business ventures with integrity?" Next, he is asked, "Did you set aside designated times for learning Torah?" The Talmud Kiddushin 42, however, appears to reverse the sequence, placing one's relationship with Torah study as the Tribunal's first objective. Horav Mordechai Yehudah Leib Saks, zl, explains that the first question always reverts back to one's Torah commitment. One must study Torah all of the time. If he is unable to maintain this regimen for reasons related to maintaining a livelihood, he should at least support Torah scholars who devote themselves wholly to Torah study and its dissemination. By enabling others to study Torah, he is actualizing his own Torah study.

This is, however, acceptable only if the money used to support the scholars is pure, untainted by any financial corruption. Only money earned legitimately, honestly and without any vestige of impropriety is kosher for supporting Torah. Thus, when the Tribunal asks: "Is your money kosher? Were your business dealings carried out with integrity?" The answer had better be "yes." Otherwise, his support of Torah learning is not considered to be in his stead. So, it all reverts back to Torah study.

Yaakov and Karen Nisenbaum and Family
In memory of our mother and grandmother
Anna Nisenbaum


Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


Shema

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

http://www.shemayisrael.co.il
Jerusalem, Israel
732-370-3344