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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their father's house. (1:18)

Rashi explains that they brought their documents of lineage and witnesses to the status of their birth, in order to trace their ancestry to the particular tribe to which they claimed to belong. Chazal tell us that the other nations also claimed their stake in the Torah and were rebuffed by Hashem due to their lack of yichus, lineage. This is problematic, because surely Bnei Yishmael can trace their lineage back to Avraham Avinu and Bnei Eisav can trace their pedigree to Yitzchak Avinu. Apparently, a deeper meaning supports the idea of presenting their documents of lineage.

The Pupa Rav zl, takes a practical approach towards explaining this Chazal. He posits that zechus avos, the merits of one's ancestors, are credited to the children only when one sees the avos in the children, if their good deeds are reflected in the actions of their progeny. Chazal teach us that the Jewish People were redeemed from the Egyptian exile because they did not change their Hebrew names, their Hebrew language or their traditional manner of dress. They adhered to the legacy which their ancestors had transmitted to them. While they were spiritually deficient in many areas, they still maintained a filial bond with their forebears.

When the other nations came to complain that they had no part in the Torah and Eretz Yisrael, Hashem asked them to produce their documents of lineage. Hashem was telling them that in order to stake a claim, to be part of the Jewish nation, they had to show that they carried on from their ancestors. One cannot expect to invoke the memory of his forebears if, indeed, he does not in any way, shape, or form demonstrate a relationship with them. An individual cannot dress, speak and act like the nations of the world and expect to be part of the Jewish destiny just because he is able to trace his lineage to the Patriarchs. There is more to being Jewish than simply having a Jewish surname.

This is the penetrating meaning of vayisyaldu al mishpechosam l'beis avosam, "and they established their lineage according to their father's house." The word "vayisyaldu" actually means "they gave birth to themselves," as the verb "vayisyaldu" is the hispael form of the root word "yalod," to give birth. Generally, verbs in the hispael are reflexive, suggesting a definition which is an obvious impossibility. Therefore, we must say that they made a peulah, action, in themselves, in their nafshius, spiritual/moral dimension, which bound them with the source of their own essence - their ancestors. They strengthened their relationship with their past by continuing to maintain the unique spiritual persona that distinguished their ancestors.

In his commentary to the mitzvah of Peru Revu, "Be fruitful and multiply," Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that it is not enough to simply "peru," bear the products of the human fruit, children. It is important that these chldren achieve independence and ripen into human beings who carry within them the noblest traits of G-dliness and humaneness which are innate in the father and mother. Also, revu, the family should multiply, duplicate itself in the children. The mere physical increase of the human race presupposes something more than just begetting children. Revu is something higher than mere multiplication. The parents are to multiply themselves in their children, replicate and repeat themselves in their children. The children are to be not only replicas of the physical bodily traits, but also, of the spiritual, intellectual and moral characteristics of the parents. Accordingly, the parents have to implant their best spiritual and moral traits in their children, carefully and lovingly nurturing their development. They have to leave their imprint upon their children's persona. This, we suggest, is the meaning of vayisyaldu, the parents are the progenitors of themselves in their children.

These are offspring of Aharon and Moshe…These are the sons of Aharon. (3:2,3)

Rashi notes that while the Torah begins by saying, "These are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon," it only mentions Aharon's sons - not Moshe Rabbeinu's. He explains that Aharon's sons are also referred to as Moshe's offspring, since he taught them Torah. We derive from here that whoever teaches his friend's sons Torah, the Torah views it as if he had fathered them. This idea is reiterated throughout Chazal. Indeed, the Noda B'Yehudah writes in his Sefer Ahavas Tzion that one fulfills the mitzvah of Peru u'Revu, "Be fruitful and multiply," from a spiritual perspective when he teaches Torah, causing it to be transmitted to yet other Jews. This idea also applies to one who authors a sefer, or any form of Torah-oriented literature, through which others can, and will be, inspired by his ideas.

The Kli Yakar gives an alternative explanation for the fact that Aharon HaKohen's sons were also considered Moshe's offspring. He explains that it was Moshe's tefillos, prayers, that saved them from the Heavenly decree that imposed death upon their brothers. When Aharon was involved in the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem wanted to punish him by taking his sons from him. Moshe's entreaty helped - halfway, and Elazar and Isamar were spared. Consequently, since they were granted continued life as a result of Moshe's intercession on their behalf, they were considered Moshe's sons. Because Moshe had taught them Torah they were no longer affected by the decree, since the decree was only on Aharon's sons.

Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, expounds upon the idea that through the medium of teaching Torah to a student, one develops a "kesher avahi," fatherly bond/relationship. In a lecture to the students of the high school of the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway in 1963, Rav Hutner, said the following: "First of all, I would like you to know that the fact that I am speaking to all of you publicly is not by choice. I would much rather speak to each and every one of you - personally and individually. But, because time does not allow for this, I am compelled to speak to you all together.

"Let me explain why I would rather speak to you individually. You all know that Horav Chaim Volozhiner zl, was the father of the Yeshivah movement. When he founded Yeshivas Volozhin, he engendered a new concept in relation to the yeshivah. He tried to do away with the expression of talmidei ha'yeshivah, students of the yeshivah, and change it to bnei ha'yeshivah, sons of the yeshivah. What compelled him to make this change? Why not leave it as it had been before?

"In many instances we find stories in the Talmud where a great Tanna would meet a young boy and, after speaking to him, would be so impressed with the boy's responses that he would say, 'I am sure that one day he will become a great moreh horaah, halachic arbiter, in Yisrael'. I recently had a similar experience which I would like to share with you. I questioned a young Mesivta student, 'You have a rebbe from whom you study Torah. You also have a teacher who teaches you secular studies. Do you have the same relationship with both, or do you sense a difference? If you do feel a difference, what is it?'

"The boy thought for a few moments and looked up at me and said, 'My relationship between myself and my secular studies teacher is comparable to one who receives food from the cook, while my relationship to my rebbe is like one who nurses from his mother. The food that I receive from the one who nurses me is a part of his/her life. She gives me her life! The cook, on the other hand, gives me something external, not an intrinsic part of her essence.'

"When I heard these words, I declared, 'I am sure that this young boy will be a great Torah leader.' Indeed, it was this underlying logic that motivated Rav Chaim Volozhiner to change the title of the yeshivah student to ben, son, of the yeshivah. The yeshivah is not the place where the food is prepared and doled out. The yeshivah is the place where a student nurses; where he receives a yenikah ruchnis, spiritual imbibing. You may now understand why I feel I should speak to each one of you individually. To nurse is an individual endeavor - it is not a collective activity that is performed for a group. One dishes out food to a group. I come not to teach you; rather, I come to give you an opportunity to absorb, to imbibe, to nurse the Torah that I seek to impart to you."

A tragedy occurred in Yeshivas Knesses Chizkiyahu in Kfar Chasidim that a young bachur, student, passed away suddenly. The Rosh Ha'yeshivah, Horav Refael Mishkovsky,zl, spoke at the graveside about his close, fatherly relationship with his beloved student. He declared, "The Torah demands of a shomer, guardian, when he returns an object to make two shavuos, oaths. One, that he was not negligent in its care and second, that he did not make personal use of the object. One would think that parents who send their son away to yeshivah might expect the same oaths from the Rosh Ha'yeshivah. After all, he is their son's guardian. But, the Rosh Ha'yeshivah declared brokenheartedly, this is not true. I was never a shomer. I was like his father, and a father does not make an oath." What a powerful statement by a rebbe who "felt" that his relationship extended beyond the extrinsic and reserved, to a fatherly bond of love.

Bring near the tribe of Levi and have it stand before Aharon HaKohen. (3:6)

The Midrash cites the pasuk in Tehillim 92, "A righteous man will flourish like a date palm…planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of our G-d they will flourish," as reference to Shevet Levi. They were the tzaddikim, righteous, who opposed the rest of the nation during the sin of the Golden Calf. They are considered the shesulim, planted. Even as little children, they are sent to the bais ha'sefer, school, to study Torah. It is peculiar that Chazal single out the tribe of Levi as unique because they attended school at an early age.. After all, all Jewish children were sent to school as soon as they were ready to study Torah. Torah study is the staple of our People, without which we would be nothing. Education distinguished a committed Jew from one who is not. What is the meaning of Chazal's statement?

The Satmar Rebbe,zl, explains that veritably the pasuk's reference is not only to Shevet Levi, but, rather, to all Jewish children who were inspired by the kedushah, holiness, that was inherent in Shevet Levi. He cites the Talmud in Bava Basra 21a which traces the genesis of formalized, structured Jewish education. At first, they had teachers only in Yerushalayim whose function was to teach Torah from the spiritual center of our People. Afterwards, they appointed teachers in every province, until Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla decreed that every city should have a teacher, in order to avail a Torah education to all children. Regarding the original establishment of teachers only in Yerushalayim, the Talmud supports this tradition based upon the pasuk in Yeshaya 2:3, "From Zion will go out Torah and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim." Tosfos explains that the significance of Yerushalayim was founded in the fact that when the young student was exposed to the incredible sight and unparalleled holiness which was manifest by the Kohanim and Leviim who served in the Bais Hamikdash, he was greatly motivated to apply himself to his studies with greater fervor and diligence.

Implied in Tosfos' statement is that the merit and virtue of the young Jewish children were dependent primarily upon the impression imbued in them by the Kohanim and Leviim. In other words, they determined the moral/spiritual compass of the young children. We now understand the meaning of the pasuk which Chazal have explained, as a reference to the young Leviim who attended school. Shesulim is a reference to all of our children who are the young "seedlings" in the house of Hashem. Their inspiration is derived from Shevet Levi. In fact, even after Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla established the total network of schools which reached out throughout the length and breadth of the land, the light of kedushah that emanated from Shevet Levi in Yerushalayim impacted the entire country.

Take a census of the sons of Kehas from among the sons of Levi. (4:2)

Although Kehas was Levi's second son, his descendants take precedence in the census because of the distinguished members of his family - Moshe and Aharon. Kli Yakar feels that because Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential teacher of Klal Yisrael and Aharon HaKohen was the standard bearer of peace and ethicality, they merited that the members of their family be given the distinct honor of carrying the Aron HaKodesh. By giving the honor of carrying the Aron to the most laudable of Levi's families, Hashem was indicating clearly that true honor is due to those who struggle to acquire Torah scholarship, not merely to those who are older or more privileged.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, supplements this by differentiating between those who work for an ideal, who attach themselves to an exalted mission, and those who are born into a position. The Torah carries those who carry/hold on to it. When the Leviim attempted to raise the Aron HaKodesh, the Aron raised them, as if to say that the Aron does not need anybody; rather, everybody needs the Aron.

Questions & Answers

1) By what other name is Sefer Bamidbar referred to in Chazal?

2) How many censuses take place in Sefer Bamidbar?

3) Which tribe had the lowest number of males? How did the manner of counting this tribe differ from that of the other tribes?

4) By what other name does the Torah refer to Bikurim?

5) Which vessel of the Klei Hamishkan was wrapped in both techeles and crimson wool before traveling? What did this symbolize?


1) Chumash HaPekudim. (Sotah 36b)

2) Bnei Yisrael are counted twice: once in Parashas Bamidbar prior to being divided into separate camps; and again in Parashas Pinchas prior to their entry into Eretz Yisrael.

3) Shevet Levi had the fewest number of males. Their number included all males above the age of one month, while the rest of the tribes were counted from age twenty.

4) Terumah.

5) The Shulchan had two coverings, of blue wool and crimson wool. The Shulchan represents monarchy synonymous with David HaMelech. The inner blue wool represents the righteousness of David HaMelech, while the crimson wool - which alludes to sin - signifies the sins of his song which eventually led to the kingdom's division and ultimate destruction. (Midrash Rabbah)


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