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PARSHAS BAMIDBARAnd with you shall be one man from each tribe; a man who is a leader of his father's household. (1:4)
The Kli Yakar sees a redundancy in this pasuk: "One man from each tribe; a leader of his father's household." Being the appointed one of each tribe is quite a distinctive position. Why is it necessary to add that he be a leader of his father's household? In his Toras Chaim, Horav Chaim Toyto, Shlita, explains this in his inimitable manner - with two stories.
It is related that when the venerable Kotzker Rebbe, Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, was a young boy, a fire broke out in his hometown. In those days, houses were made of wood; thus, they were highly combustible. A fire would destroy a house in a manner of minutes, leaving over a pile of ash. His father's home was destroyed along with a good part of the Jewish community.
Mendele's mother quickly spirited the children from the home. As they all stood there and watched their home and everything in it go up in flames, the Rebbetzin began to weep bitterly. Mendele went over to his mother and asked, "Is a house made of wood that meaningful that one must cry incessantly over its loss?"
"No, my child," replied the Rebbetzin, "it is not the house or even the furniture that is the reason for my weeping. I am crying for the megillas yuchsin, genealogical scroll, recording my family's distinguished lineage, that has been destroyed. My pedigree was very important to me."
Mendele looked up at his mother, and in all sincerity said, "Mama, do not weep. I will write a new scroll for you with a distinguished lineage that begins with me." His words rang true, as he was the progenitor of a chassidus that was unparalleled in its encyclopedic knowledge of Torah. His incredible brilliance and utter devotion to the truth rendered it difficult for the average student of Torah to establish a relationship with him. His derech ha'limud v'ha'yirah, approach to Torah study and fear of G-d, spawned the greatest Admorim. The chassidus of Gur was among these.
The second story concerns Horav Yisrael Rishiner, zl. When his third daughter became engaged to Horav David Halperin, the chosson's father, Rav Yaakov Yosef, extolled his distinguished pedigree. The Rishiner politely interrupted his mechutan, saying, "Our attitude towards yichus, pedigree, differs from the common approach. Most people pride themselves on their ancestral lineage. We, however, focus more on the distinguished qualities of our descendants. For example, my holy great-grandfather, the Mezritcher Maggid, zl, lauded his son, the notable Malach; while my grandfather, the Malach, reveled in the qualities of his son, my father. I, too, take immense pride in the success of my son. This is what David Ha'Melech means when he says, Tachas avosecha yiheyu banecha, Succeeding your fathers will be your sons (Tehillim 45:17). Yichus avos, ancestral pedigree, will be replaced with yichus banim, the distinctive lineage of their sons."
These two stories express a common idea: the individual who stands at the helm of a tribe, who rises above the rest to serve in a leadership position, must be a man of impeccable credentials. He must have yichus atzmi, his own personal lineage, which warrants his ascension to a position of authority. Pedigree is important, and illustrious lineage is a plus, but it does not supplant personal qualities. One cannot live off his ancestor's reputation - regardless of its eminence. Ish rosh l'bais avosav hu, "One must himself be worthy of being the leader of his father's house."
Perhaps, we might view ish rosh l'bais avosav hu, from a different perspective. I just read an inspiring article by Horav Ahron Lopiansky, Shlita, in which he notes that each generation is judged on how well it has received our tradition from its forebears, and how well the members of the generation are passing it on. He posits that, in the 3,300 years since yetzias Mitzrayim - the Egyptian exodus, and assuming that there are four generations to each century - we, today, are the one hundred thirty-third generation since the Exodus. If we are passing on the tradition to our children, then, apparently, we have received it from our predecessors.
One hundred and thirty-two rosh l'bais avosav, fathers who transmitted the legacy of faith, the legacy of commitment, the legacy of devotion. It was not easy. Some suffered greatly; others were victims of the most heinous persecutions; they lived and died for their beliefs. They always made sure to see to it, however, that the next generation was prepared to "step up to the plate" when its time to lead materialized.
Every Jew must view himself as a "leader of his father's household." We are not here just for the "ride." We have an obligation and a responsibility to assure that what we have received is transmitted to our children - or else we have failed in our function as parents. We are the keepers of a treasure that has traveled one hundred and thirty-two generations. It is our sacred duty to pass it on in its pristine nature.
Ostensibly, there are those who have difficulty accepting this charge. They either feel unworthy of the task or they simply do not acknowledge its significance. They forget that as Jews we are different - very different - with greater responsibilities and a higher calling. This idea was aptly expressed by a secular Jew, Benjamin Disraeli.
In one of his most famous responses in the English Parliament, Disraeli, born a Jew, but baptized by his father as a child, answered a slight to his Jewish ancestry with this famous quote. Daniel O'Connel, an Irish Catholic politician, made a negative reference to Disraeli's Jewish lineage. The Prime Minister replied, "Yes, I am a Jew, and, when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were Priests in the Temple of Solomon." We have so much pride to share with our children. Who but the Jewish nation has been reviled, persecuted, put to death, yet has survived all of our antagonists? We are the eternal nation. Thus, we must perpetuate our legacy by transmitting it to the next generation.
Bnei Yisrael shall encamp, each man by his banner, according to the insignias of their fathers' household. (2:2)
Klal Yisrael was to travel as a collective group in formation, three tribes, each with a distinctively colored banner/flag representative of its individual characteristic. Each triumvirate group was led by a designated tribe. Each tribal banner was the same color as its corresponding stone on the Breastplate, Choshen, of the Kohen Gadol. Their positions around the Mishkan were to be the same as those designated by Yaakov Avinu for his sons when they were to escort his coffin for burial. This is what is meant by ossos l'bais avosam, "According to the insignias of their fathers' household." This idea is quoted by Rashi from the Midrash Tanchuma, which elaborates upon this theme. What is the connection between the Patriarch's funeral and the nation's journey through the wilderness? There must be some overriding significance if Yaakov's original formation had become the blueprint for the Jewish nation's forty-year trek to Eretz Yisrael. It is almost as if Yaakov had specifically desired that his moment of parting from his sons should be indelibly engraved on the nation's psyche.
Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, explains this with an episode which took place concerning Horav Meir Premishlaner, zl. A chasid once approached him as he was about to take leave of the venerable sage and asked, "Rebbe, how can I possibly retain throughout the year the same inspiration which imbues me during my stay in Premishlan? I feel so spiritually uplifted during the weeks that I spend learning here in the presence of the Rebbe. How do I 'bottle' this emotion, so that it inspires me throughout my mundane endeavors?" It is a powerful question which applies across the board to so many of us who: spend a weekend of inspiration; go to the yeshivah for the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days; take a spiritual journey to the Holy Land, visiting its holy sites - people - both past and present. We are all inspired, moved to great spiritual heights. How do we get it to last?
The Rebbe replied that, when a student parts from his rebbe, there wells up within him a sense of longing, a craving for more, a sense of yearning not to leave, to remain in the shadow of his mentor always. After time, this aspiration begins to wane, the passions slowly starting to abate. How does one succeed in keeping the passion alive? In his mind, he should visualize their parting moment, the mood of their farewell, and keep this experience ingrained in his mind. This will keep the feeling alive. The inextricable bond between rebbe and talmid, student, endures through the reinforcement of this sense of virtual imagery.
A parting moment becomes a lasting memory, an enduring experience retained in the heart and mind of one who is privy to the occurrence, when it is taken seriously. At one point or another, we are all conscious of such a moment. What we do with it impacts its lasting impression on us. Yaakov Avinu was taking leave of his family. It was an emotionally laden experience which could be transformed into a lifelong inspiration to be transmitted to each ensuing generation. This was to be facilitated through the vehicle of the Degalim, whereby the deathbed/funeral scenario would be relived through the Degalim formation, with each tribe traveling in the same formation as did its progenitor when Klal Yisrael escorted the Patriarch to his eternal rest.
Seeking to reassure his father, Yaakov, that their separation did not leave him spiritually impaired, Yosef sent a message concerning the last subject that they had studied together: The laws of Eglah Arufah, the Axed Heifer. His father had inculcated in him the notion never to forget the rega ha'preidah, parting moment. Yaakov now understood that, although Yosef had been separated from him all of these years, he had kept the "light on" in his heart by remembering their parting moment.
Each man by his banner, according to the insignias of their fathers' household. (2:2)
Each tribe received a designated spot around the Mishkan. At first, Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned that a dispute might arise between the tribes. Quite possibly, each individual tribe had its own idea concerning its placement. Hashem told Moshe that he need not worry. The tribes knew their place, understanding that the configuration determined by their Patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, would apply now as well. The tribes accepted their grandfather's decision; what he had decided hundreds of years earlier was still applicable today.
How are we to understand this? The tribe that might question Moshe's decision could just as well question Yaakov's designation. What guarantee was there that, since Yaakov had earlier arranged the tribes in a specific manner, it would be acceptable today as well? Could they not argue that times had changed; this was not a funeral; it was not merely twelve brothers, but twelve tribes comprised of thousands of people. Perhaps the configuration should now be altered. How did Hashem assuage Moshe's concern?
Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains this by applying his deep understanding of human nature. The average intelligent person has a fair and impartial sense of judgment. This sense of objectivity is applicable as long as he has no negios, vested interests, to cloud his impartiality. If the individuals who stand before him are strangers, and if the question presented to him has no bearing on him personally, his ability to remain aloof and render clear, concise judgment should not be impugned. Once the question pertains to friends, however, the playing field changes drastically. This is also true if he has a personal stake in the issue.
Nonetheless, if an earlier episode had produced an accepted cogent response, it can now be studied objectively and acknowledged as being correct, despite the fact that now, in an unrelated case, the emotional factors are rising high and threatening to derail the truth process. The incident concerning Yaakov had taken place many years earlier. It was accepted as correct - despite the present involvement of Klal Yisrael in an unrelated, but similar, question. Thus, even though under other circumstances the tribes might have taken umbrage with Moshe's decision concerning their placement, they could not argue with Yaakov's decision, since that decision had been accepted and agreed upon from an objective viewpoint. It was, therefore, a "done deal."
This, explains the Rosh Yeshivah, is the power of a previously resolved intellectual decision. Such a decision has the ability to withstand the compelling and often convincing pressures of persuasiveness which are the result of emotional bias. Thus, we are able to navigate the course of truth through the ambiguities of life's challenges.
This leads us to the powerful question which has destroyed more than one weak believer: How can we tell if we are right? How do we ascertain if certain reasoning has its source in our yetzer tov, good-inclination, or yetzer hora, evil-inclination? As we confront temptation and find ourselves confused and disoriented, to "whom" do we listen?
Indeed, the best way to avoid this issue is to determine the correct behavior before the situation arises. Regrettably, we do not always have the luxury of "looking back" or "planning ahead." The Rosh Yeshivah suggests that when we have the opportunity to review our past, or think about and plan the future prior to a given situation, at that point, when we are not under the pressure of bias, we should realize what we should be doing, what is the emes, truth; thus, we avoid becoming a victim to uncertainty when temptation strikes.
As an example of this process, the Rosh Yeshivah posits that, when we study the laws of lashon hora, slanderous speech, if we arrive at the realization that our friend's faults do not justify speaking lashon hora about him, we should accept this as axiomatic and as the unwavering truth to which we will firmly adhere. As a result, when the topic of our friend's "family" comes up in a conversation, we will subdue our feelings, ignore the rationalizations, regretting them as lame excuses to slander another Jew. By an advance charting of our life's course, which clearly requires self-discipline, we determine right from wrong objectively - before the challenge arises. We are then able to ensure that the ideals and values of Torah thinking will guide us as we "stay the course" through the often stormy and confusing seas of life.
Bnei Yisrael shall encamp, each man by his banner, according to the insignias of their fathers' household, at a distance surrounding the Ohel Moed shall they encamp. (2:2)
The words mineged, which is usually defined as "opposite," and saviv, which means "surrounding," contrast one another. Were the Jews opposite the Ohel Moed, or were they camped surrounding it? Veritably, these terms complement one another, as explained by Horav Chaim Toyto, Shlita, with the following story. An observant physician from Germany decided that he wanted to visit the blossoming Torah world of Lithuanian Jewry. After all, he was a frum, observant, doctor who meticulously adhered to all the mitzvos. He wanted to see what about Lithuanian yeshivah life differed from his lifestyle.
One can imagine the culture shock when this refined Western European Jew visited the great yeshivos of Lithuania. One had simply to open the door of the bais ha'medrash and listen to the cacophony of sound that emanated from there to be in a total state of spiritual euphoria. Understandably, the man was reasonably impressed, but the impression took its toll on his emotions. Suddenly, he no longer felt worthy of the title "observant." I must emphasize that even we who have tasted the sweet taste of Torah in America and imbibed of its true flavor have no idea concerning the devotion and utter mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, that characterized the Torah study of a mere seventy years ago in Europe. It was a different world, a different era, and a different mindset. This in no way minimizes the incredible plateau of Torah study achieved in America - but it is not Europe.
This doctor was beside himself, anxious about the fact that perhaps he was off base in his frumkeit. He traveled to Radin to speak with the saintly Chofetz Chaim. Perhaps the sage could enlighten him. Entering the Chafetz Chaim's "study" and gazing at his countenance was in itself an unparalleled experience. Gathering up his courage, he asked, "Rebbe, until now I was at peace with myself and happy with my lot. I felt that I was an observant Jew, adhering to all of Hashem's mitzvos, performing acts of tzedakah v'chesed, charity and kindness. I go to shul and pray with a minyan, quorum, three times daily. I do my part in healing the sick and reaching out to those in need. I have saved many lives and feel that I have been mekadesh Shem Shomayim, sanctified the Name of Heaven. Until I visited Lithuania, I was sure that I was destined for Olam Habba, a place in the World to Come, but now, I no longer know if I will make it. The Torah giants of Lithuania with their outstanding yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, steeped in Torah and Mussar, ethical character refinement, are beyond anything I have ever experienced. What should I do?"
The Chafetz Chaim calmed the man and said, "Let me explain to you the Torah's perspective concerning a Jew's obligation to serve Hashem. The Torah in Parashas Bereishis writes: V'Eitz HaChaim b'soch ha'Gan, 'The Tree of Life was (situated) in middle of the Garden.' Rashi confirms the meaning of b'soch ha'Gan as reference to the Tree's position in the center of the Garden. We wonder what difference it makes whether the Tree was in the middle of the Garden or at the side. The important message is that the Tree grew within the Garden of Eden.
"Obviously, the Tree has unique significance in that it alludes to true life, eternal life, the only life that really counts. The Torah teaches us that chaim nitzchiyim, eternal life, is available to everyone equally, regardless of his individual approach to serving the Almighty. What matters is not the 'how' but for what purpose and to whom. Shevet Yissachar, the Tribe of Yissachar, has its unique approach through the vehicle of Torah study, while Zevullun is an observant businessman, engaged in commerce, while himself finding time to learn Torah and sustain others who make Torah study their full-time vocation. Some spend a good portion of their waking hours performing countless acts of chesed, kindness; others spend hours in devotional prayer to Hashem. I was 'placed' in Lithuania, a major Torah center, for the purpose of Torah pursuit. I was given the opportunity to study and disseminate Torah, which I have attempted to execute to the best of my ability. You were placed in Germany and enabled a secular education, so that you could minister to the sick and thereby sanctify Hashem's Name. You set aside time for Torah study on a regular basis, thereby fulfilling your predestined goal in life. Each of us has his individual function which is our vehicle for reaching the Eitz HaChaim, eternal life. As long as we are all focused on that 'center' - the Eitz HaChaim."
Utilizing the above story, we can understand that there is actually no dichotomy between saviv and mineged. There are Jews who seem to encamp "opposite," whose approach to serving the Divine differs from the one we have either chosen for ourselves or was chosen for us. We should clearly understand that we are all on the same side, as long as we are misaviv, encircled around the Mishkan, Tabernacle, Tree of Life. Thus, the Torah writes mineged and saviv, for although they appear to contrast one another, they actually complement each other.
If I may add, much has been written concerning the definition of the "centrist" Jew and centrist Judaism, with each side claiming the other is either to the "right" or to the "left," but certainly not in the "center." Perhaps the Chafetz Chaim was teaching us the true meaning of centrism: One who focuses on the Tree which grows in the center of the Garden, the Eitz HaChaim, the only road to eternal life. Clearly, reducing our commitment, so that we enable a greater sense of inclusiveness to those who want to have their cake and eat it, will not increase our chances for a seat in the center of the Garden.
Hear O' Yisrael! These words convey a powerful message. We go through life deceiving ourselves, refusing to concede that perhaps we might actually be wrong. This presents two problems. First, it impairs our relationship with our peers. A person who cannot face the reality that he could be wrong has a serious problem. The second - and primary - problem is with regard to our relationship with Hashem. One who cannot own up to his indiscretions presents an insurmountable barrier between himself and Hashem. The stellar dialogue between Hashem and man is: Shema Yisrael! Listen! Wake up and hear what is going on! There can be a relationship only when we are willing to hear what Hashem has to say to us. As Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, points out, we must be willing to listen to each other, but first, we must tune in to ourselves. Yes, we must listen with honesty, with humility, with courage and without fear - ready to accept what we "hear" and willing to do something about it. We must listen to who we are, what our goals are, and how we expect to achieve them. Otherwise, we go through life fooling ourselves and destroying our relationship with Hashem.
R' Alter Chaim Dovid ben R' Menachem Shmuel z"l
niftar 28 Iyar 5767
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Salamon
In memory of Mr. David Salamon z"l
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