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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


A man who is a leader of his father's household. (1:4)

The census was taken with the participation of the leader of each tribe, an individual who was acutely aware of the lineage of each of the members of his tribe. In a homiletic rendering of this pasuk, the commentators say that the ish, man, who became the tribe's rosh, leader, should have achieved this position on his own personal accomplishments. It should not be the result of his avosav, ancestors. One must be deserving by virtue of his own merit. Pedigree is a wonderful quality; illustrious lineage is meritorious, but only if it augments an already distinguished individual who has achieved his distinction on his own volition. If all he has to his name is his "name," ancestral lineage, then he is unworthy of a leadership role.

The son of a distinguished Torah leader was quick to remind people of his impressive lineage. The rav of his community was a distinguished talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who had achieved his distinction through his unusual acumen and his brilliant mind - despite being the scion of a simple pedigree. His father was a fine - but simple - Jew, a tailor by profession, who saw to it that his son be availed every opportunity to achieve Torah scholarship. One day, this layman, whose only claim to fame was his yichus, pedigree, had a run-in with the rav. In the ensuing conversation, which was heating up, the layman said to the rav, "Do you have any idea concerning my yichus? What is your yichus?"

The rav countered, "Your lineage may be impressive, but, sadly, it ends with you. Mine, begins with me."

It is related that a fire consumed the home of the parents of the Mezritcher Maggid. The Maggid was yet a young child, and he did not realize the severity of the loss. When he noticed his father weeping bitterly and uncontrollably, he went over to calm him. His father, however, was inconsolable. He cried, "I do not care about the house and our meager possessions. I am weeping over the loss of my megillas yuchsin, scroll upon which was written my family's pedigree." The Maggid turned to his father and assuaged his fears, "Do not worry. I will rewrite your scroll - beginning with me."

In conjunction with the above, Horav Meir Premishlaner, zl, comments on the pasuk, Naso es rosh bnei Gershom gam heim l'bais avosam l'mishpechosam, "Take a census of the bnei Gershom, according to their fathers' household, according to their families" (ibid 4:22). He said, Naso es rosh, "When one seeks a rosh/leader, if he is only bnei, the "son of someone," but lacks personal distinction, is himself not of distinguished character and scholarship, Gershom; drive him away, for he is unfit to lead. If gam heim l'bais avosam; if, in addition to his illustrious lineage, however he, too, is a scholar, virtuous and G-d-fearing, then naso es rosh, he is worthy of becoming your head/leader.

Horav Shlomo Levenstein, Shlita, quotes commentators who likewise apply this idea to the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim, 126:6, Haloch yeileich u'bachoh, nosei meshech ha'zara, bo yavo b'rinah nosei alumosav. "He who bears the measure of seeds walks along weeping, but will return in exaltation, is a bearer of his sheaves." If a person carries only the meshech ha'zara, the work of others who have planted the seeds (in other words, his personal worth is comprised of what others before him have sown), then he walks along weeping (because he has nothing of his own to show for himself). When will he be worthy of returning in exaltation? When he bears his own sheaves, his own achievements. Standing on the shoulders of others may engender a great sense of pride, but it can be quite shaky if one is not firmly ensconced on his own solid surface.

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

The census was performed according to tribe. Thus, the people had to establish, either by written proof or valid testimony, that they belonged to a given tribe. Sforno explains that this strict requirement of family purity was based upon the need for the merit of their forefathers, which would protect them later on during their sojourn in the wilderness. Chazal teach that, when the nations of the world heard that Hashem had given His precious Torah to Klal Yisrael, they became envious. Why the Jews - and not them? Why were the Jews more worthy of receiving the Torah than the pagans? Hashem countered, "Can you bring the scroll of your lineage as Klal Yisrael has done?"

Apparently, this counter statement refuted the nations. What about our sefer ha'yuchsin, scroll of our lineage, gives us an advantage over them? How does being the descendants of the Patriarchs benefit us over the rest of the world? The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, quotes the Derech Pikudecha (mitzvah Peru U'Revu) who posits that when a baby has been born b'derech neis, miraculously, his father has not fulfilled the mitzvah of Peru U'Revu, Be Fruitful and Multiply. Obviously, miraculously means just that: an undisputed miracle that cannot be explained scientifically. If this is the case, how are we Jews able to trace our linage to the Avos Hakedoshim, holy Patriarchs? They were infertile, the Matriarchs barren. The fact that they had progeny was indisputably a miracle. How can we be considered to be their descendants?

The Rebbe explains that this question may be addressed with a well-known incident recorded in the Talmud Taanis 25a in which Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa told his daughter, "He who said oil should burn/light will likewise say that vinegar should burn/light." The Tanna had no oil in his possession to light his Menorah. Instead, he used vinegar, intimating that what we consider to be natural is, likewise, a miracle. The mere fact that oil burns is due only to Hashem's decree that it burn. Otherwise, oil would be no different than vinegar or water. Thus, he put his trust in the Almighty that vinegar would similarly burn.

A believing Jew is well aware that the notion of "nature," "natural law," is a concept made up by those who refuse to recognize and acknowledge that this world-- everything in it, and everything about it-- is all manipulated and guided by Hashem, concealed under the veil of "nature." There is no nature! There is only Hashem. Everything in this world is pure miracle! This is what we believe. Therefore, it is no surprise to the believing Jew when vinegar burns as well as oil.

We now understand the response to the nations of the world: "Where is your megillas yuchsin?" When the nations wonder why the Jews are brought closer to Him, while they are distanced, the reply is: "They established their genealogy according to their fathers' household." How is this possible, when, in fact, their fathers and mothers were created infertile and barren? The Jewish People are a nation whose pedigree is b'derech neis, by virtue of miracle. How could they be pedigreed? Obviously, it is because they believe that everything is from Hashem and that neis/miracle and teva/nature are one and the same. Thus, we deserve to be treated differently. We are believers!

For the sons of Yosef: For the sons of Ephraim, their offspring according to their families, according to their fathers' households, by number of the names. (1:32)

Interestingly, in the previous mention of Yosef's sons/tribes, the Torah (ibid 1:10) writes, "To the sons of Yosef… to Ephraim… to Menashe." In this pasuk, however, the Torah adds the word l'vnei, "To the sons of Ephraim." It seems as if the Torah does not record Ephraim's sons as part of Yosef's genealogy. By adding, "to the sons of," there appears to be a break, indicating that Ephraim has his own distinction. The Baal HaTurim explains that Yosef did not participate in carrying the coffin of his father, Yaakov Avinu, because he was a melech, king. Out of respect for his royal position, he was excluded. Thus, the Torah does not want to count Yosef amongst the Degalim, Banners; rather, the Degel goes by the names of his sons. Only the bearers of Yaakov's coffin received distinction with regard to the Degalim.

Is this right? It is not as if Yosef had refused to carry his father's coffin. As a monarch, it was deemed inappropriate. Should he, nonetheless, forfeit his right to a Degel? The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, derives from here a profound lesson. When a person receives a dispensation concerning mitzvah performance - due to an accident which was beyond his control-- the fact that he did not perform the mitzvah cannot be held against him. It is simply not his fault. On the other hand, it cannot be viewed as if he actually performed the mitzvah, because, after all is said and done, he did not execute the mitzvah.

As a monarch, Yosef was patur, exempt, from carrying out the mitzvah of carrying his father's coffin. This, however, does not grant him the right to a Degel. The Banners went to those tribes who participated in carrying Yaakov. Yosef did not have to carry it, but that does not make it as if he did carry it. When one receives a dispensation regarding a mitzvah, it means just that - a dispensation. It does not, however, mean that he performed the mitzvah, because he did not actually perform it.

à But you shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them. (1:49)

Shevet Levi, the tribe of Levi, had proven their fidelity to Hashem during-- and after-- the sin of the Golden Calf. This earned them the appellation ligyono shel Melech, the legion of the King/Hashem, which was an elevated status. This new status warranted them being counted separately and differently from the rest of the nation. While the rest of the nation was counted from the age of twenty-years old, Shevet Levi was counted as infants, thirty days and older. In commenting on Rashi's statement: "It is appropriate that the King's legion be counted alone," Sifsei Chachamim writes that this is also the reason why Shevet Levi was counted from the age of thirty days old, in contrast to the rest of the nation, which was counted from age twenty. Being part of the ligyono shel Melech grants distinction even to infants. This, I feel, is how we should raise our children - as members of an august group - ligyono shel Melech. We do not wait until they become adults to give them distinction. A Jewish child is distinguished from day one.

Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, was a brilliant gaon, as well as the consummate mechanech, educator. He felt strongly that every Jewish child be educated as if he were a potential Moshe Rabbeinu. He quoted the Rema in his gloss to Yorea Deah 71:67, who rules that an infant should not nurse from a non-Jewish woman if there is any possibility of obtaining milk from a Jewess. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, posits that the Rema's source is the well-known Midrash that states that, as an infant, Moshe refused to nurse from an Egyptian woman, because he would one day speak with Hashem. Rav Yaakov asked, if Moshe's reasoning had been based upon the premise that he would one day speak with the Shechinah, how does this relate to every other Jewish child? Clearly, Moshe was in a league all to himself. Thus, Rav Yaakov derived that every Jewish child must be educated as if he would one day speak with the Shechinah. Being a member of the august fraternity called ligyono shel Melech explains why this is a status to which every Jewish child should aspire.

On a similar note, we observe that Sefer Vayikra is a sefer which is long on halachos that apply to ritual in the Sanctuary and laws concerning holiness and purity, yet short on narrative. It certainly has none of the stories found in the other Chumashim, which spark so much interest - especially in the mind and imagination of a child. Therefore, it is surprising that Chazal insisted that a young child begin his Torah education with Sefer Vayikra. To paraphrase Chazal, "Let the holy, young and innocent children of Yisrael come to commence their education with the study of Vayikra, the book of holiness and purity." It has been asked - and practically so - what does holiness and purity have to do with knowledge and the real world? Contemporary society is anything but holy and pure. Should we not take a more practical approach to educating the next generation?

This might be the approach of secular practicality and of those who insist on remaining ignorant concerning the holy nature of the Jewish child. We are ligyono shel Melech, and, thus, educating our children becomes the process by which we induct those young souls into Hashem's legion. Our history, the lives of our leaders, the adversity which we have endured, the successes and miracles that we have achieved and experienced of which our very existence is of the greatest proof, all have no meaning if we do not view them through the lens of holiness and purity, as members of ligyono shel melech.

Each man by his banner according to the insignias of his father's household. (2:2)

Each of the three-tribe formations was distinguished by a distinctively-colored banner which included the tribal colors of each of its three tribes. Horav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, zl, explains this pasuk homiletically. While it is undoubtedly important that a person follow in the footsteps of his forebears (concerning: nusach ha'tefillah, version of one's prayer service; specific customs and traditions, and perspective on Jewish life), one should never be satisfied with just "following"; rather, he should be "a man" in his own right: forging his own path, developing his own perspective; innovating his own customs. It is our function to augment the achievements of the previous generation.

Horav Moshe Tikuchinsky, zl, once asked a group of yeshivah students if they had thanked Hashem (that day) for the blessing of the Heavenly lumens: sun, moon, and stars. They made feeble attempts at answering the question, but nothing they said satisfied the Mashgiach. The reason is that we really do not have a good answer, because much of our davening is recited by rote. Kavanah, proper concentration, is a luxury for which many neither have the time, nor feel is worth the effort. They think that by reciting the words of prayer as designed by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, Men of the Great Assembly, we have fulfilled our obligation to pray. There is a difference, however, between kavanah and simple recitation, as far as the meaning and focus of the brachah.

"All of you davened today," the Mashgiach said, "and you certainly recited every word. When you said the words, Yotzer or u'borei choshech, "(He) Who forms light and Who creates darkness," did you realize that this is not only a blessing of praise to Hashem, but it actually is a blessing of gratitude to the Almighty for giving us the wonderful lumens that have changed our lives?"

The Mashgiach looked at the students and said, "You followed the designated nusach, version, that was put together when the great Rabbis made the siddur, but you added nothing of your own (via your kavanah) to its meaning. If you simply recite the words by rote without augmenting it with your innovative concentration, your prayer is deficient in the area of ish al diglo, "Each man according to his insignia."

We now have two paths before us. The first is training a child from day one in mitzvah performance. This way he will learn to perform mitzvos as second nature. On the other hand, it might become mitzvah performance out of habit. While he might not perform the mitzvah with kavanah, at least he will be observant. Perhaps, however, we should wait until the child becomes older and more intellectually inclined so that we can explain to him the profundity of the mitzvah. Waiting until intelligence and cogency set in might be too late - for some.

Horav Moshe Soloveitchik, zl, grapples with this question and applies the above pasuk, B'osos l'beis avosam, "According to the insignias of their fathers' household," as a directive in how to respond to the issue of training children to perform mitzvos from a very young age. Rashi explains that the word, osos/insignias/signs, is a reference to the sign/directive that Yaakov Avinu indicated to them prior to his death. He related to them the formation to which they should adhere upon carrying his coffin, designating a specific place for three sons/tribes at each direction (north, south, east, west). The Degalim formation was the very same formation used for carrying Yaakov to his final resting place.

Chazal teach that Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned lest the individual tribes not be pleased with their designated places. Hashem told him not to worry; they already knew from Yaakov's funeral exactly where each one belonged. Nothing new was being added to an already present and accepted tradition.

Rav Moshe questions this rationale. What is the commonality between the manner in which the brothers carried their father's coffin and the formation in which the tribes were to travel for their forty-year journey through the wilderness? Then, it was a few people for a few days. Now, it was hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children for forty years. This teaches us an important principle: when one is trained from an early age in a certain practice, it remains with him many years later, despite the varied challenges that may arise and the changing conditions. Length of time, venue, population and circumstances did not alter Yaakov's designated formation for placing the brothers/tribes where he felt they belonged. This was their designated position, regardless of the many changes that had taken place throughout the years. This is how they were raised, and, thus, this was the manner they would continue to follow. Hergel, routine/habit/tendency, overrides and outweighs change - even if it means that one will have to later focus on developing an understanding of the prayer service, which he had taken for granted for all of these years. Without practice and routine, we fear that overcoming challenge might prove to be too much of a "challenge."

One must follow his forebears and then augment with his own. It should be ish al diglo - after - b'osos l'bais avosam. We must never forget which precedes the other.

These are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon. (3:1)

The pasuk opens by stating that the following are the offspring of both Moshe and Aharon, but fails to mention Moshe's children. Indeed, the Talmud Sanhedrin 19b wonders why the sons of Aharon HaKohen are considered to be the sons of Moshe Rabbeinu as well. This teaches, explain Chazal, that one who teaches his friend's children Torah is considered as if he had begotten them. Since Moshe taught Torah to Aharon's sons, he is considered to have been their spiritual father. The text of the Talmud is: Kol ha'melamed es ben chaveiro Torah, maaleh alav ha'kasuv k'ilu yoldo - "As if he gave birth to him." In another place (Sanhedrin 99b), Chazal conclude with k'ilu asahu, "As if he made him." This is supported by the pasuk in Bereishis 12:5, concerning Avraham Avinu's outreach to the pagan population: V'es ha'nefesh asher asu b'Charan, "And the soul which they made in Charan." This indicates that teaching one Torah is as if he made him. What is the difference between the sources in Chazal? Why is the rebbe, at times, viewed as "making" the student and elsewhere considered as "begetting" him?

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, distinguishes between asahu and yaldo. Asahu means "make him," which denotes a relationship much like a craftsman with a utensil. He has made the utensil and, now that it is complete, he detaches himself from the vessel and moves on to the next one. This is in contrast to yaldo, in which he gives birth (so to speak) to the student, whereby his relationship is much like a father and son, which is an enduring relationship, an eternal bond that is fused between them. The son also inherits his father's characteristics and nature.

The concept of k'ilu asahu is derived from Avraham's relationship with the people whom he converted to monotheistic belief. They were students of Avraham, whom he had taught belief in the one G-d and infused with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, but, at the end of the day, they remained goyim. They did not achieve the level of banim, sons. In no way did they become Avraham-like. They could not be viewed as his sons, his spiritual heirs. They were only k'ilu asahu, "made" by Avraham. Indeed, as is noted by Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer (29), they eventually all returned to their pagan origins.

One who teaches his student Torah transforms him. The entire essence of the student is changed because of the Torah the student imbibes from his rebbe. An eternal relationship is established, one that endures throughout time, as the relationship is transmitted to the next generation. Moshe taught the sons of Aharon the Torah, which was his precious legacy to them, as it is with every rebbe that transmits his Torah teachings to his student.

We can take this idea further by positing that, even within Torah learning, there is a concept of asiyah and leidah, making and begetting. A rebbe who gives all of himself to his student, who devotes his time, energy, soul and very life for his student, is creating, giving birth, transforming his student with his life. He becomes the student's spiritual father, creating an essential, enduring bond that transcends time. The Torah is our life, and, by infusing our students with this spiritual life, we are resuscitating them, imbuing them with energy, spirit and viability.

There is a lesser level, in which the rebbe imparts the lesson to the student. He has made him, but, without the sacrifice and vitality, he has not begotten him. Prior to the giving of the Torah, our relationship with Hashem was as if we had been made. The level of banim laMakom, Children of Hashem, appeared when we received the Torah. The Torah is our life source, without which we lack the vigor and vivacity associated with being "alive."

In conclusion, it depends on what the rebbe is teaching and how he imparts the lesson. Torah can be taught as a lesson, or it can be infused as an injection of spirit, an infusion of life, to animate the soul of the student spiritually. In order to achieve this level of transmission, the teacher must himself be "alive" and willing to transmit "himself" into the student. Such a rebbe becomes a rebbe muvhak, primary rebbe to his student.

There is also the "professor" who teaches, delivers a lecture, remains aloof and distant from his student. He teaches - the student learns. He has "made" the student because he has taught him Torah, but he has not given him life; he is not his spiritual father in the true sense of the word.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ezras Avoseinu Atah Hu MeiOlam. You are the same one who has been the help of our Forefathers since time immemorial.

Eizer/ezras both mean help. Ezras, however, is the feminine form, derived from ezrah, and, thus, a weaker form of help. Ezras subtly conveys the notion that our Avos, Patriarchs, by their very own z'chuyos, merits; emunah, faith; bitachon, trust, made their own efforts to affect their salvation. They neither sat back, nor were they unworthy of being saved on their own accord. They did not throw up their hands and wait to be saved. They acted independently, their personal merits acting on their behalf to effect their salvation. It was not enough, so they required Hashem's "help." Hashem, however, only came to their ezras, assistance, to help - not to be an eizer, to do it alone for them. They, too, participated in their own salvation by virtue of their good deeds. Therefore, the weaker, more subtle word, ezras, is used here.

If this be the case, why is a wife referred to as eizer k'negdo, "a helpmate opposite him," which employs the term, eizer, the masculine, stronger form of the word? Rav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that this is because, what a woman does, her husband cannot possibly do. She bears and nurses children, and he cannot. In this respect, she is a full-fledged eizer, because her husband completely relies on her to do her part in complementing their marriage.

I think the question is not a question, since in this instance, the eizer, helpmate, must act k'negdo, in opposition (so to speak) to help her husband independently by balancing their relationship from her vantage point. Thus, the eizer is in consonance, but from an opposing position.

R' Alter Chaim Dovidben R' Menachem Shmuel z"l niftar 28 Iyar 5767
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon
In memory of Mr. David Salamon

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