|Back to this week's Parsha||Previous issues|
Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, "Take vengeance for the Bnei Yisrael against the Midyanim; afterward you will be gathered unto your people. (31:1,2)
Moshe is instructed to seek vengeance for the harm Midyan caused Bnei Yisrael. Chazal tell us that Moshe responded to Hashem, "If we had been idol worshippers they would not have harmed us. They persecuted us only because we believe in You. Therefore, the vengeance is Yours, Hashem, not mine." Thus, when Moshe conveyed Hashem's message to Bnei Yisrael, he spoke only of avenging Hashem's honor, not his own. Moshe's death was connected with executing vengeance against Midyan. The Yalkut Shimoni tells us that Hashem was apparently aware of Moshe's distress over his "inability" to respond to Zimri's blatant desecration of Hashem's Name, as well as his own personal humiliation. Hashem told Moshe, "By your life, you will not leave this world until you will see their vengeance." We may infer that the degradation of a gadol, Torah leader, is a grave sin. It cannot be passively overlooked, like so many other transgressions. To disgrace a gadol is to denigrate Torah. Hashem Himself will seek vengeance for this iniquity.
Moshe's response to Hashem is noteworthy. He suggested that Midyan was not concerned with us as a people. We would not affect their lives in any way. They hated us for one reason - our belief in Hashem. Midyan's war against the Jews was actually a war against the Almighty. They would do whatever possible to sever Klal Yisrael's relationship with Hashem. In their spiritual war, they chose to undermine our fidelity to Hashem by encouraging licentiousness and idol-worship. We are but pawns in the battle. Moshe asserted that Midyan was waging war with the Almighty. It was actually "nikmas Hashem," a vengeance for Hashem. Moshe's perception was correct: Midyan's conflict was with Hashem. One who is antagonistic to Judaism is by inference hostile to the Almighty. Moshe's vengeance was the Almighty's vengeance.
And Moshe gave to them, to the Bnei Gad, and the Bnei Reuven and half of the tribe of Menashe ben Yosef. (32:33)
In the previous text, we find that Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven requested to remain in Eiver HaYarden. How did shevet Menashe enter into the situation? Moreover, why did only a part of shevet Menashe stay? Last, why did they receive such a large parcel of land? The Ramban contends that actually Moshe asked for volunteers to join the two tribes who remained in Eiver HaYarden. Part of the tribe of Menashe responded, probably because of their abundant flocks. In his commentary on Sefer Devarim, the Netziv claims that Moshe insisted that part of shevet Menashe move to Eiver HaYarden. No Jewish community can maintain its spiritual status quo unless Torah scholars are in their midst, teaching, disseminating Torah and inspiring people to follow the standard they exemplify. The tribe of Menashe included such people. Only after they consented to move east did Moshe agree to let Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven remain. By doing so, Moshe meant to set a precedent for all future generations, asserting that a community has viability only if it also has dedicated Torah scholars among its active members.
In Pirkei Avos 6:9 the Mishnah addresses the issue of living in a Torah environment, presenting the correct attitude one must manifest towards this endeavor: Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma said, "I was once walking on the road, when a man met me and greeted me. I returned his greeting. He said to me, 'Rabbi, from what place are you?' I told him, 'From a great city of scholars and teaching scribes am I.' He said to me, 'Rabbi, would you be willing to live with us in our place? I would then give you a million dinarii and precious stones and pearls.' I answered him, 'Were you to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones in the world, I would live nowhere but in a place of Torah." On the surface, this simple narrative demonstrates how a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, reacted in a specific situation, indicating his overriding desire to reside only in a makom Torah, a community where the study of Torah reigns. The commentators, however, perceive that this Mishnah teaches us a number of compelling lessons.
First, let us address the actual dialogue which ensued between Rabbi Yosi and his would-be benefactor. The man offered him an opportunity to improve his situation by moving to another city. Why did Rabbi Yosi immediately respond with a negative attitude? What prompted him to think that the city in which the man lived was not a place of Torah? Abarbanel suggests the answer lies in the formulation of the stranger's offer. When one is willing to pay an exorbitant sum of money for a commodity, it must be rare. If people are prepared to pay a million dollars for a Torah scholar, obviously the place must be bereft of Torah.
We suggest that the stranger's attitude created a negative impression. He presented himself as a person who is used to getting what he wants - through money. He felt he could "buy" a Torah scholar. A city where the Torah scholars are "bought" and "sold" as a commodity is not a place that can be considered a makom Torah. Furthermore, a Torah scholar is not engaged simply by offering him money. Did he investigate Rabbi Yosi? Did he have him tested? The stranger's alacrity was indicative of his attitude.
Reb Yitzchak Bunim,zl, notes the "pronoun" "I" (will give you a million...) in the stranger's offer. A man who speaks for the community has no right to say "I," unless he is really implying that he represents the entire community. His power and position determine who will be hired. In effect, he was doing the hiring and dispensing of the salary. A community that has a single person "in charge," one individual who makes or controls the decisions, one person who -- due to his financial standing -- is obsessed with the pronoun, "I," is not a place for a ben Torah to live.
After all was said and done, the situation was that a man of means offering support to Rabbi Yosi in a splendid and dignified manner. Rabbi Yosi would no longer have to worry about the source of his next "dollar." He could have immersed himself totally in the study of Torah. Is that really such a difficult proposition to accept? Furthermore, with all that money, even if the community was not Torah oriented, they would have been able to "buy" Torah. They would have had the means to bring in a kollel, build a Yeshivah and schools that would properly address the needs of their youth. What could be so bad?
Reb Yitzchak Bunim feels the answer lies in the information that the stranger omitted. He did not mention a proposal to build a Yeshivah, arrange for community study groups, a shul, a mikvah -- any of the usual "staples" a Torah community needs to survive. Neither did he indicate that the people would support a school - morally or financially. He merely was prepared to offer a sizable salary/bribe to have a rabbi dwell among them, to dignify their community. He was not asking the rabbi to "do" anything - to teach, to build a Torah community. He sought a Torah "presence," the way some people desire a nice garden. This type of offer was an opportunity for stagnation and disaster, not creativity and growth.
Last, the words of my rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, appropriately summarize the reason for Rabbi Yosi's refusal. "We must realize," the Rosh Hayeshiva was wont to say, " you cannot create a makom Torah with money alone. One must apply blood, sweat, and tears to build Torah." Mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, heart's devotion, unstinting dedication to Torah ideals and values - these are the basic ingredients required for Torah to blossom in a communty. Money cannot create a Torah atmosphere. Is it any wonder that Rabbi Yosi refused the offer?
These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael...and they journeyed...and they rested...(33:1)
"And they journeyed...and they rested." These words are repeated forty-two times in this parsha. These words must be special if the Torah mentions them so many times. The Torah contains no redundance, not even an extra letter. Why would the Torah dedicate so much space to the journeys of Bnei Yisrael? Is it pertinent for us to know where they stayed and where they went? Chazal address this question, explaining with an analogy to a king who had taken his sickly son to a distant place to be cured. On their return trip, the king pointed out to his son the various incidents that took place in each city. "Look, my son, at this spot we slept, at the other place you were overcome with fever, at this spot you were subdued with intense pains, etc." Likewise, Hashem points out to us the "stops" along our journey, so that we will learn from them. He notes the places where we erred, where we sinned and where our actions caused contention and strife.
People think that to correct life's mistakes we must live over again. This is not the Torah perspective. To paraphrase Horav Moshe Swift, zl, "To make right the wrongs we have committed, we have only to look back." Our corrections can be made on the same journey; all we need to do is open our eyes and look back. Opportunities will arise when we will be confronted with the same challenges, the same problems, the same desires. Only this time we will be prepared, we will be armed with the lessons of the past so that we can confront the present. We can then be assured of a healthy future. "Here we slept:" We allowed an opportunity for growth, a chance for success, to escape. "Here we were overcome with pain:" We allowed periods of depression to overcome us. We deferred to the fear of rejection; we were afraid to chance success due to the risk of failure. "Here we rested from the heat:" We accepted the status quo, allowing ourselves to be spoiled by our prosperity and good fortune. As long as we learn from our past - "va'yisu and va'yachnu," "they journeyed and they rested," is not redundant. The importance of reflecting upon the past cannot be overemphasized. Tisha B'Av, our day of national mourning, commemorates the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash. If we remember the tragedy, but do not deliberate over the entire period - what preceded the destruction and our reaction -- we would denigrate the memory of this sad period. If we forget one stage in our history, we cannot make amends; the lesson will be lost. Horav Swift suggests that this is the reason that the special Haftorah of rebuke for the "Nine Days" -- from Rosh Chodesh Av until Tisha B'Av -- takes precedence over the Haftorah of Rosh Chodesh. Shabbos Rosh Chodesh will occur again: We will never retrieve the tragic loss and never rebuild the ruins, however, if for a single year we do not heed Yirmiyah Ha'navi's anguished cry." "Listen to the word of Hashem, House of Yaakov, and all the families of Bais Yisrael." We must not ignore the mistakes of the past or forget to address our former errors, thereby silencing the cry of the Navi. "Only he who mourns Yerushalayim will merit to behold her joy." The privilege of sharing in the consolation and joy is reserved for those who have mourned - who have reflected on their errors and who seek to rectify the faults that precipitated the tragedy. These people will merit to share in the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.
And a murderer shall flee there, one who takes a life unintentionally...for he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:11,28)
Had the Kohen Gadol prayed with greater devotion, had he entreated Hashem to arrange that fatal accidents not occur during his tenure as Kohen Gadol, they might not have happened. Chazal tell us that the Kohen Gadol's mother supplied the unintentional murderers with food and clothing, so that they would not pray for her son's premature death. It seems difficult to accept that food and clothing would take precedence over one's liberty. One has only to ask a person who has been incarcerated for an extended period of time, to determine whether food and clothing would be an acceptable trade for his liberty.
Yet, we see that Chazal attribute success to the Kohen Gadol's mother's strategy. Why did it work? Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, gives a penetrating answer based upon the foundation of prayer. Prayer has the ability to stretch the boundaries of nature; it is a vehicle for engendering miracles. This is only true if the prayer emanates from the innermost recesses of the heart, when it is an expression of one's inner being, his real essence. For prayer to have the ability to transcend the laws of nature, it must be real; it must have integrity; it must be from the heart.
When the Kohen Gadol's mother benefitted the unintentional murderer, she knew that ultimately the exiles would be compelled to demonstrate their gratitude to her. Once this debt of gratitude was ingrained in their psyche, they would no longer be able to pray wholeheartedly for their deliverance. They would always think to themselves, "How can I pray for the Kohen Gadol's death, if his mother has been so kind to me?" Indeed, a heart whose allegiances are divided cannot achieve a significant response through prayer. The Kohen Gadol really had very little to fear.
Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.
The third 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.
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.