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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Matos - Maasei

Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael against the Midyanites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people. Moshe sent them - a thousand from each tribe for the legion, them and the legion. (31:3,6)

We find two commands regarding the Midyanites. In the previous parsha, immediately following the tragic plague that resulted from the Midyanite's advice which caused the Jews to sin with the daughters of Moav, Klal Yisrael was commanded to despise Midyan as enemies of the Jewish people. In this parsha, Hashem instructs Moshe to seek vengeance for the grave sin that Midyan catalyzed. Two mitzvos are presented: to hate and to avenge. Pinchas was chosen to lead a select group of soldiers in battle. Chazal say he was the one who initiated the mitzvah when he slew Zimri and Kosbi; he should be responsible to complete the efforts on behalf of Klal Yisrael. We must endeavor to understand the nature of this vengeance. Does Hashem need vengeance? Furthermore, did not Pinchas achieve the "covenant of peace" when he killed Zimri? Hashem commended Pinchas for his act, which stimulated a peaceful conciliation between Hashem and His people. Why is there a resurgence of vengeance? Last, why is Pinchas necessarily the one to lead the people? Was the underlying objective of this war a goal that only Pinchas could achieve?

Horav Gershon Liebman, zl, begins by first focusing upon the nature of an individual who has rejected a materialistic lifestyle, who has decided to absorb himself in the "koslei ha'yeshivah," walls of the yeshivah, to devote himself to Torah - and avodah, its service. Ostensibly, such an individual must manifest an incredible amount of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, resolution and determination in order to make this decision. Must such a unique individual be a kanai, zealot, for Torah when he sees an incursion against it? Must he take a stand, go out of his way to quell any infraction against the Torah, or can he just devote himself to a life of holiness and purity?

We see that the shochad, bribery, infatuation with his past lifestyle, is so overwhelmingly intense that nothing short of zealousness will protect him from reverting back. Chazal tell us that one who sees a sotah, wayward wife, in her degradation should become a nazir, prohibiting himself from drinking wine. He sees the results of intoxicants; he sees the licentious lifestyle it encourages, he must run away from it. Chazal understood how absorbed an individual can become in materialism. Consequently, one must distance himself even from those behaviors that under normal circumstances are permitted, for they can catalyze inappropriate behavior.

Pinchas' nature, his zealousness, rendered him the right person to lead that battle against Midyan. He was not blemished. He overcame the blandishments of the Moavite women as he slew Zimri and Kosbi, returning dignity to the Jewish people. His zealousness for Hashem was pristine - untainted by personal agenda or vested interests. Indeed, out of an entire army of available Jewish men, only one thousand men per Shevet were selected. Moreover, Moshe was criticizing even these righteous individuals. This indicates the critical need to sever all relationships with those areas of the past that can conceivably draw one back into the tentacles of his previous shochad, bribery.

We see this constantly. One can be absorbed in Torah study. He may be doing well in a yeshivah gedolah, school of higher learning; yet, if something arises that raises his ire, that is in contrast to the way he has been accustomed to live; it can be the springboard for impeding his spiritual growth - completely. Indeed, he might go to the other extreme, rejecting all those who had previously helped him. We now may comprehend the motivating factor behind these kanaim who pounce upon anything that might disturb the tranquility of their Torah lives. They do not rely upon themselves. They understand the stress of dealing with the past. For them, the best and safest approach is the extreme.

So there was delivered from the thousands of Yisrael, a thousand from each tribe. (31:5)

Rashi says that the term "vayimasru," "there was delivered," implies that the Jewish soldiers were actually coerced into going to battle. They were well aware that Moshe Rabbeinu's demise was dependent upon his carrying out this last war, and they did not wish to see their beloved leader die. Rashi adds that, interestingly, for much of their forty-year sojourn they either complained to -- or about -- Moshe. There was rarely a peaceful moment in their relationship. Now, when confronted with the imminence of his death, they do not wish to see him depart. This indicates their deep love for him. We must endeavor to understand this pshat, exposition, of the pasuk. Did Moshe himself not say "A bit more and they will stone me"? He fully understood their ambivalent feelings towards him. How can this be considered love?

Horav Yosef Leib Bloch, zl, explains that Bnei Yisrel's true admiration and love were manifest by the fact that they were not always enamored with Moshe. They did not continually agree with his demands. Yet, when his life was dependent upon their going to war - they refused to go. Had their relationship always been idyllic, it would have been no surprise that they would not want to see his premature death. After an intense relationship of forty years, at times contentious and at times harmonious, we see that their negativity towards Moshe was rooted in their intolerance for his rebuke. After all was said and done, however, they loved their leader and would do anything to sustain his life.

An unwillingness to accept criticism can, at times, prove to be a cause for unnecessary resentment. A mature individual deals with his resentment quickly, when he realizes that the reprovement is for his own good, and emanates from his friend's/teacher's/parent's love for him. This will then awaken within him the respect and love he should continue to develop for that individual.

Moshe sent them - a thousand for each tribe for the legion, them and Pinchas. (31:6)

Rashi explains why Pinchas, and not Elazar, led the army in battle against Midyan. Hashem said that he who initiated the mitzvah, who originated the vengeance against this abominable nation, should complete the task. Pinchas, who slew Kosbi, should finish the job. What is the reason that "he who begins the mitzvah" is told to complete it? Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, comments that there is no comparison between an endeavor which is executed piecemeal and one which is performed in one complete unit. A number of people participating in a mitzvah - one after another - demonstrates the beauty of teamwork. Such a cooperative effort, however, is still not to be compared to the quality manifest when one performs the entire mitzvah by himself. A mitzvah performed in sections, one that is carried out in components, does not have sheleimus, completeness/ perfection. Sheleimus can be achieved only if a mitzvah is carried out by one person in one motion.

When Rabbi Akiva returned after twelve years of study with an entourage of twelve thousand students, crowds gathered to see the great Torah scholar. His wife, who had encouraged his decision to leave home to study Torah, was also waiting. As Rabbi Akiva came close, one of the women questioned his wife about how she had permitted him to stay away for so many years. Rabbi Akiva's wife responded emphatically, "I would be happy to let him return for another twelve years!" Rabbi Akiva heard this and immediately turned around to return to the yeshivah to study. He returned twelve years later with twenty four thousand students. The question which begs elucidation is apparent: Why did Rabbi Akiva not stop for even a moment to greet his wife, from whom he had been separated for twelve years? Would it have been such a terrible thing to do? The response which is echoed by the various baalei mussar, teachers of ethical behavior, is that two times twelve is not nearly the same as one continual period of twenty-four uninterrupted years. What Rabbi Akiva achieved in Torah study, his brilliant erudition, his vast group of students, was due to the fact that he had studied continually for twenty-four years. He did not pause; he did not take a break; he would not even say hello to his wife after twelve years! He did not weaken his momentum. A brief interlude quells one's enthusiasm, diminishing the end result. One who begins a mitzvah should complete his action to achieve greater success.


1) Is there a criterion regarding what type of neder the husband can annul?
2) What type of soldiers were chosen to battle Midyan?
3) Which of the three machanos is the one who as tamei meis is forbidden to enter?
4) Who was Calev ben Yefuneh's step-father?


1) Yes. He can annul only those nedarim that have inui nefesh, in which she will suffer pain if she fulfills the neder.
2) Righteous Jews.
3) Machane Shechinah.
4) Kenaz.


And you shall prepare for yourselves cities of refuge. (35:11)

The Torah instructs us to designate Cities of Refuge to protect the inadvertent killer from the relatives of the deceased. Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, notes that the Torah does not use the term "zimun," to prepare, but rather uses "hikrisem," a word related to "mikreh," which alludes to an event occurring by chance, without forethought or preparation. Horav Gifter feels that the Torah is conveying a profound message to us. Violence is foreign to the Jew. If we hear that a Jew has committed a violent act, we must realize that this act represents the antithesis of the Torah's perspective of society. We are not permitted for one moment to think that violence is a part of society. If it occurs, it is a "mikreh," an unprepared, unplanned incident which is totally foreign to our Torah-dictated culture. Violence is not a Jewish theme.

Indeed, the culture that surrounds us, the secular society in which we live, has spewed forth such violence that it is difficult to record in a Torah-oriented paper. We must, however, realize that what goes on around us is not necessarily representative of us. Our Torah should shape our personality, governing our perspective on life.

Eisav is the archetype of violence. He was a warrior who preyed upon everything that was weaker than he. He venerated violence - he embodied it. The sons of Yaakov were foreign to Eisav's lifestyle. When Yaakov reproved Shimon and Levi, prior to his death, for their part in destroying the city of Shechem, he said, "Shimon and Levi are a pair, "klei chamas mecheiroseihem," the instruments of violence are their habitation." (Bereishis 49:5). This means that they are defined by their violent deed. Chazal offer another interpretation of "mecheiroseihem," based upon the root word "machor," to sell. Yaakov told his sons that they had stolen their weapons of violence, because - by right and by nature - these tools of violence had belonged to Eisav, the one who sold his bechorah, birthright. Klei chamas, tools of violence, instruments for committing destruction, belong to Eisav, the son who sold eternity for a bowl of materialism. When a Jew acts in a manner appropriate to Eisav, it should be viewed as "v'hikrisem," an isolated, foreign incident which is not typical of his character and culture.

But if with suddenness, without enmity, did he push him... and the assembly shall return him to his city of refuge where he had fled... he shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:22,25)

In the Talmud Makos 11b, Chazal tell us that the unintentional murderer is not permitted to leave the City of Refuge. Indeed, he is confined there until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Nothing - regardless of its critical need - can change this. Even if he is a great general who is needed by Klal Yisrael, he may not leave. There he lives; there he will die; there he will be buried. This halachah is perplexing. We are taught that pikuach nefesh, issues concerning life or death, are of overriding concern. Thus, they have the power to push aside every negative commandment- except for the cardinal sins of adultery, idolworship and murder. If Klal Yisrael is at war and the general's expertise is of crucial necessity, is that not pikuach nefesh? How many soldiers must perish in order to allow the general to leave the City of Refuge?

The Ohr Sameach on the Rambam, Hilchos Rotzeach, 7:8, explains that in reality it is not forbidden for the unintentional murderer to leave the City of Refuge. It is just that, if he leaves momentarily, the relative of his victim may kill him. It is not incumbent upon the unintentional murderer to put his life in danger for any reason, even for the benefit of others.

We still must endeavor to understand what transpires at the time of the Kohen Gadol's death that creates a situation in which the unintentional murderer may feel free to leave. In his Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam explains that when the Kohen Gadol dies, everyone is so overwrought with grief -- they are so overwhelmed with pain and sorrow -- that it overrides their personal pain concerning their relative who had been killed.

This is a remarkable statement. On the one hand, we have just indicated that there exists a real threat to the life of the unintentional murderer, even many years after the tragic accident occurred. On the other hand, we see that if the Kohen Gadol dies, even if it is immediately following the tragic accident, the murderer is free to leave the City of Refuge, because the relative who seeks vengeance is too preoccupied with grief. This is incredible. This applies to all men, even the simplest Jew will be overwhelmed with grief, a grief that transcends even his own personal mourning for a close relative! How are we to understand this?

Horav Shmuel Truvitz, Shlita, posits that this halachah applies only to the Kohen Gadol, not the Navi, the melech, or the head of the Sanhedrin. The esteem in which the Kohen Gadol was held was unparalleled. Indeed, when he sat shiva, the people would console him by saying, "Anu kaporascha," "we are your atonement," we are willed to accept whatever fate has destined for you. This is attributed to the Kohen Gadol's function as the mechaper, "atoner" for Klal Yisrael. The Kohen Gadol serves as the one who goes before the Almighty into Kodshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies, carrying the sins of Klal Yisrael, imploring Hashem's forgiveness. He prays for kaparah, atonement, for Klal Yisrael. This makes him special. Only after one realizes the gravity of sin and the awesome breach that it creates, can he can begin to grasp the function of the one who serves as an intermediary to invoke atonement for these sins. The Kohen Gadol had an awesome responsibility. This is why his passing was noted with an outpouring of such overwhelming grief.


1) What is a maseichah?
2) In total, how many Arei Miklat were there?
3) How many Arei Miklat were there in Eivar Hayarden?
4) Do we accept kofer, money, to redeem an unintentional murderer from going to Ir Miklat?


1) An idol made of metal.
2) There were forty-eight Cities of Refuge, of which six were designated specifically for this purpose while the remaining forty-two also served as cities for Leviim.
3) Three.
4) No.


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