Bamidbar 5773 – Gilayon #798

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Parshat Bamidbar – Chag Shavuot

From thirty years up to fifty years old

All who come to the army to do the task

In the tent of the meeting

(Bemidbar 4:3)


Thirty years old

for strength. Over fifty, their strength diminishes.

(Rashi Ibid.




twenty years old… all who come to the army in Israel – "Tsava' (Army) does not refer only to combat forces

or to military service; nor is this the primary meaning of the word (see Parashat Bereishit 2:1) This

is clear from various sources … it is obvious from these sources that this is

the meaning of 'tsava': A mass of people who are

subject to the orders of a commander to perform public service – or the work performed

by this group. Here, too, it goes without saying that the present reference is to

service in war. But 'all who come to the army" refers to every man, who is

obligated in times of need to leave his personal life for conscription into public

service; this is to say: A person, whom the public can count upon for execution

of its missions; and therefore, in the parasha

of Levites (in Chap. 4) it does not say

"goes out to the army" but rather "who comes to the army"; for

the Levite's entire life are holy to public service.

(RaSHar Hirsch, Bemidbar 1:3)



And from the wilderness to mattanah

Pinchas Leiser

Dedicated to the blessed memory of Menachem

Fruman, rabbi,

a man who loved mankind and pursued peace,

returned his soul to his creator on 23 Adar, 5773

Among the reasons suggested for the Torah being given in the wilderness

is one found in the Midrash Tanchuma

(Hukkat 21):

"Why was the Torah given in the wilderness? Because were it to have been given

in the land [of Israel],

that tribe within whose area it was given would claim primacy, saying, "We

should be the first [to read from the Torah scroll]". Therefore was it given

in the wilderness, so that all have equal rights to the Torah."

The Talmud (Eruvin 54a) offers a different derasha,

one which relates to the humility required of one who studies the Talmud.

"And from the wilderness to Mattanah" – if one

allows himself to be treated as a wilderness on which everyone treads, his study

will be retained by him, otherwise it will not". [Mattanah,

name of a location, also means 'a gift'].

The Talmud follows this derasha with a

story about Rava, son of R. Yosef

bar Hama who had

come to pacify R. Yosef:

R. Yosef had a grievance against Rava

son of R. Yosef B. Hama [and therefore they did not meet].

When the eve of the Day of Atonement approached the latter thought, 'I shall go

and pacify him'. Proceeding to R. Yosef's house, he found

his [R. Yosef's] attendant mixing a cup of wine for him.

'Give it to me', Rava said to him, 'and I will mix it'.

He gave it to him and the latter duly mixed it. As R. Yosef

[who was blind and could not see his guest) tasted it, he remarked: 'This mixing

is like that of Rava son of R. Yosef

b. Hama'. 'I am

here', Rava answered. 'Do not sit down upon your legs',

said R. Josef said to him, 'before you have explained to me these verses. What is

the purport of the Scriptural text: "And from the wilderness to Mattanah"? 'If', the other replied, 'a man allows himself

to be treated as the wilderness upon which everybody treads,

the Torah will be given to him as an inheritance…

It seems to me that through this story and the midrashim in the Talmud and the Tanhuma, the Sages are teaching us something about the qualification

for receiving Torah, and also about the proper awareness required of the Torah student,

he who desires to experience Mattan Torah

– the giving of the Torah – in his life today.

The renewal of the relationship between Rava and

R. Yosef was made possible through Rava's readiness to mix the wine for R. Yosef

in place of the latter's attendant, and R. Yosef understood

the hint. It could be that the literary choice of the mixing of the wine as a symbol

of the reconciliation is related to the dream of the chief cupbearer who won reprieve

from Pharaoh, but here R. Yosef wants Rava to make a clear statement: The Torah is given as an inheritance

to one who is prepared to forgo his honor, to one who is willing to make concessions

in order to come closer to the other. Rava's dersha continues:

'And from Mattanah to Nahaliel', and as soon

as he is the inheritance of God, he rises to greatness, since it says: 'And from

Nahaliel to Bamoth'. But if

he is haughty, the Holy One, blessed be He, humbles him, as it says: 'And from Bamoth to the valley'. If, however, he repents, the Holy One,

blessed be He, raises him, as it says: 'Every valley shall be lifted up.'

Humility and concession enable receiving the Torah as a gift, but this Torah,

given as a gift, also makes possible the experiencing of revelation. Unfortunately,

one who is privileged to experience revelation is susceptible to psychological intoxication,

becoming prideful of his status; distance is created between Man and the Holy One,

blessed be He, and only Man's return to a state of open-mindedness

and humility can facilitate reconciliation and communication.

This pendulum reminds us of another Talmudic tale (Bavli, Taanit 20a-b) concerning R. Shimon son of R. Elazar (or perhaps R. Elazar, son

of R. Shimon):

Our Rabbis have

taught: A man should always be gentle as the reed and never as rigid the cedar.

Once R. Elazar son of R. Simeon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his

teacher, and he was riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling

happy and elated because he had studied much Torah.

There chanced

to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, 'Peace upon you, Sir'. He,

however, did not return the salutation but instead said to him, 'Raka [empty one], how ugly you are. Are all your fellow citizens

as ugly as you are?' The man replied: 'I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman

who made me, "How ugly is the vessel which you have made". When R. Elazar realized that he had done wrong he dismounted and prostrated

himself before the man and said to him, 'I submit myself to you, forgive me'. The

man replied: 'I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and

say to him, "How ugly is the vessel which you have made".' He [R. Elazar] walked behind him until he reached his native city.

When his fellow citizens came out to meet him greeting him with the words, 'Peace

be upon you O Teacher, O Master,' the man asked them,

'Whom are you addressing thus'? They replied, 'The man who is walking behind you.'

Thereupon he exclaimed: 'If this man is a teacher, may there not be any more like

him in Israel'!

The people then asked him: 'Why'? He replied: 'Such and such a thing has he done

to me. They said to him: 'Nevertheless, forgive him, for he is a man greatly learned

in the Torah.' The man replied: 'For you sakes I will forgive him, but only on the

condition that he does not act in the same manner in the future.; Immediately

R. Elazar son of R. Shimeon

entered [the Beth Hamidrash] and expounded thus, A man

should always be gentle as the reed and let him never be rigid as the cedar. And

for this reason the reed merited that from it should be made a pen for the writing

of Law, Tephillin and Mezuzoth.

R. Elazar son of R. Shimeon

[variant reading – 'R. Shimeon son of R. Elazar'] achieved greatness because of Torah study, but this

greatness does not immunize one against superciliousness, arrogance and belittlement

of the other, and the other (the ugly man in our story) whom the Tosaphists – on the basis of a text in Tractate Derech Eretz – identify as Elijah,

represents the word of God distancing itself from him because of his pride and his

arrogance and his rudeness. Only the intervention of the residents of R. Elazar's town, who consider him a beloved and admired teacher,

facilitates the forgiveness of the 'other'. As a result of this encounter, R. Elazar learnt and taught the lesson of humility; the Torah can

be written only with 'a pen made of reed', i.e., with gentleness and with humbleness.

The author of Midrash Tanhuma adds another level: There can be no territorial, tribal

or ethnic monopoly on the Torah. The Torah was given in a location belonging to

all men, and therefore, as R. Meir taught (Bavli, Bava Kama 38a), no person or

nation can claim ownership of the Torah:

From where do we learn than even a gentile who studies Torah is like a High

Priest? Scripture teaches 'Which man shall and live in them' – it does not

say Priests, Levites and Israelites, but man, thus you learn that even a

gentile who studies Torah is like a High Priest.

Of course we cannot ignore midrashot which

stress the unique connection existing between the Jewish people and the Torah, including

the midrash which describes

the nations' refusal to accept the Torah, but perhaps it is this unique connection

in particular which obliges us to take seriously the mishna

in Tractate Sanhedrin (4, 5):

For this reason was man created alone, to teach you that whosoever destroys

a single soul of Israel, Scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed

a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes

[merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.4 furthermore, [he was

created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow,

'My father was greater than yours, and that the minim41 might not say,

there are many ruling powers in heaven; again, to proclaim the greatness of the

holy one, blessed be he: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all

resemble one another, but the supreme King of Kings, the

Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and

yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged

to say: 'The world was created for my sake.'

Absolute inherent equality exists between human beings, because man was

created singly, and we are all children of one man, and this principle demands of

us humility and open-mindedness. It leads us through a wilderness journey to the

recognition that the Torah which we received as an inheritance and which we can

receive anew as a gift does not tolerate haughtiness or discrimination based on

race, gender, ethnic community, class or nationality. May it be His wish that we

merit also as a people in our land to receive the wilderness Torah of humility which

respects every person created in the image of God.

Pinchas Leiser is the editor of Shabbat




And I will betroth you forever; I will betroth

you with righteousness and justice, And with

goodness and with mercy, And I will betroth you with faithfulness, Then

shall you shall know the Lord.

(Hosea 2:21-22 – from the haftorah for

parashat Bamidbar)


The covenant between God and His people, and between the People

Israel and its God, exists and is present before God. However, the covenant is reciprocal,

and so in order that these goals be realized something is also required of the other

party – which is us.

The second chapter

of Hosea (the haftorah of Bamidbar)

is completely devoted to a very passionate and moving account of this covenant.

It describes the relationship between God and the People Israel as a relationship

between a man and a woman, as a marriage. It employs terms reminiscent of the Song

of Songs, which, according to tradition, is also an extended allegory of the God-Israel

relationship. It speaks of the People Israel betraying the covenant, and of the

covenant's future restoration, which is described with great sensitivity and pathos,

concluding with the following two exalted verses: And I will betroth you forever;

I will betroth you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and with mercy,

and I will betroth you with faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.

And I will

betroth you – The betrothal is between God and Israel, and it stems from the righteousness,

justice, goodness, and mercy that appear here as divine attributes…

And I will betroth you with faithfulness – It must be

insisted upon that everywhere in Scripture the term emunah

[faithfulness] does not bear the same meaning that it does in our language today

[Modern Hebrew],i.e,. something

like the Latin fides, the English faith, and the German glaube. In Scripture, emunah

always means faithfulness: And I will betroth you with faithfulness refers

to faithfulness between the betrothed man and woman.

However, next

come three key words: ve'yada'at et hashem [and

you shall know the Lord]. Righteousness, justice, goodness,

mercy, and faithfulness are divine and eternal; they are not contingent

upon human circumstances and behavior. However, the betrothal's fulfillment depends

upon one great stipulation: and you shall know the Lord. Knowledge of the

Lord is the condition for the covenant's renewal; without it the covenant exists

only potentially and is not actualized…

Whether or not

man is aware of it, God acts for mercy, justice, and righteousness. However, that

only has significance in reality if man learns and knows it, and accordingly: I

will betroth you forever; I will betroth you with righteousness and justice, and

with goodness and with mercy, and I will betroth you with faithfulness, on the

condition that and you shall know the Lord. The actualization in reality

of the covenant between Israel

and its God depends on the People Israel.

(Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, z"l, He'arot le'Parshiyot ha'Shavu'a pp. 87-88)


What is the connection of the book of ruth to

"atseret" (shavuot festival)

To teach us that

Torah was given only via suffering and poverty.

(Yalkut Shimoni,



Because the story takes place "at the beginning

of the barley harvest," and Shavuot is the time of the barley harvest.



Because our ancestors received the Torah and entered the covenant only

through circumcision, immersion, and sprinkling of blood; Ruth, too, converted.



In the Festival Parasha (Parashat Emor), following the parasha

on the two loaves of bread which are offered on Shavuot, it is written "Now

when you harvest the harvest of your land… for the afflicted and for the sojourner

you are to leave them." This was observed by Boaz, who said: "You

must also pull some stalks out of the heaps and leave them for her to glean…"

Ruth was a pauper and a convert, and therefore we read Megillat

Ruth on this day.

(The Levush, quoted by Rabbi

Zevin in "Hamoadim BaHalacha")


"May the Lord reward your deeds. May

you have a full recompense from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought

refuge!" – Come and see how great is the power

of the righteous, how great the power of charity, and how great the power of those

who perform acts of kindness, for they find shelter not in the shade of dawn, nor

in the shade of the ends of earth, nor in the shade of the wings of the sun, nor

in the shade of the wings of animals, nor in the shade of the wings of the cherubim,

nor in the shade of the wings of the seraphim, but in the shade of He

Who Spoke and the World Came into Being, as is written (Psalms 36:8), "How precious is Your faithful

care, O God, Mankind shelters in the shade of Your wings."

(Ruth Rabba,

Parasha 5)


The Holy One, Blessed Be He, greatly loves converts – to what can this be

compared? To a king who possessed sheep which would go out to pasture and return

in the evening, day after day. Once a deer entered with the sheep, and went to the

goats and grazed with them; the sheep entered the pen, it entered with them. They

went out to pasture, it accompanied them. They said to the king: This deer accompanies

the sheep and he grazes with them, every day he goes out with them and returns with

them. The king liked the deer, and when it went out to the pasture he would command

the shepherd, "Let no one beat him, be careful with him", and when it

would return with the sheep, he would say, "Give him drink", and he liked

him very much. Said they to him, "Master, you have so many rams, so many lambs,

so many goats, yet you warn us only with respect to the deer?!" Replied the

king, "The sheep has no choice, this is her nature, to graze in the field daily

and to return at evening to sleep in the pen; the deer sleep in the wild, it is

not their nature to enter human settlement – should we not be thankful to him who

forsakes the great wide desert where all the beasts dwell, and comes to stand in

the enclosure?" So should we not be thankful to the convert who leaves his

family and his father's house and forsakes his nation and all the nations of the

world, and joins us!? Therefore He increased their protection, for He warned


to protect them and not to harm them, as is written, "And you shall love

the ger, and you shall not deceive the ger, etc."

 (Bemidbar Rabba, Parasha 8)


Another story is told of a gentile who was passing behind the Beth Midrash and overheard the voice of a scribe reciting "These

are the garments which they shall make: the Hoshen and

the Ephod." He said: "To whom were these instructions given?"

They answered him: "To the High Priest." Said the gentile:

"I shall go and convert myself so that they appoint me High Priest."

He came before Shammai. He said to him: Convert

me on condition that you appoint me High Priest." He pushed him away with the

builder's cubit he was holding.

He came before Hillel, who converted him. Said Hillel to him: Is it not so

that only one acquainted with the conventions of monarchy is appointed king?"

The convert went and studied. When he reached the passage "And the stranger

who comes near shall die" he asked: "To whom does this passage refer?"

He replied: " Even to David,

King of Israel."

The gentile analyzed his situation with a kal

va'chomer. "If Israel, who are called Sons of the Omnipresent, and

because of His love for them he called them "Israel, My firstborn son", yet

they are subject to "And the stranger who comes near shall die" – a

convert who comes but with his stick and pack, all the more so!"

He came before Shammai: He said to him: "In

your estimation, am I worthy of being a High Priest? Does it not say in the Torah:

"And the stranger who comes near shall die?"

He came before Hillel. He said to him: "Hillel the humble, may blessings

be heaped upon your head, for you brought me beneath the wings of the Divine Presence."

One day, the three of them happened to meet. The convert said: "Shammai's strictness sought to drive us from the world; Hillel's

humility gathered us under the wings of the Holy Presence."

(Shabbat 31a)



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