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
Thirty years old
for strength. Over fifty, their strength diminishes.
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:
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
And from the wilderness to mattanah
Dedicated to the blessed memory of Menachem
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
"Why was the Torah given in the wilderness? Because were it to have been given
in the land [of
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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
King of Israel."
The gentile analyzed his situation with a kal
because of His love for them he called them "
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."
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