Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 20   No. 32

This issue is sponsored
in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of
Yaakov Sher n"y
by his family

Parshas Bamidbar

The Smallest Tribe

"All the counted ones of the Levi'im whom Moshe and Aharon counted on G-d's orders according to their families, all males from one month and upwards, twenty-two thousand" (3:39).

The Ramban expresses amazement that the total number of Levi'im above the age of one month amounted to only twenty-two thousand (and those of serving age between thirty and fifty, to only eight thousand). This means that the total number of Levi'im above the age of twenty would not amount even to half that of the smallest of the other tribes - namely, that of Binyamin, which numbered thirty-five thousand. How is it possible, he asks, that the chosen tribe, the pious ones who are blessed by G-d, should number so much less than all the other tribes?

The author dismisses outright the well-known answer offered by some commentaries - based on the Medrash that they died because they were not careful when transporting the Aron (which in itself is difficult to conceive), in that at this point in time, the Aron had as yet to be transported.

*

The Ramban suggests that the phenomenon under discussion bears out the Medrash which states that the tribe of Levi were not subjected to the slavery to which the other tribes were. Consequently, he explains, the other tribes, whom the Egyptians bitterly oppressed in order to reduce their numbers, G-d deliberately increased at an abnormal rate (six at a time), as Rashi says in Sh'mos (1:12) - Par'oh declared "lest they increase!", so G-d responded with "So they will increase!"

That being the case, the Levi'im, who were not subjected to "Lest they will increase!", were not subjected with "So they will increase!" either. They increased at a normal rate, and were therefore far fewer in number.

And he adds that this may well have been a result of the anger of Ya'akov Avinu against Shimon and Levi, following their massacre of the town of Sh'chem.

Indeed, he concludes, this will also explain why the tribe of Shimon was reduced to twenty-three thousand at the time of entry into Eretz Yisrael. Levi, he explains, the chosen tribe, who had already been reduced by natural means, were not devastated by the plague that decimated Shimon.

*

The Or ha'Chayim refutes the Ramban's second explanation because, he says, there is not the slightest hint of Shimon and Levi being punished in this way. One might add that, to the contrary, the Torah in Parshas Vayechi (49:7) mentions two punishments - "I will divide them in Ya'akov and scatter them in Yisrael"(See Rashi there). It says nothing about cutting down their numbers.

Moreover, he argues, if we examine the number of Levi'im eligible to serve in the Mishkan presented in Parshas Naso (cited above) until those eligible to serve in the Beis-Hamikdash presented in Divrei-Hayamim (1, 23:3 [thirty-eight thousand]), we will see an increase of some fourfold, at a time when the other tribes did not even double, one wonders what happened to Ya'akov's anger.

On the other hand, the Or ha'Chayim agrees with the feasibility of the Ramban's first answer, but queries it from the Medrash that Ya'akov did not die before his offspring reached the incredible number of six hundred thousand. And that took place many years before the oppression began.

So he concludes that the discrepancy in numbers between Levi and the other tribes was the result of the Medrash (cited by Rashi in Sh'mos 2:1) that, following the decree to throw all Jewish babies into the river, Amram divorced his wife and all the members of his tribe followed suite.. And even though Amram himself remarried Yocheved due to Miriam's prophecy that they were destined to give birth to a son who would redeem Yisrael (though Rashi there presents a different argument), the other Levi'im had no reason to do likewise. In fact, the Or ha'Chayim justifies their actions, inasmuch as there is no point in having children just to see them being killed. In similar vein, he explains, the Gemara in Ta'anis (11a) forbids marital intimacy in time of famine, when the community at large is suffering.

In fact, he concludes, having said this, not only is it not surprising that the Levi'im did not increase at the same rate as Yisrael, it was nothing short of a miracle that they did not die out altogether. In any event, he says, the moment the Levi'im took back their wives and continued to live with them, their birthrate proceeded to outstrip that of all the other tribes, as we explained (presumably, in their capacity as G-d's chosen tribe).

*

Interestingly, the K'li Yakar, who offers a number of explanations, ultimately resolves the problem in the same manner as the Or ha'Chayim, preferring that explanation to all others, as he specifically states.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from R. Bachye)

The Four Camps

The four camps in the desert, R. Bachye explains, correspond to the four camps of the Shechinah. These in turn, are led by the four Chayos that support G-d's Throne (Aryeh, Shor, Adam and Nesher). This is how he presents the formation of the four Chayos, the Camps of Angels and the Tribes.

Aryeh (Lion), Gavriel and Yehudah in the east.

Shor (ox), Refa'el and Efrayim in the west.

Adam (man), Micha'el and Reuven in the south, and

Nesher (eagle) Uriel and Dan in the north.

The Zohar actually switches Uriel (to the east) and Gavriel (to the north). This fits nicely with what we say in K'ri'as Sh'ma she'al ha'mitah - 'Gavriel on my left' and 'Uriel in front of me'.

*

Yehudah First

" they (Yehudah) shall be the first to travel" (2:9).

You will find, says R. Bachye, that Yehudah is always listed first, whether it is when camping, when traveling, when bringing Korbanos or when going to war.

When traveling - "And those who encamped on the east were (those that belonged to) the Flag of the Camp of Yehudah" (Bamidbar 2:3).

When traveling - "And the flag of the Camp of the B'nei Yehudah shall travel" (Beha'aloscha 10:14).

When bringing Korbanos - "And the one who brought on the first day was Nachshon of the Tribe of Yehudah" (Naso 6:12).

When going to war - "Who will be the first to go and fight the Cana'anim?" And G-d said "Yehudah will go first!" (Shoftim 1:1-2).

*

Also in time to come, when Eliyahu ha'Navi will come to inform us of the forthcoming arrival of the Mashi'ach, Yehudah will be the first to be informed, as the Pasuk writes in Yeshayah (52:7) "How pleasant are the footsteps of the harbinger of good news on the mountains heralding peace," and in Nachum (2:1) "Behold on the mountains the feet of the harbinger of good news, bringing tidings of peace, celebrate your celebrations O Yehudah".

*

Twenty Days - No Deaths!

" six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty" (3:32).

This figure was mentioned earlier in the Parshah (1:46). That Parshah took place on the first of Iyar, the current Parshah, on the twentieth. The Torah repeats it, R. Bachye explains, to stress the remarkable fact that, from the time they were counted until they traveled from Har Sinai, a time period of twenty days, not a single person died.

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Vol. 20   No. 33

This issue is sponsored
by Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski
in honour of the forthcoming marriage
of his granddaughter
Jessica to Uri Debson n"y
May they be zocheh to build a bayis ne'eman b'yisroel

Shavu'os Supplement

The Seventh of Sivan
(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

The Gemara in Yuma (Daf 4b), cites a Machlokes, where they argue over the interpretation of the Pasuk at the end of Mishpatim, " the Cloud covered him for six days, and G-d called to Moshe on the seventh ". And the Gemara, in Shabbos 88b, cites the Machlokes (dispute) between Rebbi Yossi and the Chachamim as to whether G-d gave the To-rah on the sixth of Sivan as He originally intended, or whether Moshe added a day, and G-d therefore gave it on the seventh.

These complementary Machlokos have Halachic ramifi-cations. Consequently, since the Halachah there is like Rebbi Yossi, we have to conclude that the Torah was given on the seventh of Sivan, like Rebbi Yossi. This prompts the Magen Avraham (in Si'man 494), to ask why we tend to celebrate Yom-Tov on the sixth, like the Rabbanan?

*

To answer the question, the Torah Temimah explains that in reality, the Yom-Tov of Shavu'os is not tied to any specific date. Shavu'os falls on the fiftieth day of the Omer, which can coincide with the fifth, the sixth or seventh of Sivan - as the Gemara explains in Rosh Hashanah (6b). This in turn, depends upon whether either Nisan, or Iyar or both are full (thirty days) or short (twenty-nine days).

Moreover, he says, this explains why the Torah always refers to Shavu'os as falling on the fiftieth day of the Omer, never by a date, and why we refer to it as 'Z'man Matan Toroseinu' and not 'Yom Matan Toroseinu', for it is the sea-son, not the date, that determines when Shavu'os will fall.

That being the case, it is no contradiction to say that the year that Yisrael left Egypt, the fiftieth day of the Omer (Ma-tan Torah) fell on the seventh of Sivan, yet we celebrate Shavu'os on the sixth. This is because that year, Moshe's Beis-Din declared both Nisan and Iyar short months.

Nowadays however, our calendar is fixed in such a way that Nisan is always full and Iyar, short. Consequently, Shavu'os will always fall on the sixth of Sivan, irrespective of when it fell the year that the Torah was given.

*

We cited earlier, in the Gemara in Shabbos, that, ac-cording to Rebbi Yossi, Moshe added a day to G-d's original intended date. In other words, G-d originally intended to give the Torah on Friday, the sixth of Sivan, But, when Moshe fixed the date as Shabbos, the seventh of Sivan, He condescended.

According to what we wrote earlier, this means that, had Moshe not made the change, the Torah would have been given on the forty-ninth day of the Omer (which according to the commentaries, Yisrael counted then in order to pre-pare for Matan Torah, even though it had not yet been commanded). And it was only due to Moshe Rabeinu's in-tervention that it was given on the fiftieth.

This was in fulfillment of the broad hint that he received on Har Sinai in the previous year, at the Burning Bush, when G-d had told him that after leaving Egypt, they would "serve (ta'avduN) G-d on this very same mountain". And as is well-known, G-d added a "Nun" to the word "ta'avdu", as a prophecy that Matan Torah would take place fifty days af-ter leaving Egypt.

*

It is noteworthy that if Moshe had not added a day, Rebbi Yossi and the Chachamim would have argued over the day of the Omer (a major issue) on which the Torah was given, and would have agreed on the date (which is rela-tively insignificant); and now that he did, they agree over the day of the Omer and argue over the date.

*

Another interesting point is the basis of their Machlokes. It transpires that, whereas according to Rebbi Yossi, both Nisan and Iyar of that year were short (as we explained ear-lier) since Rosh Chodesh fell on Sunday, according to the Chachamim, since Iyar was long (as Rosh Chodesh fell on Monday), Nisan must have been short - the very opposite of how it is today, when Nisan is always long and Iyar, short.

* * *

Shavu'os Pearls

The Essence of Shavu'os
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

" You shall make the festival of Shavu'os, the amount of your freewill gifts that you will give, commensurate with the blessing that Hashem your G-d gave you" (Re'ei, 16:10).

The Pasuk is speaking here about the Shalmei Simchah that one brings on Yom-Tov. The people had arrived from all over the country in Yerushalayim to celebrate Yom-Tov. Part of that celebration is eating meat, not just any meat, but meat of Sh'lamim - Shalmei Chagigah (on the first day) and Shalmei Simchah every day. Seeing as they all came with their families, they would all need to bring sufficient animals to feed them. What the Torah is teaching us here is that, based on a combination of G-d's material blessing and good-heartedness, one should add to one's basic needs additional animals in order to feed the poor, "the Levi and the proselyte (neither of whom possessed a portion of land in Eretz Yis-rael, and who were therefore generally poor), the orphan and the widow", as the Torah goes on to write.

*

This Mitzvah of enabling the poor to share in one's Sim-chah, the poor on Yom-Tov, it seems, is a focal point of the Yom-Tov, as rejoicing and allowing the poor to rejoice with us is the only Mitzvah that the Torah deals with in this Par-shah. The Mitzvah actually extends to all three Regalim, R. Bachye points out, and the reason that the Torah inserts it specifically by Shavu'os is in order to dispel the notion that, since Shavu'os is only one day, providing the poor with their Yom-Tov needs is not so important.

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Torah is the im-portance it attaches to providing for the poor, as it indicates in the Mitzvos of Tzedakah, Leket, Shikchah and Pe'ah and that of the Sh'mitah.

It is therefore not surprising that even on Yom-Tov, when everybody has just arrived from out of town and is busy set-tling down, and - particularly on Pesach and Succos, have plenty of work to do, in seeing to all their Pesach needs, or arranging their Succos and Arba Minim, the Torah reminds them to make sure that not only they, but also the poor, should enjoy Yom-Tov.

However, as is G-d's way, He repays a good deed with a good deed (Midah ke'Neged Nidah). That is why His re-sponse is forthcoming, as the following Pasuk writes "And you shall rejoice before Hashem, you, your son, your daugh-ter, your servant and your maidservant, the Levi, the Ger, the orphan and the widow!"

'If you will make mine happy (the Levi, the Ger, the or-phan and the widow), then I will make yours happy (your son, your daughter, your servant and your maidservant)!'

* * *

Seven Weeks & Fifty Days

As we know, the Mitzvah of Sefiras ha'Omer incorpo-rates counting both the weeks and the days. The source for this is the Pasuk in Emor (23:25/26), which mentions both aspects of counting.

The Toras Kohanim however (the Sifra), explains the Pe-sukim differently:

Had the Torah written the obligation to count fifty days, the Medrash explains, we would have thought that one counts fifty days, and sanctifies the fifty-first (to declare it Shavu'os). That is why the Torah adds the obligation to count 'seven weeks'.

Whereas had it written the obligation to count seven weeks, we would have thought that one counts forty-eight days and sanctifies the forty-ninth. So the Torah adds 'fifty days'.

In the final analysis, we only know when to celebrate Shavu'os, because the Torah writes both seven weeks and forty-nine days.

* * *

The Beautiful Rose

The Ta'amei ha'Minhagim attributes the Minhag of placing trees in Shul on Shavu'os (the G'ro negated this Minhag, because of other religions which symbolize their major festival with trees), and that of placing flowers and herbs there, to commemorate the Simchah of Matan Torah, since, as implied by the Pasuk in Ki Sisa (34:3) , "Also the sheep ... may not graze ", which implies that there was grass growing on Har Sinai.

Perhaps this latter reason is in compliance with the Mitzvah to remember the day that the Torah was given (Devarim 4:10). The B'nei Yisaschar defines the Minhag not only by placing roses and other fragrant herbs in Shul, but also by adorning the Seifer-Torah with them. And he attributes it to the Pasuk in Shir ha'Shirim which describes Yisrael as a "rose among the thorns", and to the following Mashal (pertaining to that Pasuk)

A king once owned an orchard containing rows of fig-trees, rows of vines, rows of pomegranate-trees and rows of apple-trees, which he gave to a gardener to cultivate. One day he came to inspect the orchard to see how the gardener was managing. Much to his chagrin, he found it full of thorns and thistles. What did he do?

He had already made preparations to fell all the trees, when he came across a beautiful rose which he plucked and smelt. Its wonderful fragrance revived his spirits and there and then, because of the one rose, he decided to maintain the orchard. So too, Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu created the world (for the sake of the Torah). After twenty-six generations He came to examine its progress, and what did he find? He saw how the generations of Enosh, the Flood and the Haflagah (the Tower) had all perverted their ways, and He prepared to bring about the world's destruction, as the Pasuk writes in Tehilim "G-d has returned to the Flood!"

Until He found a beautiful rose -Yisrael, and smelt their fragrance, when they proclaimed 'Na'aseh ve'nishma!' . He smelt the rose and His spirit returned (Kevayacol), and allowed the world to survive. The merit of the solitary rose (all the other nations rejected the Torah outright) and the Torah, saved the world from destruction.

So you see, the author concludes, that we place roses and flowers in Shul and on the Torah as a tribute to the Torah and the beautiful rose, on whose merit the entire world stands.

* * *

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