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Vol. 9 No. 33
One Sin Leads to Another
The Gemara in Shabbos (116a) cites a Machlokes between Rebbi and Raban Shimon ben Gamliel. It explains how, according to Rebbi, the Parshah of "Vayehi bi'n'so'a ho'Oron"(10:35), is written in its correct place, and the two 'Nunin' there serve as a form of brackets (parenthesis), symbolizing that these two Pesukim are 'a Book on their own'. And how consequently, the Torah consists of seven books, rather than five (in keeping with the Pasuk in Mishlei 9:1) "He carved its pillars seven".
Raban Shimon ben Gamliel, on the other hand, holds that the Torah consists of five books and not seven. He considers these two Pesukim to be out of place, and the two (back to front) 'Nunin' indicate that they belong fifty Parshiyos back in Bamidbar (where the Torah deals with the journeys in the desert). And the reason the Torah inserts them here is 'to divide between one punishment and another'. (I have deviated slightly from Rabeinu Bachye, who establishes Raban Shimon ben Gamliel as a third opinion in the Gemara, rather than being synonymous with the Tana Kama).
According to Rashi, the Gemara is referring to the two sins which follow immediately - their grumbling about the lack of meat (which began already during the first three days [before the Parshah of "Vayehi bi'n'so'a ho'Oron"]), and their unspecified grumbling (which the commentaries ascribe to their having to travel in the desert).
Tosfos however, disagrees (presumably because then the two sins are mentioned in the reverse order (see Ramban on the Pasuk), and besides, both sins are then written after "Vayehi bi'n'so'a ho'Oron", leaving us with no real division.
Consequently, the Ramban (as well as many other commentaries) cite the Medrash that Yisrael sinned when they left Har Sinai (which the Torah has just described in the previous Pasuk), by running away from it 'like a child runs away from school'. And that is the fist sin, the sin which the Gemara describes as having taken place before "Vayehi bi'n'so'a ho'Oron".
In fact, the Ramban goes even further. In his opinion, it is not just two punishments juxtaposed which the Torah is trying to avoid, but three: running away from Har Sinai like a child … , and their grumbling, first about travelling and then about the shortage of meat.
And what the Torah sets out to avoid here is that Yisrael should develop a Chazakah (a triumvirate) of punishments.
One of the other punishments, (as opposed to just sins) suggests the Ramban, is the fact that they did not enter Eretz Yisrael immediately, as they would otherwise have done.
The difficulty with the Ramban's interpretation of Chazal lies in the fact that Chazal only refer to two punishments and not three. According to his explanation they should have said, not 'to divide between one punishment and another', but 'in order to divide between two of the punishments and the third'. And what's more, it would then have been more appropriate to make the break between the second sin and the third (in order to stop the Chazakah), rather than between the first and second.
Maybe that is why Rabeinu Bachye, who often follows in the footsteps of the Ramban, prefers here to learn like Rashi. In fact, he equates the sin of Yisrael's desire with that of their running away from Har Sinai. Yisrael ran away from Har Sinai like a child from school, he explains, because they had had enough of 'ruchniyus' (spirituality). They wanted more 'gashmiyus' (physicality), which they deliberately developed, as implied by the words "his'avu ta'avah" (they desired [to have] a desire). That was their first sin, as Rashi explains.
I would suggest another way of understanding the Gemara in Shabbos.
Rabeinu Bachye himself points out how their complaint about the travels in the desert and their desire for meat did not end there. (Besides what Chazal say, that they immediately went on to grumble about the prohibition of incest), this Parshah is followed in quick succession, by the Lashon ha'ra of Miriam, and the Parshah of the Spies (one sin leads to another - all the sins note, are connected with evil speech). So we see that we are dealing here, not with one or even two, sins, but with a spate of sins that takes up the whole of this Parshah as well as the next (and even beyond).
A great man once said that when, in the World to Come, a person is taken to task for idle chatter, he will not be asked why he spoke devarim beteilim for so many hours, but why he began speaking in the first place. Having begun, he cannot help but continue, and 'O'nes Rachmana patreih' (one is not taken to task for something that is beyond his control). It is his opening words which he could, and should, have nipped in the bud.
The same concept can be applied to the idea of 'Aveirah goreres aveirah'. Having sinned once, he is, to a certain degree, an O'nes on his subsequent sins, and the brunt of his guilt lies on his first sin (perhaps we can refer to them as 'the cause'). The subsequent sins are one string of sins, rather than so many individual ones ('the effect'). And that is what Chazal mean when they say that the Torah inserts "Vayehi bi'n'so'a ho'Oron" 'to divide between one punishment and another. Because in this way, the cause (running away from Har Sinai), is on one side of the divider, and the effect (the ensuing sins), on the other.
(adapted from the P'ninei Torah
The Art of Not Changing
"And Aharon did so … " (8:3).
This teaches us, comments Rashi, that Aharon did not change ostensibly from what G-d had commanded him.
Why does the Torah need to tell us this, ask the commentaries? Who would have dreamt that Aharon would change G-d's instructions?
This Kashya gives rise to various interpretations of what Chazal mean by this statement. Rebbi Meir from Premishlan explains that, when Aharon ha'Kohen performed the Avodah, no external change could be seen on his exterior. Any such signs of ecstasy might have been rooted in pride (at his exalted position), or at least in others perceiving it to be rooted in pride. So Aharon made a point of serving Hashem with his P'niymi'us aflame, but with no sign of this fire visible on the outside.
The S'fas Emes (presumably based on Chazal, who have taught that Mitzvos should be new in our eyes as if they had been given on that day) explains that, although most people's enthusiasm tends to wane with each passing day that one performs Mitzvos, Aharon was different. Aharon did not change; his excitement when he lit the Menorah (which is the Mitzvah to which the above Pasuk pertains), was as fresh and palpable after many years, as the day that he first lit it.
When G-d Says 'No!'
"And he shall serve his brothers, but the Avodah ('va'avodah) he shall not perform" (8:26).
Seeing as the Torah is talking about a Levi who has reached the age of retirement and who may no longer serve, why does it add the word "va'avodah", with regard to someone who is basically desisting from serving?
It therefore seems, the M'lo ha'Ro'im is quoted as saying, that desisting from active avodah when commanded to do so, is also called 'avodah'. After all, one is performing the will of G-d, and what greater avodah can there be than that?
It is comparable to the Mishnah in Makos (that we discussed recently), which describes someone who 'sits and does not perform a sin', as if he performed a Mitzvah.
This also sheds light on the 'Ma'apilim', who, in next week's Parshah, will march towards Eretz Yisrael following Moshe's command to desist, and who will be massacred by the Amaleikim and the Cana'anim for their pains.
They did not realize that just as it is a Mitzvah to march at G-d's behest, so is it a Mitzvah to desist, when He gives the command.
Calling All Landowners
"One law shall be for the convert and for the native of the land" (9:14).
In other places, the Torah tends to write "for the convert and for the native". Why specifically here, does the Torah add the word "of the land"?
This hints, points out the Meshech Chochmah, to the opinion of Tosfos in Pesachim (3b) that anyone who does not own land or who lives in Chutz la'Aretz, is exempt from bringing the Korban Pesach.
Seeing is Believing
"And now our souls are dry, all we see is the Manna" (11:6).
And what was wrong with seeing the Manna all the time, particularly as the Torah seems to describe it as something pleasant-looking?
It is well-known that the presentation of food is of vital importance and that the taste of the food is enhanced by its looks, not least of which is the balance of color. A good cook who is aware of this, will therefore make a point of serving dishes that are colourful and pleasing to the eye, as well as to the palate.
And it is therefore not surprising that the Akeidah quotes Chazal in this regard, who say that a blind person eats and is not satisfied. This is clearly based on the above principle.
And that explains adequately Yisrael's complaint in the desert (though it does not necessarily justify the way in which they presented it). " … all we see is the Manna"?
The lack of variety in sight, resulted in a degree of dissatisfaction with the food, even if that food was the heavenly Manna, which was certainly not lacking as far as a variety of tastes was concerned!
When Words Are Gold
"Eldad and Meidad are prophesying in the camp"!
The gist of their prophecy, the Medrash explains, was 'Moshe meis, Yehoshua machnis' (Moshe will die, and Yehoshua will take Yisrael into the Land).
Moshe died, we are told, because he hit the rock and did not make do with words alone. Had he spoken to the rock and stopped there, Eldad and Meidad would have been silent.
And this is hinted in the famous saying 'Mili be'Sela, Sh'suki bi'trein' (which really means 'If a word is worth a Sela, silence is worth two). In this context however, it will mean '(If Moshe had spoken just) words by the rock, two (Eldad and Meidad) would have been silent'.
Burying One's Desires
"And he called the name of that place 'Kivros ha'Ta'avah, because there they buried the people who desired" (11:34).
If this reason is to be taken at surface value, then the place ought to have been called 'Kivros ha'Mis'avim' (the burial of those who desired) rather than 'Kivros ha'Ta'avah' (the burial of the desire), asks the Binah la'Itim?
It seems, he says in reply, that when the people saw what happened to the people who desired, they came to the conclusion that desire was not a good idea, so they threw out their urge to desire and buried it together with the people who desirers.
Too Short to Notice
"Hashem please, cure her please" (12:13).
'Tell me', Moshe was asking Hashem, ' whether you will cure her' - Rashi (presumably, in order to explain the extra 'please') comments.
The Mishnah in B'rachos describes how, after having prayed for the recovery of a sick person, Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa would know whether, or not, his prayer had been answered. He could gauge this, Chazal explain, by the degree of fluency of his Tefilah.
Now, if Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa knew from the Tefilah itself whether his prayer on behalf of the sick person would be answered, then surely Moshe should have known, too? So why did he need G-d to tell him?
The answer lies in the brevity of his prayer, which, as Rashi explains, had to be kept short because otherwise, people would accuse him of Davenning a long prayer for his sister, but not for anybody else.
Consequently, his prayer was too short to be able to gauge its fluency.
And this is hinted in the Pasuk in Yeshayah (57) "Who creates the speech of the lips, peace, peace to the one who is distant, and to the one who is close says Hashem, and I will cure him".
If expounded out of context, the Pasuk has the following connotation. G-d created the speech of the lips to recognize whether one's prayers have been answered, vis-a-vis those who are distant, but when it comes to those who are close (i.e. close-relatives), it requires G-d Himself to say whether He will cure him or not (the Rudziner Rebbe).
There is however, another way of solving the problem. Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa was praying for people who had natural illnesses, the nature of which is subject to diagnosis by a good doctor. Consequently, it is feasible for a Tzadik to gauge the outcome through prayer.
Tzara'as, on the hand, is a Divine plague, which no doctor on earth can diagnose, since its outcome lies entirely in the Hands of Hashem (depending upon whether the stricken person does Teshuvah or not) Consequently, it does not lie in the hands of a Tzadik to foretell either.
Only G-d can advise on the outcome.
(based largely on the
Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")
The Sequence of the B'rachos
The first six of the middle B'rachos, up until this B'rachah of 'Borech Oleinu' (inclusive) comprise our requests to G-d concerning life in this world (as we have already explained). That being the case, we can explain their sequence in the following manner:
The greatest asset with which G-d blessed the human race is Da'as (the ability to reason and to accumulate knowledge). And the greatest asset with which He blessed us as Jews is the Torah. Consequently, we pray to Him to grant us Da'as, so that we should fulfil our obligations as human beings. Then we ask Him to bring us back to His Torah (from which we inevitably stray), so that we should fulfil our obligation as Jews, and to forgive us for sinning (of which we are inevitably guilty).
Next we beg Him to alleviate our suffering, which we know is a direct result of our having sinned. Perhaps we are even referring to the pain that we feel at having strayed from the path of Torah and having sinned in the first place. And we plead with Him to heal us from the subsequent illnesses, both the physical ailments that afflict us as a direct result of sinning, and the sicknesses of our soul, which are synonymous with sin.
Then and only then, when our bodies and our souls are in good health, are we ready to turn to Him with a request for a Divine blessing.
The B'rachah of 'Borech Oleinu'
This B'rachah, says the Levush, corresponds to when Yitzchak Avinu sowed and reaped a hundred-fold, and the Angels proclaimed 'Boruch Atoh Hashem, mevorech ha'shonim'.
The reason, he explains, that Chazal fixed it as the ninth B'rachah, is because it is in the ninth chapter of Tehilim that David Hamelech prays for the parnosoh of the poor. The connotation of this is that G-d should save the poor from being exploited by the rich, who horde the produce to their advantage, before selling to them at exorbitant prices.
The Seder Hayom explains that 'Borech Oleinu' follows 'Refo'einu', because a sick person, whose prime concern is his health, is less concerned with his food. And it is only when he is on the road to recovery that he concerns himself with his food, in order to regain his former health.
During the course of this B'rachah, he says, one needs to have in mind that one's parnasah should come 'be'nachas ve'lo be'tza'ar' (in a gentle way and not with pain) 'be'heter ve'lo be'isur' (in an honest manner, and not through deceit). (Perhaps this is included in the word 'le'tovah').
The Kolbo comments that this B'rachah begins with a 'Beis' and ends with a 'Mem', corresponding to Hashem's Name of forty-two letters (which presumably, is the Name that provides parnasah).
It also represents the first letters of the written and the oral Torah ('Bereishis' and 'Me'eimosai'), because anyone who studies Torah and keeps it is subject to G-d's blessings.
This Pasuk he adds, contains thirty words, corresponding to the twenty-three words in the Pasuk in Ki Savo (28:12) "Hashem will open His storehouse ... ", plus the seven of "Pose'ach es Yodecha".
Borech Oleinu ... es ha'Shonoh ha'Zos
This is a plea, says the Eitz Yosef, for success in our businesses, followed immediately by a request for a bountiful harvest. Whereas according to the Iyun Tefilah, the opening phrase is a request for a successful year - period.
ve'es Kol Miynei ... le'Tovah
This, explains the Eitz Yosef, is a request for the prices to be kept low.
The Iyun Tefilah cites the Pasuk in Koheles "Wealth that is designated for a rich man, for his (ultimate) detriment". It is a prayer, he says, that our success should be for our good, and not (to quote what we recite in Birchas ha'Chodesh) 'a life without Yir'as Shamayim, a life of shame and embarrassment'. For then, we would be better off without it.
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