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Vol. 20 No. 49
Eliyahu ben Yehuda Leib Halevi z"l
by all his family
"Your children, your wives and the converts who are in your camp, from your wood-choppers to your water-drawers" (29:10).
Rashi, quoting the Tanchuma, comments that this refers to Cana'anim who, after refusing Moshe's initial peace-offer, tried to trick Moshe into making a treaty with them (like the Giv'onim who later tricked Yehoshua). And, although it is not clear as to whether or not they succeeded, Moshe designated them as wood-choppers and water-drawers.
The full picture however, emerges from the Gemara in Yevamos (78b and 79a). The Mishnah there declares that the Nesinim (like Mamzerim), are forbidden forever to marry into K'lal Yisrael. Discussing the source for the prohibition, the Gemara relates the story that took place in the times of David ha'Melech. It appears that, when a few years earlier, King Shaul had killed all the inhabitants of Nov, the city of Kohanim, the Giv'onim, whom Yehoshua had already appointed as communal wood-choppers and water-drawers, and who worked for them, were left without jobs. To counter their demand for revenge, David ha'Melech offered them monetary compensation or whatever else they would choose. But none of his offers could dispel their thirst for revenge.
That was when David decreed on them slavery - as communal wood-choppers and water-drawers, primarily working in that capacity for the Mizbe'ach.
And he called them 'Nesinim' on account of the appointment ('Nasan' can mean to place).
The Gemara there, citing the current Pasuk, raises the question that it was not David who decreed this on them, but Moshe!
Rashi explains that 1). The fact that he appointed them as wood-choppers … signified that they were slaves, and slaves are automatically forbidden to marry into K'lal Yisrael, and 2). That since Moshe decreed on the wood-choppers in his time, he did not seem to have initiated anything new! To which the Gemara answers that Moshe confined his decree to the wood-choppers of his generation, whereas David decreed for future generations as well.
The Gemara then points out that it was not David who initiated this decree on future generations, but Yehoshua!
To which the Gemara responds that whereas Yehoshua confined his judgement to as long as the Beis-Hamikdash was standing, David decreed on them permanently, even when the Beis-Hamikdash no longer stood.
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Where Did Moshe Go?
" … Moshe went, and he spoke these words to all of Yisrael. And he said to them 'I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go and come" (31:1/2).
The commentaries offer many explanations of where Moshe went. Targum Yonasan explains that he went to the Ohel Mo'ed, whereas according to the Ramban, he went from his residence in Machaneh Leviyah to Machaneh Yisrael to take leave of the people he led for forty years.
The Ib'n Ezra says that he went from tribe to tribe, in an effort to console them over his imminent death. According to the Seforno, he did not actually go anywhere. Like we find in the Pasuk at the beginning of Sh'mos "And a man went from the tribe of Levi", which merely means that he went into action, so too here, what the Pasuk means was that Moshe went into action, delivering the final speech of his life.
After noting that the commentaries are hard-pressed to explain where it is that Moshe went, the K'li Yakar offers the following explanation:
Following in the insights of Rashi, the K'li Yakar explains that when Moshe declared that he was no longer able to go or to come, he was referring not so much to a physical disability - Rashi cites the Pasuk at the end of the Torah which testifies that "his eyes did not dim and his moist did not depart" - but to the fact that G-d had handed the role of leadership to Yehoshua, thereby prohibiting him from acting in that capacity.
And we find a precedent for this interpretation in Re'ei, where the Torah writes "You are not able to eat within your gates the Ma'aser of your corn, your wine or your oil". Clearly, this refers to the Torah's prohibition, and not to a physical inability to do so.
And it was to clarify this to the people that Moshe walked the length and breadth of the camp (which was twelve by twelve Mil [kms.]), at a brisk pace, in full view of all of them.
By doing so, they would automatically understand that, when he said "I am no longer able to go and to come", he meant not so much that he was not able to do so, but that he was forbidden to.
Perhaps the Pasuk, both here and in Parshas Re'ei, that we quoted earlier, opts to use the expression "unable" to convey the lesson that when a Yid is forbidden to do something, it should become physically impossible for him to do it.
The above explanation conforms to Rashi's first interpretation of "I am no longer able to go and to come". In his second explanation, Rashi ascribes the term "to go and to come" not so much in terms of leading the people physically, as we explained, but rather in terms of teaching the people Torah.
In that context too, says the author, Moshe was not saying that his learning ability had become impaired due his imminent death, but that he was obligated to hand over his role of Gadol ha'Dor to his successor Yehoshua, and to desist from acting in that capacity himself.
Here too, it is possible to explain " … Moshe went", in that context. Before handing over the role of Torah leader to Yehoshua, he went and issued a long D'var Halachah, to prove to the people that his mind was as lucid as ever and that his fountains of wisdom had in no way run dry. Here too, he demonstrated to the people that he was about to stop Darshening, not because he could not, but because he was forbidden to.
The Ha'amek Davar explains that, whereas up to this point, whenever Moshe spoke to the people, notwithstanding the vast size of the camp, his voice was heard by everybody, because it was G-d's Voice that was speaking via Moshe's throat, as the commentaries explain, based on the Pasuk in Yisro, in connection with Matan Torah "Moshe would speak and G-d would respond with a voice" (Yisro 20:19).
But now, on the day of his death, the Torah informs us that Moshe was no longer able to do this - as the Pasuk says in Koheles (8:8) "There is no authority on the day of death". On that day, if he wanted to speak to K'lal Yisrael, he had to go from tribe to tribe, from area to area, in order to be heard by all.
And here is one final explanation, based on Rashi in Sh'mos (2:5). Commenting on the Pasuk there "and her (Par'oh's daughter) maidservants were going (holchos) on the bank of the River", Rashi explains that the word "holech" and its derivatives denotes death, as those maidservants were about to die (See Rashi there).
That being the case, seeing as Moshe was about to die on that very day, it is hardly surprising that the Torah uses the word "Vayeilech" here, irrespective of how we translate the Pasuk.
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Yisrael Got it Wrong
" … and they will say on that day "It must be because G-d is not in our midst that these bad things happened to us" (31:17).
At first glance, this statement on the part of Yisrael, who realize that the troubles that they encountered in Galus are due, not to chance, but to G-d's having removed Himself from them, is the first stage of Teshuvah.
If that is so, the continuation of the Pasuk "Then I will hide My face from them …" is difficult to understand (See Ramban).
The Seforno therefore explains that Yisrael got it all wrong. What they were saying was that G-d had given up on them once and for all, so that it would be futile to Daven to Him or to do Teshuvah, an argument that one heard - and still does - following the Holocaust. So instead, they turned to other gods. (A modern one is called democracy.)
Hence the Torah continues "I will hide My face from them on that day … ". 'Not like they thought', the Seforno explains, 'because My Shechinah is with them all the time, for so the Gemara says in Megilah (29a) "Wherever Yisrael went into exile, the Shechinah went with them!". And, because they forgot the Gemara in Megilah, turning to other gods for assistance and not to Me, I will hide My face from them and leave them to suffer at the hands of their enemies.
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