This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmos
Vol. 21 No. 42
Mordechai Meir Chaim ben Yaakov Lexenburg z"l
and Sheva Gittel bas Levi Lexenburg z"l
The Unconventional Tax
And you shall separate a tax for G-d, from the men of war … one out of every five hundred people, cattle, donkeys and flocks (incorporating sheep and goats). From their half you shall take and give them to Elazar ha'Kohen, the gift in the Name of G-d. And from the half of the B'nei Yisrael you shall take one out of every five hundred people, cattle, donkeys and flocks, from all the animals, and you shall give them to the Levi'im who guard the charge of G-d's Mishkan" (31:28-30).
This tax was extremely unconventional, not only in the intrinsic Mitzvah and the way it was divided into two, but by the fact that it was given to Elazar the Kohen Gadol and to the Levi'im. This is something that they did not do in the battle against Sichon and Og, and that they would not replicate in the ensuing conquest of Cana'an, says the Ramban. This is because Midyan was not one of the Cana'ani nations - Sichon and Og were; and it is in connection with the Cana'ani nations that the Torah in Korach (18:20) forbids the tribe of Levi to receive a portion together with the other tribes (See Rashi there).
Indeed, this also explains why they brought back captives and did not kill every man, woman and child, as they did with Sichon and Og, and what they were later commanded to do with the Cana'ani nations.
(Granted, Moshe reacted with anger at their failure to kill the women - but that was for altogether different reasons, as the Pasuk itself explains [See Pesukim 15 & 16]).
The Oznayim la'Torah suggests that the command to give Elazar Kohen Gadol (to the exclusion of Isamar, Pinchas and the other Kohanim) hundreds of sheep, cattle and donkeys, as well as thirty-two slaves, was G-d's way of enriching him, in fulfilment of the Mitzvah of making sure that the Kohen Gadol is richer than the other Kohanim ('Gadleihu mi'shel echav', as the Gemara teaches in Yuma, 18).
The tax was confined to all living things; it did not extend to inanimate objects. Therefore the Torah later (from Pasuk 48-50) writes, how on their own initiative, the soldiers, who were permitted to keep for themselves whatever they looted from the enemy, donated all the golden ornaments that they had found to the temple treasury. And as they themselves explained, this was in order to atone for the sinful thoughts that they had concerning the daughters of Midyan (Rashi, Pasuk 50).
It is not at all clear however, what purpose the above tax served. The Oznayim la'Torah suggests that it was a thanks-offering to G-d (albeit Divinely imposed) for the miracle that they had just experienced. Which miracle?
First of all, that twelve thousand troops should be able to rout with ease the entire Midyanite army, and to raise all their cities to the ground was in itself a miracle, but that they returned from the battlefield without losing a man (See Pasuk 49) was (and probably still is) unheard of in the history of warfare (as the Ramban explains).
Moreover, that twelve thousand battle-weary soldiers should return home, leading hundreds of thousands of captured animals cannot conceivably have been achieved without Divine Assistance.
The Ibn Ezra observes that the Torah adds the words "from all the animals", in connection with the tax paid from the people's half to the Levi'im, but not in connection with the tax of the soldiers to Elazar.
And he explains that this must refer to camels, which exceeded fifty in total but did not reach five hundred. Consequently, whereas the Levi'im did receive a few camels, Elazar ha'Kohen did not.
The Oznayim la'Torah however, queries this theory (though he does not mention the Ibn Ezra) from the Pesukim in Shmuel (chaps. 6 & 7), which indicate that Midyan were rich in camels.
In one of his answers he cites an opinion which states that they only gave Elazar animals that were subject to the Kedushah of Bechorah; human-beings, cattle, flocks and donkeys - but not horses and camels. That is why the Torah omits "and all animals" in connection with the tax that was given to Elazar.
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(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)
Promises, Promises, Promises
"And Moshe spoke to the leaders of the tribes of Yisrael saying 'This is the thing that G-d commanded" (30:2).
After explaining why the Torah sees fit to mention the leaders of the tribes here (even though it is fairly obvious that the Parshah of Nedarim is being said to all of Yisrael) Rashi adds - 'or perhaps the Parshah was said to the princes exclusively? Therefore the Torah inserts the words "Zeh ha'Davar", and we learn a Gezeirah-Shavah from Shechutei Chutz (Shechting a Korban outside the Beis-Hamikdash), where the Torah also uses the same words, and which was definitely said to all of Yisrael, that the Parshah of Nedarim too, was said to all of Yisrael'.
Now why would we have thought that the Parshah of Nedarim was said only to the heads of the tribes, asks the Oznayim la'Torah.
Simple, he answers; are the heads of state (translate politicians) not the ones who make all sorts of promises when voting time approaches, promises which they promptly ignore the moment they are voted into office? That is good enough reason to target them with the warning not to profane their words, but to keep them!
The Word of G-d & the Word of Man
Commenting on the fact that the Torah places "leimor" (to say) after "B'nei Yisrael", and not before, the Oznayim la'Torah suggests that the leaders of the tribes had to tell Yisrael, not only that they should not profane their words, but that the oaths that they make they must keep because they are the word of G-d.
And, based on the K'sav ve'ha'Kavalah, who explains that when the word "zeh" precedes the noun to which it is attached (such as it does here when it writes "zeh ha'dovor", the Torah means to stress the importance of whatever it is referring to, they had to inform the people that their undertakings are of great importance, and that they must be adhered to with the same stringency as the words of G-d Himself.
We understand that, when G-d declares something holy, man is forbidden to derive personal benefit from it. We have already learned that man too, has the power to declare something holy, in which case the animal or the article adopts a Divine sanctity no less than the things that G-d declared sacred.
The current Parshah is now teaching us that man can render something forbidden as if it was holy, even without actually declaring it holy.
"Avenge Yisrael's 'sin' from the Midyanim and then you will be gathered to your people" (31:2).
The reason that the Torah juxtaposes this Pasuk to the Parshah of Nedarim, the Oznayim suggests, is due to the Pasuk's closing words ("and then … ").
G-d was telling Moshe that, having just been told about the possibility to annul vows, he should have no illusions about G-d annulling His vow that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Because after the battle against the Midyanim, he would die.
"And Bil'am the son of Be'or they killed by the sword" (
Citing the Tanchuma, the Oznayim la'Torah describes Bil'am's end and the events that led to it.
When Bil'am saw Pinchas (who was the Kohen Gadol for war) following the Midyan's defeat at the hand of Yisrael, he mentioned the Name of G-d and flew into the air (seemingly together with the five kings of Midyan, and of whom was Balak).
Unperturbed, Pinchas, by means of the Tzitz (which in his capacity as Kohen Gadol for war, he was wearing) flew after him and gave chase. He caught up with him as he (Bil'am) was prostrating himself before the Kisei ha'Kavod (prosecuting Yisrael on account of the sin of Ba'al Pe'or that he had engineered.
After rendering him powerless, by placing the Tzitz on him, he seized him and after returning him to earth, he brought him to Moshe. He was then judged by the Sanhedrin and killed by the sword.
Pinchas might have let Bil'am plunge to his death, as he did the five kings of Midyan.
He didn't do that, explains the Oznayim la'Torah, firstly, to let him suffer the shame and embarrassment of seeing his plans end in failure (as well as that of receiving the death-sentence at the hand of his mortal enemy, Yisrael); secondly, for the reason that Rashi quotes 'He came against Yisrael using their weapon (their mouths), so they paid him back using the weapon of the gentiles (the sword).
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