by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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OROH V'SIMCHOH - MESHECH CHOCHMOH ON PARSHAS BMIDBAR BS"D
Ch. 2, v. 20: "V'olov matteh Menasheh" - The R"I in the Moshav Z'keinim asks, "Why by the other tribes who were mentioned after the "degel" head does it say "v'hachonim olov," and here the word "v'hachonim" is skipped?" 1) He answers that this indicates that Menasheh and Efrayim are to be viewed as one, as they are both descendants of Yoseif. 2) Alternatively, he answers that this indicates that for all other tribes there were individual rivers flowing into their parcel of land, but Menasheh and Efrayim shared one.
3) The Rokei'ach answers that all other tribes had bodies of water separating their land portions while Efrayim and Menasheh had nothing separating theirs from each other. It seems that this is indicated by translating "v'olov" quite literally as "and UPON him" since these two tribes were physically closer to each other than any other tribes were.
4) The MESHECH CHOCHMOH answers that the verse is indicating that eventually Menasheh will surpass Efrayim in population, hence the word "v'olov." This will take place when counting the new generation of bnei Yisroel who will enter Eretz Yisroel, a fulfillment of "v'yidgu lorov b'kerev ho'oretz" (Breishis 48:16). In our parsha Efrayim's population was 40,500 against Menasheh's 32,200, while in parshas Pinchos, Efrayim's population was 32,500 against Menasheh's 52,700.
Ch. 3, v. 39: "Kol p'ku'dei haL'viim ...... kol zochor mi'ben chodesh vomaloh shnayin v'esrim o'lef" - The census of all the other tribes was from the age of twenty years and older. The count of the L'viim was from the age of a month and older. Yet the L'viim had the smallest population of all the tribes. Ten explanations for this phenomenon are offered:
1) Some of the L'viim had the responsibility to carry the holiest of the Mishkon vessels. If they were not treated with proper respect it would bring about their death. (Rashi on Breishis 29:34) Some raise a question on this explanation, as the counting in our parsha is before the tasks were alotted. However, we can say that because the future held this awesome responsibility, it was an indication that the L'viim were on an elevated level, closer to Hashem than any other tribe. Therefore any other shortcoming in their spiritual responsibilities were also dealt with harshly, as is derived from T'hilim 50:3, "usvivov nisaroh m'ode."
2) The population explosion of the bnei Yisroel in Egypt was nothing short of miraculous. The Torah says, "kaa'sher y'anu oso kein yirbeh," - as they pained the bnei Yisroel, so did they multiply. The increase in the number of bnei Yisroel was proportionate to their suffering. Since the tribe of Levi was not subjugated to slavery, as per M.R. Shmos 5:16, they did not multiply in a miraculous manner. (Ramban)
3) Our patriarch Yaakov expressed himself with negative terms towards Shimon and Levi (Breishis 49:5,6,7). This caused a limitation in their growth. Shimon's limitation takes place at the later counting (Bmidbar 26:14). (Ramban)
4) The L'viim were the spiritual leaders of the bnei Yisroel from the earliest days in Egypt. Their total immersion in Torah weakened them physically, "Torah ma'teshes kocho shel odom" (gemara Sanhedrin 26b). Because they were physically weak they reproduced in a limited manner. (Tzror Hamor)
5) The need for the bnei Yisroel to be a large population was so that when they would enter Eretz Yisroel they would occupy a large area so that they would not be overpowered by wild animals, "pen tirbeh o'lecho chayas haso'deh" (Dvorim 7:22). Sinc the L'viim would not inherit a large parcel of land and in the main would reside close to the Beis Hamikdosh, there was no need to have a large number of L'viim. (Abarbenel)
6) Since the L'viim were to reside around the Mishkon compound, they were similar to the angels that descended onto Har Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah. (This is well understood according to the explanation of the Ibn Ezra on Shmos 19:13 that the sanctity of Har Sinai was transferred to the Mishkon.) Since the number of angels who descended onto Har Sinai was 22,000, as per the verse in T'hilim 68:18, "Rechev Elokim ribosayim alfei shinon," so too, the number of L'viim in the desert was 22,000. (Kabbalistic writings)
***7) The gemara Sotoh 12a relates that Amrom, the recognized leader of the bnei Yisroel divorced his wife rather than reproduce and have his children thrown into the river. All others followed suit and did the same. "All others" means all from the tribe of Levi only, as they did not have the slave mentality. They were not ready to attempt to evade the Egyptians by giving birth in the fields and leaving their children there, as did the rest of the bnei Yisroel. They remained divorced from their wives for many years and therefore had a limited population. Amrom took back his wife shortly after he divorced her because of the prophecy of his daughter Miriam, as related in the above-mentioned gemara. (Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh and Kli Yokor)
8) If the L'viim were to multiply as greatly as the other tribes, when they would all live in Eretz Yisroel the L'viim would become an unbearable burden upon the other tribes, as they are involved in serving Hashe and are supported by everyone else. As well, more or larger parcels of land would have to be cut out of the other tribes' inheritance to supply them with land for housing. (MESHECH CHOCHMOH) This opinion is mentioned in the Kli Yokor and he resoundingly disagrees with it.
9) Whatever is more dear, its development is more complicated and more difficult to come to fruition. The tribe of Levi, the spiritually chosen of Hashem were therefore a limited group. (Haa'meik Dovor)
10) Rashi on Bmidbar 26:5 says that the Canaanites claimed that the bnei Yisroel were not of pure stock, reasoning that if the Egyptians were masters over the men, surely they lorded over their wives. The extreme population explosion of the bnei yisroel clearly counters this claim since the gemara Avodoh Zoroh 54b says that if one were to commit adultery with a woman, by right the woman should not get pregnant, as a sin was committed. However, Hashem allowed the world to proceed by the "laws of nature" and it is possible to become pregnant even through an act of sin. This reasoning preempts a population explosion brought about by adultery. It is with difficulty that Hashem allows a pregnancy, but He would not allow multitudes beyond the "laws of nature" to be conceived in sin. Therefore the population explosion of the bnei Yisroel counters the claim that the Egyptians sinned with the bnos Yisroel.
This is an insight into "V'chaa'sher y'anu oso kein yirbeh " (Shmos 1:12). The more the Egyptians pained the bnei Yisroel and lorded over them, the more the bnei Yisroel multiplied, testimony that the bnei Yisroel were not sired by the Egyptians. Since the bnei Levi were not enslaved by the Egyptians, as per M.R. Shmos 5:16, there never was a claim that their wives were misused by the Egyptians. Since there was no such claim there was no need for the miracle of extreme population growth. This is also why the L'viim were counted separately (1:49), as they needed no proof for their pure lineage, as stated, "V'haL'viim l'ma'tei avosom" (1:47). (Adapted from the words of the Sha"ch and and M'lo Ho'omer)
PLEASE NOTE: It is worthwhile to see many of the above commentaries at the source, as they fill in more detail. As well, we find in Divrei Hayomim that the L'viim increased in number in Eretz Yisroel more than any other tribe. According to some of the above-mentioned answers this is most difficult to explain.
Ch. 3, v. 47: "Esrim geiroh hashokel" - The MESHECH CHOCHMOH points out that the Torah tells us in four places that twenty "geiroh" equal one shekel. They are Shmos 30:13, Vayikroh 27:25, Bmidbar 3:47 and 18:16. He says that it is necessary to point this out, as there is a need for fractions of a shekel in regard to the subject matter of each of these four places. 1) Shmos 30:13 discusses the giving of a half-shekel for the Mishkon. Since a fraction is to be given, the "geiroh" is mentioned.
2) Vayikroh 27:25 discusses the payment for an inherited field which was sanctified. This is pro-rated at 50 shekel for 49 years from one Yovel to the next. This obviously involves fractions of a shekel as well. 3) Bmidbar 3:47 discusses the five shekel redemption of the 273 people who were not redeemed through a Levi exchange. The total of their shekels equaled 1,365. This is divisible by three resulting in complete integers. Why then is there a need to mention "geiroh?" The Meshech Chochmoh answers that the gemara Bovo Basro 143b says that from the words "l'Aharon u'l'vonov" in our verse we derive that the total was split between Aharon and his sons, with Aharon receiving an equal amount as his two sons combined. This would require splitting the total by four, leaving us with a fraction.
4) Bmidbar 18:16 again discusses the five shekels for redemption of the first-born. Since this is exactly five shekels why the need to tell us the "geiroh" fraction? The MESHECH CHOCHMOH answers that there are fractions when one redeems a first-born from more than one Kohein. One may split the five shekels among many Kohanim and this is valid as mentioned in the gemara B'choros 51b.
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