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by Daneal Weiner
It’s been so long since we’ve had a little political interjection, but this really isn’t about politics. (Though I’ll take advantage of the opportunity.) Some incredible news made the Torah papers which I’ve no doubt you’d never find out about. The government’s finance committee is made up of a cross section of the political parties, as you can well imagine. And some may even know. One of the Torah representatives actually convinced committee members to come visit a few Torah institutions including the anti-Semitic Merets representative.
The first one they went to was the new Gerr building. Gerr is one of the largest Chassidic sects today. It’s a big place but it’s crammed with 8,000 seats. A structure with facilities for maybe half that amount. Mr. Merets, whom we’ll be focusing on, his jaw dropped to the floor, asks, “How much do they pay for a seat on Rosh Hashanah?” “Nothing?!?” They’re not crammed in for making money. They’re crammed in so they’ll have a place to daven.
They visited the Mir Yeshiva. 2000 people in the main building. Not reclining on chairs in a huge study hall. Only 800 can be compacted into the main room. There has to be a couple isles! There are 100 in the bomb shelter, 50 in this room, 150 in that room, 200 on another floor, 300 in an added on section, etc. etc. And that doesn’t include the 2000 additional students spread out amongst 11 other Batei Midrashim in the immediate neighborhood. All on benches and shtenders. Tables take up too much space. Everyone sits shoulder to shoulder. To say the Shemonah Esrai, the shtender has to go on the bench or there’s no room to stand. “Who can learn under these conditions?!” Yes, another quote from Merets.
The touring committee had the honor of meeting the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, Rav Noson Tsvi Finkle, may Hashem give him strength and length of days. He’s suffering from Parkinson’s. Just last week I saw him at a wedding opening a small envelope of ashes to be put on the chasan’s head. It seemed like it took everything he had to open that envelope. But of course he has so much more. He’s at the helm of the Mir. They met the Rosh Yeshiva at his home. He’s not living in a Villa or a Cottage, as Israel refers to their large, multileveled apartments. A simple apartment near the Yeshiva. And the family’s living spaced is reduced by the necessity of the Rosh Yeshiva’s office/study.
‘These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe…these are the names of the sons of Aharon, the first born was Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.’ No mention of the sons of Moshe? Rashi says, ‘It only mentions the sons of Aharon but the Torah calls them the offspring of Moshe as well because he taught them Torah. We learn that anyone who teaches the sons of his friend Torah, it is likened to him having given birth to them.’” Then regarding his 4000 children the Rav said, “We have only just begun!” So moved was the group that they asked Rav Finkle for a blessing. When Merets came forward the Rav smiled warmly and with sincere emotion said, “You are welcome into my home any time.” Our Merets friend was practically in tears. On his way out he was heard mumbling, “How can we not give them even the minimal considerations every other student in the word gets?"
Did you here that one? Ignoramuses point at the Torah parties in government and say, “Blackmailers! You don’t believe in the state but you’re in the government? Parasites!” It’s called survival. It’s called fighting and bargaining and vying for the most basic necessities which everyone else gets handed to them on a silver platters. Don’t get me started.
Finally they went to Ezer Mitzion, a religious non-profit organization made of only volunteers who feed thousands of our poor. Then there’s the medical financial assistance they collect for, the medical equipment the purchase for lending out, home care volunteers, etc. etc. “Why doesn’t this ever get into our media?!?” Is that incredible?
Think about that one. 50 years side by side and he hasn’t a clue what’s going on under his nose. I’d bet you his entire venomous outlook of his Torah brothers has been wholly and solely formed by what he’s read in “his media” and he never met a Torah Jew in his life. “Why doesn’t this ever get into our media?!?” A Rav Nachman Bulman once said, “It’s a mixed blessing Hashem gives us, sheltering us in our Yeshiva’s with no time to see what’s going on outside. Because if we knew, they pain and grief would be incapacitating.”
“How can we not give them even the minimal considerations every other student in the word gets?" “Why doesn’t this ever get into our media?!?” Two classics. Granted, “How much do they pay for a seat on Rosh Hashanah?” is also classic but it’s a different genre.
Who knows how long the impression will last. We’ll see if he manages to persuade any party members that their virulent negation of their Torah brother’s right to exist might be, dare I say, undeserving. But whatever may or may not come from it, what we witnessed was a Jewish soul only momentarily extracted from the filth and exposed to keddusha, places of Torah, people living Torah values, and in an instant it rose up from the dirt under which it has been buried for so long.
And speaking of rising up from the dirt, in this week’s
Parshas Bamidbar (did we do this already)
we have a census. One of the ways Hashem expresses His love for Israel is by His frequently counting us. Rashi says that’s why He counted us after leaving Egypt, that’s why He counted us after the significant loss of life by the sin of the calf and that’s why He’s counting us now that His Shchinah is resting amongst us.
The Ramban adds that Hashem wants Israel to benefit from their relationship with their great spiritual leaders so each one was counted by coming before Moshe and Aharon and giving their name. Certainly Moshe and Aharon blessed and prayed for each one. Also, there not yet having been the sin of the spies, it was necessary to know how many men there were for going to war in conquering Israel and for purposes of dividing up the land.
Rav Wolfson has a question. The census starts with, “These were the sons of Reuven, their offspring…” 10 times the Torah continues with, “To the sons of Shimon, their offspring… To the sons of… their offspring…” Yet for the final tribe, Naftali, it says, “The sons of Naftali, their offspring…” No “To.” In Hebrew, the prefix, lamed, was dropped. Why?
The Fla’ah writes that Moshe knew the overall number of Israel and only wanted to know how many were in each tribe. Once the first 11 tribes were counted it was simple math to determine how many were in Naftali so they were not counted. Rather then “To the tribe of Naftali…” i.e. we counted, the lack of the word “To” intimates, “The tribe of Naftali…” i.e. we now know them to have. This obviously wouldn’t sit well with the reason of the Ramban.
The Chasam Sofer says not only was Naftali counted but the absence of lamed indicates they were counted by name! Since their numbers would have been known anyway the change in text brings attention to them, not shoves them off to the side. And just as they received full attention, as in counted by name and with the blessings of Moshe and Aharon, so too were all Israel counted that way.
Rav Wolfson says that since we know the eternality of the Torah and everything recorded back then is because of its real relevance now, this means that by just reading this parsha we are again being counted under the direct and personal attention of Moshe and Aharon who are undoubtedly blessing each of us and praying on our behalves.
And certainly there is more behind the missing lamed from the tribe of Naftali. Lamed is the tallest of all the letters of the Hebrew aleph-beis and the Gemorah refers to is as, “a tower floating in ai.” Before a scribe writes a letter he marks the lower and upper limits of the entire line with faint scratches in the parchment. All the letters of the aleph beis stay below the upper limit accept for the lamed. It bursts through, high above the other letters. The Pri Tsaddik writes that this gives the lamed a characteristic of a king because “hamelech porets geder”- A king breaks through fences. [According to Jewish law, a king is not required to follow a foot path around someone’s field. Even if the field is surrounded by a fence the king may breaking the fence and walk across.]
Naftali is the last in the order of the tribes. It is the tribe which correlates to the month of Adar, the last month in the order of the months. Esther, a name we attach to Adar, is discussed in the Gemorah. “Where do we find Esther in the Torah? In the verse, ‘ V’anochi hester astir panai ’- And I will surely hide My face.” Hashem hiding, so to speak, is a concept we also attach to Adar. This concept now makes a small leap from its partner in time to its partner is soul. From Adar to Naftali. Naftali is last, the ikvisah, the heel, the lowest point. A time when Hashem is hiding or, when we’re farthest from Him which makes Him most difficult to see. The letters of Naftali spell nafalti- I fell. The very opposite of the characteristic of the lamed, the king.
The Prophet Micha said on behalf of Israel, “Do not rejoice, my enemies, that I have fallen. I have arisen!” The degree of the fall is an indication to the degree of the rise. Furthermore, in Amos it say, “She has fallen and will no longer rise, virgin of Israel” The Gemorah Berachos says to read it, “She has fallen and will no longer. Rise, virgin of Israel” Only after she has fallen to the lowest possible depth and can fall no more, then she will rise! (See, I told you we were speaking of rising)
Now days are world has surely sunken to new lows. But a necessary prerequisite to the degree to which it will rise! The Imrei Emes said on Shavuos that our reading the Book of Ruth is tied into King David’s verse from Psalms 113, “He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute.” King David was referring to himself! His line started out from an incestuous act between Lot and his daughter. Along the way was Yehudah’s seemingly G-less encounter with Tamar. That gets topped of with his grandparents, Boaz and Ruth! From what appears to be the lowest circumstances we get our greatest leader. “From the trash heaps He lifts the destitute to sit them with nobles!”
At the end of the book of Bamidbar, Parshas Masai, the Torah summarizes all the stops Israel made in the desert. They stopped in 42 places and went back to 7 of them. That’s 49 stops in all. No doubt connected to these 49 days we’re counting right now. During Friday night services, before Lecha Dodi we say Anah B’ko’ach. A short prayer, 7 lines, 42 words long. Every letter correlates to a day of the Omer period. On every 7th day is an incorporation of the 6 previous days. A going back of sorts. And in most siddurs, after each line of Anan B’ko’och you’ll find 6 letters, the acronym of the 6 words which preceded it. A going back of sorts.
Back in Masai, verse 33:49 (2 prominent numbers this time of the year), the last line of the summary of the encampments in says, “They encamped by the Jordan, from Beis Hayishimos until the plains of Shittim, in the plains of Moav.” Moav has the gematria 49. Israel is now across the Jordan- Yarden in Hebrew. Yarden can be read “yarad nun”- descended 50. Now that we’ve descended to the lowest point, we’re read to enter Israel, build the Temple and reach the highest point.
Naftali, the last in soul, already connected to Adar, the last in time, must have something to do with the Plains of Shittim, the last in place. “Aveil haShittim b’Arvot Moav”- the plains of Shittim, in the plains of Moav = 1126 = I have fallen and I have arisen - “Nafalti v’kamti.” “Nafalti” = 570 = “Yovel he tihiyeh lachem”- Yovel, it shall be for you (Vayikra 25:10). Because Yovel is the 50th year. Yovel is the return of every Jew to his/her roots. Yovel is when even the lowest of Jews, the one who says, “Yes, I wish to remain a servant to a servant rather than a servant to the King” even he will be restored to his former glory.
The last word of Anah b’ko’ach is ta’alumos- mysteries. An allusion to the end of the travails of Israel, to this end of time, when the world is covered in dirt. When it’s hard to see Hashem. We seem so far and yet we must be so close. “He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute.” When and from where will the descendant of David show himself? Definitely a mystery.
The 67th Psalm King David wrote about the arrival of the Messianic era, when all makind will recognize Hashem and earn His blessing. Is it any wonder that after the introduction the Psalm is 49 words long? It ends, “Yivarichainu Elokim vayir’u oso kol afsai ha’arets”- G-d will bless us and will be feared by all ends of the earth. With oso written with both vavs the verse’s numeric equivalent is 1512 which equals “Bnei Naftali toldosom”- The sons of Naftali, their offspring. Yes, they tribe of Naftali may appear with one less lamed then the other tribes. They may have one less measure of nobility than the others have. But, again, the depth of the fall is an indication of the height of the comeback. “Bnei Naftali toldosom” = 1512 = “v’shavtem ish el achuzaso”- each man will be returned to his ancestral heritage (Vayikra 25:10). May it be speedily and in our day!
This Shabbos is the last Shabbos of the 49 days. It’s the lowest of the Shabbos lows. A reflection of how high you can take it. Have a high-hearted, high-flying, highfalutin Shabbat Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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