Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues
by Daneal Weiner
Boy! Or to be politically correct, Youngster! Did I break one of my rules
this Shabbos! I was asked to give a dvar Torah and my mind drew blank
accept for one and it was one I wrote in last weeks vort. The rule is,
never tell over dvar Torah's I wrote because I'll just find out what was
wrong. So like I said, Hashem had my mind go blank accept for this one
vort. I wanted to say I didn't know any. But it was a short one. I did
check the verses when I heard it. OK, I agreed. It only took about 2 lines
before I realized something was wrong. Sure enough, I forged ahead and it
was just moments before someone at the table realized my fears. (Another
rule is never tell a vort to a Ba'al Korai- a Torah...chnanter.) I
blundered. And that doesn't include the vort I waxed philisophically about,
regarding an unusual custom and I found out that it wasn't a cutom. So we
could have done without that as well. So my apologies to anyone I made
waste time, toner and/or paper last week. Truth is I wasn't thrilled with
that issue. Some are always better than other and some not as good but that
one I really wasn't keen on. And it imploded. The lesson is, life will go
on without an issue of Orchards and I shouldn't post anything just for the
sake of posting something. Sorry I had to learn it at your expense. This
weeks better be good! Otherwise you won't be reading this apology till next
What a great Shavuos it was! Learning the night away, davening at the Kosel, some great cheesecakes and I even got a l'chaim from the Gerr Rebbe. The best of all worlds! Lets jump right in to this weeks
It presents us with a seemingly unrelated string of events. First is the completion of the counting of the Levites. Why these two Levite families were separated from Kehat, counted last week, is a good question. That will be your homework. After the tally the Torah commands all the spiritually impure to leave their camps. Hashem tells Moshe to teach the penalty for the thief who confesses and also that anything sanctified by Israel to be given to the Kohanim- priests, 'shall be his'. Then are brought the laws of the Sotah, a women whose behavior is highly questionable regarding her trustworthiness. Next are the laws of the Nazir, someone who refrains from particular pleasures to bring themselves closer to Hashem. Then the Bircas Kohanim- the priestly blessings. The remainder of the parsha is the itemization of the gifts of the 12 Tribes, brought by their Princes for the dedication of the Mishkan- Sanctuary. I would love to say I had one theme tying it all together. That's my homework. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch comes pretty close!
Jumping over the counting, who are the spiritually impure? They are: The Metsorah- one stricken with a divine disease, Tsora'as, erroneously translated as leprosy. The Zav- one who experiences an abnormal emission. And the Tamai Mais- one who comes is contact with a corpse. Rashi explains that not all three are expelled from all three camps. Last week (don't remind me) we discussed the layout of the camps in the desert. In the center was the Mishkan. This was the Machaneh Shchinah- Camp of Divine Presence. Surrounding it was the Machaneh Leviah- the Camp of the Levites. Enclosing them on all four sides was Machaneh Yisrael- the Camp of Israel.
The Metsorah was expelled from all three camps. The Zav was expelled from both the Machaneh Shchinah and Leviah but was allowed in Machaneh Yisrael. The Tamai Mais was forbidden only from entering the Machaneh Shchinah.
Rav Hirsch discusses these three maladies. The Metsorah is a person lacking, shall we say, social skills. I think it was in the parsha of the same name that we discussed what brings on Tsora'as. Stinginess and speaking lashon horah- derogatory speech, were top of the list. Common between them is a lack of one's appreciation for his/her neighbor. The Zav, suffering from an abnormal emission might be receiving a message from above that he/she overindulges in physical desires. The Tamai Mais, having just encountered man in his least honored state, might draw a lesson in that regard.
Comparing the negative traits of the afflicted against the camps from which they are sent, the Metsorah sent to the company of the sand dunes, is given an opportunity to re-evaluate his/her behavior and role in the community. Regarding the Zav, only the Kohanim and Levi'im are embarrasingly displaced to the outside camp of Israel. Since they serve the Mishkan, they are no doubt held to a higher standard then the average Israelite. As for the Tamai Mais, such a person can be a tremendous and active member of the community. It's for all the wrong reasons but he's Mr. Popular, none-the-less. Although they may fool everone, they don't fool Hashem. Such a person is cut off from the Machaneh Shchinah.
The Ethics of the Fathers brings a maxim, "Jealousy, desire and honor take a man from the world." The Metsorah has trouble with jealousy, a cause of stinginess and lashone horah. The Zav needs work taming desires and the Tamai Mais should realize chasing honor is a dead end!
Rav Hirsch now ties these three character flaws into the next three topics in the parsha. First topic is regarding the thief. Very easy to see the correlation between jealousy and theft. The next paragraph in the Torah deals with the Sotah. A women suspect of not controlling her desires. She wasn't alone. There is a man out there with a similar problem. In fact, wherever he may be, he will suffer the same fate as the Sotah, should they be guilty. Next is the Nazir. The Torah describes the Nazir as someone taking an oath of abstinence for Hashem. An act of humility in honoring the Creator. But wait! There's more!
Next are the Priestly blessings. The first is that Hahsem should bless and safeguard us. Rashi say this is a blessing for physical wealth. Rav Hirsch continues explaining that were it regarding spiritual wealth, we would not need to ask Hashem to safeguard it for us. If we all saw our blessings there would be no jealousy, stinginess or lashon horah. The second blessing is for Hashem to illuminate His countenance on us. This is the request for spiritual wealth! More Torah is always a good safeguard against over indulgence in materialism. Lastly we ask for Hashem to raise His countenance to us and for peace. A request for undue honor and long life.
Rav Hirsch doesn't end here. He then ties this theme into the next three parshas!!! In Behaloscha we complained about the Manna and desired meat. In Shlach, the sin of the spies was regarding honor, which, G-d willing, we will discuss then. And the following parsha, Korach, is about a jealous Levite who revolted against the divinely appointed leadership of Bnei Yisrael. Now there's a $1,000,000.00 vort!
To make it worth $1,000,000.02, I will squeeze an idea between the last two paragraphs. Between the Bircas Kohanim and the next three parshas is the remainder of Nasso, the gift offerings from the 12 Tribes of Israel. >From 12 different sources and for 12 different reasons were brought 12 IDENTICAL offerings! What testimony to the unequivocal equality of all Bnei Yisrael!! If everyone knew this and knew it well, there would be no cause for jealousy. The recognition of one's intrinsic worth would satisfy one's spirit beyond physical pleasures. And what greater honor could be procured than being a member of Bnei Yisrael!?
Working backwards, here are some of the other relationships between the topics I've learned. Why is the Nazir after the Sotah? If you saw what happened to the Sotah you'd also have a sudden urge to get close to Hashem. Real close!
Why is the Sotah just after the two verses regarding sanctified property given to the priests? These two lines are actually within the paragraph regarding stealing. Many call the whole weekly portion the 'parsha'. Actually, a parsha refers to only a paragraph. The Torah scroll is written with closed gaps (spaces within a line) and open gaps (open to the end of a line). A closed gap signals a change but indicates similarity between the topics. An open gap means a new idea. Learning ideas from adjacent 'parshas' means adjacent paragraphs. Not just the last and first ideas of two weekly Parshas. According to this mehtod, the weekly portion is referred to as a 'Sedra'. A series of parshas make up the weekly Sedra. Earlier I described the parsha (old definition) talking about theft, then gifts to the priests, then the Sotah, etc.. When I told over Rav Hirsch's Torah, relating the topics, he jumped from theft to the Sotah. Technically he did not skip over the priestly gifts because those two lines are in the same paragraph regarding the theft! And that's without even a closed gap!
Rashi, who always searches for the simple context of the verse, explains them to be saying that even though there's an obligation to give to the Kohanim, they can't come and take it. The homeowner gets to decide which Kohen he wants to give to. Rashi continues saying, bringing the Midrash, these verses are talking about withholding the gifts from the priests! A.k.a. theft! That doesn't seem like the simple context of the verses at all- unless one relies heavily on where the verses lie!
So getting back to the question which is Rashi's question, why is the Sotah just after the verses regarding the gifts to the priests? Because Hashem is saying, "If you with hold bringing the gifts to the priests, by your life you will bring the Sotah to the priest! That's MRS. Sotah to YOU!"
Comes the Vilna Gaon and with a great question, "Yah? How?" (Ok, two questions) How does one get from withholding from the priests to suspecting their wife of infidelity??? That's a bit of a jump. All it takes is a 1/2 verse from Mishlai- Proverbs, 29:3, "The companion of harlots will lose a fortune!" You see it coming? Of course not. I never finished that last Rashi. When Rashi brought the Midrash explaining the verse as withholding from the priests, Hashem's response to that is, "You like the tithe that much? How about all your fields only produce the amount of a tithe!?!" Meaning, the crops will produce 10% of their potential! Now you see it?
The husband is separating the tithe for the Kohen but when his wife sees someone cart it off, she doesn't know her husband just sold it to a passing salesman. Next year, suddenly, crop production has dropped way off. She knows the tithes went to the 'priest'. She's thinking, "The companion of harlots will lose a fortune"! The two timing weasel!!! Back that up with the last verse of this parsha (new definition- paragraph), "The man will be innocent of iniquity but that woman [the Sotah] will bear her iniquity." Rashi's says it means the husband bears no sin for beginning procedings which brought the death of his wife. The Vilna Gaon says the verse means that for the Sotah-water to work on her, he, the HUSBAND has to be innocent, on the up and up! To the wife, the poor crop testifies to the contrary! What does she have to lose even if she is caught?!
"If you with hold bringing the gifts to the priests, by your life you will bring the Sotah to the priest!"
Maybe its best to explain how the Sotah works. I've been on many an internet-message-board and there are plenty of 'educators' giving out the wrong information on the Sotah. Either they themselves are ignorant or are deliberately turning people away from Torah. I've seen it asked, "Why is just the women found guilty?" "Since when does one witness bring judgment upon a person, and yet, by the single testimony of the husband the woman is prosecuted!?" "What's the big deal about talking to another man?" The Torah is sexist! G-d is a male chauvinist!" No She isn't.
We already said that if the Sotah dies, the man she was with dies too. The way the Sotah comes about is when a women HAS BEEN testified against by TWO witnesses that she was in seclusion with another man, the husband can either not care, or, as the Torah says, he could be jealous and ask her not to do it again. SHE DOES IT AGAIN! This time just the husband sees it! There is something wrong with this marriage. It getting worse! Is the court supposed to say, "Sorry, go back to your happy homestead. Only one witness."??? The wife is showing an obvious disregard for her husband's wishes. So he brings her before the priest. For execution? NO! For sentencing? NO! For trial? NO! For a test! A test capable of giving the husband unquestionable assurance that she has not cheated on him. Sounds like something that can save a marriage, yes? And if she lives, the Torah blesses them with a child. At their next union they know what they have to look forward. That certainly adds invaluably to the relationship. Another way to endear the husband and wife to each other, over the next 9 months, the wife will become a little more dependent on the husband. The husband will have to be more sensitive and giving to his wife. Other forms of relationship building. And if she didn't do anything and gets pregnant, she'll know her husband didn't do anything either! That was how she got into this mess. Maybe now she'll think to ask who that guy was he gave the tithes too?
A great vort on the Nazir. Verse 6:13 says that on the day he completes his vow he will bring himself to the Mishkan. Why not just say he will just 'go'? 'Walk'? 'Come to'? What's 'bringing himself'? We just saw above that the husband brings the Sotah to the Kohen. Back by the aforementioned Metsorah, when his/her days of sliyude are up he/she is 'brought' to the Kohen. It seems that when anyone is in a 'defiled' state, physically, spiritually, or otherwise, when it comes time for their entrance back into the norms of society there is an idea of them being brought. Brought by someone NOT in the state that they are in. Someone 'better'. [Even regarding the Sotah that, in the end, their can be questions on the husband too, right now she has been witnessed in seclusion with another man, (an act of intimacy in and of itself!) not him.] So why does the Nazir 'bring himself'? Because there is no one better than him!! He has done an incredible thing! Even thought he needs to bring a sin offering for his abstention from pleasure (And Rav Shternbach explains that Hashem put us here to elevate the physical. Not run from it), still, the Nazir has come so close to Hashem that there is no one better who can bring him!!!
And what really makes this vort great is, What did he do??? He just refrained from grapes/wine, haircuts and coming in contact with the dead. That's it! And Hashem makes him the number one guy/girl on campus!!! Their are times when we must put our lives on the line. But, Baruch Hashem, when it comes to the day to day, the smallest efforts can sometimes produce the greatest results. If someone wants to work on their desire for food, more can be accomplished by leaving a bite on the plate every meal then fasting an entire day every week. To sanctify ones appearance, diminish the amount of jewelry or cosmetics. Don't make Tuesday, Shlubbday. To sanctify the whole house, no need to throw out all the silver. Just scrape the paint or wallpaper off a 1 1/2 ft square patch near the entrance. In memory of the destroyed Temple's. Our houses shouldn't be complete when Hashem has none, so to speak. Less charity to everyone who asks is better than great sums to a few. Just a little bit done regularly, so the idea is always before you, will accomplish so much more. That's a great vort. That's a great gift, to do so much with so little!
Bircas Kohanim: The Midrash asks how can it say (Devarim 10:17), "[Hashem] Who does not lift countenance and does not accept bribery" yet in this parsha, have written Hashem will lift undeserving countenance on Bnei Yisrael?! Hashem answers, "Just as Bnei Yisrael favors Me, so too I favor them. I wrote in the Torah they should be obligated in Grace After Meals only after a satisfying meal. Yet even when they lack of food, still they favor Me and bless Me, even for only the volume of an olive, or an egg!" There are a few other answers in the Midrash. This question is also raised in Gemorah Berachos (20b) in the name of the ministering angels. Hashem again answers, leaving out lack for food, "'Eat, be satisfied and bless Hashem, your G-d' is what I asked, yet they are exacting in this law and bless Me even down to the size of an olive or egg!" A question may be more evident from the Gemorah then from the Midrash. "DOWN to the size of an OLIVE or EGG"? Shouldn't the logical expression be, "Down to the size of an egg or olive"??
Seemingly, the earlier editors of the Gemorah felt compelled to send the student, by notation in the margin, to a commentary by the Vilna Gaon, again on a verse in Mishlai, describing it as wonderful and sweet! Mishlai 22:9, "One with a good eye will be blessed, for he has given bread to the poor." The Vilna Gaon writes, that the one with a "good eye" refers to the average Jew. A Gemorah in Sotah says, "Don't read it [our verse in Mishlai] 'he will be blessed' but 'he will bless'." He, the Jew, will bless, giving his bread to the poor.
The volume of a bread the Torah considers enough to fulfill "[eat,] be satisfied [and bless]" is the volume of three eggs. This is equivalent to the volume of 10 olives. Chazal, our Sages determined, however, that when we eat a minimum of an olives worth of bread we already will say the Bircas Hamazone- Grace After Meals. When 3 men eat together an introductory blessing procedes the Bircas Hamazone but without the Name of Hashem mentioned in it. This is called a Mezuman of 3. If 10 men ate together the introductory blessing includes the name of Hashem! (A mezuman of 10.) The Vilna Gaon explains that when a Jew has but the volume of three eggs of bread, the first thing he does is look for 9 other Jews to give an olive's size amount to. This way they will have a Mezuman of 10 to bless Hashem with His Name! Only when he lacks that will he settle for at least three and an eggs worth for each, to be able to have a Mezuman of 3. And so Hashem said, "Can I not shine countenance upon them when they favor Me, first with the amount of an olive, otherwise, with that of an egg!?" How sweet it is!!!
This parsha always follows Shavuos. What was Shavuos? The receiving of the Torah. What is the Torah? Hashem went to all the nations of the world and asked them if they want it. They all asked what's in it? Hashem told them the most difficult law for them to keep. You all know what they said- "No thanks!" WRONG! It always gets told that way but Rav Zev Leff explained that the Midrash presented an argument from each nation. To Eisav/Edom Hashem said it says, "Do not kill!" Edom said back, "Yaakov blessed us saying we will 'live by the sword.' " So Hashem moved on to the next Nation. Why didn't Hashem say, "No problem, Edom! You guys will be My army. You will eradicate all evil from the world. You can keep the Torah AND live by the sword! How about it?" He didn't do that. Hashem just moved on to the next Nation. Till Hashem got to the Jews and they said, "We'll take it!" What's the difference between "What's in it?" and "We'll take it!" ???
When someone asked you for a favor, to do a job, to accept some responsibility, you ask "What is it?" Maybe you can do it, maybe you can't. You have to know first what's involved. But when someone offers you a gift, "I'LL TAKE IT!" Now let's go see what's in it.
Rabbi Leff brought other examples. Hashem designated a day to give the Torah. Moshe postponed it a day. If we were on the verge of accepting a responsibility from Hashem, wouldn't it make more sense for Hashem to have said to Moshe, "What? You want it when? I told you to be ready and you're not? Obviously 613 aren't enough to get you into shape! I'll make it 635!!" But that's not how it went. When Moshe came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the golden calf, his response should have been, "What? I can't leave you alone for a minute!!! Obviously two tablets aren't enough! I'll go get FOUR!!!" But that's not what he said. He broke them. We didn't deserve them because they were a gift!
After Pesach we brought a barley offering. Barley is considered as animal food. That began the count till Shavuos. What laws are there by Shavuos. All the Torah says is to bring an offering of wheat flour. Rabbi Orlofsky explained that Shavuos was barely discernible from a Shabbos till the Arizal established the custom to learn all night. No matsah, no lulav, no sukkah, no menorah, no food packages, no tseddakah...nothing! Just a wheat flour offering. The food of human beings. All we have to do on Shavuos is eat and it is an act of service no other nation is capable of. Every other nation has to remove itself from the physical and material in order to connect to the spiritual. We get to take one of the basest of animal acts and elevate it as the sole service for the Holiday. Sanctifying the mundane.
The Torah opens with Adam and Chava sinning and hiding in shame. Hashem clothes them. One Torah later, Hashem, Himself, lays Moshe Rabbeinu to eternal rest. The Torah can take a person from a state of embarrassment and elevate them to such holiness that only Hashm can perform the burial service. Is this transformation is a burden? A liability? For G-d's sake? It's the greatest gift to mankind.
Use it, and have a wholly holy Shabbot Shalom!