Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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PARSHAT B'ha'alotcha

Bamidbar (Numbers) 8:1-12:16
Haftorah - Zachariya 2:14-4:7

I remember once asking a Rebbe (a teacher in Yeshiva) if the Torah is but an oral and written transmission of Hashem's Mitzvot (laws), then why do we need so many stories? Furthermore, if the Torah "just"communicates the history, stories and legends of our ancestors, then why does it include so many Mitzvot? My teacher explained that the many stories represent the spirit of the Mitzvot, they illustrate how to properly do them. This week's Parsha teaches a very subtle application of the Mitzvah of Kavod (giving proper respect to our elders).

It says in Pirke Avot (The Ethics of Our Fathers) chapter 5 Mishna 9:
"...A learned person does not begin speaking before one who is greater than he in wisdom or in years..."

This rule stems from an episode relating to a reaction to the prophesy of Eldad and Medad in this Parsha.

The Torah relates that Hashem had been ordered Moshe (Bamidbar 11:16-17) to appoint the Sanhedrin in the second year after the exodus. But after the command, the narrative breaks off, and reports that there were "complainers" who were dissatisfied with the miraculous Manna. In verses 24-29 the narrative continues:

"Moshe left and spoke the words of Hashem to the people; and he gathered seventy men from among the elders of the people and had them stand around the Tent. Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him [Moshe] and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but could not do so again. Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad., and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp. A youth ran and told Moshe that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. Yehoshua (Joshua) the son of Nun, the servant of Moshe since his youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moshe my lord, have them incarcerated!' Moshe said to him, ‘Are you being jealous for my sake? The entire nation could be prophets if Hashem would place His spirit on them!'"

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France 1040-1105) cites a Sifre (a Halachik Midrash [dealing with legal matters] on the Books of Bamidbar and Devarim dating from the Second Temple period) that clarifies this event. Moshe was in a dilemma. He had to appoint seventy elders from the twelve tribes, and at the same time, did not want to insult the tribes that would not have full representation. Appointing six elders from every tribe would equal seventy-two elders. Knowing that two elders had to be left out, Moshe decided to leave it up to Hashem by making a lottery. Moshe selected six elders from every tribe (the recorded ones), wrote on seventy slips the word "Elder," and two he left blank, so that Hashem would clearly be the authority. Eldad and Medad chose not to participate, thereby effecting the appointment of the other seventy. But the spirit of prophesy within them, continued even outside of the Tabernacle area.

When they were brought before Moshe and his entourage, they informed everyone that Moshe would die in the desert, and, Yehoshua would escort the B'nai Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). Yehoshua, angered that they had the audacity to mar the honor of his "Rebbe" in public (by inferring that Moshe was unworthy of entering Eretz Yisrael), asked that they be incarcerated. Moshe's reply was, of course, conciliatory.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz, SHLITA (acronym for may he live a long and good life) the Dean of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva, informs us that the Talmud (Tractate Eruvin 63b) relates that Yehoshua was censured for his remarks.

"The Gemara points out that Yehoshua himself was taken to task in this episode for a very slight and almost unnoticeable infringement on Moshe's honor; Yehoshua should have let Moshe decide what to do with Eldad and Medad without interjecting his opinion. There seems to be a contradiction here. How could Yehoshua, while zealously guarding the honor of his mentor, Moshe, simultaneously commit an act of disrespect for Moshe, albeit an infinitesimally small one? The Gemara highlights the need for our intellect to maintain constant control over our emotions. Yehoshua's deep feelings of respect for Moshe and the Torah taught by him, precipitated an emotional reaction that ever so slightly overstepped the bounds of propriety dictated by his intellect."
(Majesty of Man - page 223)

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz tells the famous story of a young newly married couple who were celebrating their first Shabbat together. Much preparation and anticipation went into the Shabbat meal; both the husband and the wife wanted everything to be perfect. After Friday evening services the husband came home and looked over the beautifully set table with all their Shabbat finery. Suddenly, the husband noticed that the Challot (bread loaves) were left uncovered (according to Jewish law the blessing over bread has a higher priority than wine and should be said first. Since the Kiddush [Sabbath sanctification performed with wine] must be recited before eating food, we cover the Challot so that "they will not be embarrassed" when the Kiddush is chanted). The inexperienced and insensitive young man became angry and rebuked his wife for almost causing him to embarrass the Challot. Of course he didn't realize the embarrassment to his wife was even greater.

Some times we get angry because of a slight to our Kavod. Our reaction can be far worse than the snub. We have a concept of proper Kavod to the Torah and to Torah scholars, but the details of how to apply that Kavod can be overlooked. Therefore the Torah relates the incident between Eldad, Medad and Yehoshua, to teach us that we can easily overstep our bounds and be just as insensitive as those who infuriate us. The Mishna in Pirke Avot actually lists seven ways for B'nai Torah (literally the children of the Torah) to show proper Kavod (it is worthwhile to review this Mishna, it can be found in most prayer books immediately after the Shabbat afternoon service). One important way is to keep our opinions to ourselves in the presence of those greater than us. Yehoshua learned (as did the groom in Rabbi Leibowitz's story), that without meaning to be insensitive, we often hurt those closest to us. Be careful.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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