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by RABBI MORDECHAI KAMENETZKY
In this week’s portion, there is a brief conversation that may get lost among the more fascinating stories and commandments. Moshe (Moses) beseeches his father-in-law, Yisro, to continue traveling with the Jewish nation. “We are traveling to the place which G-d has said, ‘I shall give to you.’ Go with us, and we shall treat you well” (Numbers 10:29).
It is noteworthy that Moshe never tells Yisro where the Jews are going. He just tells him that “we are traveling to the place which G-d has said, ‘I shall give to you.'” This is reminiscent of Gd commanding Abraham to travel to Canaan with the petition “go from your land and your birthplace to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
But Moshe is not the Almighty, and their actual destination was known to them. After all, the land of Canaan was the focal point of the Exodus. Why, then, does Moshe describe it to Yisro in this mysterious manner? Wouldn’t it have been easier for Moshe to tell Yisro, “We are traveling to the Land of Canaan, and we want you to accompany us”?
New York Times columnist Ralph de Toledano had a different view of the world than that of his editors. Despite the protestations from the Times editorial board, he would always capitalize the words ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’.
His editors took him to task citing that ‘heaven’ is only capitalized when it is an alternative for the Deity as in “Heaven help us.” Moreover they insisted that ‘hell’ is never capitalized. De Toledano, however, insisted that any reference to these two terms be capitalized. “You see,” the conservative columnist explained, “I want my readers to understand that Heaven and Hell are real places just like Scarsdale!”
When describing the Land of Israel, Moshe does not refer to Israel merely as the land of Canaan. In telling his father-in-law where the Jews would be going, he does not offer the longitude and latitude. He does not even describe Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) as the land flowing with milk and honey. Moshe‘s only descriptive was “the land that G-d has said, ‘I shall give to you.'”
This statement describes Eretz Yisrael in stronger terms than agricultural potential, natural beauty, or even strategic location.
It describes Eretz Yisrael as the place that G-d has promised. Any other quality is temporal. Bounty withers, beauty erodes, and natural resources dry-up.
In these trying times, when there is talk once again of giving away pieces of the Land of Israel, we would do well to remember that Eretz Yisroel is forever ours. Even if we must, G-d forbid, temporarily relinquish its custody, G-d’s promise remains eternal. Like both extremes of the world-to-come, the Land of Israel is real.
Reprinted with permission of Feldheim Publishers and Bentsh Press
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of South Shore and the author of the Parsha Parables series.
Parsha Talking Points
by RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS
1. BEAT IT
“And this is how the Menorah was made; beaten from a solid block of gold, from its base until its flowers it was beaten out, according to the vision which Hashem showed to Moses, so he made the Menorah.” 8:4
So he made the Menorah – The word “so” in Hebrew is “kein,” whose numerical equivalent is 70 (Chof = 20, Nun = 50) and symbolizes the seventy lights that King Solomon lit when he made 10 Menorahs, each containing seven branches. Interestingly, the next word, “He made” in Hebrew is “assah” and its numerical equivalent is 375, which is the same as the name “Shlomo” (Solomon). – Baal HaTurim
Beaten from a solid block of gold – All the lights of the Menorah had to incline toward the center light because the lights represented various forms of knowledge, and by inclining toward the center, it symbolized that all forms of knowledge emanate from the Torah. The formation of the Menorah out of one solid block of gold suggests this idea as well. – HeEmek Davar
There were three items from the Tabernacle that were required to be formed of one solid block: the Menorah, the Cherubs, and the Trumpets. These three correspond to the three things about which our sages [Tractate Brachos 5a] said, “Three terrific gifts were given to us by the Almighty, and all three are acquired only through hardship and adversity: Torah, The Land of Israel, and the World to Come.” The Menorah corresponds to Torah, Cherubs to the World to Come, and Trumpets to The Land of Israel (which was captured through wars accompanied by trumpets). All of them had to be “beaten” out of a solid block. These beatings represent the hardship through which these gifts are acquired. The lesson here is that attaining greatness in Torah will never be easy. It requires endless toil and persistence. However, these beatings are not in vain, as our sages have guaranteed us that one who puts in the effort is assured of a substantial reward.
2. MEAT ME IN THE DESERT
“The mixed multitude among (the Israelites) began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep, ‘Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?’ they demanded.” 11:4
The mixed multitude – These were members of the “great mixture” which gathered with (and joined the Israelites), when they left Egypt. – Rashi
Who’s going to give us some meat – But did they not have meat? Did it not say previously, ‘A great mixture also went up with them, with sheep and cattle, etc.’? Perhaps you will say they ate them, but doesn’t it say, when they came into the land, ‘Much cattle belonged to the sons of Reuven, etc’? Evidently (it was not meat that they lacked but) they sought a pretext. – Rashi
Began to have strong cravings – They truly lacked for nothing in the desert, as the Manna provided all their needs. Nevertheless, they developed a strong craving for meat which could offer them nothing more than what they already had. It was as if they suddenly desired to eat coals or dirt. – Ramban
Began to have strong cravings – It was much more than simply a craving that they experienced. The Hebrew word for craving is “taavah” which can also mean “boundary,” and implies that they doubted G-d’s ability to feed them and set a boundary or limitation to His abilities. Manna, they agreed, was within His grasp to provide. Meat, on the other hand, was beyond. Their words and sentiments were well beyond the pale and brought about terrible consequences. – Ksav V’Kaballah
Although Rashi quoted one source that identifies the complainers as newcomers to the faith, the Midrash says that they were members of the Sanhedrin (High Court). This begs the question, what would have propelled saintly members of the High Court to advocate for meat, of all things? A closer look at the verse reveals that they didn’t actually ask for meat. Rather, it says that they “began to have strong cravings,” without specifying what it was that they desired. It was the lay members that asked specifically for meat. The rule is that a small crack in a building foundation can cause a large hole in the roof of the building. Similarly, when the leaders of the nation develop cravings, the lay members soon ask for meat.
3. QUIET PLEASE
“Two men remained in the camp, and the spirit rested on them. One’s name was Eldad, and the other’s was Medad. Although they were among those chosen, they did not go out to the Tent, but they spoke prophetically in the camp… Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant, spoke up. ‘My lord Moses,’ he said. ‘Destroy them!’” 10:25-27
Among those chosen – Among those chosen for the Sanhedrin. They were all inscribed specifically by names, and by drawing lots. Since the appropriate amount for twelve tribes was six for each tribe, except for two tribes, each of whom received only five, Moses said: No tribe will listen to me to subtract one elder from its tribe. What did he do? He took seventy-two notes, wrote ‘elder’ on seventy of them and left two blank. He then chose six from each tribe, totaling seventy two. He told them, ‘Take your notes from the container.’ Whoever chose ‘elder’ was sanctified. To those who chose the blank ones, he said, ‘The Omnipresent does not want you.’ – Rashi
Destroy them – Burden them with communal responsibility, and they will destroy themselves. – Rashi
The Admor of Sokolov, zt”l, explained Joshua’s request to burden them with communal responsibility as follows: let them get involved with the congregation. Let them see how much personal involvement and sensitivity is required to do the job properly. Give them an opportunity to see how much groundwork must be laid before anything significant can be achieved, and then they’ll appreciate the need to sometimes remain silent and not share all that they’re privy to.
by RABBI REUVEN DRUCKER
My partner asked a question on last week’s Torah portion (Naso) that I wasn’t sure how to answer. We read how each of Levi’s sons had a different responsibility with the transport of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). When the sons of Kehas were given the privilege of carrying the Ark, did this (or why didn’t this) arouse the jealousy of other Levites, thinking their job wasn’t as important?
Your help would be appreciated,
Mrs. Miriam G.
Dear Mrs. G:
Ironically, the only jealous Levite that we know about was the one who was indeed privileged to carry the Ark, but felt slighted that he wasn’t accorded an even higher honor. We’ll read more about him in a couple of weeks in the Torah portion of Korach.
It certainly is human nature to be jealous of another who appears to be more endowed with wealth, health, intelligence, etc. However, the Torah perspective neutralizes what is truly a pernicious tendency that we have to compare ourselves with others’ fortune. We are taught that the hand we have been dealt in life by the great Dealer is not random, but rather tailor-made to who we are and what we need to accomplish in this world. We are judged on how we handle the specific hand we have been dealt, not by the importance of a particular hand we have been given. There are so many different types of people in this world: some have been born into the Priestly caste (Kohein), others Levites, and still other plain Israelites and, of course, as you point out, even within these groups there are differences, such as those among the Levites who were exalted in status to carry the Ark. These distinctions merely give us the space within which to maneuver and exercise our free-will. We are defined, not by our category, but by the choices we make.
This point is graphically illustrated in a later passage in last week’s portion. The Torah tells us about the Nazirite, an individual who forswears drinking wine and cutting his hair for a minimum of 30 days. He is motivated to forego the pleasure of wine in order to enhance his personal state of holiness, for when one refrains from indulging in bodily pleasure, he adds to his level of sanctity. One of the consequences of becoming a Nazirite is that in the event a parent passes away (or other close relative), he is not permitted to come within close proximity of the deceased body, because his enhanced state of sanctity is inimical to the spiritual defilement which is associated with a corpse. Typically, there is a mitzvah to be involved with the burial of one’s deceased parent. In fact, this rule applies even to a Kohein, although under normal circumstances, he may not come in contact with a dead body of a non-relative. Why, then, does the Torah treat a Nazir to a higher standard than a Kohein? One of the commentators (Avnei Neizer) suggests that the exception for a Kohein to involve himself with his deceased parent makes sense—had it not been for his parents, he would not have been attained the sanctity of a Kohein (which is transferred through the father). Therefore, in deference to his parents, he is to involve himself with their burial, despite the fact that this compromises his priestly sanctity. However, a Nazir’s sanctity comes as result of his personal choice and spiritual accomplishment. Such sanctity did not derive from his ancestors, but from himself, and as such, cannot be compromised by the death of his parents. We find a similar exception with the High Priest (Kohein Gadol). In order to achieve his high status, he certainly needed to be born as a Kohein. However, he rose through his personal efforts to become the greatest of the priests – efforts of his own making, not his ancestry. Therefore, when the High Priest’s parents pass away, he, too, may not compromise his personal sanctity.
Through the laws of the Nazir, the Torah teaches us that the spiritual heights we attain by our own efforts are the true measure of who we are. The category within which the Creator has placed us is only the stage upon which we are to perform.
When we truly understand this concept, we can see that there is really no place for jealousy— neither among the Levites who did not carry the Holy Ark, nor for any thinking Jew. In light of the above, comparisons that some make between themselves and others are absolutely irrelevant. The only comparisons that are meaningful are the ones we make about ourselves – between what we accomplished and what we could have accomplished.
Rabbi Reuven Drucker
The Torah depicts Esau’s eating habits as a key element of his degradation and corruption. He gruffly asked Jacob to pour the food into his mouth, and then the Torah states (Bereishis 25:34): וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָה , “He ate, he drank, he got up, and he left; thus, Esau spurned the birthright.” His downfall is tied to his gluttony.
The Torah’s description of the wayward son, the ben sorer u’moreh, is one who is זוֹלֵל וְסֹבֵא , “a glutton and a drunkard” (Devarim 21:20). In Parashas Haazinu, when G-d is giving Klal Yisrael ( the entire Jewish nation) a warning of the terrible spiritual slide they could experience, He begins by saying that if the Jewish people become overly involved in physicality, they will remove G-dliness from themselves. In the words of the verse (ibid. 32:15): וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱלוֹהַּ עָשָׂהוּ וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ , “Yeshurun became fat and kicked. You became fat, thick, and rotund; and it deserted God, its Maker, and was contemptuous of the Rock of its salvation.” If we become excessively involved with food, we are bound to sin. In fact, the very first sin in the history of the world came as a result of a desire for eating — the forbidden tree, the עֵץ הַדַּעַת , looked too appealing to Eve and she could not resist.
A valuable method by which to weaken one’s desire to overindulge is to follow the advice of the Raavad. He says not to avoid tasty food — it is enough to avoid what the Torah has already forbidden. But when one is eating and has had enough to feel full, yet he still wants more, he should hold himself back to honor Hashem, and not surrender to his desires.
This method — leaving over a little food before the last morsel is gone — is known as the Taanis HaRaavad — the Raavad’s fast. Although not a true fast, Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Yesod HaTeshuvah that this restraint is worth more than a fast, because it can be employed constantly — every day at every meal.
Most of the time, we hardly stop to notice the pleasurable taste of the food we are eating. Oftentimes, before we realize it, we finish eating without having focused on appreciating the pleasure that G-d has given us. This is one of the major causes of overeating — eating without thinking. We should eat slowly and savor the taste of each bite, taking time to recognize G-d’s gifts. In this way, we will feel full before we overeat. Our Sages tell us that we should not talk while we eat and wolf down food without thought. Besides the concern of choking, eating without talking and eating slowly help us appreciate the food, while at the same time help us avoid overeating.
With permission from Artscroll’s Daily Dose
The narrative of the Jewish journey from Mount Sinai en route to fulfilling their national destiny of entering the land of Israel (10:33-36) contains a veiled critique of the Jews at that time: “They journeyed from the Mountain of Hashem.” To understand this critique (after all, they certainly weren’t meant to stay at Sinai!), Rashi (in Shabbos 116a) explains that they didn’t only leave physically, but left spiritually as well. They “left”, or lost the impact of the spiritual high they achieved on Sinai and succumbed to their material desires. Ramban (Nachmanides) explains their lapse as excitedly leaving Mount Sinai “as a child runs from school at the end of his school day.”
א) What is the meaning behind this “running from school” metaphor?
ב) What relevant and different messages emerge from the two different approaches of Rashi and Ramban?
Parsha Summaries are coming soon!