…נסעים אנחנו אל המקום אשר אמר ה’ אתו אתן לכם לכה אתנו והטבנו לך
“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” (Bamidbar 10:29).
In this week’s Torah portion, there is a brief conversation that may get lost among the more fascinating stories and commandments. Moses beseeched his father-in-law Jethro (Yitro) to continue traveling with the Jewish nation. It is noteworthy that Moses never told Jethro where the Jews were going. He just told him that “we are traveling to the place which G-d has said, ‘I shall give to you.’” This is reminiscent of G-d commanding Abraham to travel to Canaan with the petition, “Go from your land and your birthplace to the land that I will show you” (Bereishit 12:1).
But their actual destination was known to them. After all, the land of Canaan was the focal point of the Exodus. Why, then, did Moses describe it to Jethro in this mysterious manner? Wouldn’t it have been easier for Moses to tell Jethro, “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, Moses did not refer to Israel merely as the land of Canaan. In telling his father-in-law where the Jews would be going, he did not offer the longitude and latitude. He did not even describe the land of Israel as the land flowing with milk and honey. Moses’ only description was “the land that G-d has said, ‘I shall give to you.’”
This statement describes the land of Israel in stronger terms than agricultural potential, natural beauty, or even strategic location. It describes the land as the place that G-d promised. Any other quality is temporal. Bounty withers, beauty erodes, and natural resources dry up.
In these trying times, when talk of giving away pieces of the land of Israel never leaves the negotiation table, we would do well to remember that the land of Israel 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.
Adapted 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
Keeping Our Priorities Straight
והמן כזרע גד הוא ועינו כעין הבדלח
“And the Manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of the bedolach (crystal).” (Bamidbar 11:7)
During their travels in the wilderness, a group of complainers began to complain about the Manna which they were forced to eat day after day. They wailed that they missed the succulent tastes of the meat, fish, and vegetables which they ate in Egypt, and now they had nothing to look forward to except for Manna. On our verse, Rashi explains that in response to their complaint, G-d wrote in the Torah a description of how wonderful the Manna was as if to say, “Look, inhabitants of the world, at what my children are complaining about.”
Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Pam (1913-2001) notes that although we don’t merit hearing it, a Divine voice expressing frustration over the things we complain about still goes out regularly. We live in a time of unprecedented freedom and material bounty, and we are surrounded by a society which influences us to believe that we are entitled to immediate gratification, to have everything we want, exactly when and exactly how we want it. If we would only step back and view our lives with the proper perspective, we would be so overwhelmed by the blessings we enjoy that there would be no room to complain about trivialities.
Although we don’t usually hear G-d’s direct communication about this point, sometimes He sends us the message about priorities and values through a human agent, as illustrated in the following story. A student in a yeshiva was once complaining with his friends about the quality and variety of the meals that they were served. Each boy heaped more and more criticism on every aspect of the food, until they were jolted to their senses by one of the elderly teachers in the yeshiva. The Rabbi couldn’t help but overhear their loud complaints in the dining hall and walked over to deliver a succinct lesson: “In Auschwitz we would have done anything to have gotten such food.”
Every time that a husband comes home to a messy house, filled with children’s toys and dirty clothes, and once again berates his wife over her inability to keep their house clean, a Heavenly voice challenges, “How many families would do anything to have children and would gladly clean up the mess that accompanies them, and here is somebody who has been blessed with healthy children and is upset that they make his house disorderly? Where are his priorities?”
When a husband or a child complains about eating the same supper for the 3rd consecutive night, G-d can’t help but point out how many poverty-stricken families would do anything to eat this dinner every night for a year, if only to enjoy a nutritional and filling repast. Every time that the parents of the bride and groom quarrel over petty wedding-related issues, a Heavenly voice wonders how many parents will cry themselves to sleep that evening over their inability to find a proper match for their aging son or daughter, and who would gladly accede to any terms the other side would set … if only there would be another side.
The next time that we find ourselves upset about issues which are objectively nothing more than nuisances and minor inconveniences, let us remember the lesson of the Manna and open our ears to hear G-d’s response to our complaints.
The Humblest Man
והאיש משה ענו מאד מכל האדם אשר על פני האדמה
“And the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than all people on the face of the earth.” (Bamidbar 12:3)
To fully appreciate the import of this verse, it would be valuable to review what the Torah has told us about Moses until this point. He was the one who performed the ten plagues in Egypt, who guided the Jewish nation in their exodus from Egypt, who split the Red Sea, who was described as the greatest prophet in history, and who spoke directly to G-d. When the Torah now refers to him as exceedingly humble, more humble than anyone else on earth, we are confronted with an obvious question. How was it possible then for Moses to have maintained this unparalleled degree of humility?
Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, the venerable dean of Yeshivat Mir in Jerusalem, offered the following insight. Among his numerous positive character traits, Moses had the ability to recognize and appreciate the inherent greatness of each individual. He believed that even the simplest person had numerous valuable attributes – attributes from which even the most illustrious sage could learn. Indeed, Moses saw every individual as a mentor and a role model.
This capacity to see greatness in each person, explained Rabbi Finkel, is how Moses acquired his humility, and it is this aspect of his character to which the verse noted above alludes. It is normally translated as, “and the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than all people,” can be understood differently and yield new meaning. The Hebrew word מכל, translated as “more than all,” can also be translated “as a result of all”. The implication of the verse then is that Moses was exceedingly humble as a result of all the people on the face of the Earth. Moses never expressed pride in his superior attributes or his accomplishments. On the contrary, whenever he met someone, he saw that person’s uniqueness. The process of seeing how the next person was better than him turned every human interaction into a means for inspiring an even greater sense of humility.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, most often referred to as the Chofetz Chaim, was once traveling on a train through Poland. At each stop along his route, crowds of people gathered to catch a glimpse of the holy sage. Uncomfortable with the attention he was getting, the Chofetz Chaim decided not to go out onto the platform to greet the masses. Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a renowned Torah scholar but considerably younger than the Chofetz Chaim, was aboard the same train. Rabbi Shapiro questioned the Chofetz Chaim why he didn’t go out to greet the people who gathered to see him.
“I‘m afraid that I may become arrogant from all the attention,” replied the Chofetz Chaim.
Rabbi Shapiro pressed on, “Have you considered the fact that people who came here specifically to see you will be terribly disappointed?
“Is the potential negative effect on you a greater consideration?” The Chofetz Chaim immediately reconsidered and went onto the platform and warmly greeted the crowds of people waiting to see him.
The Chofetz Chaim’s humility, like that of Moses, most likely stemmed from seeing the good in the next person, not from diminishing his own accomplishments. This made it possible for him to quickly reconsider his decision and give more weight to other people’s needs than to his own. While achieving such a high degree of humility may first require having their degree of greatness, it would do us all well step up our appreciation of others and see people for their strengths, not their shortcomings.
Small Act, Huge Payback
ותיסגר מרים מחוץ למחנה… והעם לא נסע עד היאסף מרים
“Miriam was quarantined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not journey until Miriam was brought in” (Bamidbar 12:15).
When Moses’ sister Miriam was stricken with leprosy, she had to leave the camp. For the whole week, the entire Jewish nation did not continue traveling; they simply stopped and waited until Miriam’s leprosy was healed.
Rashi explains that the Jewish people waited for Miriam as a reward for her actions many years prior to this. When Moses was an infant, he had been placed in a basket that floated along the Nile River, and Miriam waited to see what would befall him. Now, the entire nation would wait until she was ready to travel.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand asks a thought-provoking question: Why did G-d decide to honor Miriam with this reward now? Was there no better time for the Jewish people to demonstrate their gratitude to Miriam for having watched over Moses?
If you received a ring which you thought to be a cubic zirconium, you would be thankful for the gift. However, in the back of your mind, you would know that if anything ever happened to it, it could be easily replaced. But if you would discover that this cubic zirconium was in fact a priceless diamond, imagine how grateful you would be! This is what happened here.
A few verses earlier, the Torah tells us that G-d’s relationship with Moses was unlike that between Him and any other prophet. “With him I speak face to face, in a vision not containing allegory, so that he sees a true picture of G-d…” (Bamidbar 12:8). While the Jewish people had known that Moses was a special prophet, it was only after G-d Himself proclaimed how exceptional Moses was — even when compared with other prophets — that they finally realized just how special. This was, therefore, exactly the right time for Miriam’s act to be rewarded.
Furthermore, the Talmud (Sotah 9b) quotes a Mishnah explaining the concept of middah k’neged middah — that G-d treats a person according to the way he acts. This is true of both positive and negative behaviors. However, with positive actions, G-d repays the person to a greater degree than is actually deserved. To prove this point, the Talmud brings the example of Miriam from this week’s Torah portion. Miriam waited for her brother to float down the river, while the Jewish People waited seven days for her to be healed. At the time, Miriam’s action, while significant, didn’t seem so out of the ordinary. However, now, eighty years later, when Moses emerged as the greatest leader over all of Israel, did the significance of her action become apparent to everyone.
At times, an opportunity presents itself to do something positive. A part of us instinctively realizes that it’s the right thing to do, yet another part of us may minimize its importance and even convince us that it is simply not worth the effort. However, if we consider how Miriam’s one act of watching over her brother brought salvation to an entire nation, we’d realize that we never really know how a single action can impact world events. Every single thing that we do, no matter how trivial, is important. Sometimes we see the big picture right away; sometimes it may take a lifetime; or we may never see it at all. Yet, one thing is for sure: great things can come of seemingly small deeds.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Rashi writes (Bamidbar 8:2) that there was a step in front of the Menorah upon which the Priest would stand when cleaning out and lighting the Menorah. As the Menorah was only 18 tefachim tall (approximately 5 feet) and the Priest could light it while standing on the ground, what lesson could the requirement to use a step be teaching us? (Rabbi Yonason Eibeshutz)
Q: Rashi writes (Bamidbar 9:7) that after Moses told the men who were impure that sacrifices may only be offered by pure people, they suggested that an offering be brought on their behalf by pure Priests, with the meat to be eaten by Jews who were pure. Although the law is that a Passover sacrifice brought on behalf of a group consisting of both pure and impure individuals is valid, the impure men would still be unable to fulfill their obligation to eat the Passover sacrifice. If so, what did they hope to gain by their request?
A: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein derives from here that a person should love the mitzvot to the point that even if forces beyond his control prevent him from fulfilling his literal obligation, he should attempt to participate in them to whatever extent is physically possible. He writes that somebody who is unable to dwell in a Sukkah should at least make one, and somebody who cannot eat the prescribed amount of maror (bitter herbs) at the Passover Seder should at least eat a little (although he shouldn’t make a blessing on doing so). He cites a number of examples of mitzvot which contain loopholes by which a person can exempt himself. Nevertheless, G-d gave them in this manner confident that the Jewish people would love performing the commandments and wouldn’t seek to free themselves from doing them. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
The narrative of the Jews’ journey from Mount Sinai en route to fulfilling their national destiny of entering the land of Israel (Bamidbar 10:33-36) contains a veiled critique of the Jews at that time: “They journeyed from the Mountain of G-d.” To understand this critique (after all, they certainly weren’t meant to stay at Sinai!), Rashi (Shabbat 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. Nachmanides explains their lapse as excitedly leaving Mount Sinai “as a child runs from school at the end of his school day.”
- How can the metaphor of “running from school” metaphor be understood in the context of the Jews leaving Mt. Sinai?
- What relevant yet different messages can be understood from the two different approaches of Rashi and Nachmanides?
Q: The Talmud (Shabbat 130a) teaches that any mitzvah which was accepted by the Jewish people with happiness, such a circumcision, is still performed to the present day with gladness. Any mitzvah which was accepted with fighting – such as forbidden relationships (Rashi Bamidbar 11:10) – is still accompanied by tension, as the issues involved in the negotiation of every wedding involve struggles and discord. Of all of the mitzvot, why did the Jewish people specifically complain about the prohibition against marrying family members?
A: Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher suggests that when the Jews heard that they would be unable to marry their close relatives, they feared that they would be unable to enjoy successful and compatible marriages. They felt that the ideal candidate for marriage would be a person who was familiar since birth and who would be almost identical in terms of values and stylistic preferences. However, from the fact that the Torah forbids us to marry those most similar to us, we may deduce that the Torah’s vision of marriage and an ideal partner differs from our own. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Just after the Israelites left Mount Sinai, they began to complain. One group complained about the length of the journey; G-d punished them by consuming them with fire (Bamidbar 11:1). A second group complained about having only manna to eat. G-d sent the people slav — quails, as much as they wanted to eat. G-d severely punished those that partook by killing them while they ate the quails (Bamidbar 11:33).
1) The Torah relates that when the manna fell, G-d also sent quails every day — without the Israelites having asked for them. Why, then, might the nation have felt a need to ask for them again after the Torah was given to them on Mount Sinai?
2) When the first group complained about the journey, they were immediately punished. The others, however, were first given what they felt was lacking, and only then were they punished. What message might G-d gave been giving them?
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married… They said, ‘Was it only Moses to whom G-d spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?’ And G-d heard.” (Bamidbar 12:1-2)
As Moses was expected to be “on call,” i.e., ready to communicate with G-d at any moment, it was necessary for him to temporarily separate from his wife, Tzipporah. Unaware that this was a directive from G-d, Miriam shared this information with Aaron and together, they protested this apparent slight to Tzipporah. In addition to standing up for Tzipporah’s dignity, they challenged the idea that the separation was related to his role as a prophet. After all, they too were prophets and had no such restrictions. G-d explained that Moses’ degree of prophecy was greater than Miriam’s and Aaron’s. Miriam was then punished with tzaraat (a spiritual skin condition) for having spoken slander about Moses.
1) Why were Miriam’s words considered slanderous? She was merely expressing her sincere concern about Moses’ behavior, and was simply uninformed!
2) Why is the recounting of Miriam’s mistake not considered slanderous in itself?
3) Why was Miriam singled out for punishment? Aaron protested to Moses as well!
4) Rashi notes that “Cushite” is a euphemism for “beauty.” Why would it be relevant to know that Moses’ wife was beautiful?
The Talmud (Nedorim 38a) derives from Moses that a prophet must possess four qualities: (Bamidbar 12:3), humility, wisdom, strength, and wealth. Why would it be necessary for a prophet to be strong and rich? (Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
RISE AND SHINE
“Speak to Aaron, and say to him; When you cause to rise [light] the lamps toward the face of the Menorah…” Bamidbar 8:2
When you Cause to Rise – Because the flame ascends, igniting is described in terms of “rising.” He is required to ignite the lamp until the flame rises by itself. – Rashi
Sefer Korbon HaOni explains that the act of kindling the menorah is analogous to kindling the human soul. When a person first embarks on the lofty task of mitzvah performance, it is not always easy to sustain the initial enthusiasm and his interest can fluctuate from day to day. The act of lighting the menorah teaches us that one should not remove the igniting flame until the flame of the menorah is sufficiently stable to rise of its own accord. Similarly, when one embarks upon the performance of a mitzvah, he should be accompanied by a hefty dose of inspiration and commitment, and consistently perform the mitzvah regardless of his degree of enthusiasm until the mitzvah takes on a life of its own. Only once he has mastered the observance and performs it consistently, can he safely let up on the inspiration.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
“Aaron did so; toward the face of the Menorah he lit its lamps, just as G-d commanded Moses”. Bamidbar 8:3
Just as G-d commanded Moses – This indicates Aaron’s virtue: he did not deviate (i.e. in the performance of the mitzvah)from that which Moses had instructed him in the name of G-d. – Rashi
Why is the fact that Aaron followed instructions considered a virtue? Isn’t that to be expected of a person of his lofty stature? Rashi’s point is that not only did Aaron not deviate from his instructions in the slightest, but also, that he never once varied in his enthusiasm for the mitzvah during all 39 years that he lit the menorah in the Tabernacle. The same passion and zeal he felt upon doing so for the first time remained with him for as long as he performed the mitzvah. – Vilna Gaon
The commentators derive another lesson from the words, “He did not deviate.” In addition to performing the Temple Service, the Kohanim (Priests) were expected to act as the teachers of the Torah for the people. A successful teacher is one who practices what he preaches. If the teacher acts one way but expects the pupils to act another way, he will not be effective. Aaron, as the lead Kohen, “did not deviate”. He performed every mitzvah exactly as he was originally instructed, and he could therefore expect nothing less of those to whom he ministered.
“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 G-d showed to Moses, so he made the Menorah.” Bamidbar 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 Brachot 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
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
“For every firstborn of the Children of Israel became mine…on the day that I struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself.” Bamidbar 8:17
Firstborn…became mine – I acquired them when I distinguished between the Jewish firstborn and the Egyptian firstborn and spared them as I eradicated the Egyptians. – Rashi
Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Hirshawitz zt”l [Meitav Higayon] explains that the responsibility to ensure that a home functions smoothly, and in proper fashion, lies with the elders of the home who set the standard and example for the younger members of the household. For this reason, the Egyptian firstborn were the scapegoats for the rest of the population, because their example determined how all the rest would act toward the Jewish people. Their enthusiasm in persecuting the Jewish people ensured that all Egyptians would act in similar fashion. The consequences they suffered made it clear that a great responsibility lies on the firstborn of each family, and naturally placed great expectations upon the firstborn of the Jewish people, too. They were expected to set a positive example for their younger brethren and lead them in the service of the Almighty. Tragically, their dismal performance in the episode of the Golden Calf, demonstrated their inability to live up to this responsibility, and it was transferred instead to the Levites.
“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!’” Bamidbar 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.
FOR THE LOVE OF G-D
“Moses said to Chovav…We are journeying to the place of which G-d has said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Go with us and we shall treat you well…He said to him, ‘I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’ He said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know our encampments…and you will be as eyes for us.’” Bamidbar 10:29-31
You will be as eyes for us – We will love and treasure you as much as we value our own eyeballs, for the Torah commands, “You shall love the convert” (Devarim 10:19). – Rashi
You will be as eyes for us – Surrounding the chapter that follows these verses are found two inverted letter “nuns,” which separate that chapter from those that precede and follow it. The fact that they are inverted hints to the idea that we live in a topsy-turvy world, and this incident with Jethro [aka Chovav] is proof of that. Although he formerly occupied a very prominent position in his hometown, Jethro was so impressed by what he witnessed from G-d that he left his people, his homeland, and all his possessions, and joined the Jewish people. Simultaneously, the Jewish people repeatedly found things to complain about, enraging G-d in the process. Moses begged Jethro to remain with them, hoping that his example would influence them to focus on His kindnesses and remain stalwart in their faith in the face of subsequent trials and tribulations that they would face. – Toldos Yitzchak
Why is Jethro referred to as Chovav in this episode and not by the name to which he is usually referred? The name Chovav is related to the word “chibah,” which means love. According to the Medrash, the first time Jethro came, he was so impressed and overwhelmed by what he witnessed that he desired to join the Jewish people, but Moses, acting upon G-d’s instructions, sent him home. G-d reasoned that Jethro, who had sat comfortably in his home while the Jewish people slaved away in Egypt, had no right to join them now that things had turned around for them. His subsequent return demonstrated that he wasn’t returning simply to take advantage of their positive situation, but rather, he was motivated by a love for the truth. This is why Moses now pleaded with him to remain, and why the Torah uses the name Chovav – to demonstrate that this time it was motivated by love alone.
“Whenever the Ark departed, Moses would proclaim: ‘Rise up, G-d, and may Your enemies disperse, and those who hate You, flee before You.’” Bamidbar 10:35
Those who hate You – This refers to the enemies of the Jewish people, since all those who detest Israel, [actually] detest the One who brought the world into being…” – Rashi
“Why is it called, ‘Mt. Sinai’? Because it is the mountain from which ‘Sinah’ [hatred toward the Jewish people] descended upon earth. – Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 89a
Their hatred stems from the fact that we, not they, accepted the Torah along with its moral precepts and principles. – Rashi
Although numerous justifications have been advanced over the centuries to explain anti-semitism, none come close to satisfying a rational mind. How is it that we’re blamed for enjoying too much power, yet detested for living in poverty? In one country we’re accused of usurping all the jobs, whereas in another, we’re accused of being lazy and disinterested in work? We’ve been charged with plotting to rule the entire rule, while simultaneously being guilty of not showing sufficient interest in world politics? Our sages teach us that the reason none of these meager excuses stand up to scrutiny, is because none of them truly represent the sentiments of the antagonistic nations. Rather, what irks them most is our commitment to represent the highest standards of morality and serve as the world’s moral conscience. No one likes to be constantly reminded of his shortcomings, but all agree that it’s a necessary dimension of life. The interesting thing about this is that when we live up to our commitment to practice morality on the highest level, we may not be universally beloved, but we’ll certainly be respected, albeit begrudgingly. The real problems begin only when we claim to be morally sound, but fail to live up to those standards. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the worst thing a Jew can do is try to assimilate and erase all vestiges of his Jewish identity. It only serves to arouse the ire of the nations and incite them to persecution.
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.” Bamidbar 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 Reuben, 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 Medrash 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.
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married…They said, ‘Was it only to Moses that G-d spoke? Did he not speak to us as well?’… G-d suddenly said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, ‘You three, go out to the Tent of Meeting…’” Bamidbar 12:1-4
Miriam and Aaron spoke – Miriam overheard Moses’ wife lamenting her fate as the wife of a prophet whose husband was forced to separate from her, since he must always be ready to receive a Divine prophecy. She shared this information with Aaron, and although she intended only for the good, she was severely punished. – Rashi
G-d suddenly said…You three, go out – G-d appeared to them suddenly to demonstrate Moses’ unique situation that required that he separate from his wife. They were in a state of impurity and panicked when they realized that they needed to immerse themselves, because they were not fit to converse with the Almighty. In this manner, G-d demonstrated why Moses needed to be in a constant state of purity, lest he too, find himself in this predicament. – Rashi
The Chofetz Chaim [Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan] was wont to point out that a similar responsibility lies upon all of us nowadays, because we live in the epoch of the Messiah, when he can arrive at any time. Consequently, we must always ensure that we are prepared to receive him and begin to perform the service in the Third Temple. This requires advance study of the myriad laws of Temple offerings and all that’s associated with it. We must also make sure that we are spiritually prepared to receive his message of enlightenment and abide by it, lest we be found unworthy and excluded from the process.
Hey, I Never Knew That
The Jews are commanded to blow trumpets at times of war and distress, at the offering of sacrifices, and at times of happiness (Bamidbar 10:9-10). Maimonides maintains that even nowadays, in the absence of the Temple and the trumpets, we are nevertheless obligated in this commandment. We fulfill this by gathering together in prayer and repentance whenever there is a time of distress for the Jewish people, and he includes in this the rabbinic obligation to fast as an aid in the process of repentance. In the words of Maimonides (Laws of Fasts 1:1-2), “The Torah commands us to cry out [to G-d]… when any tragedy strikes… This is part of the process of repentance. When a misfortune occurs and the community prays, cries out, and assembles, they will realize that this has happened as a result of their sins… And the Sages further obligated the community to fast on the occasion of any tragedy…”
The verses that describe the travels of the Holy Ark, “And it was when the ark traveled…” until “when it came to rest…” (Bamidbar 10:35-36) are encompassed by two inverted letters “nun” looking much like parentheses. The Talmud (Shabbat 116b) states that this indicates that these two verses have the status of an entire book of the Torah. Rav Chaim Yosef David Azoulai writes that this book of the Torah is, so to speak, folded and compacted into itself. The travels, events, and deeds of the Jewish people throughout history are all condensed into those two verses, and when we merit the redemption, G-d will unfold the hidden dimensions of this “book” of the Torah and reveal the whole breadth of Jewish history, which is the “travels of the Holy Ark” (Kisei Rachamin, Masechet Sofrim).
Word of the Week
“There shall be one law for the convert and for the אזרח — ezrach” (Bamidbar 9:14). אזרח clearly means a “native Jew” as opposed to the convert mentioned in the verse. The Targum Onkelos commentary translates it as one who is “established in the land,” because a native Israelite has an automatic portion in the land of Israel, whereas a convert does not. Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim) relates אזרח to זרח — shine, because unlike the unknown convert whose genealogy is concealed, the native Israelite’s family is well known and his genealogy “shines” forth. In Modern Hebrew, an אזרח is a citizen, and אזרחות is citizenship.
“The people would stroll and gather it [the manna]… and it tasted like a לשד—leshad of oil” (Bamidbar 11:8). Rashi quotes the great grammarian Dunash ibn Lebret who translates leshad as “oily cakes.” However Rashi himself interprets the word as an acronym for “kneaded, [with] oil [and] honey.” Targum Onkelos translates the word as kneaded, similar to Rashi’s acronym. Ibn Ezra, Rabbi David Kimchi, and Rabbi Hirsch all explain it as moist, in contrast to the Septuagint, which renders leshad as a wafer.
The Torah commands us to blow trumpets at times of war and distress (Bamidbar 10:9-10). Rabbi Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher 19, par. 2) quotes Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (Magen Avraham 576:1) who asks why we don’t perform this commandment nowadays. Some answer that the mitzvah only applies in Israel (Pri Megadim), and some answer that since we don’t have the appropriate trumpets and don’t know how to make them, therefore we cannot fulfill the mitzvah (Ritvah, Ta’anit 12, Maharam Shick, Mitzvah 385). However these answers are problematic, since we should at least do the mitzvah in Israel, or we should make trumpets and fulfill the command, since the Torah does not give precise specifications for the trumpets. Rabbi Weiss cites Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, O.C. 1:169) who answers that the mitzvah is only to blow the trumpets which are used at the Temple when sacrifices are brought. Since we do not have a Temple or offerings, we are exempt from the mitzvah.
What blessing did the Jews make on manna? Did they say the blessing on bread, “…Who extracts bread from the earth”? The manna came from heaven, not from earth! This is discussed by Rabbi Avraham Danzig (Nishmat Adam 152) and is not merely theoretical. He maintains that the conclusion has ramifications in our daily practice. If a vegetable is grown hydroponically and has no contact with or sustenance from the earth, he rules (Chayei Adam 51:17) that one says the blessing “that everything was created with Your word” (shehakol) and not the classic blessing on vegetables, “Creator of the fruit of the ground.” He also concludes that a palm branch, myrtle, willow, and etrogthat are grown hydroponically are kosher for use on Sukkot, because even though they are not from the ground, they are nevertheless the correct species. (Of course, one should consult with one’s rabbi on all practical issues of Jewish law.)
Parsha at a Glance
Following G-d’s command, Moses showed Aaron how to light the great menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In front of the entire Jewish people, Moses consecrated the Levites for their service in the Mishkan. After five years of apprenticeship (beginning at the age of twenty-five), they served until the age of fifty. Afterwards, they could no longer work, but could assist other Levites.
G-d instructed the people regarding a Pesach-offering (Passover offering) on the fourteenth of the month of Nissan, the first month of the year. Those who were impure at this time or who could not come to the Mishkan because of distance had the opportunity to offer their Passover-offerings on Pesach Sheini, the fourteenth day of the following month of Iyar.
On the day that the Mishkan was erected, a cloud covered it during the day, and a fire burned during the night. Whenever the cloud lingered, the Jewish people would encamp; when it was lifted, they would journey.
G-d also commanded Moses to make two silver trumpets, whose sounding would assemble all the people or their leaders to announce that it was time to travel, request G-d’s help during wartime, and signal rejoicing on holidays and days of celebration.
The Torah then details the formations of the tribes during the journeys of the Jewish people.
Moses importuned his father-in-law, Jethro, to come with the nation to the land of Israel. Jethro refused.
While traveling, the Jewish people praised the food they had in Egypt, and complained about the manna that G-d sent down for their sustenance in the desert. Moses pleaded with G-d out of desperation. G-d instructed him to gather seventy elders to form the Sanhedrin, who would help him in judging the people. He also promised meat for an entire month – and the people would eat it until it became disgusting to them, as punishment for their complaints to G-d. Joshua informed Moses that two men were prophesying (that Moses would die and Joshua would take them into the land of Israel, according to the commentator Rashi), but rather then becoming upset, he expressed hope that all Jews would become prophets.
G-d provided quail to appease those who complained that there was no meat, and those who ate it died as punishment for their dissatisfaction with the manna.
Miriam mentioned to Aaron a domestic matter concerning Moses, their brother. Moses, a paragon of humility, did not respond to them. G-d explained to Aaron and Miriam that Moses was the greatest prophet, and questioned how they could speak against him. Miriam, though well-intentioned, was punished with a spiritual skin condition (tzaraat). She was quarantined outside the camp for seven days, and only after she returned did the nation continue on their journey.