A Cut Amongst the Rest
Volume 6 Issue 35
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week's portion begins Sefer Bamidbar, telling the story of the major
events that occurred during the forty year trek though the Midbar towards
the land of Israel. In secular terms the book is called Numbers, probably
because of the first command in this third Book of the Pentateuch, "count
the Jewish people," thus the name Numbers.
The Hebrew words for count are either s'ooh , which also means lift up, and
p'kod, which can also mean appoint. Thus, when the Torah commands, "s'ooh
es rosh kol adas Yisrael, count the heads all the assembly of Israel
(Numbers 1:2), it is telling Moshe to uplift them as well.
It was not merely a matter of numbers, explains Rebbe Rav Shmuel of
Sochatchov: counting the nation was not only a means of enumerating them,
but also of appointing a special dignity to each and every one who was
counted. Every individual was important, there were no communal estimates,
and the appointment actually lifted them.
But one of the tribes was not counted with the rest. Regarding the tribe
of Levi, which was designated as the spiritual leader of the Jewish people,
Moshe was told, "But you shall not count (p'kod) the tribe of Levi; and
their heads you shall not lift (v'es rosham lo sisah) among the Children of
Israel" (Numbers 1:49).
The questions are simple. Why is there a double expression prohibiting a
count "do not count and do not lift their heads"? In addition, why does
the Torah add the words, "amongst the children of Israel"? True, they were
counted separately, and so the Torah should rather state, "And the tribe of
Levi shall be enumerated separately." Can there be a deeper intonation
with the expression, "Do not lift their head amongst the Children of Israel"?
Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisels, the Rav of Lodz, would raise money for the poor
widows and orphans of his city. During one particularly freezing winter,
he went to visit one of the prominent members of his community, Reb Isaac,
a banker who served as the president of the community council.
Bundled in a coat and scarf, the Rabbi approached the banker's mansion and
knocked on the door.
The valet who answered the door was shocked to see the great Rabbi Meisels
standing outside in the bitter cold. He immediately asked him to enter the
home where he said there would be a hot tea waiting.
Rabbi Meisels refused. "It is not necessary. Please tell Reb Isaac to see
me by the door."
The banker heard that the Rav was waiting near the portal and rushed in his
evening jacket to greet him. Upon seeing the Rabbi standing in the frigid
weather, he exclaimed. "Rebbe, please step inside. I have the fireplace
raging, and my butler will prepare a hot tea for you! There is no need for
you to wait outside!"
"That's alright," countered Reb Eliyahu Chaim. "It won't be long, and all
I need could be accomplished by talking right here. I'm sure you won't
mind. Anyway, why should I dirty your home with my snow-covered boots?"
By this time, Reb Isaac was in a dilemma. The frigid air was blowing into
his house. He did not want to close the door and talk outside in the cold,
and yet the Rabbi did not want to enter!
"Please, Rabbi, I don't know about you, but I am freezing," cried the
banker. "I don't mind if your boots are wet! Just come on in!"
But the Rabbi did not budge, He began talking about the plight of some the
unfortunate members of the community as the bankers teeth chattered in
"Please, Rebbe, just tell me what you need! I'll give anything you want,
just come inside!”
With that, Reb Elya Chaim relented. He entered the man's home and followed
him to the den, where a blazing fire heated the room. Then he began: "I
need firewood for 50 families this winter." The banker smiled. “No
problem, I commit to supplying the wood. Just one question. You know I
give tzedoka, so why did you make me stand outside?”
"Reb Isaac," smiled Reb Eliyahu Chaim. "I know you give, but I wanted to
make sure you understood what these poor people are going through. I knew
that five minutes in the freezing cold would give you a different
perspective than my initial asking while basking in the warmth of your
The Chasam Sofer explains that because Levi was a special tribe of teachers
and leaders it could be possible they would be aloof. Thus, though they
were counted separately, they could not be above the crowd. Therefore,
the Torah's command was stated in clear terms, "their heads you shall not
lift (v'es rosham lo sisah) among the Children of Israel". Leadership may
put you in a class by yourself, but remember, says the Torah, you must not
feel that you are above the folk. You cannot bask in warmth while you are
oblivious to those who suffer in the cold. Your head can not be "lifted"
from among the children of Israel.
Dedicated by Aleeza & Avi Lauer and Family, in memory of Avi's father,
Rabbi Elias Lauer - Harav Eliezer Ben Aharon Dovid, A"H, on the occasion of
his yartzeit, 26th day of Iyar, and in memory of Avi's grandfather, Aaron
Lauer - Ahron Dovid Ben Eliezer, A"H, on the occasion of his yartzeit, 28th
day of Iyar.
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of theYeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation