Our parashah opens: "This is the Torah-a man who will die
in the tent . . ." Making a play on these words, Chazal say
that the Torah will remain only with one who "kills himself"
studying it. R' Avraham Yishayahu Karelitz z"l (1878-1953;
the "Chazon Ish") explains:
This "death" means looking below the surface of life at
life's innermost details. This means conquering one's
character, because a person's traits are the superficial
covering of his life. Killing one's impulses leads to life
on the Torah path.
There are many degenerate traits, the Chazon Ish writes,
but breaking even one of them gives a person life and
enables Torah to remain with him. Prominent among those
traits is laziness. Laziness is so pervasive that it can
affect both thoughts and deeds. Ironically, laziness can
sometimes motivate a person to act, as when, for example, a
person knows that what he plans to do is wrong, but he is
too lazy to control himself and to declare war on his
Laziness causes a person to adopt a "business as usual"
attitude towards his own development, and this is the root
cause for abandonment of the Torah. (Igrot Chazon Ish I,
"Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in
the eyes of Bnei Yisrael . . ." (20:12)
Rashi writes: Had you spoken to the rock, Hashem's Name
would have been sanctified because Bnei Yisrael would have
reasoned, "If a rock, which has no senses and which has no
needs, obeys the will of Hashem, how much more so must we
obey the will of Hashem?"
R' Shimon Schwab z"l questions this logic. He asks: How
can we learn from a rock? Rocks have no free will!
He answers (in the name of his teacher, R' Yerucham
Levovitz z"l of Mir): If we truly recognized our
subservience to Hashem, we would realize that we have no
free will either. The best choice a person could make is
the choice to return his free will to Hashem.
(Maayan Bet Sho'evah)
A related idea:
The prayer which we call "Shema" has three parts. The
gemara (Berachot 13a) calls the first part, "Accepting the
yoke of Heaven." The gemara calls the second part,
"Accepting the yoke of mitzvot."
How is the yoke of Heaven distinct from the yoke of
mitzvot? asks Rav Avraham Grodzenski (mashgiach of the
Slobodka Yeshiva) hy"d. To understand this, we must
understand the basic tool of the yetzer hara, says Rav
Grodzenski. That tool is the concept of "choice." Man
doesn't mind doing what is right, but he is "pro-choice" -
he must feel like he is in control and no one can tell him
what to do. Phrased differently, man does not object to
doing mitzvot; what he objects to is the yoke of Heaven.
Conversely, says Rav Grodzenski, accepting the yoke of
mitzvot is not so hard, so long as one has accomplished the
prerequisite: "Accepting the yoke of Heaven." This means
subjugating man's desire for "choice" to the recognition
that man is ultimately a slave to G-d.
(Torat Avraham p.59)
"The Canaanite king of Arad, who dwelled in the south,
heard that Yisrael had come the route of the spies, and
he warred against Yisrael . . ." (21:1)
R' Moshe Grunwald z"l explains: Bnei Yisrael had sent the
spies because they wanted to conquer Eretz Canaan by natural
means, without the intervention of open miracles. When the
King of Arad heard that Bnei Yisrael were no longer relying
on miraculous aid from Above, he found the courage to
"[The] well that the princes dug, that the nobles of
the people excavated, through a lawgiver, with their
staff. A gift from the wilderness." (21:18)
The latter part of these verses is interpreted by the
gemara as a formula for successful Torah study, i.e., if one
is humble like the wilderness, the Torah will be given to
him as a gift.
The Vilna Gaon z"l writes that the first part of the verse
can be read in the same spirit. The Torah can be acquired
by the toil of study (like the "princes of Torah" who "dig"
for the Torah's treasures) or by supporting Torah study
(like the nobles who "excavate" - see Bereishit 50:5, where
"excavated" means "bought"). Torah can be acquired by the
scholars who make the laws and by those who use their
"staffs" to support Torah. This is the meaning of the verse
(Kohelet 7:12), "Because in the shade of wisdom is the shade
An Astonishing Midrash
When the angels heard (Bemidbar 19:2), "This is the
decree of the Torah," they asked: "Then why will Moshe
Hashem responded (in the words of Kohelet 9:2), "The
same fate awaits the righteous and the wicked . . ."
A "chukah"/"decree" is a mitzvah whose reason is not
revealed to man. The law of the parah adumah/red heifer is
such a mitzvah.
Why didn't Hashem reveal the reason for parah adumah to
Bnei Yisrael? Chazal teach that the parah adumah is
connected with Bnei Yisrael's atonement for the golden calf.
Yet, according to the gemara, the mitzvah of parah adumah
was given to Bnei Yisrael before the sin of the golden calf
occurred. (Hashem always creates the "cure" before the
"disease"; thus, for example, Esther was already enthroned
as Queen of Persia when Haman became prime minister.)
However, Hashem could not very well reveal the reason for
the parah adumah to Bnei Yisrael; after all, while Hashem
knew that they would sin by making a golden calf, they did
not know it. They had the free-will not to make a golden
Only Moshe knew the reason for the parah adumah, for he
had attained the level of wisdom and prophecy were he could,
so-to-speak, "read Hashem's mind." This was a level that no
one had attained since Adam had sinned and death had been
decreed on mankind. Thus the angels asked, if Moshe has
attained the level of Adam before the sin, why will he die?
Hashem answered: It is the way of the world. Everyone
[Ed. Note: In light of the foregoing, we can
understand why the mitzvah of Parah Adumah, which had
been given much earlier, is described in the same
parashah in which Moshe's death is decreed.]
R' Shimshon of Sens z"l
born approx. 1150 - died approx. 1230
Although the Talmud commentary that we know as "Tosfot"
was written by teams of scholars over several hundred years,
the 18th century posek/halachic authority and bibliographer,
Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai ("Chida"), writes that
whenever any of the rishonim/medieval sages quotes the
Tosfot, he is referring specifically to the teachings of R'
Shimshon. (Most of the Tosfot which appear in our edition
of the Talmud are abridgements of R' Shimshon's teachings.)
R' Shimshon also was the author of one of the major
commentaries on the first and last of the Six Orders of the
Mishnah. This commentary is known as the "Rash." (Although
R' Shimshon was known by both of the acronyms which appear
in the title of this biography, he should not be confused
with the 14th century sages "Rosh" - Rabbenu Asher - and
"Rashba" - R' Shlomo ben Aderet.)
R' Shimshon studied under Rashi's grandson, Rabbenu Tam,
and great-grandson, R' Yitzchak of Dampierre ("Ri"). He
later established a yeshiva in Sens, France, where he
disseminated Ri's teachings. One unique feature of Rash's
lectures was his extensive use of the Talmud Yerushalmi (the
"Jerusalem" or "Palestinian" Talmud, as opposed to the
"Babylonian" Talmud which is the focus of yeshiva studies to
R' Shimshon played a pivotal role in the controversy
surrounding Rambam's/Maimonides' halachic code. After a
Spanish sage took exception to one of Rambam's statements
regarding the World to Come, R' Shimshon was asked for his
opinion. Although he had never before heard of Rambam (who
was his contemporary), R' Shimshon reviewed parts of
Rambam's works and declared that, while Rambam was wrong
about the particular statement in dispute, "he discerned the
wonders in G-d's Torah."
In 1211, Rash settled in Eretz Yisrael with several
hundred people from among his disciples and their families.
He is buried in Akko. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim
p.136; She'eilot U'teshuvot Yosef Ometz No. 101)