In the second of this week's two parashot we read of Bnei
Yisrael's travels. On the verse (Vayikra 6:6), "An eternal flame
shall burn on the altar, it shall not be extinguished," the
Talmud Yerushalmi comments: "Even during the travels." What does
this teach us?
R' Aharon Lewin z"l (the "Reisha Rav"; died 1941) writes:
There is an awesome ethical lesson here. When a person is at
home, he is less likely to sin. Even if the yetzer hara tempts
him, he will overcome the yetzer hara because he knows that
whatever he does will come to the attention of his friends and
neighbors. Not so when a person is traveling. When he is away,
he can act with impunity and it will not become known at home.
This fact is alluded to in the verse (Bereishit 4:7), "Sin lurks
at the door." When one leaves the door of his house, he is more
likely to sin.
However, "Fortunate is one who fears Hashem, who goes in his
ways" (Tehilim 128:1). Even when he goes on his way, he fears
Hashem. [Note that most commentaries translate: "His ways,"
referring to G-d.]
This is the message of the Yerushalmi: The eternal flame of
love of G-d should burn on the altar in a person's heart even
when he travels. As Tehilim (119:1) says, "Fortunate are those
who are perfect on the road, who go with the Torah of G-d."
(Ha'drash V'Ha'iyun II p.91)
"Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael,
saying: 'This is the davar/thing that Hashem has
R' Klonimus Kalman Epstein z"l (early chassidic leader in
Krakow; died1823) writes: We must understand the phrase, "This is
the thing that Hashem has commanded." Would one have thought, G-
d forbid, that Moshe said this of his own?
He explains: "Davar" can also mean "word." In the verses which
follow, the Torah teaches that a rabbi can release a man from his
vow and a husband can nullify his wife's vow. The Torah is
teaching us, however, that this release or nullification must be
verbal. For example, if a man has made a vow that apples will be
forbidden to him, it is not enough if the rabbi feeds him an
apple. The rabbi must say, "They are permitted to you."
We do not appreciate the power of speech, R' Epstein adds.
There are many laws in the Torah that require action, for
example, sitting in a sukkah or putting on tefilin. However,
there are other laws which are dependent on the spoken word. For
example, if a man appears before a kohen with a mark that may be
tzara'at, the man is not legally considered to have tzara'at
until the kohen says the word: "Tamei"/"impure." Similarly, when
the mark disappears, all of the legal implications of having
tzara'at remain in effect until the kohen intones:
"Tahor"/"pure." Such is the effect that one word can have on
another person's life.
Why is the chapter that discusses the laws of vows always read
during the "Three Weeks" when we commemorate the destruction of
the Bet Hamikdash? R' Meir Horowitz z"l (1819-1877; the
"Dzikover Rebbe") explains:
The first Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because King Tzidkiyahu
transgressed his vow not to rebel against the Babylonian king,
Nevuchadnezar. Also, the final redemption will take place only
after certain vows that Hashem took are nullified.
The mishnah (Chagigah 10a) states: "Release from vows floats in
the air." [Literally, this means that the idea that a rabbi can
nullify a vow is barely alluded to in the Torah and is learned
from the Oral Law.] R' Horowitz taught: On the verse (Beresihit
1:2), "A Divine spirit hovered upon the surface of the water,"
Chazal commented, "This is the soul of mashiach." It is mashiach
who is hovering over the waters - floating in the air - who will
nullify Hashem's vows.
"Moshe sent them . . . and Pinchas . . . and the sacred
The gemara explains that the "sacred vessels" included the Aron
Hakodesh. Inside the Aron were the remnants of the luchot that
R' Yissachar Dov Rokeach z"l (died 1927; the "Belzer Rebbe")
asks: Why would they take a reminder of the sin of the Golden
Calf to the battlefront. Should we not fear that it will
"testify" against them before the Heavenly Court?
He answers: Just the opposite - the broken luchot are a
reminder that no matter how low the Jewish people fall, Hashem
remains willing to accept their repentance and take them back.
"We shall arm ourselves swiftly . . ." m (32:17)
R' Zvi Elimelech of Dinov (the "Bnei Yissaschar"; died 1841)
observes that the same Hebrew words that can be translated, "We
shall arm ourselves swiftly," can also be translated, "We will
detach ourselves from our senses." He explains:
The tribes of Reuven and Gad accepted upon themselves to leave
their wives, children and belongings on the east bank of the
Jordan and to lead the invasion of Eretz Yisrael. It was only
natural to fear that because of their on the battle and would be
ineffective. They therefore promised Moshe, "We will detach
ourselves from our senses," and not let our feelings affect us.
quoted in Torat Bnei Yissaschar p.258)
"Aharon was 123 years old at his death on Mount Hor. The
Canaanite king of Arad heard - he was dwelling in the south
of the Land of Canaan - of the approach of Bnei Yisrael."
Rashi writes: "To teach you that what the king heard was that
Aharon had died and the Clouds of Glory disappeared. He
therefore felt that he had been granted permission to attack.
This is why it is written again here."
R' David ben Shmuel Halevi z"l (1586-1667; the "Taz"; rabbi of
Krakow and other towns) explains Rashi's meaning as follows:
Earlier (21:1) we read, "The Canaanite king, who dwelled in the
south, heard that Israel had come by the route of the spies . .
." Rashi wrote there too that the king heard that Aharon had
died and the Clouds of Glory had disappeared. But how could
Rashi write that? Does not the Torah say what he heard - "that
Israel had come by the route of the spies"?
Rashi here answers this question: In our verse, the Torah
reports again that Aharon died and the king of Arad heard. Here,
the Torah does not say that he heard that Israel had come by the
route of the spies. This repetition but with a change, is: "To
teach you that what the king heard was the Aharon had died and
the Clouds of Glory disappeared. . . This is why it is written
The Taz adds: Aren't we taught that although the Clouds of
Glory disappeared when Aharon died, they reappeared in Moshe's
merit? The answer is that they reappeared only after the king of
Arad attacked, for Hashem wanted the Jewish people to notice the
loss of the tzaddik Aharon. The same thing happened when Miriam
died. The well that had traveled with Bnei Yisrael disappeared,
and it did not reappear in Moshe and Aharon's merit until after
Bnei Yisrael had felt its absence.
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter is the famous "Zettil Hakattan"/"Little
Letter" by the early chassidic rebbe, R' Elimelech of
Lizhensk z"l (died 1787). The full letter consists of
seventeen numbered paragraphs of advice.
4. No matter what one does, whether learning Torah, praying or
doing mitzvah deeds, one should accustom oneself to say, "L'shem
yichud . . ."/"I am doing this for the sake of unification of the
Holy One Blessed Be He and His Shechinah, to be pleasing to the
Creator." One should accustom oneself to say this in the deepest
recesses of his heart and, after a time, one will feel a great
light when he says this. . .
8. One should accustom oneself not to begin a conversation
with any person except in a time of great need. Even then, one
should speak as briefly as possible, words strained through 13
strainers [i.e., carefully chosen words], so that he will not
speak any falsehood, G-d forbid, or any flattery or lashon hara
or gossip or words that will embarrass another, or words that
will show off one's [good] deeds to another. One should accustom
oneself to fulfill the dictum of Chazal. "Accustom your tongue
to say, 'I do not know'." When people who are not careful to
refrain from speaking without a purpose speak to you, do your
best to get away from them . . .
9. A person should accustom himself immediately when he wakes
up to say, "Modeh ani . . ." He should say with a joyful heart,
even in Yiddish: "Blessed is the G-d above Who has given me the
mitzvah of tzitzit with which I am encircled, and the mitzvah of
netilat yadaim/hand washing to remove the impure spirit from my
two hands." One should see to it that his heart is full of joy
when he says this . . .
11. One should accustom himself to pray with all his strength
and out loud, which awakens one's kavanah/concentration . . . One
should face toward the wall and pray from a siddur, and should
not look to the sides from the beginning of the prayers until the
end. During the chazzan's repetition [of shemoneh esrei], one
should look in a siddur and answer amen with all his strength on
each berachah. During the Torah reading, one should turn his
ears to hear every word that comes out of the mouth of the one
who is reading, just as one does during the Megillah reading.
One should act like a mute so long as he is in shul, even before
the prayers, and afterward, until he gets home.