Ramban writes: After the Book of Vayikra has taught us what to
do _in_ the Mishkan (i.e., the laws of the sacrifices), Bemidbar
describes the organization of the camps _around_ the Mishkan.
This, says Ramban, is reminiscent of the way Bnei Yisrael
encircled Har Sinai at the time of Matan Torah / the giving of
The parallelism noted by Ramban is not coincidental; the
Shulchan Aruch states that Bemidbar is always the parashah which
precedes Shavuot. (There are, however, two exceptions to this
rule.) The midrash finds a related connection, noting that the
arrangement of the camps around the Mishkan was based on the
groupings of angels that Bnei Yisrael "saw" at Har Sinai.
It is also interesting to note that Parashat Bemidbar is one of
the few parashot (outside of Sefer Bereishit) which teaches no
new mitzvot. And, Ramban observes that the vast majority of the
commandments in Sefer Bemidbar are of a temporary nature,
applying only to the sojourn in the desert or to the first
generation thereafter. Similarly, in the absence of the Bet
Hamikdash, there are no unique mitzvot for Shavuot. [In fact, the
Mishnah (Mo'ed Kattan 19a) entertains a view that in certain
respects, Shavuot no longer has the status of the other Torah-
ordained holidays, though the halachah does not follow this
"Bnei Yisrael shall encamp, every man at his camp and every
man at his banner, according to his legions." (1:52)
This verse is paraphrased in the zemer / song for Friday night,
Kol Mekadesh, where we read:
"Whoever hallows Shabbat as befits it,
whoever safeguards the Shabbat properly from desecration,
his reward is exceedingly great in accordance with his deed -
'Every man at his camp and every man at his banner'."
How does this verse relate to Shabbat and to the zemer? R'
Gavriel Ze'ev Wolf Margolis z"l (1847-1935; rabbi in Grodno,
Boston and New York) explains:
We know that Shabbat has two aspects: "zachor" / "remember"
(Shmot 20:8) and "shamor" / "safeguard" (Devarim 5:12). The
former expression requires us to sanctify the Shabbat, in
particular through reciting kiddush, while the latter expression
requires us to refrain from certain activities on Shabbat, i.e.,
not to violate Shabbat.
The Sages say that the reward of one who sanctifies Shabbat is
unlimited. They also teach that if Bnei Yisrael would refrain
from violating two consecutive Shabbatot, the ultimate redemption
would occur immediately. (And at the time of the ultimate
redemption, the prophet Michah tells us [7:15], "As in the days
when you left the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders.")
The zemer Kol Mekadesh mentions both aspects of Shabbat, both
the affirmative aspect - "Whoever hallows Shabbat as befits it" -
and the negative aspect - "whoever safeguards the Shabbat
properly from desecration." Paralleling these, the zemer
mentions two rewards: for sanctifying the Shabbat, "his reward is
exceedingly great in accordance with his deed," and for not
violating Shabbat, "Every man at his camp and every man at his
banner," just as at the time of the redemption from Egypt.
"Count the sons of Levi . . . every male from one month of
age and up shall you count them." (3:15)
Why were the Levi'im counted from such a young age, while other
Jews were counted from age 20? R' Isaac Sher z"l (Rosh Yeshiva
of Slobodka) explains that this was in recognition of the fact
that the Levi'im willingly performed many dangerous tasks in the
mishkan. [The work was dangerous because failure to treat the
mishkan and its vessels with proper respect could cause the
Levi's death at the hands of G-d or man.] Such mesirut nefesh /
self sacrifice does not come to a person unless he is trained in
it from his infancy.
(Lekket Sichot Mussar)
This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in
small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation -
and toil in Torah study. If you do this, "You are praiseworthy
and all is well with you" (Tehilim 128:2). "You are
praiseworthy" - in this world, "and all is well with you" - in
the world to come.
(Chapter 6, mishnah 4)
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (died 1806) explained: The
mishnah does not mean that a student of Torah must consciously
deprive himself as an end in itself. It merely means that one
should love Torah single-mindedly such that he forgets all other
R' Simcha Bunim of Przysucha z"l (died 1827) explained this
further with a parable: When a merchant travels to the market, he
may pass through villages where little food can be obtained.
Does this deter him? Does he think for a moment of canceling his
trip because he may go hungry, when he knows of the rewards that
await him? Of course not!
We are passing through this world on our way to a place where
Torah is the most valuable commodity. Knowing that, can we be
deterred from studying Torah just because it sometimes requires
(Quoted in Mi'maayanot Ha'netzach p. 319)
In early 20th century Poland, a young man who chose to dedicate
his life to full time Torah study was virtually assured of living
in poverty and squalor. When R' Meir Shapiro z"l (best-known as
the founder of the Daf Yomi movement; died 1935) set out to
change this by constructing the palatial Yeshivat Chachmei
Lublin, he was asked whether his plans did not run counter to the
above-quoted mishnah. He answered:
We read (Mishlei 22:7): "A debtor is a servant to the
creditor." Nevertheless, the Torah commands (Devarim 24:12), "If
that man is poor, you shall not sleep with his security." [The
Torah assumes that a poor person has nothing but his bedclothes
to give as collateral.] How can the mitzvah of returning a
debtor's collateral every single night be reconciled with the
debtor's being a servant of the creditor?
The answer is that the verse in Mishlei is addressed to the
debtor, while the verse in Devarim is addressed to the creditor.
The debtor must recognize his indebtedness, while the creditor
must act with compassion.
Similarly, concluded R' Shapiro, our mishnah is addressed to
the yeshiva student. In order to succeed, he must be prepared to
live in the conditions that the mishnah describes. However, the
mishnah is not speaking at all to the wealthy people who are
capable of supporting a yeshiva. _They_ must live by the dictum
(Mishlei 3:18), "[The Torah] is a tree of life for those who
grasp it, and its supporters are fortunate."
(Ibid. p. 320)
[Ed. note: This year is a shemittah year, and, from time-to-
time, we are presenting excerpts from the laws of shemittah.
As with any halachic issue addressed in Hamaayan, our goal is
to increase awareness of the subject, not to provide
practical halachic guidance. For such advice, consult a
25. The laws of shemittah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, as it
is written (Vayikra 25:2), "When you come into the land that I
give you . . ." [The laws of shemittah] apply whether the Bet
Hamikdash is standing or not standing. [Rambam appears to hold
that the mitzvah of shemittah applies _according_to_Torah_law_
even when the Bet Hamikdash is not standing. Others hold that
shemittah is only a rabbinic-decree so long as the majority of
Jews live outside of Eretz Yisrael, even when the Bet Hamikdash
is standing, as was the case in the Second Temple era. (Kessef
26. Any place which the returnees from Babylon settled, as far
as Akhziv [near the Israeli-Lebanese border], is included in the
prohibition on working the land, and any sefichin / wild plants
that grow in that area may not be eaten. Any place that was
settled by those who left Egypt [but not those who returned from
Babylon], i.e., from Akhziv until the River and until Amanah,
even though one may not work the land there during the
shemittah, sefichin that grow there may be eaten. From the River
and Amanah outwards, one may work the land in the seventh year.
[Ed. note: Commentaries disagree what river is meant, but
generally agree that the reference is to a river in Lebanon.
"Amanah" is a mountain in Lebanon.]
27. In Syria, shemittah does not apply according to Torah law,
but the Sages decreed that working [the land] there is forbidden
just as in Eretz Yisrael. This was done in order to discourage
Jews from leaving Eretz Yisrael and settling in Syria. However,
the lands of Amon and Moav [both in Jordan], Egypt, and Shinar
[Iraq] are not subject to the laws of shemittah even though the
laws of ma'aser / tithes do apply there based on a rabbinic
The Siegman family
on the yahrzeit of
Avraham Eliyahu ben Shalom Zelig Perel a"h