Our parashah opens: "Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of
Bnei Yisrael, saying, `Zeh ha'davar / This is the thing that
Hashem has commanded'." Rashi observes that many prophets
(including Moshe) introduced their messages with the phrase "Ko
amar Hashem / So said Hashem," but only Moshe introduced some of
his messages with "Zeh ha'davar / This is the thing."
R' Yaakov Kamenetsky z"l (rosh yeshiva in Torah Vodaath; died
1986) elaborates: Our Sages teach that all of the prophets saw
their prophecies with an "unclear vision," but Moshe saw with a
"clear vision." In other words, all prophets (besides Moshe) had
to interpret the visions they saw, a process that could be
affected by the prophets' own personalities and predilections.
Moshe's prophecy was different; he understood exactly what G-d
meant and transmitted it literally and perfectly.
Why is this message alluded to in our parashah? R' Kamenetsky
explains: The first section of Matot-Masei presents the laws of
vows and oaths. These laws demonstrate man's special status in
that, through a vow or oath, a person can create new mitzvot.
For example, if a person says, "I swear that I will eat this loaf
of bread," it becomes a mitzvah to eat that loaf of bread. If a
person says, "Apples are forbidden to me like a sacrifice," it
becomes a mitzvah to refrain from having any benefit from apples.
These laws might lead one to think that, similarly, some of the
mitzvot in the Torah are a reflection of Moshe's own personality.
Accordingly, the Torah chooses this context to inform us that
Moshe's prophecy was a literal transmission of Hashem's words.
"They said to Moshe, `Your servants took a census of men of
war under our command, and not a man of us is missing. So
we have brought an offering for Hashem . . .' " (31:49)
The Sages explain the purpose of this offering as follows: The
generals said to Moshe, "Not one of our men succumbed to
immorality while fighting against Midian, but we cannot say that
immoral thoughts did not cross our minds."
R' Yosef Shaul Nathanson z"l (1808-1875; rabbi of Lvov, Galicia
and prominent posek) explains further: We are taught that Hashem
rewards for good thoughts along with good deeds, but He does not
punish for sinful thoughts. The reason is that when a person has
a good thought, it means that he has defeated the yetzer hara at
least to some extent. Accordingly, he deserves to be rewarded.
Likewise, if a person has a sinful thought and does not sin,
this is a sign that he has defeated the yetzer hara. He does not
deserve to be punished for that thought; to the contrary, it is a
wonderful accomplishment. This is what lead the generals and
army to bring a thanksgiving offering, since they recognized that
they had had immoral thoughts but they had not sinned.
(Divrei Shaul: Mahadura Kamma)
"For our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the
R' Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich z"l (Hungarian rabbi) explained:
Originally, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael was limited to the west
bank of the Jordan. However, after Bnei Yisrael conquered the
lands of Sichon and Og, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael "crossed"
the Jordan to the east bank as well. Thus, the inheritance of
the tribes of Reuven and Gad "came to them" on the east bank.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
"The aretz / land shall be conquered before Hashem, and then
you shall return . . ." (32:22)
R' Eliezer Hager z"l (died 1946; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in
Vizhnitz, Rumania) writes:
The verse is teaching us the way of teshuvah, specifically,
that one should not, so-to-speak, "immerse in the mikvah while
holding a source of defilement" ("tovail ve'sheretz be'yado").
Rather, one must first conquer the "artziyut" / "earthiness"
within himself, and only then can he return.
The verse concludes, "This land shall be a heritage for you
before Hashem." We are taught that when one repents out of love
for Hashem (as opposed to repenting out of fear), his sins are
counted as merits. In such a case, the "land" - the materialism
which the penitent has abandoned - will itself be a lasting
heritage before Hashem.
"These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael who went forth from
the land of Egypt according to their legions under the hand
of Moshe and Aharon. Moshe wrote motza'aihem / their goings-
forth le'masai'hem / according to their journeys . . . and
these are masai'hem / their journeys le'motza'aihem /
according to their goings-forth." (33:1-2)
R' Shlomo Halberstam z"l (the "Bobover Rebbe," whose first
yahrzeit is today) asks: What is added by "motza'aihem / their
goings-forth"? The main focus of the parashah appears to be on
Bnei Yisrael's journeys! Also, what is added by mentioning that
Bnei Yisrael went forth from Egypt? Surely we already know this!
Finally, why is the order of the words reversed, first
"motza'aihem / their goings-forth le'masai'hem / according to
their journeys" and then "masai'hem / their journeys
le'motza'aihem / according to their goings-forth"?
R' Halberstam explains: We are taught that all of our suffering
in exile is for our own good, although we surely do not know how
this is so. [Ed. note: It bears mentioning that R' Halberstam
lost his father, wife and several children in the Holocaust. The
story of his own miraculous survival is told in Nor the Moon by
Night published by Feldheim.] Somehow, our suffering merely
hastens the exile, and the proof of this is the Exodus from Egypt
which, because of our suffering, was moved-up 190 years.
The verse states (Devarim 22:7), "You shall surely send away
the aim [aleph-mem] / mother [bird] and take the young for
yourself." This alludes to the many times that Hashem has
redeemed us from exile: He has sent the "aim [aleph mem]" -
acronym for "Aharon, Moshe" and also for "Esther, Mordechai" -
and He has taken the "young" - the Jewish people - for Himself.
Similarly, in the future, He will send the "aim" - acronym for
"Eliyahu, Mashiach" - and He will take the "young" for Himself.
Our parashah alludes to all of the major exiles that Bnei
Yisrael were destined to undergo in their history: The initial
letters of "Eleh masei Bnei Yisrael"/ "These are the journeys of
Bnei Yisrael" allude to Edom / Rome (our current exile),
Mitzrayim / Egypt, Bavel / Babylon, and Yavan / Greece. But the
verse also alludes to our redemption, specifically, the initial
letters of "Eleh masei" are "aleph-mem,"which alludes to several
pairs of redeemers, as mentioned above.
The midrash on our parashah states that Hashem showed Moshe the
leaders of every future generation. Presumably, then, Moshe knew
the significance of the letters "aleph-mem."
In light of all of the above, we can answer the questions we
posed, says R' Halberstam. The word "motza'aihem / their goings-
forth" alludes to the future "goings-forth" of Bnei Yisrael,
i.e., our future redemptions. The placement of "masai'hem /
their journeys" before "le'motza'aihem / according to their
goings-forth" alludes to the fact that our constant travels in
exile hasten the eventual "going-forth." And, lest one lose
faith in the redemption because of our suffering, Moshe mentioned
that Bnei Yisrael already went forth from Egypt. Surely, then,
we will be redeemed again.
(Likkutei Kerem Shlomo Vol. I)
Shemittah Observance Today
[This week we begin to examine the second common halachic
strategy that allows farmers in Eretz Yisrael to tend their
orchards and fruit trees during the shemittah year. This is
the "Hetter Mechirah" / the sale of the land to a gentile
for the duration of the shemittah year. (Literally,
"hetter" means "permission" or "release," and "mechirah"
The posek who is generally credited with formulating the Hetter
Mechirah is R' Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor z"l (1816-1896; rabbi of
Kovno, Russia), the leading Lithuanian posek of his time.
However, the name most associated with the hetter is that of R'
Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935). As rabbi of Jaffa
and the neighboring settlements (1904-1919), rabbi of
Yerushalayim, and Chief Rabbi of Palestine (from 1921), R' Kook
had numerous opportunities to address the issue, and his works
Mishpat Kohen and Shabbat Ha'aretz both discuss the Hetter
Mechirah at length. (Our discussion will be based largely on
those works.) Among the other major poskim who supported the
Hetter Mechirah were R' Kook's successors as Chief Rabbi,
R' Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog z"l (died 1959), and as Rabbi of
Yerushalayim, R' Zvi Pesach Frank z"l (died 1960).
The theory behind the Hetter Mechirah is that non-Jews are not
commanded to observe mitzvot, including shemittah. Therefore,
land owned by a non-Jew may be worked during the seventh year,
even by a Jew. And, the sale permits the land to be worked
during shemittah even if the sale is temporary, so long as it is
enforceable and not a sham. Of course, farmers want to ensure
that they will get their land back at the end of the shemittah.
To address these competing needs, poskim developed a sales
contract based on the contracts used for selling chametz. Under
this contract, the non-Jew receives complete title to the land
and its produce for one year and pays a deposit, with the final
purchase price to be determined by experts at the end of the
shemittah. The contract also provides that the buyer will allow
the seller or those named by the seller to work the land, with
all profits belonging to the buyer, and that the buyer will pay
the workers a wage determined by the same experts. (In Mishpat
Kohen, following siman 82, R' Kook reprints the contract that he
sent to Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1909.)
There are several significant issues that must be overcome by
the proponents of the Hetter Mechirah, and, for this reason, many
leading poskim / halachic authorities rejected the hetter. These
concerns will be discussed in upcoming issues.