One of the laws in this week's parashah is that an accidental
murderer must flee to a City of Refuge and remain there until the
incumbent Kohen Gadol passes away. Why is the fate of a
manslaughterer bound up with that of the Kohen Gadol? R' Elya Meir
Bloch z"l (1894-1955; founder and rosh yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva
in Cleveland) explains:
The Kohen Gadol's job is to bring the Shechinah to rest among the
Jewish People. On the other hand, murder drives the Shechinah away.
[Our Sages teach that even one who kills accidentally is considered a
murderer in some sense because G-d protects blameless people from
committing offenses even unintentionally.] One who has committed such
an act cannot be part of the same society as the Kohen Gadol.
Moreover, such a person must realize that he cannot continue life as
usual. Instead, he must uproot himself and go to a City of Refuge and
begin a new life. Only when the Kohen Gadol dies can the accidental
murderer feel that the chapter of his life that was so inimical to the
Kohen Gadol's mission is over, and then he can return to his former
This understanding has broader applications, R' Bloch observes. Any
time a person has experienced a spiritual setback, even inadvertently
and unintentionally, he must realize that he cannot go on with life as
usual. Rather, some change is required to address the situation in
which he finds himself.
(In addition, R' Bloch teaches, we learn from here that a person
must act in a way that furthers the mission of the Kohen Gadol and
other spiritual leaders.) (Peninei Da'at)
"The commanders of the thousands in the legions, the officers of the
thousands and the officers of the hundreds, approached Moshe. They said
to Moshe, `Your servants took a census of the men of war under our
command, and not a man of us is missing'." (31:48-49)
In his classic work on ethics and philosophy, Chovot Ha'levavot /
Duties of the Hearts, Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakudah z"l (Saragossa,
Spain; early 11th century) relates the story of a tzaddik who met
victorious warriors returning from battle. He said to them, "It is
premature to rejoice, for you have won the battle and collected booty
only in the small war. The greatest battle, though, still lies
The soldiers asked him, "What battle is that?"
He answered, "The fight against the yetzer hara and its agents."
[Until here from Chovot Ha'levavot, Sha'ar Yichud Ha'maaseh Ch.5]
R' Moshe Gruenwald z"l (rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Khust, Hungary;
died 1911) explains the above teaching of the Chovot Ha'levavot in
light of another story in that work. There it is recorded that a
pious man said to his disciples, "If I believed that you were free of
all sin, I would fear for your sake from something that is worse than
sin, namely, that you might believe yourselves to be tzaddikim."
Similarly, why must a victorious warrior prepare for battle against
the yetzer hara? Because the haughtiness he feels makes him
R' Gruenwald continues: When the armies of Bnei Yisrael returned
from the battle against Midian, as related in our verses, they knew
that they had to prepare for the next battle, the one against the
yetzer hara. And, they knew that this meant they had to subdue any
feelings of haughtiness. But they did feel haughty. They "took a
census" and felt as if "not a man was missing (i.e., lacking)."
Therefore, the next verse (31:50) relates, "So we have brought an
offering for Hashem - what any man found of gold vessels, anklet and
bracelet, ring, earring, and clasp, to atone for our souls before
R' Shlomo Halberstam z"l (1907-2000; the Bobover Rebbe) finds the
above teaching of the Chovot Ha'levavot alluded to in another verse,
i.e., in Moshe's words to the tribes Reuven and Gad later in our
parashah (32:22), "And the Land shall be conquered before Hashem, and
then you shall return -- then you shall be `clean' before Hashem and
Yisrael." After you successfully conquer the Land, then you also need
to ensure that you are clean of any sin before Hashem and Yisrael.
(Kerem Shlomo, Vol. III)
"They journeyed from Charadah and encamped in Makhelot."
Literally, this verse describes the travels of Bnei Yisrael from a
place called "Charadah" to a place called "Makhelot" - two of the 42
stops that Bnei Yisrael made in the desert, as our parashah describes.
Many commentaries, in particular those by chassidic authors, search
for lessons in these place names, for why else would the Torah relate
them to us?!
R' Mendel Hager z"l (rabbi of Oyber-Visheve, Romania; died 1941)
observes that "Charadah" means "fear." Our verse teaches: How can a
person overcome ("travel away from") the fear that his prayers will
not be accepted? By journeying to "Makhelot," as we read in Tehilim
(68:27), "In Makhelot / gatherings bless Hashem." This relates to our
Sages' teaching that G-d does not reject prayers that are offered with
"An inheritance of Bnei Yisrael shall not make rounds from tribe to
tribe; rather Bnei Yisrael shall cleave every man to the inheritance of
the tribe of his fathers. Every daughter
who inherits an inheritance of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael
shall become the wife of someone from a family of her
father's tribe, so that everyone of Bnei Yisrael will inherit
the inheritance of his fathers." (36:7-8)
After Hashem informed Moshe of the law that a daughter could inherit
her father's land if he had no sons, the male relatives of such women
(Tzlofchad's daughters) complained that this might result in
Tzlofchad's land leaving his tribe (the tribe of Menashe) forever.
This would happen if Tzolfchad's daughters married out of the tribe of
Menashe; then Tzlofchad's grandchildren/heirs would belong to their
Moshe responded that Hashem had commanded that Tzolfchad's daughters
and any similarly-situated women marry only men from their own tribes.
Tzlofchad's daughters complied. However, the Gemara (Ta'anit 30b)
derives from verses that this restriction applied only during the
first generation after the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. After that
time, the tribes could intermarry freely.
What was the purpose of this restriction and why was it in effect
only temporarily? R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l (Frankfurt, Germany;
died 1888) explains:
The law of Yovel - that land that was sold reverts to its hereditary
owner at the Jubilee Year - demonstrates the importance that the Torah
attaches to keeping the borders of the provinces of the tribes intact.
This is in recognition of the unique role that each tribe has in the
development of the Nation as a whole. We should not think, writes R'
Hirsch, that a full Torah life is reserved for only one class of
people. Rather, as Yaakov's blessings to his sons before his death
(in Parashat Vayechi) indicate, the Nation needs soldiers, sailors,
thinkers, tailors, rabbis, teachers, cattlemen, field-workers,
merchants, etc., and all are full participants in the life of the
It was essential to keep each tribe's unique role distinct at the
beginning of the Nation's independent life in order to emphasize the
importance and equal necessity of each. This required the tribes to
live separately, as well, in order to develop their own particular
identities. Once the land was settled, however, and the above message
was clearly understood, such enforced separation was no longer
(Commentary on the Torah)
R' Shmuel Sperber z"l
R' Shmuel Sperber was born in 1905 in Brasov, Transylvania, where
his father, R' David, was the rabbi. (The elder Rabbi Sperber was
among the leading Hungarian rabbis of the period. After World War II,
he settled in Eretz Yisrael and was among the spiritual leaders of the
Agudath Israel movement.) Young Shmuel studied in the yeshivot of
Oyber-Visheve, Hungary (and after World War I, Romania) under the
tutelage of that town's rabbis, R' Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald and R'
Mendel Hager. At age 15, and notwithstanding his chassidic education,
young Shmuel established a youth organization in Brasov where he
delivered Torah lectures in Modern Hebrew.
After receiving semichah and marrying, R' Sperber lived in Iasi,
Romania where he delivered sophisticated derashot to the city's
intelligentsia. In 1931, after being attacked by anti-Semites, he
decided to leave Romania and settle in England. There, he enrolled in
law school at the University of London and also founded a yeshiva, Ohr
Torah. Unlike in most yeshivot of the time, classes in Ohr Torah were
held in English. (However, the school closed after only one year.)
While in London, R' Sperber also became known for his deeply
philosophical derashot, and he was offered the pulpit of one of
With the arrival in England of the large transports of German-Jewish
children on the eve of the Holocaust, R' Sperber became actively
involved in comforting and educating them. At this same time,
R' Sperber became active in the Mizrachi movement, and he opened a
camp in North Wales to prepare approximately 200 children for life on
a kibbutz. Later he moved to Manchester, where he continued to work
with youth, and then back to London to become an adjunct professor at
the University of London.
In 1971, R' Sperber settled in Israel. He died on 29 Menachem Av
5745 (1985). One of his sons is the author of a multi-volume work on
the history of minhagim / customs and of unusual ritual objects.
(Source: Encyclopedia Shel Ha'Tzionut Ha'datit, Vol. 6)
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