Who's On First?
By Shlomo Katz
Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Nasso: Who's On First?
Volume XVIII, No. 31
9 Sivan 5764
May 29, 2004
Yitzchok and Barbie Lehmann Siegel
in memory of father Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann a"h
and brother, Jamie Lehmann a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Chullin 127
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Sotah 42
Our parashah opens: "Take a census of the sons of Gershon also."
Why "also"? R' Avraham Saba z"l (Spain; 1440-1508) explains that
Gershon was the oldest son of Levi, and his descendants had a claim to
be counted before the descendants of Gershon's younger brother Kehat.
Since the family of Kehat was already counted at the end of last
week's parashah, our parashah says, "Take a census of the sons of
And why were the descendants of Kehat counted first? R' Saba
explains that the Torah honors Kehat for his Torah knowledge, just as
we read in Divrei Hayamim I (4:9), "And Yaavetz was honored more than
his brothers." As the Gemara explains, Yaavetz was one of the
greatest Torah scholars of the generation following Moshe Rabbeinu.
Similarly, Kehat's family was honored over the family of the
firstborn Gershon because of the former's association with the Torah.
On the verse (Mishlei 3:15), "It [the Torah] is more precious than
peninim / pearls," the Midrash comments: "More precious than a
firstborn" (a play on "lifnim" / "earlier," i.e., the firstborn, who
is the early one). The family of Kehat carried the Ark which
contained the luchot. Moreover, Kehat used to assemble crowds and
teach them Torah. [Ed. note: The publisher of R' Saba's work notes
that the source for this fact is unknown.] Kehat's name alludes to his
assembling crowds, just as King Shlomo is called "Kohelet" because he
also assembled large audiences; however, King Shlomo has an additional
letter "lamed" ("Kohelet" vs. "Kehat") because the Mishnah (Avot ch.6)
states that a king has 30 special attributes. (The gematria of
"lamed" is 30.) (Tzror Hamor)
"Uplift the sons of Kehat . . ." (4:2)
"Uplift the sons of Gershon also . . ." (4:22)
"The sons of Merari, . . . you should count them." (4:29)
In these verses, Moshe was told to count the descendants of each
of the three sons of Levi. Why did Hashem use the expression "nasso"
/ "uplift" in connection with two of them, but not the third? R'
Yaakov Moshe Charlap z"l (Yerushalayim; died 1951) explains as
We read in Breishit (2:15), "He put him [Adam] in the Garden of
Eden, to work it and to guard it." Our Sages interpret "to work it"
as a reference to keeping positive commandments and "to guard it" as a
reference to observing negative commandments. The idea, writes R'
Charlap, is that in Adam's state before his sin, any action that he
might have taken would have been either a mitzvah or a sin. It either
would have contributed to furthering G-d's purpose in creating the
world or it would not have contributed to that purpose. If we lived
in the ideal world which Hashem envisioned (as Adam briefly did), this
would still be true. No activities would fall into the neutral
category of "reshut" / "optional."
However, we live in a world where the force of spirituality is
diminished. Some of our actions are neither mitzvot nor sins, they
are only "reshut." (Nevertheless, a memory of the "old world" exists
in Eretz Yisrael, where "optional" activities such as planting and
harvesting are intimately bound up with numerous mitzvot.) In the
future, we will again live in the ideal state where all of our actions
have a spiritual effect.
In last week's and this week's parashot, Hashem assigns jobs in
the Mishkan / Tabernacle to the levi'im. The Mishkan was the place
where our ancestors got a taste of the spirituality which will again
be revealed when the world reaches its ideal state. That Mishkan had
three parts: the courtyard, the Holy, and the Holy of Holies. So,
too, Bnei Yisrael have three parts: Kohanim. Levi'im and Yisraelim.
There are also three ways of serving Hashem: through Torah, through
prayer, and through work. However, "work" is only a service to G-d in
the ideal world (such as in Adam's world). For us, it is a reshut /
optional. [Each set of threes parallels the other set - (a) Torah,
Kohanim and Holy of Holies (where the Torah was kept); (b) prayer,
Levi'im (who sang / prayed in the Temple), and the Holy; (c) work,
Yisraelim, and the public courtyard.]
There were also three parts to the tribe of Levi, i.e., the
families of Kehat, Gershon and Merari. Kehat attained the greatest
holiness of the three - his family carried the holiest vessels of the
mishkan, including the Holy Ark. Gershon achieved the second highest
level. Merari was third, and he thus paralleled service of Hashem
through work. However, since, until the time of mashiach, work is not
necessarily spiritually uplifting, the Torah did not use the
expression "nasso" / "uplift" in connection with Merari.
(Mei Marom Vol. 11, No. 11)
The Chafetz Chaim (died 1933) once visited the town of Slonim,
and a certain wealthy resident, R' Yosef, asked the sage to review his
(R' Yosef's) will. R' Yosef want the Chafetz Chaim's opinion of
whether he had divided his assets properly. The Chafetz Chaim looked
at the will and saw that R' Yosef had divided his money into four
equal shares - 10,000 rubles for each of his three sons and 10,000
rubles for his wife. In addition, R' Yosef had willed all of his
sefarim / Torah library to various yeshivot. The Chafetz Chaim
returned the will to R' Yosef and said, "You find the errors."
R' Yosef reviewed his will and replied, "I do not see any errors.
It looks to me like it is all in order."
"No!" said the Chafetz Chaim. "Firstly, I am amazed that you
left all your money to your family and your sefarim to yeshivot. Your
children, too, will need sefarim, while yeshivot lack money for food
more than they lack sefarim.
"Secondly, you have transgressed the verse (Yishayah 58:7), `From
your own flesh do not turn away.' True, `your flesh' refers to your
relatives, but you are your own closest relative, and you have made no
provision for yourself. You worked hard for this money, and you
should give yourself an equal share. Create another share of your
assets," the Chafetz Chaim said, "and then divide it again - one-half
for Torah scholars and one-half to chessed organizations, for example,
for bikkur cholim, for poor people, and so on. The portion that is
for Torah scholars also will help feed and clothe poor people such
that you will have a share not only in their Torah study but in their
R' Yosef agreed and promised that he would change his will
"Wait," said the Chafetz Chaim. "My advice to you is that you
take your 8,000 ruble share and distribute it to appropriate
institutions in your lifetime. You know how it is; when children see
that their father has left a large portion of his estate to charity,
they hire a lawyer to prove that their father was insane. Imagine the
reaction in the Heavenly Court if you come there and they hear that,
not only were your pledges to charity not fulfilled, but you were
insane to boot!
"This," concluded the Chafetz Chaim, "is the lesson of the verse
in Parashat Nasso (5:10), `A man's holies shall be his.' Only what a
person sets aside for holy uses will ultimately remain his."
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. May Hashem illuminate His
countenance for you and be gracious to you. May Hashem lift His
countenance to you and establish peace for you." (6:24-26)
R' Shlomo Zalman Ulman z"l (20th century Hungarian rabbi) notes
that all of the Priestly Blessings are phrased in the singular. They
are addressed to each individual separately. How then can the last
blessing speak of peace? Isn't peace a collective concept - peace
between nations, peace between neighbors, etc.?
He explains: A Jew is commanded (Devarim 6:5) to love Hashem with
all his heart and with all his soul. But man has other interests, and
his organs are at war with each other. Some want to love and serve
Hashem, while others may not. How can man win this war? Our Sages
teach that one who wants to purify himself receives Divine assistance.
This is the meaning of the blessing that the Kohanim utter: "May G-d
establish peace for you," i.e., within you.
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"Whoever hallows the Shabbat as befits it, whoever safeguards the
Shabbat `me-chalelo' / from desecrating it, his reward is exceedingly
great `le-fi' / in accordance with his deed."
(From the Shabbat hymn: Kol Mekadesh)
The phrase "whoever safeguards the Shabbat `me-chalelo' / from
desecrating it" comes from Yishayah (56:6). However, the word "me-
chalelo" seems to be redundant. Obviously, one who safeguards Shabbat
does not desecrate it!
R' Yitzchak Meshulam Feish Moskowitz z"l (1887-1981; prominent
lay leader of the Sao Paolo, Brazil community) explains: Besides the
melachot / physical activities that are prohibited on Shabbat, there
are also certain types of speech that are prohibited on Shabbat.
[Ed. note: Although the laws are complex and there are exceptions, a
general rule of thumb is: If you can't do it on Shabbat, you can't
talk about it either.] Why, asks R' Moskowitz, is speech regulated on
Shabbat? The answer is that when G-d "rested" on the original
Shabbat, it was His "speech" that rested. For six days, G-d had used
"speech" to create the world (G-d said, "Let there be light," etc.),
and when Shabbat came, He stopped speaking in that same way.
The same root that refers to desecration can refer to creation.
Specifically, G-d is referred to in Devarim (32:18) as the "mecholel."
Thus, the above phrase from the Shabbat zemirot can be read, "Whoever
safeguards the Shabbat [as did the] `me-chalelo' [similar to `me-
cholelo'] / as the Creator did" -- refraining even from inappropriate
speech - "his reward is exceedingly great `le-fi' / in accordance with
[literally, `according to the mouth of'] his deed."
(Yitzchak Yeranen p.46)
Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz
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