It is a longstanding custom to read Parashat Bemidbar on the
Shabbat preceding Shavuot. The reason for this is as follows:
The Gemara (Megillah 31b) states that Parashat Bechukotai (last
week's parashah) should be read before Shavuot because Shavuot is a
New Year's Day and day of judgment - on Shavuot G-d determines the
success of the year's fruit harvest. Accordingly, we wish to
"dispense with the year's curses as the year ends." (Parashat
Bechukotai contains curses on those who abandon the mitzvot.)
However, in order not to enter Shavuot with the curses on our minds,
we separate them by one week by reading Bemidbar. (Tosfot Megillah
Why is Shavuot the day when Hashem determines the fruit harvest?
R' Tzadok Hakohen z"l (died 1900) explains that before Adam sinned by
eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he was surrounded by abundant fruit
trees that had been planted by G-d's own "hands." After his sin, he
was cursed that he would have to work the ground to earn his food.
However, when Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, they (temporarily)
returned to the spiritual level that Adam had before his sin, and thus
Shavuot is a propitious time to judge the fruit harvest favorably.
(Pri Tzaddik: Vayikra p.209)
R' Moshe of Kobrin z"l (late 18th century) offers another
explanation: The Torah (Devarim 20:19) refers to man as a "tree of the
field." Man is judged for the fruit harvest on Shavuot based on how
he accepts the Torah on this holiday. (Torat Avot)
"Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the
Tent of Meeting, . . . `Take a census of the entire assembly
of Bnei Yisrael . . .'" (1:1-2)
Rashi comments: "Because of G-d's love for the Jewish people, He
counts them repeatedly. Here, He counted them in honor of His resting
His Shechinah among them in the Tabernacle." [In chronological order,
this parashah belongs earlier in the Torah, shortly after the
dedication of the Mishkan.]
R' Raphael Baruch Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979; Rosh Yeshiva of
Telshe) observes that this may be understood in light of the Talmudic
teaching that the first ten men who come to davening receive reward
equal to the combined rewards of all the other men who come. Why?
The commentary Maharsha explains that it is these ten men who cause
the Shechinah to rest on the congregation; therefore, they deserve
The Shechinah rested on the Mishkan in the merit of all the
Jewish people. In order to emphasize this, Hashem counted Bnei
Yisrael after the Mishkan's dedication.
"You hafkaid / shall appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle
of the Testimony . . ." (1:50)
R' Yaakov ben Asher z"l (14th century; the Ba'al Ha'turim) notes
that the word "hafkaid" appears in only one other place in Tanach - in
Tehilim (109:6), "Hafkaid / Appoint a wicked man over him." This,
writes the Ba'al Ha'turim, alludes to Chazal's teaching that no one
becomes an officer below unless he is considered a wicked person
Above. (Here, the Levi'im were appointed officers over the
This is a wondrous statement, writes R' Moshe Yechiel Halevi
Epstein z"l (1890-1971; the Ozhrover Rebbe). It certainly cannot be
He explains: The Gemara (Niddah 30b) teaches that before a baby
is born, his soul is made to take an oath, "Even if the whole world
tells you that you are a tzaddik, view yourself as if you are a
rasha." This is a way to protect oneself from haughtiness. This is
what the Ba'al Ha'turim means as well: "G-d does not wish to appoint a
person to a position of authority below unless he considers himself to
be wicked in the eyes of Heaven."
"Behold! I have taken the Levites from the midst of Bnei
Yisrael . . ." (3:12)
R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld z"l (rabbi of the Edah Ha'charedit in
Yerushalayim; died 1932) notes that whenever the Torah speaks of the
fact that the Levi'im were counted separately from the other tribes,
it also says that they were taken "from the midst" of Bnei Yisrael.
The Torah wishes to emphasize that, despite being different in some
ways, the Levi'im remain an integral part of the Jewish people.
R' Sonnenfeld notes that this is alluded to in the very words
"Levi'im" and "Yisrael". "Yisrael" is spelled: "Yud, sin, raish,
aleph, lamed." If the names of each of those letters is written out,
and we take the middle letter (for example, "Yud" = "Yud, vav, dalet")
"from the midst" of each of those "words", we have the letters of the
Rabbi Yose ben Kisma said, "Once I was walking on the road,
when a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned his
greeting. He said to me, `Rabbi, from what place are you?'
I said to him, `I am from a great city of scholars and
soferim.' He said to me, `Rabbi, would you be willing to
live with us in our place? I would give you thousands of
golden dinars, precious stones and pearls.' I replied, `Even
if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious
stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in
a place of Torah'." (Chapter 6)
R' Zvi Yehuda Kook z"l (died 1982) comments: If our Sages use a
story to teach a particular lesson, we must examine what we can learn
from the story that we would not have known if the story's moral had
simply been stated as an imperative - e.g., "One should always dwell
in a place of Torah!" Rambam, too, chooses sometimes to cite a story
rather than to simply state the halachah (see for example, Hil. De'ot
7:13), and there must be a reason.
What does this story teach? First, it teaches that "Dwell only
in a place of Torah" is not merely an abstract ideal. It is a
something that every person can realize. Who was Rabbi Yose ben
Kisma? The Gemara teaches that he was deeply involved in the secular
world and was on good terms with many Roman noblemen. Despite having
one foot planted solidly in the Roman world, he chose to live only in
a community that was noted for its Torah scholars.
This story teaches some incidental lessons as well. They
(1) Rabbi Yose ben Kisma taught the above lesson when he was on
the road. Even the road is a place where Torah lessons can be
(2) Rabbi Yose ben Kisma met an anonymous person, not noted for
any particular good traits. Nevertheless, the meeting was pleasant.
"He greeted me and I returned his greeting."
(3) Rabbi Yose ben Kisma said, "I am from a great city of
scholars and soferim." Every great city must have scholars - sages
who specialize in the Torah Sh'be'al'peh -- and soferim, sages who
specialize in the Torah Sh'bichtav.
One additional point: Was Rabbi Yose ben Kisma's answer meant to
disassociate himself completely from the man he met and from the man's
town? Certainly not! says R' Kook. We say in the prayers that follow
the Torah reading on Monday and Thursday, "May it be the will of our
Father Who is in heaven to preserve among us the sages of Israel . . .
in all their dwelling places." Even when the sages are in their
dwelling places, not in our towns or neighborhoods, it is incumbent
upon us to view them as being among us.
R' Shmuel Shmelke Guntzler z"l
R' Guntzler was born in Satoraljaujhely, Hungary (known to the
Jews as "Uhel") on 7 Cheshvan 5595 / 1834. When he was about six, he
was blessed by the rabbi of Uhel, R' Moshe Teitelbaum (the Yismach
Moshe) that he would grow into a "tall tree." Young Shmuel studied
under his brother-in-law, R' Avraham Laib Hakohen, the future rabbi of
Beregszasz, and before his marriage was awarded the title "Moreinu."
(In Hungarian yeshivot, this title was often given to young scholars
who had excelled in their studies but had not yet been ordained as
R' Guntzler married Rivka Fradel Kahana and moved to her
hometown, Oyber-Visheve (Viseul de Sus, today in Romania), where he
spent the rest of his life. Beginning in 1866, R' Guntzler served as
rabbi of Oyber-Visheve. He passed away on 5 Iyar 5671 / 1911. The
following year, his grandson published some of R' Guntzler's Torah
commentaries and derashot in Meishiv Nefesh.
R' Guntzler related that he once traveled to Tarnopol for a
joyous occasion, and he visited the town's rabbi, R' Yosef Babad
(author of Minchat Chinuch) to ask that sage to test him and grant him
ordination. R' Babad responded that it was his practice not to grant
semichah to anyone. "However," he said, "come back tomorrow morning
and enjoy the Talmud lecture."
When R' Guntzler arrived the next morning, R' Babad welcomed him
and invited him to give the lecture. (They were studying the fifth
folio of Tractate Makkot.) R' Guntzler agreed, and he engaged the
assembled scholars in a heated discussion for two hours while R' Babad
paced back and forth listening silently. R' Guntzler said that so
lively was the debate that by the end of the session his clothes were
dripping with perspiration. When the lecture ended, R' Babad took R'
Guntzler into his study and ordained him.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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