Parashat Bemidbar, which is devoted in part to the genealogy of the
Jewish People, is nearly always read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. A
number of midrashim observe that this is not coincidental. One midrash
states, for example, that the Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael because of
R' Shmuel Guenzler z"l (rabbi of Oyber Visheve, Hungary; died 1911)
explains in light of another midrash which states: When Yisrael stood at
Har Sinai, Hashem asked them, "Who will guarantee your observance of
Torah?" Bnei Yisrael answered, "Our forefathers," but Hashem responded
that those were not adequate guarantors. "Our children," Bnei Yisrael
then said, and Hashem responded, "Your children are certainly good
guarantors." This, the midrash concludes, is the meaning of the verse
(Tehilim 8:3), "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have
established oz / strength." ["Oz" referrs to the Torah, as is written
(Tehilim 29:11), "Hashem will give oz to His nation."] And, this, writes
R' Guenzler, is the meaning of the midrash that the Torah was given
because of our genealogy, i.e., our children.
However, this itself requires explanation. How do our children serve
as guarantors of our mitzvah observance? R' Guenzler explains further:
Yet another midrash teaches that Hashem sent His Torah into this world
only on the condition that He could reside near it, so-to-speak. This is
why the Mishkan and, later, the Bet Hamikdash, were built. But what about
when there is no Bet Hamikdash? The Gemara (Shabbat 119b) teaches that
the world exists in the merit of the Torah study of young children. They
are the "mishkan." Why is the Torah study of young children so precious?
After all, a seasoned adult scholar studies on a far deeper and more
meaningful level! Nevertheless, the Torah uttered by the mouths of
children - mouths not yet sullied by sins such as lashon hara (because the
sins of children do not "count") - is very dear to Hashem.
"Take a census of the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael according to
their families, according to their fathers' household, by number of
the names, every male according to their head count." (Bemidbar 1:2)
R' Amram Zvi Gruenwald z"l (dayan / rabbinical court judge in Oyber
Visheve; later rabbi in the Fernwald Displaced Persons camp) observes: At
the end of last week's parashah we read (Vayikra 27:33-34), "He shall not
distinguish between good and bad and he should not substitute for it . . .
These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe to Bnei Yisrael on
Har Sinai." Verse 33 teaches that when one sets aside Ma'aser Beheimah / a
tithe from his animals, he must give each tenth animal regardless of its
quality. Then, verse 34, by placing "These are the commandments . . . ,"
right after the just-mentioned halachah, teaches us to have the same
attitude toward all mitzvot. This alludes to the Mishnah (Avot ch.2), "Be
as careful with a seemingly light mitzvah as with a seemingly strict
mitzvah, for you do not know the reward associated with each mitzvah."
Finally, our verse, by being placed next to the preceding two verses,
teaches us to practice a similar attitude towards all people.
(Zichron Amram Zvi)
"And with you shall be one ish / man from each tribe; ish / a man who
is a leader of his father's household." (Bemidbar 1:4)
The word "ish" commonly denotes a person of spiritual stature. Why?
R' Chaim Yehuda Meir Hager z"l (the Vishever Rebbe in Tel Aviv; died 1968)
explains: The Mishnah (end of Masechet Uktzin) teaches, "Hashem is destined
to reward each tzaddik with 310 worlds." Our Sages also teach that: "One
hour of Torah and good deeds in this world is worth more than an entire
lifetime of Olam Haba." The gematria of ish equals 311, one more than the
number of worlds in the tzaddik's reward. This signifies the Torah and
good deeds -- more valuable than Olam Haba -- that the man of stature
"These were the kru'ai / ones summoned by the assembly, the
leaders of their fathers' tribes, they are the heads of Israel's
thousands." (Bemidbar 1:16)
The word kru'ai, which should be spelled "kuf-raish-vav-aleph-yud," is
in fact spelled with an extra yud instead of the vav, as if it said
R' Eliezer David Gruenwald z"l (rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Oyber
Visheve and other Hungarian towns; died 1928) explains:
The greatest Jewish leaders have also been the most humble. The most
obvious example is Moshe Rabbeinu, about whom we read (Bemidbar 12:3), "Now
the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of
the earth." Likewise, King David was very humble and said about himself
(Tehilim 22:7), "I am a worm and not a man."
At the beginning of the Book of Vaykira, the word "Vayikra" ("He
called [to Moshe]") is written with a small letter aleph, as if the word
really was "Vayikar" ("He happened [upon Moshe]"). Hashem allowed Moshe
to write the Torah this way in deference to Moshe's humility. Similarly,
here, writes R' Gruenwald, writing that the leaders of the tribes
were "kree'ai" rather than "kru'ai" implies a certain degree of
happenstance, in deference to their humility.
"Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they offered an alien
fire before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no
children." (Bemidbar 3:4)
This verse mentions two of the reasons that our Sages give for why
Nadav and Avihu died: (1) they introduced an "alien" fire onto the altar
in the Mishkan, and (2) they never married.
R' Mendel Hager z"l (rabbi, rosh yeshiva, and chassidic rebbe of
Oyber Visheve; died 1941) explains that these are really two sides of one
coin. Why did Nadav and Avihu never marry? Because they thought that
earthly matters such as marriage have no place in the lives of people
dedicated to holiness, such as themselves. Of course, they were wrong, as
that is not the Torah's attitude. Indeed, their error may be seen in the
halachah that even though G-d sends a fire from heaven to burn on the
altar, man is obligated to light a fire there as well. The Torah in fact
expects earthly matters to be elevated to spirituality, not to be shunned
Given Nadav and Avihu's attitude, however, it was inconsistent for
them to introduce an earthly fire onto the altar. That is why they were
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