The second of this week's two parashot opens with a list of the 42
places where Bnei Yisrael camped during their forty years in the desert.
Why does the Torah list all of these places? R' Yehoshua ibn Shuiv z"l
(Spain; 14th century) offers several reasons:
(1) Rashi writes that this list shows Hashem's kindness. Without
this list, we might have thought that Bnei Yisrael were traveling
constantly. However, now we know that they averaged almost one year in
(2) The 42 places allude to the Divine Name having 42 letters, with
which Hashem created grasses, trees, and springs at every stop.
(3) Rambam writes that the places are listed to highlight the
miracles that Hashem did in the desert. Without this list, we might have
thought that Bnei Yisrael's travels kept them in inhabited areas so that
they had easy access to food, water and other supplies. However, now we
know that they traveled in wilderness areas. [Ed. note: Rambam's answer,
as well as the next answer, assumes that we can identify these places. In
Chazal's time, many of these places were in fact known.]
(4) The Midrash says that we need to know where Bnei Yisrael camped
so that, if we happen to visit those places, we can recite the
blessing, "Who performed a miracle for my ancestors at this place."
R' Ibn Shuiv notes that the above explanations help to tie our haftarah to
the parashah. In the haftarah, Yirmiyah rebukes the nation for forgetting
Hashem's many acts of kindness. (Derashot Ibn Shuiv)
From the Parashah . . .
"Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army . . ."
R' Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l (the "Alter of Kelm"; died 1898) developed a
strategy to never to lose his temper. He had a special jacket that he had
set aside to wear when he was angry. He said, "When I feel anger coming
on, I know that I have to get my special jacket. But, by the time I do, I
am no longer angry." (Quoted in Ve'karata La'Shabbat Oneg)
"Elazar Hakohen said to the men of the legion who came to
the battle, `This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem commanded
Moshe'." (Bemidbar 31:21)
Rashi z"l explains why Elazar taught this law: "Because Moshe came to
anger (see verse 14), he came to err. Specifically, the laws concerning
the removal of uncleanness absorbed by vessels which had contained the
food of heathens escaped him."
R' Yisrael Avraham Portugal shlita (the Skulener Rebbe in Brooklyn)
asks: This seems inconsistent with Rashi's explanation of the last phrase
in the verse: "Which Hashem commanded Moshe -- he (Elazar) associated the
decision with his teacher." Did Elazar learn this law from Moshe, or did
R' Portugal explains as follows:
We read in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 6) that a person must honor anyone from
whom he has learned Torah. The proof for this is that David showed great
respect to Achitophel, from whom, the mishnah says, "David had learned
only two things alone." Asked R' Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov z"l (founder of
the chassidic movement; died 1760): the mishnah seems to be redundant when
it says, "David had learned *only* two things *alone*." The explanation
is that when a tzaddik teaches Torah, he not only teaches the specific
lesson he is imparting at that moment, but he also disseminates and
increases the holy light of Torah in the world. That light thereafter
enables his students to discover additional Torah insights that their
teacher never spoke.
This is only true, explained the Ba'al Shem Tov, of a tzaddik. The
Biblical figure Achitophel was, however, wicked. Although he twice taught
Torah to King David, he taught *only* those two lessons *alone*. His
teaching did not have the ability to increase the light of Torah in the
This, concluded R' Portugal, explains the seemingly contradictory
statements of Rashi. Moshe had not taught the laws of tevilat kailim /
immersing vessels to Elazar directly. Nevertheless, it was Moshe's
teachings that made Elazar's knowledge possible.(Introduction to his
father's Noam Eliezer)
From the Haftarah . . .
"Hear the word of Hashem, O House of Yaakov and all families
of the House of Yisrael. Thus said Hashem, `What wrong did your
forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me and went
after nothingness, and have turned into nothingness? But they did not
say, "Where is Hashem, Who brought us up from the land of Egypt, Who led
us in the Wilderness, in a land of plain and pit, in a land of waste and
the shadow of death, in a land through which no man has passed and where
no man has settled." Yet I brought you to a fruitful Land, to eat its
fruit and its goodness; but when you came, you contaminated My Land, and
made My heritage into an abomination'." (Yirmiyah 2:4-8)
R' Dr. Yosef Breuer z"l (1882-1980; rabbi of K'hal Adath
Jeshurun / "Breuer's" in Frankfurt, Germany and later Manhattan)
writes: "What wrong has G-d done to you?" the prophet asks Yisrael in
bitter, reproachful words. G-d's people have turned their backs on Him.
The prophet sees this alienation above all in the fact that G-d and his
mitzvot are no longer the central influence in their lives. And yet the
question, "Where is G-d?" is the one that should dominate all of life.
Divine law seeks to encompass within its purifying and hallowing rules
every expression of thought and emotion, every creative action. For when
we were established as a nation in Egypt, G-d became the Master exercising
total dominion over our lives. He brought us up from Egypt -- the verb
used is not "took us up" but "brought us up" -- which implies a moral
elevation from past corruption. He raised us up from Egyptian depravity,
and His sacred maxims of life as set down in the Torah are intended to
protect us from such depravity at all times. Beyond that, during the 40
years which the Jewish People spent in the wilderness, G-d proved to be
the absolute guarantor of their physical well-being, assuring their
miraculous survival in an environment which seemingly offered no chance of
It was for a life ennobled by pure morality that Yisrael's political
independence was to serve as a basis, linking spiritual and moral growth
with material prosperity. Given such a G-d-ordained ideal, of what wrong
could Yisrael possibly accuse Him?
Yet, the prophet sees that the question "Where is Hashem?" -- which
should accompany and dominate every phase of human life -- is no longer
asked. Instead, the ideal of taharah, the sanctification of life which was
the purpose for which he brought us up from Egypt, which clearly
acknowledges the G-d- ordained moral dignity of every man, and which calls
upon man to rise, of his own free will, above all physical and animal
bondage, the prophet beholds the threat of tumah (impurity), the delusion
which drags the human personality into the sphere of the unfree,
restricted world of nature, depriving Yisrael of its hallowed and moral
character, and robbing it of all the ideals it attained through the
Exodus. And so, foreseeing the disastrous consequences of Yisrael's moral
decline, the prophet calls out, "you contaminated My Land!"
R' Breuer continues: When we cease our efforts to fulfill the purpose
for which He brought us up from Egypt, when we no longer acknowledge G-d
as the Source of the moral sanctity of our lives, we will also forget that
G-d "led us in the Wilderness," that He guarantees our enduring physical
survival. At that point, man, deprived of all his ideals, looks only to
himself, to his strength and to his own ability to master the world, for
the attainment of material prosperity. A world dominated by such men
becomes increasingly alienated from its primary allegiance to G-d. Such
is the estrangement (verse 5) that has come between G-d and Yisrael.
(Sefer Yirmiyah: Translation and Commentary)
This week, we present another excerpt from Eleh Masei,
subtitled "A Journal of the Journey of the Rabbis, Members of the
Committee to Raise the Crown of Judaism in Our Holy Land, Who Toured All
the Settlements of Shomron [Samaria] and Galil [Galilee] in the Winter of
Tuesday, 25 Marcheshvan. In the morning, we traveled to Merchaviah.
We prayed Shacharit on the train. The rabbi of Yaffo [R' Kook], being a
kohen, recited Birkat Kohanim [the Priestly Blessing, which is recited
daily in Eretz Yisrael, unlike in the diaspora, where it is recited only
on holidays]. The Arabs who were on the train stood up from their seats
during the blessing. After the rabbi of Yaffo concluded Birkat Kohanim,
they asked about the nature of this prayer. Rabbi Horowitz [this diary's
author] explained to them that the kohen prays for the People and the Land.
The rabbis were met at the train station by wagons and two workers
The manager [of the settlement], Mr. Dick, received the rabbis
politely. Since he had been awaiting their arrival since last week, he had
already purchased 14 mezuzot and affixed them on the doors of his office,
the infirmary, and the cafeteria even before the rabbis arrived.
The kitchen is not kosher . . .
In the communal farm, there are approximately 50 male workers and ten
female workers. We spoke with Mr. Dick, who agreed to have ma'aser taken
from the produce. Immediately, R' Ben Zion Yadler separated terumah and
ma'aser, which came to approximately 120 Francs. . . .
[In the evening,] terrible news reached us; in Deganiah and Kinneret
two young workers from among our brethren were murdered - Moshe Barsky and
Yosef Saltzman. The rabbis were asked to conduct a service in their
After Ma'ariv, all the young people gathered, and R' Yosef Chaim
Sonnenfeld [later rabbi of the Eidah Ha'chareidit] eulogized the victims.
He based words of mussar on the verse (Devarim 21:7), "Our hands did not
spill this blood." [Ed. note: Our Sages interpret this verse as placing
some blame on the entire community when a murder occurs.] Emotions ran
high. After the eulogy, the rabbis recited Av Ha'rachamim. Then R'
Sonnenfeld recited Kel Malei and Kaddish.
[In another work, quoted in a footnote to the 5761 / 2001 edition of
Eleh Masei, an eyewitness provided more details about R' Sonnenfeld's
eulogy: "R' Sonnenfeld paced among us, mournful and broken-hearted. He
gathered us together and gave a pained eulogy for the holy and pure soul
whose life was cut short by murderers. His heartbreak was great, and he
cried bitter tears for the young lives that were stolen from us. He
called on us to awaken, and to combine our strength, so that we might
merit the complete redemption."]
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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