Parashat Bemidbar, which is devoted in part to the genealogy of the Jewish
People, is always read shortly before the holiday of 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 their
R' Shmuel Guntzler z"l (1834-1911; rabbi of Oyber Visheve, Hungary)
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 ohz / strength." ["Ohz" referrs to the Torah, as is
written (Tehilim 29:11), "Hashem will give ohz to His nation."]
And, this, writes R' Guntzler, 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' Guntzler 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 minors do not "count") - is very dear to Hashem. (Meishiv Nefesh)
"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. By placing "These are the
commandments . . . ," right after the just-mentioned halachah, verse 34
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 performs. (Zecher Chaim)
"These were the kru'ai / ones summoned by the assembly, the leaders of
their fathers' tribes, they are the heads of Israel's thousands."
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 kree'ai.
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. (Keren L'David)
"Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they offered an alien fire
before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children."
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 expects earthly
matters to be elevated to spirituality, not to be shunned entirely.
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 punished.
"Exile comes to the world because of idolatry, adultery, murder, and
[failure to observe] shemittah." (Chapter 5)
We are taught that G-d punishes man for his sins middah k'negged middah,
i.e., the punishment fits the crime. On the simplest level, we can
understand that one who transgresses the mitzvah of shemittah - a mitzvah
which is specific to the Land of Israel - deserves to be exiled from that
Land. However, R' Yisrael Meir Lau shlita (former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi
of Israel) suggests a deeper connection:
One purpose of the mitzvah of shemittah is to strengthen man's emunah /
faith in G-d. Owning land and seeing it produce crops year after year
gives a person a certain sense of power and security, thereby causing him
to forget G-d's role in his success. By not sowing the fields for one
year, one acknowledges that the fields belong to G-d and all sustenance
comes from Him.
One who does not observe shemittah needs to learn the same lesson another
way. Exile is meant to deprive a person of the sense of power and
security that he had when he was a landowner.
[The prophet Yirmiyah foretold the first period of exile from Eretz
Yisrael which our ancestors experienced. Based on verses in last week's
parashah, our Sages say that one of the sins that caused that exile was
the failure to observe shemittah]. Thus we read in Yirmiyah (5:1),
"Walk about in the streets of Yerushalayim, see now and know, and seek
in its plazas; if you will find a man, if there is one who dispenses
justice and seeks emunah, then I will forgive the [the city]." Had
the inhabitants of Yerushalayim in the time of Yirmiyah possessed emunah,
the exile would not have been necessary. (Yachel Yisrael Vol. V, p.152)
This week we continue our discussion of the laws of shemittah, again
focusing on the mitzvah of "biur." As explained last week, each species
of the produce of shemittah may be kept in one's home only so
long as that species is still available in the wild. Thereafter, it is
subject to biur.
The halachot below are from Sefer Ha'shemittah (chapter 9) by R' Yechiel
Michel Tikochinski z"l.
How is biur accomplished? According to Rambam z"l, one must actually
destroy the left-over produce and not eat it anymore. However, the
majority of poskim / halachic authorities rule that the mitzvah of biur
merely requires eliminating the left-over produce from one's possession.
One does this by carrying all of the produce of the affected species out
of his house into a public place and declaring in front of three people
that the produce is hefker / ownerless. Thereafter, anyone, including the
original owner, may take possession of the hefker produce and eat it.
When choosing the three people before whom one declares the produce
ownerless, one is permitted to select three friends who he knows will not
lay claim to the hefker produce.
If the time for biur passes and one has not declared his produce hefker,
the produce becomes prohibited to be eaten. Accordingly, one should not
purchase produce or accept produce to eat from a person who is suspected
of not observing the laws of biur.
Those produce items whose time of biur is in doubt should be declared
hefker at the earliest date which may be the applicable time of biur and
should be left hefker until the latest date which may be the applicable
time of biur, at which time one may claim them.
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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