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Parshas Masei

A New Chapter

Volume 25, No. 43

One of the laws in this week’s parashah is that an accidental murderer must flee to a City of Refuge and remain there until the Kohen Gadol has passed away. Why is the fate of a manslaughterer bound up with that of the Kohen Gadol? R’ Elya Meir Bloch z”l (1894-1955; founder and rosh yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland) explains:

The Kohen Gadol’s job is to bring the Shechinah to rest among the Jewish People. On the other hand, murder drives the Shechinah away. [Our Sages teach that even one who kills accidentally is considered a murderer in some sense, because G-d protects blameless people from committing offenses even unintentionally.] One who has committed such an act cannot be part of the same society as the Kohen Gadol. Moreover, such a person must realize that he cannot continue life as usual. Instead, he must uproot himself and go to a City of Refuge and begin a new life. Only when the Kohen Gadol dies can the accidental murderer feel that the chapter of his life that was so inimical to the Kohen Gadol’s mission is over, and then he can return to his former home.

This understanding has broader applications, R’ Bloch observes. Any time a person has experienced a spiritual setback, even inadvertently and unintentionally, he must realize that he cannot go on with life as usual. Rather, some change is required to address the situation in which he finds himself.

In addition, R’ Bloch teaches, we learn from here that a person must act in a way that furthers the mission of the Kohen Gadol and other spiritual leaders. (Peninei Da’at)

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“Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth.” (33:2)

Many commentaries note that the terms “goings forth” (motza’aihem) and “journeys” (mas’aihem) switch places between the beginning and end of the verse in an A-B-B-A pattern. R’ Aryeh Zvi Frumer z”l Hy”d (rabbi of Koziegłowy, Poland and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin; killed in the Holocaust) offers this explanation:

R’ Chaim Vital z”l (1543-1620) writes in his work Sha’arei Kedushah that the reason the Torah does not specifically command us to have good middot / character traits is that middot are a prerequisite to Torah study and observance. This means that man cannot observe mitzvot properly unless he has first perfected his middot.

On the other hand, the Tikkunei Zohar teaches that mitzvot are like wings that uplift a person. Putting these two teachings together, says R’ Frumer, we must conclude that there is a circular process. One must improve his middot in order to observe mitzvot. Mitzvah observance then uplifts a person so that he can improve his middot even more, which, in turn, leads to better mitzvah observance, and so on.

Another introductory point: In the aforementioned Shaarei Kedushah, R’ Vital explains the difference between a “tzaddik” and a “chassid” as earlier generations used those words. A tzaddik is someone who has material desires but suppresses them as required. In contrast, a chassid is someone who has eradicated those desires.

In this light, R’ Frumer explains: [The majority of bad middot can be traced to a yearning to fulfill one’s material desires.] Thus, the first step that one must undertake is to begin to “go forth,” i.e., to leave the prison of material desires to a certain extent. This will begin one’s journey, i.e., his performance of mitzvot. Thereafter, one will return to the process of “going forth” and will further improve his middot. (Eretz Zvi)

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“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, ‘Ki you are crossing the Jordan to the land of Canaan – you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the Land before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones; all their molten images shall you destroy; and all your high places shall you demolish’.” (33:51-52)

The word “ki” in this verse usually is translated “when,” so that the verse would say, “When you are crossing the Jordan . . .” However, writes R’ Yosef Chaim David Azulai z”l (1724-1806; Eretz Yisrael and Italy), it also can be translated “because.”

He explains: Our Sages say that if Moshe Rabbeinu had entered Eretz Yisrael, he would have destroyed the yetzer hara for idolatry. Furthermore, Bnei Yisrael would have entered a Garden of Eden-like existence.

However, this was not to be; Moshe Rabbeinu was not going to enter the Holy Land. Therefore, Hashem commanded him to say, “Because you – but not I – are crossing the Jordan,” therefore I must caution you to destroy all vestiges of idolatry. (Nachal Kedumim)

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“This shall be for you the northern border-- from the Great Sea you shall turn to Hor Hahar / Mount Hor.” (34:7)

R’ Ishtori Ha’Parchi z”l (approx. 1280-1345) writes that this is the mountain referred to in the Gemara as “Turei Samnos.” [In our versions of the Gemara (Gittin 8a) it is called “Turei Amnon.” Below, R’ Ishtori apparently identifies this mountain as a peak 25 miles south of the range in present-day Turkey called “Toros Amanus.”] This is not the same Hor Hahar that is associated with the death of Aharon; that Hor Hahar is outside of Eretz Yisrael to the east, while this one is on the northwestern corner. Neither is this Hor Hahar the same as Mount Chermon, even though Chermon has many names.

Regarding the identification of this Hor Hahar, R’ Ishtori writes: I struggled and searched for a long time, and thank G-d I found the answer. Know that from Mount Carmel northward past Akko (Acre), there are many places where the land juts into the sea. All of these are part of Eretz Yisrael, including Tyre, Sidon and Beirut. North of there, near R’as al Basit, there is a very tall mountain which is called in Arabic, “Jabal Al-Akra,” which means “Bald Mountain.” This is a lone mountain and its base juts into the sea. It has on it very tall Erez trees and also nut trees. It also has springs of water and small villages that live off the blessing of the springs. About half a day’s journey south of there is the town mentioned in Tractates Shabbat (119a), Menachot (85b), and elsewhere, called Ludkiyah (i.e., Al Ladhiqiyah on Syria’s Mediterranean coast). I say, R’ Ishtori continues, that this is the Hor Hahar that we are seeking, because all of the other peninsulas south of it are not mountains. Furthermore, all the towns mentioned as being within the Twelve Tribes’ territories are south of there. Finally, Hamah, which is mentioned as being on the border, is three days journey east [actually south east, as R’ Ishtori mentions below] of there. [However, some say that Hamah of the Torah is Antioch / Antakya, Turkey]. Two days south of there is Halba (Lebanon) in the territory of Asher.

When one stands at the top of this mountain facing eastward, then in front of him, a little to the south, will be Hamah. About two days south of there, on the coast, is the city that the Torah calls “Sin” and the Arabs call Tarabulus (Tripoli). Near it is Arka, and about those two places the Torah says (Bereishit 10:17), “the Arki and the Sini.” Two days further south, also on the coast, is Beirut, which is mentioned in Yechezkel (47:15). (Kaftor Va’ferach Ch.11)

[Note: Comments in square brackets are from the editors of the Machon Le’limudei Mitzvot Ha’aretz edition of Kaftor Va’ferach (Yerushalayim 5757). Also note that nearly all of the places mentioned in the above description have eponymous counterparts on modern day maps, presumably at or near their original locations.]

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Pirkei Avot

“Take care regarding a ‘lighter’ mitzvah as you would a ‘stricter’ mitzvah, for you do not know the reward that is paid for mitzvot.” (Chapter 2)

R’ Yitzchak of Volozhin z”l (1780-1849; son and successor to R’ Chaim of Volozhin) asks: Why couldn’t the mishnah say, “you do not know the reward for mitzvot”? What is added by, “that is paid”?

He answers with a parable. Two merchants (call them Reuven and Shimon) traveled to the market day in a distant town. Reuven had a cousin in that town (call him Levi), so the two travelers stopped-in at Levi’s house instead of going to an inn. Levi was overjoyed to see his relative, Reuven, and the two of them sat down to catch up on family happenings while dinner was prepared. Shimon, having no part in this discussion, went to take a nap.

By the time dinner was ready, Shimon was sound asleep. Reuven tried to awaken his fellow traveler, but Shimon preferred to remain in bed. In exasperation, Reuven said, “How much would you pay for a dinner such as this at the inn? Here it is being offered for free!”

Explains R’ Yitzchak: We read in Devarim (30:11-14), “For this commandment that I command you today -- it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Rather, the matter is very near to you -- in your mouth and your heart -- to perform it.” Rashi comments: “‘It is not in heaven” – but were it in heaven, it would still be your duty to go up after it to learn it.” Accordingly, says R’ Yitzchak, we must appreciate the kindness that Hashem did for us by giving us the Torah. We do not realize the reward that we would have to pay for the mitzvot if G-d had not given them to us for free. This is what the mishnah is teaching. (Mili D’Avot)


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