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Parshas Bamidbar

But Who's Counting?

Volume 26, No. 30

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (16:11), “A peles / scale and moznai mishpat / just balances are Hashem’s; His deeds are like even kis / weights in a pouch.” Rabbeinu Bachya z”l (Spain; 14th century) explains: King Shlomo intends to teach us that all of man’s deeds are weighed, and that Hashem has all sizes of weights. A peles is a large scale, moznaim are somewhat smaller, and weights that can fit in a pouch represent the smallest units of measurement. This is all a metaphor to teach that G-d weighs and punishes for the smallest sins and for major sins; He forgets nothing. This idea is conveyed as well in the verse (Yirmiyah 16:16), “Behold, I shall send many fishermen--so says Hashem--and they will fish them out, and afterwards I will send many trappers and they will trap them from atop every mountain and every hill and from the crevices in the rocks.” This is like a person who empties a room and then goes back to make sure he left nothing behind. So, too, Hashem forgets nothing. [Ed. note: R’ Bachya does not mean to discount the possibility of teshuvah. Rather, he is warning a person not to think that “small” sins don’t matter.]

Perhaps, R’ Bachya continues, the small weights are said to be kept in a pouch to allude to the mystery that is inherent in Hashem’s judgment. In reality, we often don’t know what He considers to be a “big” sin or a “small” sin. This is alluded to in the verse (Tehilim 36:7), “Your charity is like the mighty mountains; Your judgment is like the deep waters.”

R’ Bachya notes that, according to the just-quoted verse, unlike Hashem’s judgment which is concealed like the depths, His charity is in the open like the mountains. For example, in the Book of Yechezkel, the date of the destruction of the Temple, a manifestation of Hashem’s judgment, is hidden in confusing terms. In contrast, in our parashah, all of the details of the census, which demonstrates Hashem’s love for us (i.e., His charity) are spelled out. (Beur Al Ha’Torah)

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“They established their genealogy according to their families . . .” (1:18)

The prophet Yechezkel quotes Hashem as comparing the Jewish People to plants, saying (Yechezkel 16:1), “I made you as numerous as the plants of the field; you increased and grew . . .” R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) explains that there are a number of similarities between the Jewish People and the plant world.

(1) The more a farmer works his field, the better his plants will grow. Similarly, we read about Bnei Yisrael in Egypt (Shmot 1:12), “But, the more they would afflict it [the Jewish People], so it would increase and so it would spread out.”

(2) G-d created numerous species of plants, and they continue to reproduce within their own species. Likewise, we read (in our verse), “They established their genealogy according to their families”--a testament that Bnei Yisrael in Egypt did not intermarry.

(3) Most plants have a season when they blossom and a season when they wither. Similarly, the Jewish People have periods of exile and periods of redemption, regarding which we read (Shir Ha’shirim 2:11-12), “For the winter has passed, the deluge is over and gone. The blossoms are seen in the land, the time of song has arrived . . .” [As Rashi z”l explains, “For the winter of bondage has passed, the deluge of suffering is over and gone . . .”] (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim)

From the same work:

“The Ohel Mo’ed, the camp of the Levi’im, shall journey in the middle of the camps.” (2:17)

R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver writes: The tribe of Levi [the teachers of Torah; see Devarim 33:10] was the heart of Bnei Yisrael. Therefore, they were surrounded by four camps, as a person’s torso is surrounded by his two arms and two legs.

R’ Chaver continues: Including Levi--and counting Yosef’s sons, Menashe and Ephraim, separately--there were 13 tribes. Not coincidentally, there are 13 months (in a leap year); 13 gates, 13 tables, and 13 pushkes in the Bet Hamikdash; a visitor to the Bet Hamikdash bowed down in 13 places; Hashem spoke to the Patriarchs 13 times; there are 13 Attributes of Mercy; and there are 13 covenants.

Lastly, there also are 13 rules to be used when interpreting the Torah. R’ Chaver explains the relationship between the last three of these “thirteens” as follows: Our ability to interpret the Torah is a reflection of Hashem’s desire to reveal His Will to us, which, in turn, is an outgrowth of His covenant with the Patriarchs. And, because of that close relationship, He revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu “His ways” (see Shmot 33:13), i.e., His attributes of Mercy.

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Pirkei Avot

“Five acquisitions the Holy One, Blessed Is He, acquired for Himself in His world, and they are: the Torah, one acquisition; heaven and earth, one acquisition; Avraham, one acquisition; Yisrael, one acquisition; the Bet Hamikdash, one acquisition.” (Chapter 6)

R’ Yitzchak Berachiah Mi’Fano z”l (Italy; 1583-1658) asks: From whom did He acquire these five things? Indeed, what does it mean that Hashem acquired something when everything in the world already is His?

He explains: It is G-d’s desire that man have free will so that the righteous will earn reward. (It follows, also, that the wicked earn punishments by misusing their free will.) A strong argument could be made that man’s exercise of his free will should be unlimited, even to the point that he could destroy the world if he chose. However, the five things listed in our mishnah are so precious to G-d that He took steps to protect them without limiting man’s free will. In this sense, He “acquired” them back from mankind.

How so? [A full explanation of all five “acquisitions” would not fit in the available space, but we present two examples.] R’ Yitzchak Berachiah continues, Hashem knows that the Torah is best off in the hands of the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Still, fairness required Hashem to offer the Torah to all of the nations. What did He do? The midrash says that, when Hashem offered the Torah to each nation, it asked what is in the Torah. Hashem answered one nation, “Do not steal,” another, “Do not commit adultery,” etc. R’ Yitzchak Berachiah explains that He answered each with a detail that that particular nation would find unpalatable. He did this with the intention of discouraging them. Each of those nations still had the free will to overcome its nature and accept the Torah. The end result, however, was that Hashem “acquired” the Torah back to give to the nation that He knows is the most appropriate recipient.

Another example: Avraham Avinu was born into a family steeped in idol worship. Left alone, Avraham would have been no different than his father Terach, exactly what that wicked generation would have wanted. Hashem did not negate their free will. He did, however, give Avraham an opening, as the prophet says (Yeshayah 41:2–the haftarah for Parashat Lech Lecha), “Who aroused [Avraham] from the east, who would proclaim His righteousness at every footstep?” By “awakening” Avraham, Hashem “acquired” him for His purposes, but Avraham did the rest using his free will. (Chanoch La’na’ar)

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Letters from Our Sages

R’ Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z”l (the “Netziv”; 1816-1893) was rabbi of Volozhin, Russia and rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva there, as well as the author of many Torah works. In this letter, published in Igrot Ha’Netziv Mi’Volozhin p.42, he responds to someone who had critiqued one of his works.

Regarding your apology, stating that you do not mean your critique to hurt my feelings, G-d forbid that I would think such a thought about your honor. To the contrary, I derive satisfaction from anyone who clarifies and corrects my mistakes--mistakes being something that even those greater than I make.

Regarding this, I suggest the following interpretation of the verse (Kohelet 10:1), “Dead flies putrefy, yabia the perfumer's oil; a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” The word “yabia” is obscure. Also, according to the pshat / plain meaning, it is difficult to connect the parts of this verse. I suggest that, in this context, “yabia” means “to publicize.” The verse is teaching that, while flies do spoil the perfume in which they land, they also perform a kindness by publicizing the perfume’s attractiveness. Likewise, while a little ignorance, i.e., a mistake, does sully a Torah work, the fact that people draw attention to that mistake and critique it makes it a better work.

It is well known how happy a person feels when he knows that great people read his words. Our Sages [Yevamot 97a] teach that even those who are deceased derive pleasure from their words of Torah being quoted. If those who know no physical pleasure or honor feel such, how much more so, then, does a living person enjoy this!

Therefore, I owe a debt of gratitude to your honor, and to anyone who looks at my works Emek She’eilah and Ha’amek Davar. In this merit, may Hashem come to their aid and may their words enlighten their generation. [I give you] the blessing of your friend who is weighed down with avodah.


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