Volume 26, No. 35
Sponsored by Martin and Michelle Swartz on the thirtieth yahrzeit of
Martin's grandfather John Hofmann a”h (12 Tammuz)
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (18:4-6), “The words of a man’s mouth are deep
waters; the source of wisdom is like a flowing stream.” Rabbeinu Yonah
Gerondi z”l (Spain; died 1263) explains: This verse teaches us that when a
person is sitting among a group of people who are conversing, if they are
speaking about mundane matters or are exchanging idle words, he should
consider their words like a deep well, whose waters are useless to a thirsty
person because they are too far away to be reached without a rope and
bucket. On the other hand, if they are speaking words of wisdom or mussar /
character improvement, he should drink up their words like a thirsty man at
a flowing stream.
Alternatively, R’Yonah writes, the first part of this verse can be
interpreted in connection with our parashah [which opens with the law of the
parah adumah, a decree whose logic we cannot understand]. “The words of a
Man’s mouth are deep waters.” “Man” refers to Hashem, as in the verse
(Shmot 15:3), “Hashem is the Man of War.” Hashem’s words – His mitzvot –
that are so deep we cannot grasp their reasons.
In fact, R’ Yonah notes, mitzvot can be divided into three groups. One
group consists of mitzvot that we would have observed even without a Divine
command, for example, honoring parents and not murdering. A second group
consists of mitzvot that we would not have thought of ourselves, but which
we readily accept as G-d’s Will. These include eating kosher, not shaving
certain parts of the head, and others. Finally, there are mizvot that the
yetzer hara argues will subject us to ridicule, for example, the parah
adumah, hanging strings from our clothes (tzitzit), and not wearing mixtures
of wool and linen (sha’atnez). We must remember that these too are G-d’s
will. Moreover, one who becomes wise can discover some of the reasons for
these mitzvot. (Derushei U’perushei Rabbeinu Yonah Al Ha’Torah)
“Miriam died there and she was buried there. There was no water for the
assembly, and they gathered against Moshe and Aharon.” (Bemidbar 20:1-2)
R’ Shlomo Ephraim of Lunschitz z”l (rabbi of Prague; died 1619) writes in
his commentary Kli Yakar that the lack of water was a punishment for Bnei
Yisrael’s failure to mourn Miriam adequately. In contrast to Moshe and
Aharon’s deaths, the verse does not say that Bnei Yisrael cried over her
death. Rather, the verse implies, she was “buried there” and forgotten.
Accordingly, Bnei Yisrael had to be shown that the spring that had traveled
through the desert with them had been in Miriam’s merit.
R’ Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the Biala Rebbe in Yerushalayim) teaches that
we must learn a practical lesson from the Kli Yakar’s comment: When one
receives a gift in the merit of a second person, then the recipient is
obligated to show gratitude to the person in whose merit the gift was given.
He observes further: We have a tendency to not show proper gratitude to our
mothers and wives. King David extols the tzniut / discrete nature of Jewish
woman in the verse (Tehilim 45:14), “All of the honor of the king’s daughter
is inward” – the consequence, however, is that the low-key, behind the
scenes contributions of mothers and wives go unnoticed. When this happens,
the “spring runs dry,” as in our verses. (Mevaser Tov: B’zchut Nashim
“Why did you have us ascend from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? --
not a place of seed, or fig, or grape, or pomegranate; and there is no water
to drink!” (20:5)
R’ Tuvia Goldstein z”l (1917-2003; rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Emek Halachah in
New York) writes: Bnei Yisrael spent 40 years in the desert, most of them
after they had received the Torah. Presumably, therefore, they were already
obligated to observe mitzvot. Yet, our verse suggests that there was no
vegetation in the desert--if so, from where did they get a lulav and etrog?
Perhaps one might argue that the desert miraculously produced plants while
Bnei Yisrael were there (see Tosafot to Chullin 88b). However, we read
(Yirmiyah 2:2), “Thus said Hashem, ‘I remember for your sake the kindness of
your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the
wilderness, in a land not sown’.” Thus, it seems more reasonable to
maintain that Bnei Yisrael did not observe the mitzvah of lulav and etrog in
R’ Goldstein continues: This would explain a seeming anomaly in the verses
regarding the festivals. Regarding Pesach we read (Vayikra 23:6), “On the
fifteenth day of this month is the Festival of Matzot to Hashem; you shall
eat matzot for a seven-day period.” Here, the festival and the commandment
to eat matzah are mentioned in the same verse. Not so regarding Sukkot,
about which we read first (ibid verse 34), “On the fifteenth day of this
seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, a seven-day period for Hashem,” and
only later (ibid verse 40), “You shall take for yourselves on the first day
the fruit of a citron tree . . .” The festival and the mitzvah of lulav and
etrog are separated in the Torah because, at one time at least, Sukkot was
observed without a lulav and etrog. [Nevertheless, after discussing other
aspects of this question, R’ Goldstein suggests that a definite conclusion
is impossible.] (She’eilot U’teshuvot Emek Halachah, vol. 2 no. 42)
“Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, ‘Because you did not believe in Me to
sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this
congregation to the Land that I have given them.” (20:12)
R’ David Halevi z”l (Taz; 1586-1667) writes: Many ask: Didn’t Hashem
previously tell Moshe that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael because he
questioned how Hashem was going about redeeming Bnei Yisrael from Egypt?
(See Rashi to Shmot 6:1)
He answers: Moshe’s sin in Egypt was committed privately. Therefore, his
punishment was annulled when all of Bnei Yisrael were sentenced to die in
the desert, lest it appear that he was no better than they. Now, when Moshe
sinned again in a very public fashion, he was punished anew. (Divrei David)
R’ Yehuda He’chassid z”l (Germany; died 1217) asks: Hashem has many ways of
punishing one who sins. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu have to *die* for this
He answers: It is noteworthy that Moshe’s downfall came about through the
very same implement that he used to perform so many miracles -- the staff.
This is meant to serve as a lesson to us that Hashem does not show
favoritism. Despite all the good that Moshe did, he too was punished
severely–with death--for his sin.
Also, this teaches that, although Moshe Rabbeinu said (Devarim 30:20) that
clinging to Hashem is “your life and the length of your days,” he meant this
to refer to Olam Haba, not to This World. Thus, if a tzaddik dies
young--Moshe Rabbeinu died at a younger age than any of his ancestors going
all the way back to Adam Ha’rishon--no one should think that the Torah’s
promise was not kept. (Sefer Ha’chassidim No.355)
“When the entire assembly saw that Aharon had died, they wept for Aharon for
thirty days, the entire House of Yisrael.” (20:29)
Rashi z”l writes: “‘The entire’ – both men and women, because Aharon used to
pursue peace and promote love between contending parties, and between man
R’ Yitzchak Dadon shlita (Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Yerushalayim) illustrates
the degree to which a person can go to prevent bad feelings between people
with the following story:
R’ Avraham Elkanah Kahana-Shapira z”l (1914-2007; rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat
Merkaz Harav and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel) was invited to attend a
bar mitzvah, but when the day came, he felt ill. Reluctantly, he agreed to
his family’s entreaties that he remain at home.
Suddenly, R’ Shapira asked whether the bar mitzvah boy has an older brother
and, if so, whether he (R’ Shapira) had attended the older brother’s bar
mitzvah. When both questions were answered in the affirmative, R’ Shapira
got up and said, “In that case I must go. Otherwise, the bar mitzvah boy
could be hurt because I came to his brother’s bar mitzvah, but not to his.”
(Rosh Devarcha p.436)
Letters from our Sages
The following letter was written by R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (a leading teacher
of mussar in the last 50 years; died 2005) to his grandson. It appears in
the pamphlet Igrot U’ketavim, published on the occasion of R’ Wolbe’s shloshim.
To my beloved . . . peace and a blessing!
R’ Yisrael Salanter, may his merit protect us [founder of the mussar
movement and a brilliant scholar] said, “I know that my head is equal to
that of a thousand men; this merely obligates me to do the work of a
We learn from this that one is obligated to recognize the strengths and
talents that G-d has given him. One certainly did not receive these for
nothing, only in order to use them to serve his Creator through Torah and
through sanctifying His Name in the world.
To be full of pride over one’s talents makes no sense, for we did not give
ourselves these talents. The reason that G-d did not give everyone the same
talents is that not everyone has the same task. If one takes pride in his
talents, it is a sign that he does not believe that G-d gave them to him.
In so doing, he is taking pride in G-d’s garment, as the verse says (Tehilim
93:1), “Hashem donned grandeur.”
Grandeur [which shares a root in Hebrew with “pride”] belongs only to the
Creator, not to the created.
When a person does recognize his talents, he needs to know that he is
obligated to exhaust them for the sake of Torah and service of G-d. Who can
believe that he is fulfilling his obligation? Everyone is obligated to do
infinitely more than he is doing, using whatever talents he has. . . .
Indeed, in contrast to a multi-talented individual, one who is not talented
but works hard to understand and know [the Torah] is using his talents. A
talented individual should feel shame, not pride, in the presence [of a
person whose talents are limited]. . . .
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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