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 note that this is no coincidence. One midrash says, for example,
that the Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael because of their genealogy.
R’ Shmuel Güntzler 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,” to which 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”
refers to the Torah, as is written (Tehilim 29:11), “Hashem will give ohz to
His nation.” And, this, writes R’ Güntzler, 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’ Güntzler explains further:
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)
“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.
“These were the kru’ai / ones summoned by the assembly, the leaders of
their fathers’ tribes, they are the heads of Israel's thousands.” (Bemidbar
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. Why?
R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Oyber
Visheve and other Hungarian towns) explains: The greatest Jewish leaders
have also been the most humble. The most obvious example is Moshe Rabbeinu,
of 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. 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 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.
The Giving of the Torah
“Moshe wrote all the words of Hashem.” (Shmot 24:4)
Rashi z”l writes: “From Bereishit up to the account of the Giving of the
Torah. . .”
Why is it necessary to highlight the fact that Moshe wrote down those
chapters at the time of the Giving of the Torah? R’ Shlomo Rothenberg z”l
(New York; 20th century) explains:
Rashi (to Bereishit 1:1) asks why the Torah begins with the story of
Creation and not with the first mitzvah. He answers, citing Tehilim
(111:6), “He declared to His people the strength of His works in order to
give them the heritage of the nations.” By relating that G-d created the
world, the Torah establishes G-d’s right to give Eretz Yisrael to whichever
nation He pleases.
The premise of Rashi’s question is that the primary purpose of the Torah is
to teach us mitzvot. If so, R’ Rothenberg notes, Rashi’s answer seems
incomplete, for it explains why Creation is mentioned, but not why the rest
of Sefer Bereishit precedes the first mitzvah.
Another question--The Mishnah (Berachot 13a) asks: Why does the parashah of
“Shema” precede the parashah of “V’hayah eem shamoa”? The Mishnah answers:
“In order to accept the yoke of Heaven first and only thereafter to accept
the yoke of mitzvot.” Given Rashi’s premise, R’ Rothenberg asks, shouldn’t
accepting the practical yoke of mitzvot precede accepting the abstract yoke
He explains: If there is no commander, there can’t be commands. Before we
have accepted the yoke of Heaven, there can be no yoke of mitzvot.
Likewise, if we don’t know the story of how Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov
discovered G-d and developed a relationship with Him, we cannot be His
servants. On the other hand, if we would take to heart the lessons of Sefer
Bereishit, we inevitably would become servants of Hashem. This, writes R’
Rothenberg, is the meaning of the verse quoted by Rashi, “He declared to His
people the strength of His works.” Hashem did not just declare “His works,”
but also, “the strength of His works.” Within the story of His works is
something which impels us, which obligates us, and which necessarily will
lead us to accept His yoke upon us. (B’pitchei Olam p.23)
Letters from Our Sages
Below is an excerpt from a letter written by R’ Shlomo ben Aderet z”l
(“Rashba”; Spain; 1235-1310). Rashba was the author of one of the most
important early Talmud commentaries and also wrote more than 4,000 teshuvot
/ letters, mostly on topics of halachah, but also addressing hashkafah /
Jewish beliefs. This letter is printed in She'eilot U'teshuvot Ha'Rashba,
vol I, no. 9.
You asked about what I wrote in my commentary to the aggadah / the non-legal
portion of the Talmud, that our Sages z”l hold that the world’s existence
will be of finite duration. . . and you requested proof.
Know, your honor, that these matters and others like them--if we would
approach them with the tools of human reasoning and try to reach logical
conclusions, our reasoning would indeed lead to the conclusion that the
world will exist indefinitely. This is because our reasoning is based on
our senses and on the laws of nature, and we observe the heavenly bodies to
appear unchanging and the world to be following the same natural pattern all
of the time. [Why, then, would it ever end?] But, those who assert this
[i.e., that the world’s existence is finite] do so based on a tradition that
Yisrael possesses from our Sages based on psukim. Anything that is based on
tradition or prophecy trumps reasoning, for reasoning is on a lower level
than prophecy. This is clear, and no faith questions it; certainly not
those who possess the true faith as our nation does, just as we have no
doubt about the truth of the supernatural miracles that happened to our
ancestors, such as the splitting of the Yam Suf and of the Jordan River and
Yehoshua’s causing the sun to stand still. Though philosophers [a term that
includes all scientists] deny this, that is because they deny the words of
Moshe Rabbeinu and all prophets. In truth, no one would deny any of our
traditions unless he believes that anything which contradicts nature is
impossible--as if anything that is beyond his understanding is impossible.
I am amazed by such beliefs, for even they admit that they can’t explain all
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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