On the Heaven and the Earth
"...at the image of Hashem does he gaze..." (12:8)
In this week's parsha, Hashem castigates Aharon and Miriam for
criticizing Moshe and proceeds to define Moshe's uniqueness. Amongst Moshe's
unequaled abilities is his capacity to "gaze at the image of Hashem" -
"utmunas Hashem yabit". The verb "yabit" - "gaze" is defined by Rashi in
parshas Lech Lecha as "looking down from a higher vantage
point".1 If so, what is meant by Moshe's ability to view
Hashem's image from a higher vantage point?
Above all of Moshe's outstanding qualities, the Torah describes him as an
"ish anav me'od" - "an exceedingly humble man".2 Rav Moshe
Kordovero, one of the greatest Kabbalists of the middle ages, describes
humility as the ability for a person of great stature to relate to those of
lesser stature without being condescending and to see the worth of each
individual. 3 The Torah is teaching us that Moshe's ability to
see the "tmunas Hashem" - "image of Hashem" engraved within every human
being provided him with a heightened sense of humility, and this allowed him
to deal with each individual as a person of worth. Moshe did not have to
look up to see Hashem; he could see Hashem by looking down as well.
3.See appendage to the Tomer Devorah
A Taste of Their Own Medicine
"...My master Moshe, destroy them!" (11:28)
Acquiescing to Moshe's request for assistance, Hashem
incorporated a new political entity into the corporate structure of Bnei
Yisroel, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin's function was to assist Moshe in
leading the nation. 1 Two of the chosen elders, Eldad and
Meidad, who, because of their appointment became imbued with the ability to
prophesy, did not follow the others to meet Moshe at the Ohel Mo'ed - Tent
of Meeting. They remained in the camp, prophesying. The Torah records that
Yehoshua was angered by their behavior and suggested to Moshe "kela'aim".
The Rashbam, who generally follows a more literal interpretation of the
verses, translates "kela'aim" as "incarcerate them", from the word "kela" -
"prison".2 Rashi only offers this as a secondary interpretation;
his primary interpretation, based upon the word "kaleh" - "destroy", is that
Yehoshua suggested that Moshe appoint them to positions which would require
community service, resulting in their demise. 3 Why does Rashi
not favor the more literal interpretation? Furthermore, how did Yehoshua's
suggestion address what he perceived to be the violation?
The Ramban explains that Yehoshua's anger was prompted by his perception
that since Moshe had summoned the seventy elders to the Ohel Mo'ed, Eldad's
and Meidad's reluctance to go had to be viewed as dissention. 4
Consequently, incarceration would not be the recommended course of action,
for if a person is a political dissenter, incarcerating him brings more
attention to his cause and could spark a grassroots movement in his support.
Therefore, Yehoshua suggested that if they were objecting to the manner in
which the leadership was serving the nation, the best course of action would
be to let them experience the difficulty of contending with community
pressure. This experience would either diffuse their opposition to the
current leadership or destroy them in their attempt to reform the system.
We are Connected
"Moshe heard the people weeping concerning their family groups..."
The Talmud relates that any commandment which we initially
accepted with rejoicing, such as bris milah - circumcision, would be
performed joyously in later generations. However, any commandment that was
received with resistance, would be fulfilled in later generations with
aggravation. Specifically, since Bnei Yisroel wept over being prohibited
from marrying their family members, the result was that there would never be
a Kesubah, a marriage document that records the couple's financial
obligations to one another, written that did not involve some form of
dispute. 1 Why are circumcision and prohibited relationships the
two examples utilized?
The Maharal questions why, in fact, it became prohibited to Bnei Yisroel to
marry their family members. According to the Talmud, in preparation for
receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisroel underwent complete conversion i.e.
circumcision, ritual bathing, and the bringing of sacrifices. 2
By Torah law, when a person converts he severs all preexisting family
relationships. Therefore, technically, if a brother and sister were to
convert, as Jews they would be permitted to marry one another based upon the
dictum "ger shenisgayer kikatan shenolad dami" - "A convert has the status
of a newborn child." Therefore, asks the Maharal, why did the conversion
process of Bnei Yisroel not sever all preexisting family relationships,
permitting them to marry their family members? 3
The reason why conversion severs preexisting family relationships is that
when a person becomes a Jew, he disconnects himself from his previous
heritage, and connects himself with the heritage that began with our
Forefather Abraham. This is the reason for the custom of naming converts
"ben Avraham" - "the son of Abraham". The conversion of Bnei Yisroel at Har
Sinai did not sever their previous heritage; on the contrary, it reaffirmed
and reconnected them back to their ancestry. It is because of their
connection to their ancestry that they merited to receive the Torah.
Therefore, all previous family relationships remained intact.
The misonenim were complaining that since they had undergone conversion,
they should have been permitted to maintain relationships with family
members, as is standard for the laws of conversion. Their mistake was that
Bnei Yisroel's conversion was not a standard one, rather, it was akin to the
circumcision which they had to undergo. The function of circumcision is to
reconnect us to the covenant of Abraham, as we recite in the blessing for
circumcision "lehachniso bevriso shel Avraham Avinu" - "to enter him, i.e.
the one being circumcised, into the covenant of our Patriarch Abraham".
It is for this reason that Chazal compare Bnei Yisroel's reaction to the
precepts governing prohibited relationships and circumcision. They are
alluding to the source of Bnei Yisroel's mistake; although they underwent
conversion, this process did not serve to sever their preexisting heritage,
rather to reaffirm it.
2.Krisus 9a See Rashi Shemos 24:6
3.Gur Arye Bereishis 46:10 See introduction to the Shav Shmaytsah