Volume 33, No.36
19 Sivan 5779
June 22, 2019
In the middle of this week’s Parashah, there are two verses set off by the Hebrew letter “Nun” written backwards (10:35-36), “When the Aron would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Yisrael’.”) R’ Zemach ben Shlomo Duran z”l (rabbi of Algiers after 1467) cites three explanations for these unusual brackets:
(1) These two verses have the Halachic status of a separate book of the Torah. This teaches that a damaged Torah scroll retains its Halachic status if it still contains 85 letters, the number of Hebrew letters in these two verses. Notably, writes R’ Zemach, these verses mirror the Torah itself: the first verse has 12 words like the last verse in the Torah, while the second verse has seven words like the first verse in the Torah.
(2) When these verses are counted as a separate book of the Torah, there are a total of seven books (Bereishit, Shmot, Vayikra, Bemidbar before these verses, these two verses, Bemidbar after these verses, and Devarim), paralleling the Seven Days of Creation, the seven “appointed times” (Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret), and other significant sevens in Kabbalah.
(3) The brackets indicate that these verses actually “belong” earlier in the Torah. However, they were written here to separate two unfortunate incidents: the departure from Har Sinai (10:33-34) and Bnei Yisrael’s complaints about the Mahn (35:1).
This last explanation requires clarification, notes R’ Zemach, for Bnei Yisrael only traveled from Har Sinai because the Cloud that led the way departed there! He explains that the problem was the attitude with which they traveled–a sense of relief that Hashem would not be giving them any more Mitzvot. (Quoted in Yesodei Ha’Torah)
“Moshe said to Chovav son of Re’uel, the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moshe, ‘We are journeying to the place of which Hashem has said, ‘I shall give it to you’.” (10:29)
We read (Shmot 6:1), “Hashem said to Moshe, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh . . .” Rashi z”l comments: Since you questioned My ways, you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, but you will not see what I will do to the seven Canaanite nations” [until here from Rashi]. But, if Moshe was told even before the Exodus that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael, why does he say in our verse, “We are journeying . . . ,” and in verse 32, “If you come with us, then with the goodness with which Hashem will benefit us, we will do good to you.” He seems to be including himself!
R’ Malachi Hakohen z”l (Italy; died 1772) answers: The words in Rashi (quoted above), “But you will not see what I will do to the seven Canaanite nations,” should not be read as part of what Hashem told Moshe. Hashem said only the words in the verse, “Now you will see . . .” Rashi is telling us that, with hindsight, we know that Hashem was saying that Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. However, Moshe did not understand that at the time. (Yad Malachi: Be’ur Al Ha’Torah)
“Moshe said to Hashem, ‘Why have You done evil to Your servant; why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?’
“Hashem said to Moshe, “Gather to Me seventy men from the elders of Yisrael . . . I will descend and speak with you there, and I will increase some of the spirit that is upon you and place it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.” (11:11, 16-17)
R’ Menashe Furer z”l (1921-2004; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ohr Yosef/ Novardok in France, later in New York) asks: In Parashat Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law warned him (Shmot 18:18), “You will surely become worn out–you as well as this people that is with you–for this matter is too hard for you, you will not be able to do it alone.” In response, Moshe appointed 78,600 judges to help him respond to Bnei Yisrael’s legal questions and disputes. Why, then, did he feel now that he lacked adequate support? And, how did Hashem help by designating 70 additional elders?
R’ Furer explains: The judges appointed in Parashat Yitro were just that–judges. They were not prophets. In his humility, Moshe was convinced that the underlying cause of Bnei Yisrael’s repeated complaints about their food and water was that they did not trust him; they did not believe that everything he said and did was G-d’s Will. This explains Moshe’s enigmatic question (verses 21-22), “Six hundred thousand men are the people in whose midst I am, yet You say, ‘I shall give them meat, and they shall eat for a month of days!’ Can sheep and cattle be slaughtered for them and suffice for them? Or if all the fish of the sea will be gathered for them, would it suffice for them?” It seems that Moshe doubted Hashem’s ability to provide meat, but, of course, he did not! Rather, Moshe meant: “You say You will give them meat, but will that solve the problem?”
Indeed, concluded R’ Furer, the thousands of judges that Bnei Yisrael already had could not address the current challenge as Moshe perceived it. But, even a small number of prophets who would hear what Moshe heard could reinforce Moshe’s prophecy. That was the purpose of appointing the Seventy Elders and showering prophecy upon them. (Mishnat Menashe: Mussar p.6)
Siddur Avodat Yisrael cites a custom to recite Psalm 68 on the Shabbat on which Parashat Be’ha’alotecha is read. Accordingly, we present here verses from, and commentaries on, that Psalm.
“For the conductor, by David, a psalm, a song. May Elokim arise, let His enemies be scattered, and His foes will flee before Him. Disperse them as smoke is dispersed; as wax melts before fire, so may the wicked perish before Elokim.” (Verses 1-3)
Rashi z”l writes that this occurred in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, an allusion to the verse in our Parashah (Bemidbar 10:35), “When the Ark would journey, Moshe would say, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You’.”
R’ Avraham ibn Ezra z”l (1089-1164) writes: This psalm is very worthy of honor. Most commentaries interpret it as referring to the Giving of the Torah. Their proof is verse 18, “Hashem is among them as in Sinai in holiness.” However, it is difficult to explain the progression of the verses consistently with this view.
What appears correct to me, R’ Avraham ibn Ezra continues, is that David wrote this psalm about his war against the gentiles, when he had only the tribes of Yehuda, Binyamin, Zevulun and Naftali alongside him.
R’ Ovadiah Seforno z”l (1470-1550; Italy) writes: This psalm is a prophecy and a prayer about the future redemption.
R’ Meir Leibush Weiser z”l (1809-1879; Ukraine and Romania; known as “Malbim”) writes: After looking at the details of this song (psalm) and its arrangement, I believe that it was written about the many wars that David had with Moav, the Plishtim, Aram Tzovah and Aram Damesek [two kingdoms in Syria], and Edom, as described in the book of Shmuel II. [Malbim then describes the locations of some of those battles.] Because Hashem appeared to Yisrael with wonders in those very same places in “the olden days,” whether at the Giving of the Torah or during the wars against the Emorites, the Psalmist (King David) dressed up this song with references to that prior era. His mind flowed freely between past and present, as if the miracles that happened in the earlier time were still ongoing, for Hashem’s kindness never runs out. (Tefilot David)
Avot D’Rabbi Natan
This work, which dates from the time of the Gemara and major Midrashim, expands on many of the ideas found in Pirkei Avot. Here, we present excerpts from and commentaries on Avot D’Rabbi Natan.
“Drink in the words of the Sages thirstily” (a quote from Pirkei Avot, ch. 1) — This refers to Rabbi Akiva. How did Rabbi Akiva start out? It is said that he was 40 years old and had learned nothing. Once, he was standing at the opening of a well, and he asked, “What made a groove in this stone?” People answered him, “The rope [for drawing water] that constantly runs over the stone.” Rabbi Akiva then reasoned, “If something so soft could make a groove in something so hard, certainly Torah, which is equated with iron, can make an impression on me!” He went to learn Torah. At first, he sat in class next to his son and they learned the Aleph-Bet together. . .
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, “To what is Rabbi Akiva’s experience comparable? To a rock quarrier who took his pick and sat on a mountain. At first, he broke off only small chips, leading people to declare, “You will never break up this mountain!” He responded, “I will break up this entire mountain and cast it into the Jordan River!” Eventually, he reached the hard layer beneath. He broke it up and threw it into the Jordan. (Ch.6)
R’ Yom Tov Tzahalon z”l (1559-1638; Tzefat, Israel) writes: Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar is explaining how Rabbi Akiva went from knowing nothing at age 40, not even the Aleph-Bet, to becoming one of the greatest Torah scholars in Jewish history–and all in a short time. When people saw the quarrier chipping away at the mountain, they thought he was wasting his time. Likewise, when they saw Rabbi Akiva studying Torah, they thought he was wasting his time. Maybe the quarrier could break small small chips off the mountain, but what was the point? Likewise, maybe Rabbi Akiva could learn the Aleph-Bet, but to what end? Surely, he would never succeed at Talmud, represented by the hard layer of rock in the parable. Through persistence, however, Rabbi Akiva, like the quarrier in the parable, succeeded. (Magen Avot)