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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5760) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz

Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc


Volume XIV, No. 34
29 Iyar 5760
June 3, 2000

Today’s Learning:
Shekalim 7:3-4
Orach Chaim 301:25-27
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Yevamot 65
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Gittin 14

As this parashah opens, Hashem speaks to Moshe in the desert. Why in the desert – wasn’t the entire Torah given to Moshe at Har Sinai? R’ Zvi Hirsch Kalisher z”l (1795-1875) explains that it is partially from our verse that the midrash derives the lesson that the Torah is acquired through three things: fire, water, and the desert. What does this mean?

R’ Kalisher writes: If one would be a scholar, it is not enough that he study Torah. Rather, a fire must burn within him that leads him to teach others and, if necessary, to zealously defend Hashem’s honor. One cannot say that he loves Hashem if he does not devote himself to seeing that others live a Torah life as he does.

Sometimes, however, the fire must be doused with water. In order to influence others, one must often speak softly, as it is written (Melachim I 19:12), “After the earthquake came a fire; ‘Hashem is not in the fire.’ After the fire came a still, thin sound.” One who fears G-d must pay careful attention to how His people should be led – sometimes with “fire” and sometimes with “water.” This is the symbolism of the burning bush which was not consumed, i.e., that a Torah scholar must burn like a fire but must not destroy his students.

Finally, in his personal life, the would be Torah scholar must live in a desert, i.e., he must live a life which is not devoted to chasing physical pleasures. Also, just as the desert is open to all, so the Torah scholar must be selfless and available to all. (Sefer Ha’berit: Bemidbar 1:1)


R’ Shimon Schwab z”l writes that the most important lesson which children have to learn as they get older is alluded to in this parashah. The Torah tells us that the members of the tribe of Levi were counted from the age of one month, unlike the other tribes, which were counted only from the age of 20 years. Already in their infancy, sons of the Levi’im were called “Guardians of the Holy Watch” because that is what they would grow up to be.

How can we be so certain? The Levi’im of that generation, says R’ Schwab, knew the secret of successful Torah education. The Torah (Devarim 33:9) says about the Levi’im, “The one who said of his father and mother, ‘I did not see him’; [to] his brothers he did not give recognition, and his children, he did not know — for they have observed Your word and guarded Your covenant.” Parents in the tribe of Levi told their children, “I love you more than everybody in the world except . . . Hashem. Do not forget that I love Hashem more than I love you.”

For this reason, when the Jews faltered at the golden calf, the Levi’im were able to heed the call of Hashem. This was the Levi’im’s secret of successful Jewish parenting.


“This is the census of Bnei Yisrael according to their fathers’ households; . . . six hundred three thousand, five hundred and fifty” (2:32)

Why are we told the total number of Bnei Yisrael again after we were told the number earlier in the parashah (in 1:46)? Rabbenu Bachya z”l (Spain; 1263-1340) explains that our verse in fact refers to a different census than the one in the previous chapter. That first count took place on the first day of Iyar (see 1:1), while this count took place on the twentieth of Iyar, as Bnei Yisrael prepared to break camp and leave Har Sinai (see 10:11). The Torah’s intention is to teach us that a miracle occurred and not one person died during those 20 days [although in a population the size of Bnei Yisrael one would have expected at least one death during that amount of time]. (Midrash Rabbenu Bachya)

According to R’ Yechezkel Landau z”l (died 1793; the “Noda B’Yehuda”), the miracle was even greater. We read in verse 9:6 that several Jews were tamei/ritually impure when Pesach arrived, and they were therefore unable to bring the Korban Pesach. The gemara (Sukkah 25a & b) asks who these tamei individuals were and offers three possible answers.

What is the gemara’s question? asks R’ Landau. Presumably these individuals were family members of someone who had died! It must be, he writes, that the gemara knew that not one person died during the entire period between the first census (Sh’mot 38:26) and the census described in our parashah, a period of six- and-a-half months. (Tziyun Le’nefesh Chayah: Sukkah 25)


“Do not let the tribe of the family of Kehat be cut off from among the Levites.” (4:18)

The midrash comments on this verse: “‘Do not let the tribe of Levi be cut off’ – regarding this it is written (Tehilim 33:18), ‘Behold, the eye of Hashem is on those who fear Him, upon those who await His kindness.’ But, [the midrash asks,] do not all creations need Hashem’s kindness? Nevertheless, the tribe of Levi awaits Hashem’s kindness more than do others because they have no portion in the Land.”

R’ Yosef Yoizel Horowitz z”l (the “Alter of Novardok”; died 1919) asks: Why does the midrash misquote the pasuk? (The pasuk refers to the family of Kehat while the midrash speaks of all Levi’im.) He explains:

Our pasuk contains a mitzvah to recognize and protect the special status of the Levi’im from the family of Kehat, for they had the most important role of all Levi’im during the era of the mishkan. However, the pasuk cannot be understood literally to mean that the special role of the Kehat family will never be lost, for today, when there is no Temple, it is lost. The midrash therefore teaches us that there is another Levite-like role that can be attained today, not only by the family of Kehat and not only by Levi’im, but by all Jews. What is that role?

Our sages teach that working to earn a living is not inconsistent with the obligation to trust that Hashem will provide one’s needs. Nevertheless, one who wants to is permitted to place his fate completely in Hashem’s hands. In this way, one imitates the Levi’im. (Madregat Ha’adam: Darchei Habitachon, ch.9)


From the Haftarah

“And the number of Bnei Yisrael will be like the sand of the beach which cannot be measured nor counted.” (Hoshea 2:1)

R’ Yitzchak of Hamburg z”l said in reference to the intermarriage and assimilation which was rampant in Germany of his day (the early 19th century): This pasuk contains an inherent contradiction. On the one hand,, it refers to “the number of Bnei Yisrael,” but on the other, it says that they “cannot be measured nor counted.” Chazal resolved this contradiction by saying, “One expression refers to a time when the Jews do G-d’s Will; the other refers to a time when they do not.”

Most commentaries explain that when the Jews do G-d’s Will they will be too numerous to count, and when they do not, they will be many, but able to be counted. However, R’ Yitzchak suggests the opposite: When the Jews did G-d’s Will, they were numerous, but were identifiable. Today, unfortunately, the Jews cannot be accurately counted because we no longer know who is truly Jewish and who is not. (Quoted in Iturei Torah)


Pirkei Avot

Rabbi Meir says: “One who studies Torah le’shmah/for its own sake merits many things . . .” (Chapter 6, mishnah 1)

R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l (1891-1982; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Yerushalayim) taught: This mishnah speaks of the pinnacle of Torah study le’shmah. It is Hashem’s Will that the Torah’s “potential” be brought out through our actions and our studies. This is what the Torah is about. It follows, that one who learns Torah le’shmah, for the sake of the Torah itself, attaches himself to the essence of Torah and is elevated by having realized the ideal existence. Every person must aspire to this ideal.

[Ed. Note: The concept of studying Torah for the sake of the Torah itself derives from the writings of R’ Chaim of Volozhin. Briefly, it means that one should study Torah with the intent of knowing it, understanding it and adding his own insights to it, thereby making the Torah “bigger” (see Nefesh Hachaim 4:3). What R’ Kook explains is that one who studies the Torah in this manner brings out the Torah’s potential and thus fulfills G-d’s Will. R’ Kook continues:]

If the Torah itself had not taught us that one is permitted to study Torah without the le’shmah aspect, we would assume that it was forbidden to do so. However, the Torah does teach us (Sotah 22b): “One should always study Torah and perform mitzvot, even not le’shmah, because from doing so not le’shmah, one will come to do so le’shmah.” The value of Torah study which is not le’shmah, but whose goal is to reach the high level of le’shmah, is in the fact that it is a tool, like a step that one climbs to Torah study le’shmah. Just as a person’s worth is revealed when he joins a group – “When I am alone, what am I?” [Avot 1:13] – so, too, the close connection between Torah study which is not le’shmah and Torah study which is le’shmah gives the former a whole new meaning.

R’ Kook adds: To the extent that we remember that the Torah comes from the Creator of the world, then there is value to [our service of Hashem even when it is on] other, lower levels. All levels [of serving Hashem] come from this premise, but they are not the goal. The way that leads to realizing the ideal of Torah study [le’shmah] is itself through Torah study.

The 48 things listed in this chapter are the way that Torah is acquired. There is no other way [to acquire Torah] and no step may be neglected. However, we must realize that the true worth of the steps listed here is only when they are coupled with the realization that G-d’s Will reveals itself in the Torah.

Creation was strengthened by the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Today, too, yeshivot add to and strengthen the continued existence of the heavens and the earth. The Torah of the Creator of the world exists forever through us. We must remember this foundation on every step of our way: that the Torah we study is the Torah that was given by G-d from the Heavens. When there is a weakening of the connection between the different levels [of Torah study], then there is a general weakening. However, if there is recognition of [the need for] Torah le’shmah, then there is a general improvement in man’s condition. (Kinyan Torah pp.10-11)

Sponsored by The Siegel family, in memory of Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann a”h+ father of Barbie Lehmann Siegel

Helen Spector, in memory of her mother, Rose S. Greene a”h

The Weisberger and Kwiat families on the engagement of Noah Weisberger to Amy Ciner

Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.

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