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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

Matos – Masei

Volume XIV, No. 42
26 Tammuz 5760
July 29, 2000

Today’s Learning:
Sukkah 4:4-5
Orach Chaim 308:40-42
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nedarim 10
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Kiddushin 16

We read in this week’s parashah that one who commits unintentional manslaughter is exiled to a city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol dies. The mishnah says that the mother of the Kohen Gadol used to send gifts to these people so that they would not pray that the Kohen Gadol die.

And if they do pray, will their prayers have any effect? The Talmud Bavli explains that the Kohen Gadol is in danger because he is culpable for each accidental killing. Had he prayed that no stumbling blocks come before the Jewish people, perhaps this crime would not have taken place.

This answer demonstrates how great the power of prayer is, writes R’ Meir Bergman shlita. Although each person is responsible for his own deeds, another person’s prayer can rescue him from wrongdoing. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi takes the power of prayer even further, saying that the accidental murderer’s prayer is a threat to the Kohen Gadol because even a sinner’s prayer is answered, even when he prays for something which is objectively wrong.

How can this be? R’ Bergman explains (based on a comment of Maharsha to Kiddushin 29b) that it is one of the laws of nature that prayer is answered. No special Divine intervention is required each time a prayer is uttered; G-d has already built a rule into the laws of nature that prayers, whatever they may be, will be answered [in some form].

We learn another lesson from here, adds R’ Bergman, i.e., that a person who has an opportunity to pray for another and fails to do so is punished for it. (Sha’arei Orah Vol. II)


“Nekom nikmat Bnei Yisrael/Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael from the Midianites, achar/then you will be gathered unto your people.” (31:2)

R’ Chaim Meir Hager z”l (the “Vizhnitzer Rebbe”) observed: Shabbat is a time when one should be especially careful with his speech, as it is written: “If you proclaim the Shabbat `a delight,’ and you honor it by not discussing the forbidden” (Yishayah 58:13, paraphrased). Unfortunately, many people use their free time on Shabbat to cause dissension and speak lashon hara. Regarding this, Hashem commanded:

“Nekom”/”Avenge” the honor of Shabbat, alluded to by the phrase “Nikmat Bnei Yisrael,” whose gematria (1193) equals the gematria of “Shabbat malketah”/”The Sabbath Queen.” From whom? “From the Midianites,” i.e., those who bring din/G-d’s judgment on the Jewish people through their lashon hara–“Din” and “Midian” share a common root–and from those who tell lies–the gematria of “Me’et hamidyanim”/”From the Midianites” (600) equals the gematria of “sheker”‘/falsehood.”

What will be your reward for doing so? “Achar will be gathered unto your people.” “Achar” has the same gematria (209) as “Bnei, chayei, umezonei”/ “Children, [long] life, and sustenance.” (Imrei Chaim)


“For our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the Jordan.” (32:19)

R’ Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich z”l (20th century Hungarian rabbi) explains this strange phrase as follows:

Certainly, the source of Eretz Yisrael’s holiness lies on the west bank of the Jordan River. However, once Bnei Yisrael had defeated the attacks of Sichon and Og and captured their lands, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael crossed to the east bank of the Jordan to meet Bnei Yisrael. (Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei Ve’geonei Ha’dorot p. 493)


“And the Land shall be conquered before Hashem, and then you shall return – then shall you be vindicated [literally, ‘clean’] from Hashem and from Yisrael . . . But if you do not do so, behold! – you shall have sinned to Hashem; know your sin that will encounter you.” (32:22-23)

R’ Shlomo Halberstam shlita (the “Bobover Rebbe”) asks: why did Moshe say, “and then you shall return”? Obviously, the tribes of Reuven and Gad would return to their homes when they finished fighting the war!

Also, why did Moshe say: “But if you do not do so, behold! – you shall have sinned to Hashem; know your sin that will encounter you”? Why didn’t he say simply, “If you do not do so [i.e., cross the Jordan to fight], you will not receive land on the east bank of the Jordan”?

The tenth century mussar work Chovot Ha’levavot (Duties of the Heart) quotes a wise man who told returning soldiers, “You have concluded a small battle, and now you must fight a great battle.”

“What do you mean?” they asked.

The wise man explained, “The battle which you just fought is a small battle compared to man’s battle against the yetzer hara.”

This, R’ Halberstam says, is what Moshe meant: “Then you shall return – then shall you be vindicated from Hashem and from Yisrael.” When you return victorious from battle, take care also to fight your yetzer hara and become “clean” in the eyes of both Hashem and your fellow men. If you do not make this effort, “you shall have sinned to Hashem” and you may be certain that “sin will encounter you.” (Ibid. p. 494)


From the Haftarah

“The kohanim did not say, ‘Where is Hashem?'” (Yirmiyahu 2:8)

R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Waldshein z”l hy”d (Assistant Mashgiach in Baranovitch) asks: Why are the kohanim criticized for not saying, “Where is Hashem?” After all, the kohanim were the teachers, as it is written (Devarim 33:10), “They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael.” The kohanim should be telling people where Hashem is, not asking where He is!

R’ Waldshein answers: We read in the Pesach Haggadah, “Whoever did not say these three things on Pesach did not fulfill his obligation: Pesach, matzah and maror.” We then read, “Pesach, for what?” “Matzah, for what?” “Maror, for what?” Why does the author of the Haggadah present these three items in a question and answer format? Why not say simply, “We eat the Pesach (or matzah or maror) because . . .”?

Both the Haggadah and the verse in Yirmiyah are teaching us a fundamental lesson about education. Perhaps the kohanim did lecture to the Jewish people about Hashem, but lecturing is insufficient. Questions cause people to think, and the answer which follows stays with the listener longer. It is precisely because Pesach, matzah and maror are so crucial to the Seder’s message that they must be presented as questions and answers. Similarly, the kohanim are blamed for not being effective teachers because they did not use a question and answer format. (Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 137)


R’ Shlomo of Chelm z”l
born approx. 5477 (1717) – died 21 Tamuz 5541 (1781)

Notwithstanding its reputation in Jewish folklore, Chelm, Poland, was once a city of great Torah scholars. Among these was our subject, best known as the author of Merkevet Hamishnah, a work which is considered by many to be among the most important commentaries on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.

R’ Shlomo was born in Zamosc to a wealthy family which continued to support him throughout his rabbinical career. His father, R’ Moshe, was a Torah scholar as well. Zamosc was a city of both Torah and secular learning, and young Shlomo excelled in both. He would later write:

G-d forbid, I do not criticize those holy people who spend all their days in Torah study–that is praiseworthy- -but I am angry with those who mock [Jews who obtain a secular education].

Among R’ Shlomo’s works is Kuntreis Breichot Bechesbon, a collection of Talmudic math problems and their solutions. For example, the gemara (Pesachim 89b) states that Rav Pappa ate four times more than Rav Huna, while Ravina ate eight times more than Rav Huna, leading Rav Huna to state that he would prefer to dine with 100 people like Rav Pappa rather than with one like Ravina. While some explain that Rav Huna was exaggerating, Rav Shlomo explains that Rav Huna preferred to split the “tab” with 100 Rav Pappas over one Ravina. In the latter case, Rav Huna would have to pay for half of nine portions, or 4-1/2 portions. In the former case, he would have to pay for only 1/101 of 401 portions, or 3.97 portions.

After Chelm, R’ Shlomo served as rabbi of his birthplace, Zamosc, and later of Lvov (Lemberg). In 1877 he decided to settle in Eretz Yisrael. It is not known for certain whether he reached his destination–some place him in the Gallilean towns of Teveryah, Pekiin, Shefaram and Akko–but it is known that he eventually found himself in Salonika, Greece. There he and his wife died in a plague, and there they are buried.

Other works of R’ Shlomo include compositions on the laws of Shabbat, Hebrew grammar, the borders of Eretz Yisrael, the trop for Torah reading, and the haftarot.

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

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