To the Letter!
By Shlomo Katz
Volume 29, No. 32
19 Sivan 5775
June 6, 2015
Nach: Tehilim 87-88
Mishnah: Negaim 4:1-2
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nedarim 13
Halachah: Mishnah Berurah 597:2-598:1
Our parashah opens with the command to Aharon to light the Menorah in the Mishkan. The third verse relates: “Aharon did so; toward the face of the Menorah he kindled its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” What is this pasuk teaching? Rashi writes: “Aharon did so – the verse speaks Aharon’s praise, i.e., that he changed nothing.”
How are we to understand this? asks R’ Yaakov Kranz z”l (the Dubno Maggid; died 1805). Is there anyone who would deviate from what G-d had commanded him?
He explains with a parable: Three patients came to one doctor with the same serious illness, and the doctor gave each of them the same prescription. One of the patients was a simple fellow who understood nothing about his illness. He followed the doctor’s instructions to the letter and was soon healed.
The second patient thought he knew something about medicine. He altered the doctor’s instructions, taking only some of the medicines that had been prescribed. He did not recover from his illness.
The third patient also was knowledgeable about medicine, but he nevertheless followed the doctor’s instructions. He also was healed.
The Torah is our prescription against the spiritual illness brought on by the yetzer hara, says the Dubno Maggid. And, the same three types of people can be found among Mitzvah-observing Jews. Some understand nothing and simply do the mitzvot. Others think they understand, and they pick and choose among the mitzvot. Finally, there are the scholars who do have some understanding of what lies behind the commandments, but they nevertheless do not try to “improve” on the mitzvot. This is the Torah’s praise of Aharon–whether he thought he understood the commandments or not, he fulfilled them to the letter. (Quoted in Ve’karata La’Shabbat Oneg)
“When you go to wage war in your Land against the enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets . . .” (10:9)
From the seemingly superfluous words, “against the enemy who oppresses you,” Rambam derives that there is a mitzvah to sound the trumpets and pray to Hashem over any form of oppression, be it a drought, plague or other trouble. He writes that this is part of the process of teshuvah / repentance, and that through teshuvah one causes his troubles to depart. The biggest sin, Rambam writes, is to ascribe one’s troubles to fate or coincidence.
R’ Yaakov Yitzchak Halevi Ruderman z”l (founder and Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner Israel; died 1987) added (during the Yom Kippur War): Even those who ascribe troubles to coincidence start to pray when the troubles are their own. That is how we must see the troubles of our brethren in Israel — as our own.
Moreover, said R’ Ruderman, Chazal teach that every person should believe, “The whole world was created for me.” This obligates each of us to believe that his prayers can make a difference. (Masat Levi p. 332)
“When the ark would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered; let those who hate You flee before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside, tranquilly, Hashem, among the myriads of thousands of Israel’.” (10:35-36)
In the Sefer Torah, these verses are set off by special symbols to highlight that they form a separate “book” on their own. What is so important about these verses that the midrash would refer to them as a separate book?
R’ Eliyahu Schlesinger shlita (rabbi of the Gilo neighborhood of Yerushalayim) explains: These two verses contain the fundamentals of our existence in exile. At times, the “ark journeys,” and the Jewish people are tossed about from one exile to another. At such times, our primary concern is our physical safety, and we pray that Hashem’s foes will be scattered and those who hate Him will flee before Him.
On the other hand, when the ark rests, i.e., when the Jewish people are living peacefully in their own land or in a benevolent kingdom, the primary threat is spiritual. It is primarily in those nations which have treated us well that the threat of assimilation has been greatest. Therefore we pray, “Reside, tranquilly, Hashem, among the myriads of thousands of Israel.”
R’ Schlesinger adds: We read a few verses earlier that Moshe asked his father-in-law Yitro to accompany Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael, and he told him (10:31), “You will be as eyes for us.” Moshe knew that Bnei Yisrael would be in grave spiritual danger once they had settled peacefully on their land, and he therefore wanted Yitro among them so that Bnei Yisrael could look upon him — they could set their “eyes” upon him — as an example. What had Yitro done that could serve as an example? He had been living tranquilly in Midian — indeed, he had been the high priest of Midian — but he gave it all up and went “against the flow” once he realized that the prevailing beliefs were wrong. (Eileh Ha’devarim)
“Moshe said, ‘Six hundred thousand footmen 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? If all the fish of the sea will be gathered for them, would it suffice for them?’” (11:21-22)
Commentaries wonder: How could Moshe Rabbeinu have doubted Hashem’s ability to provide meat for Bnei Yisrael? R’ Yeshaya Reiniger z”l (19th century; rabbi of Hranice / Reinitz, Moravia) explains:
The Gemara presents an opinion that Bnei Yisrael in the desert were not permitted to eat meat except when they brought a sacrificial offering. Although Rabbi Akiva appears to argue, Tosafot suggest a way to understand the Gemara so that there is no argument.
Accordingly, Moshe’s question can be understood as follows: There are only three kohanim in the world–Aharon and his sons, Elazar and Itamar. Can enough sheep and cattle be slaughtered by just three kohanim to suffice for 600,000 people?
But, R’ Reiniger adds, if that was Moshe’s question, why did he mention fish? He explains: This should not be read as a question, but as an exclamation: “If all the fish of the sea will be gathered for them, then it would suffice for them!” (Chiddushei Rabbi Yeshayah)
“The man Moshe was exceedingly humble . . .” (12:3)
The mussar classic Orchot Tzaddikim (by an anonymous 14th century author) writes at length about avoiding ga’avah / haughtiness and practicing anavah / humility. Among other things, he states:
The proper way [to act] is: Pray with kavanah at length [Ed. note: i.e., this is not a sign of haughtiness]; instruct others to do good and warn them not to do bad; and do good both publicly and privately. If one is honored or praised for this, this cannot harm him, for it was not his intention when he did the deed to receive praise. When you do a good deed, examine yourself to see from whom you expect to receive reward. If from G-d, it is a complete deed, but if from man, it is not. Also examine whether this [good] deed that you are doing in public is something that you would do even in the privacy of the innermost room of your house. If so, then your deed is a complete one. [But, if you are doing the deed only because others are watching, then it is not a complete deed.] (Orchot Tzaddikim: Sha’ar Ha’ga’avah)
“[Hashem] said, ‘Hear now My words–If there shall be prophets among you, in a vision I, Hashem, shall make Myself known to him; in a dream shall I speak with him. Not so is My servant Moshe . . . Mouth to mouth I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles . . .’ ” (12:6-8)
It is written in the name of R’ Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov z”l (founder of the chassidic movement) (some attribute this to an unnamed disciple): The word “chalom” (literally, a dream) alludes to the word “chalim” / “strong.” When a person is awake, his spiritual life-force is subdued within his material being. However, when he sleeps, his spiritual life-force leaves his body and thereby is strengthened. This enables a person to attain the level of prophecy. Moshe Rabbeinu’s life-force, however, was sufficiently independent of his body [for example, he could go 40 days and nights without food or drink] that he could experience prophecy while awake.
How can a person begin to elevate his life-force above his material existence? The Ba’al Shem Tov (or the unnamed disciple) explains: Whenever one sees a beautiful person or object or tastes a delicious food, one should ask himself, “Why am I so moved by this physical beauty or this delicious taste? Where did this quality come from, if not from G-d? All beauty comes from G-d! Why then should I focus on the manifestation of G-d’s creation rather than on the Creator Himself?” (Tzava’at Ha’Rivash no. 90)
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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