Volume 37, No. 30
29 Iyar 5783
May 20, 2023
Sponsored by: David and Micheline Pelleron the yahrzeit of her father Baruch ben Noach Hercberg a”h
Mrs. Elaine Taragin and family in memory of Jerome Taragin (Yehoshua Dov ben Asriel a”h) on his first Yahrzeit
The Katz family on the yahrzeits of Avigdor Moshe ben Avraham Abba Hakohen Katz a”h and the other Kedoshim of Oyber Visheve, Hungary, Hy”d
Midrash Rabbah on this week’s Parashah comments on the verse (Yirmiyahu 2:31), “O generation, contemplate the word of Hashem! Have I been a wilderness to Yisrael?” Says the Midrash: When a human king travels in the wilderness, does he find food and drink there as he has in his palace? [Until here from the Midrash.] R’ Pinchas Menachem Elazar Justman z”l (1848-1920; Chassidic Rebbe in Pilica, Poland) explains what the Midrash is highlighting: If Hashem had provided Bnei Yisrael with food and drink in the desert through natural means, that would have been miraculous enough. But He did not do that; instead, he provided bread from heaven–the Mahn–and water from a rock!
Why did Hashem provide food and water in a supernatural way? R’ Justman writes: He did this to demonstrate the importance of our holy Torah. In the merit of accepting the Torah, we merited to be sustained with Mahn–like the angels.
Why then, continues R’ Justman, do our Sages say that the Mahn fell in Moshe Rabbeinu’s merit? Indeed, after he died, the Mahn ceased (see Yehoshua 5:12). Likewise, our Sages say that the Clouds of Glory came in Aharon’s merit, and the well of water in Miriam’s merit. The answer is that every person could have merited these miracles himself, but, since they did not refine themselves adequately, they had to rely on the merit of the Tzaddikim Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. But only after each of those three died did Hashem reveal in whose merit each of these miracles occurred–because theoretically, every person could have merited these gifts. (Siftei Tzaddik)
“For Dan, Achiezer ben / son of Ammishaddai.” (1:12)
R’ Chaim Yehuda Meir Hager z”l (the Vishever Rebbe in Tel Aviv; died 1968) writes: Hashem is our “Father,” but he recognizes us as His “sons” only when we care about our brethren, his other “sons.” The tribe of Dan traveled last, picking up all the objects that their brethren had lost and supporting any stragglers. Says our verse: For Dan, Achi-ezer / my brother is a helper, ben (from Binah) who reflects on my needs; therefore, Ami / my nation and Shakkai / G-d are united. (Zecher Chaim)
“Bnei Yisrael shall encamp, each man under his banner according to the insignias of their fathers’ household . . .” (2:2)
Midrash Rabbah comments on this verse: Thus it is written (Tehilim 20:6), “May we sing in joy at Your salvation, and raise our banner in the Name of our Elokim . . .” [Until here from the Midrash]
What is the connection between our verse and the quoted verse in Tehilim (other than the coincidence of the word “banner”), and what is the Midrash teaching? R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungarian rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva; his Yahrzeit is 2 Sivan) answers:
The Midrash Shocher Tov says, as if speaking to Hashem, “When the Temple stood, You used to answer our prayers. Now that there is only a mountain, You also should answer, as it is written (Tehilim 3:5), ‘He answers me from His holy mountain’.” This may be understood, R’ Gruenwald explains, based on another Midrash. The Torah says, regarding the location of Akeidat Yitzchak (Bereishit 22:4), “He [Avraham] saw the place from afar.” The verse does not say that Avraham saw the mountain from afar. In fact, the Midrash says, the future site of Akeidat Yitzchak and the Bet Ha’mikdash was not yet a mountain; the location was in a valley until Avraham prayed that it become a mountain as befits Hashem’s glory. R’ Gruenwald observes: Since the mountain was formed specifically to hold the Temple, we may interpret the fact that it still is a mountain long after the Temple was destroyed as a sign to us and to the world that the Shechinah still rests there. [If Hashem had wanted, He easily could have arranged for the Romans to “bulldoze” the entire mountain, as they did in other places.] In light of this, R’ Gruenwald writes, we can understand the Midrash Shocher Tov quoted above: “When the Temple stood, You used to answer our prayers. Now that there is only a mountain”–since there is still a mountain, which tells us that You are still with us–“You also should answer.”
Now, R’ Gruenwald concludes, we can understand the Midrash on our verse: “May we sing in joy at Your salvation”–referring to the fact that Hashem makes His presence felt at the former location of the Bet Hamikdash, which brings honor to Him and is, so-to-speak, His salvation. “Raise our banner in the Name of our Elokim”–it is as if He is waving a banner to indicate His presence. So, too, the Midrash is teaching, the banners that marked the encampment of the tribes in the desert brought glory to Hashem. (Keren L’David)
“Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying, ‘Bnei Yisrael shall encamp, each man under his banner according to the insignias of their fathers’ household . . .’” (2:1-2)
Midrash Rabbah teaches: Each Nasi / head of a tribe had a flag whose colors were the same as the colors of his tribe’s gem in the breastplate that Aharon carried on his heart. It is from here that kings and nations learned to make flags, says the Midrash. The Midrash continues: Reuven’s gem was the Odem / ruby, and its flag was red and had a picture of Duda’im (the flowers that Reuven brought to his mother–see Bereishit 30:14). [Until here from the Midrash]
R’ Ovadiah Seforno z”l (1470-1550; Italy) writes that Reuven brought his mother Duda’im flowers because he saw she was upset at not having more children after the birth of Yehuda. Note that Reuven was all of four or five years old at the time! writes R’ Seforno. Thus, by telling us what Reuven did at such a young age, the Torah is informing us of his wisdom and righteousness.
R’ Uri Weisblum shlita (Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivat Nachalat Ha’levi’im in Haifa, Israel) elaborates: Reuven’s trait of sharing the burden of others was passed down to his descendants. For example, says the Midrash, just as Reuven saved Yosef’s life (Bereishit 37:21), so the first City of Refuge was established in Reuven’s territory (Devarim 4:43). It was to remind Reuven’s descendants of this special trait of theirs that Duda’im were emblazoned on the tribe’s flag. (He’arat Ha’derech p.156)
“Likrat Shabbat / To welcome Shabbat, come let us go, for she is the source of all blessing; from the beginning, from antiquity she was honored–last in deed, first in thought.” (From the Friday night hymn, Lecha Dodi)
In what way is Shabbat “the source of all blessing”? R’ Zvi Yisrael Thau shlita (founder of Yeshivat Har Ha’mor in Yerushalayim) explains:
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204; Spain and Egypt) writes (Moreh Nevochim 2:31) that the main purpose of the Mitzvah of Shabbat is to establish in our hearts belief in Creation–i.e., the knowledge that Hashem alone created the entire world, and there was no pre-existing matter or power that partnered with Him. Rambam adds that is impossible to entrench belief in a person’s heart by words alone; rather, actions are needed to help beliefs take root. For this reason, the Torah gives us the Mitzvah of Shabbat–to concretize our belief in Creation through actions.
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) takes Rambam’s words further, writes R’ Thau. R’ Kook teaches (Ein Ayah: Shabbat 4:4) that the knowledge which becomes entrenched in our soul as a result of observing Shabbat–i.e., that Hashem alone created the world–connects us to the Divine origin of all of existence and clarifies for us that everything in our world has a role to play in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection. This must be so, because a perfect G-d would not create something imperfect or purposeless.
As such, continues R’ Thau, we can understand why our sages call Shabbat “Me’ein Olam Ha’ba” / “a little bit of the World-to-Come.” In the World-to-Come, we will understand the purpose of everything, including the seemingly pointless and negative experiences in our lives. On Shabbat, when we acknowledge that a perfect G-d created everything, we strengthen our faith that such a day will come. In this way, Shabbat is the “Source of all blessing,” as we say in Lecha Dodi–it helps us believe that everything is a blessing. We also understand now the phrase at the end of the stanza: “Last in deed, first in thought.” Not only does Shabbat come “last” in the week of Creation, it also alludes to that “last” phase in history.
Indeed, notes R’ Thau, only the first two stanzas of Lecha Dodi refer to Shabbat. The remainder of the stanzas speak of the ultimate redemption with the coming of Mashiach. In light of the foregoing, this is understandable. Shabbat is not merely a reminder of a past event; rather, it “reminds” us of a future when Creation will attain its intended perfection. (Am Mekadeshei Shevi’i p.19)