Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on May 13, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s CommuterChavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1206 What Bracha on Cheesecake? Is It BH or BSD? And other Shavuos Issues. Good Shabbos

The Hidden Message Telegraphed by the Word “Se’oo”

In the beginning of Parshas Bamidbar, Klal Yisrael received the mitzvah of counting the nation. That is why the Book of Bamidbar is called “Chomesh HaPekudim” – the “Book of Numbers”, because it both begins (Parshas Bamidbar) and ends (Parshas Pinchas) with a census of Bnei Yisrael. The terminology used by the Torah regarding taking the census taking is “Se’oo es rosh kol adas Bnei Yisrael…” [Bamidbar 1:2] (Count (literally – “lift up”) the heads of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel…).

The Ramban quotes the Medrash in Bamidbar Rabbah which questions the implication of the expression Se’oo. The Torah does not say “Romemu es rosh,” or “Gadlu es rosh” which are essentially similar verbs. Rather, it uses the term “Se’oo es rosh“. This implies, the Medrash says, that if Klal Yisrael behaves properly, they will be on top of the world as it says (in Yosef’s interpreting the dream of the Wine Butler) “Yisa Pharaoh es roshecha…” (Pharaoh will ‘lift your head’) and return you to your original position [Bereshis 40:13]. This verb also implies that if Lo Yis’oo – if Klal Yisrael does not keep the mitzvos, they will all die. This too is implied by the expression used when Yosef interpreted the dream of the Baker – “Yisa Pharaoh es roshcha… (Pharaoh will ‘lift your head’) and will hang you on the tree. [Bereshis 40:19]

In other words, the word Se’oo can mean the highest of the high or the lowest of the low. Just like the same verb used in conjunction with the Wine Butler and the Baker had diametrically opposite meanings, so too—the Medrash says—the Ribono shel Olam is hinting to Moshe Rabbeinu: Moshe, you should understand that by Klal Yisrael it is “either/or”. There is an expression in Yiddish which is not readily translatable: “Odder gor; odder gornisht“. It means either “gor” (wow!) or “gornisht” (nothing). This is the trajectory of the Jewish people. If we do what we are supposed to do, then our fate will be to receive unimaginable blessing; but on the other hand, if we do not, we fall – literally – to the bottom.

A famous Gemara [Kesubos 66] relates an incident with Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai riding on a donkey on the outskirts of Jerusalem. His students were walking behind him. He saw a young Jewish girl who was gathering undigested barley kernels from amongst cattle dung. She was so desperate because of the famine ravishing the city that she was forced to seek a small bit of food in this extremely degrading fashion.

When she saw Rav Yochanan approach, she begged him to provide her with a handout. He asked her “My daughter – who is your father?” She identified herself as the daughter of Nakdimen ben Gurion. Nakdimen ben Gurion was (l’havidil) the Warren Buffet of his generation. He was extremely wealthy. Rabbi Yochanan asked her “My daughter, what happened to the wealth of your father?” She told him “This is what they say in Yerushalayim: “If you do not make proper use of your money, your money will be taken away from you.” Rav Yochanan (knowing she had a wealthy father-in-law as well) asked “What happened to your father-in-law’s money?” She responded, “He too lost it all.”

She commented, “Rebbi, do you remember when you signed my Kesuba document? Do you remember how much money the document recorded that I was bringing into the marriage?” Rav Yochanan turned to his students and said, “I remember that her marriage contract said she was bringing in thousands and thousands of gold dinarim from her father’s house, besides the wealth of her (rich) father-in-law.” At that point Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai broke down and cried: “Happy are you O Israel – when you do the Will of the Almighty, no nation can touch you; and when you do not keep the mitzvos and you do not act properly, you are handed over into the hands of a lowly nation – and not only into the hands of a lowly nation, but to the hands of the animals of a lowly nation.”

The question is, why did he preface his remark with “Happy are you O Israel” (Ashreichem Yisrael)? The Maharsha explains: We get our success or failure directly from the Ribono shel Olam. When the Ribono shel Olam is in charge, He can put us on the top of the world when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. We are not under a ‘Sar‘ (Officer) or some kind of a Malach (Angel) like the Nations of the World. We get what we get directly from the Hand of the Ribono shel Olam. When we do what we are supposed to do, the Almighty takes care of us like no human being can. But, when we don’t, then – oh boy! – This is what happens to Klal Yisrael.

This succinctly is a history of the Jewish people. We have had periods of extreme success and extreme wealth. We have had periods, unfortunately, when the opposite has been true. This is what the Ramban means when he quotes the Medrash “Se’oo es rosh kol adas Benei Yisrael.” The Almighty was hinting to Moshe – let them know: Odder gor; odder gornisht! They can be wildly successful, as in “Yissa Pharaoh es roshecha” of the Wine Butler. But, if they don’t, then that which happens in the Tochacha of last week’s parsha and the Tochacha of Parshas Ki Savo is what will happen to them as well.

A Subtle Name Change Hints at a Reward for Keeping Silent

The Chida, in his sefer Chomas Anach, comments on the name of the Prince of the Tribe of Gad: Elyasaf ben Re’u’el [Bamidbar 2:14]. You may notice that the first time his name is mentioned in the parsha [Bamidbar 1:14] he is referred to as Elyasaf ben De’u’el (with a daled rather than a reish). Why the change? Did his father have an alias? Was his name De’u’el or Re’u’el?

The Chida brings an interesting idea in the name of the sefer Imrei Noam. His name was De’u’el, and that is how he is referred to originally. The reason he is later called Re’u’el is because the Tribe of Gad could have had a complaint to the Ribono shel Olam: Why am I not the head of the Camp?

(There were four “camps” consisting of three tribes each, positioned in the four directions around the middle camp which included the Levi’im and the Mishkan. Each camp had a “leader” from one of the three tribes encamped in that direction. The Tribe of Gad encamped in the southern side and was subordinate to the Tribe of Reuven, whose Prince was the chief leader of that camp.)

Gad’s argument was as follows: I realize I am not Reuven (who was the camp leader at the southern side) and I realize I am not Yehudah (who was the leader of the camps on the eastern side) and I am not Ephraim (who was leader of the western camp). But who is Dan that he should be leader of the camps on the northern side? Dan was merely the first born of Bilhah, one of the hand-maidens? I, too, am first born of Zilpah, also one of the hand-maidens! Why give Dan the honor of being the head of an entire camp? Why not give that honor to me?

He could have put forth that objection, but he did not say anything. As a reward for accepting this lack of honor – Gad received a reward that no other tribe received: Moshe Rabbeinu is buried in the portion of land inherited by the Tribe of Gad. Who is Moshe Rabbeinu? He is the friend of the Ribono shel Olam. He is Reah (friend) Kel (of G-d). Thus, the name De’u’el was changed to Re’u’el (alluding to ‘friend of G-d’).

The Tribe of Gad stifled whatever resentment they might have had for not being given the honor of leading one of the Camp configurations. They had a justifiable claim to advance, but they kept quiet about it. The Ribono shel Olam rewards such behavior. The Prince of the Tribe of Gad is referred to as Elyasaf son of Re’u’el, which hints at this reward: “You will merit to have the burial location of Moshe Rabbeinu, the ‘friend of G-d’ within your territory.”

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Bamidbar is provided below:

  • 013 Yerushalayim in Halacha
  • 058 Going Up To Yerushalayim for Yom Tov: Does it Apply Today?
  • 101 Teaching Torah to Women
  • 147 Sefiras HaOmer, Shavuos & the International Dateline
  • 194 Can One Charge for Teaching Torah?
  • 240 An Early Start for Shavuos?
  • 284 Birchas HaTorah
  • 330 Sefer Rus and Its Halachic Implications
  • 374 Bathing On Shabbos and Yom Tov
  • 418 Shavuos Issues–Late Maariv–Learning All Night
  • 462 May A Child Carry A Sefer On Shabbos
  • 506 Shavuos: Two Days, She’cheyanu & Other Issues
  • 550 Opening Cans on Shabbos & Yom Tov
  • 594 Omer Davar B’Sheim Omro – Giving Proper Credit
  • 638 Eruv and the Big City
  • 682 Carrying on Yom Tov
  • 726 Returning Pidyon Haben Money
  • 770 Let Them Eat Cheesecake
  • 814 Oy, The Eruv is Down, Now What?
  • 858 Ms. Cohen for A Pidyon Habein?
  • 902 Dancing on Yom Tov
  • 946 The Beautiful Poem of Akdomus
  • 989 The Mitzva of Talmud Torah – How Much – How Little?
  • 1033 Conning Someone Out of A Mitzva
  • 1077 Can A Father Give Son His Position (Rabbi/Chazan) While Still Alive?
  • 1120 The Zohar vs Talmud Bavli: Whom Do We Pasken Like?
  • 1162 Yahrtzeit/Yizkor Candles on Yom Tov – Is There A Problem?
  • 1206 What Bracha on Cheesecake? Is It BH or BSD? And other Shavuos Issues
  • 1250 Erev Shavuos on Shabbos
  • 1294 When Should Women Light Candles for Shavuos?
  • 1338 Can You Make The Second Day of Shavuos Early? Can American Mohel in Israel Perform A Bris on the Second Day of Shavuos.
  • 1382 The Halachic Issues with Milchig Bread
  • 1426 Shavuos – A potpourri of Dinim and Minhagim – Adding Water to Flowers and more
  • (2020) How is Adopted Child Called to Torah? Named in Kesuba? And other fascinating Shailos.


A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.