Parshat Bemidbar Sinai Vol.9 No.32

Date of issue: 29 Iyar 5760 -- June 3, 2000

This week's issue has been sponsored by
Nancy and Daniel Edelman,
Etana, Shoshana, and Sara
in honor of the Kol Torah staff.

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This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Hershel Reichman
Moshe Glasser
Yoni Shenkman
Yechiel Shaffer
Rabbi Howard Jachter
*Heter Mechira - Part II*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *Dani Gross*

The Double Kabbalat Hatorah
by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

This Shabbat, we will bless Rosh Chodesh Sivan and prepare for Chag Hashavuot, the Chag of Matan Torah. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (88a) comments on the Pasuk, "And they [Bnai Yisrael] stood below the mountain" (Shemot 19:17), that, "Hashem placed the mountain over the Jewish People and said, 'If you accept the Torah, fine; but if you do not, then under this mountain shall be your grave.'" In other words, the Jews were forced by Hashem to accept the Torah. They had no other choice - except death. Tosafot there, though, points out that the Jewish People accepted the Torah willingly as well when they said Naaseh Venishma, "We shall do, and we shall listen [to all of Hashem's commands]."

Thus, Bnai Yisrael accepted the Torah willingly but also had to accept it unwillingly under Heavenly duress. Why this double form of accepting the Torah?

It seems that we should have two attitudes towards our duties as Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot. Firstly, we should want to keep the Torah's commands willingly. The Torah is our source of spiritual life and national existence. We all want to live - "For they [Torah and Mitzvot] are our lives and the length of our days." However, we must also keep the Torah's commands because we have no other choice but to do what the Ribono Shel Olam demands. He gives us life and can take it away, God forbid. We should be very afraid of His judgment, of his Midat Hadin. We have no other choice but to keep the Torah. Otherwise, we could suffer grievously.

These two attitudes must permeate our lives all the time. We love Hashem and are very willing to follow the wonderful, wise words of the Torah and do Mitzvot, which are only good for us. We also fear the Ribono Shel Olam, Who sometimes punishes us as individuals or as a nation when we step too far out of line. There is justice in the world! We defy the Heavenly Judge at our own peril!

This Chag Hashavuot should be a time to rededicate ourselves to the dual principles of loving God and fearing God, to want to do what the Torah commands and be fearfully aware of the dire price to be paid if we do not do them, God forbid.

I am confident that all of our Talmidim will rededicate themselves this year to loving God and fearing God on Chag Hashavuot.

Guarding Sanctity
by Moshe Glasser

At first glance, the Parsha of Bemidbar Sinai appears to be nothing more than a list of names, places, numbers, and roles. The Parsha describes who did what, where it was done, and how they were to do it. The formation of the Shevatim when traveling, a census of Bnai Yisrael, and the names and roles of all the groups of Leviim are all in this Parsha, details that Hashem felt necessary to tell us. Clearly there is something to learn from each of these things, but there is another aberration in the Parsha that catches the eye without any heavy searching.

In the very beginning of the third Perek, the Torah lists the Kohanim: Aharon and his sons Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch points out that anyone who knows how to read the cantillation (Trop) of the Pesukim will notice an oddity: the reader sounds as if he is pausing at the mention of Nadav's name (with an Etnachta), and then lingering over Avihu (with a Zakef Gadol). Aware that Aharon's older sons died, the Torah pauses at their names to remind the reader what happened to them.

What is fascinating is the wording of that particular Pasuk, "On the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai" (3:1). Aharon did have two sons, but the Torah (3:4) recounts that Nadav and Avihu brought a "strange fire" before Hashem and were taken from this earth. This would imply that the accounting recorded here was taken before the events of the Chanukat Hamishkan (inauguration of the Mishkan), during which time Nadav and Avihu lost their lives.

Immediately following the Pesukim regarding Aharon's family, the Torah talks about the rest of Shevet Levi and their role, since they were not counted with the other Shevatim. The sixth and seventh Pesukim in this Perek describe the role of the Leviim as caretakers and guards of the Mishkan, serving in those basic janitorial posts that every building, no matter how holy, requires. We first saw that this was their role at the Chanukat Hamishkan; it was two Leviim who were called upon to remove the bodies of Nadav and Avihu from the Mishkan. When something in the Mishkan needs to be done, you can always call a Levi.

The word that the Torah uses, Shin, Mem, Resh, is most commonly translated as "guard." But from whom are the Leviim guarding the Mishkan? The camp of Bnai Yisrael is not in a bad neighborhood that would force Hashem to install a security system or buy a guard dog. What could threaten the Mishkan that required protection from the Leviim?

One answer may be found in the juxtaposition of the description of the role of Shevet Levi to the reminder of what happened to Nadav and Avihu. Perhaps the Torah is suggesting that the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu might never have happened if there was a group to guard against those who wished to enter the Mishkan for unacceptable reasons. Had Leviim been guarding the Mishkan then, they would not have allowed any "strange fires" into the Heichal.

The Torah is providing us with an important message on how to guard against sin. Sin can come as a result of bad judgement, over-zealousness, or simple mistakes. Hashem is telling us to set up safeguards, to the best of our abilities, to prevent wrongdoing on any level.

Counting - Not As Simple as 1-2-3
by Yoni Shenkman

Parshat Bemidbar Sinai contains many technical details concerning the census of Bnai Yisrael. This apparently simple act of counting, however, includes many important lessons.

The Ramban notes that the Chumash says, "Take note of them," and not, "Count them." What is the reason for this? It implies that Moshe should count Bnai Yisrael indirectly. Thus, when Hashem told Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael (1:2-3), Moshe counted them indirectly by making each person give one half-Shekel to the Mishkan. We learn from this that one should not treat people like objects; one should treat them like people. People should not be counted directly, like cattle; rather, as Moshe demonstrated, people should be counted indirectly, in a manner of respect, to preserve their dignity. The worst example in history of how a human being can be degraded through counting is the Nazis' numbering of concentration camp inmates, and, among countless other atrocities, counting them repeatedly to further degrade them. They forced freezing and starving inmates to stand for endless hours to be pointlessly counted.

The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya explain another reason for the indirect counting of Bnai Yisrael. If you count an individual directly instead of through the half-Shekel, you emphasize the individual. This draws attention to the person; it singles him out. This might encourage Hashem to look very closely at each individual's deeds. If, instead, the counting is indirect, there is less focus on the individual. This is one reason that we Daven with a Minyan; all the prayers are taken in together and we are evaluated as a group, instead of individually. The hope is that as a group we will be judged more favorably.

This concept of a Jew as an individual and also an integral part of Bnai Yisrael is further emphasized in the counting in Bemidbar Sinai. When the Jewish People were counted, their family names were given with the names of their respective tribes. This shows how each individual fit into the Jewish Nation as a whole. Each individual is an integral part of Am Yisrael.

There are two aspects to man: he is an individual, and he is part of a greater whole. Each individual Jew is like a complete world unto himself, which is why the Talmud equates saving the life of one person with saving an entire world. Yet, as the census in Bemidbar Sinai shows, each Jew is part of a family, a tribe, and Am Yisrael. Similarly, every bone in the body has an individual name, yet all of the individual bones form the whole body.

Another question can be asked concerning the counting of Am Yisrael. Hashem counted Bnai Yisrael when they left Egypt, when the Mishkan was built, and now He counts them again. Why did Hashem want to count Bnai Yisrael so many times? Someone always counts that which is precious to him. When a Jewish mother has a child, she adds another candle to those she lights for Shabbat and Yom Tov for the new child. She does this because a candle is symbolic of the light and joy that every child brings into a home. Thus, on every Erev Shabbat and Yom Tov, a mother indirectly counts her children as she lights candles. Similarly, Hashem counts Bnai Yisrael to demonstrate how He loves and values each person, just like a mother loves her children.

When Hashem told Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael, Moshe did it "on the first of the second month" (1:18), the same day that Hashem commanded Moshe to count (1:1). This teaches us that when we have an opportunity to do a Mitzva, we should do it immediately, without hesitation. Similar to Moshe, we should all try to perform any Mitzva as soon as the opportunity arises, and thus continuously to merit to be counted preciously by Hashem, just as Bnai Yisrael were counted in the desert.

God's Task
by Yechiel Shaffer

"Count the children of Levi...from the age of one month and upward...Moshe counted them according to the word of Hashem as he was commanded" (Bemidbar Sinai 3:15-16).

Rashi explains the phrase "according to the word of Hashem" as indicating that Moshe had asked, "How can I determine the number of infants in each family? Am I to enter people's tents and invade their privacy?" To this Hashem responded, "You do your task and I will do Mine. You are to stand in front of the door of each tent, and I will tell you the number of infants therein."

One might ask, "If determining the number of Leviim was dependent upon Divine revelation, why was there a need for Moshe to do anything at all? Why did Hashem not simply tell Moshe how many Leviim there were?" The answer to this question is essentially the formula for man's actions in this world. An omnipotent God can do everything, and is hardly in need of humans. For reasons known only to the Divine wisdom, man was placed on earth with a mission that only he can achieve, and it is his responsibility to fulfill that mission. If the fulfillment of that mission appears to be beyond the scope of man's capacities, this does not exempt man from doing his utmost toward reaching the goal. Man must do whatever he can, and whatever is truly beyond him becomes the responsibility of Hashem. This principle is stated in Pirkei Avot (2:16): "It is not up to you to complete the work, yet you are not free to desist from it."

We may now understand the verse preceding this command to Moshe: "Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, saying (Lemor), 'Take a count of the children of Levi.'" Whenever the Torah says Lemor, it means that Moshe was to relay that message. But to whom was this message to be relayed, inasmuch as it was only Moshe who was instructed to take the count?

The answer is that Moshe was to relay the content of this commandment to Bnai Yisrael and to all further generations: "You do your task, and I will do Mine." We, today, as Moshe then, must not retreat from any Mitzva, even if its fulfillment appears to be beyond our means. We are obligated to do that which we can and leave the rest to Hashem.

(Adapted from Living Each Week)

Halacha of the Week

One should hold food in his hand while he is reciting the Beracha on it (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 206:4). Similarly, one should hold the poles (Atzei Chaim) of the Sefer Torah while reciting the Beracha on Torah reading (ibid. 139:11).

Food for Thought
by Dani Gross

1) At the end of the command to Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael, Hashem says, "You and Aharon" (1:3). What is Aharon's role in the counting of Bnai Yisrael? Is Aharon to work with Moshe like the Nesiim of the other tribes? Or is Aharon to work more directly with Moshe than the other Nesiim, a more likely possibility because after the counting the Torah says, "This is the counting that was counted by Moshe, Aharon, and the Nesiim of Yisrael" (1:41).

2) When commanding Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael, Hashem says that the only people who should be counted are those who are at least twenty years old. During the counting, this criterion is repeated. What is the reason for this repetition?

3) Hashem does not command Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael after Amalek attacked them. Moshe is not commanded to count Bnai Yisrael before going to war with the kings of the Emori. The Rambam asks why Hashem commands Moshe to count Bnai Yisrael now? (See Ramban 1:45)

If you have a response to these questions, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editors: Moshe Glasser, Zevi Goldberg
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