Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Bamidbar

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Ish al diglo b’osos l’beis avosam yachanu B’nei Yisroel mineged saviv l’ohel moed yachanu (2:2)

Our Sages teach that everything written in the Torah is recorded because of its relevance to every Jew in every generation. Why are the seemingly trivial details which dominate Parshas Bamidbar, such as the arrangement of the encampments of the various tribes, significant and relevant to us?

Rav Aharon Kotler suggests that although this information seems like historical facts with no practical application to our lives, the parsha is in fact teaching us a very relevant lesson: the value that Judaism places on seder (organization). Instead of allowing the Jewish people to set up their own camping arrangements based on their personal preferences, the Torah insists that they specifically encamp together with other members of their tribe and additionally prescribes the positions of the various tribes relative to one another. This arrangement was in effect for the duration of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.

Rashi writes in Parshas Emor (Vayikra 24:10) that the blasphemer was the son of Shulamis bas Divri and the Egyptian taskmaster that Moshe slew. Because his mother was descended from Dan, he attempted to dwell among the tribe of Dan, but they refused him because his father was not from their tribe. Although one person camping out of place (which was still the tribe of his mother) would seem to be insignificant, the tribe of Dan understood the critical value of preserving order and refused to allow him to camp among them. Although the particular laws about the formations and configurations of the encampments do not currently apply to us, the lesson about the value of serving Hashem in an orderly and disciplined fashion is one that we can each apply in our daily lives.

V’ha’chonim alav mateh Yissochor v’nasi liv’nei Yissochor Nesanel ben Tzuar … mateh Zevulun v’nasi liv’nei Zevulun Eliav ben Cheilon … U’mateh Gad (2:5-7, 14)

There was once a complicated and difficult Din Torah in the city of Vilna which required Rabbinical arbitration. The two sides requested that the Vilna Gaon preside over the Beis Din that would hear and rule on the dispute, but to their surprise, he refused. When they pressed him for an explanation, he explained that one of the individuals chosen to sit as a judge on the Beis Din was a businessman who wasn’t sufficiently learned to be involved in the resolution of the case. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 3:4) forbids a judge from sitting on a Beis Din together with somebody who is unfit for the position, such as one who isn’t a Torah scholar. In fact, the Sm”a comments that the rulings of laymen are generally the opposite of those of Torah scholars.

The Vilna Gaon continued his explanation by offering a beautiful hint to this law. In listing the formations and configurations of the Jewish encampments in the wilderness, the Torah lists four groups of three tribes, each of which encamped in a different direction around the central Mishkan. In each list of three tribes, the verse which mentions the third tribe always begins with the letter “vav,” which serves to connect that tribe to the preceding tribes.

However, there is one exception. The tribe of Zevulun, which represented the businessmen and merchants, is the third tribe listed in the encampment of Yehuda in the east, yet it doesn’t begin with a connecting letter “vav.” The Gaon explained that this is because the second tribe in the list is that of Yissochar, which consisted of Torah scholars. The Torah intentionally omitted the connecting “vav” to hint to the aforementioned law. When it comes to clarifying and ruling on Torah laws, there may be no connection between the competent Torah scholars and the insufficiently-learned businessmen.

V’nasah Ohel Moed machaneh ha’Levi’im b’soch ha’machaneh ka’asher yachanu kein yisa’u ish al yado l’digleihem (2:17)

In Parshas Bamidbar we are taught that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people had fixed locations for their encampments. Each of the tribes had a specific location relative to the other tribes where its members were to encamp. Three of the tribes encamped in the north, three in the south, three in the west, and three in the east. The tribe of Levi, together with the Ark, encamped in the middle of the circle formed by the other tribes. What lesson can be learned from this setup?

The Chofetz Chaim explains that just as the heart is located in the middle of the body, so too the Ark which contained the Torah and Tablets was located in the middle of the camp so that it would be equidistant from every Jew. Similarly, the Bimah on which the Torah scroll is placed when it is being read is located in the middle of the synagogue. This teaches us that the Torah is equally accessible to every Jew.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that our Sages teach (Taanis 31a) that in the World to Come, the righteous will form a circle to dance around Hashem, who will be in the middle of the circle. Although Jews seem serve Hashem in ways radically different from one another, as long as their intentions are for the sake of Heaven and they keep the mitzvos, they will all celebrate together. At that time we will discover that the Jew who seems diametrically opposed to us is in reality on the other side of the circle but just as close to Hashem.

Vayamas Nadav v’Avihu lifnei Hashem b’hakrivam aish zarah lifnei Hashem b’midbar Sinai u’banim lo hayu lahem vay’cha’hein Elazar v’Isomor al p’nei Aharon avihem (3:4)

The Rav of a town in Europe once passed away. Because his son was too young to fill his position, the leaders of the community hired another Rav to take his place. Several years later, the son matured and reached a level at which he was capable of serving in his father’s stead. The new Rav expressed resistance and argued that although a Rav’s son is legally entitled to inherit his father’s position and fill the role if he is fitting, in this case the son had been too young at the time and therefore lost his right of succession.

The dispute was brought for resolution to Rav Meir Shapiro. He cited the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:26), which explains that the Torah emphasizes the fact that Nadav and Avihu died without any children to teach that if they had indeed had offspring, their children would have precedence in taking their places. It was only because they died without children that the verse concludes that Elozar and Isomar were therefore eligible to serve in their father Aharon’s stead.

Rav Shapiro noted that this Medrash is difficult to understand. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Nadav and Avihu were under the age of 20 when they died. Even if they had left descendants, those children would clearly be under the age of Bar Mitzvah at the time of their deaths, which would invalidate them from inheriting the position and serving in the Mishkan. If so, how could the Medrash infer that had Nadav and Avihu left behind progeny, they would have preceded their uncles (Elozar and Isomar) in filling a position for which they were ineligible?

Rav Shapiro concluded that we may deduce from here that even in a case when the inheritors are too young at the time of death to fill the role which is rightfully theirs, they never relinquish their claims to the position, which they are entitled to fill upon their maturity. As a result, Rav Shapiro ruled that the son of the first Rav should now inherit his father’s mantle.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Hashem commanded Moshe (1:3) to count every male over the age of 20 who was fit to go out to battle. Does this mean that the elderly and sick, who were unfit for war, were not included in this count? (Sifsei Chochomim, Aderes Eliyahu, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh 1:20, HaEmek Davar, Ayeles HaShachar, Shaarei Aharon)

2) The Torah relates (1:47) that in counting the total number of Jews, Moshe didn’t count the Levites. Immediately thereafter, Hashem commanded Moshe (1:49) not to count the tribe of Levi together with the rest of the Jews. If he was only commanded not to do so at this time, why did he previously refrain from doing so of his own accord, and how did he know that this was Hashem’s Will? (Ramban)

3) Rashi explains (3:1) that the Torah refers to the sons of Aharon as Moshe’s progeny because whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. As Moshe taught the entire Torah to every single Jew, in what way are Aharon’s children considered his offspring more than the rest of the Jewish people? (Sifsei Chochomim, Kli Yakar, HaEmek Davar, Ahavas Eisan Sanhedrin 19b, Ma’adanei Asher 5768)

4) The Torah introduces the concept of replacing the first-born with the Levites by stating (3:13) that all first-born Jews became sanctified to Hashem on the day that He killed the first-born Egyptians, and concluding li yih’yu – they shall be Mine. Since they were being replaced by the Levites, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to say “they were Mine,” and in what way will they be sanctified to Hashem in the future? (Taima D’Kra)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.