Friday, June 09, 2006

Parshas Nasso

והביא את קרבנה עליה עשירת האיפה קמח שערים לא יצק עליו שמן

ולא יתן עליו לבנה כי מנחת קנאת הוא מנחת זכרון מזכרת עון (5:15)

The offering to be brought on behalf of the sotah is unique in several respects. The Torah states that the meal-offering shall be brought from barley flour instead of from wheat flour, and that it shall have neither oil nor frankincense in it. Rashi, quoting the Medrash Tanchuma and the Gemora in Sotah (15a-b) explains that these unique requirements are symbolic comments on the actions of the suspected adulteress. Her offering is to be brought from coarse flour, because she acted coarsely, which is made from barley, which is normally used as animal feed, because she acted in a degrading, animalistic manner. Although other meal-offerings are typically beautified with oil and frankincense (see Vayikra 2:1), her offering contains neither, as oil symbolizes light, while she acted in darkness in an attempt to conceal her sin. Frankincense represents the righteousness of the Matriarchs, but she veered from their path of piety and neglected to follow their example.

Rav Ben-Tzion Brook derives from here a refutation of a mistaken, but widespread, attitude. A person commonly presumes that after death, he will be judged by the Heavenly Court based on the level he reached during his lifetime. He assumes that he will be rewarded for his good deeds and punished for his sins, but never does he entertain the possibility that he will be held to the strict standards of the righteous Chofetz Chaim, who grew to reach levels in piety unthinkable for the average person. However, Rashi teaches us that at the same time that the immodest woman, suspected of adultery after secluding herself in the presence of witnesses with a man her husband warned her to avoid, is punished for acting like a lowly animal by requiring her offering to be brought from barley flour, she is simultaneously held accountable for her failure to reach the incredibly high levels attained by the Matriarchs through the Torah’s restriction against the inclusion of frankincense in her offering.

In the class taught by Rav Shimshon Pinkus on the night of his tragic death, he related that he was once giving a lecture in South Africa about the importance of growth and change in the life of a Jew. After the lecture, a man came over to ask for guidance, as no matter how hard he seemed to try to implement a regimen of daily Torah study, he never seemed to succeed. Rav Pinkus answered him with a beautiful parable: when a person drives a stick-shift car, he starts out in 1st gear and accelerates until he reaches a certain speed, at which point he switches to 2nd gear, until he again reaches a speed which requires him to shift to 3rd gear, but if the driver will attempt to continue accelerating while remaining in 1st gear, he will eventually overheat his engine.

Similarly, Rav Pinkus noted that while he has his own personal challenges in spirituality, finding time to learn Torah every day isn’t among them. Because his mind was in “Rabbinical gear,” the idea of passing a day without learning Torah was unthinkable. This man, however, was stuck in “spiritual 1st gear,” which meant that every time he attempted to “accelerate” his Torah study, his engine “overheated” and the project was doomed to failure. Rather than redouble his efforts to fit Torah study into his daily routine, Rav Pinkus suggested the better approach would be to switch his entire self-view by shifting into spiritual 2nd gear, at which point the Torah study regimen would naturally fall into place as conducive with his new self-image.

A person spends his time in this world trying to improve his ways; according to his level, he attempts to do more of the things he knows he should and to refrain from the actions he knows are beneath him. The lesson of the sotah, however, is that a person is required to “shift gears,” raise the spiritual bar, and set his sights even higher than he presently thinks feasible, as Chazal teach us in Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu (25): שכל אחד ואחד מישראל חייב לומר מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשה אבותי אברהם יצחק ויעקב – every single Jew is obligated to say, “When will my actions reach the level of the actions of my Forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov?”


ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם (6:27)

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, was once praying the morning prayers in a synagogue. When the time came for the Kohanim to ascend to recite the Priestly Blessing (which is said daily in Israel), it was discovered that there were no Kohanim present. The Brisker Rav instructed somebody present to go to the large synagogue Zichron Moshe in order to bring Kohanim from there for the purpose of reciting the Priestly Blessing. Although the other synagogue was nearby, the entire process required close to 15 minutes of idle waiting. Some of those present grew impatient and began to complain that the wait entailed a legal difficulty, as one is forbidden to delay longer than the amount of time required to recite the entire Shemoneh Esrei, and that the wait constituted an unnecessary burden on the congregation.

The Brisker Rav answered that legally, there were no grounds for concern, as the Rema rules (Orach Chaim 65:1) that a lengthy delay is only problematic in the event that it is involuntary. In this case, however, there was technically nothing preventing them from continuing with the prayers, such that their voluntary choice to wait didn’t constitute a legal problem. As for their second concern, regarding the significant inconvenience on the assembled, he expressed astonishment at their position. He noted that people regularly travel days and even weeks in order to request a blessing from a Chassidic Rebbe or other righteous Jew, and upon their arrival, often wait in line for hours until it is their turn to enter in order to receive a blessing which no matter how pious the Rabbi may be, still emanates from a mere mortal. In the case of the Priestly Blessing, regarding which Hashem Himself writes in the Torah a guarantee that the proper recital of Birkas Kohanim will bring forth His Divine blessing, isn’t it surely worth a short wait of 15 minutes!?


ויעתר מנוח אל ד' ויאמר בי אדוני איש האלקים אשר שלחת יבוא נא עוד אלינו ויורנו מה נעשה לנער היולד ... ויאמר מלאך ד' אל מנוח מכל אשר אמרתי אל האשה תשמר (הפטרה – שופטים 13, 13:8)

After an angel appeared to the heretofore barren wife of Manoach to inform her that she would merit to give birth to a son, and to instruct her to raise the child as a nazir, she proceeded to relate the good news to her husband. Manoach then requested that Hashem send the angel back in order to instruct him how to raise his future son. At this point, the angel returned and reiterated to Manoach the pertinent laws of a nazir, which seemed to satisfy Manoach. This entire episode is difficult to understand. Manoach’s wife had already related to him (13:7) the instructions of the angel regarding the nazirite status of their future son, so what room was there for confusion? The laws governing the conduct of a nazir are clearly outlined in the Torah, and if he had any doubts, he could surely have asked the town Rabbis for guidance. Further, upon his return, the angel apparently didn’t add any new information but rather repeated to Manoach what he had already heard from his wife, so in what way was the angel’s return helpful or informative?

Rav Shimon Schwab and the Meshech Chochma explain that Manoach’s confusion wasn’t regarding the laws pertaining to his future son, as he either knew them or could learn them from non-Divine sources. Rather, his dilemma was an educational one. Upon hearing that his son would be a nazir, unique and different from his peers, he was unsure how to properly raise and educate such a son, who would have no role models for the behavior expected of one being raised with extra holiness and restrictions. In response to this query, the angel returned to give him the requested guidance and informed him that his question was quite valid, and instructed him that the proper way to raise such a son was to give him an adult nazir as a proper role model – by Manoach becoming a nazir himself! The angel’s instructions to Manoach can be read as saying, “Everything which I instructed your wife (regarding your future son), תשמר – you yourself should observe” by becoming a nazir! The powerful lesson to be derived from here is that the only possible way to properly educate children is for the parents to serve as living role models of the lessons and teachings they wish to impart to their children!


ולא יסף עוד מלאך ד' להראה אל מנוח ואל אשתו אז ידע מנוח כי מלאך ד' הוא (הפטרה - שופטים 13:21)

After the angel came to inform Manoach and his wife that they would finally give birth to a son and to teach them the special status their future son (Shimshon) would have, they were in doubt as to whether this had been a person tricking them or had indeed been a Divinely-sent angel. Our verse states their resolution to this question. However, the logical flow of the verse seems difficult to follow. It states that as a result of the fact that the angel no longer appeared to Manoach and his wife, Manoach therefore knew conclusively that it had indeed been a Heaven-sent angel and not a human playing a trick on him. In what way does the angel’s disappearance provide a proof regarding its identity?

Rav Shalom Shwadron answers that human nature is that one who is fortunate enough to inform his friend of good news (e.g. the birth of a child), even if he won’t explicitly demand some sort of honor (e.g. sandek at the bris mila) in recognition of his role, his subconscious will nevertheless constantly steer him to “bump into” his friend in order to regularly “remind” him of the incident and his obligation to express gratitude. He will make sure to take the long way out of shul just to pass his friend and wish him a warm “Gut Shabbos,” pausing to make sure his good deed of the past is properly remembered and recognized. When Manoach realized that the angel who had come with the tremendous news of the birth of his son, who wouldn’t be just any son but would be a holy nazir who would save and lead the entire Jewish people, didn’t appear to him even once, not even “by accident,” he knew that no human being could restrain himself so, and concluded that it had surely been an angel!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Parshas Nasso is the longest parsha in the Torah, with a total of 176 verses. This is also the number of verses in the longest chapter of Tehillim (119) and the number of folios in the longest Talmudic tractate (Bava Basra). What is the significance of this number?

2) The Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 75:2) rules that it is forbidden to recite holy words of Torah or prayer in the presence of a married woman’s uncovered hair. How was the Kohen permitted to say Hashem’s name (5:21) when administering the oath to the sotah after he uncovered her hair (5:18)? (Tosefos Sotah 8a d.h. vayisg’ru, Chasam Sofer, Taam V’Daas, M’rafsin Igri)

3) If the bitter waters become טמא (impure), will they still be effective at testing the sotah’s guilt? (Panim Yafos, HaDrash V’HaIyun, Imrei Da’as, Chasam Sofer, Taam V’Daas)

4) The Gemora in Nazir (66a) states that the prophet Shmuel was a nazir. The Torah restricts a nazir from having contact with the dead (6:6), which would render him impure. How was Shmuel permitted to kill Agag, the king of Amalek (Shmuel 1 15:33)? (Imrei Da’as, M’rafsin Igri)

5) The Gemora in Sotah (39a) relates that one of the merits to which Rav Elazor ben Shemoa attributed his longevity was his meticulousness to never recite Birkas Kohanim without reciting the requisite blessing (אשר קדשנו בקדושתו של אהרן לברך את עמו ישראל באהבה) beforehand. In what way is this seemingly required act considered a uniquely pious merit? (Bi’ur HaGra Orach Chaim 128:13, Radal, Maharsha Megilla 27b, Imrei De’ah)

6) Rashi explains (7:19-23) the symbolism of the various offerings brought by each of the tribal leaders. Given that each of the leaders brought identical offerings, why does Rashi explain the symbolism in reference to the offering brought by the leader of Yissochor on the 2nd day and not regarding that which was brought by the leader of Yehuda on the 1st day? (Chiddushei HaRim)

7) More than 60 years ago, a man and his young daughter entered a study hall in Jerusalem and announced that they had just arrived from the city of Ostrovtza in Europe. The men gathered there knew that the Ostrovtzer Rebbe was a world-renowed miracle-worker and asked the man if he could share with them a story. The man replied that he himself had been the beneficiary of one of the Rebbe’s miracles, as his wife had given birth to several children, all of whom died shortly after birth. In despair, the man approached the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe advised him to name his next child based on a person found in the parsha to be read the week of the child’s birth. The man concluded by pointing to the girl at his side as proof of the Rebbe’s powers, and noted that she was born during the week of Parshas Nasso. What was her name? (Tuv’cha Yabi’u)


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