Thursday, May 17, 2007

Parshas Bamidbar

שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל (1:2)

There is a mystical idea that the content of the parsha read each Shabbos is connected to the events of the coming week. It is interesting to note that Parshas Bamidbar is usually read on the Shabbos preceding Shavuos, although it is difficult at first glance to find any connection between a parsha which deals primarily with counting the tribes and the holiday on which the Jews received the Torah.

Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that as Jews around the world excitedly gear up to personally reaccept the Torah and reaffirm their commitment to its study, the yetzer hara attempts to derail them. It argues that their Torah study is so limited in quantity and quality that it is insignificant and even a waste of time.

The yetzer hara shows a person that his more intellectually-gifted friends are able to learn more hours and more pages and to retain their knowledge better than he could ever hope to do. As Jews get excited for the universal custom of staying up all night engrossed in Torah study, a person may be tempted to opt for a good night’s sleep after considering that the most he could accomplish in an entire night could be learned on an even higher level by the Rosh Yeshiva or Rav in a mere 10 minutes.

To counter this flawed argument, the Torah precedes the holiday of Shavuos with the reading of Parshas Bamidbar. The parsha begins with Hashem’s command to conduct a census of the Jewish people, but it is written using a peculiar expression. Instead of instructing Moshe to “go count the people,” the words used literally translate as “pick up the heads of the Jews.” Why did Hashem use this awkward expression when commanding Moshe about the census?

Rav Moshe explains that just as a contemporary Jew could get discouraged in his service of Hashem when comparing it to others, certainly one in the desert, who lived in the shadows of Moshe and Aharon, could be susceptible to the same fallacy. He may feel that although he is “worth” 1, those around him are “worth” 100, leaving him despondent.

Hashem used this peculiar expression because when every Jew realizes that in the census he is counted as the same 1 as every other Jew, he will recognize how valuable his efforts are in Hashem’s eyes. This understanding will allow him to “pick up his head” and hold it high with a newfound self-confidence.

Although others may seem light-years ahead of us in the quantity and quality of their mitzvos, the lesson of Parshas Bamidbar is that everybody is judged separately in Hashem’s eyes, based on a benchmark of what he is capable of doing. A person who overcomes his own struggles to maximize his potential should certainly enter Shavuos prepared to accept the Torah with his head held high.

איש על דגלו באתת לבית אבתם יחנו בני ישראל מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו (2:2)

Rav Avrohom of Zunsheim, a Rishon and author of Tikkun Tefillin, points out a number of fascinating parallels between the Tefillin shel Rosh and the encampments of the Jews in the desert. The tefillin is sewn up on the bottom with 12 stitches, 3 on each of the 4 sides. This corresponds to the configuration of the 12 tribes, which also camped in groups of 3 tribes, all positioned around the central camp of the Divine Presence and camp of the Levites. In the center of the tefillin are the parshios, which represent the Luchos, and the cube in which they rest corresponds to the Aron in which the Luchos were kept. Finally, the kapores – the lid of the Aron – had two Keruvim on top of it, positioned with their wings spread above. This image of a cherub with its wings spread is similar to the Hebrew letter “ש,” and so the two letter “ש”s which are located on the outside of the box of the tefillin symbolize the Keruvim resting on top of the Aron and spreading their wings!

ואלה תולדת אהרן ומשה ביום דבר ד' את משה בהר סיני (3:1)

ואינו מזכיר אלא בני אהרן ונקראו תולדות משה לפי שלמדן תורה מלמד שכל המלמד את בן חבירו תורה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו ילדו (רש"י)

The Torah purports to list the descendants of Moshe and Aharon, but proceeds to list only Aharon’s children. Rashi quotes the Gemora in Sanhedrin (19b), which states that whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. Because Moshe taught Torah to Aharon’s children, the Torah considers it as though they were his own progeny. The Gemora there similarly states that whoever raises an orphan in his home is considered to have given birth to him. Can one who is unable to have children fulfill the mitzvah of having children through these methods, as it will be considered as if he gave birth to them?

In the beginning of his commentary Chochmas Shlomo on the Even HaEzer section of Shulchan Aruch, Rav Shlomo Kluger discusses this question and writes that it is subject to a dispute. Whenever the sages teach that A is considered like B, the Drisha and Taz disagree whether they mean to say that A is like B only in a figurative sense or whether it is literally the same as B. According to the Drisha, who maintains that such comparisons cannot be taken literally, a person could not fulfill the mitzvah to have children in this manner. According to the Taz, who argues that the Rabbis intended to say that the two items being equated are legally one and the same, it would be possible for a couple who are unable to have children to perform the mitzvah in this manner.

וימת נדב ואביהוא לפני ד' בהקרבם אש זרה לפני ד' במדבר סיני

ובנים לא היו להם ויכהן אלעזר ואיתמר על פני אהרן אביהם (3:4)

The Rav of a town in Europe once passed away, and because his son was too young to fill his position, the leaders of the community hired another Rav to take his place. Within a number of years, however, his 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. The Medrash explains that the Torah emphasizes the fact that Nadav and Avihu died without any children in order to teach that if they had indeed had children, their children would have precedence in taking their places. It was only because they died without children that the verse concludes that Elazar and Isomor were therefore eligible to serve in their father Aharon’s stead.

Rav Shapiro noted that this Medrash is difficult to understand, as the Zohar HaKadosh states 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 Bar Mitzvah age at the time of their deaths, which would invalidate them from inheriting the position and serving in the Mishkan at that time. If so, how could the Medrash infer that had Nadav and Avihu left behind progeny, they would have preceded their uncles (Elazar and Isomor) in filling a position for which they were ineligible?

Rather, Rav Shapiro concluded, 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, and the Rav’s son shall now inherit his father’s mantle!

ויהי כל בכור זכר במספר שמת מבן חדש ומעלה לפקדיהם שנים ועשרים אלף שלשה ושבעים ומאתים (3:43)

The Oznayim L’Torah recounts that a nonobservant Jew once approached his father-in-law Rav Eliezer Gordon, the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Europe. He argued that he although he did believe in whatever is explicitly written in the Torah, how could he, a modern and sophisticated intellectual, be expected to believe in apparently exaggerated Medrashim, such as the miracle that all of the Jewish women in Egypt gave birth to six children at a time (Rashi Shemos 1:7)?

Without batting an eyelash, Rav Gordon answered him with a beautiful mathematical source for the Medrash’s claim. In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah (which the man claimed to believe in) relates the results of the census conducted approximately one year after the Exodus from Egypt. Our verse records that he total number of first-born males was 22,273, which means that there were a total of 22,273 families. The total number of men between the ages of 20 and 60 produced by these families was 603,550 (1:46), and doubling this to account for the men under 20 and over 60 yields a total of 1,207,100 men.

Dividing 1,207,100 by 22,273 yields an average family size of approximately 54! It takes a woman almost a year to conceive and give birth to a child, and it took them 2 years after giving birth until they were able to conceive again (see Niddah 9a), meaning that each child requires roughly 3 years. A woman normally has 27-30 child-bearing during her life, and if each child takes 3 years, she will be able to give birth a maximum of 9-10 times during her lifetime. Dividing the 54 children the average woman had by the roughly 9 times she gave birth yields a result of exactly 6 children per delivery, a proof which left the nonobservant Jew stunned and speechless!

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

1) In relating the number of Jews in each tribe, the Torah writes (e.g. 1:22, 24) before the name of the tribe לבני – for the sons of, with the exception of the tribe of Naftoli, where it writes (1:42) בני, leaving off the letter ל. The Baal HaTurim and Paneiach Raza explain that this is because the tribe of Naftoli had more women than men. What is the connection between the prevalence of females in the tribe and the omission of the letter ל? (Yad Av, Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

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, Bod Kodesh)

3) The Torah emphasizes (3:12) that the Levites were selected to replace the first-born “who were the first issue of the womb.” Before the sin of the golden calf, the Divine Service was performed by the oldest male in each family, even if he wasn’t the first issue of his mother’s womb (e.g. Adam HaRishon, Aharon HaKohen). Wouldn’t it therefore have been more accurate to state that the Levites will replace the first-born, with no mention of the concept of the first issue of the womb? (Shiras Dovid)

4) The tribe of Levi presumably contained the holiest Divine servants, yet it numbered only 22,000 (3:30), substantially less than any of the other tribes. The Ramban explains that because they didn’t suffer from the enslavement in Egypt (Rashi Shemos 5:4), they didn’t merit the blessing of each woman giving birth to six children at a time as did the other tribes (Rashi Shemos 1:7). Rashi writes (3:39) that 300 of the 22,300 Levites were first-born. If 22,300 Levites were born to a mere 300 families, the average family size was an astonishing 74! How was this possible if the Levite women didn’t merit the blessing of multiple births?

5) In delineating the tasks to be performed by the descendants of Kehas, the Torah mentions (4:6) that they were in charge of placing the staves in the Aron. Why was it necessary to appoint them to put the staves in the Aron when the Torah previously forbids (Shemos 25:15) their removal? (Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Shu”t Radvaz 6:2190, Moshav Z’keinim, Rivash quoting Rav Moshe M’Kutzi, Tosefos Yoma 72a, K’motzei Shalal Rav)

6) Why are the census of Levites between the ages of 30 and 50 and the delineation of their duties split between the end of Parshas Bamidbar and the beginning of Parshas Nasso? (Rav Mordechai Yehuda Leib Zaks quoted in P’ninei Kedem)

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