Thursday, June 05, 2008

Parshas Nasso

ויהי המקריב ביום הראשון את קרבנו נחשון בן עמינדב למטה יהודה (7:12)

The Gemora is replete with laws derived from seemingly superfluous words in the Torah, based on the principle that it doesn’t contain a single unnecessary letter. It is therefore difficult to understand why the Torah repeats at excruciating length the offerings brought by each of the 12 tribal leaders when they were all identical to one another. Wouldn’t it have been more concise to list the offering brought on the first day and to add that each subsequent leader brought the same offering on the succeeding days?

The Ramban explains that although their actions appeared identical on a superficial level, Hashem knows the inner thoughts motivating every action. He recognized that each leader had a unique intention behind his selection of the items brought in his offering. Because their personal motivations were unique, the Torah wrote out each one separately as if their offerings were completely different.

Rav Reuven Leuchter posits that since the Torah is the blueprint of Creation, the expression of any genuine concept can be found therein. He suggests that the source for the idea of “creativity” may be found where one would least expect it – in the section recounting the offerings of the tribal leaders! The Ramban teaches that although the Torah requires us to do certain concrete actions, we are still able to imbue them with our individual perspectives and find in them an expression of our unique personalities.

Many people today complain that they feel constrained by the standard text of our daily prayers, which was established almost 2000 years ago. They feel that as our daily needs change, so too should our expression of them. The Ramban’s explanation can be extended to teach that we need not feel stifled by the repeated expression of our entreaties using identical phrases, as illustrated by the following story.

A close disciple of Rav Yechezkel Abramsky once mentioned that an acquaintance of his had recently undergone a difficult kidney transplant. Rav Abramsky sighed, feeling the other Jew’s pain, and then remarked, “I pray every day that I shouldn’t be forced to undergo such a procedure.” The surprised student questioned why he made a special point of reciting this unique prayer daily. Rav Abramsky responded that this request is included in the standard wording of Birkas HaMazon, in which we request that we not come to need מתנת בשר ודם – gifts of flesh and blood (e.g. transplants).

The student challenged this explanation, as the simple understanding of the words is that we shouldn’t need monetary gifts from other humans (“flesh and blood”). Rav Abramsky smiled and explained that the Sages incorporated every need we may have into the text of the standard prayers. Any place we find in which we are able to “read in” a special request we have into the words is also included in the original intention of that prayer.

Just as the tribal leaders brought identical offerings and still found room for creative expression by doing so with their own unique intentions, so too our Sages established the standard wording of the prayers with Divine Inspiration, articulating within them every feeling we may wish to express. Many times, in the midst of a difficult situation, we begin to pray with a heavy heart, only to find a new interpretation of the words which we have recited thousands of times jump out at us. This newfound understanding, which has been there all along waiting for us to discover it in our time of need, is perfectly fit to the sentiments we wish to convey, if we will only open our eyes to see it.


ויהי איש אחד מצרעה ממשפחת הדני ושמו מנוח ואשתו עקרה ולא ילדה (הפטרה – שופטים 13:2)

More than 60 years ago, a man and his young daughter entered a Beis Medrash in Yerushalayim 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 renowned 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, he approached the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe advised him to name his next child based on a person mentioned in the parsha to be read the week of the child’s birth. The man concluded by pointing to the living girl at his side as proof of the Rebbe’s powers, and noted that she was born during the week of Parshas Nasso.

However, a quick perusal of Parshas Nasso, or even an in-depth one, will reveal a big problem with following the Rebbe’s advice: there are no women mentioned anywhere in the entire parsha! Armed with this dilemma, the man returned to the Rebbe, who suggested that although there no women appear in the parsha itself, the Haftorah indeed contains a bona-fide woman: Manoach’s wife, the mother of Shimshon. However, a study of the verses discussing her life reveals another problem: her name isn’t mentioned anywhere! Fortunately, the Gemora (Bava Basra 91a) comes to the rescue by teaching that her name was Tzlalponis. Although not exactly a common name, the Rebbe advised the man that giving this name to his daughter was her best hope for survival. Willing to try anything, the man named his daughter Tzlalponis, and was quite fortunate to be able to point to her as living proof of the Rebbe’s powers!


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 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 requested that Hashem send the angel back to instruct him how to raise his future son. The angel returned and reiterated to Manoach the pertinent laws of a nazir, which satisfied him.

This episode is difficult to understand. As Manoach’s wife had already informed him of the angel’s instructions regarding the nazirite status of their future son, what room was there for confusion? The laws governing the conduct of a nazir are clearly outlined in the Torah. Further, upon coming back, the angel simply repeated what Manoach had already heard from his wife without adding any new information. In what way was the angel’s return helpful?

The following humorous story will help us appreciate the answer to these questions. A teacher once caught one of his students stealing pencils from the other children. After reprimanding him, the behavior continued. After the student ignored repeated warnings from the teacher, he had no choice but to call the boy’s parents to discuss the issue. Much to the teacher’s surprise, after listening to the problem the boy’s father revealed the true source of the behavior by exclaiming, “Why in the world would he need to steal pencils!? I bring home more than enough from the office to supply the entire class!”

In light of this amusing lesson about the power of parents teaching by example, we can now appreciate the answer given by Rav Shimon Schwab to our original questions. He explains that Manoach’s confusion wasn’t related to the laws pertaining to his future son, which he could learn himself. His dilemma was of an educational nature. After hearing that his son would be a nazir, unique and different from his peers, Manoach was unsure how to properly raise a son who would have no role model from whom he could learn the behavior expected of him.

In response to Manoach’s query, the angel came back to give him the requested guidance. The angel acknowledged 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 role model – by Manoach becoming a nazir himself! The angel’s instructions to Manoach can be read, “Everything which I instructed your wife (regarding your future son), תשמר – you should observe” by becoming a nazir. The lesson to be derived from this beautiful explanation is that the only successful way to educate children is for the parents to serve as living role models of the values and priorities they wish to impart to them.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!

To receive the full version with answers email the author at parshapotpourri@optonline.net.


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

1) The Shulchan Aruch (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, Chasam Sofer, Taam V’Daas, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)

2) Why are the blessings of Birkas Kohanim, which are only recited in the presence of at least 10 males, worded in the singular and not in the plural? (Darkei HaShleimus)

3) May a Kohen who has never been married, or who was widowed or divorced, recite the Priestly Blessing? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Mordechai Sotah 815, Shu”t Rashba 1:85, Beis Yosef and Darkei Moshe Orach Chaim 128, Shulchan Aruch Mishnah Berurah 128:162, Matamei Yaakov)

4) Rashi explains (7:19-23) the symbolism of the offerings brought by each of the tribal leaders. Given that each of them brought identical offerings, why does Rashi explain the symbolism regarding the offering brought by the leader of Yissochar on the 2nd day and not regarding the offering brought by the leader of Yehuda on the 1st day? (Chiddushei HaRim, Ayeles HaShachar)


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