Tuesday, May 11, 2010

אך את מטה לוי לא תפקד ואת ראשם לא תשא בתוך בני ישראל (1:49)
This week we begin the book of Numbers, which begins with a census of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains (1:1) that the purpose of these frequent counts was to demonstrate Hashem’s love for the Jews. He counted them after they left Egypt, and again after the sin of the golden calf to know how many remained. As Hashem prepared to rest His Divine presence among them in the Mishkan, He counted them yet again. Hashem stressed to Moshe that he should not count the Levites when performing this census, but they were instead counted separately. This is difficult to understand. If the Levites were the tribe that performed the service inside of the Mishkan, they surely should have been included in this count.
Rashi explains that Hashem wanted them counted separately because He knew that everybody who was part of the general census would die in the wilderness as a result of the sin of the spies. Since the Levites had demonstrated their tremendous piety and loyalty in refusing to take part in the sin of the golden calf and in punishing the transgressors, Hashem wanted to spare them from this fate and insisted that they be counted alone. This concept is difficult to understand. Why was it necessary to count the Levites separately in order to protect them? If they didn’t take part in the sin of the spies, why would they have been punished together with the other Jews simply by virtue of the fact that they were counted together with them?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that although the Levites were righteous, there are times when, difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, Hashem judges not only individuals but also communities. In this case, Hashem knew that there would be a judgment made against the entire nation for the sin of the spies. The decree would mandate that anybody who was part of the community, as defined by the recently-conducted census, be punished together with them. The only way for the Levites to be spared was for them to be counted alone, which would define them as an independent entity and spare them from the decree.
Rav Chaim adds that fortunately, this attribute of Hashem’s justice works for the good as well. When a person is part of a larger community of righteous individuals, he is able to benefit from their cumulative merits. This may protect him even if his own personal merits are insufficient.
Rav Chaim led the flight of the Mir yeshiva across Europe and Asia during the Holocaust. True to his teachings, he stressed to the students the importance of sticking together during this horrible period of Divine judgment. Amazingly, in spite of the tremendous national suffering which struck the Jewish nation during that period, the Mir yeshiva and its entire student body escaped completely intact and unscathed.
Although the census of each of the tribes may seem like historical trivia with no application to our daily lives, Rav Chaim teaches us that this isn’t the case. The lesson is that if we affiliate ourselves with a righteous community and volunteer to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy health, happiness, and good blessings.

והחנים עליו מטה יששכר ונשיא לבני יששכר נתנאל בן צוער וצבאו ופקדיו ארבעה וחמשים אלף וארבע מאות מטה זבולן ונשיא לבני זבולן אליאב בן חלן ... ומטה גד ונשיא לבני גד אליסף בן רעואל (14, 2:5-7)
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.

וימת נדב ואביהוא לפני ד' ... ובנים לא היו להם ויכהן אלעזר ואיתמר על פני אהרן אביהם (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.

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

1) Rav Avrohom of Zunsheim, a little-known Rishon who authored a work called Tikkun Tefillin, points out a number of fascinating parallels between the tefillin which is worn on the head and the encampment of the Jewish people in the wilderness. How many similarities can you find?
2) Rashi quotes (3:1) the Gemora in Sanhedrin (19b), which states that whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. The Gemora there similarly teaches 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? (Chochmas Shlomo Even HaEzer 1:1, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Even HaEzer 76, B’Soraso Yeh’geh Milu’im 25, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)
3) Rashi writes (3:29) that because the family of Kehas encamped next to the tribe of Reuven, Dasan and Aviram were caught up in Korach’s rebellion and punished. He derives from here the importance of having righteous neighbors. If somebody is forced to choose between living next to a neighbor who publicly desecrates Shabbos and a neighbor who is known to constantly be engaged in fights and disagreements, which neighbor should he choose? (Ayeles HaShachar)
4) The tribe of Levi contained the holiest Divine servants, yet it numbered only 22,000 (3:30), substantially less than any of the other tribes. What is the reason for this anomaly? (Ramban, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, HaEmek Davar, MiShulchano Shel Beis HaLevi, Kovetz Maamorim)

Answers to Points to Ponder:

1) The Tikkun Tefillin points out that the tefillin are sewn on the bottom with 12 stitches, three on each of the four sides. This corresponds to the configuration of the 12 tribes, who camped in four groups of three 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 Tablets. The cube in which they rest corresponds to the Ark in which the Tablets were kept. Finally, the Kapores – the lid of the Ark – had two Cherubim on top of it, positioned with their wings spread upward. This image of a cherub with its wings spread is similar to the Hebrew letter ש. The two ש’s which are located on the outside of the tefillin symbolize the Cherubim resting on top of the Ark and spreading their wings.

2) Rav Shlomo Kluger writes that this question is subject to a larger dispute. Whenever Chazal teach that A is considered like B, the Drisha maintains that such comparisons are not to be taken literally, and therefore a person could not fulfill the mitzvah to have children in this manner. However, according to the Taz, who argues that the Sages intended to say that the two items being equated are legally one and the same, it would be possible for a couple to perform the mitzvah in this manner. The Chasam Sofer notes that while the Torah (Bamidbar 26:46) refers to Serach as the daughter of Asher, the Targum writes that she was actually the daughter of his wife from a previous husband. Because she was raised by Asher, the Torah refers to her as his daughter, indicating that one may fulfill the mitzvah to have children in this manner. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein adds that the Torah (Bereishis 46:17) includes Serach in the count of 70 people who descended with Yaakov to Egypt. As the Torah (46:26) describes all 70 of them as Yaakov’s descendants, this supports the idea that an adopted child is legally considered as one’s own.

3) Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman writes that in theory, the neighbor who is constantly quarreling poses the greater danger, as a person is much more likely to be drawn after him and get involved in his fights than to be influenced by the Shabbos desecrator. However, he adds that each situation is unique and has many complex variables which could change the determination of which neighbor poses a greater danger, and therefore each situation requires advice tailored to that unique set of circumstances.

4) The Ramban explains that when the Egyptians enslaved and afflicted the Jews, Hashem blessed them and caused them to become even more numerous (Shemos 1:12). Because Chazal teach that the tribe of Levi was exempt from the servitude in Egypt, they therefore didn’t merit the blessing of giving birth to six children at a time. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers that at the time that Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish male babies would be killed in the Nile River, Amram divorced his wife, and the rest of the Levites followed his lead. Even though Amram subsequently remarried his wife, perhaps many of the other Levites did not, and therefore their population was much smaller. The Beis HaLevi suggests that because the tribe of Levi was sustained by other Jews through gifts of tithes, Hashem intentionally made their tribe smaller so as not to overburden the rest of the Jews. The Netziv posits that the Levites were already selected to serve Hashem and were therefore judged more harshly, and their numbers were reduced due to their sins for which they were punished immediately. Rav Elchonon Wasserman writes that Hashem created the world in a manner in which everything which is loftier is rarer. For this reason, animals outnumber people and non-Jews outnumber Jews, so too are there more non-Levites than Levites.

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