This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were recently taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
מַּטּוֹת ~ Mattos
“Missing the Point”
In their final war before entering the Promised Land, the B’nei Yisrael face off with Midian [B’Midbar 31], the nation who aligned itself with Moav according to Bil’am’s scheme and caused the deaths of twenty-four thousand members of the B’nei Yisrael.
This war resulted in the decimation of virtually all the men of Midian—including the five Midianite kings, and even the death of Bil’am. However, there was something glaringly wrong with the B’nei Yisrael’s victory which clearly disturbed Moshe Rabbeinu to the point of flaring anger [31:14]. The commanders allowed the troops to keep the women as captives, the very women who ultimately caused Hashem’s plague against the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe reminds them that the deathblow happened because Bil’am had sent the women of Midian to intermingle with the B’nei Yisrael and entice them to worship the foreign deity, Ba’al Pe’or [31:16]. The women caused the fall of their people, yet the B’nei Yisrael spared them of all Midianite citizens!
So, Moshe Rabbeinu commands the B’nei Yisrael kill all the women of “marriageable” or conjugal age [31:17]. However, before commanding that, he tells them strangely to kill all the male children whom they also spared and kept as captives [Ibid.].
Now, why does Moshe Rabbeinu do that? Based on the very intelligent argument Moshe made—about how those dastardly women caused the B’nei Yisrael to sin to Hashem, one would conclude that sparing the women was the only mistake. With that said, Moshe’s command to also kill the male children comes right out of left field. What do they have to do with anything? They weren’t involved in the enticement for idolatry.
But, Moshe Rabbeinu is not finished. He does not just tell them whom they have to kill. Before they go, Moshe proceeds to tell them what to do after they wipe out the women; they have to purify themselves and their clothes with the waters of purification [31:19-20]. Their acts of executing the Midianites would render them ritually impure, so they now had to clean themselves. Fine. Moshe’s done talking.
Then, all of sudden, his nephew Elazar HaKohein speaks up and teaches the laws regarding the Hechsher Keilim (preparing of vessels), the purging processes of the remaining spoils that they obtained from the Midianites [31:21-24]. The question is why Elazar specifically needed to give over these laws. Moshe Rabbeinu was already on the topic of purification and cleansing. Could he not finish the discussion?
So, regarding this issue, Rashi points out that indeed, Moshe was actually supposed to teach these laws as well, however, out of his anger over the sparing of the Midianite women, he erred and “forgot” the laws, or wasn’t able to successfully teach over any laws because one who falls under the influence of anger risks passing faulty judgment [Sifrei 157].
Rashi continues and compares this incident to other similar occurrences where Moshe erred out of anger; namely, on the eighth day of the Mishkan’s consecration when he lashed out at Aharon HaKohein’s sons Elazar and Isamar back in Parshas Sh’mini [Vayikra 10:6] and at Mei Merivah when he referred to the B’nei Yisrael as “rebels” and hits the rock, costing him his privilege to enter Israel back in Parshas Chukas [B’Midbar 20:10-11].
Now, while there are some important lessons to glean from this teaching in Rashi, there’s still a problem. From Rashi’s comments, one would have the conclusion that Moshe completely lost control—at least to the point that he could hardly convey any laws, for whatever reason. But if that’s the case, why didn’t Moshe have any difficulty instructing the B’nei Yisrael to purify themselves after the war? He seems to be able to convey some laws and instructions. His anger didn’t cause him to suddenly “forget” the laws about purifying themselves. If his anger causes the Torah laws to escape him, he should’ve also forgotten these laws. Why then, was Moshe only made to “forget” the laws of “washing dishes” from the gentiles? This law does not seem to be any more outlandish or complicated that they should be harder to convey. Why did the ability to teach this section of laws escape him while the laws about personal purification were not made to escape him?
Another issue one might raise is that implicit in Rashi’s comments is that Moshe’s anger, overall, was a problem. It was wrong for him to get angry. Part of the evidence to that is that “forgot” or was rendered incapable of conveying Torah laws. The simple question is: Wasn’t Moshe’s anger justified? Yes, anger can be damaging, and perhaps it can temporarily keep one from teaching Torah, but here, it seems that Moshe Rabbeinu was right to be angry. The B’nei Yisrael spared their “idolatrous seducers” and took them home with them! So, let Elazar teach the B’nei Yisrael the next laws—it’ll give him some good practice. In the meantime, Moshe can harbor some reasonable anger at the people. What was so poisonous about Moshe’s anger?
Returning to the first question, we asked why Moshe, after his sentiment about the evil and danger of the adult Midianite women, decides to also include the male children in the death sentence. Perhaps, Moshe is implying that whatever mistake the B’nei Yisrael made by sparing the women also existed in their sparing of the male children. But how could that be? The problem with the women was that that the women enticed the B’nei Yisrael and persuaded them to serve Ba’al Pe’or, something that the male children certainly did not do!
But, maybe there was something more to the mistake of saving the women. What was that mistake? The real problem was that the B’nei Yisrael missed the point of this war and forgot Whom they were fighting for. The war was about the vengeance of Hashem. The B’nei Yisrael, however, treated the war like any war, Midian’s army like any other army. They acted naturally and attacked only the adult men. And naturally, they had mercy on everyone else; the women and children.
Now, if one thinks about it, this misplaced benevolence was their problem to begin with. Their emotions were controlled by the women. They sinned because they displayed passion for the heathen women and befriended their gods. Yes, they wiped out the male adults of Midian, but the male adults were only tangentially related to the problem in the Midianite enemy. The problem was their emotions drew them after the women! Those same emotions caused them to inappropriately display mercy on the women now. And by displaying that misplaced mercy, they showed that they hadn’t completely removed the roots of their sin from their midst. The same emotions caused them to be naturally merciful towards the children. But again, when these people had caused G-d’s own people to turn against Him and serve another god, it’s G-d’s war that they needed to be fighting—Midian had to be obliterated. In this vein, the Sforno says the execution of the male children was, as well, a part of G-d’s vengeance that needed to be exacted now. However, the B’nei Yisrael missed the point and did not fight G-d’s war. They targeted Midian as an army, but not as G-d’s enemy. They ignored the actual problem and neglected to completely clean themselves from that looming impurity. Their job now is to stop displaying that misplaced mercy, remember what the real problem is and tackle it head-on.
Now, that we’ve addressed the B’nei Yisrael’s problem, let’s return to Moshe’s. Moshe got angry and then some of Hashem’s laws escaped him so that Elazar HaKohein had to give them over. The issue we raised was that Moshe clearly remembered some laws as he commanded them about purifying themselves with the purification waters following their execution of the women. It was merely the laws pertaining to cleaning out Midian’s spoils that somehow “escaped” him. Why the discrepancy?
It could be that there was something intrinsic in these sets of laws that caused Moshe’s temperament to hinder one category and not the other. Let’s look at the two sections of laws and see.
First, there’s body and clothing purification following the B’nei Yisrael’s killing of the Midianites and then the cleaning out of the vessels of the Midianites’ spoils. What’s the fundamental difference between them?
Well, if one looks at the verses, to rid the impurity that results in the killings of war, they would merely need to be sprinkled with the waters. But to clean the vessels of the gentiles, they need to purge them of their foreign, non-Kosher taste completely. However the taste got in, they will have to employ the same measure to get it out, whether boiling it in water or purging it through fire. It’s more than a simple rinsing.
So, in the former category—the purification of their bodies and clothes, the impurity is more on the surface, whereas in the latter category—the purging of the gentile vessels, the impurity exists deeply within the essence of the item.
It could be that this subtle difference may hint to why Moshe was made to “forget” only one of these laws amidst his anger.
Returning to the source of Moshe’s anger—that the B’nei Yisrael left the Midianite women roaming around—it was not the traits of mercy and benevolence, but the B’nei Yisrael’s inappropriate application of these traits that caused their sin. They missed the problem because they allowed their natural mercy to be toyed with by their enemy. They needed to purify themselves from the external enemy in their midst. This need for purification may be represented by the instructions that they cleanse themselves after killing the enemy. Their sparing of the Midianite women didn’t come from an internal desire to sin. It was an impurity on the surface that resulted from their misplaced compassion. Moshe would be the first to tell them that this impurity was the problem that they were missing and that they had to wipe out of their midst. But again, this impurity was only at the surface.
Purifying oneself from this surface impurity, as we mentioned, is easy. One just sprinkles oneself and washes the filth it off. But what if the impurity is manifest in a foreign flavor that is absorbed within one’s own being? Like kitchenware of the gentiles, one has to be purged from the inside out.
Mercy and benevolence can be twisted in the wrong direction—in the direction of sin, but with the appropriately balanced application, they are really good to have. These traits are intrinsically positive. According to Chazzal, they’re “Jewish” traits [Yevamos 97B].
However, Ka’as or anger, on the other hand, is an intrinsically negative trait. It is very much not a “Jewish” trait, but a trait of foreign flavor. It is associated, by Chazzal, with Avodah Zarah, idolatry [Shabbos 105B], the very crime that the Midianite women caused the B’nei Yisrael to commit. True, degrees of anger can often be directed in the service of G-d as is demonstrated by Pinchas who zealously avenged G-d and ended the plague that was caused by the Midianite women when he killed Zimri and his Midianite mistress Kozbi. Indeed, in the right place and the right time, anger can be justified. But, in its core, it is not a positive trait. It is for this reason the Rambam famously suggests that one distance himself from anger as much as possible, even if it means leaning towards the opposite extreme. Clearly, anger can be poisonous as is evidenced by the many times that Moshe got angry, as Rashi has so helpfully demonstrated for us.
But, wasn’t Moshe’s anger appropriate here? The people so clearly missed the point of the war and brought what should have been their main target into their homes! They almost put themselves in the same situation that their sin started with!
So, while Moshe was right that the people displayed misplaced mercy and that they missed their target by leaving the impurity in their midst, Moshe was still neglecting to hit his own personal target and purge himself of the “foreign taste,” the flavor of idolatry that still existed in his own essence, his recurring anger. In general, would some degree of anger have been appropriate here? Maybe—perhaps perfectly channeled and controlled anger would have been helpful, but most anger is unbridled and therefore acts as a destructive fire. Tampering with fire is certainly dangerous. So, yes, Moshe’s feelings on this matter were justified, and he definitely had to address the commanders on the issue, however his outward expression of this fiery anger had cost him his dreams before, demonstrating that even justified anger for the right reasons, for Hashem’s sake, is just hard to harness. In Moshe’s case, it has largely proven to be a poison, an intrinsically “non-Jewish flavor” that he should’ve purged himself from.
Why Moshe would have difficulty conveying this particular law-concept while he was angry is understandable. It represented the personal issues that Moshe himself still had to work on. Rinsing oneself on the outside, while keeping the same, intrinsically positive traits, is a relatively simple task. Completely purging oneself on the inside from intrinsically negative traits requires a more intensive and complicated process.
May we all be Zocheh to succeed in tackling all of our challenges in life, connect with the target, develop the right traits and channel them properly in the direction of G-d’s Will, and Hashem should guide us on our path towards the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Chazak and a Gutten Chodesh!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
מַסְעֵי ~ Mas’ei
Towards the end of Sefer B’Midbar, as the B’nei Yisrael prepare to enter the Promised Land, the Torah discusses the division of the land as it will be allotted to them according to their tribes. However, in this discussion, the Torah stipulates that one tribe, Levi, will not inherit its own region of land, but it will have cities designated to them among the regions of the rest of the tribes of the B’nei Yisrael. As has been established, the tribe of Levi has been predesignated as the tribe that serves in the Temple. They stand between the B’nei Yisrael and Hashem to unite their brethren with their Creator. Thus, their cities and material needs are met and measured out for them by the rest of the B’nei Yisrael. With that, the Torah describes how the Cities of the Levi’im are meant to be measured out.
So, what does the Torah have to say about the measuring of the Cities of the Levi’im? Well, before we take a look, does anyone actually care that much? Of course, as it is a topic which the Torah was clearly concerned to talk about it has to matter to us and have some sort of significance in our lives. That aside, the topic does not seem too exciting, honestly. It doesn’t seem to relate much to us if anything at all. What can be so enthralling or inspiring about measuring out land?
At first glance, there’s not much to see here and one might be incline to just skim through text without giving it much thought. But, as one passes through—whether browsing or listening to the Torah reading, one might notice a couple of seemingly simple words that are accentuated with a couple of strange Cantillation notes.
The Torah innocently commands the B’nei Yisrael to measure out two thousand Amos (cubits) on each side the Levite Cities [35:5]; but on one pair of words, “Alpayim Ba’Amah”-“two thousand by the cubit,” there is a strange pairing of notes; on the word “Alpayim”-“two thousand” [אַלְפַּיִם], there is note called the Yerach Ben Yomo [יֵרֶח בֶּן יוֹמ֪וֹ], literally, a day-old moon, named for its slim crescent shape; and on the word “Ba’Amah”-“by the cubit” [בָּאַמָּה], there is a Karnei Parah [קַרְנֵי פָרָ֟ה], literally, horns of the cow, named for its curvy horn-likeshape.*
*Some quick background: The Cantillation notes in the text were included in the Torah reading as a part of the Oral Tradition from Sinai and they serve not only to help accentuate the words phonetically, but for syntactic and sometimes exegetical purposes. They can potentially tell us something about the meaning or significance of the words they serve.
Now, just to get a sense of the rarity of the two notes in our verse, the Yerach Ben Yomo and the Karnei Parah happen to be more uncommon than the famous Shalsheles [שַׁלְשֶׁ֓לֶת] which appears only a few times in the Torah. In the entire Torah, the Yerach Ben Yomo and the Karnei Parah appear just this one time. That being said, one would imagine that the words they accentuate are in some way, quite unique or important.
The problem though is that when one looks at the words in question, “Alpayim Ba’Amah,” there doesn’t seem to be any obvious significance (other than the strange Cantillation of course). Why would the Torah need to draw attention to these words, “two thousand by the cubit”? What is so strange or significant about these words reflecting the measurement of the land around the city that there is a special cantillation?
There are not too many sources that address the question of the specific Cantillation notes directly, but if one would look back at the previous verse and pay simple attention, the words in our verse, “Alpayim Ba’Amah” should be really strange to us.
The previous Pasuk says [35:4], “U’Migrishei HeArim Asheir Titnu LaLevi’im MiKir HaIr VaChutzah Elef Amah Saviv”-“And the open spaces of the cities that you shall designate for the Levi’im, from the wall of the city and outwards should be one thousand of a cubit [measure] surrounding it.” And yet, our Pasuk [35:5] says “U’Madosem MiChutz LaIr Es Pe’as Keidmah Alpayim Ba’Amah…Zeh Yihiyeh Lahem Migrishei HeArim”-“And you shall measure from outside the city, the eastern edge, two thousand by the cubit…this shall be for them the open spaces of the cities.”
Did you notice the problem? You don’t need to be a mathematician to notice the numerical inconsistency. The previous Pasuk says that there should be Elef, one thousand Amos of open space around each city while our Pasuk says that there should be Alpayim, two thousand Amos of open space around each city.
Why the Torah would want to somehow call this inconsistency to our attention makes a lot of sense. Indeed, looking at the two Pasukim back to back, “Alpayim Ba’Amah” are troubling words. Why is the Torah being inconsistent?
Rashi [to 35:4] already noticed and addressed this inconsistency and suggests, based on the Gemara in Sotah [27B] that first verse which says to measure out one thousand Amos, was referring to the amount of the “Migrisheihem,” their areas of open spaces, while the extra thousand mentioned in the second verse would be used for fields and vineyards.
It’s an answer, but it’s still somewhat strange that at the end of our verse which says “two thousand,” the Torah specifies that “this shall be for them the open spaces [Migrisheihem] of the cities.” That would make it seem like the second set of one thousand Amos is also part of the “their open spaces.” If the outer lands were meant to serve a different purpose than the open spaces, as Rashi suggests, then why would the Torah make it seem like it is all a part of the same group of open space? The Torah should just tell us that the second set of one thousand Amos is meant for fields and vineyards! Why was the Torah ambiguous about the purpose of the thousand extra Amos?
Apparently, the Torah didn’t care as much to mention that the outer lands may be used for fields and vineyards. Yes, that is the function of the extra thousand Amos, however, this extra land is only there to serve purpose that the inner thousand Amos cannot, because the inner thousand Amos must be designated for this “open space” we keep on talking about. Clearly, the main subject that the Torah focuses on is the “open space.” The question is: Why? What’s so special about a Migrash [מגרש], a plot of open space around the city?
So, in order to answer this question, we may have to better understand the role of the open spaces around the city. Why does each city require a Migrash anyway? The Torah says that the Levi’im would be able to use the open space for their cattle, any possessions they had, or really, any other personal necessities they needed it for [35:3]. Rashi [to 35:2], though, based on the Gemara in Arachin [33B], mentions one qualification which we’ve already alluded to: it was forbidden to build houses, plant vineyards or sow any seeds in the open spaces—no building and no agriculture.
The open spaces, Rashi specifies, were meant to remain as uncultivated strips of land around the city to beautify it. The Levi’im could build their houses inside the cities and plant their seeds and vineyards outside the open spaces in the second set of one thousand Amos. The inner thousand Amos though could only be used for the aforementioned purposes.
Now, why does using the open spaces for one’s animals and possessions not take away from the “beauty,” while simply cultivating it does? If the animals defecate in those open spaces, it won’t look very “beautiful.” Yet, if one plants some nice-looking flowers, colorful fruits and trees in those open spaces, then the open spaces will look very “beautiful.” What can be wrong with doing some gardening work in the open spaces?
Perhaps, there is something more to the beauty of the Migrash. The Torah is highlighting, not aesthetic beauty, but a deeper, spiritual beauty. The “open space,” as we might understand it, would seem represent Hashem’s pure, uncultivated, unadulterated, natural work. We don’t build our houses there. We can do that in the city. We don’t engage in agriculture or plant our own gardens there. The Torah indirectly informs us that we have one thousand extra Amos outside the open area for that purpose. The “open spaces” in the inner thousand Amos though, feature only G-d’s untouched work. Yes, we may get benefit out of the open spaces; we can let our animals roam there or allow our keep our possessions there. But we don’t create our own projects in this area. The “open spaces” are merely nature, left as it is.
The “open spaces,” understood in this way, should remind us of Shabbos, our day of rest, and Sh’mitah, the year of Shabbos for the land. In fact, the very first mention of the Migrash LeArim, open space for the city, appears in the passage of Sh’mitah [Vayikra 25:34]. There, the Torah says that these “open spaces” may not be sold in perpetuity, explains R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, because the “open spaces” belong to Hashem.
This idea forms the basis for both Shabbos and Sh’mitah. Both Shabbos and Sh’mitah set limitations on our work and challenge us to reflect on the beautiful work of the Creator. We’re forbidden to build even the holiest building, the Beis Mikdash (Holy Temple), on Shabbos. We’re neither allowed to plow or plant then. Similarly, during Sh’mitah, all of the land in Israel is at agricultural rest and we’re forbidden to cultivate the land. Yes, we need our work to survive, but on the one day of Shabbos, we step back and reflect on Creation. Yes, we need to work our fields to glean produce, but during the year of Sh’mitah, we submit to the Creator. Shabbos and Sh’mitah are symbols of the “open spaces” in time, a time during which we bask in Hashem’s work and not in our own.
The beauty of the “open space” around the cities, similarly, is that it reminds the inhabitants of the cities to appreciate Hashem’s work as it is and to remember Who the true Creator is. These Cities of the Levi’im, in this way, must be model cities for us.
There are always “two thousand Amos” surrounding us on all sides; one thousand of them represent our work, and the other thousand, Hashem’s. The Torah hints to us here that as we do our part and engage in our worldly work, it remains our responsibility to remember which half is really first and foremost. The outer area of land is necessary, but the main focus of Hashem’s servants in their Cities, has to be the work of Hashem, the beautiful “open spaces.”
May we all be Zocheh to engage in our worldly activities with the constant recognition of the greater picture of Hashem’s beautiful work, be partners with Hashem in Creation, and He should accept our partnership, working closely alongside us in His Holy Land once again in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Chazak Chazak V’Nis’chazeik! Have a Great Shabbos Chazak and a Gutten Chodesh!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂