תשע”ט פ’ במדבר
Volume 29, Issue 1
INSIGHTS from the SEDRA
Insights from the Sedra is a project of the Scholar’s Kollel of Great Neck. It aims to provide several questions and answers about the Sedra, culled from various commentaries, including the following: Baal Haturim, Darash Moshe, Vedebarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, Torah Treasures by Dov Furer, Wellsprings of Torah by Alexander Friedman, and Kol Dodi by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Great Torah Lights by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman, Something To Say by Dov Wasserman, The Vilna Gaon, Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin and The Call of the Torah.
The Sefer of Bamidbar recounts Bnei Yisrael’s adventures in the wilderness from their second year of exodus from Egypt until the fortieth year. This Sefer is referred to by our Sages as “Chumash HaPekudim”, since from the beginning up until the close of the book, a comprehensive census of the Tribes was taken by Moshe Rabeinu.
When Hashem wanted to reveal the laws of the Torah, he chose to do so to a newly formed nation, Bnei Yisrael. He did so in the desert, a site devoid of homes and luxuries; a place where people would not want to stay. It was a place where they would be willing to accept Hashem’s guidance and live according to the Torah, without having to alter their ways. Just as the desert cannot be changed by outside influences, so too, the Torah scholar, who is considered a midbar, should retain the spirit of the Torah without becoming corrupt by outside influences.
The desert symbolizes humility. It is nothing but layers of sand, transformed into a holy site by the Shechina. So too, man becomes great if he allows his spiritual spark to rule his being. The reading of Parshat Bamidbar before Shavuot alludes to the fact that he who observes the Torah can change the face of the wilderness from a barren desert to a Garden of Eden. (Torah Gems)
וידבר ה’ אל משה במדבר סיני
“Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai…” (1:1)
The Midrash Rabbah comments, “For anyone who does not make himself as an open desert is not able to acquire wisdom and the Torah”. The Eitz Yosef explains that the only way to acquire the Torah is for one to make himself hefker, humble, as if he is not there. One must be moser nefesh for Torah and be willing to learn with and teach to anyone. One who is haughty can never truly acquire Torah. (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah)
שאו את ראש
“Take a census…” (1:2)
The words שאו את ראש can have two additional meanings: to take up (raise) someone’s head in honor or to take off (remove) someone’s head in punishment. The same words, but with these two vastly different meanings were used by Yosef in interpreting the dreams of the wine steward and baker while they were in Pharaoh’s dungeon in ancient Egypt. The wine steward’s head was to be raised in honor (Breishit 40:13), whereas the baker’s head was to be severed (Breishit (40:19).
Here, these words warn Moshe that the census has its dangers and for that reason the tribe of Levi is not to be numbered with the others. Hashem foresaw that the people’s sin at the incident of the spies would keep the entire generation from entering their land, but the tribe of Levi preserved its honor and was to be excluded from this fate. It was therefore to be counted separately from the others. For some, the census was an honor; for others, a disgrace. (Torah Treasures)
“Take a census of the descendants of Kehat among the Levites…All who enter service to work in the Ohel Moed…” (4:2-3)
The parsha lists the various families of the tribe of Levi, and their work assignments. One notices that in conjunction with the family of Kehat, when mentioning “work” the word melacha is used, whereas in connection with the families of Gershon (v. 25) and Merari (v. 29) the word avodah is used. Why is this so?
The prohibited activities of Shabbat are called melachot. The duty of the members of the family of Kehat was to carry their load on their shoulders in a public domain, which is one of the melachot of Shabbat. Thus, the word melacha is appropriate to describe their work. The families of Gershon and Merari had animals carry their assigned workload. According to the Torah, one may lead an animal that has a load on it. Therefore, the word melacha is not used, but is replaced by the word avodah. (Meshech Chochmah)
“These are the countings of the Kohanite families…the countings of the sons of Gershon according to their families…” (4:2, 37-38)
The “counting” of the sons of Kehat is listed before that of the sons of Gershon. As Gershon was the bechor, shouldn’t his family have rightfully been listed first?
Perhaps there was another consideration, far more significant: While Gershon’s family was honored with the carrying of the components of the Ohel Moed, Kehat’s was assigned to carry the Ark, which is the Holy of Holies.
Certainly, there are capabilities one gets through inheritance. And, there are others which arise through one’s own effort, through one’s striving to mold himself after the “ideal.” The latter can be likened to ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים – I shall carry you upon the wings of eagles. Whose capabilities are greatest? It is those of the one who seeks to unite with that which is most lofty, meaning one who strives for the highest level of heavenly service. When he does so, his very effort will lift him. In a sense, it will even carry him. נשא ארון את נושאיו – The Aron carried those who carried it. Perhaps this is why the Torah lists the sons of Kehat first. (R’ Nisson Alpert)