פרשת במדבר ושבועות
Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition
לעילוי נשמת רבקה בת שמאי
Ideas and insights from the forthcoming sefer Shmirah Ba’Shavuah. To sponsor a weekly parsha sheet or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities for the sefer, please contact David Linn at email@example.com
הקדמה לספר במדבר
Introduction to Sefer Bamidbar
תובנה לפרשת במדבר
Insight to Parshas Bamidbar
Introduction- Everyone counts.
The gemara in Sotah (36b) refers to Sefer Bamidbar as חוֹמֶשׁ הַפְּקוּדִים the Book of Counting. This is how Chazal commonly refer to Sefer Bamidbar, and this is the reason why Sefer Bamidbar is called “Numbers” in english. While it is true that two major censuses of the Jewish people appear in Sefer Bamidbar, there are many more incidents in the Sefer that do not relate to the counting of the members of the Jewish nation. So, why the emphasis on counting? Why is פְּקוּדִים the underlying theme of the entire Sefer? Let’s explore.
We find within Sefer Bamidbar some of the Torah’s most prominent incidents of improper speech. We have Miriam’s improper speech about Moshe and her subsequent punishment with tzaras. We have the incident of the meraglim– the spies who spoke negatively about the land of Israel– resulting in the dying off of an entire generation before entering the land and planting the seeds of future golus from the land. We also have Korach’s attempts to rile up the Jewish people to overthrow Moshe’s leadership. These are in addition to several other speech related incidents including Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and, lehavdil, Bilaam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael.
While each of these three major speech related incidents have individual aspects and lessons, they all share a common denominator: comparison. Let’s take a look at each of these incidents to see how they are each rooted in comparison.
Aaron and Miriam said: הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה הֲלֹ֖א גַּם־בָּ֣נוּ דִבֵּ֑ר Did Hashem only speak to Moshe?! He also speaks to us. Aaron and Miriam were discussing how Moshe had separated from his wife because he wanted to be in a state of purity when Hashem would speak to him. This –separating from their spouses– was something that Miriam and Aaron did not do. Aaron and Miriam were prophets as well and, in their minds, there could be no reason for Moshe to act differently than they did. Eventually, Hashem explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moshe is not like any other prophet– Hashem speaks to him without a moment’s notice and face to face. While we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet that ever lived, the lesson here isn’t about lauding Moshe, it is about teaching Miriam and Aaron that they should not compare themselves to him.
The meraglim made two significant comparison-related mistakes. Chazal tell us that the meraglim compared Eretz Yisrael to all other ordinary lands, failing to see its uniqueness as the land chosen by Hasem and that which had been promised to Bnei Yisrael. The meraglim also compared Bnei Yisrael to the inhabitants of the land, even presuming how they appeared — like grasshoppers– in comparison to those inhabitants.
Finally, Korach compared himself and his family to Moshe and his family, complaining that everyone was equal. כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה The entire congregation is holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you raise yourself above the rest of Hashem’s assembly?
When we start comparing ourselves to others, two things happen: We don’t value our own uniqueness and we bring others down so that we feel better about ourselves.
Let’s turn back to our question: why is the entire sefer called Sefer Pekudim, even though only a small portion of it relates to the censuses? Perhaps we can find an answer in the challenges presented by these three speech related episodes.
The Ramban provides us a great deal of insight into exactly what pakad, the root of the word pekudim, means. ענין פקידה זכרון והשגחה על דבר The essence of pekida is remembrance and personal divine attention to the matter. כלשון וה’ פקד את שרה, for example Hashem paked es Sarah, Hashem remembered and turned His attention to Sarah.
The Ramban further points out that in the census that is taken in the beginning of the Sefer, the individuals were counted תולדותם למשפחותם לבית אבותם as members of a generation, a family, and their father’s family. HaRav Gedalia Schorr understands the Ramban as telling us that every single individual that was brought before Moshe and Aharon has a special life mission, a tafkid (also from the root of pakad) in relation to his role in the Jewish Nation, a tafkid within his family, and a tafkid within his tribe. No part of the nation would be whole without each individual.
The Ramban goes on to highlight three more important aspects of pekida. מרוב חבתם מונה אותם כל שעה ועוד כי הבא לפני אב הנביאים ואחיו קדוש ה’ והוא נודע אליהם בשמו יהיה לו בדבר הזה זכות וחיים כי בא בסוד העם ובכתב בני ישראל וזכות הרבים במספרם וכן לכולם זכות במספר שימנו לפני משה ואהרן כי ישימו עליהם עינם לטובה יבקשו עליהם רחמים ה’ אלהי אבותיכם
1. Due to His abundant love (for the Bnei Yisrael) He counts them from time to time.
2. Furthermore, when (each person) would come before the father of all prophets (Moshe) and his brother (Aaron), the one who is holy to Hashem, and he knew them by name, there will be a merit and life, because he has come in the council of the people and onto the list of the Bnei Yisrael, and he receives a part in the merit of the community by being included in their numbers.
3. Similarly, each of the people receive a special merit through being counted individually by Moshe and Aaron, for they will set their eyes upon them for good and ask for mercy for them from the G-d of their fathers.
Let’s recap this deeper understanding of pakad so that we can understand, for ourselves, how we should look at each person in Klal Yisrael.
1. Pakad has an aspect of love, Hashem counts us, individually because He loves and treasures us;
2. Pakad includes an aspect of calling to mind merits, like Hashem did for Sarah, and a level of individual divine providence;
3. Pakad includes an understanding that every single individual is unique and plays an irreplaceable, G-d given role within his generation, his family and his ancestry;
4. Pakad has a nature of joining each individual to the community and thereby providing them with the merit of the community and the community with their respective merits; and
5. Pakad includes an aspect of understanding the importance of each individual, by name, and asking Hashem to have rachamim on them.
In sum, when we are involved in pekudim we show interest and value for each individual, we understand that we need them and that they play a unique role, we appreciate them, we get to know them thereby draw divine remembrance, hashgacha and mercy.
The essence of individuality and the important and unique role that each person plays in Hashem’s world is the direct opposite of comparison. Comparison is rooted in finding negative differences while pakad is rooted in finding and appreciating unique positive differences. When we shift from comparison to pekida, we would never think to degrade others with our speech. Instead, just as Moshe and Aaron saw the beauty of each individual and asked Hashem to have mercy on them, we will do the same. Imagine flipping potentially damaging speech to speech that praises others and asks Hashem to shower rachamim upon them.
The Midrash relates an additional fascinating aspect about pakad וכשבאו משה ואהרן אצל זקני ישראל ועשו האותות לעיניהם, הלכו אצל סרח בת אשר. אמרו לה, בא אדם אחד אצלנו ועשה אותות לעינינו כך וכך, אמרה להם, אין באותות האלו ממש. אמרו לה, והרי אמר פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם. אמרה להם, הוא האיש העתיד לגאול את ישראל ממצרים, שכן שמעתי מאבא פ”ה ופ”ה פקוד יפקוד, מיד האמינו העם באלהיהם ובשלוחו. When Moshe and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed the signs before their eyes, they (the elders) went to Serach bas Asher (who was the oldest living member of Bnei Yisrael) and they said to her: A certain man has come and performed signs in our sight, like this and this (explaining the signs). She said to them: There is nothing of true essence in signs. They said to her: He said “Pakod yiphkod Elokim eschem- G-d will surely visit you”. She said to them: This is the man who will bring Israel out of Egypt, for this is what I heard from my father “peh u’peh, Pakod Pakadeti” (this was the siman of a true redeemer that had been transmitted from Avraham to Yitzchak to Yaakov to the Shvatim, and from Asher to Serach). Immediately the people believed in G-d and His messenger (Moshe)…
This Midrash shows that geulah is somehow rooted in pakad. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that Loshon Hara is the primary aveira that has prolonged our current golus. Perhaps we can say that the way out of golus is by focusing on pakad, appreciating and loving every Jew, getting to know them, davening for them and growing alongside them. When we do so, we will stop making comparisons, stop speaking loshon hara ,and merit geulah, it should be speedily and in our days.
מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת יַֽחֲנ֑וּ עַ֛ל יֶ֥רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן תֵּימָֽנָה
The families of the sons of Kehas shall camp to the south.
Rashi comments: וסמוכין להם דגל ראובן החונים תימנה, אוי לרשע ואוי לשכנו לכך לקו מהם דתן ואבירם ומאתים וחמשים איש עם קרח ועדתו, שנמשכו עמהם במחלוקתם Near them was the division of Reuven, who camped to the south. Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor! This explains why Daasan, Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men were struck with Korach and his congregation, because (since they were neighbors) they were drawn into their machlokes.
The Chofetz Chaim tells us אָסוּר לָדוּר בִּשְׁכוּנַת בַּעֲלֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לֵישֵׁב עִמָּהֶם וְלִשְׁמֹעַ דִּבְרֵיהֶם It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of consistent speakers of loshon hara, and all the more so to sit with them and listen to their words. In a hagaah on this halacha, the Chofetz Chaim says: ומזה נוכל ללמד, דכל שכן שיש לזהר מאד, שלא לקבע לו מקום בבית הכנסת ובבית המדרש אצל בעלי הלשון
And from here we can learn, all the more so, that one must be extremely careful not to establish for himself a physical place within a Beis HaKeneses or Beis Hamidrash near baalei loshon Hara. The Chofetz Chaim elaborates upon the insidious nature of sitting among these types of sinners in a shul or where one learns. Not only does one place himself at jeopardy of listening to, approving of, believing, and participating in loshon hara, but he also will: miss responding Amen and Yehei shemei rabbah in davening, lose out on a great deal of learning, and even the learning that he does accomplish will be fragmented.
Many meforshim ask why this Rashi, explaining the danger of associating with sinners, is brought here in regard to the physical location of the family of Kehas. The Sifsei Chachamim explains: מקשים העולם ל”ל לרש”י לכל פי’ זה כאן ויש לומר דק”ל למה לא כתיב משפחת בני הקהתי כמו דכתיב בתר הכי למשפחת הקהתי. ולעיל נמי כתיב אלה הם משפחות הקהתי, ומפרש וסמוכים להם דגל ראובן וכו’ שחטאו והחטיאו את הרבים ואינן ראויים לכתוב השם בשמם דהיינו ה”א בראש התיבה והיו”ד בסוף התיבה: Everyone asks the question: Why does Rashi bring this explanation here? It can be said that he is answering this question: Why did the Torah not write (in this verse) “the families of the children of הקהתי (the Kehosites)” as it writes in the next verse — “of the families of the Kehosites,” and above (two verses earlier) — “these are the families of the Kehosites”? (Rashi is answering this question: If previously and subsequently we used the word הקהתי, why only in this verse does the Torah use the words בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת the sons of Kehas). This was because (the verse is teaching:) “Near them was the banner of Reuven…” They (Korach and his followers who were from Kehas) sinned and they caused others (their neighbors) to sin. Therefore, it was improper to write the Name (of Hashem) — with the (letter) hei at the beginning and the (letter) yud at the end together with their name. (The letters yud and hei comprise one of Hashem’s names, therefore הקהתי is a combination of Hashem’s name with Kehas’ name).
This Sifsei Chachamim is enlightening. Someone who lives alongside sinners, and particularly baalei machlokes does not merit to have Hashem’s name attached to them. The gemara in Arakhin (15b) says something similar regarding those who speak loshon hara. המספר לשון הרע אמר הקב”ה אין אני והוא יכולין לדור בעולם One who speaks loshon Hara, Hashem says: He and I cannot exist in the same world.
THE TAKEAWAY: Simply being in close proximity to those who habitually sin has a negative impact on us. It is forbidden to live in a community of baalei loshon hara and it is forbidden to remain in a group that is speaking loshon hara. Hashem distances himself from those who choose to speak improperly or associate with those who do.
THIS WEEK: Think about the communities in which you live. Baruch Hashem, we do not usually find entire communities comprised of baalei loshon hara. But we also need to think about the sub-communities in which we live and work. Sometimes those are actual communities and sometimes they are virtual. Ask yourself: are the people that I choose to spend time with generally careful about their conversations? If not, are these the type of people that I can have an influence upon for the good? If so, determine how you can begin influencing them and ask for Rabbinical guidance on how to do so. If not, determine how you can reduce the time spent with that community and/or gracefully remove yourself from it.
We are all familiar with the mishnah in Peah: אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם These are the things that a man eats from their fruits in this world and the principal remains for him in the next world: Honoring parents, performing acts of chesed, making peace between two people, and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.
The Yerushalmi (Peah 5a) elucidates the mishnah by adding: וּכְנֶגְדָּן אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים שֶׁהֵן נִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַייֶמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְאֵילּוּ הֵן עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה וְגִילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. וְלָשׁוֹן הָרַע כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן. In regard to four things is someone punished in this world while the principle of the punishment remains in the next world, and these are them: idol worship, illicit relations, and murder, and loshon hara is equivalent to them all.
There is a clear contrary parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara. One brings life, bounty and reward while the other causes destruction, scarcity and punishment. Since Talmud Torah is dependent on speech, loshon hara has a particularly damaging effect on it.
The Vilna Gaon in the Iggeres HaGra says: שכל מצותיו ותורותיו של אדם אינו מספיק למה שמוציא מפיו All of the mitzvos and Torah of a person are not equal to that which comes out of his mouth. This teaches that if someone is constantly speaking loshon hara, he is defiling his mouth and his deeds to the extent that they no longer bear fruits. This is particularly the case when it comes to loshon hara and Talmud Torah. The Gra in Shenos Eliyahu comments on the above Yerushalmi that there is a direct correlation between the four mitzvos mentioned in the mishnah and the four aveiros mentioned in the gemara. This correlation is set in the order of the listings of the respective mitzvos and aveiros, and that brings a parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara.
The Chofetz Chaim elaborates on this in the Shaar HaZechirah of his sefer Shmiras Haloshon: עַתָּה נְבָאֵר אֶת עֹצֶם הַזְּכוּת, לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹמֵר אֶת פִּיו וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִלְּדַבֵּר דִּבּוּרִים אֲסוּרִים. תְּחִלַּת כָּל הַמַּעֲלוֹת, הוּא מְתַקֵן וּמְקַדֵּשׁ עַל יְדֵי זֶה אֶת כְּלִי הָאֻמָּנוּת הַמְיֻחָד לָאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, שֶׁהוּא הַדִּבּוּר, וְכָל הַדִּבּוּרִים שֶׁיְּדַבֵּר אַחַר כָּךְ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַתְּפִלָּה, יַעֲלֶה לִמְקוֹר שָׁרְשׁוֹ לְמַעְלָה. Now, we shall explain the greatness of the merit of one who guards his mouth and his tongue from speaking forbidden things. First, he amends and sanctifies through this the unique “tool” of a Jew, which is speech. And all of the words that he speaks after that, in Torah and in tefilla ascend to the source of its root on high.
The Chofetz Chaim continues to explain that the the level of kedusha of our Torah learning is dependent on two things:
1. לְפִי הַהֲכָנָה שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אִם הֵכִין אֶת עַצְמוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא בְּכָל כֹּחוֹתָיו לְקַיֵּם כְּפִי הַתּוֹרָה בְּכָל חֲלָקָיו וּפְרָטָיו שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לָזֶה. In accordance with the preparation that he exerts at this time– (meaning to determine) whether at that moment he exerts his full effort to fulfill the Torah in all of its details.
2. לְפִי כְּלֵי הָאֻמָּנוּת שֶׁעָשָׂה בָּהֶם הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֵם כְּלֵי הַדִּבּוּר, שֶׁאִם הֵם יָפִים וּמְהֻדָּרִים, שֶׁמִּשְׁתַּמְשִׁים בָּהֶם תָּמִיד לְטוֹב, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נִתְחַזֵּק כֹּחַ קְדֻשָּׁתָם In accordance with the tool that he uses for Torah, and that is the vessel of speech– whether it is beautiful and extraordinary, that he always uses it for the good, because through that he strengthens the kedusha…
If someone has the first element, but not the second, his learning will be diminished or dissolved. The Chofetz Chaim says:
אִם פּוֹגֵם וּמְטַמֵּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶת כֹּחַ הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁלּוֹ, עַל יְדֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וּרְכִילוּת וְלֵיצָנוּת וְשֶׁקֶר וְכַדּוֹמֶה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְדַבֵּר בְּפִיו דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה, אֵיזֶה כֹּחַ יֵשׁ בָּהֶן לְהַמְשִׁיךְ עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְהַתְּפִלָּה הַהִיא קְדֻשָּׁה עֶלְיוֹנָה, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁכְּלֵי הַמִּבְטָא שֶׁלּוֹ הֵם פְּגוּמִים וּטְמֵאִים בְּעַצְמָם מִכְּבָר If he, G-d forbid, makes his speech spoiled and impure through loshon hara, rechilus, levity, falsity, and similar things, and he does not do teshuva, and then speaks with his mouth words of Torah and prayer, what power will they have to draw sanctity to them after his “tools of speech” have been rendered defective and unclean?!
On Shavous, we all turn our thoughts to how we can increase our Torah learning, over Yom Tov and throughout the year. At the same time, let’s avail ourselves of the tool that will play a role in adding kedusha and siyata dishmaya to our learning. Think about how you can incorporate the learning of the halachos of shmiras haloshon into your daily schedule. May all of our learning emanate from pure tools of speech and rise to the highest of heights and may we be zocheh to eat from their fruits in this world and enjoy their full rewards in the next world. Good Yom Tov.