Points to Ponder
In Midbar Sinai (1:1) – The Midrash notes that the Torah was given at Sinai in order to show us that the Torah was given with three elements – fire, water and the Midbar. Why is it important to highlight these elements? The Ksav Sofer explains that fire illuminates a path of life for a person and the Torah does as well. Water reminds a person to be humble like water (See Taanis 7a). The Midbar helps a person remember to not seek out extras in life but rely on the Torah. Rav Baruch Simon Shlita pointed out that the thee elements are really one – that in life we often need the fire of Torah to help one who is humble find a straight path in an otherwise unchartered world that seems lost like the desert. Rav Schachter Shlita would often remind us that this is the power of Torah: It helps us think with Seichel – not that the Torah is complex and our thinking is straight but rather that we ae the ones who, with humility will come to understand the Torah.
To Asher Pagiel Ben Awchron (1:13) – What is the source for this seemingly strange name? Rabbeinu Efraim explains that the women of Asher were beautiful. In addition the tribe had more girls than anyone else. When Asher had a disagreement with another tribe, he would encourage Shidduchim with members of that tribe and his daughters to bring the families closer. Hence his tribe’s leader was Pagiel (if you were distressed) ben Uchran (we uproot the muddied waters).
For Gad, Eliyasaf Ben Deuel (1:14) – Sometimes he is referred to as Ben Deuel and sometimes Reuel (2:14). Why is his father’s name changed? Rabbeinu Bachaya notes that the 2 names are the same with the same ideal – to know Hashem (Deuel) and to become a Reiya to Him. The Chida adds that this helps explain another interesting bit of Jewish history. Moshe Rabbeinu is buried in the portion of Gad. Why? Chida explains that Gad could have come with a proper claim that he should be the section leader of his encampment group since after all, he was the Bechor of Zilpa and Dan, who was Bilha’s Bechor was made a section leader. However, since he accepted Ratzon Hashem without challenge, he was rewarded with the title Reuel and Deuel.
The numbers of Dan 62,700 (1:39) – If one follows the numbers one quickly discovers that the Shevet was second in population only to that of Yehuda (See Yirushalmi Eruvin 5:1 and that is why they were last to travel). Rav Yechezkel Levenstein ztl. noted that if we recognize that when they came down to Mitzrayim, Dan only had one child – Chushim. Logic would not have assumed that in such a short time his numbers would have exploded the way that they did. Moreover, Dan’s son was a mute and perhaps not the most likely to succeed in the populating of Bnei Yisrael. Notwithstanding, Hashem stands by the side of those with challenges and helps them succeed.
And surrounding the Mishkan they should camp (1:52) – Rav Yehuda Amital ztl. noted the comments of the Chiddushei HaRim who noted that the stressed sense on a mundane, irrelevant focus like where the people camped in the Midbar is actually quite relevant. Jews may be diverse but when they are anchored around a Mishkan, it reminds them that we surround the same ideal and remain committed to it.
From a month and above (3:15) – Rashi explains that once the Levi is no longer at risk for being a Neifel he is able to preserve the Mikdash. It is interesting to note that while the child is still not yet responsible for his own actions, he is already counted as a Shomer. How is that possible? Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl. explains that when it comes to a person’s life, we cannot be sure that s/he will be able to understand the full severity of his or her actions off the bat because perhaps it might be a fallacy of the Chinuch of the parents as a result of their own intervening responsibilities. Therefore we do not make a child responsible for punishment until 20 – so s/he has time to learn responsibility on their own. However, when a person’s home is a home built on guiding principles – a Levi’s home, we are sure that the child is already going to be exposed to being a Shomer of the principles of life that Hashem expects.
All the calculations of the Leviim were 22,000 (3:39) – The Daas Zekanim explains that in response to the number of the Leviim, Hashem brought a parallel 22,000 Malachim to Matan Torah. Ergo, he knew that the rest of Bnei Yisrael would sin and not be worthy of the Malachim. If that is the case, asks Rav Shteinman Shlita, why would he give Bnei Yisrael 2 crowns – one for Naaeh and another for Nishma if only to take them away upon becoming aware of their sins? He explains that there is a fundamental difference between reward and identification. For a reward, one who does something correctly earns it even if it later has to be taken away. Identification (like having an angel come) is applicable only to those who earn the title in totality. Hashem knew that the title of Tzva Hashem would only apply to Levi who would not sin in Cheit HaEigel and thus came with 22,000 Malachim.
Haftorah: If we normally associate the prophesies of the later Neviim as those of Nechama versus those of forboding doom, which one is this week’s Haftorah? The commentaries suggest that it is both – on the one Hand, Hoshea reminds us that the people living on the land did not keep to the word of Hashem but that Hashem still promises them that Teshuva is possible. Behind it all, is a looming awareness that the land and its fruit (significant as this week is also Chag Habikkurim) are a Divine gift from Hashem that we need to acknowledge.