:: Weekly Commentary by Rav Eyal Raymond z"l ::
“Count the heads of all of the congregation of Israel.” (1:2)
A verse in the Song of Songs (1:6) says, “I was put to take care of the vineyards; my vineyard, I did not take care of.” When we see the “vineyards,” wealth and serenity of the other nations of the world, in contrast with destitution and lowliness of the Jewish nation that is pining away in its troubles and wants, the following question is aroused. Why does Hashem do this to us? It is understandable that we being cleansed and are suffering because of our sins, so that we will then gain mercy from Heaven and merit having our redemption and exodus. However, the nations of the world are no better off than us regarding this point! On the contrary, they wallow in their low levels and even try to drag us down with them to the depths of their lowliness. Why, then, are they enjoying all kinds of good while being saturated in wealth and priding themselves with authority?
Regarding this issue, Rabbi Chadad brings a parable by the author of “Ateret Chaim.”
There was once a wealthy man who was not lacking anything, except for one of the most important things. He was childless, G-d forbid. He consulted doctors and turned to righteous people [for advice] and in his old age, Hashem favored him with a handsome son. However, the only trouble was that many illnesses came upon him in his youth and he was very weak and feeble.
The doctors said, “That is how he is! Because he was born in his parents’ old age, he has a weak nature and every illness clings to him and wears him down for two weeks at a time.”
The father was astounded and requested, “Give me some advice about how to strengthen and fortify him!”
They said, “The only solution is to try and strengthen him by feeding him simple foods like those of poor people, such as bread made with coarse bran flour that will strengthen his intestines. Also, you should dress him in a thin jacket like those of the poorest in the nation so that he will become immune to the weather’s harm!”
The father was shocked, “Will my son’s fortune have to be like that of poor people until the day of his death?”
“No,” the doctors calmed him. “If he will eat and be dressed like poor people, then his body will immunize itself during his youth. When he will become a little bit more mature, all of these limitations can be removed and he will be able to take pleasure in all of the world’s delights!”
The father was calmed and he was instructed to engage in a strict regime with his son. Indeed, the doctors’ advice was effective and his weakness lessened while his body became stronger.
One day, the son returned home from school. His father hugged and kissed him.
The son pulled away from his father’s arms and said, “Father, if you really love me, why are all the children in my class dressed in sweaters and coats? I only have a thin jacket covering my skin while they mock and shame me. Why do all of them bring sandwiches and delicacies while I have to eat a piece of bread made with coarse flour?!”
The father answered him, “My dear son, the treasure of my life, there is no limit to the love I have for you. I am doing this for your benefit and for your health because this is how the doctors instructed me to act with you until you reach the end of your youth. Then you will see how many delicacies I will shower upon you. I will even sew fine garments for you!”
However, these words did not enter the son’s ears. After all, how can a piece of bread made of coarse flour be healthier than meat, fish and other delicacies? Why are candies being withheld from him and why are they giving him delicacies? Which fool would believe that a warm cotton coat that protects a person from the chilling cold can harm the body? Can it be that a thin jacket that allows one to freeze in the cold is what is healthy?
He decided that his father hated him and wanted to oppress him and lower him very much in the eyes of his friends. These terrible thoughts were penetrating and they did not allow him any rest. He became deeply depressed. His face fell, his cheeks drooped, his eyes were extinguished and he became melancholy and felt deep despair.
His father’s heart was mournful and hurt sevenfold, since the doctors warned him that this depression can bring frailness and illness upon him as a result of the body’s weakness.
He consulted with the doctors and they said to him, “You need to do something that will prove your love to him and gladden his spirit. Only such a gesture can release him from his depression!”
He heeded to their advice and he said to his son, “Why should you think that I hate you? It will not occur to you again that I do not love you after I prove my great love for you! Your birthday is in a week. Invite all the boys in your class and I will make an enormous meal in your honor!”
The son’s eyes shone. He asked, “What will you serve at the meal, Father?”
The father said, “You will decide and you will serve it to them!”
The son was extremely happy and worked hard with his father the whole week. He bought the best delicacies and he put butchers and bakers to work. He toiled with the cooks, stirred the pots and spiced the foods. He invited all the boys in his class and they came merrily to his father’s house. Before them, there were set tables filled with every good thing – meats, fish, delicacies and dips. There were plenty of drinks in all different flavors. There were spectacular dishes of gold and crystal. Waiters stood ready to fulfill each person’s wish. At one point, the father took his son’s hand and brought him to a side room. There was a small table there and on it were a flask of water and a piece of bread made of coarse flour…
“What is this?” asked the son.
“This is your meal,” answered the father.
The son’s face became pale and he looked at his father astounded.
His father said to him, “I will explain everything to you, just, answer the following question. In your opinion, who do I love more – you or the unrelated boys in your class?”
“Me,” answered the son.
“Certainly,” said the father. “Now, if I spent this vast sum and generously set up a meal before them that does not lack anything, it is obvious that I would have gladly and willingly allowed you to dine with them. Despite this, for your own good, you must eat this piece of bread made of coarse flour…
“I made this magnificent meal for them only to show you that I am not withholding my money to make you happy. All of this is in order to portray this idea and for you to have a sliver of understanding about the great abundance [of good] that is awaiting you after your youthful years. When you will become strong and healed, you will have all the happiness in the world…”
The comparison is obvious. For our own good we were sent to exile to eat small amounts of bread and strains of water. All of this is only to prepare us for the future redemption and to fortify and strengthen us in a spiritual sense. Then, we will be able to merit having the future redemption and all of the good that comes with it. However, so that our spirit does not fail us and so that we should have a sliver of a notion about the good that will be ours in the future, Hashem made a “meal” for the nations of the world and bestowed “vineyards” upon them that are filled with succulent clusters and with all that is good. Hashem joins us into the preparation of the meal, “I was put to take care of the vineyards,” even though, “my vineyard, I did not take care of.” However, we are assured and confident that when we reach our vineyard, all of the goodness of the world will be like nothing compared to the goodness of the days of the Messiah and the life in the World to Come! (Asbia Lechem)
“Count the heads of all of the congregation of Israel.” (1:2)
“At the time that the Jewish people received the Torah, the nations of the world were jealous of them. Why were they able to come closer [to Hashem] than the other nations? Hashem closed their mouths [eliminated their excuses] and said to them, ‘Bring Me the book of your ancestry, as it says, “Let the families of the nations be brought before Hashem,” just as My children bring it and “They established their genealogy according to their families.”’ For this reason, He counted them at the beginning of this book of the Torah that comes after all of the commandments. [First it says,] ‘These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moses [to give over] to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.’ Afterwards, [it says,] ‘And Hashem said in the desert of Sinai, “Count the heads of all of the congregation of Israel,”’ since they only merited receiving the Torah because of their ancestry.” (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Bamidbar, 684)
Our sages said, “In the future [times of the ultimate redemption], Hashem will bring a Torah scroll and place it on His chest and say, ‘Whoever busied himself with it should come and take his reward.’ Immediately, the nations of the world will come and gather around … and say before Him, ‘Master of the World, wouldn’t we have accepted it if You had placed the mountain over us like a barrel [threatening that it would fall on them] as You did for the Jewish people?’ Hashem will immediately tell them, ‘Let us hear first things first. Did you fulfill the seven Noahide laws that you accepted?’” (Avodah Zarah 2A).
This is similar to a father whose son and step son became ill. The doctor prescribed a bitter remedy that both of them refused to swallow. The father forced his son to swallow the remedy and, indeed, he was cured. However, he did not force his step son to swallow it and, as a result, his illness lasted much longer.
After this, the step son asked the father, “Why didn’t you force me to swallow the remedy as well?”
The father answered him, “Once, I forced you to swallow a good and sweet remedy, which you spit out. Therefore, I did not want to force you to swallow a bitter remedy.”
The nations of the world will claim something similar to this, “Even though we thought that the Torah was bitter, You, however, knew that it was good and sweet. Why, then, did You not force it upon us?”
Hashem will immediately reply to them, “I already gave you the seven Noahide laws once, which you tasted and saw how they were good. Even so, you refrained from fulfilling them. There was no reason, then, to force 613 additional commandments upon you.”
This is the intention the quote from the Yalkut Shimoni [above]. The nations of the world ask why the Jewish people merited having the Torah. After all, they also did not want it and were forced to accept it. If this is the case, the nations of the world also should have been forced.
Hashem replies to them, “‘Bring Me the book of your ancestry.’ Remember how your forefather acted in the past in regards to the seven commandments that they accepted. Compare that against the forefathers of the Jewish people who fulfilled the Torah before it was even given to them. Then you will understand well why I forced them to accept the Torah, but I did not force you … (Shaar Bat Rabim)
The excellence of the Jewish people is not only in the book of their ancestry, but also in something more important. That is, that they make their ancestry into a book from which they learn, contemplate and draw forth spiritual inspiration. This is in order for them to improve, refine and better their characteristics and personality traits and add more fine and exceptional pages to this shining book of ancestry.
The following verse can be brought up about this (Genesis 5:1). “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” meaning, a person’s deeds [or results of his life] and the recording of what happened during his lifetime should be so lofty to the extent that they are worthy of being made into a book for people to study about how they can follow in their footsteps and merit all that is good forever.
We should not find satisfaction only in the book of our forefathers’ ancestry. We must live a lofty life so that more pages will be added to the book of our ancestry. It will be passed down to our children after us and they will contemplate those pages. Even if they will be confronted with hard spiritual challenges, they will refrain from breaking the chain of their ancestry, which the previous generations toiled upon to preserve its form.
Another point that can be mentioned about this issue is what our sages said (Sanhedrin 21B), “Even though one’s fathers may have left him a Torah scroll, he has a commandment to write his own.” This means that a son must write his own continuing chapter in the book of ancestry full of Torah that his fathers left him. (Menachem Tzion)
“Every man at his camp, every man at his division.” (1:52)
“At the time that Hashem revealed Himself at Mount Sinai, twenty two hundred thousand angels descended with Him, as it says, ‘Hashem’s entourage is twice ten thousand, thousands of angels’ (Psalms 68:18). They were creating divisions among them, as it says, ‘Preeminent above ten thousand’ (Song of Songs 5). When the Jewish people saw that they were creating divisions among them, they desired divisions as well and they said, ‘If only we can make divisions as they do.’
Hashem said to them, ‘For what did you desire – to create divisions? I promise you that I will fulfill your request.’ Immediately, Hashem informed this to the Jewish people by telling Moses, ‘Go and make divisions for them as they desired.’” (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3)
What is the explanation of this “desire” of the Jewish people?
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, who was a spiritual advisor in a yeshiva, said that this “desire” is founded and has roots in the depths of the Jewish soul, which is carved out from underneath the Throne of Glory and comes from an elevated source. Therefore, when the Jewish people saw this minor characteristic of the angels, their souls also desired to have this characteristic.
This is the greatness, uniqueness and advantage of a Jewish person’s soul. The following was taught from the verse, “And also the soul will not be filled” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). “This is similar to a villager who married a princess. Even if he would bring her everything in the world, they would not be worth anything to her, since she is the princess. Similarly, if a person would bring every delicacy in the world to the soul, it would not be worth anything to it, since it comes from such a lofty source” (Kohelet Rabbah 6:1). The soul of a person longs to ascend and when it desires this, it merits doing so!
“Hashem said to them, ‘For what did you desire – to create divisions? I promise you that I will fulfill your request.’”
“The stranger that will come close will die.” (1:51)
There is a well known incident in the Talmud (Shabbat 31A) about a person who would only convert on condition that he be appointed as the grand priest. Hillel sent him off to study the required laws and guidelines. The Talmud tells, “When he reached the verse, ‘The stranger that will come close will die,’ he said to him [Hillel], ‘About whom is this verse said?’ He said to him, ‘It is even said about King David.’” Even King David was prohibited from carrying the tabernacle.
This seems to require explanation. What is the novelty about a king regarding this issue over any other Jewish person? After all, if one is not from the tribe of Levi, even if he is a king, he is prohibited from performing the service [of the tabernacle].
Rather, the sages said (Kritot 13B) regarding the oil of appointment that even though a stranger is prohibited from anointing with that oil, a king is permitted and is not considered a “stranger.”
“And these are the offspring of Aaron and Moses.” (3:1)
“It only mentions the children of Aaron. They were called the offspring of Moses because he taught them Torah. This teaches us that anyone who teaches his fellow’s son Torah, the verse considers it as if he gave birth to him.” (Rashi)
One may question the following point. Why did the sages specifically use the children of Aaron to illustrate the principle that “anyone who teaches his fellow’s son Torah, it as if he gave birth to him?”
In order to comprehend this, we will precede the answer by an additional question. Why did the Torah specifically choose this reward of “as if he gave birth to him” for one who teaches his fellow’s son Torah?
Rather, the Torah’s intent was as follows. If his teacher makes him into a Torah scholar, it is a merit for the teacher. In this way, his student gives him merits, just as a son gives merits to his father through the commandments that he fulfills.
Indeed, all of this is applicable to a regular person. Moses, however, was the wisest and greatest man of the generation. He did not have any need for the commandments of others. If this is the case, there would be room to say that, regarding him, there is no need of the reward of “as if he gave birth to him.”
Therefore, the Torah mentioned this matter specifically regarding the sons of Aaron, who were greater than Moses and Aaron. Regarding the verse (Numbers 10:3), “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what Hashem spoke [intended] by saying, “I will be sanctified by those who are close Me,”’” Rashi explains, “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Aaron, my brother, I knew that the tabernacle would be sanctified through people who are close to Hashem. I thought it would be through me or through you. Now I see that they [Aaron’s sons] are greater that me and you.’” When Moses taught Torah to them, it was a merit for him and it was as if he had given birth to them.
There is an incident told about an elderly couple who came from Iraq and lived in Jerusalem. Because of their old age, they wanted their son to go out and work to support them. However, the son greatly desired to study the holy Torah. He came before Rabbi Ezra Atya and poured his heart out to him. Rabbi Ezra Atya told the directors of the yeshiva, “Accept him to come and study here. A portion of my salary should be taken off for the support of his family.”
Regarding this example, our sages said, “Anyone who teaches his fellow’s son Torah, the verse considers it as if he gave birth to him.”
“And Nadav and Avihu died when they offered a foreign fire before Hashem … and they did not have any children.” (3:4)
“If there were 21,999 Jewish people, and a man did not engage in procreation, can it be that he caused the Divine Presence to depart from the Jewish people [since it is necessary for there to be 22,000 Jewish people for the Divine Presence to rest upon them]?! Aba Chanan said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, ‘He (one who does not engage in procreation) is deserving of death, as it says, "They (Nadav and Avihu) did not have children" - had they had children, they would not have died.’” (Yevamot 64A)
From these words of the sages we learn that the sons of Aaron died because they did not get married and, as a result, they did not have children.
The Ktav Sofer explains their reasoning. They did not want to take on the heavy yoke of supporting a wife and children. They thought that this would cause them to detract from their service of Hashem since they would need to support them. Also, when they saw that the children of Moses were not proper servants of Hashem, they thought that this stemmed from the fact that Moses was the greatest man of the generation and was occupied with matters of the people. As a result, he did not have time to educate his sons. Therefore, they preferred not to have wives and raise children.
The truth is that this logic of theirs was flawed. It is prohibited for a man to delve into Heavenly decisions [about the future outcomes of his deeds]. He must do what he is supposed to do and Hashem will do what He finds is proper. This is similar to what Isaiah the prophet told King Hezekiah, who did not get married. This is because he saw by Divine Inspiration that wicked offspring would come out of him in the future. [Isaiah told him,] “What is your concern with Hashem's secrets? You should do what He commanded and Hashem will do what He wants!” (Berachot 10A). For a reason similar to this one, the sons of Aaron were punished.
This issue is hinted to in the verse. “And Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem” – Nadav and Avihu were very close to Hashem and His service, to the extent that they were actually before Him. However, they sinned “when they offered a foreign fire,” which means to say that it was a fire that was burning for the service of Hashem, only that it was foreign to His service, even though they intended it to be for the sake of Heaven. And what was their intention? “And they did not have any children.” They tried to make the calculations of Heaven and, as a result, they did not engage in the commandment of procreation. For this, they were punished.
Another reason for the connection between Nadav and Avihu’s death and the fact that they did not have children, as the sages explained was one of their sins, is that they said about Moses and Aaron, “When will these two elders die and then we will lead the Jewish nation?” Only a person who does not have children is able to speak this way about his father and his teacher because he does not know how he would have liked for his children to respect him. However, a person who has children and anticipates that they will respect him also knows how to respect others.
If Nadav and Avihu had children, they would not have disgraced Moses and Aaron and it would be possible for their deaths to have been prevented. Therefore, the Torah specifically revealed to us here that “they did not have children.”
“Count the Levites according to the house of their fathers… All the males from six months and up were twenty two thousand.” (3:15-39)
Nachmanides asked, if the Levites were not enslaved in Egypt and if they did not die when the others committed the sin of the golden calf, then how is it that their population was the lowest of all the other tribes?
He answered that the verse says (Exodus 1:12), “As much as they [Egyptians] would oppress them [Jewish people], that is how much they would increase and multiply.” This means to say that this blessing that caused them to multiply in an unnatural way was only said about those who were enslaved in Egypt. However, the Levites were not enslaved, so they had normal births. As a result, they were the fewest of all of the tribes.