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BeMidbar

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat BeMidbar

2 Sivan 5767

May 19, 2007

Vol.16 No.31

In This Issue:

From the Midst of Israel

by Dr. Joel M. Berman

"Hinei Lakachti Et HaLviim MiToch Bnei Yisrael," "I have taken the Leviim from among Bnei Yisrael" (BeMidbar 3:12).

When the Leviim are selected, the Torah uses the language of MiToch, from among the Children of Israel. There are other similar verses, such as "Take the Leviim from among Bnei Israel and purify them" (8:6) and "They are given over… to Me from among the Children of Israel" (8:16). Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld explains that the Torah is teaching us that the Leviim are not a separate Jewish society, but rather full-fledged and embedded members of the Jewish community.

Rav Yosef Chaim goes on to explain that there is an allusion to this integration in the very word לויים. The letters of Yisrael are י' ש' ר' א' ל', or, writing out the names of these letters in full, יוד שין ריש אלף למד. The middle letters of these words are “ו י י ל מ,” the very letters that make up the word לויים. This alludes to the fact that the Levites truly come “from the middle (midst) of Israel!”

Yaakov Avinu blessed Levi and his descendents that they should be the teachers of Klal Yisrael. The successful teacher is not a simple disseminator of knowledge. Whether the subject is Torah or Chochmah, the successful teacher is embedded within the community. A successful Yeshiva high school teacher can have a far-reaching impact, often extending long after graduation. I taught at two universities before coming to TABC. With a few exceptions, the relationship between a professor and his students is for the most part proper and does not extend much beyond the university. In the Yeshiva world, I find the connection often continues long after graduation. Indeed, Rabbi Jachter and I are trying to find a way to attend the upcoming weddings of two alumni who are getting married on the same date. It is this closeness which sets the Yeshiva teacher apart from those who teach in other institutions and helps make the profession so rewarding.

On Equal Footing

by Dan Atwood

In Parashat BeMidbar, the Torah talks about the encampments of the twelve tribes around the Mishkan. Every tribe is called a "Degel," "Flag", since every tribe had a distinct flag. Each of the four sides (north, south, east and west) had three tribes. Chazal teach that the arrangement of the tribes was the same as that of the sons of Yaakov when they carried his casket to Me'arat HaMachpeilah.

The Kli Yakar offers additional reasons for the specific placement of the Shevatim. First (in the south) were Yehudah, Yissachar and Zevulun, who represented the light of the Torah which guided Bnei Yisrael. On the east were Reuven, Shimon and Gad, who represented having good Middot. On the west were Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin, who represented strength, a trait that weakens with age just as the sun's light weakens as it sets in the west. In the back (north) were Dan, Asheir, and Naftali, who represented material success. Each tribe faced the Mishkan.

The Midrash states that at Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael saw the Malachim (angels) in this type of a formation around Hashem and desired to camp in a similar fashion. Why did they desire this formation? What was so great about it?

The Gemara in Taanit (31a) states that in the future, all the Tzadikim will sit in a circle around Hashem. The Maharal explains that this refers to a dancing circle. In such a circle, everyone is equidistant from each other and everyone moves into each other's spots. Every Jew has a role in Klal Yisrael. Those who fulfill their role with their limited abilities and without being jealous of others' abilities are contributing to the whole of Klal Yisrael. This is why in the circle everyone moves into each other's spots. They are completing the whole.

This is why Bnei Yisrel desired the formation of the angels on Har Sinai. Each angel had its position in the circle around Hashem and there was no jealousy. Each did its job with its own abilities. Bnei Yisrael also wanted to be like this. They all wanted to have equality in the formation around the Mishkan, realizing each tribe's unique abilities and realizing that everything is from Hashem.

This is our challenge also. Sometimes it seems as if someone is given greater knowledge or a better lot in life, while another person is given many hardships. It seems unfair. We must realize that everything is from Hashem and if He made us one way it is for a reason. We must take the cards we've been dealt and make the best of them, whether it is a royal flush or a pair of twos. The comfort is that in the end, in Olam HaBa, we will have all contributed equally to Klal Yisael and be equally close to Hashem.

Flags of Dispute

by Marc Poleyeff

The beginning of Parashat BeMidbar deals with the census of Bnei Yisrael and the formation the Shevatim took in their travels and encampments. The first Pasuk of the Parasha tells us that Hashem spoke to Moshe on the first day of Iyar in the second year after Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim. While discussing where each set of Shevatim would encamp, the Torah states, "Ish Al Diglo" "Each man by his flag" (BeMidbar 2:2). It would seem that before this, each Jew could live wherever he wanted inside the camp. Why did Hashem wait so long to command Bnei Yisrael to arrange the Shevatim by flags?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that the flags introduced "separation" into the camp of Bnei Yisrael. Each Sheivet's flag had a distinct color and represented a special quality or trait that Sheivet possessed which made it distinct from all the other Shevatim. Therefore, before the Mishkan was built, to arrange the camps by flags was dangerous; these separations would have created jealousy and competition among Bnei Yisrael. After the Mishkan was built, however, this worry did not exist. All Bnei Yisrael camped around the Mishkan and each Jew saw what was central to his life. Now, each Sheivet had the Shechinah resting in close proximity to it. Bnei Yisrael learned that their feelings of jealousy were inappropriate. The camps surrounded the Mishkan as one cohesive unit, with each Sheivet serving a different role. Each Sheivet worked with the others to maintain the completeness of the Machanot. Hashem, therefore, instructed Bnei Yisrael about the camps and Degalim only after the Mishkan was built.

Not every Jew takes the same path in his Avodat Hashem. Sometimes, these differences can create strife and enmity and lead to terrible disputes. The way to avoid these destructive arguments is to focus not on the details of differing observance, but rather on the central goal of serving Hashem which all share.

Diversity in Avodat Hashem

by Dani Yaros

In this week's Parasha, Parashat BeMidbar, the Torah tells us that a census of the Jewish people was taken a short while before the Jews were supposed to enter Eretz Yisrael. When describing the nature of the count, the Torah focuses on the word "LeMishpechotam," "According to their families." Rashi comments that this word is written in order to denote a difference between the counting that occurred in this week's Parasha and the first counting in Sefer Shemot. In BeMidbar's census, every Sheivet was counted individually and only afterwards was the overall census of Klal Yisrael reported. In Sefer Shemot, the number of people in all of Klal Yisrael was recorded, and the Torah did not list the breakdown of the numbers in each individual Sheivet. Why were Bnei Yisrael counted as one unit in Sefer Shemot as opposed to the Sheivet by Sheivet approach taken in Parashat BeMidbar?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky answers that before the building of the Mishkan, which occurred between the censuses, Hashem worried that Jews would begin to identify themselves with their Shevatim alone and would not consider all of Bnei Yisrael a collective unit. However, after the building of the Mishkan, it was very clear to Klal Yisrael where their focus must be - at the spiritual center of Judaism, the Mishkan, where all Jews met to worship Hashem together. Therefore, there was no longer any risk that Klal Yisrael would separate into small individual groups. What remains unclear is why it was necessary in the first place to have separate Shevatim in Klal Yisrael. Would it not have been better to have one large group of Jews as opposed to having to deal with separate sections of Jews?

An answer is often given for this question based on an occurrence that is especially prevalent today. Different people often worship Hashem in different ways. There are those who prefer to sing and dance their way through Davening while enjoying an intense Deveikut, or spiritual connection, with Hashem. Conversely, there are those who prefer to have a slightly faster Davening and spend more time learning, delving deeply into the innermost workings of the Torah. So too, there were different Shevatim for different methods of worshipping Hashem. Every Sheivet had its own styles and unique Minhagim that separated it from the other Shevatim. In the early stages of Am Yisrael, the risk of having separate Shevatim was great and the reward was minimal. Under these conditions, Bnei Yisrael had to be counted as one group. However, as time passed and Klal Yisrael became more interconnected, the great reward of having separate Shevatim with separate Minhagim far outweighed the possible risks.

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