In This Issue:
Rabbi Joel Grossman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parashat Naso contains the famous Birkat Kohanim with which the Kohanim bless Bnei Yisrael. Curiously, although this Berachah was recited in the Beit HaMikdash and in the Beit HaKeneset for the entire congregation, it is phrased in the singular rather than plural. Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, in his book Something to Say, explains that it is not always possible or prudent to extend the same blessing to everyone uniformly. For the farmer, rain today may be a blessing, but for the travelers or someone who had plans for outdoor activity it would be an annoyance. Only Hashem knows precisely what blessing is appropriate for each person. He therefore instructed the Kohanim to bless the people in the singular such that each individual should receive the form of blessing that is most appropriate for him.
A similar idea is expressed in the Torah reading of the first day of Shavuot, which contains the Aseret HaDibrot. The Tenth Commandment is "Lo Tachmod Eishet Rei'echa," "Don't desire your friend's wife" (Shemot 20:14). How can Hashem give this command? Can one really control what he thinks about? The Ibn Ezra answers this question based on a parable. He compares it to a peasant who saw the princess when she passed through his village. The peasant didn't desire her since he knew that she was out of his league and totally off-limits to him. We should feel that way whenever we see something which belongs to someone else. We must realize that Hashem is correct in His decision to give this item to the person. Therefore, we should be able to control our jealousy.
Someone once came to the Chafeitz Chaim with a complaint about a problem he was having in his personal life. The Chafietz Chaim explained to him that LeAtid LaVo, in the future, Hashem is going to put a bag on a table in front of people with a list of problems on the outside of each bag. Each person, given the option, will choose his own bag of problems. Just like Hashem is just regarding punishment, so too He is correct about blessing. Therefore, the Kohanim bless each person in the singular form to receive what will be a blessing to him.
May the blessing of peace mentioned in Birkat Kohanim be fulfilled for each of us on both an individual level and collectively. As the Mishnah in Masechet Uktzin teaches, there is no greater blessing than peace. Im Yirtzeh Hashem, this will come speedily both in Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz.
The end of Parashat Naso discusses the Korbanot which the Nesiim brought during the inauguration of the Mishkan. One puzzling aspect of this section is the fact that the Korbanot of each Nasi are exactly the same. If the Korabnot are, in fact, all the same, why did the Torah need to repeat the items brought by each Nasi?
An answer can be found in the Peirush of Rashi to Netaneil ben Tzuar's Korban which was brought on the second day. Rashi quotes Rav Moshe HaDarshan, who explains the symbolism behind every item that was brought by Netaneil ben Tzuar.
The Chiddushei HaRim wonders why all of these illusions are stated in regard to the second Nasi. Surely Nachson ben Aminadav, the first Nasi, also had these allusions in mind, since his Korban was exactly the same as Netanel ben Tzuar's! However, that is precisely the reason why these allusions were stated specifically regarding Netaneil ben Tzuar's Korban. Rav Moshe HaDarshan and Rashi are teaching us that although each Nasi brought the same Korban, each had a unique idea behind every aspect of his respective Korban. The Torah repeats the same Korban for each and every Nasi because, in reality, each one was bringing a different Korban.
Everyone was able to bring his own exclusive touch to the Chanukat HaMishkan, with each Nasi actually expressing his personal devotion to Hashem in his own way. Similarly, despite the seeming homogeneity of certain aspects of Avodat Hashem, each of us is able to bring something special to the table in his own way. For further discussion of this question see Rav Yosef Pri'el's essay available at Bar Ilan University's website.
Why do Ashkenazim read Megillat Rut on Shavuot? There are many different answers to this question, varying from the simple connection of Rut accepting the Torah to a Gematria to the lineage of King David. In fact, these different reasons may also be connected to each other.
Shavuot may be simply summarized as the day on which Hashem gave us the Torah. Rut originally did not need to follow the Mitzvot of the Torah, since she was not Jewish. In accordance with our tradition of dissuading converts, her mother-in-law, Naomi, repeatedly told Rut to go back to her nation and not to convert. Rut was young and beautiful and could find a husband among her people. When her sister decided to leave, she easily could have followed her and returned to Moav. But Rut insisted that she was going to stay with her mother-in-law. Rut ignored her own needs and did a great Chesed, taking care of Naomi instead of herself. She accepted the Torah by free choice and with love. Therefore, Rut exemplifies the meaning of Shavuot.
Chein computes a Gematria (numerical equivalence) connecting Rut with Torah. The name Rut is 606: Reish (200) + Vav (6) + Tav (400). How does 606 reflect learning the Torah? Rut kept the 7 Mitzvot Bnei Noach even before converting. When that 7 is added to 606, it becomes 613 - the number of Mitzvot in the Torah! The Bechor Shor points out that we read Megillat Rut on Shavuot to remember that David was born and died on Shavuot. Shemuel (prophetically) wrote Megillat Rut to commemorate the departure of King David from this world and to show the lineage of King David. Rut merited being an ancestor to King David because of her amazing acts of kindness to Naomi.
Rut led a difficult life. Yalkut Shimoni explains that we read Megillat Rut on Shavuot in order to teach us that man receives the Torah only through suffering and affliction.
As we listen to Rut being read on Shavuot, we should think of all the different reasons for the story and their connection to each other. If we read it in depth, we will gain extra insight into the true meaning of Chesed and the rewards one receives for following the Torah.
This year on Shavuot, as on every Shavuot, Ashkenazic Jews read Megillat Rut. The Megillah contains the story of a woman who accepted the Torah and converted from being a Moavi to a member of Klal Yisrael. This is symbolic of our own conversion from slaves to Hashem's nation when we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, on the date which we now celebrate as Shavuot.
If we look more deeply into the Megillah, it seems to have a very weak connection to Shavuot. The story of Rut's conversion is a lesser theme of the Megillah. In fact, when exactly Rut's conversion occurred is a matter of dispute between the Zohar and the Gemara! This demonstrates that the conversion has a less than pivotal role in the story. The majority of the Megillah, rather, revolves around Rut and Naomi's emotional and economic journey from poverty to prosperity. Rut's interaction and subsequent marriage to Boaz lifts both Rut and Naomi from the poor class and allows them to gain societal status. So why is it that we read Megillat Rut on Shavuot? Surely there are other, more dramatic, episodes of converts' conversions throughout Judaic liturgy!
We can also question the very nature of Shavuot as we celebrate it. Why does Shavuot merit "Aliyah LeRegel," the pilgrimage of Jews in Eretz Yisrael to the Beit HaMikdash? It makes sense to make such a pilgrimage on Pesach, for it is the holiday on which we express our relationship to our Redeemer. Sukkot is also a logical time to visit the Beit HaMikdash, for it is the holiday on which we recognize the role of HaKadosh Baruch Hu as our Protector and Sustainer. But Shavuot is simply an anniversary (albeit a crucial one) of the receiving of Torah. There are other anniversaries that we commemorate (such as Chanukah and Purim) but which are not Regalim. What is special about Shavuot that it deserves to be elevated to the status of Regel?
The difference between Shavuot and other significant events in Jewish history is the impact it had on the future of all Jews. Chanukah, while crucial in allowing Judaism to exist today, does not have a daily impact on our lives. Purim, as well, does not manifest itself within our day-to-day actions. But the Torah we received on Shavuot is the very essence of our existence. All of our actions are dictated by this one crucial event. The Sinai experience transformed us into a nation with a unique bond to our Creator, thereby changing us forever.
It is this transition that is seen in Megillat Rut. Rut was a poor widow with little prospect of rising from her poverty. Yet her embrace of Torah and its values gave her a new lease on life. She was able to redefine her existence and mother the Davidic dynasty. Our encounter with Hashem, similar to Rut's encounter with Hashem, has had very similar ramifications including a complete change in the way we live our lives. Thus, Rut's story perfectly mirrors our receiving the Torah and is a fitting installment in our Shavuot Tefillah.
One of the highlights of Parashat Naso is the presentation of Birkat Kohanim (BeMidbar 6:24-26), the Berachot with which the Kohanim bless Bnei Yisrael, which we utter everyday after Birchot HaTorah. In Ashkenazic Diaspora communities, the Chazzan recites Birkat Kohanim in his daily repetition of Shemoneh Esrei in Shacharit, while the Kohanim recite the Berachot on Yom Tov. The second Pasuk of this 3-Pasuk-long blessing is, "Ya'eir Hashem Panav Eilecha ViYchuneka," "Hashem will light up His face to you and will be gracious to you."
The Ketonet Ohr, cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, offers a novel explanation of this Pasuk. He mentions the Zohar's teaching, "The letters of Hashem's name which were engraved on the Kohen Gadol's Tzitz (headband) were gleaming and everyone who looked at the Tzitz was struck with fear, his heart was broken, and thus his sins were atoned for." According to the Ketonet Ohr, this idea of the Zohar is an application of the second Pasuk of Birkat Kohanim, for Hashem acts with graciousness ("ViYchuneka") when appearing to sinners ("Ya'eir Hashem Panav") through the appearance of His engraved, gleaming name. Additionally, the Ketonet Ohr explains how this appearance also leads to the fulfillment of the last Pasuk of Birkat Kohanim, "Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha VeYaseim Lecha Shalom," "Hashem will turn His face towards you and will place peace upon you." By motivating Bnei Yisrael to perform Teshuvah through His appearance in this way (see Shaarei
Teshuvah Shaar 1 Ikar 4 regarding how the act of emotionally breaking one's heart is an aspect of Teshuvah), Hashem leads them to be peaceful with each other ("VeYaseim Lecha Shalom"). Also, through their Teshuvah, Bnei Yisrael elicit Hashem's attention ("Yisa Hashem Panav").
Bnei Yisrael's situation before, during and after Matan Torah, a core aspect of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, apply the same effect of "Ya'eir Hashem Panav." Before giving the Torah, Hashem caused Bnei Yisrael to be scared. The Torah (Shemot 19:16, which is read on Shavuot) describes Hashem sending thunder, lightning, a thick cloud, and the strong blast of a Shofar at Maamad Har Sinai. Additionally, Bnei Yisrael didn't approach Hashem completely of their own volition, seemingly because they were scared to do so, as the Pasuk teaches that Moshe caused them to go out to receive the Torah ("VaYotzei"). Furthermore, following the presentation of the Aseret HaDibrot, Hashem caused another blast of thunder, lightning, etc. (20:15) which elicited a similar fearful response from Bnei Yisrael. However, one blatant discrepancy between the two events is that Bnei Yisrael's reaction to the second scene was, "VaYar HaAm VaYanuu VaYaamdu MeiRachok,"
"And the nation saw and shook and stood from afar." This difference sheds further light on Hashem's addition to Bnei Yisrael's sense of fear immediately before and after the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot. While before the giving, Bnei Yisrael trembled, they did not go so far as to stand back from Hashem, their gracious God who was about to give them the ultimate gift. Moreover, following the presentation of the Aseret HaDibrot, Bnei Yisrael request of Moshe, "Dabeir Ata Imanu VeNishmaah VeAl YeDabeir Imanu Elokim Pen Namut," "Speak to us and we will listen and Hashem shouldn't speak to us lest we die." Bnei Yisrael were not merely afraid; they were scared to death (literally). Why did Hashem want Bnei Yisrael to be so afraid? Why did He purposely send various natural forces, which He knew would scare them, before presenting the Aseret HaDibrot, and then continue sending those forces after the presentation? Why didn't Hashem give the Torah gently and
Interestingly enough, an answer appears in the Torah itself (Shemot 20:17). Moshe responds to Bnei Yisrael's request that he, rather than Hashem, speak to them, "Al Tira'u Ki LeVaavur Nasot Etchem Ba HaElokim UVaavur Tihyeh Yirato Al Peneichem LeVilti Techeta'u," "Don't fear, because Hashem is doing this to test you and in order that the fear of Him will be on your face so that you don't sin." Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael that Hashem has a reason for sending frightening natural forces upon them, both before and after the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot; that He has a reason for speaking directly to them. Moshe is telling them that Hashem is not doing these actions to make them fear death, but rather to implant fear of Hashem within Bnei Yisrael so that they do not sin. This idea seems to explain the Pasuk (20:19) soon after Moshe's response to Bnei Yisrael, in which Hashem instructs Moshe to report to Bnei Yisrael, "Min HaShamayim Dibarti
Imachem," "From the heavens I have spoken to you." Hashem informs Bnei Yisrael that Moshe is correct, that Hashem deliberately spoke to them from the heavens, the place where all of Hashem's supernatural and powerful forces reside, in order to strike fear into their hearts so they avoid sin.
The idea of Hashem placing fear in Bnei Yisrael's hearts before, during and after the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot so that they would make sure not to sin is parallel to how the Ketonet Ohr explains how the second Pasuk of Birkat Kohanim applies to the appearance of Hashem's name on the Tzitz. Just as Hashem put His bright, engraved name on the letters of the Tzitz in order to make Jews who see it be heartbroken and afraid of sin, so too He sent His powerful natural forces and spoke to Bnei Yisrael directly in order to put the fear of Hashem upon them.
Shavuot, the holiday most connected to Matan Torah, is a time for us to instill fear of Hashem in ourselves and mend our actions. If someone is always mindful of Yirat Hashem, he is much more likely to avoid sin. Although we are not yet privileged to live in a time when Hashem is as blatantly facilitating our acquisition of Yirat Hashem, we must still make every effort to instill this fear within ourselves. With Shavuot approaching, we must take Hashem's hints and do Teshuva. In the upcoming days, when we will hear the Kohanim utter Birkat Kohanim and will hear the readings of Parashat Naso and Shavuot, we should remind ourselves to have Yirat Hashem and to do Teshuva.
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