"וידבר משה אל ראשי המטות...איש כי ידר נדר לה'...ככל היצא מפיו יעשה"
Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes...‘If a man takes a vow to G‑d...According to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.’” (30:2,3)

QUESTION: Moshe taught all the commandments first to the heads of the tribes and afterwards to the entire community (see Rashi). Why is this emphasized in connection with the laws of vows?

ANSWER: Often a candidate for office makes lavish promises. Moreover, when actually in office, he endeavors to impress his constituents that he will perform their every wish, yet when not actually facing them he erases their concerns from his mind. Therefore, Moshe specifically warned the heads of the tribes that their promises and pledges were to be treated seriously. A man shall not desecrate his word, but “Whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.”

(חתם סופר)


"איש כי ידר נדר לה'...לא יחל דברו ככל היצא מפיו יעשה"
“If a man takes a vow to G‑d...he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.” (30:3)

QUESTION: The law not to desecrate one’s word and to do “according to whatever comes from his mouth” applies both to men and women. Why the phrasing “ish” — “man”?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (Lamentations 2:14) relates: Rabbi Elazar said: Let not the chapter on vows be lightly esteemed in your eyes, because on account of that chapter were the members of the Great Sanhedrin of Tzidkiyahu slain. When Yechanyah was exiled, King Nevuchadnetzar appointed Tzidkiyahu over five kings; and he used to enter and leave [the King’s presence] without permission. One day he entered his presence and found him tearing the flesh of a hare and eating it while it was yet alive. The King said to him, “Swear to me that you will not disclose this about me,” and he swore.

Subsequently, the five kings were sitting and sneering at Nevuchadnetzar in the presence of Tzidkiyahu, and they said to him, “The kingship does not become Nevuchadnetzar, but it becomes you since you are of the seed of David.”

He too sneered at Nevuchadnetzar and said, “I once saw him tear the flesh of a [live] hare and eat it.”

They immediately sent and told the King, “That Jew who enters and leaves your presence without permission has informed us, ‘I saw Nevuchadnetzar tear the flesh of a [live] hare and eat it.’ ”

The latter forthwith came and took up his residence in Daphne of Antioch. The members of the Great Sanhedrin went out to meet him. When he saw that they were all men of imposing appearance, he ordered seats of honor for them. He said to them, “Expound the Torah to me.” They immediately began to read it chapter by chapter and translate it. When they reached the chapter, “When a man takes a vow” he said to them, “If a person desires to retract a vow, can he do so or not?”

They replied, “He must go to a sage who absolves him of his vow.”

He said to them, “It seems to me that you must have absolved Tzidkiyahu of the oath which he swore to me.” He immediately ordered them [to be removed from their seats of honor] and placed them on the ground” (see also Nedarim 65a).

According to halachah, one who takes a vow or swears an oath can consult a Torah authority and annul it. The Torah is, however, teaching that though halachically this is possible, an “ish” — “a prominent person” — once he has taken the vow or made the promise, should heed the lesson of Tzidkiyahu and not seek ways out of it, but do “whatever comes from his mouth.”

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות), בשם ספר בן אברהם)


"איש כי ידר נדר לה' או השבע שבעה...לא יחל דברו ככל היצא מפיו יעשה"
“If a man takes a vow to G‑d or swears an oath...he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.” (30:3)

QUESTION: Since it already says, “lo yacheil devaro” — “he shall not desecrate his word” — isn’t the conclusion of the pasuk “kechal hayotzei mipiv ya’aseh” — “according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do” a redundancy?

ANSWER: The pasuk is talking about both vows and oaths. When a person makes a vow, though he may not desecrate it, he can consult a Torah scholar and have it annulled. According to halachah the same applies also to one who swears an oath; however, the Tur Shulchan Aruch, Yorah Dei’ah 230 records an opinion in the name of Rav Hai that an oath cannot be annulled.

The Torah may be alluding to this opinion. Hence, regarding a vow the pasuk says, “lo yacheil devaro” — “he shall not desecrate his word” — although others can annul it for him. However, an oath, cannot be annulled by anyone and “according to whatever comes out of his mouth he shall do.”

* * *

The Gemara (Ketuvot 77b) relates that when Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was about to die, the Angel of Death lifted him up and showed him his place in Gan Eden. Rabbi Yehoshua jumped over the wall and exclaimed, “I swear I will not go back.” Hashem ruled that “if he ever had an oath annulled he must return, but if not, he need not return.”

What difference did it make if he had never sought to be released from a oath?

Though the halachah is not according to Rav Hai, if someone does assume such a stringency and makes a oath, he may not seek relief from a scholar. Therefore, Hashem said, “If Rabbi Yehoshua has always conducted himself according to this opinion, then ‘whatever comes from his mouth he shall do,’ and thus his oath cannot be annulled and he can remain in Gan Eden.”

(יושב אוהלים - הרב אברהם ז"ל ענטבי)


"ואם הפר יפר אתם אישה ביום שמעו כל מוצא שפתיה ולאסר נפשה לא יקום אישה הפרם וה' יסלח לה"

“But if her husband shall revoke them on the day of his hearing, anything that comes out of her mouth regarding her oaths or the prohibitions upon herself shall not stand; had husband had revoked them and G‑d will forgive her” (30:13)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says that this refers to a woman who does not know that her husband revoked her vow, and violates it thinking it is still in effect. Technically she has not sinned, but she requires atonement because she had intended to violate what she thought was a valid prohibition. When Rabbi Akiva would study this pasuk he would cry and exclaim, “This can be likened to someone thinking he is eating pork, although the meat is actually kosher — if in such an instance the person needs atonement, how much more does one need atonement if he actually carries out his intention?”

Why was Rabbi Akiva the one who would cry?

ANSWER: During the days of the Roman government, ten sages were put to death. The Roman King had seen in the Torah that the punishment for kidnapping and selling a person is death (Shemot 21:16). He asked the sages, “If a man is found to have kidnapped and sold one of his brothers of the Children of Israel, what is the law?” They replied, “That kidnapper shall die.” The Roman King then declared that the sages’ lives were forfeit, and they were put to death on behalf of their forefathers, Yosef’s brothers.

At the time when Yosef was sold only nine brothers were present (Reuven had returned home and Binyamin did not participate). Why were ten sages killed?

According to the Midrash (see Rashi, Bereishit 37:33) the brothers had agreed not to reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef and had made Hashem a party to the agreement. The Roman King thus calculated that ten (counting Hashem as one) had cooperated in the kidnapping, and therefore he killed ten sages.

Commentaries ask: Rabbi Akiva was the son of a convert and thus his ancestors had no part in the kidnapping. Why was he among the ten sages killed?

The answer given is that Rabbi Akiva was punished on behalf of Hashem, who participated in the kidnapping by not revealing to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef.

Rabbi Akiva in his great holiness envisioned his fate. However, he hoped that Hashem would pardon the brothers and thus he, too, would not be punished since, despite wronging Yosef, they were actually fulfilling Hashem’s wish. As Yosef himself told his brothers, “Although you intended harm, Hashem intended it for good in order to keep alive a great people” (Bereishit 50:20). Moreover, the Gemara (Shabbat 89b) says, “Were it not for the sale of Yosef which ultimately caused Yaakov and his children to come to Egypt, the tribes would have been brought down to Egypt in iron chains.” Consequently, they were comparable to one who intends to eat “pork,” and who deserves no punishment when it turns out to be kosher meat.

However, when Rabbi Akiva reached the pasuk which states that, “Her husband had revoked them [her vows] and Hashem will forgive her,” from which it can be deduced that one who ate kosher for pork is considered a sinner needing atonement, he realized that ultimately the sale of Yosef would be punished and therefore he cried since he would be among those bearing responsibility.

(בית יעקב - מסולתן)


"נקם נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים אחר תאסף על עמיך"
“Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards [lit. “after”] you will be gathered to your people.” (31:2)

QUESTION: Following the literal reading how could Moshe take vengeance after his death?

ANSWER: Bilaam advised Balak to entice the Jews to commit immorality. The Midianites invited the people to “a feast of their gods and the people ate and bowed to their gods.” (25:2) The Jewish people began to worship the idol Ba’al Pe’or, and Zimri the son of Salu, the Prince of the tribe of Shimon, committed adultery with a Midianite woman, Cozbi the daughter of Tzur. Hashem became enraged and instructed Moshe to take revenge against the Midianites. Moshe sunk the idol into the ground up to its nose.

According to the Gemara (Sotah 14a) Moshe was buried opposite Beit Pe’or in order to gain forgiveness for the sin of Pe’or.Tosafot, in the name of the Midrash, writes that on the anniversary of the day when the Jews sinned with the daughters of Moav, the idol rises up to prosecute the Jewish people for their sin. As soon as he sees the grave of Moshe, he sinks back down to the depths where Moshe put him.

Consequently, Hashem was telling Moshe, “Not only during your lifetime will you take revenge against the Midianites, but achar tei’aseif el amecha — even after you are gathered to your people — you will still continue to thwart their every attack against the Jewish people.”

(ילקוט סופר)

* * *

Alternatively, this pasuk is referring to two acts of revenge against the Midianites. The first was during Moshe’s lifetime and the second afterward. Regarding the first revenge, Hashem told Moshe to take the vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites. In this war Moshe did not participate personally, appointing Pinchas to head the battle. According to the Midrash Rabbah (22:4) this was because he grew up in Midian and it would have been improper for him to directly harm a country from which he benefited.

“However,” Hashem said, “achar tei’aseif el amecha — after you physically leave this world — there again will be an occasion to take revenge of the Midianites in the days of the Judges (see Judges ch. 7). At that time you will be reincarnated as Gideon and through him you will lead the war against Midian.”

Interestingly, the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 25b) equates Gideon to Moshe — “Jeruba’al [Gideon] in his generation is like Moshe in his generation.”

(אמרי שפר, ור' שמשון זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי)


"נקם נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים אחר תאסף על עמיך"
“Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered unto your people.” (31:2)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the war with Midian and the passing of Moshe?

ANSWER: TheGemara (Sanhedrin 39a) relates that a heretic once asked Rabbi Avuah, “Your G‑d is a Kohen, and when He buried Moshe He became defiled. In what did He immerse to regain His purity?” Rabbi Avuah replied, “He immersed in fire, as it is written, ‘For behold, G‑d will come with fire’ ” (Isaiah 66:15). “Does immersion in fire help?” he asked. Rabbi Avuah replied, “Immersion in fire is the primary method of purification; immersion in water is the secondary one, as it says, ‘And everything that was not used over the fire you shall pass through the water’ ” (31:23).

Hence, from the laws of koshering utensils, which were conveyed in conjunction with the war against Midian, it is derived that when Hashem buried Moshe, He immersed in fire. Thus, Hashem said to Moshe, “Take vengeance against the Midianites. In the course of the war the Jewish people will capture their utensils and need to know how to make them kosher, and they will then be told the advantage of fire over water for purification. Afterwards you will be gathered unto your people; I will personally bury you, and the heretics will not be able to ask how I will regain My purity.”

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות בשם תנופה חיים)


"אלף למטה אלף למטה לכל מטות ישראל תשלחו לצבא"
“A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the army.” (31:4)

QUESTION: Included in this army were a thousand men from the tribe of Levi (see Rashi).

TheRambam (Shemittah Veyoveil 13:12) rules that the tribe of Levi is separated for the service of Hashem and does not go out to war. If so, why did they go to war against Midian?

ANSWER: In this parshah we learn about two major battles fought by the Jewish people. The first was against Midian, and the other was the war yet to come; to conquer the land of CanaanEretz Yisrael.

The Midianites caused the Jews to commit immorality and idolatry, resulting in a deadly plague. Their objective was to dispel belief in the Omnipotence and Omnipresence of Hashem and cause a rift between Hashem and the Jews. Therefore Hashem told Moshe, “Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites” (31:2). The purpose of this war was, as Moshe said, “To inflictHashem’s vengeance against Midian” (31:3) and to destroy all those who attempted to defy Hashem. Ultimately, His supremacy would be affirmed and a great kiddush Hashem — sanctification of His name — would take place.

The war for Eretz Yisrael was strictly a material issue. It was fought to conquer the enemy, take control of the land, and ultimately divide it up among the Jewish people to cultivate and develop.

The tribe of Levi was “set aside to worship Hashem and serve Him.” Thus, a war for the sake of sanctifying Hashem’s name was within their domain, and they were required to participate in it. However, a war for the purpose of obtaining land in Eretz Yisrael was not relevant to the Levites, and therefore they were not permitted to participate.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ג)

* * *

According to the above-mentioned that the Levites sent one thousand soldiers to the war, the overall total was still only twelve thousand (31:5), because Ephraim and Menashe combined sent only one thousand soldiers. Only in matters pertaining to the land of Israel did they act as individual tribes, because of their respective portions of the land.

(שפתי חכמים בשם מזרחי)


"וימסרו מאלפי ישראל אלף למטה"
“So there were delivered from the thousands of the Children of Israel, a thousand from each tribe.” (31:5)

QUESTION: The term “vayimaseru” — “there were delivered” — seems to indicate that it was not voluntary. Why was it necessary to use force?

ANSWER: The word “vayimaseru” (וימסרו) comes from the root word “masar” (מסר), which means “inform.” To inform on a person and reveal his secrets is forbidden, and informers are dealt with very severely (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 388). An exception to this rule was in this instance for the following reason.

In preparation for this war Moshe told the people, “Heichaltzu mei’itechem anashim latzava” — “Arm men from among yourselves.” Rashi explains that the term “anashim” means tzaddikim — “righteous men.” A difficulty in selecting soldiers for the war was that everyone sincerely considered himself not qualified and humbly thought he did not meet the standard of tzaddik — “righteous.” So when righteous men had to be selected, people had to inform Moshe of the righteousness of their neighbors and their worthiness for Moshe’s purpose.

Though informing against another Jew is forbidden, it is permissible when the other possesses qualities unknown to the community from which it can benefit. Also, if there is a need for tzedakah, one may reveal an individual who has the means and is presently unknown.

(שמעתי מזקני הרב צבי הכהן ז"ל קאפלאן)


"וישלח אתם משה אלף למטה לצבא אתם ואת פנחס"
“Moshe sent them, a thousand from each tribe for the legion, them and Pinchas.” (31:6)

QUESTION: Why is the cantillation on the word Pinchas kadma v’azla?

ANSWER: Rashi explains that Moshe sent Pinchas to lead the war against Midian and not Elazar because he is credited with killing the Midianite woman Kazbi bat Tzur who blatantly committed adultery with the prince of the tribe of Shimon. Since he began the mitzvah, he was chosen to conclude it — to take vengeance against the people of Midian.

The word “kadma” means “ahead” and the word “azla” means “going.” The kadma v’azla cantillation on the word Pinchas indicates that “kadma” — because he went ahead and was the first to take action — therefore, “azla” — he was chosen to be the one to go and lead the battle.

(קובץ המאסף שנה ט"ו, כרך א' חוברת ב', סי' י"ג ס"ק ה')


"ואת מלכי מדין הרגו על חלליהם"
“They killed the kings of Midian on their slain ones.” (31:8)

QUESTION: The words “al challeleihem” — “on their slain ones” — are superfluous? Moreover, “al challeleihem” means “on their slain ones”; it should have said “im challeleihem” — “with their slain ones”?

ANSWER: Seeing the strength of the Jewish people, the kings of Midian realized that their chances of survival were very slim. In order to save themselves, they deviously crept in among the slain, hoping that the Jews would think that they were also dead and not touch them. Fortunately, their plan failed and the Jews, seeing through their deception, killed them while they were laying “al challeleihem” — “on their slain ones.”

(שער בת רבים)


"ויקצף משה על פקודי החיל...ולא נפקד ממנו איש...ונקרב את קרבן ה'...לכפר על נפשותינו לפני ה'"
“Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army...‘And not a man of us is missing...So we have brought an offering to G‑d...To atone for our souls before G‑d.’” (31:14, 49, 50)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Shabbat 64a) says that Moshe was angry with the commanders of the war for leaving the women alive and suspected that they had committed a sin similar to the earlier one with the women of Midian. Therefore, they responded, “Not a man of us is missing,” meaning “None of us has been lead astray by the Midianite women.”

“If so,” Moshe asked, “why are you making this offering to Hashem?”

They responded, “Though the fighters have not actually sinned, they wish to atone for any evil thoughts that may have entered their minds.”

What encouraged them to bring an offering for evil thoughts?

ANSWER: Following Moshe’s rebuke of the Jewish people for permitting the women to live and instructions to the commanders of the army, Elazar taught the people the statute of koshering utensils. All the utensils which were taken from the Midianites could be made usable either by passing through fire or immersion in boiling water.

To the Jews this was incomprehensible. Why wasn’t it sufficient to simply clean the utensils to thoroughly remove any non-kosher substance adhering to them? Elazar explained that not only is a utensil not usable when something non-kosher is on the surface, but even when there is an absorption of non-kosher taste in its walls.

From this the soldiers derived a new lesson in the relationship between man and Hashem: If a utensil is unfit to be used by Jews and requires purging if it has absorbed a non-kosher taste, how much more must a person perfect himself in his relationship with Hashem and repent for “non-kosher thoughts.”

(חדושי הרי"ם)


"כל דבר אשר יבא באש תעבירו באש וטהר אך במי נדה יתחטא וכל אשר לא יבא באש תעבירו במים"
“Everything that comes into the fire, you shall pass through the fire and it shall be clean; nevertheless it must be purified with the water of the sprinkling; and everything that does not come into fire, you shall pass through the water.” (31:23)

QUESTION: Prior to the war with Midian, the Jews had a major war with Sichon king of Amorites (21:24). Why were the instructions of kashering utensils not given immediately after the war with Sichon?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Chulin 17a) says in regard to the pasuk “It shall be when G‑d brings you to the land that He swore to your forefathers...great and good cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing that you did not fill” (Devarim 6:10-11), that this includes permission to use “katlei dechaziri” — “dried chines of pork” — taken among the spoils or found in the abandoned houses.

Consequently, in the battle with Sichon and Og, kings of the Amorites (see Devarim 3:8), since the land of the Amorites is a part of the inheritance of the Jewish people, everything they took from them including non-kosher utensils or foods, was permissible to be used as is. However, the war with Midian was strictly a punitive measure for their infiltrating the Jewish community with immorality and idolatry. Their land was taken as a vengeance, and is not part of the land which is the inheritance of the Jewish people. Hence, in order to be permitted to use the non-kosher utensils, it was necessary for the Jews to put them through the process prescribed by Elazar the Kohen.

(רמב"ן)

* * *

According to the Ramban, everything, including non-kosher food, captured while conquering land which is of Jewish inheritance is permissible (see Ramban, Devarim 6:10). However, according to the Rambam, (Melachim 8:1) it is permitted for the soldiers to eat non-kosher food taken among the spoils only when they are hungry and do not have other food, and thus, the abovementioned explanation does not apply.

* * *

Alternatively, unlike the war with Sichon, of which the Torah writes, “He [Sichon] went out against Israel to the wilderness” (21:23), the Jews went to Midian to battle with the Midianites. Since the war with Sichon took place in the wilderness, and it is uncommon to have cooking utensils on the battle field, none were captured and it was thus not necessary to give instructions on how to make them permissible. However, the war with Midian took place in the cities and the Jews took various kinds of spoils, including cooking utensils. Hence, it was necessary for Elazar to provide instructions for making the non-kosher utensils fit for use by the Jewish people.

(דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות)

* * *

Of the war with Sichon the Torah says, “Only the animals did we loot for ourselves and the booty of the cities that we occupied” (Devarim 2:35). However, in regards to Midian the Torah says, “All their wealth they took as spoils” (31:9). The distinct respective phraseology indicates that in the war with Sichon the “booty of the cities” was their gold, silver, valuables, and expensive garments, but not their kitchen utensils. But in Midian where they took “kol cheilam”“all their wealth” — they took everything, including their kitchen utensils.

(תבואות שמש)


"שא את ראש מלקוח השבי באדם ובבהמה...וחצית את המלקוח... והרמת מכס לה' מאת אנשי המלחמה...אחד נפש מחמשה מאות... וממחצת בני ישראל תקח אחד אחז מן החמשים...ונתתה אתם ללוים. ויעש משה ואלעזר הכהן כאשר צוה ה' את משה. ויהי המלקוח...ותהי המחצה...ויהי המכס לה'...."
“Calculate the total of captured spoils of people and animals...Divide the spoils in half...Take off from the soldiers, a tax for G‑d, one of each five hundred...Take from the half of the Children of Israel one of each fifty...And you shall give them to the Levites. Moshe and Elazar the Kohen did as G‑d commanded Moshe...The calculation of the spoils was...The half...The tax for G‑d was....” (31:26-37)

QUESTION: Since it already states that Moshe and Elazar did as Hashem commanded, why is it necessary for the Torah to elaborate and give 1) the overall total count, 2) how much one-half of that was, and 3) how much the one-of-five-hundred tax came to?

ANSWER: The total number of cattle taken was 808,000. It was divided between the soldiers and the rest of the community, each segment receiving 404,000. In addition, there were 32,000 human beings. It undoubtedly took much time to count such a large number of animals and people and then divide it and take off the taxes. By giving us all the fine details of the tallies, the Torah is describing a great miracle: namely, from the time they were taken into captivity till the time they were divided and the taxes were given, not one single animal or person died.

(רמב"ן)

* * *

Alternatively, it was also miraculous that the total of all species was an even number and not odd, so that the spoils could be easily divided, and that from the number each side received it was easy to separate one of fifty or one of five hundred without even one single extra animal or person. Thus, though it states clearly that the Jewish people did exactly as Moshe was commanded, the Torah gives detailed numbers, because otherwise we would have remained puzzled as to what happened with the remainders after division.

(לקוטי שיחות חי"ג)


"ותהי המחצה חלק היצאים בצבא...ויהי המכס לה'...ותהי מחצת העדה..."
“The half which was the share of the soldiers...The tax for G‑d...The half of the assembly was....” (31:36-38, 43)

QUESTION: Why does it give the tally of the soldier’s portion and also how much the Kohanim’s one-five hundredth amounted to, while in regard to the community’s share it only mentions how much they received but not how much of it went to the Levites?

ANSWER: There is a dispute among halachicauthorities over whether the law of dividing the spoils between the soldiers and the rest of the community and giving the taxes applies also to future battles. The Bahag (Ba’al Halachot Gedolot) holds that it does and the Rambam disagrees (see Megilat Esther on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shoresh 3:9).

Commentaries explain that the Bahag and Rambam actually agree that in future battles the soldiers kept the entire spoils and there is no need to give a share to the rest of the community. However, they dispute whether the soldiers are required to give one-five hundredth of the spoil to the Kohanim.

Consequently, since according to the Bahag giving to Kohanim is a mitzvah for all generations, the Torah discusses in detail what the Kohanim received from this war. However, the Levites only received a portion from that battle and therefore, since it is not a permanent mitzvah, the Torah does not elaborate on it.

(לקוטי שיחות חי"ג ועי' נודע ביהודה מהדו"ת יו"ד סוסי' ר"א)


"ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני גד"
“The children of Reuben and the children of Gad had abundant livestock.” (32:1)

QUESTION: The Ba’al Haturim writes that in the discussions between Moshe and the tribes of Gad and Reuvein, who wanted to receive the land on the eastern side of the Jordan (the Gilead area) as their inheritance, B’nei Gad and B’nei Reuvein are mentioned eight times, alluding to the fact that they went into exile eight years before all other tribes. In addition, King Shlomo describes their inheritance as, “Nachlah mevochelet barishonah ve’achritah lo tevorach” — “An inheritance seized hastily in the beginning, its end will not be blessed” (Proverbs 20:21). The word “mevochelet” is written with a "ח" because of the eight times they are mentioned in the Torah. (chet has the numerical value of eight), but read as “mevohelet” (with a "ה") — “hasty.” Their inheritance was not blessed, since they went into exile eight years earlier.

Moshe made an agreement with the B’nei Gad and B’nei Reuvein that they should join with their brethren in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did they comply with this condition, they even remained an additional seven years till the land was divided up. For the fulfillment of their agreement and their other good deeds, they received Yehoshua’s praise (see Joshua 22:2-3). Why, then, did they go into exile eight years before everyone else?

ANSWER: When the B’nei Gad and B’nei Reuvein told Moshe that they would arm themselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel, they also said that in the interim their children and families would remain on the eastern side of the Jordan and dwell in the fortified cities. They honored their pledge and sent the male soldiers along with the people of Israel, and the children remained behind.

When the Jews crossed the Jordan enroute to Eretz Yisrael, they witnessed the miracles which Hashem performed in the Jordan River on their behalf. Also, in Eretz Yisrael proper, during the seven years of war, they again witnessed Hashem’s miracles on their behalf in the miraculous conquering of the thirty-one kings. Personally seeing Hashem’s miracles leaves an everlasting impression on the viewer and is a more profound form of education than hearing or learning of them. Thus, while the adults deserve commendation for fulfilling even more than what they pledged, they failed to give their children the education of personally seeing Hashem’s greatness. For this iniquity they were exiled eight years earlier than the entire community of Israel.

* * *

Perhaps the reason for specifically eight years was that they failed to provide a proper chinuch — education — for their children, and the"ח" which has the numerical value of eight, is the first letter of the word chinuch (חינוך).

(שמעתי מאחי הרב שמואל פסח שי' באגאמילסקי בשם דודי הרב ברוך הכהן ז"ל כהן מח"ס קול תודה)


"עטרות ודיבון ויעזר..."
“Atarot, and Dibon, and Yazer...” (32:3)

QUESTION: Why here does Onkelos give the Aramaic versions of the names, (Machelta, Malbeshta, and Kumrin) while later on (32:34) he just writes the names as they are written in the text?

ANSWER: The cities Atarot, Dibon, and Yazer were on the east bank of the Jordan and part of the land of Sichon and Og. At the time when the people of Reuven and Gad requested to remain on the east bank of the Jordan, these cities were called by other names: Machelta, Malbeshta, and Kumrin. The cities were in a state of destruction and were rebuilt when the Jews settled on the east bank of the Jordan. Since originally some of the cities were named after idols, they gave them other names (see 32:34, 38).

When the Torah records that the people of Reuven and Gad asked for Atarot, Dibon, and Yazer, they did not really ask for them by these names, but rather by their old names. The Torah records it with these names because in later years these were the Hebrew names given to these cities by the Jewish people. Therefore, Onkelos writes the names of the cities by which they were known at the time the request was made to indicate that the people of Reuven and Gad did not actually refer to them by their later names. Afterwards, however, those names no longer existed, and Onkelosthereforewrites the current Hebrew names.

* * *

The Gemara (Berachot 8b) says, “A person should review the Biblical portion every week, twice in the text and once in the Targum, including ‘Atarot, Dibon, and Yazer....’ ” Thispasuk is singled out because Targum Onkelos simply repeats the text. Tosafot asks, if that is the reason, why didn’t the Gemara mention pesukim where only names of people are mentioned, e.g. “Reuven, Shimon...” (Shemot 1:2), and Onkelosjust repeats the names?

In view of the above, it may be explained that the Gemara specifically mentioned this pasuk since these names were connected with idols and the Torah avoided mentioning them and called them by their future names. Thus, one may conclude that this passage in the Targum which mentions the names of idols should be omitted from a person’s weekly review since they are not in the text.

(ילקוט האורים - ספר קנה חכמה)


"ויאמר משה לבני גד ולבני ראובן האחיכם יבאו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה"
“Moshe said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuven, ‘Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?’” (32:6)

QUESTION: If they were settling in a different land, what was the problem with not participating in the war for Eretz Yisrael?

ANSWER: Though the Jewish people are dispersed to many parts of the world, they are strongly united and psychologically interdependent. Thus, when a Jew in any part of the world experiences misfortune, Jews throughout the world feel compassion and express concern.

Moshe was not questioning the legitimacy of their action, but rather saying to them, “Considering the emotions of the Jewish people it would be impossible for you to sit calmly and enjoy your land in Jordan when at the same time your brethren are engaged in war.”

(שער בת רבים)

* * *

Tosafot in Gemara (Menachot 37a) quotes a Midrash that a man with two heads married a woman with one head and they bore both a one-headed and two-headed child. When the father died, the children came before King Shlomo and the one with two heads demanded a double portion of the estate (inheritance).

The wisest of all men covered one of the heads of the two-headed son and poured boiling water over the other head. When the covered head bellowed in pain, it was evident that the two heads were part of one person.

This story suggests a metaphor for the Jewish people. Being scattered throughout the world, it seems, superficially, that the Jewish people have a number of “heads.” Each one has adopted a distinct dialect and way of thinking, and his respective distinctness detaches him from other Jews.

While on the surface this may appear true, once “boiling water” is poured over a Jewish community, instinctively, as one unit, all Jews the world over feel the pain and sorrow of their fellow Jews.

(הגיונות אל עמי)


"ויאמר בני גד ובני ראובן אל משה לאמר עבדיך יעשו כאשר אדני מצוה. ועבדך יעברו כל חלוץ צבא לפני ה' למלחמה כאשר אדני דבר"
“The children of Gad and the children of Reuven said to Moshe, saying, ‘Your servants shall do as my lord commands. And your servants shall cross over — every armed person of the legion — before G‑d, to do battle, as my lord speaks.’” (32:25, 27)

QUESTION: Why in the first pasuk did they say that they will do, “ka’asher adoni metzaveh — “as my lord commands” — and in the second pasuk they said they will do, “ka’asher adoni doveir” — “as my lord speaks”?

ANSWER: Originally, the people of Gad and Reuven asked for permission to settle on the east bank of the Jordan. Moshe turned down their request, explaining that it would be improper to expect other members of the Jewish people to go to war for their land, while they sat safely east of the Jordan. Realizing that Moshe was right, they approached him and said, “We will arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel until we have brought them to their place. We will not return to our homes until each of the Children of Israel inherits his share.”

Moshe listened carefully and accepted their proposal with a modification: In their statement they failed to mention Hashem, and it appeared as though they presumptuously expected to conquer the land of Canaan through their own strength. Moshe reproved them and explained how a Jew should speak, “If you do this thing; if you arm yourself before Hashem for battle and every man among you shall cross the Jordan before Hashem until He drives out His enemies before Him and the land shall be conquered before Hashem, and then you shall return.”

Realizing their two-fold error, namely, not mentioning Hashem in their proposals and originally expecting the others to go to war while they stayed home, they replied to Moshe, “Your servants shall do as my lord commands” meaning that they would indeed participate and help their brethren conquer Eretz Yisrael. In addition, from then on they would speak, “As my lord speaks” — i.e. always giving proper recognition to Hashem.

(פרחי אהרן)


"ואם לא יעברו חלוצים אתכם ונאחזו בתככם בארץ כנען"
“But if they do not cross over, armed, with you, then they will take [their] heritage among you in the land of Canaan.” (32:30)

QUESTION: Why, if they did not go to war together with the Jewish people, would they receive a share in the land of Canaan together with the other tribes?

ANSWER: Originally the land of Canaan was to be divided among all the tribes, but the tribes of Gad and Reuven asked permission to receive the land East of the Jordan in lieu of their share. Moshe agreed but warned, “They can have the land on the east side of the Jordan only if they join all the other tribes in conquering the land of Canaan. However, if they do not, not only will they be denied the land they seek, but they will no longer receive a portion of the land of Canaan. They will be a portionless tribe in Israel and have to live scattered betochechem — among the other tribes.”

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)


"ויתן להם משה לבני גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן יוסף את ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי...הארץ לעריה בגבלת ערי הארץ סביב"
“So Moshe gave to them to the children of Gad, and the children of Reuven, and half the tribe of Menasheh son of Yosef, the kingdom of Sichon king of the Amorites...The land with its cities in the boundaries, and the cities of the surrounding land.” (32:33)

QUESTION: The tribes of Gad and Reuven requested land on the east bank of the Jordan River (Gilead area). Why did Moshe also give a portion to half of the tribe of Menasheh?

ANSWER: After Moshe consented to the request of Gad and Reuven, he realized that the territory was too large for them alone and offered a portion to whoever wished to join with them. Some people of the tribe of Menasheh took him up on the offer, and thus he divided the tribe and some settled in the Gilead area.

(רמב"ן)

* * *

A difficulty with this explanation is the following:

1) Moshe was originally very upset with Gad and Reuven, and went as far as comparing them to the meraglim — spies — who discouraged the Jews from going to Eretz Yisrael. Even afterwards their actions were not regarded favorably and it was called “a hasty inheritance” (see Proverbs 20:21, Rashi), so why would he seek others to join them?

2) The simple interpretation of the pasuk (peshuto shel mikrah) — “Moshe gave to them” — suggests that it was entirely on his own initiative, and there is no indication that he offered it to everyone and Menasheh agreed to accept it?

Moshe was and always will be the “rayah mehemna” — “dedicated shepherd” — of the Jewish people. All Divine revelations and benefits are given through him. It was Moshe who received the Torah from Sinai and conveyed it to all generations, and also included in this is any interpretation scholars will offer as well as the new esoteric teachings to be revealed by Mashiach (Jerusalem Talmud, Pei’ah 2:4).

The Midrash (Shemot 2:6) also says that Moshe was the first redeemer, who took us out of Egypt, and will also be the final redeemer, who will take us out of the present exile. This means that the redemption from Egypt through Moshe paved the way and made possible the ultimate redemption. (See Sefer Hama’amarim 5748, p. 164).

Likewise, our inheritance of Eretz Yisrael was channeled through him, and though he did not come there physically, it was necessary for him to be shown it (Devarim 34:1-4). Through his viewing it, a certain holiness entered the land, thus creating the obligation for giving tithes (see Bava Batra 56a).

The Torah (Bereishit 15:19 and Devarim 12:20, 19:8) states that in the days of Mashiach, Eretz Yisrael will be expanded to include the lands of the Kennites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites, who were among the ten nations whose territories were originally promised to Avraham (Bereishit 15:19). These are the lands of Edom, Moab and Ammon and an extension of the territory east of the Jordan where Gad, Reuven and half of Menasheh settled.

Therefore, just as it was necessary for Moshe to “see” Eretz Yisrael before the Jews inherited it, it was also necessary that the future inheritance of the expanded Eretz Yisrael have an attachment in some way to Moshe. Hence, though Gad and Reuven themselves asked for the Gilead territory, which at that time was only an addition to the land of Canaan (34:2), Moshe gave a share of it, to half of the tribe of Menasheh in preparation for the Messianic era, when the entire Eretz Yisrael will be expanded.

The reason he selected the tribe of Menasheh for this purpose was their exceptional love for Eretz Yisrael, as can be seen in the daughters of Tzelafchad’s demanding to receive their father’s portion of the land. The pasuk also emphasizes that he gave it to Menasheh ben Yosef, because Yosef is also noted for his great love for Eretz Yisrael (see 27:1, Rashi).

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ח)

"אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם ביד משה ואהרן"
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon.” (33:1)

QUESTION: The word “eileh” — “these are” — seems superfluous. The pasuk could have just said, “masei b’nei Yisrael” — “the journeys of the Children of Israel”?

ANSWER: In addition to the Egyptian exile, the Jewish people suffered additional exiles under four Monarchies: Edom-Rome, Media-Persia, Babylon and Greece-Syriaאדום, מדי, בבל, יון. The first letters of the words “Eilah masei b’nai Yisrael” — “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel” (אלה מסעי בני ישראל) are a hint to the four exiles which will come after the redemption from Egypt.

In addition, the opening words of the parshah not only alludes to the exiles, but also to the redeemers and the ultimate redemption through Mashiach. The first letters of the words, “Eileh masei” (אלה מסעי) are an "א" and a "מ" and suggest our redeemers. The redemption from Egypt was through Aharon and Moshe אהרן) and (משה. The saving of the Jewish people from annihilation in the days of Achashveirosh was through Esther and Mordechai אסתר) and (מרדכי, and the ultimate redemption, after which there will no longer be any exile, will come through Eliyahu and Mashiach אליהו) and .(משיח

(נחל קדומים ועי' פרדס יוסף החדש)


"אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם"
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions.” (33:1)

QUESTION: Why does the pasuk say “masei” — “journeys” — in the plural? Immediately after the first journey, weren’t the Jews already out ofEgypt?

ANSWER: The encampments began after the Exodus from Egypt and culminated with the arrival at Yardein Yeriecho — the Jordan by Jericho. The word Mitzrayim (מצרים) can also be read as “meitzarim” ((מיצרם — restraints — that is, boundaries and limitations. “Yereicho” (ירחו) etymologically stems from the word “rei’ach” ((ריח — smell and aroma — and it alludes to Mashiach, of whom it is written “Vaharichobeyirat Hashem” — “He will be imbued with a spirit of fear for Hashem” (Isaiah 11:3). Also, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 93b) says of Mashiach that “Morach veda’in” — “He will judge right and wrong through his sense of smell.”

The Torah is eternal. Not only does it record the actual departure from Mitzrayim — Egypt — but also conveys a message for posterity. It is incumbent upon every Jewish neshamah which descends to this earthly world to make “masei” — “journeys” — to progress in stages in order to detach itself from its own “meitzarim” — limitations and restraints — and go from strength to strength. As a person rises from one level to the other, he must deal with new and subtler restraints. Upon successfully accomplishing his mission, he is ultimately ready for Yereicho — the revelation of Mashiach — and to come to “the good and bountiful land.”

(לקוטי תורה - לקוטי שיחות ח"ב)


"אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם"
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions.” (33:1)

QUESTION: From the first encampment till the final one at Yardein Yereicho — Jordan by Jericho — there were forty-two encampments. What is the significance of forty-two?

ANSWER: Hashem has different names, each serving a distinct purpose. There is a forty-two lettered name (שם מ"ב) of Hashem which according to the Kabbalists, is the holiest of all His names. It is comprised of the first letters of the forty-two words ofthe “Ana becho’ach” prayer composed by the Tanaitic sage Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakanah. The Siddur, at the end of each of the seven verses of “Ana becho’ach,” prints an acrostic of the first letters of the six words of the verse. These letters, according to the Kabbalists, are the forty-two letters which spell this exalted name.

In the Gemara (Kiddushin 71a) Rabbi Yehudah states in Rav’s name: “The forty-two lettered name of Hashem is entrusted only to him who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober and not insistent on his rights. And he who knows this name is heedful thereof (not to use it lightly), and observes it in purity, is beloved above and popular below, feared by man, and he inherits two worlds, this world and the future world.”

Furthermore, Hashem created the world with this forty-two lettered name (Zohar II, 234b), and it facilitates a Jew’s endeavors to ascend spiritually from level to level. For this reason, every morning as we prepare to ascend spiritually, through prayer, we recite “Ana becho’ach” before“Eizehu mekoman.” Likewise for the ascent through the minchah prayers, before “Ashrei” we say karbanot (portions dealing with sacrifices) and conclude with “Ana becho’ach.” Before going to sleep we recite “Ana becho’ach” in Kriat Shema al Hamitah, since the neshamah prepares itself to be rejuvenated and to rise to a higher spiritual sphere. And on Friday night, after reciting six Psalms corresponding to the six days of the week (see Siddur Otzar Hatefilot), as we prepare to enter the holiness of Shabbat, “Ana becho’ach” is also recited.

The forty-two encampments correspond to the forty-two letters of Hashem’s name. Leaving Egypt to reach Eretz Yisrael was a process of elevation (aliyah) and the forty-two lettered name helped the Jews in this endeavor.

(לקוטי תורה)

* * *

The words "אלה מסעי בני ישראל" — “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel” — are an acronym for the four galiot — exiles — in which the Jews were persecuted and subjugated under four monarchies: Edom/Rome (אדום); Media/Persia (מדי); Babylon (בבל); and Greece (יון). The forty-two lettered name accompanies the Jewish people throughout all their travels during the exile and assists them in reaching the ultimate redemption.

(נחל קדומים - ילקוט ראובני)


"ויכתב משה את מוצאיהם למסעיהם על פי ה' ואלה מסעיהם למוצאיהם"
“Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of G‑d, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth.” (33:2)

QUESTION: 1) Why does the pasuk start with “motza’eihem lemase’eihem” — “their goings forth according to their journeys” — and concludes in the reverse,“mase’eihem lemotza’eihem” — “their journeys according to their goings forth?” 2) Why does it say “al pi Hashem” — “at the bidding of G‑d” — only with “motza’eihem lemase’eihem”?

ANSWER: During the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the itinerary of the Jewish people from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael consisted of forty-two encampments. While most of them were on the physical journey forward, strangely enough, some were in the opposite direction, back toward Egypt. When the Jewish people submitted to Hashem’s Will, they moved forward, coming closer to their destination. At other times, however, they rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt (see Rashi 21:4).

The word “motza’eihem” refers to their point of origin, and the word “mase’eihem” refers to their destination. Moshe recorded all the forty-two encampments, most of which were in the direction of “motza’eihem” — from the origination point (Egypt) — “lemase’eihem” — enroute to their destination (Eretz Yisrael), and all these were “al pi Hashem” — “at the bidding of G‑d.” Among the forty-two encampments, there were also some which were, however, “mase’eihem” — from their destination (Eretz Yisrael)“lemotza’eihem” — back to their origination point (Egypt) and these were not “al pi Hashem” — “at the bidding of G‑d.”

(כלי יקר)


"ויסעו מרעמסס בחדש הראשון...ממחרת הפסח...ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס ויחנו בסכת"
“They journeyed from Ramseis in the first month...on the day after the Pesach-offering...the Children of Israel journeyed from Ramseis and encamped in Sukkot.” (33:3,5)

QUESTION: Why does it repeat that they journeyed from Ramseis, only mentioning the encampment in Sukkot the second time?

ANSWER: Describing Hashem’s loving care of the Jewish people, the Torah says, “You have seen what I did to Egypt and that I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me” (Shemot 19:4). What did Hashem mean when He said, “And brought you to me”?

According to Targum Yonatan ben Uziel (ibid.), on the night of Pesach when the Jews were to eat their Pesach-offering, Hashem took them on clouds from Ramseis and brought them to Mount Moriah, where the Beit Hamikdash was to be built, and there they ate their Pesach-offering. Immediately afterwards, He returned them to Egypt and the following morning they left Ramseis.

Consequently, the Jews journeyed twice from Ramseis. The first was a short trip, after which they immediately returned to Egypt, and after the second departure from Ramseis, they encamped in Sukkot.

(חזון עובדיה - מצליח יחיאל עובדיה ז"ל)


"ויסעו מחרדה ויחנו במקהלת ויסעו ממקהלת ויחנו בתחת"
“They journeyed from Chareidah and encamped in Makheilot. They journeyed from Makheilot and encamped in Tachat.” (33:25-26)

QUESTION: Of what significance to us are the names of their places of encampment?

ANSWER: Hashem told the prophet Hoshea, “Ephraim is united in idol-worship, [lit. joined to idols] let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). From this our sages (Bereishit Rabbah 38:6) derive that the power of peace and unity is so great that even when the Jewish people sin, if unity prevails, G‑d does not rebuke or punish them.

The word “chareidah” in Hebrew means “fear” (see Bereishit 26:33). The word “makheilot” can be associated with the word “hakheil,” which means “gather together” and the word “tachat” can mean “lowering down.” Thus, the Torah is teaching us that “vayise’u meichareidah” — the Jewish people can journey away and not have to fear retribution for their iniquities if “vayachanu bemakheilot” — they are encamped in unity. However, if “vayise’u mimakheilot” — they journey away from their unity — and disharmony and animosity prevails, then “vayachanu betachat” — they will be encamped at a lower level — and, G‑d forbid, they will be punished for any iniquities which were previously not taken into consideration.

(חתם סופר)


"ויעל אהרן הכהן אל הר ההר על פי ה' וימת שם... בחדש החמישי באחד לחדש."
Aaron the Kohen went up to Mount Hor at the word of G‑d and died there... in the fifth month on the first of the month.” (33:38)

QUESTION: The passing of Aharon is first recorded in Parshat Chukat (20:22 - 29) but there is no mention there of the date. Why is it mentioned here?

ANSWER: Aharon passed away on Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, which is in the middle of the three-week period known as bein hameitzarim — “between the straits.” His passing was a very sad event and the entire Jewish community mourned (20:29). Parshat Masei is always read in the middle of the three weeks and very close to, or on, Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. Therefore, it is appropriate to indicate the date of his passing in this parshah.

* * *

It is particularly appropriate, as we recall the passing of Aharon, to reflect upon his love for his fellow Jews and to endeavor to emulate him. We should love peace and pursue peace, love our fellow creatures and bring them near to the Torah (Pirkei Avot 1:12).

One of the primary causes of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash was sinat chinam — baseless hatred and animosity (Yoma 9b). Through true Ahavat Yisrael we will speedily merit its rebuilding.

(לקוטי שיחות חלק כ"ג)


"דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי אתם עברים את הירדן אל ארץ כנען...ואבדתם את כל משכיתם"
“Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan...And you shall destroy all their prostration stones.’” (33:51-52)

QUESTION: Why, when Moshe told them about their coming into Eretz Yisrael, did he command only the destruction of the places of idol worship, and not any other mitzvot connected with Eretz Yisrael?

ANSWER: One of the main reasons for the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash was idol worship (Yoma 9b). According to the Gemara (Arachin 32b), had Moshe come to Eretz Yisrael, he would have nullified the evil inclination to worship idol, and consequently, the Jewish people would not have been exiled and would have remained in Eretz Yisrael forever. (See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 19, p. 346.)

In his last address to the nation, Moshe told the people, “You are crossing the Jordan to enter Eretz Yisrael. You and not I! Therefore, you will be confronted with the inclination to worship idols, which, G‑d forbid, may cause the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and exile from the land. Hence, I am commanding you to destroy all their places of worship; thus, the possibility of idol worship will be eliminated and you will remain in Eretz Yisrael forever.”

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות), ועי' פרשת דרכים דרך הקודש דרוש שמיני)


"ואת הערים אשר תתנו ללוים את שש ערי המקלט אשר תתנו לנס שמה הרצח ועליהם תתנו ארבעים ושתים עיר"
“The cities that you shall give to the Levites: The six cities of refuge that you shall provide for a murderer to flee there, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” (35:6)

QUESTION: In contemporary times, where are the cities of refuge?

ANSWER: In the verse “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad there are six words, and in the paragraph of “Ve’ahavta” — “You shall love [G‑d your G‑d]” — till “uvisharecha” — “and upon your gates” — there are a total of forty-two words. The verse of “Shema Yisrael” accentuates kabbalat ol malchut shamayim” — accepting the yoke of heaven — and the paragraph of “Ve’ahavta” deals with absolute love of Hashem.

When a Jew, G‑d forbid, commits a sin, he is killing part of hisnefesh — spiritual existence (see Igeret Hateshuvah, 4). The spiritual cities of refuge of Jew are the forty-eight words of “Shema Yisrael.” Through prayer and absolute submission to the yoke of Heaven and love of Hashem, a Jew achieves His forgiveness for his iniquities.

(אוהב ישראל)


"והקריתם לכם ערים ערי מקלט תהיינה לכם ונס שמה רצח מכה נפש בשגגה"
“You shall designate cities for yourselves; cities of refuge shall they be for you, and a murderer shall flee there, one who takes a life unintentionally.” (35:11)

QUESTION: Undoubtedly, there were more people making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, than slayers running to cities of refuge. Why were there signs on the crossroads showing the way to the cities of refuge (see Makkot 10b) and no signs showing the way to Jerusalem?

ANSWER: One of the reasons why crime has become rampant in our times is that the media continuously reports it. The constant publicizing of crimes plants in some people’s minds the idea that crime is glamorous and exciting. If a “gag order” were imposed on reporting crimes and violence, and if the media would only report good deeds, our society might be safer.

Similarly, it is inappropriate for an unintentional murderer to continuously ask for directions while fleeing to a city of refuge, since people might begin to talk about having met a murderer. Talking about crime can encourage some feeble minded people to perpetrate crime. Therefore, signs are put up to eliminate the need for the murderer to talk to people and the possible consequences which such conversation might produce.

Making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, by contrast, is a very important mitzvah. Our rabbis intentionally did not instruct the mounting of signs so as to make it necessary for people to stop and ask for directions and, thus, get into conversations about the mitzvah of aliyah leregel — pilgrimage. In turn, the people they had spoken to would relay to their family and friends their pleasant conversations with travelers going up to Jerusalem in order to be close to Hashem. Such reports would arouse in the hearers the desire to also perform mitzvot and come closer to Hashem.

(ושננתם ח"א)


"כי בעיר מקלטו ישב עד מות הכהן הגדל ואחרי מת הכהן הגדל ישוב הרצח אל ארץ אחזתו"
“For he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol, and after the death of the Kohen Gadol the murderer shall return to the land of his possession.” (35:28)

QUESTION: According to the Mishnah (Makkot 2:6), “The mothers of the Kohanim Gedolim would supply the residents of the cities of refuge with food and clothing so that they would not pray that their sons should die.”

Why did the mothers donate supplies and not the Kohanim Gedolim themselves?

ANSWER: Life in a city of refuge was comfortable. The unintentional murderer was given safety and sustenance. If the Kohen Gadol himself would have been the provider of the food and clothing, it would have encouraged a poor person to flee to the city of refuge claiming to be an unintentional murderer so he could remain there with guaranteed room and board until the Kohen Gadol died.

Therefore, it was not the Kohen Gadol himself who provided for the residents, but his mother. Consequently, it was possible that the Kohen Gadol’s mother would die shortly after his arrival and the Kohen Gadol would survive her by many years, thus leaving the refugee without a guaranteed source of income as long as the Kohen Gadol was alive. Hence, it would not be beneficial for him to pretend to be an unintentional murder because he could end up living many years in a city of refuge without financial aid.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)


"אלה המצות והמשפטים אשר צוה ה' ביד משה אל בני ישראל בערבת מואב על ירדן ירחו"
“These are the commandments and ordinances that G‑d commanded through Moshe to the Children of Israel in the Plains of Moab, at the Jordan, by Jericho.” (36:13)

QUESTION: Torah is eternal. The end is joined to the beginning, and the beginning to the end (see Sefer Yetzirah 1:7, Likkutei Sichot Vol. 14, p. 25). How does this concept apply to the end and beginning of Bamidbar?

ANSWER: Prior to giving the Torah to the Jewish people, Hashem requested a guarantee that it would be studied and observed. Only after the Jews proclaimed, “Baneinu orvim otanu” — “Our children will be our guarantee” — did Hashem agree to give them the Torah.

According to derush — homiletic interpretation — our pasuk can be expounded to allude to the abovementioned dialogue that took place prior to kabbalat haTorah, and as follows: “These are the commandments and ordinances Hashem gave through Moshe to the Children of Israel, be’arvot — due to the surety — Moab — [given] by the fathers. The word “Yardein” (ירדן) is a composite of two words, “yad” and neir (candle), and the pasuk is saying that “al yad” — through [the offering of] “neir” — the children, who are the candles of the fathers — the Jews merited to receive the Torah which, in turn will bring them “Yereicho.” The word “Yereicho” is etymologically derived from “rei’ach” — “aroma.” The implication is that the Torah was received thanks to our parents offering their candles — children — as surety and it will provide “Yereicho” — a great spiritual aroma — which will bring spiritual contentment (see Sefer Siftei Kohen).

The opening pasuk of Bamidbar states that Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Tent of Meeting, which was in the Wilderness of Sinai. The Wilderness of Sinai is specifically mentioned here because this parshah is always read the Shabbat before Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah in the Wilderness of Sinai. It is emphasized to remind us that Hashem consented to give the Torah only for the guaranties offered, our children.

Thus, the closing and opening pasuk speak of the same thing — Hashem’s giving the Torah thanks to our assurance that our children will receive a Torah true education.