1. On this Shabbos we bless the following month, which has several names: “Sivan” is the name which the Jews brought with them from Bavel, whereas previously, the names of the months were numerical, counting from Nissan which is the “first ... of the months of the year.” Thus Sivan is also called “the third month,” as explicitly recorded in Scripture (Shemos 19:1): “In the third month ... they came to the wilderness of Sinai.”

As everything in Torah, the fact that this month is called “the third month” provides lessons for living. Thus, although one may think numerical names given the months have no connection to the theme of the month — since as long as the months didn’t have other names they had to be called something — nevertheless, the fact that the “Torah of truth” calls the month by these numerical names indicates that they reflect their themes.

The same applies to every directive in Torah: Because it is the “Torah of truth,” its directives are not meant just to appease man, but are wholly truthful. Outside the realm of Torah, however, we find that directives given are not always the truth. For example, when educating children, one sometimes assures them of something to soothe them, although it may not be entirely true. Similarly, a physician may sometimes tell a patient that the medication he is prescribing for him will help his illness, although in truth it is only a placebo. The reason a physician must sometimes give a patient a placebo to first reassure him, and only then to actually heal him, is because since the physician is but mortal, he cannot make this placebo act also as real medicine. G‑d, however, who is omnipotent, can make the reassurance and the medicine act as one. Thus any directive given by G‑d is certainly true.

In our case, since the “Torah of truth,” given by G‑d, has bestowed numerical names upon the months, we must conclude that these names were not given just because the months had to be called something. G‑d is not forced to do anything. Hence the numerical name is certainly an indication of the true nature of the month.

Indeed, the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) says that the number “three” has special meaning for Mattan Torah: “The threefold Torah (Chumash, Prophets, Writings) [was given] to the threefold people (Priests, Levites, Israelites) by the third one (Moshe — third born of his parents) on the third day (of preparation) in the third month (Sivan).” Thus the lesson derived from “the third month” is a true one, as are all matters in the Torah.

This lesson is not just an incidental one, but indeed, the principal lesson from this month derives from the fact that it is called “the third month.” For although when we bless this month we use the name “Sivan,” the “Blessing for the month” is a prayer — and a lesson is relevant more to Torah (Torah stemming from a root meaning directive). And in Torah, this month is called not Sivan, but “the third month.”

Prayer and Torah are two general paths in man’s service to G‑d. Prayer is the means wherewith a person’s matters are elevated to above; it is the “ladder” on which a person climbs higher, as written, “A ladder rooted in the ground and its top reaching the heavens.” Torah is the word of G‑d, and of it is written, “Are not My words as “fire and “From heaven He made you hear His voice.” Thus Torah is G‑d’s words which descended below, to teach a Jew how to live. When, therefore, we are concerned with deriving a lesson for man’s service to G‑d, that lesson must come from Torah principally. In our case, therefore, it is the fact that in Torah this month is called “the third month” which provides a lesson.

That lesson must concern actual deed, for “deed is paramount,” and it must be comprehensible to every Jew equally. This is emphasized by an event which happened in “the third month” — “In the third month ... they came to the wilderness of Sinai ... and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.” Our Sages, on the words “Israel encamped there,” comment that they were “as one man with one heart” — all united together. Thus, when deriving a lesson from “the third month,” it must be a plain, simple lesson comprehensible to all Jews equally — “as one man with one heart” — and a lesson for actual deed, in which all Jews are equal.

The differences between the numbers “one”, “two” and “three” is simply understood. When there is only one thing present, there can be no differences and arguments. When there are two things present, differences and arguments exist. A third thing reconciles the differences between the first two, as in the rule, “When two Biblical passages contradict each other, the meaning can be determined by a third Biblical text which reconciles them.”

The advantage of “three” over “one” is that in the former, no differences are possible since there is no other thing with which to differ. In the case of “three,” however, differences can exist (since there are two different things present), and yet nevertheless, the third thing has the power to reconcile these differences and unite the first two. That is why “peace” is associated with the number “three” specifically: Through reconciliation, the third makes peace between two adversaries.

Further, “three” is associated with free choice, that which distinguishes man from other creatures. Man is different from the rest of creation in that they are forced to carry out the task for which they were created, man, in contrast, serves G‑d out of free will: He has the choice of serving G‑d or not.

Free choice is possible only when three things are present. If there is only one possibility, it is obviously impossible to choose another. A person must have two possibilities before him for choice to exist. In the words of Scripture (Devorim 30:15): “I have placed before you life and good and death and evil.” Man can then choose “life and good” or “death and evil,” as Scripture continues to say, “Choose life!”

However, that there are two possibilities — ”life and good” or “death and evil” — does not yet make for a totally free choice, for the knowledge that one way is “death and evil” must force a person to abandon that path and go in the path of “life and good.” To ensure that it be a perfectly free choice, G‑d created the Yetzer Horah (Evil Inclination) with the function of convincing a person that the path of death and evil is really “good.” In this way, free choice becomes possible.

How does the Yetzer Horah achieve this? It shows the person the pleasure that is to be derived from sins, and persuades the person that the reward he will get in Gan Eden (Paradise) for observing Torah and mitzvos is uncertain at best, and certainly too far off in the future to worry about now. Better to enjoy the pleasure of this world now.

Further, the Yetzer Horah says, the path of “death and evil” was created by G‑d just as the path of “life and good.” And surely G‑d would not create anything evil — therefore it must also be “good.” Why then follow a path which yields reward only in the World to Come, when one can choose a path which is “good” in this world!

Since the Yetzer Horah makes evil seem good, a third thing is necessary to enable a person to choose the real good. One needs a yet loftier thing which will teach a person the truth: that one path is good, and the second path is evil. Then a person can choose the good path.

It is for this reason that free choice is associated with the number “three” specifically — for three things must be present in the choice between good and evil: The path of life and good, the path of death and evil — or in different terms, the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination — and a third force to clearly indicate which is the true good.

In greater clarification: When there is a third determinative idea to reconcile two contradictory ideas, it does not mean that this third idea negates one of the two opinions. Instead, this third idea encompasses the two, and the two agree to the third’s opinion. And since the two opposite ideas both agree to the third — the third idea is the true one, and the halachah is as the third.

For example, the rule, “When two Biblical passages contradict each other, the meaning can be determined by a third Biblical text which reconciles them.” This third text does not negate one of the two contradictory passages (since both are written in Torah), but clarifies the true meaning of both of them, such that there is no longer a contradiction.

So too in the concept of free choice. When a person chooses the path of life, he does not totally dismiss the other path as having no real existence. Indeed, he knows full well that this other path is also created by G‑d; what causes him to choose the path of life is the recognition of the true meaning behind the path of “death and evil” — that such a path was created by G‑d so that a person has free choice. That is, so that one should walk in the path of life not because there is no other path, but because he chooses not to go in the path of evil (which he could have gone in, since it does exist). Likewise, the true meaning behind the Yetzer Horah’s enticements is that one’s reward for observing Torah and mitzvos is that much greater because he had to resist the Yetzer’s blandishments.

Because one’s choice is determined by revealing the true meaning behind the opposite path, it follows that this path, too, “agrees” to the deciding opinion. And for this reason, the idea of free choice is associated with the number “three”: For when both of the (formerly) opposite ideas agree to the third, the choice made has the full force of truth.

2. We can now understand what “third” means in terms of time and days. The first day of creation is termed by Scripture, “one day,” for then “G‑d was one and alone in His world.” Concerning the second day of creation, it is not written “it was good,” for on that day gehinnom (hell) was created — evil. More particularly, on the second day of creation, “schism was created,” meaning, there was now something present besides G‑dliness — the world’s existence. On the third day, “it was good” was said twice, once for the work done on the third day, and once for the completion of the second day’s work. In other words, the third day effected that “it was good” should apply also to the second day. How? By revealing the true meaning behind the evil (“gehinnom”), — that its purpose is so that free choice could exist. Similarly, the purpose of mundane things in the world (not evil), is that they should be permeated with G‑dliness.

The same applies to “third” in term of months. In the first month (Nissan), “the Supreme King of kings revealed Himself to them and redeemed them” — the idea of G‑dliness alone, with nothing else present (similar to the first day of creation — ”one day”). That there is a second month (Iyar), which follows G‑d’s revelation in the first month, indicates the existence of something aside from G‑dliness (similar to second day of creation — the existence of the world). The third month reconciles the first two, by revealing the purpose for the creation of the world — to infuse it with the revelation of G‑dliness.

This is the idea of Mattan Torah which took place in the “third month.” In the words of Rambam: “The world was given to make peace in the world” — and, as explained earlier, the notion of peace is relevant only when there are two opposing entities present (for if only one is present, peace is unnecessary), and then the third makes peace between them. The idea of Torah, then, is to “make peace in the world” — to reconcile and effect a union between the world and G‑dliness.

In addition to “the third month” symbolizing peace between G‑dliness and the world, it also symbolizes “peace” within holiness itself. Torah is an example: Within Torah itself, there can be differences of opinion, each a Torah opinion; thus a third opinion is necessary to reconcile the two. Indeed, the most difficult reconciliation is between two opinions in Torah. One doesn’t need too much wisdom to choose between light and darkness or between good and evil; it is much more difficult to choose between two opinions in Torah, for “both these and these are the words of the living G‑d.” The opinion of each is based on a verse in the Written Torah (“the words of the living G‑d”), and thus a most lofty level is needed to choose between and reconcile two opinions in Torah.

The above explanation lends understanding as to why Jews were united “as one man with one heart” specifically “opposite the mountain,” whereas before they came to Mt. Sinai, Jews were divided. When the Jews left Egypt, they longed to receive the Torah, to the extent of counting the days until Mattan Torah. How, then, could they be disunited?

However, every Jew longed and prepared for the giving of the Torah in his own individual way, consonant to the level of his soul and the method of his service to G‑d. Hence, before they reached Mt. Sinai, they were divided in their different intellectual approaches to Torah. At Mt. Sinai, “opposite the mountain,” their preparation and longing to Mattan Torah was to the Torah itself (transcending differences in understanding); therefore, Israel encamped there “as one man with one heart.”

Now we can also understand why the unity “as one man with one heart” was effected in the “third month” specifically. Unity stemming from faith (in which there are no differences in opinion) is possible, and was present, in the first month also. What was special about the unity in the third month is that even after Jews were divided in their different approaches to receiving the Torah, they were united “as one man with one heart” by being “opposite the mountain.”

The theme of the “third month,” then, is the synthesis and unification of two things, be it G‑dliness and the world, two opinions in Torah, or the unity of Jews “as one man with one heart.”

In practical terms, this teaches us that one must leave his own private domain and venture forth into the public domain, to there prepare other Jews to receive the Torah and unite them with all Jewry. This is achieved by disseminating Torah and Judaism, with love of fellow Jews, to the extent of being united with them, ready to receive the Torah.


3. As customary we shall now analyze a verse in this week’s parshah with Rashi’s commentary. Rashi always explains any difficulty in the verse or else says “I don’t know” the explanation. If Rashi offers no explanation and does not say “I don’t know,” it means that the interpretation is self-understood, or may be understood through Rashi’s commentary on a previous verse.

In this week’s parshah, Bamidbar, there is a point which is difficult to understand in the plain meaning of the verse, and yet Rashi makes no comment. The beginning of the parshah talks of the census taken of the Jews in the desert. A census of each tribe was taken, and a sum total made.

Scripture tells us the tribes were counted in the following order: Reuven, Shimon, Gad, Yehudah, Yissachar, Zevulun, Ephraim, Menashe, Binyamin, Don, Asher and Naftali (Levi was counted separately). A simple question arises: What is the reason for such an order? It does not follow the order in which the founders of the tribes (the twelve sons of Ya’akov) were born, for then Gad should not have followed Shimon.

Ibin Ezra, unlike his usual terse style, elaborates at length on this subject, and gives the reason for each tribe’s place in the order. Ibin Ezra, one of the commentators on the plain meaning of Scripture, obviously feels this is a question touching the plain meaning of the verses. Yet Rashi, the foremost commentator on the plain meaning of Scripture, makes absolutely no comment to explain the order of the census.

This question is really a threefold one. Scripture lists the tribes three times in this parshah. 1) When G‑d commanded Moshe to take a census of the Jews, He told him that the princes should stand with him and Aharon at the census. Scripture then lists their names (Bamidbar 1:515): “These are the names of the men that shall stand with you: Of Reuven, Elitzur ben Shedeur; of Shimon, Shelumiel ben Tzurishaddai; of Yehudah, Nachshon ben Aminodov;” etc. 2) At the actual census (as noted in the original question): “The children of Reuven were ... ; of the children of G‑d ... ;” etc. 3) In the order of the camp’s march: “The standard of the camp of Yehudah ... And those that camp next to him, the tribe of Yissachar,” etc. Not only are the tribes not listed according to the order of their births in any of these three occasions, but each is listed in a order different than the other! Yet Rashi makes no attempt to explain this perplexing matter.

The Explanation

The question as to why the tribes are not listed according to the order of the birth of the founders of the tribes (the sons of Ya’akov), does not apply to the first instance in which they are listed in this parshah, concerning the princes of each tribe that were to stand with Moshe in taking the census of the Jews. For here we are concerned not with the actual tribes, but with personalities, special people who were to stand with Moshe and Aharon in taking the census. In the words of Scripture (1:16): “The elect of the community” — ”those who were summoned for every important matter in the community” (Rashi, ibid.). Thus, they are listed according to their personal qualities, unrelated to the order in which Ya’akov’s sons were born many years earlier.

The question first arises when we learn about the actual census of the Jews according to their tribes — “the children of Reuven”, “the children of Shimon,” and then “the children of Gad,” etc. Why are they listed in this order?

When a census is taken, one first counts those who are closest in proximity, then those further away, and so on, until one counts those who are the farthest. In our case, since Gad was next to Reuven and Shimon, it was counted immediately after them. The same reasoning applies for the other tribes. But then the question is: Why indeed was the tribe of Gad in close proximity to the tribes of Reuven and Shimon?

This question is answered when we learn the rest of the passage. It talks about the way the Jews camped: They were divided into four standards — Yehudah (east), Reuven (south), Ephraim (west), Don (north) — with each standard comprising three tribes (two plus the one after whom the standard was named — thus the east standard was comprised of Yehudah, Yissachar and Zevulun, and the south standard was Reuven, Shimon and Gad). The tribe of Levi was camped around the Mishkan, in the middle of these four standards. The three Levite families — Gershon, Kehos and Merori — were camped around three of the Mishkan’s sides (Gershon — west; Kehos — south; Merori — north). Moshe, Aharon, and his sons, were camped on the east side of the Mishkan.

Rashi, commenting on the fact that Kehos was camped on the south of the Mishkan, says (3:29): “The standard of Reuven, which camped in the south, was next to them (Kehos). Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor. Therefore there were smitten of them Doson and Avirom and two hundred and fifty men together with Korach and his party, for they followed them in their rebellion.” That is, Korach, who was of the family of Kehos of the tribe of Levi, was the leader of a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. Rashi says that Doson and Avirom, who were of the tribe of Reuven, and the two hundred and fifty others who were also mainly from Reuven, followed Korach in his rebellion because they were neighbors: Both Reuven and Kehos (Korach) camped in the south.

Similarly, commenting on the fact that Moshe camped on the east of the Mishkan, Rashi says (3:38): “The standard of the camp of Yehudah, and those that camped by him, Yissachar and Zevulun, were next to them (to Moshe, Aharon and his sons). It is well for the righteous, and well with his neighbor. Since they were neighbors of Moshe, who engaged in Torah, they (also) became great in Torah ...”

We learn from this that each tribe was camped in proximity to a tribe that had similar characteristics. Reuven, which was closest in characteristics to Kehos, was camped closest to Kehos. Shimon, while also having characteristics similar to Kehos, was not as similar to them as Reuven — and therefore was camped after Reuven. Then came Gad, who had a lesser similarity to Kehos than either Reuven or Shimon. The tribes of the standard camped in proximity to Moshe, Aharon and his sons had similar characteristics to Moshe, Aharon and his sons. Likewise, the other tribes were placed in position depending on their similarity to the children of Kehos or to Moshe, Aharon and his sons.

Now we can understand the order in which the Jews were counted in the census. The first to be counted was the tribe of Reuven, for Reuven was the “firstborn of Israel.” Then those tribes that were close in proximity to Reuven were counted — Shimon, and then Gad. Likewise, the other tribes were then counted according to the positions in which they were camped.

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[The next sichah, an analysis of chapter 5, mishnah 12 of Pirkei Avos, has been published as a separate essay.]