Literary Corner

Further Extracts from "Journey of Faith"

by Rabbi Yonasan Arenias
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Parashas Nasso

The Kohanim’s Blessings

  • Verses 6:22-23

Although Hashem is the source of all goodness and He greatly desires to bestow this upon His people, sometimes He is unable to do so because thepeople are unworthy of receiving it. Goodness must be earned and deserved, which is why He repeatedly exhorted Bnei Yisrael to learn Torah and do good deeds. Nevertheless, in His great kindness, Hashem sought ways to increase the Jews’ merits and bestow goodness upon them. One way that He did this was by commanding the Kohanim to bless His people (6:22–23).

Of course, ultimately only Hashem can bestow goodness. The Kohanim’s mitzvah to bless Bnei Yisrael is therefore understood as a command topraytoHimon their behalf that He have mercy on them and generously bless them. This is why the formula that the Kohanim use, set forth in verses 6:24–26, repeatedly asks Hashem to bless His people: “May Hashem bless you and guard you…” (Abarbanel;Rashbam;see also Malbim).

The Kohanim were chosen for this role because of their high level of purity and holiness and, due to their constant involvement in His service, their elevated fear of Heaven. Thus, in their merit Hashem would answer their prayers to bless the nation, even if the rest of the people were not entirely worthy(Malbim,6:22-23, on Sifri 143;SeferHaChinuch, mitzvah 378).

  • Verses 6:24-27

Blessings for life. The Kohanim’s blessings cover three areas of life which encompass the totality of human experience(Abarbanel):

1. The first blessing asks Hashem to bestow goodness in the physical realm: health and possessions, and protection of the bestowed goodness from harm.

2. The second blessing asks for spiritual gifts: Torah knowledge and an understanding of His ways (as well as grace in the eyes of others).

3. The final blessing asks Hashem to be closely involved with the nation on an individual and communal level to enable the people to achieve their divinely assigned roles(R’Hirsch). This blessing concludes with a prayer for peace, because without peace there can be no lasting blessing. Peace is the “vessel” that preserves all the other blessings from harm and thereby completes them(Ha’amek Davar;Kli Yakar,6:12;Uktzin3:14).

The order of the blessings. The blessings for physical and material good come before those for spiritual good in accordance with the teaching in PirkeiAvos(3:20) “If there is no flour [i.e., food to eat], there is no Torah”(Seforno). The blessing for closeness to Hashem comes last. Although this is the ultimate good,it can be bestowed only on those who have demonstrated that they are worthy of it and truly desire it. Hence, it follows the first two blessings that ask for physical and spiritual blessings, because only after a person uses those blessings for Hashem’s sake alone, will Hashem grant him special closeness(R’Hirsch).


Kindling the Menorah

  • Verses 8:1-3

Hashem charged Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, with preparing and lighting the Menorah. He had to arrange the wicks of the six outer lamps so that they pointed toward the middle lamp on top of the Menorah’s central shaft(Rashi). The Torah testifies that“Aharon did so…just as Hashem had commanded Moshe” (8:3). Although we would not have expected him to do otherwise (Sifsei Chachomim), the Torah specifically praises him here for the following reasons:

  1. Constant commitment. Even though it would have been permissible for Aharon’s sons to kindle the Menorah, he eagerly performed this great mitzvah himself all his life (Ramban,8:3).
  2. Exactly as commanded. Aharon did not modify the performance of the mitzvah in any way whatsoever(Rashi,8:3). Although some of the details of this mitzvah were surely not essential, Aharon did exactly as he was commanded, treating every detail as if it was indispensable (Sifsei Chachomim).
  3. With humility. Aharon performed the mitzvah purely to do Hashem’s will. He had no thoughts of personal greatness or honor on account of being the one chosen by Hashem to do it(OhrHaChaim,8:3).

  • Verses 11:31-35

The meat arrived. Hashem sent a wind to cause an enormous flock of שַׂלְוִים, “quails” — a very fat species of bird (Radak;Rashi,Shemos31a) — to fly in from the sea to the desert. When they arrived at the camp, they flew “around” it [but not within it(IbnEzra)], at a height of just one meter (“two cubits”), ensuring that the people had to expend almost no effort in catching them(Rashi,11:31).

The people were filled with a great desire for the quails(Seforno,11:32).They gathered them throughout “that entire day and all the night and all the following day” (11:32). Even the laziest ones among them managed to each gather a huge amount — “ten chomerim,” which is approximately equal to the amount of 100 bushels of wheat or about 3 tons (Rashi) — and the people made piles of them all around the camp.

The evildoers were punished. After Hashem had clearly proved that His power and ability were unlimited — that He could provide enough meat, even in a desert, to satisfy all the people’s desires — His anger flared up against them (Chizkuni). Just as they began to eat, while the meat was still “between their teeth” (11:33), and perhaps not even chewed, the souls of the evildoers departed(Rashi).

Some suggest that this only happened to the worst evildoers. The better ones fell ill, took to their beds, and died at the end of the month (see 11:20). A second opinion suggests the opposite. The best of the evildoers died immediately, but the worst had to suffer an entire month before dying(Rashi,11:20). Whatever the case, Hashem struck the people “a very great blow” (11:33), the worst [and most extensive that] He had inflicted on them since they had left Mitzrayim (Sifri).

Nonetheless, although this incident was truly tragic, it did have a positive result: the people gained a new appreciation of Hashem’s unlimited power. They also understood more clearly than ever before how wrong and futile it was for them to chase after their desires, since these would inevitably lead them away from serving Hashem (Ralbag).

The pursuit of desires removes a person from the world. Sfas Emes (5744) suggests that this incident is a fulfillment of the maxim “Jealousy, desire, and the pursuit of honor remove a person from the world”(Avos 4:28). In particular, since the people had pursued their desires, they turned away from Hashem and suffered a terrible punishment as a result. He notes that the next two parshiyos fulfill the other aspects of the maxim. Parashas Shelach describes how the spies slandered the land because they were worried about their own honor. As a result, they died in a plague (see comm. on 13:30–33). Parashas Korach recounts how Korach rebelled against Moshe on account of his jealousy over Aharon’s position. He ended up being swallowed up by the earth.


  • Verses 14:34-35

Forty years in the desert. Hashem decreed that the people would die off gradually, over a period of forty years, for a number of reasons:

  1. To live out their days. Forty years of wandering in the desert would give enough time for those aged twenty years to reach sixty before dying. And indeed, no one younger than sixty ever died (Rashi, 14:33). This shows that Hashem had compassion on His children and wanted them all to live out a normal life span (Sefer HaZikaron, 14:33). It also explains how the spies had been able to travel the land in just forty days. In truth, it should have taken them much longer, but Hashem foresaw that He would decree a year’s wandering for every day of the spying mission — “a year for each day” (14:34) — so He miraculously “shortened” their route (Rashi, 13:25). Although He could have made it even shorter, He did not do so to allow those who were twenty years old to reach the age of sixty (Gur Aryeh).
  2. To atone. By fixing the duration of the punishment to correspond to the length of the spying mission, Hashem ensured that the people’s sin would remain in the forefront of their minds throughout their wanderings. This would motivate them to fully repent (R’Hirsch, 14:34). Nevertheless, since they had desecrated Hashem’s Name by not believing that He could fulfill His promise, their transgressions would only be fully atoned with their deaths (Seforno, 13:2; see Eichah Rabbah, Pesichta 33, cited above).
  3. To rectify. As Hashem pointed out, the children of the condemned people would have to share their fate and also “roam in the desert for forty years” (14:33), until their parents died. Nonetheless, for the children it would be a time of preparation. It would be their schooling in faith, providing them with sufficient time to become permeated with the spirit of the Torah and to develop an immutable trust in Hashem. Thus they would be able to rectify their parents’ sin and earn their own salvation (R’ Hirsch, 14:33).

The women and Levi’im. Not only would the nation’s children enter the land, but so would the women. Unlike the men [who “despised” the land (14:31)], the women cherished it and deserved to enter it (Rashi, 26:64).

The tribe of Levi was also excluded from the decree. As explained earlier (comm. on 1:48–53), since the Levi’im had been faithful to Hashem in the incident of the golden calf, He wanted them to live and enter the land. To ensure that this would happen, when Hashem instructed Moshe to count the people in the national census taken at Mount Si- nai, He told Moshe to count the Levi’im separately from the rest of the nation, and to count them “from one month old and up” (3:15). They were thereby excluded from the decree punishing all those who had been counted “from the age of twenty years and up” (14:29) (Rashi).

The future: Tishah B'Av. Not only was the incident of the spies a turning point for the Jewish people in the desert, but it also tragically affected the future history of the nation. As noted above, the spies returned from their spying mission on the eve of Tishah B’Av. When the Jews cried that night over the spies’ report, Hashem declared, “Because you cried for no reason, I will establish this night for you as a time of crying throughout the generations!” There and then Hashem decreed that the [first and second] Batei Mikdash (Temples)would be destroyed [on Tishah B’Av] and the Jews exiled and scattered among the nations (Tanchuma 12; Ta’anis 29a; Rashi, Eichah 1:2) when they would repeat the sins of their forefathers (R’ Hirsch, 14:23).

This is alluded to in the words “a year for each day you will bear your sins(14:34). Literally, the Hebrew words יוֹם לַשָּׁנָה mean “a day each year,” alluding that for one day every year — Tishah B’Av — all Jews will mourn and cry over the destruction of the first and second Batei Mikdash and the lengthy exile (Seforno; see Ramban and R’ Hirsch on 14:23).

Mitzvos Related to the Land: Challah

  • Verses 15:17-21

In addition to the mitzvah of libations, Hashem told Bnei Yisrael that once they arrived in Eretz Yisrael and began eating from “the land’s bread” (15:19) — instead of the mann from Heaven that they were now eating (R’Bachya) — they should separate a small portion of dough “for Hashem” prior to baking the bread (15:19). In practice, this meant giving it to His representatives, the Kohanim. This portion is called “challah” (15:20). Only after first separating challah from their dough would they be allowed to eat their bread. However, since the Torah does not specify a minimum amount of challah that must be separated, even the smallest quantity would suffice (Rashi, 15:18–21).

The order of the passages. Hashem taught this mitzvah to Bnei Yisrael immediately after the incident of the spies for the following reasons:

  1. To console. As explained above, when the people heard that they would have to remain in the desert, they despaired of ever entering the land. Therefore, Hashem consoled them by teaching mitzvos that would apply only on entering Eretz Yisrael, assuring them that the nation would enter the land without a doubt. The first mitzvah was libations, discussed above. The second was the mitzvah of challah (Ramban, 15:2; Abarbanel).
  2. To rectify. As discussed earlier (comm. on 15:1–12), the cause of the incident of the spies was the people’s lack of faith in Hashem and their failure to recognize that it was He Who determined every aspect of their fate. The mitzvah of libations was aimed at remedying this, and so, explains R’Hirsch (15:17, 20), was the mitzvah of challah. He suggests that whereas libations were aimed at fostering an awareness of Hashem’s providence over the nation’s well-being and happiness as a whole, the mitzvah of challah taught that Hashem cares for every home and individual within the nation. Not only does Hashem bless the people collectively by bringing rain and sunshine to nurture the crops (producing the raw materials of flour, oil, and wine needed for libations), He also personally cares for each and every individual, ensuring that he receives his daily bread. By separating challah before eating bread, the people would come to realize this.

Fulfilling the purpose of creation. “The world was created in the merit of three mitzvos:challah, tithes, and first fruits” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4, cited by Rashi, Bereishis 1:1). All these mitzvos demand that the owner set aside a portion of his produce “for Hashem” (15:19) before he partakes of it himself. The owner thereby comes to recognize that Hashem created both him and the world, and that He continues to sustain him at every moment (see Maharzu, Bereishis Rabbah 1:4). Hence, by fulfilling the mitzvah of challah, not only would the people rectify the sin of the spies, but they would also achieve the purpose of Creation.


Korach’s Accusation

  • Verses 16:1-2

This parashah recounts the tragic story of Korach, a distinguished member of the tribe of Levi, who presumed to question Moshe and Aharon’s leadership of the nation. Before explaining why he thought he was justified, it is important to note that he was someone of great importance and distinction. The Torah makes this clear from the outset by detailing his illustrious lineage: “Korach son of Yitzhar, son of Kehas, son of Levi” (16:1) (Gur Aryeh). Not only was he a member of the tribe of Levi — the tribe chosen to serve Hashem in the Mishkan — he was also the grandson of the righteous Kehas, whose offspring were chosen to guard and transport the Mishkan’s holiest objects, including the Aron, Menorah, and Altars (see comm. on 3:21–38 and 4:1–3). Chazal say that he was actually one of those honored with carrying the holy Aron itself. They also tell us that he was very wise (Tanchuma 2) and, as we will see, blessed with prophetic powers (Rashi, 16:7; DivreiHaYamimI 6:18–22). Nevertheless, despite all his greatness, he became involved in a terrible dispute with Moshe Rabbeinu that led to his death.

Korach’s motives. How could such a great man rebel against Hashem’s chosen leader? Several factors led to Korach’s rebellion:

  1. Wealth. Korach was fabulously wealthy. He acquired his wealth back in Mitzrayim. When Yosef HaTzaddik, the son of Yaakov Avinu, was in charge of Mitzrayim, there was a world famine. Nations from all over the world, including Yaakov and his family, were forced to descend to Mitzrayim to buy grain (which, on Yosef’s advice, the Egyptians had stockpiled during the previous years of plenty). Mitzrayim became the recipient of the world’s riches, which Yosef stored in three enormous treasure houses. Korach discovered one of them, and he became so rich that just carrying the keys to his treasure chests required countless donkeys (Pesachim 119a; Maharsha, Sanhedrin 110a). Unfortunately, this wealth proved to be Korach’s undoing. It made him proud and arrogant, and this led to his eventual downfall (Pesachim 119a and Rashbam there; see Ba’alHaTurim).
  2. The pursuit of honor. After the Mishkan was set up, Moshe took a census of the Levi’im (see 3:14–39) and appointed leaders for each of its three groups (Gershon, Kehas, and Merari). For the group of Kehas, he chose Elitzafan son of Uzi’el (see 3:30). Although Moshe had done this at Hashem’s command, Korach reasoned that the position was rightfully his. “My father was one of four brothers,” Korach said to himself. “Since Amram was the firstborn, it is understandable that his two sons, Moshe and Aharon, took the highest positions — Moshe became king [i.e., the national leader] and Aharon the Kohen Gadol. But surely I should have taken the next highest position. After all, I am Yitzhar’s firstborn [Kehas’s second son]. So why did Moshe appoint Elitzafan son of Uzi’el, the youngest of the four brothers, to be the leader of the group of Kehas? [It must be,” Korach concluded, “that he is making decisions by himself, without consulting Hashem (Sifsei Chachomim; R’Bachya; see 16:28).] Therefore I will challenge him and invalidate all his teachings.” Although Korach thought his reasoning logical, he was swayed by jealousy and the desire for honor (Rashi, citing Tanchuma 1).
  3. Jealousy of Aharon. Korach was also jealous of Aharon (Ramban). These feelings began burning inside him soon after the Mishkan was set up. The Midrash relates that Korach was humiliated at the inauguration of the Levi’im [on the seventh of Nissan] when he was the first Levi to be shaved of all his hair and waved around (see comm. on 8:7–15). On leaving the Mishkan, no one recognized him. When asked who had done this, he replied, “Moshe! Not only this, but I was also picked up by my hands and feet and waved around and then told that now I am pure! On the other hand, at the inauguration of the Kohanim [on the first of Nissan] Moshe dressed his brother, Aharon, in special garments, anointed him with oil, and placed him in charge of the Mishkan!” (Tanchuma 3; see Vayikra 8:6–12).

Korach’s jealousy of both Elitzafan and Aharon’s positions was no doubt fueled by the arrogance he felt due to his enormous wealth. He craved honor and could not bear to have a lower status than Elitzafan. He even imagined himself equal in standing to Moshe and Aharon (Rashbam, Pesachim 119a; Mesilas Yesharim, chap. 11; Maharsha, Sanhedrin 110a). He therefore embarked on a dispute with Moshe, with the goal of either becoming the leader of Kehas, or, as many suggest, becoming the Kohen Gadol (see Tanchuma 10 and Rashi, 16:6).

It should be noted that even if a Kohen is not particular in observing the mitzvos, his blessings can still take effect since, as explained above, they were ultimately dependent on Hashem and not the Kohen (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 15:7).

The wicks of the lamps on the left side of the Menorah had to lean to the right, toward the middle lamp, while the wicks of the lamps on the right side had to lean to the left. Only the wick in the middle lamp remained perfectly central (Rashi, according to GurAryeh).

See Shemos 27:21.

It is possible that Aharon understood that this was Hashem’s will since the command was directed at him and not his children (Ramban, 8:3). Alternatively, perhaps the honor of the Mishkan demanded that he, Hashem’s most holy servant, be the one to light the Menorah (Abarbanel).

This was proof of the people’s greed and lack of faith. Moshe had told them that they would eat meat for thirty days, yet they rushed to gather piles and piles of the quails (R’Hirsch;TargumYonasan).

This demonstrated that they died because of their sins, and not because the food was in some way poisonous (Emek HaNetziv).

According to Ramban (11:20), the first to die were members of the eirev rav as well as members of Bnei Yisrael who had joined them in demanding meat (see 11:4–6). The rest of the people, who had wept “with their families, each man at the entrance of his tent” (11:10), died after thirty days.

According to the Midrash, more people died as a result of the quails falling on their heads than from eating them (Sifri). The ones affected were the eirevravand the animals and servants of Yisrael who camped on the outskirts of the camp (Emek HaNetziv).

Nachalas Yaakov (14:33) suggests it should have taken 160 days to travel the entire width and length of the land and then to return.

As to why this required forty years, Tzeidah La Derech suggests that forty years is the amount of time necessary to fully understand the teachings of one’s teacher (based on Rashi, Devarim 29:8).

If challah was not taken from the dough, it must be taken from the baked bread (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 8:3). Challah is taken only from bread made from one of the five grains — wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt (ibid. 6:2) — and only if it contains an omer of flour, which is equivalent to one-tenth of an ephah, about 10 cups or 2.5 liters. This was the amount of mann eaten daily by each individual in the desert (Shemos 16:16; Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 6:15; Rashi, 15:20). There is a dispute if nowadays challah is a Torah-mandated mitzvah(as Rashi on 15:18 implies; see also Nachalas Yaakov), or if it is only rabbinical (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 5:5). The latter opinion derives from the word בְּבֹאֲכֶם,“when you come” (15:18), in the plural, indicating that the majority of Jews must be living in the land for the Torah mitzvah to apply (Rambam, loc. cit.).

Gur Aryeh notes that the Torah has already detailed Korach’s lineage in Shemos 6:21. He suggests that it is repeated here in order to clarify that he was an important person, yet to his eternal shame was drawn to rebel. Alternatively, Tzeidah LaDerech suggests that by detailing his lineage, the Torah alludes to the reason for the dispute: Korach felt that he was the rightful heir to the leadership of Kehas, as will be explained shortly.

From oldest to youngest, the four brothers were Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uzi’el. See Shemos 6:18.

Korach’s argument was, of course, fallacious. The new hierarchy that came into existence with the rearrangement of the camp was based on merit (individual and tribal), not lineage. See the overview in Parashas Bamidbar.

As explained in the commentary on 8:7–15, Aharon waved all the Levi’im up and down and in all four directions during the inauguration ceremony.

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