Yearning for Mitzvot

June 07 2012

In our Parsha, Hashem commands Moshe Rabenu to tell the Jewish nation about the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. We then read: "there were men who had been contaminated by a human corpse and could not make the pesach-offering on that day; so they approached Moshe and Aharon on that day. Those men said to him: 'we are contaminated through a human corpse; why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem's offering in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?" (Bamidbar 9:6-7).   Their question was: why should we lose out on the mitzvah of Korban Pesach just because we are tamei?"

We are speaking of people who are totally exempt from the mitzvah, the Gemara even states that their becoming tamei was in fulfillment of a mitzvah - according to one view they carried the casket of Yosef, according to another view they transported Nadav and Avihu, while another view states that they were involved in the burial of a meis mitzvah (a corpse found with no one to bury - even a Kohen Gadol or a Nazir would be permitted to defile his sanctity and bury the person).  

Their yearning for Torah and mitzvos gave them a feeling of loss for not being able to bring the Korban Pesach - in spite of their exemption. It was not sufficient that they were involved in the mitzvah of burial, they wanted the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. This was their attitude when they approached Moshe Rabenu. Moshe Rabenu asked Hashem who then gave them the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni. Chazal teach us that had they not asked Moshe Rabenu they still would have received this mitzvah, like any other mitzvah given them by Moshe Rabenu. However, it was due to their great merit that the mitzvah was given through them.

We pray to Hashem daily: "enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name" - we must yearn not only to learn Torah and fulfill Hashem's commandments, but to love and fear Him as well.

Further in the parsha we read of another group of people - the misonenim - "the people took to seeking complaints; it was evil in the ears of Hashem" (Bamidbar 11:1). They felt that Hashem was making things too difficult for them. This incident immediately follows the well-known psukim we recite when we take out and return the Sefer Torah: "vayehi binsoa haaron and uvnucho yomar. There is an opinion in Chazal that these psukim do not really belong here: Chazal tell us that this section is surrounded by inverted "nuns" because "The Torah made signs for this passage, in front of it and after, to say that this is not its place. But why was it written here? In order to make an interruption between one trouble and another" (Rashi Bamidbar 10:35 citing the Gemara in Shabbat 116a).

Preceding this section is "vayisu mehar Hashem" "They journeyed from the mountain of Hashem" (Bamidbar 10:33), while following the section is "vayehi haam kemitonenim" "The people took to seeking complaints" (Bamidbar 11:1).

It is readily apparent how the psukim describing the "misonenim", complainers, are a form of trouble. It is not clear at first glance what is wrong with "Vayisu meHar Hashem". The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) points out that they fled quickly like a child running away from school. The motivation of the people's leaving Har Sinai was not only due to their desire to continue their sojourn to the land of Israel, but to flee from Har Sinai, to flee from Moshe who was teaching them new chumrot every day!   He tells them not to lend with interest, to only eat kosher food, perform acts of chesed, and to keep Shabbos and Yom Tov - this is too much for them to handle. The Jewish people fled from Har Sinai a people that did not wish to learn anymore, they were as a child who no longer wishes to learn and eagerly awaits the moment the teacher closes the book or the bell rings signaling the time to go home.

Why did Chazal feel the need to interpret the actions of the people as that of a child running away? The reason is that the pasuk emphasized that they left the Mountain of Hashem, rather than saying "vayisu l'Eretz Yisrael" "they journeyed towards the land of Israel". We see a similar distinction in the laws of Shabbat. There is a prohibition to transfer an object from a "reshut hayachid", private domain, to a "reshut harabim", a public domain. This action referred to as "hotzaa", can be done with one of two possible intents. One may desire to transfer the object to its destination in the "reshut harabim", or one may simply desire to remove the object from its current location, the "reshut hayachid", without regard to its destination. The first action falls under the category of "melacha hatzricha legufa", whereas the second one falls under the category of "melacha she-eina tzricha legufa". The Jewish nation did not leave Har Sinai with desire to arrive at any place in particular, rather they no longer wished to remain in Har Sinai - as a child running away from school.

One should not think that the entire nation was guilty of this infraction. The many righteous individuals such as Aharon HaKohen, Yehoshua, Calev, and Nachshon ben Aminadav were not amongst those wishing to flee Har Sinai, they departed with the intent of entering the land of Israel in order to serve Hashem, build the Beis Hamikdash, and fulfill the mitzvos associated with the land. There were many, however, of the likes of Datan and Aviram, as well as those who "ran away from school" and became among the "misonenim".

Unlike the people who yearned for the mitzvah of the Korban Pesach, they fled from mitzvos - what they did not realize was that there more mitzvos destined to be given even after having left Har Sinai. How does the Torah's inserting the two psukim detract from what the Jewish people did? When all is said and done, the parsha of "vayisu meHar Hashem" and "vayehi haam kemisonenim" remain? The Torah's intent, it seems, is that one who witnessed "vayisu meHar Hashem", could only have viewed this in a positive light. The nation was traveling according to the word of Hashem, following the clouds and the sound of the trumpets. Whoever observes this procession would conclude that the quick pace at which they were traveling was due to their burning desire to reach the land of Israel. (The quick pace can be derived from the word meHar - from the mountain - which can be read as maher - quickly - they traveled quickly). The nation was following the Ark, the way one follows a Sefer Torah. Who would think of interpreting this as a child running away from school?

On their own, the psukim describing the "misonenim" do not seem so negative either. Traveling for three days non-stop with women, children, and animals to care for is surely very tiring. However, "vayisu meHar Hashem" on the one hand and "vayehi haam kemisonenim" on the other! These cannot go together! "Mima nafshach" if one is really eager to reach the ultimate destination of the land of Israel, why is he complaining about being tired? If one is not so eager and is willing to travel at a slower pace, why not remain in Har Sinai a little longer and have the benefit of being able to study more Torah? The two psukim between the inverted "nun"s were placed there to lessen the fault one could find the Jewish people, to downplay this blatant contradiction. Our custom is that "shishi", the sixth Aliyah to the Torah begins with "Vayehi binsoa", in this way one does not even hear these two incidents simultaneously and thus does not notice the contradiction in their behavior.

A person must strive not to have such contradictions in his behavior. Chazal tell us that when we reach heaven we will have to give a "din vecheshbon". The Gr"a explains that "din" refers to accounting for the sin itself, whereas "cheshbon" refers to the fact that one will be taken to task for not having spent the time involved in sin studying the Torah. We can understand that when one is eating or working it is difficult to learn. Sleeping too is necessary, but sinning? There is no requirement to sin, thus one will eventually have to explain why that precious time was not spent in Torah study!

Another explanation of the term "din vecheshbon" is that "din" refers to one's actions, to what extent were they in accordance with the halacha. "Cheshbon" means to what extent is one consistent in his actions, how does this particular action fit with the way one acts in general. It is quite possible that by the strict interpretation of the halacha - "din" - the letter of the law, one may be right, yet one may still be held accountable for this action not being consistent with his other behavior.

Let us take for example a person who purchases a pair of Tefillin that are not so "mehudar". This may not be proper, but if this person consistently acts in a stingy manner, we cannot fault him as much, for it is hard to overcome one's natural tendencies. On the other hand, one who normally spends his money freely - he buys only the best of everything - the best furniture, the best food, yet is stingy when it comes to the Tefillin he purchases is acting in a very inconsistent manner and will be required to give a "cheshbon" when reaching the heavenly court. If he can afford to purchase the best of everything, why must his tefillin and mezuzot be cheap and second rate?

The Torah separated between these two incidents in order to lessen the kitrug against Klal Yisrael.

They were punished with a fire - a taveira. Moshe Rabenu then prayed to Hashem and Hashem then extinguished the fire.   "The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more, and said: 'who will feed us meat?' (ibid. 4).   We find in the Gemara that this incident took place on the same day as the fire which swept the Jewish nation. According to one view the fire took the lives of some of the nesiim such as Nachshon ben Aminadav - these people should have been in mourning over the loss of the tzaddikim rather than crying that they wish to eat meat.  

There is a view which states that the only meat permitted to be eaten was that which was offered for korbanos. They did not wish to slaughter their cattle and sheep for korbanos, they therefore asked: "who will feed us meat?" They did not realize that upon their arrival in Eretz Yisrael they would be able to take the cattle and sheep of the other nations and slaughter and eat it. They remained for an extra month before proceeding. This was followed by the loshon hara spoken by Miriam which we find at the end of the parsha which delayed them for an additional week. Then came the chet hameraglim which we will read about next week. The meraglim returned forty days later on Tisha B'Av - the day set aside for bad things.  On that day the people complained for no good reason and Hashem declared: "you have cried in vain on this night, I will establish for you a crying for generations." Imagine how different history would have been had the people not cried for meat - the sequencing of events however was such that the meraglim returned on Tisha B'Av.

The rabbles, according to Chazal, were the erev rav from Egypt - the ones who witnessed the plagues brought on by Hashem and immediately returned to their sinful ways. Here as well they were struck with the taveira and immediately returned to their negative ways. In the end they were buried in Kivroth HaTaava, there was no choice but to bury "the people who had the craving" (Bamidbar 11:34) there, for even after many punishments they kept returning to their negative ways.

Chazal point out a connection between the loshon hara spoken by Miriam and the chet hameraglim: : "Why is the section of the spies adjoined to the section of Miriam? Because she had been punished for evil talk, which she had spoken against her brother, and these wicked people saw and did not learn a lesson" (Rashi Bamidbar 13:2). Although chronologically the episode of Miriam did precede the affair of the spies, we know that "The Torah's events were not recorded in chronological order" (Pesachim 6b).

Accordingly if the Torah chose this juxtaposition of the incident with the spies together with that of Miriam there must be an additional reason for it. Chazal therefore explain that the Torah is criticizing the spies for not having derived a lesson from what happened to Miriam.

Superficially, this is very difficult to understand. What moral can we expect the spies to have learned from Miriam? Had the case been that Miriam spoke loshon hara against sticks and stones and was punished for it, we could have derived by means of a kal vachomer that if it is forbidden to speak loshon hara about sticks and stones then certainly we may not speak this way of a fellow Jew, how much more so a Talmid Chacham, and even more so of the greatest sage and prophet that ever lived! How does the fact that Miriam spoke loshon hara against the greatest sage and prophet teach us that we are forbidden to speak negatively about sticks and stones? What type of a kal vachomer is this? There are countless flaws in such logic! What then is the meaning of this criticism against the spies for not having learned a lesson from what happened to Miriam?

A further difficulty lies in the fact that the Torah commands us: "beware of a tzoraat affliction ... Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt" (Devarim 24:8-9) - "if you wish to take care that you not be stricken with tzoraat do not speak loshon hara, remember what was done to Miriam who spoke against her brother Moshe and was stricken with afflictions of tzoraat" (Rashi Devarim 24:9). This implies that not only should the spies have learned a lesson, but we too must realize the severity of speaking loshon hara from what happened to Miriam. (According to the Ramban "beware of a tzoraat affliction ..." is a positive commandment: "we are commanded to verbally remember to take to heart what Hashem did to Miriam when she spoke of her brother, despite her being a prophetess, as a means of distancing ourselves from speaking loshon hara" (Ramban's appendix to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot - Mitzvat Asei 7). How can we learn from Miriam who spoke loshon hara against Moshe Rabenu that it is even forbidden to speak loshon hara against an ordinary Jew? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with speaking loshon hara against someone who is not on such a high level?

We can explain as follows: What does the A-lmighty say to Miriam and Aharon when He rebukes them? "... My servant Moshe; in My entire house he is trusted. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a vision and not in riddles, and at the image of Hashem does he gaze" [7] (Bamidbar 12:6-8). You should have understood that if I chose Moshe to be My messenger to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, to give them the Torah, and to carry out the myriad other great things that he did, then it was obviously not for no reason but due to his special virtues (even if you do not know what they are). In that case "why did you not fear to speak against My servant Moshe" (ibid.).

The spies should have applied similar reasoning (following the incident of Miriam) - if this is the Land Hashem chose as the residing place of His Divine Presence to reside, if it was this Land He elected to give to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and to bring Klal Yisrael to, then there must be something special about this Land that we do not find elsewhere. We may not be able to discern precisely what these advantages are, but we should at least believe that they exist and not slander the Chosen Land as if it were some terrible place, G-d forbid.

Clearly we cannot compare Miriam to the meraglim - she was a tzaddekes who is now in a lofty section of Gan Eden, while the meraglim have no share in the World to Come. However, on a certain level there is a connection here.

It is interesting that, although beyond our understanding, the Torah explains to us why Moshe and Aharon were barred entry into Eretz Yisrael. We do not find any reason why Miriam did not merit entering the Promised Land. Perhaps we can use the connection between Miriam and the meraglim as an explanation. Although, as we explained, we cannot compare the two - her supposed loshon hara was based on not appreciating Moshe's value and wanting to be like him, while the meraglim did not wish to proceed towards the Land Hashem promised them, yet if they were barred entry perhaps she was as well.

We must realize that Eretz Yisrael is the best place because Hashem gave it to us. The chet hameraglim took place on the night of Tisha B'Av, and may it be the will of Hashem that "the fast of the fifth month ... shall be for the house of Yehuda a time for joy and happiness for us and the entire house of Israel" (Zecharia 8:19).

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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