The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. This week’s d’var Torah is dedicated in honor of Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Rapps and Mrs. Leona Bomzer.
B’haloscha is among the most perplexing and difficult parshyiot, containing many, seemingly disjointed stories. We are perplexed by the lack of continuity and unity of the narrative. The parsha starts with the Menorah, a story that belongs in Naso, continues with the sanctification of the Levites and the story of the second Pesach and Pesach Sheini. We have the cloud guiding the people on their journey and the commandment to fashion trumpets and the associated signal system. The travel order of the tribes around the tabernacle is reviewed. Moshe humbly extends an invitation to Yisro to remain with Bnei Yisrael. We have the verses Vayhi B’nsoa and U’Vnucho Yomar surrounded by inverted nun’s, indicating that this section is out of context and doesn’t belong here. The Torah tells the story of the kivros hataavah, people who committed no sin, didn’t raise their voices and didn’t threaten anyone. They were simply overcome by desire and complained. We could interpret the phrase kivros hataavah in modern terms as the graves man digs for himself, or the graves that desire digs for man. The parsha concludes with the story of Miriam.
Where is the transition between all these, seemingly half-told stories? Are there multiple stories in the parsha or a single, unified, developed story? Why was Vayehi B’nsoa and U’Vnucho Yomar with the surrounding inverted nun’s inserted here? These two verses would fit well at the conclusion of Book of Exodus. Why did Moshe seemingly panic and speak in such a negative way about the people in the story of kivros hataavah? The optimistic Moshe, who was willing to grab on, so to speak, to the mantle of Hashem to defend the people, now became their prosecutor and said that he prefers death to continuing in his current role. How could he speak against his people? Why did Miriam, who protected Moshe on the shore of the Nile when even their parents had despaired, speak ill of Moshe?
There is a single, unified, tragic story told in this parsha. Chazal refer to the calamities detailed in B’haloscha as among the most terrible and difficult. When Hashem charged Moshe to take the Jews from Egypt, He gave Moshe a sign corroborating his mission that the Exodus will not be complete without worshiping Hashem on this mountain. According to the Chinuch, Hashem meant two things with the word taavdun (worship), the giving of the Torah which teaches man how to worship Hashem, and the tabernacle, constructed immediately after Moshe descended the mountain with the second Luchos. (The importance of the tabernacle can be seen in that the command to build the altar was given immediately after the Asseres HaDibros.)
The episode of the golden calf delayed the fulfillment of taavdun, the construction of the tabernacle, by 80 days. The work began the day after Yom Kippur and was completed on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. There was no longer any need to remain in Sinai. Parshas Naso details the tabernacle dedication by the tribal elders and the dedication of the Levites who were necessary for the MIshkan. With the receipt of Torah and the dedication of the tabernacle on the 13th of Nissan, Taavdun es haElokim al hahar hazeh, they completed the Sinaitic pre-requisites and were now ready to march into the Promised Land. The four languages of redemption were realized. They were extricated, saved, redeemed and taken unto Hashem as His treasured nation. All that remained was the fifth aspect, v’heiveisi, entering Eretz Yisrael. However the cloud remained stationary. They were commanded to perform the Pesach of the second year and postpone their journey. The narrative transition between the conclusion of the dedication of the tabernacle and their journey, interrupted by the second Pesach, is seamless. (Note, my father, Rabbi Moshe Rapps, shlita, explained to me that the exceptional punctuation of the word pausach (kamatz instead of a segol) in mid-sentence hints at the uniqueness of the second Pesach, the only one celebrated during the 40-year sojourn in the desert.)