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.)
The story continues with the cloud guiding their journey. They were organized according to tribes and groups. To facilitate communication, the command for trumpets and an associated code was given. One feels a mood of expectancy and tension reading the parsha. Finally, the promise to Abraham is about to be fulfilled. Moshe was excited and anticipated great things. This was to be the final journey. His conversation with Yisro portrays peace of mind and a feeling of inevitability. Moshe says ‘We, including myself, are traveling to the promised land’. Moshe extended this invitation not only to Yisro, but to all converts, in all generations, and to the entire non-Jewish world to join them on their march. There was only one condition, whoever accompanies us must convert according to Jewish law and subject himself to the same divine discipline that we have accepted. The Torah and Eretz Yisrael were given to us but we were told to share it with the world. Kol shochnei eretz v’yoshvei teivel, all people are invited to join. Had that march been realized, Moshe would have been the Messiah and we never would have been exiled. Unfortunately the march ended abruptly and the distance in time to realizing its completion became much longer, extending to the present day.
At this point, Moshe had no doubt that he would enter the Promised Land. The march and conquest would be complete in a matter of days. There was no need for spies or other military tactics. The Ark and the people traveled 3 days distance in a single day because Hashem desired to bring them into Eretz Yisrael as quickly as possible. We now see that the section of Vayehi B’nsoa is in its proper place. Moshe spoke of the 31 Canaanite kings and nations as the enemies of Hashem and the Jewish People that were about to be confronted, dispersed and conquered. Had the march come to fruition, there would have been no need for the inverted nun’s.
Suddenly, something unexpected happened. The great march came to an abrupt halt. The multitudes among them experienced a desire for meat and wept. This lust aroused the wrath of Hashem and the resentment of Moshe. For the first time, Moshe does not act as defense attorney. This incident was different than the sin of the Golden Calf. That was caused when a newly freed people experienced a primitive fright when they thought Moshe died, resulting in a terror-induced panic causing them to act out through the medium of the golden calf as an idol. There were mitigating circumstances in that case and Moshe rose to defend them and argued courageously on their behalf.
Kivros hataavah represented a pagan influence. Paganism combines an idolatrous as well as a hedonistic life style. Paganism can survive without the former, but not the latter. Where Judaism demands that the individual limit himself and withdraw from his lust and desire, paganism demands unlimited lust, to fill an insatiable desire. The demonic dream of total conquest attracts the pagan. When man reaches for the unreachable and enigmatic, he emulates the pagan way of life abhorred by Hashem, like idolatry itself. Hashem commanded the people to gather the Slav. The Torah describes in great detail the lack of control the people showed in gathering the Slav. They emulated the pagan. Contrast that with the Judaic approach to the Manna, where they collected only what they needed.
People who cannot limit hedonistic desires are not worthy to enter the land. The great march came to an abrupt and tragic end. Vayehi b’nsoa was dislocated, represented by inverted nun’s. Though there was no edict of 40 years yet, Moshe realized his hope to enter the land would never be realized. (The Rav related a similar experience of his own. Throughout his wife’s illness, he had hope and faith that she would recover. On the Yom Kippur before she passed away, he held a Sefer Torah at Kol Nidrei and subsequently handed the scroll to a student to return it to the Aron Kodesh. The scroll slipped inside the Aron (it did not fall). At that point, he realized that his hope for her recovery would not be realized.)
With the end of the march, Moshe, the optimist, despairs and proclaims he prefers death to not entering the land. This is highlighted by the story of Eldad and Meidad who prophesied that Moshe’s wish to see the land will never come true. Moshe will pass on and Joshua will bring the people to the land. Instead of the march bringing them closer to the land, it pushed them further from their goal and inverted the nun’s and Jewish history.
Hashem chose Moshe to be the spiritual leader and teacher of the people to make them into a holy nation. He was not selected as a political leader. With the episode of kivros hataavah, Moshe realized that in addition to his teacher role, he would now also have to be a nursing mother. The nursing mother is perhaps the best teacher of the child. Where the teacher’s role is limited, the nursing mother’s is expansive. The disciple does not become a part of the teacher. However, the nursing child becomes a part of the mother. She has one calling, to protect the baby. The mother does not belong to herself anymore, at least while the infant is incapable of caring for himself. Moshe discovered that a manhig Yisrael must be more than a teacher. The teacher has a life of his own, but he is now connected to all the people. He must feel their pain and joy. While Moshe reconciled with his role as teacher and leader, he doubted his ability to be a nursing mother. He says, “Did I conceive and bear all these people that I should carry them like a nursing mother carries an infant”?
With the episode of kivros hataavah, Moshe knew that he no longer had personal space or rights. He separated from his wife and children, brother and sister. He knew he could no longer share personal joy with them. The children of Moshe are never mentioned in any census recorded in the Torah. Had Moshe retained his own children, he would have been obligated to teach them before teaching others. As parent and teacher of all Klal Yisrael he could show no preference to his biological children. At Mattan Torah, Hashem told Moshe to instruct the people to return to their tents and their normal family lives. However, Moshe you must remain with me. Miriam asked, Does prophecy require rejecting spouse, children and siblings? We are also prophets, and live exemplary lives with our spouses and children. Why should Moshe be different? Hashem told Miriam, You don’t understand the uniqueness of Moshe. My servant is parent and teacher of all the people and his separation from his family is warranted and required by Hashem.
The unified story of the parsha is one of great potential cut short, and the evolution of the Jewish Leader must teach and remain resolute while accepting responsibility and showing patience, even for those that stray from Torah Judaism. May we fulfill our ultimate mission, the same mission Moshe embarked upon thousands of years ago with great anticipation, to return permanently to our land with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at email@example.com.
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