Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana
bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
memory of Julius (Yoel ben Naftali Chaim) Wadler who was niftar on the
10th of Sivan.
memory of Zvi ben Yisrael Yitzchak Tyberg, who was niftar on the
12th of Sivan Shulamit Tyberg Isaacs and
beautiful, my love, like Tirtza"
By Rav Tamir
A. The Location of the Inauguration of the
Mishkan in Sefer Bamidbar
our parasha we arrive at what seems to be the conclusion of the lengthy
process of building the Mishkan and its inauguration. However, it is in fact only in chapter
8, with the anointment and readying of the Levi'im, that this great endeavor is
finally over. Thereafter, in
chapter 9, we read about those who, for reasons of ritual impurity, were unable
to participate in the Pesach sacrifice at the proper time. Chapter 10 records the instructions for
the journeying of the camps, and this is immediately followed by a description
of the journey itself i.e., the major part of Sefer Bamidbar, which
covers the journey towards the land of Canaan. In the meantime, we have not yet moved
past the stage of getting the camp organized, including the establishment of the
end of the process of putting up the Mishkan, as set forth in our
parasha, raises two main difficulties with regard to the chronology of
the Torah and the structure of the text.
first difficulty concerns the insertion of this unit, dealing with the
establishment of the Mishkan, in Sefer Bamidbar. The inauguration of the Mishkan
was described in chapters 8-10 of Sefer Vayikra: first we read about the
"days of consecration," followed by the inauguration of the Mishkan
itself. Why, then, do we find in
our parasha, in chapter 7 of Sefer Bamidbar, a unit that opens
with the words, "And it was, on the day that Moshe had finished setting up the
," and which deals with the anointment of the Mishkan, the
gifts of the princes of the tribes to the Mishkan, and their sacrifices
in honor of its establishment? This unit would seem to belong to the story of
the inauguration of the Mishkan, in Sefer
second difficulty pertains to the lack of chronological order in Sefer
Bamidbar itself. The
Sefer opens with the date of the census of Bnei Yisrael: "On the first
[day] of the second month, in the second year
" (Bamidbar 1:1). The date of the inauguration of the
Mishkan, as we learn from the end of Sefer Shemot, is the first of
the first day of the first month you shall establish the Mishkan, the
Tent of Meeting" (Shemot 40:1).
other words, the story in our parasha, in chapter 7, describing the
anointing of the Mishkan and the gifts of the princes, actually took
place before the events described in chapter 1. What is the meaning of this strange
order? Why is the census not described in its chronological place, after the end
of the establishment of the Mishkan?
shall leave the above questions for another time, and will focus here on a brief
episode recorded at the beginning of chapter 7 the bringing of the wagons by
the princes. The commentators have
generally not attributed great importance to this narrative, but I believe that
it is worthy of close attention. As
we shall see below, the Sages do note its ideological
future shiurim we shall connect the idea to be developed below with other
episodes in Sefer Bamidbar, and we will see that they are
integrally connected to each other.
B. The "Offering of the
Torah describes the gifts of the princes with the following
it was, on the day when Moshe had finished putting up the Mishkan, and
anointed it and consecrated it and all of its vessels, as well as the altar and
all of its vessels, and anointed them and consecrated them, that the princes of
Israel, the heads of the house of their fathers - who were the princes of the
tribes, over those who were numbered sacrificed (va-yakrivu) and
brought their offering (va-yaviu et korbanam) before God: six covered
wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two princes, and an ox for each one of
them, and they brought (va-yakrivu) them before the Mishkan. And God said to Moshe: Take [it] from
them, that they may be for serving in the service of the Tent of Meeting, and
you shall give them to the Levi'im, to each man in accordance with his
service. So Moshe took the wagons
and the oxen and gave them to the Levi'im.
Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, in accordance
with their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of
Merari, in accordance with their service, by the hand of Itamar, son of Aharon
the Kohen. And to the sons of Kehat he did not give, for the service of the
Sanctuary was theirs; they carried it upon their
this brief unit there is tension between the beginning and the
2 and 3 deal with the bringing of the sacrifices by the princes, as we
understand from the words "they sacrificed," "they brought their offering," and
"they brought." In verses 4-9 the
main subject suddenly changes, and the Torah starts talking about the wagons and
the oxen that the princes have brought, and their integration into the
Mishkan's fixed procedures for journeying and carrying. Only afterwards, in verses 12-87, does
the Torah get back to the sacrifices of the princes, and there it lists
tension gives rise to a question: did the princes intend to bring the sacrifices
only, with the wagons being used only to transport them as far as the
Mishkan, or was it their intention to bring the wagons as a contribution
to be used for carrying the Mishkan, in addition to the sacrifices and
without connection to them?
grapples with these two possibilities:
we should interpret, 'They brought their sacrifice before God; six covered
wagons' to mean six large wagons bearing their sacrifices, 'And twelve oxen'
drawing the wagons. But they bring
the full wagons and the oxen before the Mishkan, and God commands Moshe,
'Take it from them' meaning, all of it.
The wagons and the oxen, which were not for sacrificing, would be for
performing the service of the Tent of Meeting. Thereafter the princes took their
sacrifices from the wagons and brought them before the Mishkan, for they
had thought to offer it all on that same day when they were permitted to
sacrifice. But God commanded (verse
11), 'One prince per day shall offer,' and therefore there was no need now to
say, 'Take it from them.'"
to this explanation, the main purpose of the princes was to bring their
sacrifices; the wagons came only for the purpose of placing the sacrifices on
them. The wagons were left
redundant, and so God instructed Moshe to set them aside for carrying the
Mishkan. According to this
view, the words, "They brought their sacrifice" refer to the sacrifices which
were upon the wagons, not the wagons themselves.
Ramban senses the tension in this unit, and so he proposes a different
the princes of Israel
and brought their sacrifice before God'
Since the wagons were for the purpose of the sacrifice, they are called a
'sacrifice,' as in, 'We have brought a sacrifice to God, each [bringing]
whatever he has found vessels of gold
' (Bamidbar 31:50) a sacrifice
for the maintenance of the Mishkan.
Here, the princes thought that it did not make sense for the Levi'im to
carry the boards and planks of the Mishkan on their shoulders, since they
were very heavy, so they brought wagons, of their own accord, for it is the
practice of all who bear royal dwellings and their tent abodes to carry them on
his second explanation, Ramban proposes that the wagons are a gift in their own
right. According to this view, the
words, "They brought their sacrifice," refer to the wagons. We may take his explanation a step
further and suggest that the Torah uses the term "sacrifice" since this was an
instance of setting aside (hekdesh) of the wagons for the purposes of
Mishkan service, and not just to carry the
the gift of the sacrifices is quite understandable, we must ask why the princes
wanted according to Ramban's second explanation to give the wagons as a
gift. What was their purpose in
bringing the wagons?
offers two explanations. First, as a way of giving honor to the Mishkan,
"Since it is the custom of kings that those they honor be borne on wagons," and
second, because of the great weight "Since they were very heavy."
explanations seem logical enough, but on the more philosophical level, the
initiative still demands some clarification. How could the princes think of bringing
wagons for carrying after God had already entrusted the bearing of the
Mishkan to the Levi'im, and commanded them to carry it on their
shoulders? The earlier command, concerning the carrying of the Mishkan on
the shoulders of the Levi'im, raises a question as to the legitimacy of the
princes' gift. As noted above, our
Sages were sensitive to the important message of this unit, and they award great
importance to this act of giving (Midrash Shir Ha-shirim). An examination of their interpretation
will answer our question.
C. "You are Beautiful, my love, as Tirtza
when you so wish"
The Sages' View
of our Unit
we know from midreshei Chazal, the "love" in Shir
Ha-shirim refers to the nation of Israel. The beauty of Israel is
compared, in Shir Ha-shirim, to "Tirtza" (6:4); this verse is interpreted
in several different ways; we shall focus here on the interpretation that is
related to our discussion above.
According to this view, "like Tirtza" (ke-tirtza) is an expression
made up of the same letters as the words, "ke-she'at rotza" (when you so
are beautiful, my love, as Tirtza' [this means], when you so wish, you need
not ask anything or request anything').
Who told them to bring wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan?
Did they not bring them on their own, as it is written (Bamidbar 7),
'They brought their sacrifice before God; six covered wagons' (corresponding to
the six heavens) but are they not seven? Rabbi Abon said
the number six
corresponds to the six lands: 'eretz,' 'arka,' 'adama,'
'gai,' 'tzia,' 'neshiya,' 'tevel' and it is written
(Tehillim 9), 'He judges the world (tevel) with justice.' Six corresponds to the six books of the
Mishna; six corresponds to the six days of Creation; six corresponds to the six
matriarchs Sara, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Zilpa, Bilha
and twelve oxen
corresponding to the twelve princes).
wagon for every two princes, and an ox for each one' this teaches that they
did not buy them; rather, this one brought an ox and that one brought an ox;
this one brought a wagon and that one brought a wagon.
the brought them before the Mishkan' this teaches that they gave them
over to the public.
God said to Moshe, saying' what is the meaning of the word 'saying'? God said
to him, Go out and say to them words of praise and comfort. Rabbi Hoshaya said: The Holy One,
blessed be He, said I consider it as though I had to bear the [weight of the]
world, and now you have brought Me [wagons].
At that moment
Moshe was fearful. He said to
himself: Perhaps the spirit of Divine inspiration has left me and settled upon
the princes, or perhaps some prophet has arisen and taught this law. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to
him: Moshe, had I told them that they should bring, I would have said to you
that you should tell them. However,
'Take it from them and it shall be
' (Bamidbar 7:5). What is the meaning of, 'Take it from
them' that it was their own initiative, 'From them'
" (Shir Ha-shirim
Rabba [Vilna], parasha 6)
Chazal, the gift of the princes presented some difficulty for Moshe. Thus
far, all of the laws and commandments had been given by God. The giving of the wagons, which the
princes brought in order for the Mishkan to be carried on them, creates a
new situation: the princes are trying to create a new halakha that has no source
in God's command.
Moshe is not
familiar with this sort of dynamic in the creation of halakha. Is this a legitimate development? Can he
accept the gift? Chazal intensify Moshe's dilemma, placing the following
thoughts in his heart:
spirit of Divine inspiration has left me and settled upon the princes, or
perhaps some prophet has arisen and taught this law."
inspiration or prophecy it is not possible, according to Moshe's primal
understanding, to accept the gift and to recognize it as being legitimate; Torah
can be received only through revelation.
However, God reveals to Moshe that he is mistaken, and Chazal
interpret the verses as God's answer to him: "'Take it from them' the
initiative is theirs, it is from them."
As Chazal see it, "from them" seems superfluous here, therefore
they conclude that what God is telling Moshe is that it is possible to accept
the gift even though the princes brought it on their own initiative and of their
own free will, and not in response to God's command. In this way the Midrash connects the
beginning to the end: "When you so wish you need ask nothing, nor request
anything." In other words, the
generosity of spirit and the good will of Israel are their
beauty and their praise.
Not only is
such a mortal initiative acceptable; it actually becomes part of the Torah: the
procedure for journeying is amended, because now there are wagons to help with
the carrying of the Mishkan.
Moreover, according to Chazal, God heaps praise upon the
princes. The Mishkan is
compared to the whole world, a microcosm of sorts, and the bearing of the
Mishkan is like aid to God, Who bears the world on His shoulders, as it
were. Through the princes'
participation in the travels of the "microcosm," the hardship, as it were, of
carrying the world is lessened.
and the Literal Meaning of the Verses
Chazal's interpretation fit the literal meaning of the text? Here too, as
in many other instances, we must be cautious and avoid giving too simplistic an
answer to this question.
On one hand,
Moshe's thoughts are certainly not written in the verses, nor is the dilemma
that Chazal describe presented explicitly. On the other hand, the midrash
Chazal is based on the dissonance between the words, "They brought their
sacrifice before the Mishkan" (end of verse 3), and the very next words
"And God said to Moshe, saying" (verse 4).
After the text tells us that the princes brought sacrifices, we would
expect the description to continue with the offering of the sacrifices. Instead, there is a sort of jump in the
story: God speaks to Moshe without any approach by Moshe. Chazal feel the need to fill in
this missing piece. If Moshe does
not speak here, he must surely be thinking something. While his thoughts are not recorded
explicitly in the Written Law, the Oral Law supplies them. Further support for Chazal's view
is to be found in the relatively uncommon expression, "God said to
Moshe," instead of the usual "God spoke to Moshe." Chazal understand this to be a
gentler mode of expression:
was afraid, he had to be answered in gentle language."
Midrash should never be understood only within its local context, since the
midrashim of Chazal deal with ideas, principles and lessons that
are derived from other places, too.
I believe that in this case Chazal regard our unit as a sort of
introduction to two other units in Sefer Bamidbar: the law of
Pesach Sheni, and the story of the daughters of Tzelofchad. What is the connection between these
units? To answer this question, let us examine the two other
D. Two Stories With One
the daughters of Tzelofchad, and the similarity between
(4) Moshe spoke
to Bnei Yisrael, to perform the Pesach [sacrifice]
(6) And there
were people who were ritually impure through contact with a corpse, and they
could not perform the Pesach on that day, and they came before Moshe and
before Aharon on that day.
(7) And those
people said to him: We are ritually impure through contact with a human corpse;
why shall we be missing and not offer God's sacrifice at its appointed
time, amongst Bnei Yisrael?
(8) So Moshe
said to them: Stand, and I shall hear what God commands for
(9) And God
spoke to Moshe, saying:
(10) Speak to
Bnei Yisrael, saying: Any person who is impure
(1) And the
daughters of Tzelofchad, son of Chefer, son of Gilad, son of Makhir, son of
Menasheh, of the families of Menasheh, son of Yosef, came close and these were
the names of his daughters: Machla, No'a and Chogla and Milka and
(2) And they stood
before Moshe and before Elazar, the kohen, and before the princes, and
all of the congregation, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting,
(3) Our father died
in the desert; he was not among the congregation who gathered together in the
congregation of Korach, for he died in his own sin, and he had no
should our father's
name be missing, amongst his family, because he has no son? Give us a
possession amongst our father's brothers.
(5) So Moshe
brought their cause before God.
(6) And God said to
(7) The daughters
of Tzelofchad speak right
issues treated in these two parshiyot are very different from one
another. The Pesach Sheni unit (Bamidbar 9) deals with the desire of a
group of people who are ritually impure to take part in the Pesach sacrifice of
all of Israel, and the solution provided for
them is a "second chance" at Pesach.
The second unit (Bamidbar 27) records the desire of the daughters
of Tzelofchad to receive an inheritance in the land in order to establish the
name of their late father upon an inheritance in Eretz
difference between the two subjects does not detract from the remarkable
similarity between them, in terms of both form and underlying
a. Each of the two units gives voice to
personal distress arising from a halakhic problem. The desire of the ritually impure to
take part in the Pesach sacrifice cannot be realized, since God has forbidden
them to do so, and the desire of the daughters to establish their father's name
cannot be realized because the laws of inheritance that have been received thus
far recognize only inheritance by men.
b. In both cases, the appeal is not for
some personal benefit, but rather a moral aspiration. Offering the Pesach sacrifice and
establishing the name of the deceased (like the commandment of yibum,
levirate marriage) are both desirable acts according to halakha, but in the case
of those who are ritually impure, and of the daughters of Tzelofchad, difficulty
has arisen in the fulfillment of these laws, owing to their specific
c. In both instances, those who come to
appeal demonstrate a desire to be part of the nation and not to be pushed to the
sidelines: the ritually impure ask, "Why should we be missing" from the rest of
the nation in offering God's sacrifice, while the daughters ask why their
father's name should "be missing" from those who take possession of their
inheritances. The similarity also
echoes in the expressions, "Amongst Bnei Yisrael" and "Amongst our father's
d. In both cases, Moshe could simply have
rejected the appeal on the grounds of lack of any basis in the law. If God has not proposed any solution,
then there is no solution.
Moreover, Moshe could even have wondered at the very audacity of the
demand to institute an "individualized" law and rebuked the appellants for their
implied claim that the existing law, given by God, is not complete and
perfect. However, Moshe the
humblest of men behaves differently.
With his great sensitivity he understands that exceptional cases must be
addressed obviously, on condition that the motives of the appeal are pure (as
discussed in c. above). In the case
of the Pesach sacrifice, Moshe tells the group that is impure, "Stand and I
shall hear what God commands for you"; similarly, with regard to the daughters
of Tzelofchad, we are told, "Moshe brought their cause before God."
e. In both cases there is another person
with Moshe: in the instance of Pesach Sheni it is Aharon, while when the
daughters of Tzelofchad approach, Elazar stands with Moshe (this takes place
after Aharon's death).
f. In both cases, God acquiesces to the
request. In Bamidbar chapter
9 the commandment of Pesach Sheni is given, while in chapter 27 God agrees with
the claim of the daughters of Tzelofchad.
connection between the two units demonstrates that their theme is one and the
same: the Torah looks kindly upon initiative with positive intentions, even
where it would appear to be seeking to act with no law guiding it or even in
opposition to an existing law, on condition that the appeal is made through the
Laws by Man
Now we must
address the central question that arises from the above: if the appellants were
indeed justified and praiseworthy in their appeals, why did God not simply
command Moshe with regard to these issues, before the problems had a chance to
arise? Why was there a need for a special appeal in order for God to instruct
laws that in any case were "authentic"?
commenting on the story of the daughters of Tzelofchad (Bamidbar 9:7),
gives the classic answer:
was worthy of being uttered by Moshe, like all the rest of the Torah, but [the
daughters of Tzelofchad] merited having it revealed through them, for merit is
brought about through one who is meritorious."
In other words,
essentially the law could have been conveyed earlier, but God wanted to give
certain righteous people the merit of having the law being revealed through
I believe that
we may offer a different explanation, based on the above Midrash (Shir
Ha-shirim Rabba) concerning the gifts of the princes. There, Chazal establish firmly
that "When you (the nation of Israel) so wish, you need not ask or
request from anything (or anyone)."
In other words,
human initiative that is proper and praiseworthy, performed for the sake of
heaven and affected through the proper channels, may literally turn into
Torah. Contrary to Moshe's view
that Divine inspiration or prophecy are needed to reveal the Divine will, God
tells him that the matter is theirs, it comes from them. People have the ability to reveal new
insights in Torah, in the most concrete sense.
This is exactly
what happens in the case of Pesach Sheni and the daughters of Tzelofchad. In these units the Torah teaches us a
new way of laws being instituted and established: the source of the law, in
essence, is not a prior command, but rather the human interpretation. However, as noted above, the
interpretation alone is not sufficient to confirm it; it must be subjected to
institutionalized review (Moshe and Aharon, or Moshe and Elazar), and be raised
before God. If the request is
accepted and approved, it is known by its initiators not just as a gesture of
polite acknowledgment, but because of its essence: it is they who have created
On this basis
we may ask, what would have happened if these appeals had not been brought?
Would the Torah ultimately not have included the law of Pesach Sheni, or
instructed that in the absence of sons, daughters may
It seems to me
that, theoretically, the answer is that without the earthly appeal on the part
of the appellants from within Bnei Yisrael, these laws would indeed have been
omitted from the Torah; it is the presentation of the problem and of the
interpretation that represent the basis of the new law. We may offer halakhic support for this
assumption. Firstly, the idea of Pesach Sheni is indeed revolutionary, since
there is no other commandment that offers a second chance. Furthermore, we are
familiar with the principle according to which "one who is forced (prevented
through circumstances beyond his control) is exempt"; hence it would seem
reasonable to conclude that a person who was ritually impure at the time of the
Pesach sacrifice is unable (and not required) to fulfill that commandment. However, the appeal on the part of those
who find themselves in that situation creates an entirely different situation:
these people recognize that the Pesach sacrifice is a covenantal sacrifice, and
that their absence from it while formally justified excludes them, in their
consciousness and their emotions, from the nation of Israel. God recognizes the justice of the
appeal, and introduces Pesach Sheni.
applies to the inheritance by the daughters of Tzelofchad. It is possible that,
had the personal anguish of these women at their father's oblivion in the
inheritance of the land not arisen, there would have been no need for the law;
their genuine desire is the fundamental source of the new
E. The Oral Law within the Written
At this time of
year we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The idea that we have discussed above
has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the essence of
Torah. We are accustomed to think
of the Written Law as a closed system a text including 613 commandments given
to Moshe at Sinai, starting "In the beginning" and ending "The sight of all of
Israel." After the conclusion and sealing up of
the Written Law comes the creation of the Oral Law which, on one hand, is
nourished by the Written Law, but on the other hand is constantly renewed and
guided by the human quest for God's word; by man's difficulties and his
initiatives, and by the new problems that arise within a changing reality. The Oral Law seems to be a dimension
that is different and distinct from the Written Law.
In the texts
that we examined above the story of the wagons, the law of Pesach Sheni, and
the daughters of Tzelofchad we find the foundations of the Oral Law embedded
within the Written Law. The Torah
appears to be sealed and complete, but in the wake of human initiatives it
changes; the appeals by various people turn into letters and words of
Torah. In these instances, the
accepted distinction - between the Written Law as a closed, sealed corpus and
the Oral Law as a different world, existing on a different plane - is
blurred. There is an "oral law"
that is part of Moshe's Written Law; there is a "Torah originating from the
people" that is part of the Torah from God!
I believe that
this is the message of these narratives: God's word is never complete and
sealed. God's Torah is endless and
infinite, therefore it can be renewed at any time. Obviously, there are rules and
institutions through which any change must come about, otherwise there is the
danger of human initiative being mistaken, which is what happened in the case of
Nadav and Avihu, who taught halakha in the presence of their teacher without
consulting him. However, this does
not nullify the fundamental idea of, "Take it from them; the matter has come
The beauty of
the nation of Israel is revealed through good will
and initiative: "You are beautiful, my love, as Tirtza when you wish." When their words are accepted, they are
considered like the words of God Himself.
This very idea
is presented by Rav Mordekhai Yosef of Ischbitz, author of Mei
their offering before God; six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every
two princes, and an ox for each of them, and they brought them before the
Mishkan' for truly they had great mercy on the Levi'im who had to carry
this heavy burden, and did not know what to do, for [so such provision] was
given by God's word to Moshe. [The
princes] feared that the Levi'im would have to exert their bodies with the toil
of the burden in order to purify their hearts. But sometimes a person's heart cannot be
softened until he serves God bodily.
So perhaps this mercy was not from God, but rather originated in their
own feelings. In a place where God
does not desire it, [such desire] is called 'the cruel mercy of wicked
ones.' Therefore it was proper that
every two princes would bring one wagon, for if two people do something then God
agrees with them, as it is written, 'Through knowledge the righteous will be
saved' in other words, when two Torah scholars agree on the same opinion. 'And an ox for each one of them' for
'if you grasp only a little, you will retain it in your grasp.' For no prince wanted to rely on his own
opinion, but when he saw that his companion was in agreement, then they
understood that the matter was from God.
As it is written in Yirmiyahu, when Chanamel came and said to him, 'Buy
[the field] for yourself,' then he said: 'I knew that it was from God,' as
explained on the verse, 'And molten gods.'
So when Moshe saw this [initiative on the part of the princes] he was
quite astonished, and thought that God's word had been revealed to them without
his knowledge, until God said to him, 'Take it from them' in other words, it
was not only of their own minds, and therefore 'Take it from them' for their
intention is an authentic reflection of My will. For it was My will that they would each
offer one ox, and a wagon for every two princes."