Category Archives: Parshas Bamidbar

Parshas Bamidbar: The Secret of Life-Found in the Tractate Bava Kama!

Parshas Bamidbar

The Secret of Life-Found in the Tractate Bava Kama!


“The Tent of Meeting shall travel [along with] the camp of the Leviim in the center of the [other] camps, just as they camp so shall they travel….” (Bamidbar 2:17)

After WWII, when the Jews were freed from the concentration camps, many were placed in DP, Displaced Persons, camps. The Jews would often be in those camps for months until they could go on with their lives and emigrate to other countries. The needs in those camps were great. There was a need for kosher food, clothing, and medical help. Many Jews wanted help to find any relatives who may have survived the war. At that time, Rabbi Aaron Paperman was a pulpit rabbi in New Jersey. He heard that there was an opportunity to become a United States Army chaplain. Rabbi Paperman asked for advice from his rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Elya Meir Bloch. Rabbi Bloch told him to leave his position and become a chaplain. That would enable him to be in the position to help the Jewish survivors. Rabbi Paperman indeed became a chaplain and helped many Jews in various ways. One Jewish man, Yitzchok Sieger, approached Rabbi Paperman with a very unusual request. He asked if Rabbi Paperman could get him a Gemora Bava Kama (a volume of the Talmud). Rabbi Paperman was shocked at this unusual request which ignored the basic needs that this man could have asked for. Yitzchok explained, “Four years ago I was in my kitchen in Hungary, and I was learning Bava Kama. The Nazis, yemach shemam, came and took me away. I haven’t seen a Gemora in four years. If you get me a Bava Kama, that’s all I need to get myself back to normal. With a Gemora I will be able to nurse myself back to health.” Rabbi Paperman knew of a nearby shul that had been ransacked but had not burned down. He went there and found the volume of the Talmud that Yitzchok had requested. Yitzchok gave Rabbi Paperman such a happy smile when Rabbi Paperman presented him with the Gemora. The effort was successful, and Yitzchok became rejuvenated. He eventually left the DP camp, went to America, married, and raised a family. The tranquility and serenity provided by his Torah study was the means that gave him the mental capacity to get his life in order. (In the Spirit of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

The Chizkuni (Bamidbar 2:17; 10:33) says that the aron, the ark that proceeded the Jews into battle was constructed by Moshe Rabbeinu and contained the broken set of luchos (Ten Commandments).

The aron that was in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a different ark. It contained the second set, the set of unbroken luchos. That aron was always located in the center, with the people surrounding it on all sides. The Sforno (Bamidbar 2:17) says that regardless of whether the Mishkan was fully assembled or whether the Jews were traveling, and even when the Jews began camping after traveling, the aron always remained in the center of them.

There are two opinions in the Talmud (Jerusalem Talmud Eruvin 5A) that discuss the formation of how the Jews traveled in the desert. One opinion says that they traveled in a straight line. The other opinion says that they traveled in the same formation that they encamped, in a box formation. The above Sforno clearly follows the opinion that the Jews travelled in a box formation. Thus, even when traveling, the aron was in the center of the Jewish people.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) says that since the Torah was in the aron in the Mishkan, it had to always be in the exact middle of the Jewish camp; not closer to one or further from another. This was so that all the Jews could have an equal share in it. Similarly, the Targum Onkelos (Bereishis 2:9) says that the eitz hachaim, the tree of life, in the Garden of Eden was in the exact middle of the garden. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that the Torah is the eitz chaim. The Torah gives us life! When we study the Torah diligently and observe it strictly, we receive spiritual reward. Even beyond that, it helps us overcome the hurdles of daily life. In a human body, life comes from the center of the body, from the heart, as it pumps blood throughout the body. Similarly, Torah is our eitz chaim, our lifeblood. Therefore, the Torah in its holy ark had to be in the middle of all the Jews.

“Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya said that Hashem wanted to confer merit upon the Jewish people; therefore, Hashem increased Torah and mitzvot for them.” (The final Mishna in Meseches Makkos. This Mishna is also repeated at the end of every perek of Pirkei Avos.)

The Sfas Emes says that the study of Torah and the performance of the mitzvos are Divinely conferred privileges, which we are fortunate to have.


The Torah is the source of spiritual and physical life for every single Jew.

It is equally accessible to each of us. Let’s take advantage of the golden opportunity!



Parshas Pinchas: If I Am Not First, I Am Not Going!

Parshas Pinchas

If I Am Not First, I Am Not Going!


“Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen.…” (25:11)

The Navi (Melachim I, Perek 11) discusses that soon after the death of King Solomon, the Jewish kingdom split into two. Rechavam ruled over the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin. Yeravam the son of Nevat ruled over the remaining ten tribes. King Yeravam did not want the people to go to Jerusalem to bring korbanos. He was concerned lest it cause them to accept Rechavam as their king. Therefore, he set up two golden calves for the ten tribes to worship. Because he instituted idolatry, King Yeravam was considered a great sinner.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102A) says that Hashem sent prophets to implore Yeravam to repent. “Repent, and you and I and the son of Yishai [King David] will stroll together in the Garden of Eden.” Jeroboam asked, “Who will walk in the lead? Hashem replied, “The son of Yishai will walk in the lead.” When Yeravam heard that he would not be first, he replied, “If so, I do not wish to repent.”

Yeravam’s response was unbelievable! Hashem offered him a golden opportunity. Yet, Yeravam refused because King David would be greater than him!

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his sefer Mesilas Yesharim (chapter 11), says that a person’s desire for honor is even greater than his desire for wealth! Yeravam was given a wonderful opportunity. If he would repent, he would become very close to Hashem. He would have accepted. However, his desire for honor was too great and caused catastrophic results. He lost his portion in the World to Come because he was not willing to let King David go before him.

In Pirkei Avos (4:28), Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says that the desire for glory is one of the three things that remove a person from this world.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah (Bamidbar 25:11) describes Pinchas as the son of Elazer, who was the son of Aharon. Why was it necessary to say this? It was already written in the end of the previous parsha! Rashi explains that the other tribes were disparaging Pinchas for his act of killing Zimri and Kozbi. Pinchas’ grandfather, Yisro had been an idolator, fattening calves for idols, before he had converted to Judaism. How dare his grandson, Pinchas, kill the head of a tribe (of Shimon)? Therefore, the pasuk emphasizes that Pinchas was distinguished as he was also the grandson of Aharon.

The Kli Yakar has a different explanation. Pinchas should have held himself back from such an act of vengeance, lest the scoffers of the generation ask, who permitted your father to marry the daughter of Yisro (who was from Midyan)? What right did you have to be upset that Zimri also took a woman from Midyan? Your mother’s father fattened calves for idol worship. What right did you have to be upset about the idol worship that Zimri’s action entailed? Furthermore, Aharon, your father’s father, made the Golden Calf. What right did you, Pinchas, have, to be so zealous? The Kli Yakar continues, nevertheless, Pinchas zealously killed both Zimri and Kozbi and was not concerned about his own honor.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l (as quoted in Sefer Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyamin Luban) asks, why is the Kli Yakar emphasizing that Pinchas acted without concern about his honor? Why was that praiseworthy? Wouldn’t it have been more praiseworthy to say that Pinchas acted for the sake of Hashem, to prevent a desecration of Hashem’s name? Wouldn’t it have been more praiseworthy to say that Pinchas saved the Jewish People from the deathly plague that had resulted from their allowing this chilul Hashem?  The plague only stopped when Pinchas killed Zimri. Why not praise Pinchas for placing himself in mortal danger, acting without concern for his life (see the Midrash Rabba 20:25)? Why is he being praised for acting without being concerned about his honor?

Since the Kli Yakar emphasizes this, it must be that this was the greatest praise of Pinchas! Apparently, had he been concerned about his honor, he would not have killed Zimri! He would have rationalized that he would not have been obligated to act since the situation was not in his control.

We see an unbelievable understanding of the human psyche. One’s desire for honor is stronger than one’s desire to live. If Pinchas would have desired honor, he would not have killed Zimri. However, the imminent danger to his life did not hold him back.

We see this same human emotion in the Navi (Melachim II, 5:11-12) with the story of Na’aman. Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a leper. He had heard that the prophet Elisha could perform miracles. He travelled all the way to Eretz Yisroel, to Elisha’s house. Elisha sent out a messenger, telling Na’aman that he would be cured if he would bathe in the Jordan river, seven times. Na’aman was incensed and walked away, ready to return home, uncured. Abarbanel explains that Na’aman felt that his honor had been slighted. He felt that since he was an important person, Elisha should have personally come to greet him. He also had expected Elisha to stand the entire time that he was with him, just as others did. He had expected Elisha to call out in the name of Hashem, asking for a miracle. He was surprised that Elisha had told him to do something that he could have done in any of the rivers near his home. As he was about to return home, his servants convinced him to at least attempt what Elisha had told him. He did and was cleared of his leprosy. He returned to Elisha, offering great gifts, which Elisha refused.

Na’aman had been close to leaving, without being healed. He had heard that Elisha had performed miracles and he had travelled a great distance to come to Elisha. Yet, his desire for honor was even stronger than his desire to be healed. He felt that Elisha had not accorded him the proper respect befitting a man such as himself. To protect his honor, he had decided that Elisha did not have the power to heal him.

The desire for honor is so strong! How can we lessen that desire? Perhaps it would benefit to focus on the words of the Nesivos Shalom of Slonim (quoted in The Pirkei Avos Treasury by Rabbi Moshe Lieber, Perek 4 Mishna 1) that “G-D- given virtues and talents are gifts and do not entitle their recipient to any recognition.”


Parshas Bamidbar: Unconditional Love!

Parshas Bamidbar

Unconditional Love!


“…Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying.” (Bamidbar 1:1)

A certain rabbi’s daughter got engaged. The groom and future-in laws were invited to join them for Shabbos. In the middle of the Shabbos meal, the doorbell rang repeatedly. The rabbi opened the door and in walked his own son, who had strayed from religion. The son walked in and placed his car keys on the hall table.

The rabbi lovingly greeted him. “Welcome, my son! What an honor that you came to join us tonight. How could we have had this very special Shabbos meal without you?” Throughout the meal, the rabbi praised his son, raising his self-esteem and showing him boundless love. In between singing Shabbos songs, the rabbi put his hand on his son’s and said to him, “No matter what, you are my son. I will always love you.” When the son was ready to leave, the rabbi said, “Thank you so much for coming. Our family could not have been complete without you here. We love so much when you join us.” The son said, “Thanks Dad.” Then he picked up his car keys and left. A minute later, the son returned. He went over and hugged his father. “Thank you for being here for me. I’m not going to drive tonight. I will be walking instead.”

This boy eventually returned to a life of Torah and mitzvos.  He credited his father’s love and encouragement for his turnaround. (Living Emunah 6 by Rabbi David Ashear)

It says in Pireki Avos, “Rabbi Akiva said, Beloved are the people of Israel for they are described as children of the Omnipresent.”  (3:14)

During the time of the prophet Yirmiyahu, the Jewish People had sinned greatly. They felt that they had fallen so low that repentance was no longer possible. They told Yirmiyahu,” “We have broken loose. We will not come to You anymore.” (Yirmiyahu 2:31) The Midrash Tanchuma (Bamidbar 2:1) explains what the Jews were saying. In those days, they baked bread by placing it on the hot walls of an oven. When the hot bread was removed from the oven, it could not be put back in since it could no longer stick on the side of the oven. The Jewish People said that they were like this hot bread. After being driven out of the warm relationship with Hashem and exiled from Yerushalayim, they could not foresee their return, just as the warm bread could not be returned to the oven. They felt that they were so removed from Hashem that they could never return.

Hashem responded to the comments of the Jewish People by telling Yimiyahu, “Have I been like a desert to Israel…?” (Yirmiyahu 2:31). The Midrash Tanchuma explains Hashem’s words. “Is it customary for a king of flesh and blood, when he leaves for the desert, [to find] easy living [there] just like that which he had found in his palace?”  When the Jewish People left Mitzrayim, Hashem made their stay in the desert very pleasant. “And I did not even bring three fleas to trouble you”. There was food to eat, from the manna. There was ample water from the rock which was the Well of Miriam. The Jews were surrounded by Clouds of Glory. The Clouds protected them from the sun, killed snakes and scorpions and leveled the mountains and valleys to facilitate their walking with ease. The clouds also “cleaned” their clothes which never wore out. The clothes also grew with them. (Yirmiyahu. 2:31:) Hashem treated the Jews royally in the desert. You are still beloved! Of course, you can repent, no matter how far you have strayed.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l asked, How did Hashem’s words allay the concern of the Jews? How did it prove that Hashem still loved the Jewish People now, when they had fallen so low. Hashem had performed miracles in the desert for the Jewish People when they had been on a high spiritual level. They deserved Hashem’s acts of kindness, but the Jews now felt they were too distanced from Hashem to receive this kindness.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l answered, that the Jews of Yirmiyahu’s generation mistakenly felt that Hashem’s love for the Jews was dependent on their righteousness and closeness to Him. They recognized that they had sinned so much that they were far from Hashem. When Hashem told them about all the kindnesses that He had performed for their forefathers, the generation of the desert, Hashem was sending them a clear message. The multiple acts of kindness that Hashem had done for their forefathers far exceeded what they had deserved, despite their greatness. Yet, Hashem did it for them, showing His absolute love for the Jewish People. This made them realize that no matter how low they had fallen, Hashem loved them as a father loves his son (Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh says, that Hashem loves us even more than a father loves his son). Hashem’s love for us is unconditional, even when we do not deserve it.

We can learn life-changing messages from this. No matter how low we fall spiritually, Hashem is always waiting for us with open arms. Hashem waits for us just as a father waits for his child. Therefore, we can always repent our past misdeeds and come closer to Hashem.

This idea should also give us strength when we experience life’s challenges. We should never feel that we have sinned too much to ask Hashem for help or that we don’t deserve Hashem’s kindness. Hashem’s love for us is absolute. We can always turn to Hashem for help.