Weekly Torah Portion – Parshat Hashavua – Matot Masei
Contributed by: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Parshat Hashavua Matot Masei in a nutshell: Moses describes the laws of oaths; the Israelites battle the Midianites and the tribes of Reuben and Gad request that they dwell outside of the Land of Israel.
Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2
“But what you have expressed verbally you must fulfill.” (Bemidbar 32:24)
The Hafess Hayim wrote many books, which he would sell all over. Each time books came back from the printer, he would go over them to make sure that there were no flaws. He was afraid that a damaged book would be sold and then he would transgress the sin of stealing.
Once, the Hafess Hayim asked his daughter to review a few of the books. She apologized, explaining that she was on her way to do something her mother had asked of her. “But in the evening, when I return, I’ll be able to look over even 100 books!”
That night, when she returned home, she found exactly 100 books waiting on the table for her to review! When she expressed her surprise, her father said, “You should know, dear daughter, that you have to watch what you say! You clearly said, ‘I’ll be able to go over even 100 books!’ If so, chas veshalom that you should utter a falsehood!”
In 5675 (1915), the Hafess Hayim was in Moscow together with his son-in-law. The Hafess Hayim sat in his hotel and spoke with one of the wealthy men of Moscow, who was a major supporter of the Yeshivah in Radin.
At the time, it became necessary to send an urgent telegram to someone, so his son-in-law went into the next room to arrange the telegram, while the Hafess Hayim remained in his place and continued talking to the philanthropist.
As they were speaking, the man uttered some harsh words against someone. The Hafess Hayim hurried to stop him in mid-sentence and said, “There in the next room, they are sending a telegram, and they are careful to count each and every word. Do you know why? Because they know that they have to pay for every single word!
“Do you hear?” the Hafess Hayim asked. “One has to pay for every single word!”
The Pearls of Life now Quote Rabbi Avigdor Miller who always used to say that among the Objectives of the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination), is to exert himself with all of his strength, so that mankind should not see how happy life really is. Now listen to that again: This Yetzer Hara [Evil Inclination] tries with all of his might to hide and conceal from us how happy our lives really are. Let that sink in. Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim
The Talmud in Sanhedrin 59a writes that If a Non Jew [Noahide] engages in Torah, he receives reward like a Kohen Gadol [high priest] – “Asher Ya’aseh Osam ha’Adam va’Chai”; It does not say that Yisraelim will live through the Mitzvos, rather, Adam – this teaches that if a Non Jew [Noadhide] engages in Torah, he is rewarded like a Kohen Gadol.The Noahide is rewarded for learning the seven Mitzvos (he is liable for learning anything he is not allowed to learn].
And now Parshat Hashavua Matot Masei
And Moshe gave to them, to the Bnei Gad, and the Bnei Reuven and half of the tribe of Menashe ben Yosef. (32:33)
In the previous text, we find that Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven requested to remain in Eiver HaYarden. How did shevet Menashe enter into the situation? Moreover, why did only a part of shevet Menashe stay? Last, why did they receive such a large parcel of land? The Ramban contends that actually, Moshe asked for volunteers to join the two tribes who remained in Eiver HaYarden. Part of the tribe of Menashe responded, probably because of their abundant flocks. In his commentary on Sefer Devarim, the Netziv claims that Moshe insisted that part of shevet Menashe move to Eiver HaYarden. No Jewish community can maintain its spiritual status quo unless Torah scholars are in their midst, teaching, disseminating Torah and inspiring people to follow the standard they exemplify. The tribe of Menashe included such people. Only after they consented to move east did Moshe agree to let Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven remain. By doing so, Moshe meant to set a precedent for all future generations, asserting that a community has viability only if it also has dedicated Torah scholars among its active members.
In Pirkei Avos 6:9 the Mishnah addresses the issue of living in a Torah environment, presenting the correct attitude one must manifest towards this endeavor: Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma said, “I was once walking on the road when a man met me and greeted me. I returned his greeting. He said to me, ‘Rabbi, from what place are you?’ I told him, ‘From a great city of scholars and teaching scribes am I.’ He said to me, ‘Rabbi, would you be willing to live with us in our place? I would then give you a million dinarii and precious stones and pearls.’ I answered him, ‘Were you to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones in the world, I would live nowhere but in a place of Torah.” On the surface, this simple narrative demonstrates how a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, reacted in a specific situation, indicating his overriding desire to reside only in a makom Torah, a community where the study of Torah reigns. The commentators, however, perceive that this Mishnah teaches us a number of compelling lessons.
First, let us address the actual dialogue which ensued between Rabbi Yosi and his would-be benefactor. The man offered him an opportunity to improve his situation by moving to another city. Why did Rabbi Yosi immediately respond with a negative attitude? What prompted him to think that the city in which the man lived was not a place of Torah? Abarbanel suggests the answer lies in the formulation of the stranger’s offer. When one is willing to pay an exorbitant sum of money for a commodity, it must be rare. If people are prepared to pay a million dollars for a Torah scholar, obviously the place must be bereft of Torah.
We suggest that the stranger’s attitude created a negative impression. He presented himself as a person who is used to getting what he wants – through money. He felt he could “buy” a Torah scholar. A city where the Torah scholars are “bought” and “sold” as a commodity is not a place that can be considered a makom Torah. Furthermore, a Torah scholar is not engaged simply by offering him money. Did he investigate Rabbi Yosi? Did he have him tested? The stranger’s alacrity was indicative of his attitude.
Reb Yitzchak Bunim,zl, notes the “pronoun” “I” (will give you a million…) in the stranger’s offer. A man who speaks for the community has no right to say “I,” unless he is really implying that he represents the entire community. His power and position determine who will be hired. In effect, he was doing the hiring and dispensing of the salary. A community that has a single person “in charge,” one individual who makes or controls the decisions, one person who — due to his financial standing — is obsessed with the pronoun, “I,” is not a place for a ben Torah to live.
After all, was said and done, the situation was that a man of means offering support to Rabbi Yosi in a splendid and dignified manner. Rabbi Yosi would no longer have to worry about the source of his next “dollar.” He could have immersed himself totally in the study of Torah. Is that really such a difficult proposition to accept? Furthermore, with all that money, even if the community was not Torah oriented, they would have been able to “buy” Torah. They would have had the means to bring in a kollel, build a Yeshivah and schools that would properly address the needs of their youth. What could be so bad?
Reb Yitzchak Bunim feels the answer lies in the information that the stranger omitted. He did not mention a proposal to build a Yeshivah, arrange for community study groups, a shul, a mikvah — any of the usual “staples” a Torah community needs to survive. Neither did he indicate that the people would support a school – morally or financially. He merely was prepared to offer a sizable salary/bribe to have a rabbi dwell among them, to dignify their community. He was not asking the rabbi to “do” anything – to teach, to build a Torah community. He sought a Torah “presence,” the way some people desire a nice garden. This type of offer was an opportunity for stagnation and disaster, not creativity and growth.
Last, the words of my rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, appropriately summarize the reason for Rabbi Yosi’s refusal. “We must realize,” the Rosh Hayeshiva was wont to say, ” you cannot create a makom Torah with money alone. One must apply blood, sweat, and tears to build Torah.” Mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, heart’s devotion, unstinting dedication to Torah ideals and values – these are the basic ingredients required for Torah to blossom in a community. Money cannot create a Torah atmosphere. Is it any wonder that Rabbi Yosi refused the offer?
Learned from my Torah Masters
Rabbi Nissim Makor