Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Meraglim and the Nesachim

A dvar torah that I gave at the auf ruf of my cousin Dov this past Shabbos.

The primary episode in this week's parsha is the sin of the meraglim. Immediately following is what appears to be an anticlimactic segue into the parsha describing the nesachim, the flour- and wine-offerings that had to be brought with all korbanos once the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramban and other commentaries explain that the reason for the juxtaposition of the two parshiyos is that once HaShem decreed upon the current generation that they would not live to enter the Land, He wanted to console them that although they would not enter the Land, their children would one day do so, and therefore it was still relevant for them to learn laws that would only take effect in the Land. Based on this reason, though, the Torah could have as easily jumped to the more exciting parsha immediately following that of the nesachim, that of challah, which also took effect only once the Jews entered the Land.

Nesachim provide an interesting contrast to the korbanos to which they are attached. The default formulation of a vow is a statement that one will bring a given offering, or a given type of animal as an offering. Nothing is said explicitly about the nesachim that need also be brought with the specific korban. The korban itself has no regulations (beyond a few basic parameters) regarding the size and quality of the animal that need be brought to satisfy an open vow; the nesachim, on the other hand, are strictly regulated in the quantity of each of their components that must be brought: three isaron of flour and a half-hin of wine for a bull, and so forth. In this way, the nesachim appear to reflect the two sides of the paradoxical ahavah/yir'ah dichotomy that are mandated to frame our relationship with HaShem. A person expresses love towards another by going above and beyond what he is strictly required to do. Fear (for lack of a better word) is expressed by the exercise of great caution and a general lack of creativity, so as to ensure that one does not fall short of his basic obligations. The nesachim show both the tight regulation that is characteristic of fear and the open-ended desire to give and connect that is characteristic of love.

The Yerushalmi near the end of Brachos (9:5) resolves this contradiction, instructing us:
עשה מאהבה ועשה מיראה. עשה מאהבה שאם באת לשנוא דע כי אתה אוהב ואין אוהב שונא. עשה מיראה שאם באת לבעט דע שאתה ירא ואין ירא מבעט
"Act out of love and act out of fear. Act out of love... for one who loves cannot hate. Act out of fear... for one who fears cannot rebel." When the people sinned by listening to the spies, their refusal to listen to HaShem was not merely characterized by allowing another fear to overcome their fear of HaShem (i.e., ki chazak hu miMenu), but rather went so far so as to indicate a hatred, RL, of HaShem, and a desire to appoint a new leader to lead them away from HaShem and back to Egypt. After HaShem decreed that the current generation would perish in the wilderness, the Ma'pilim refused to listen to Him, and instead persisted in embarking on an expedition into the Land, where they were slaughtered by the Amaleiki and the Kena'ani. They showed their love of HaShem by their readiness and zeal (as indicated by their use of the word Hinenu) to listen to the word of HaShem, but faltered in the requisite exercise of fear and caution, in that HaShem had made very clear to them that His will had changed. In this way, the nesachim can be viewed as a means of counteracting the causes of the two opposing sins of the meraglim and the ma'pilim.

At this point, I concluded my d'var torah, without extending it to what I thought was an obvious application (considering the occasion), but for the purpose of completeness: The ahavah/yir'ah dichotomy is also relevant to a marriage between a man and a woman. On the one hand, a relationship can only be built on a foundation of ahavah, expressed by forming a connection and sharing things with one another - in the physical sense, but even more importantly in the emotional and psychological senses. While ahavah can serve as a fence against hatred, it is not impervious to negligence, which can as easily destroy a relationship. The other side of a relationship is a wall of yir'ah - not the fear of one's spouse, but rather a fear of anything that can damage the relationship in any way by hurting one's partner. A relationship comprised solely of love is volatile, while one comprised solely of fear is dessicated. A healthy relationship must incorporate both the wondrous exuberance of ahavah and the delicate care of yir'ah.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Heaps of birds

Regarding the quail that HaShem sent to the encampment of Bnei Yisroel, it says that the one who collected the smallest number of the quails collected 10 heaps (11:32). How is this number arrived at?

I heard an explanation this morning in the name of the Gra. We know from a variety of sources (e.g., Brachos 54b) that the size of the camp of Bnei Yisroel in the desert was 3 parsa'os by 3 parsa'os, approximately 12 km (7 mi) in each direction. Hence, the furthest that a person could be from an edge of the camp, where the birds fell (as per 11:31), was 1.5 parsa'os. The average foot speed of a person is 1 mil every 18 minutes, or 1 parsah in 72 minutes. 11:32 states that Bnei Yisroel gathered the quail "all that day and all that night and all of the next day". In 36 hours, a person could travel 30 parsa'os, which is the equivalent of 10 round trips to and from the edge of the camp for a person who lived as far away from an edge as possible.

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