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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Behaalos’cha #1

Missing a Mitzvah

“Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert, in the second year after they left Egypt, in the first month” (Bamidbar 9:1).

A year after the Exodus from Egypt – the beginning of the nation’s second year in the desert – Hashem told Moshe to instruct the Jewish people to bring a korban Pesach. The Torah goes on to relate that a few individuals were unable to participate, because they had been defiled by contact with human remains. They approached Moshe and Aharon and said, “Lamah nigara – why should we miss out?”

Rashi points out a discrepancy in the chronology of the events in the Chumash. Sefer Bamidbar begins with an account of an event which took place “on the first [day] of the second month after they left Egypt” (ibid. 1:1). Now, in the third parshah of Sefer Bamidbar, it appears that the Torah is backtracking, so to speak, relating an incident which took place earlier, “in the first month” of that year. Rashi teaches two important lessons from this passuk.

One is the principle of “ain mukdam u’meuchar baTorah.” The Torah is not a history book, and events are not necessarily recounted in chronological order. The second is the reason for this particular change: now, the first year after the Exodus, was the only time in the entire forty years that the Jews brought a korban Pesach in the desert! This was not to their credit, and rather than beginning Sefer Bamidbar with a piece of derogatory information, the Torah concealed it, only mentioning it further into the book, in the middle of Parshas Behaalos’cha.

Exempt?

The Maharal, citing Tosfos, raises a question. Why was this fact an embarrassment to the Jewish people? They were not obligated to bring the korban Pesach in the desert – this mitzvah would only go into effect when they reached Eretz Yisrael (see Shmos 12:25, Rashi).

He explains that being exempt from fulfilling a mitzvah, even due to compelling circumstances, is still considered a shortcoming. One who is exempt from a mitzvah will not be punished for failing to fulfill it, but bottom line, he is missing that mitzvah and lacks the merit it imparts. The Jews were not technically obligated to bring a korban Pesach during their years in the desert, but they could have, and that is not to their credit (Gur Aryeh).

The Chiddushei HaRim provides additional insight into the element of disgrace for the Jewish people. When the nation was commanded to bring that second korban Pesach, there was in fact a group who were exempt from bringing the korban – they were ritually impure. These people did not accept their “exemption” quite so easily. Exempt or not, they wanted to do the mitzvah! They said, “lamah nigara, why should we miss out?” Their great desire to offer the korban Pesach was the catalyst for the unusual mitzvah of Pesach Sheni, a second opportunity for those who were unable to bring the korban on the fourteenth of Nisan (Chiddushei HaRim, Bamidbar 9:7).

The nation as a whole was missing the powerful longing for the mitzvah expressed in the words “lamah nigara.” Except for that first year, they were not obligated to bring a korban Pesach in the desert, and they let it go at that. This lack of enthusiasm is the disgrace concealed by recording this event in our parashah, rather than in the opening pessukim of Sefer Bamidbar.

Question for Discussion:

We should view every mitzvah as an opportunity and a privilege, never as a burden to be discharged and put out of the way. What mitzvah are you especially motivated to fulfill?

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Responses:

For Andy Neff, the answer was clear: Friday night Kiddush. For twenty-five years, Andy has worked at high-pressure, high-stress jobs on Wall Street, as a senior securities analyst at a top-tier investment bank, and vice-president and investment analyst at a prestigious firm. Andy, an observant Jew, is at the top of his industry: he has been cited on the Institutional Investor All-Star list numerous times, is often quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and has appeared frequently on CNBC. How has he remain focused and successful for so many years, in a very challenging field? By keeping Shabbos.

Andy relates, “Saying the Friday night Kiddush is a very special mitzvah for me. It represents that the hectic week has come to a close; now it is time to focus on Shabbos. Until motzei Shabbos I recharge, both spiritually and physically. Only a Shabbos observer can really appreciate the tranquility of shutting off the technology, emails, and phone calls, and blocking out all the related stresses. I feel bad for people who are not able to disconnect, like doctors on call who need to carry beepers or phones. They keep Shabbos, but cannot fully appreciate the true peace of Shabbos because they are on “stand by” mode – not really in “relax” mode.

“Additionally, Shabbos actually enables me to be much more effective at my job on the other six days of the week. Without taking off time to recharge, I would not be able to perform as well at my job – or at anything else, for that matter. I don’t know how the rest of the world can function without the break that we are so fortunate to have. Shabbos is real a game-changer for me.”

Nancy Neff, Andy’s wife, responded, “Many mitzvos are very special to me, but the one that comes to mind immediately is kashrus. I love it. Keeping kosherproperly means that throughout the day, I am thinking about what we are or are not permitted to eat. It is a constant reminder that whatever we do has an impact on our ruchniyus. Every grain of food that enters our bodies has an impact, and we need to make sure that it will be entirely positive.”

The Neffs told us about an experience which showed them how careful we need to be about kashrus. “We had recently taken a ‘kashrus tour’ of Machaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem’s open-air market, led by Yechiel Spira of Jerusalem Kosher News. One thing he really focused on was the need to check the teudah (kashrus certificate) at each store before buying. The teudah must be from a reliable kashrus certifying agency; be valid and up-to-date; made out for the specific store in question; and cover the food products that you plan to buy.

“Back in the United States, we went to a large supermarket with a separate Coffee Bean outlet store. We remembered what we had learned on the tour, and asked to see the store’s kashrus certificate. They had a certificate, but it was no longer valid. When we asked why it was not up-to-date, we were informed that there was a kashrus issue at this store that was being addressed, but had not yet been settled. The 24-hour surveillance cameras in the store had shown that supermarket employees were using Coffee Bean’s kosher microwave to heat up their own food after hours. The certification would only be restored after the microwave was placed under lock and key to prevent unauthorized use.

“If we hadn’t taken the extra step of checking – which takes no time – we might possibly have eaten non-kosher food. We learned two lessons: first, that it really is important to check the teudah, and second, that it is very easy to check.”

Parshas Behaalos’cha #2

Moshe’s Humility

“And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3).

Miriam, Moshe’s sister, heard from his wife Tzipporah that Moshe had separated from her (Rashi, Bamidbar12:1). Miriam felt that this was wrong. She discussed her concerns with their elder brother Aharon – in Moshe’s presence – but Moshe did not defend himself, or even respond at all. Since Moshe did nothing to take up his own cause, Hashem acted instead, and Miriam was stricken with leprosy (Midrash Aggadah).

In relating this incident, the Torah makes a very powerful statement about Moshe: “And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth.”

The word anav (humble) in this passuk is spelled ayin-nun-vav (ענו). This is a shortened spelling, without the letter yud that is usually placed before the vav(עניו) . The Rosh’s explanation of the reason for the missing yud gives us additional insight into the extent of Moshe Rabbeinu’s stunning humility.

It was Moshe himself who transcribed the Torah, which was dictated to him by Hashem. When Moshe came to this statement, he found it difficult to write these flattering words about himself. He skipped the letter yud in the word anav, to indicate that he was unhappy to be described in such terms. Hashem responded to Moshe’s attempt to minimize the honor accorded to him in these pessukim by enhancing it with the word “very.” Rather than saying that Moshe was humble, the Torah would instead record that he was very humble.

Remaining Silent

The Alshich explains Moshe’s lack of response when he heard Miriam’s criticism. Ordinarily, he writes, we should speak up and clear ourselves when we are suspected or rebuked without reason, instead of allowing others to suspect us wrongly. Here too, it would have been proper for Moshe to explain his reasons, rather than leaving it to Hashem to handle the incident for him.

Why, then, did Moshe not defend himself against Miriam’s criticism?

The Torah tells us that it was precisely because he was so very humble. Moshe had separated from his wife for good reasons. Unlike any other prophet, he needed to be in a state of purity which would allow him to receive prophecy at any time. Living an ordinary married life would not allow him to maintain this state on a consistent basis. Explaining his actions to Miriam and Aharon would have meant saying that that he was holier and closer to Hashem than they were, and that his prophecy was on a vastly higher level. For an exceedingly humble man like Moshe, this was unthinkable, so he chose to remain silent in the face of his sister’s criticism.

Question for Discussion:

When were you wronged or insulted by someone and chose to let it slide, rather than confronting the person who offended you?

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