The waters of strife
ולא-היה מים לעדה ויקהלו על-משה ועל-אהרן: וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: קח את-המטה והקהל את-העדה אתה ואהרן אחיך ודברתם אל-הסלע לעיניהם ונתן מימיו והוצאת להם מים מן-הסלע והשקית את-העדה ואת-בעירם: ויקהלו משה ואהרן את-הקהל אל-פני הסלע ויאמר להם שמעו-נא המרים המן-הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים: וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה ואל-אהרן יען לא-האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את-הקהל הזה אל-הארץ אשר נתתי להם
There wasn’t water for the congregation, and they assembled against Moshe and Aharon…Hashem [then] told Moshe as follows: “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aharon your brother, and both of you will speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give forth its water, and you will bring forth water from the rock, and you will quench the congregation and their animals.”…Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock and [Moshe] said to them: “Listen now you rebels! Will we bring forth water from this rock?” Moshe raised his arm and hit the rock twice with the staff, and a great amount of water emerged, and the people and their animals drank. Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon: “Since both of you didn’t believe in me, to sanctify my name before the eyes of the Jews, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given to them.”
The episode known as “the waters of strife” is one of the most puzzling in the entire Chumash. The verses say explicitly what happened with Moshe and the rock, yet all the commentators struggle to understand what his sin was. Finding an explanation is particularly hard due to the severity of the punishment: not being allowed to bring the people to the land of Israel and to die in the wilderness. As well, it’s hard to find any justification for why Aharon was punished; it seems like he wasn’t involved at all in what happened. There are many approaches to these questions, and they all have their flaws.
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A self-fulfilling prophecy
ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם וגו’
Korach the son of Yitzhar the son of Kehas the son of Levi took (something), and Dasan and Aviram, etc.
This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The result was that the sages who joined Korach died in a fire, while Korach and his entire family were swallowed up alive into the earth, to live there until the end of days. The parsha starts with the awkward phrase ויקח קרח, Korach took. The verse doesn’t specify what exactly it was though that he took. There are various explanations among the commentators. Reish Lakish in the gemarra says that it means that לקח מקח רע לעצמו, he acquired a bad purchase for himself.
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All with the proper perspective
וימתו האנשים מוצאי דבת-הארץ רעה במגפה לפני יקוק
The men who gave a bad report about the land [of Israel] died in a plague before Hashem
As the Jews were just about to enter the land of Israel, they got an idea to send spies ahead to scout out the terrain. Twelve leaders, one from each tribe, were sent. They spent forty days touring the land, afterwards returning to the rest of the people. The Torah says that ten of them gave a bad report about the land, and the people wept and cried. They said that it was hopeless to try to conquer the land, for the inhabitants were mightier than they. Many wanted to return to Egypt, rather than die by the hands of the land’s inhabitants. As a result of what transpired, Hashem punishes the spies with a horrible death, and the rest of the people were sentenced to forty years of traveling aimlessly in the wilderness. Only those who survived would then get to enter the land.
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Running like schoolchildren
׆ ויהי בנסע הארן ויאמר משה קומה יקוק ויפצו איביך וינסו משנאיך מפניך: ובנחו יאמר שובה יקוק רבבות אלפי ישראל: ׆
When the Ark would travel, Moshe would say: “Rise Hashem, may Your enemies scatter, may the ones who hate You flee before You.” When [the Ark] would rest he would say: “Rest Hashem, Israel’s myriads of thousands”.
In a standard sefer Torah, and in most standard chumashim, these two verses are surrounded by inverted letter-nuns. What are they doing here? The gemarra notes that Hashem placed signs before and after these verses. There are two opinions why. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (Rashbag) says it’s to teach us that these two verses don’t belong here. After the final redemption, they will be returned to where they belong, with the descriptions of the travel formations of the tribes. Why then are the verses here? They are in order to create an interruption between the first punishments and second punishments (which will be explained shortly). Rebbe disagrees and says that it’s to teach us that these two verses are considered an independent book. In reality Rebbe doesn’t believe there are five books of the Torah, rather there are seven. He feels these two verses are in their proper place.
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The nazirite vow: ideal or criminal?
וזאת תורת הנזיר ביום מלאת ימי נזרו…והקריב את-קרבנו ליקוק כבש בן-שנתו תמים אחד לעלה וכבשה אחת בת-שנתה תמימה לחטאת…
This is the law of the Nazir, on the day that he completes his nazirite-vow…He will bring as his offering to Hashem: one unblemished, year old male lamb as an elevation offering and one unblemished, year old female lamb as a sin offering…
The Torah describes the idea of someone who decides to become a Nazir. This is someone who for a specific amount of time, as a means to get closer to spirituality, vows to refrain from certain pleasures and activities. Specifically this refers to refraining from consuming wine and grape products, not trimming any of their hair, and avoiding ritual impurity from the dead (even close relatives). The most famous Nazir was Shimshon (Samson), and some even say the prophet Shmuel (Samuel) was a Nazir. The nazirite period can be as short as thirty days and as long as a lifetime. The Torah explains the process that occurs after the nazirite period is over. The person has to go through a series of steps before returning to normal life. Included in this is the requirement to bring several offerings.
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