Mattos Masei 5778

Concern for the other’s honor[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: נקם נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדנים וגו’ וידבר משה אל-העם לאמר וגו’ לתת נקמת-יקוק במדין
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Israel from the Midianites…” Moshe said to the people, saying: “…to give[2] the vengeance of Hashem upon Midian”[3]

Two parshiyos ago[4], the Midianites enacted a wicked plot against the Jews. In order to undermine their relationship with Hashem and their mitzvah observance, the Midianite women seduced the Jewish men to commit immoral relations. Just as the men’s urges got the better of them, the Midianite women introduced one condition: they must first perform idol worship[5]. This way they would be guilty of two cardinal sins. As a result of this successful scheme, a plague broke out amongst the Jews. By the time the mayhem ended, 24,000 people had died. This week’s parsha picks up after the conclusion of that story, with Hashem ordering Moshe to take revenge on the Midianites. Hashem specifically says to avenge the slight against the Children of Israel. However, when Moshe relayed this command to the people, he stressed that the Midianites committed a slight against Hashem[6]. Which one was it?

A different inconsistency might be the solution to this question. Throughout the Torah[7], the festival on the fifteenth of Nissan is referred to as Chag HaMatzos, the Festival of the Matzah. However, throughout the Rabbinic literature[8], as well as in the vernacular, the holiday is called Pesach. This name for the festival doesn’t appear anywhere in Tanach[9]. Why is it called one way by the Torah, and a different way by everyone else? One explanation is[10] that it is clear from various sources[11] that Hashem exalts Himself with the Jewish people. We are what gives honor and praise to Hashem. For us, it’s the exact opposite. We exalt ourselves based on our relationship with Hashem. Therefore, when we mention the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, we recall the miracle of the Tenth Plague. Hashem skipped[12] (פסח, pasach) over the houses the Jews, killing only the firstborn of the Egyptians. Hashem recalls the holiday differently[13]. The Jews were in such a rush to accept the Torah at Mount Sinai, that they didn’t have time to make provisions for the wilderness. They didn’t even let their dough rise[14]. Hashem therefore calls the holiday Chag HaMatzos, to emphasize this special act of devotion by His people.

This explanation helps with a similar discrepancy. The Torah when describing the mitzvos of Sukkos first mentions the mitzvah of the four species[15], and only afterwards mentions the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah[16]. However, in the Mishnah, the order is the opposite. First the laws of building and dwelling in a Sukkah are taught, then the laws of the four species. Why was the order switched[17]? The answer is the same[18]. The Sukkah is meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory which Hashem used to protect the Jews in the wilderness[19]. We feel indebted for this kindness, and therefore start discussing the laws of the Sukkah first. However, the four species are different. Their purpose is to appease Hashem and improve our relationship with him[20]. Therefore, the Torah mentions the four species first, emphasizing our relationship with Him[21].

This approach also explains our parsha[22]. The Midianites committed two affronts: an affront to Hashem by causing His people to sin, and an affront to the Jewish people causing thousands to die. Hashem decided to forgo His honor, and focused on the affront to His people. He therefore told Moshe to avenge the vengeance of the Children of Israel. However, the Jewish people were the opposite. They forgave their honor, and were concerned about Hashem’s honor. This affront couldn’t go unanswered. Therefore, Moshe told the people to avenge the vengeance of Hashem. We see from here how dear the relationship between Hashem and His people are. Each are willing to forgo their own honor, for the honor of the other[23].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick in 5774. I also recall hearing a similar devar Torah from Rabbi Dovid Heber of Baltimore parshas Mattos-Masei 5777

[2] While the discrepancy between whose vengeance it was will be addressed below, I didn’t see any explanation for why the first verse uses the verb נקום and the second verse uses the verb לתת. Targum Onkelos ad. loc. translates נקום as אתפרע, to repay, and לתת understandably as למיתן. All this does is accentuate the discrepancy

[3] Numbers 31:1-3

[4] Ibid 25:1-9

[5] Rashi to v. 2

[6] Cf. Targum Onkelos ad. loc. who translates “נקמת יקוק” as the revenge of the nation of Hashem. This removes the inconsistency

[7] Exodus 23:15, 34:18; Leviticus 23:6

[8] For example, the tractate on this festival is called Maseches Pesachim

[9] Whenever the word פסח appears as a noun, it refers to the Pesach offering, not the holiday

[10] Tosafos Chadashim to Pesachim 1:1, quoting Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev. He brings two explanations, and this is the second one

[11] See Berachos 6a which says that while our tefillin are filled of praises of Hashem, Hashem’s tefillin (so-to-speak) are filled with praises of the Jews. Also, the piyut Anim Zemiros says פארו עלי ופארי עליך

[12] Cf. Targum Onkelos and Rashi to Exodus 12:13, who say פסח can mean “have mercy”

[13] See Jeremiah 2:2

[14] Exodus 12:39

[15] Leviticus 23:40

[16] Ibid v. 42

[17] This question is asked by the Aruch LeNer and Poras Yosef to Sukkah 2a. The Aruch LeNer answers because the Mishnayos are practical, and practically speaking a person has to start preparing their Sukkah before they must prepare their four species. They also fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah the first evening, and the four species only the following morning. However, this doesn’t explain why the Torah lists the opposite order

[18] The following Rabbi Reznick seemed to say on his own. However, I seem to recall Rabbi Heber saying a similar explanation from the Tzelach, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. All I found was in Noda B’Yehudah Al HaMoadim I לולב, ארבעת המינים there’s something from his son in law Rav Yosef from Pozna, (brought in his work Zichron She’eiris Yosef), who asks the same question, and answers like the Aruch LeNer. He adds that the Torah lists the four species first, because the verse is dealing with the chagigah offering, which is brought by day

[19] Sukkah 11b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 625:1

[20] See Sukkah 38a which says the four species are עוצרת רוחות וטללים רעים, Ta’anis 2b that they’re אינן באין אלא לרצות על המים, and also Ritvah to Sukkah 9a s.v. הא דאמרי’ ההוא מיבעי and ibid 31a s.v. ת”ר quoting Tosafos, who say that the four spices are like a Temple offering which is לרצות

[21] This part seemed more of a stretch to me

[22] Alshich to Numbers 31:1 and Meshech Chochmah to v. 3

[23] See also Kesav Sofer to Numbers 21:9, quoting Riva ad. loc. and Moshav Zekeinim to v. 8, who say this idea to explain why Hashem told Moshe to make a שרף, and Moshe instead made a נחש