ויהי בנסע הארון… (י:לה). “And in was when the aron departed…” (10:35).
Written in the Sefer Torah, this verse and the following verse are surrounded by the famous nunim hafuchim, two backward nun (נ). Let us find the significance and highly practical lesson which can be gleaned from this.
Rashi tells us that these backwards Nunim show an interruption in the narrative between two negative events (sins) which occurred before and after these two verses. It must be noted that when we talk about the sins of the Jews of that great generation, we do not ever think that we can comprehend their true actions and intentions. On their lofty level, Hashem saw these actions as a sin. We strive to learn the lesson that the Torah is providing us with by recording Hashem’s disappointment in their actions. We must take out the lesson available for us.
The catastrophic event following the verse is obvious. The mis’oninim and asafsuf incident transpired as the Jews complained that the spiritual manna that they were eating was not good enough for them, they wanted real meat! Hashem granted their demand and many of them perished as a punishment. What though is the negative sin proceeding these two verses? Tosafos (Shabbos 116a) informs us. The proceeding verse states that the Jews left from their encampment at Sinai. They had remained there after receiving the Torah and now it was time to depart. Instead of leaving heavy-heartily from that great place of inspiration and growth, in deference to their achievements they had gained there, they left with terrible disrespect. They ran away like a child bursts out of school at the end of class. Hashem was not happy with their disrespectful display. Hence, we have discovered the negative events that occurred, however, what do they have to do with a backwards nun?!
Meaning of Nun
The Kli Yakar fills us in on this mystery. The word Nun, means fish in Aramaic. Fish live and thrive only in water. Once a fish leaves the water, it is only a matter of time before it will perish. Thus, fish keep themselves under water! A backwards fish is one that is acting the opposite of how it should, i.e., it is trying to leave the water. A fish that gets out of the water is unattached from its life source and is in danger of perishing.
The two sins which the Jews committed stemmed from this exact point. They were not living up to the standard expected of them as people connected to and pursuing closeness with Hashem. If they would have appreciated how vital Hashem and His Torah were to their lives, they never would have committed either of these sins.
They complained about the food showing that the very kindness which Hashem was delivering to their doorsteps was totally unappreciated by them! They ran away from Sinai in a way that told Hashem that they did not value His closeness as they should have. This is exactly akin to a backwards fish. Klal Yisrael were guilty of swimming away from their life-source!
Two Special Verses
I would like to suggest that the two verses in between the two sins are the antidote to the terrible sins and show us the correct perspective. The first verse acknowledges how Hashem protected the Jews from all harm, thus appreciating what He did for them and teaching us to see His eternal kindness. The second verse is a request that Hashem should dwell with them in the desert. This is the perspective of a correct fish, recognizing its life source and striving to live that way!
Rules of Communication
ויצעק משה אל ה’ לאמר אל נא רפא נא לה (יב:יג).
“Moshe called out to Hashem, ‘please Hashem, cure her’”! (12:13)
The very first Machlokes, argument between two valid rabbinical opinions, to ever take place has a tremendous lesson to teach us. The dispute was regarding smicha, whether one could lean on an animal (placing hands upon it to pronounce confession before offering it as a sacrifice) on Yom Tov. Bais Shamai maintained that it was prohibited and Bais Hillel allowed it.
The Gemara (Beitza 20b) tells the story that a student of Hillel came to the Bais HaMikdash on Yom Tov and began to do smicha as his Rebbi allowed. A student of Shamai attempted to start an argument and yelled, “מה זו סמיכה, what’s this smicha?!” The student of Hillel, wanting to end the confrontation, replied abruptly and walked away, “מה זו שתיקה, learn some silence!”
Abayeh then goes on to comment that we see from here, whenever one is insulted he may answer back the same amount as he was accused of….
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt”l extrapolates upon this and explains the beauty of this lesson. When one is in an argument, human nature is to bring up all past complaints and grievances against the competitor. This in turn fuels the fire of discord even more. However, when one sticks to the topic of discussion and keeps the response relevant, one can prevent the fight from escalating. Rabbi Pincus points out that the gauge which shows whether one is taking a dispute too far is: how much he remains on topic. One that brings up past grievances is usually lacking in proper intent. If one pulls away the dam, and lets the insults fly, this shows evilness, instead of a constructive dialog. If one is upset with the mess on the table, is that reason to yell at the culprit and express to them every negative thought you ever felt about them from the day you met?!
I believe that a great lesson is expressed in our Parsha relating to this idea. Eldad and Maydad stated a prophesy which Yehoshua felt insulted the honor of Moshe. He felt that they should be quieted! The verse (11:26) which describes their prophesy, and thus the insult of Moshe, contains twenty words. The next two verses (11:26-7) which contain the response to the insult contain the exact same amount, twenty words!
There is more. At the end of the Parsha, Miriam spoke Lashon Hara, slander, against her brother, Moshe. The verse which describes this incident (12:1) contains exactly ten words. And now for the punch-line. Miriam was punished with Tzaras for her misdeed. When Moshe found out that Miriam had uttered words against him, he was entitled to offer her words of rebuke, he had ten words free! The next verse which describes Moshe’s response contains precisely ten words. It reads, “Moshe cried out to Hashem “Please Hashem, cure her!” A selfless and caring brother! That is how he chose to use his words!
One more beautiful addition to this is that it was here specifically that the Jews waited seven days before traveling further. They were waiting for Miriam to be allowed back into the camp. She got this reward as recognition for her kind deed of years ago when she waited near baby Moshe to ensure that he remained safe while floating in the Nile river. Why is this stressed here?
Human nature is that when someone does something against us, we forget about any good which they have ever provided us with. One would think that Miriam should be left alone at this point as a punishment for speaking against Moshe. We should forget about her good deeds toward Moshe. The Torah shows and stresses to us, that on the contrary, it is exactly at this time of distraction and disagreement that we strive to conjure up the integrity to recognize and thank those that deserve our gratitude. This is true greatness.
The manna is discussed in this week’s Parsha. Chazal (Yuma 75b) state that the manna was eaten in three different forms. The righteous people ate it in bread form. The average people ate it as cake and the evil people ground it up into liquid form.
Though my comment here is allegorical, it may have some Halachic basis as well. I know people who avoid washing and eating bread for fear of having to bentch. The commitment and responsibility is too daunting. I’m told that the official name of the fear is “benching-phobia” They can only handle having to make an Al Hamichya. The lowest level would be one that can only handle making a Borey Nifashos.
The Sdei Chemed states that the Jews made the blessing, “HaYoraid Lechem Min HaShamayim, Hashem brings down bread from Heaven” before eating the manna. The Gemara (Berachos 48b) states that Moshe authored the first paragraph of Birchas HaMazone to be pronounced on the manna.
I suggest that the Tzadikkim ate it as bread without fear of bentching! The average folks ate it as cake only requiring Al Hamichya. The Risha’im could only handle a liquid which would only require a Borey Nifashos!
First Class Second Chance
A fascinating concept is found in our parsha. It is the idea of Pesach Sheini, a second chance to bring a Pesach offering for those that were tamei, ritually impure, or too distant to bring the first Pesach offering. We don’t usually find such an idea of a makeup option in the Torah. We do find the idea of repentance when someone commits a sin and wishes to make peace with Hashem or his fellow man. However, when someone misses the opportunity to do a mitzva because of reasonable circumstances that were not in his hand, he is exempt and not required to make it up. For example, if someone was unable to buy a lulav and esrog for Succos and none were available in his vicinity, we don’t find a concept of him making up for his missing the opportunity to shake the lulav after the seven days of Succos have passed. What makes Pesach so unique to the point that these men wished to make up for their lost mitzvah?
Who Were They?
Additionally, Rashi (Bamidbar 9:7) tells us that Hashem would have given the commandment about Pesach Sheini directly to Moshe, however, these special men who were ritually impure on the first Pesach merited to have the topic taught on their account. What does this even mean, the verse never tells us their names, how were they honored?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895 – 1986) explains that these men truly and deeply wanted to do this mitzvah out of their great love and commitment to Hashem. Their motives were pure and rooted only in their desire to get close to Hashem. They felt that they had missed the celebration of Pesach which represents the foundation of the Jewish faith and the bond between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. They were not willing to accept that they were exempt, they could not fathom waiting until the next year in order to celebrate Pesach. They had their minds and hearts set on connecting with Hashem and there had to be another opportunity. Their intentions were noble and pure and thus they did not want their names publicized as this would diminish from their entire desire. Hashem saw their longing and He said over the parsha to Moshe in their honor. When someone is so dedicated and committed, the greatest opportunities and ability to connect with Hashem becomes a reality.
Chometz on Pesach Sheini
It is interesting to note that on the first Pesach, the original Pesach which we celebrate on the fifteenth of Nissan every year, one brought the Pesach offering and one had to dispose of all chometz, leaven bread. On Pesach Sheini, one brought the Korban Pesach to make up for missing the first Pesach, however, one did not have to dispose of one’s chometz from the house. Some interpret Rashi (Bamidbar 9:10) as stating that chometz was prohibited from being eaten on Pesach Sheini (see Mesech Chochma) while others (see Minchas Chinuch (381) and Avi Ezri [hilchos chometz umatza]) state that chometz was entirely permitted on Pesach Sheini. Why did the Torah allow one to keep the chometz in the house or even eat chometz on Pesach Sheini? I believe that the answer lies in understanding the depth of Pesach Sheini. It represents the deepest desire to do good and to connect with Hashem even for those that were distant and impure initially. With this perspective, one’s heart was filled with the love and connection to Hashem and thus he did not have to dispose of the chometz because he would remember consciously not to eat it. No seor shebaisa, sour dough, which represent the Evil Inclination (see Berachos 17a), can even get in the way. Pesach Sheni represents the vibrancy and connection that we can each have with Torah and with Hashem.
An Honor to Serve You
Our parsha begins with a discussion of the Menorah which was to be lit in the Beis Hamikdash. One of the most intriguing lessons here is that the Beis Hamikdash was lit up without the Menorah lights simply because of the spiritual holiness present. In fact, Rabbeinu Bechaya brings down the Midrash (Tanchumah 2) that describes this in great detail.
In the normal manner of how someone builds a house, one wants the windows (glass was not available in the early days, thus a window meant a hole in the wall that let in sunlight) to bring in as much light as possible while at the same time not exposing the house. Thus, people would make their windows very narrow on the street side and very wide on the inside of the house to allow for maximum rays to enter. However, in the Beis Hamikdash it was done in the exact opposite manner. The windows were extremely narrow on the inside and very wide on the outside. It was meant to show that Hashem does not need out light, but rather commanded us to light the Menorah simply to give us a mitzvah, an opportunity to be rewarded for doing His Will. Additionally, the windows opened wide to the world showing that the Beis Hamikdash and the Jewish nation are a light unto the world, to share the beauty and glory of Hashem. What specific lesson was spread?
Let us look at one other comment of Rabbeinu Bechaya and then tie the two together. Rabbeinu Bechaya states that based on the verse (Bamidbar 9:19) it is apparent that although there was protocol and instructions for the Jews packing up, traveling and settling during night or day time, in actuality this was not what happened. Hashem made sure that the Jews always began their trips in the daytime so that it would be easier and more convenient than packing and traveling at night. The Jews learned the lesson in the desert that Hashem cared for their needs and loved them deeply. When one recognizes the love that Hashem has for him or her this propels a return of love. This encourages us to serve Hashem with great care and dedication.
The Jewish nation learned about Hashem’s love and sensitivity toward them in making their travels easy and only during the daytime. This lesson of care helped encourage them to serve Hashem and to spread the knowledge of Hashem’s love to the world. The mitzvos are an opportunity that Hashem grants us to serve Him and earn reward (end of tractate Makkos). Just as the Menorah was not lit for the sake of light, but on the contrary, it was a Mitzvah given to increase reward for the Jews who worked hard to fulfill it by pressing, preparing oil and arranging for the Kohen to light the Menorah. This lesson was spread by the open windows and shared with the world. Hashem loves us and thus gives us the opportunity to serve Him.