We read in this week's parashah that one who commits
unintentional manslaughter is exiled to a city of refuge until
the Kohen Gadol dies. The mishnah says that the mother of the
Kohen Gadol used to send gifts to these people so that they would
not pray that the Kohen Gadol die.
And if they do pray, will their prayers have any effect? The
Talmud Bavli explains that the Kohen Gadol is in danger because
he is culpable for each accidental killing. Had he prayed that
no stumbling blocks come before the Jewish people, perhaps this
crime would not have taken place.
This answer demonstrates how great the power of prayer is,
writes R' Meir Bergman shlita. Although each person is
responsible for his own deeds, another person's prayer can rescue
him from wrongdoing. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi takes the
power of prayer even further, saying that the accidental
murderer's prayer is a threat to the Kohen Gadol because even a
sinner's prayer is answered, even when he prays for something
which is objectively wrong.
How can this be? R' Bergman explains (based on a comment of
Maharsha to Kiddushin 29b) that it is one of the laws of nature
that prayer is answered. No special Divine intervention is
required each time a prayer is uttered; G-d has already built a
rule into the laws of nature that prayers, whatever they may be,
will be answered [in some form].
We learn another lesson from here, adds R' Bergman, i.e., that
a person who has an opportunity to pray for another and fails to
do so is punished for it. (Sha'arei Orah Vol. II)
"Nekom nikmat Bnei Yisrael/Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael
from the Midianites, achar/then you will be gathered unto
your people." (31:2)
R' Chaim Meir Hager z"l (the "Vizhnitzer Rebbe") observed:
Shabbat is a time when one should be especially careful with his
speech, as it is written: "If you proclaim the Shabbat `a
delight,' and you honor it by not discussing the forbidden"
(Yishayah 58:13, paraphrased). Unfortunately, many people use
their free time on Shabbat to cause dissension and speak lashon
hara. Regarding this, Hashem commanded:
"Nekom"/"Avenge" the honor of Shabbat, alluded to by the phrase
"Nikmat Bnei Yisrael," whose gematria (1193) equals the gematria
of "Shabbat malketah"/"The Sabbath Queen." From whom? "From the
Midianites," i.e., those who bring din/G-d's judgment on the
Jewish people through their lashon hara--"Din" and "Midian" share
a common root--and from those who tell lies--the gematria of
"Me'et hamidyanim"/"From the Midianites" (600) equals the
gematria of "sheker"'/falsehood."
What will be your reward for doing so? "Achar will be gathered
unto your people." "Achar" has the same gematria (209) as "Bnei,
chayei, umezonei"/ "Children, [long] life, and sustenance."
"For our inheritance has come to us on the east bank of the
R' Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich z"l (20th century Hungarian rabbi)
explains this strange phrase as follows:
Certainly, the source of Eretz Yisrael's holiness lies on the
west bank of the Jordan River. However, once Bnei Yisrael had
defeated the attacks of Sichon and Og and captured their lands,
the holiness of Eretz Yisrael crossed to the east bank of the
Jordan to meet Bnei Yisrael.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei Ve'geonei Ha'dorot p. 493)
"And the Land shall be conquered before Hashem, and then you
shall return - then shall you be vindicated [literally,
'clean'] from Hashem and from Yisrael . . . But if you do
not do so, behold! - you shall have sinned to Hashem; know
your sin that will encounter you." (32:22-23)
R' Shlomo Halberstam shlita (the "Bobover Rebbe") asks: why did
Moshe say, "and then you shall return"? Obviously, the tribes of
Reuven and Gad would return to their homes when they finished
fighting the war!
Also, why did Moshe say: "But if you do not do so, behold! -
you shall have sinned to Hashem; know your sin that will
encounter you"? Why didn't he say simply, "If you do not do so
[i.e., cross the Jordan to fight], you will not receive land on
the east bank of the Jordan"?
The tenth century mussar work Chovot Ha'levavot (Duties of the
Heart) quotes a wise man who told returning soldiers, "You have
concluded a small battle, and now you must fight a great battle."
"What do you mean?" they asked.
The wise man explained, "The battle which you just fought is a
small battle compared to man's battle against the yetzer hara."
This, R' Halberstam says, is what Moshe meant: "Then you shall
return - then shall you be vindicated from Hashem and from
Yisrael." When you return victorious from battle, take care also
to fight your yetzer hara and become "clean" in the eyes of both
Hashem and your fellow men. If you do not make this effort, "you
shall have sinned to Hashem" and you may be certain that "sin
will encounter you."
(Ibid. p. 494)
From the Haftarah
"The kohanim did not say, 'Where is Hashem?'" (Yirmiyahu 2:8)
R' Yitzchak Elchanan Waldshein z"l hy"d (Assistant Mashgiach in
Baranovitch) asks: Why are the kohanim criticized for not saying,
"Where is Hashem?" After all, the kohanim were the teachers, as
it is written (Devarim 33:10), "They shall teach Your ordinances
to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael." The kohanim should be
telling people where Hashem is, not asking where He is!
R' Waldshein answers: We read in the Pesach Haggadah, "Whoever
did not say these three things on Pesach did not fulfill his
obligation: Pesach, matzah and maror." We then read, "Pesach,
for what?" "Matzah, for what?" "Maror, for what?" Why does the
author of the Haggadah present these three items in a question
and answer format? Why not say simply, "We eat the Pesach (or
matzah or maror) because . . ."?
Both the Haggadah and the verse in Yirmiyah are teaching us a
fundamental lesson about education. Perhaps the kohanim did
lecture to the Jewish people about Hashem, but lecturing is
insufficient. Questions cause people to think, and the answer
which follows stays with the listener longer. It is precisely
because Pesach, matzah and maror are so crucial to the Seder's
message that they must be presented as questions and answers.
Similarly, the kohanim are blamed for not being effective
teachers because they did not use a question and answer format.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 137)
R' Shlomo of Chelm z"l
born approx. 5477 (1717) - died 21 Tamuz 5541 (1781)
Notwithstanding its reputation in Jewish folklore, Chelm,
Poland, was once a city of great Torah scholars. Among these
was our subject, best known as the author of Merkevet Hamishnah,
a work which is considered by many to be among the most important
commentaries on Rambam's Mishneh Torah.
R' Shlomo was born in Zamosc to a wealthy family which
continued to support him throughout his rabbinical career. His
father, R' Moshe, was a Torah scholar as well. Zamosc was a city
of both Torah and secular learning, and young Shlomo excelled in
both. He would later write:
G-d forbid, I do not criticize those holy people who
spend all their days in Torah study--that is praiseworthy-
-but I am angry with those who mock [Jews who obtain a
Among R' Shlomo's works is Kuntreis Breichot Bechesbon, a
collection of Talmudic math problems and their solutions. For
example, the gemara (Pesachim 89b) states that Rav Pappa ate four
times more than Rav Huna, while Ravina ate eight times more than
Rav Huna, leading Rav Huna to state that he would prefer to dine
with 100 people like Rav Pappa rather than with one like Ravina.
While some explain that Rav Huna was exaggerating, Rav Shlomo
explains that Rav Huna preferred to split the "tab" with 100 Rav
Pappas over one Ravina. In the latter case, Rav Huna would have
to pay for half of nine portions, or 4-1/2 portions. In the
former case, he would have to pay for only 1/101 of 401 portions,
or 3.97 portions.
After Chelm, R' Shlomo served as rabbi of his birthplace,
Zamosc, and later of Lvov (Lemberg). In 1877 he decided to
settle in Eretz Yisrael. It is not known for certain whether he
reached his destination--some place him in the Gallilean towns of
Teveryah, Pekiin, Shefaram and Akko--but it is known that he
eventually found himself in Salonika, Greece. There he and his
wife died in a plague, and there they are buried.
Other works of R' Shlomo include compositions on the laws of
Shabbat, Hebrew grammar, the borders of Eretz Yisrael, the trop
for Torah reading, and the haftarot.