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Parshas Mattos/Maasei - How Long is Two Minutes             29 Tammuz 5781

07/04/2021 02:50:12 PM


A few years ago, after visiting our children, I took an early flight back to San Diego.  To make the flight I needed to daven at the earliest minyan possible.  Generally speaking, the earlier the minyan, the faster it goes; the later it starts the slower it goes. This minyan was the quickest davening I have ever attended, but I remained calm knowing the responsibilities some have and the sacrifice some make to be there at all. Nevertheless, I was most intrigued by what took place as soon as the davening concluded. Instead of people rushing out, someone learns/teaches a five-minute halacha from Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and to my great pleasure that very day they completed the cycle of the entire sefer/book. I was intrigued by the quick pace of the prayers only to come to a halting screech, slowing up to learn a few minutes before dispersing. I was so conflicted during this experience. On the one hand I was not happy davening so fast, but on the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the patience and dedication the participants willingly gave to enjoy a few minutes of learning afterward. I debated with myself: if they were going to stay a few minutes later anyway, why not slow down the davening for three to five minutes?

Time is very much defined by individuals; some people have no time while others have all the time in the world. Time is also measured by individual habits which in turn are driven by expectation of how time is used. Time is finite: sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day. We humans are creatures of habit programmed around time. We typically wake up and go to sleep at pretty much the same time every day. We schedule our driving, shopping, working, studying, and even davening/praying within a certain amount of time. It is for these reasons that if a certain activity ends two minutes early, it feels as though it went too quickly, while on the other hand, if something takes so much as two minutes more it feels like an eternity. I have observed this during our daily minyanim. Shacharis in the morning averages forty minutes on a day when we do not read from the Torah. If the Chazzan completes the service in thirty-eight minutes, people complain, ”How can they say the words so quickly? They are davening too fast!” On the other hand, if the davening takes forty-two minutes, they are on shpilkes, or they just leave early.

In the past I have written about the power of two minutes, whether it is the two-minute drill of a football game or waiting two long minutes for the person whom you are giving a ride. Sometimes we are on the waiting side, and other times we’re on the asking side of two-minutes, impatiently tapping and waiting. Perhaps the most familiar two-minute wait applies either to children responding to parents or one spouse to another saying, ‘I’ll be right out -  just give me another two minutes. These situations create anxiety and sometimes a feeling of resentment that there is no respect for my time.  I would like to suggest a new mind -set people should inculcate into their daily lives. I want to propose a new type of  five second rule that has no connection to eating food which has fallen on the floor.  When we enter a situation that either has a time allotment, a specific time frame, or being on time for an appointment,  we should employ the two-minute rule. Doing so provides a two-minute allotment in either direction before we get upset.  Everyone subconsciously allows a certain amount of time for everything we do, from waiting on line at the grocery store to dealing with a very short yellow and then quick red stop light. (It is not the first red light we are upset seeing in front of us; it’s the red lights twirling behind us after we whizzed by the first red light that proves to be pretty upsetting). In other areas of life, we see similar parameters given, such as an easement on property and the margin of error in statistics. The notion of giving up a little space and time is not foreign to those who search the Torah.

In this week’s double (2) Parshios of Matos/Maasei, the Torah states in Bamidbar 35:5 "ומדתם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה ואת פאת נגב אלפים באמה ואת פאת ים אלפים באמה ואת פאת צפון אלפים באמה והעיר בתוך, זה יהיה להם מדרשי הערים"      “You shall measure off outside the city, 2000 cubits on the eastern side, 2000 cubits on the southern side, 2000 cubits on the western side, and 2000 cubits on the northern side. This was in addition to the previous verse giving Leviim areas of land. Bamidbar 35:4 states: “The suburbs that you shall give the Leviites shall extend outward 1000 cubits from the city wall.” What draws the attention to the first mention of 2000 amos/cubits is the trope or cantillation note on it. Karne parah is a cantillation mark found only once in the entire Torah - here, and once in the Book of Esther, immediately following the identically unique Yerach ben Yomo trope, also found only one time in the Torah, here in Bamidbar 35:5.

Dr. David Weisberg in his work, “The Rare Accents of the Twenty-One Books”   suggests that the yerach ben yomo + karne para phrase is meant to call to mind a midrash halachah, a legal point in Jewish law determined from the verse. For instance, he claimed that the yerach ben yomo + karne para phrase of Numbers 35:5 is meant to remind the reader of the halachah that the travel limit on Shabbat is 2,000 cubits, and the Gemara Eruvin 51a derives that distance by analogy from this verse.       

An old friend of mine, Rabbi Chaim Jachter, a brilliant scholar, wrote a beautiful idea in Kuntres Kol Torah.  The rare trope sound in the Torah appears in Numbers 35:5 on the word B'amah (באמה, cubit), immediately following the word Alpayim (אלפים, two thousand), on which an equally exclusive Yerach ben Yomo is used, on the first of four occurrences of this phrase in the verse. In each of the phrase's four appearances is a different set of trope. The Yerach ben yomo followed by the Karne Parah is found on the first of these four instances. On the other three, respectively, are a Kadma V'Azla, a Munach Rivi'i, and a Mercha Tipcha. This is representative of the way mitzvot are performed in real life. When one first performs a mitzvah, being a new experience, it is performed with great enthusiasm. The unusual trope signifies the one-time occurrence of the mitzvah being a new experience. The second instance is on a Kadma-V'Azla, a note that is recited highly, showing that the high is still alive. The third is on a Munach-Rivi'i, a note that is going downward, showing that enthusiasm is going down. The fourth and final occurrence is on a Mercha-Tipcha, a common set that are recited in a lazy mode implying they are basically being recited without a melody, showing the monotony of performing a mitzvah after performing it so many times.

Two thousand amos may not only signify how far a person is permitted to walk outside the city limits on Shabbos. Perhaps the two thousand amos is a hint to the two-minute rule of being flexible in any direction north, south, east, and west. This allowance should give us pause, which in turn fewer would result in fewer issues between us. This is one more subtle reminder of how we each can bring Shalom to our people and is a sign to Hashem that we have patience and space for others. As a result so too, He will have space and patience for us and will show mercy upon His people.

Signing off from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh. I hope we can all be here together by next Sunday in the newly rebuilt third Beis HaMikdash speedily in our day!

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782