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Parshas Bamidbar - Who's Behind the Wheel?        4 Sivan 5778

05/17/18 19:11:12


There are pros and cons to everything in life, even holidays. The Jewish calendar contains the High Holidays, the minor festivals and the three Pilgrimages known as the Shalosh Regalim. Two out of the three - Pesach and Sukkos - are longer holidays with multiple commandments, preparation and a set of intermediate days that break up the first and second half of the Yom Tov. The third holiday, Shavuos, is not accompanied by any one specific Mitzva, and being only one day (two days outside of Israel), there is no Chol HaMoed. Pesach and Sukkos can be stressful, expensive and a lot of hard work, while Shavuos is relatively inexpensive and not too difficult. Perhaps the reason we have a chol hamoed is to unwind and stretch out a bit from the Yom Tov experience, and therefore Shavuos does not require one.

Many families go on Chol HaMoed trips, and our family is no different. This year, like most years for our family, we usually end up doing some type of bike riding. By pure chance, my son and I shared a surrey bicycle with two steering wheels and two sets of pedals. It was obvious when one of us was not peddling, even though we were still moving as one peddled and the other did not. Steering, on the other hand, was a bit different, despite having two steering wheels only the ‘driver’s side’ controlled the direction. The second steering wheel (that’s the one I got) was a ‘dummy wheel’. It did absolutely nothing, no matter how many directions I turned it. The irony, though, was that as we were riding, my instincts as the guy in control of the wheel kicked in. Whenever I felt we veered too far to the right, I turned the wheel to the left, and as I felt we were veering off to the left, I quickly turned my wheel and steered to the right! Even though I conscientiously knew that my steering wheel did absolutely nothing, I still acted upon the situation thinking that I was in control.

We go through life thinking that we are in control of our lives. There is no question that our actions can influence certain outcomes, but ultimately, we are being carried by Hashem. We try to steer the wheel in a certain direction even though we are literally just spinning the wheel. It is true that “B’Derech She’Adam Rotzeh Leilech, Hashem Molichin Oso”: “In the manner or road a person wants to travel, Hashem will lead him on that path”. That path can be for the good or the bad. As we begin Sefer Bamidbar, the desert where the Torah was given coinciding with the Yom Tov of Shavuos is no coincidence. The Torah was carried in the Aron/Ark throughout the desert while the Jews traveled on their way to Eretz Canaan.

The tribe of Levi, Gershon, Kehas and Merari were responsible to carry the disassembled parts of the Mishkan in the desert. The divvying up of the carrying of the Mishkan is split between the end of this week’s Parsha and the beginning of Nasso. In Parshas Bamidbar we read about Gershon and Merari carrying the items they were charged to carry, while Kehas is instructed in Bamidbar 4:15: “V’Chila Aharon U’Banav L’Chasos Es Haodes, V’Es Kal Klei HaKodesh Binsoa HaMachaneh, V’Acharei Chein Yavou Bnei Kehas Laseis….”: “Aharon and his sons shall thus finish covering the sacred furniture and all the sanctuary utensils, so that the camp can begin its journey.” Only after the priests are finished shall the Kehothites come to carry these items. But, Chazal teach us that the Aron ‘carried itself’ because it contained the two sets of Luchos and the original Sefer Torah that Moshe wrote. This means that we don’t carry the Torah, the Torah carries us.

In Shmos 25:15 On the Pasuk "In the rings of the Aron the poles shall be, they shall not be moved", Chazal comment that anyone who removes them at any time, receives Malkos/Lashes. Both in connection with the Mizbei'ach ho'Olah and the Shulchan, the Torah confines the poles to remain in place to when the Vessels are being transported. It is only the Aron whose poles have to remain in place permanently.

The Meshech Chochmah ascribes this to the Medrash which states that the Aron represents the Crown of Torah, available to whoever wishes to wear it. The Talmid Chacham, he explains, requires constant support as Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: 'If there is no flour, there is no Torah'. That is why the Gemara in Pesachim 53b praises those who help Talmidei Chachamim by means of lending them money with which to do business. It explains why the Yerushalmi in Sotah 7:4 praises someone who, while he is unable to learn, teach, or to observe Mitzvos, regardless of his poor financial situation, still supports those who do learn Torah. All of this is hinted through the poles, which permanently support the Aron. The poles represent all the supporters of Torah whose physical, emotional and philosophical assistance is constantly required.

The Meshech Chochmah also discusses another explanation which he bases on the Rambam, who obligates the Kohanim to kindle the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash not only at night, but also by day as the Hatovas ha'Neiros, preparing the lights he maintains, incorporates lighting them. The Meshech Chochmah explains that since Chazal have pointed out that God, in whose House the Menorah is lit, does not require human lights by which to see, rather it is to emphasize that God commanded the Mitzvah of Hadlokas Neiros in the day, when lamps are unnecessary, indicating that the Mitzvah of kindling the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash is not to supply His needs. By the same token, now that Chazal have taught us that the Aron carried itself and did not need the B'nei Kehos to carry it, the Torah commanded that the poles should not be removed. This serves as an ongoing reminder that just as the poles are not required when the Aron is lying in its place in the Kodesh Ha'Kadashim, so too, they were not required when K'lal Yisrael was traveling in the Desert, since the Aron was perfectly capable of carrying itself.

Perhaps we can take the message from the Meshech Chochmah's second explanation and adapt it to elaborate on the first one. If the Aron was able to lift up the Kohanim who were seemingly carrying it and fly them over the River Yardein in the time of Yehoshua, then it was certainly able to carry itself. And so too with Torah. It is well able to look after itself and provide the Talmidei Chachamim who study it diligently, with all their needs. Then why does the Torah expect the wealthy to support them, as we explained? Because the truth of the matter is that it is not they who support the Torah, but the Torah which supports them! And the prohibition of removing the poles from the Aron is not because the Talmidei Chachamim need them constantly, but rather because they constantly need the Torah learning of the Talmidei Chachamim, not only for the spiritual inspiration and guidance that it affords them, but for their continued success in their financial endeavors. For who knows whether their material blessing is not conditional to their sharing it with Talmidei Chachamim, and that the moment they withdraw their support that blessing will come to an end?

The Yom Tov of Shavuos not only focuses on learning Torah, but also centers all of us on what Torah represents. We should be Zocheh and merit to have a Kabbolas HaTorah that is consistent with Torah values and show the respect of what Torah does for us in our lives.

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Gut Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780