Rabbi Yehuda Lapian
Former Rosh Kollel in Greater Washington
Parshat Beha’alotcha opens with the menorah, which, as we know, is a symbol of wisdom and the Torah. As the Gemara (BT Bava Batra 25) states:
“One who wishes to become wise – should face south… And your sign [for this rule is that]… the menorah is in the south.”
The pasuk says:
“This is the workmanship of the menorah.” (Bamidbar 8:4)
Rashi (ibid) cites the Gemara (BT Menachot 29a) to explain the use of the word “this” (“zeh”):
“HaKadosh Baruch Hu showed [Moshe] with His finger for he had difficulty with it. That is why it says, ‘zeh.’”
We find two other instances of where Moshe “had difficulty” with something and HaKadosh Baruch Hu had to show him specifically:
1. In Parshat Ki Tisa, with respect to the machatzit hashekel (the half-shekel used to count Bnei Yisrael), the Torah states:
“This (zeh)they shall give, everyone who passes through the counting: half a
shekel according to the holy shekel.” (Shmot 30:13)
Here, too, Rashi focuses on the word “zeh” and explains that:
“[Hashem] showed [Moshe] a sort of coin of fire, and its weight was half a shekel. And He said to him, ‘Like this, they shall give.’”
2. In Parshat Bo, with respect to kiddush hachodesh (sanctifying the new moon), the first mitzvah which was given to Bnei Yisrael, the Torah states:
“This month (hachodesh hazeh) shall be for you the head of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Shmot 12:2)
This time, Rashi cites the Mechilta and says:
“[Hashem] showed [Moshe] the moon in its renewal and said to him, ‘When the moon renews itself, you will haverosh chodesh (a new month).’”
Why were these things difficult for Moshe? The idea of a new moon is not complicated. Why did HaKadosh Baruch Hu have to show Moshe? Similarly, machatzit hashekel does not seem to be very complex either. In contrast, we can understand that Moshe would have needed to be shown the menorah. After all, the menorah had to be constructed as one piece together with its branches.
Yet, these three instances are clearly grouped together. The common denominator is that Moshe has “difficulty” with the issue at hand, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu has to literally show him. What exactly is this “difficulty”?
In our physical world, we have difficulty comprehending the miraculous idea of changing nature. Nonetheless, our sources note several cases where members of Am Yisrael were able to change nature:
1. “The son of Rabban Gamliel became ill. [Rabban Gamliel] sent two scholars to R’ Chanina ben Dosa that he seek mercy for him. When [R’ Chanina] saw them, he went up to the attic and sought mercy for him. As he came down, he said to them, ‘Go, for the fever has left him.’ They asked him, ‘Are you a prophet?’ He said to them, ‘Neither a prophet am I nor the son of a prophet am I. Rather, I have a tradition that if my prayer is fluent in my mouth then I know that it has been accepted. But if not, then I know that it has been rejected.’” (BT Brachot 34b)
2. “In once happened in a certain place where there was an arod (apparently, a type of reptile) which would harm people. They came and informed R’ Chanina ben Dosa. He said to them, ‘Show me its hole.’ They showed him its hole. He placed his heel over the mouth of the hole. It came out and bit him, and that arod died. He carried it on his shoulder and brought it to thebeit midrash. He said to them, ‘See, my sons. It is not the arod that kills. Rather, it is the sin that kills.’ At that time, they said, ‘Woe is to the man who is met by an arod, and woe is to the arod who is met by R’ Chanina ben Dosa.’” (BT Brachot 33a)
3. “One [Friday night] at twilight, [R’ Chanina ben Dosa] saw that his daughter was sad. He said to her, ‘My daughter, why are you sad?’ She said to him, ‘I mistook a container of vinegar for a container of oil, and I lit the Shabbat light with it.’ He said to her, ‘My daughter, why do you care? The One Who told oil to burn – He will tell the vinegar to burn.’… It continued to burn the entire day until they took the flame from it for havdalah.” (BT Taanit 25a)
These stories indicate that R’ Chanina ben Dosa was able to change nature. How could a human being have such power?
We find this power in respect to the mitzvah of tzedakah:
“R’ Akiva had a daughter. The astrologers said to him, ‘The day she enters her bridal chamber, a snake will bite her, and she will die.’… That day [of her wedding], she took her brooch and stuck it in the wall. It happened that [the pin] lodged in the eye of a snake. In the morning, when she took [the brooch out of the wall], the [dead] snake followed, attached to [the brooch]. Her father said to her, ‘What have you done [to merit such an escape]?’ She said to him, ‘In the afternoon, a poor man came and called from the doorway; but everyone was busy at the feast; and no one heard him. I stood up and took my portion that had been given me, and I gave it to him.’… R’ Akiva went out and expounded, ‘“And charity saves from death.” (Mishlei 10:2)’” (BT Shabbat 156b)
Thus, she was meant to die on that day, but because of the tzedakah she had given, her life was spared.
In several locations, the Gemara states that, “Torah megana u’metzala”. (“The Torah protects and saves.”) In other words, Torah learning can change nature.
Another realm where Am Yisrael controls nature is in terms of establishing the dates of the mo’adim (the festivals). The Yerushalmi teaches us that that the Beit Din Shel Maalah (the Heavenly Court) follows the lead of the ben din shel matah (the lower court) when it comes to determining which day should be sanctified. Indeed, the Yerushalmi continues, even if according toHaKadosh Baruch Hu’s calculations, Rosh Hashanah should be on a certain day but the beit din shel matah sanctified the new moon a day later, Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgment) is pushed off until the following day.
Thus, Am Yisrael can change nature in three spheres: Torah, tzedakah, and ibur hachodesh (determining the new moon). As it turns out, these are precisely the three areas which challenged Moshe. He had “difficulty” with the new moon, machatzit hashekel(which represents tzedakah), and the menorah, which symbolizes the Torah:
“For a commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light.” (Mishlei 6:23)
Moshe Rabbenu did not understand how Am Yisrael could have been given the tremendous power to change nature. Therefore,HaKadosh Baruch Hu had to assure him that Am Yisrael does, in fact, have this ability.
We must remember that we do have this power and that we can make a difference. Specifically, we must strengthen ourselves in terms of Torah learning, the mitzvah of tzedakah, and studying ibur hachodesh. In this way, may our influence rise to the Heavens to deliver Am Yisrael from darkness to light and from subjugation to redemption, speedily and in our days. Amen.