Thursday, May 13, 2010

parshas bamidbar: the rebbe-talmid relationship

Unfortunately I have not had much time to write, so just a few thoughts on parsha to close out the week.

Rashi writes that Moshe reacted to Hashem telling him to count every levi from 30 days old by asking how he could possibly intrude and enter every tent to get a proper count. (Apparently Moshe felt that he must personally due the counting and not rely on eid echad testimony – I’m not sure why.) At first glance the question is seems audacious. What do you mean how can you intrude – Hashem told you to count, so do whatever it takes to count! But apparently that’s not how to understand the dvar Hashem. It is as preposterous to think Hashem would demand a breach of privacy as it would be to think if Hashem said to go from NY to NJ he meant us to walk on water. Therefore Moshe asked for clarification. The respect for the dignity and rights of others is so integral and essential to the meaning of Torah that Moshe correctly intuited that no tzivuy can cross these norms.

And just to be clear, when I write “breach of privacy”, I mean exactly that. I don’t think the concern here was tzniyus, in case someone in the house was not dressed properly when Moshe stopped by, as that situation could easily be averted with a knock on the door and a warning before entering. I think the very assumption of the right to demand entrance to someone's home without prior invitation, no matter how important the reason, is the issue at hand here. The obvious lesson that zealousness for kvod shamayim which tramples of kavod habriyos is an oxymoron.

The Netziv makes a number of significant points in his comments on the parsha that relate to the rebbe-talmid relationship.

The Torah speaks of the children of Moshe and Aharon, "V’Eileh toldos Aharon u’Moshe b’yom diber Hashem es Moshe b’Har Sinai "(3:1), though it lists only Aharon’s children. Chazal, cites by Rashi, explain that Moshe the teacher is given equal credit as if he too were the father of Aharon’s children. (see Havolim’s post for details). One would imagine that this special bond between rebbe and student developed over the course of years of study together. However, the pasuk speaks of the bond as existing “byom diber… b’har Sinai,” from the moment of kabbalas haTorah. Apparently it is not the course of study over years, but rather it is the commitment which the student makes on day one which forges the bond Chazal speak of. (Of course the upcoming holiday of Shavuos is a good time to reflect on the significance of making an initial commitment at the moment of kabbalas haTorah.)

The end of the parsha speaks of the covering of the utensils of the Mishkan in preparation for the camp traveling. The Netziv notes that the description of the covering of the menorah is unique in two aspects: 1) the Torah first mentions the covering of techeiles and then tells us that it is to be used for the menorah, while with respect to other kelim first the kli is mentioned and then its covering; 2) the Torah instructs that not only the menorah, but each and every one of the utensils used in its lighting is to be covered in this one covering of techeiles. There are two lessons here. Firstly, the techeiles is a reminder of Hashem’s heavenly guidance (like the techeiles thread of tziztis); the menorah represents the light of wisdom found in the Torah. Divine assistance in the study of Torah does not come only after one has achieved success in learning. Were that the case the difficulty and demands of Torah study would cause many to turn away. The techeiles is mentioned first because Divine assistance comes even before one has achieved success in learning. Hashem doesn’t wait for us; he reaches out and helps us get to the goals we aspire to. Secondly, rebbe and talmidim must forge a strong bond and exist as one community. The menorah and the instruments which serve it are all wrapped in the same garment, inseparable. Again, important lessons to take to heart as we draw closer to the holiday of kabbalas haTorah.

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