Thursday, July 19, 2012

speech! speech!

The leaders of sheivet Menashe were concerned lest Bnos Tzelafchad marry men from other shevatim and their property pass through inheritance by their husbands or children to other tribes.  The Torah's solution (al pi peshuto shel mikra -- see below) was that Bnos Tzelafchad must marry only within their own sheivet.   The Torah prefaces this ruling by saying, "Latov b'eineihen t'hiyena l'nashim," that the Bnos Tzelafchad may marry whomever they desire -- and then adds the stipulation so long as whomever they desire is from their own sheivet. Wouldn't it have been more to the point to just tell the Bnos Tzefchad who they **can't** marry -- which is the whole point here -- without these introductory words?

According to one opinion in Chazal (B"B 120), the prohibition against marrying members of other shevatim applied to everyone **except** the Bnos Tzelafchad. The order of the pasuk according to this view makes perfect sense. The Torah first sets out the law: Bnos Tzelafchad were legally entitled to marry whomever they desired. The Torah then follows up with a bit of advice: Even the Bnos Tzelafchad should stick to their own sheivet. (The Netziv writes that the reasoning behind this advice is not just a matter of keeping property within the sheivet, but is a far broader directive -- don't flaunt being different. Just because you can take advantage of a special privilege that sets you apart doesn't mean doing so is a good idea.)

The Ksav Sofer offers a different answer (in keeping with the pshuto shel mikra that Bnos Tzelafchad could not marry outsiders) based on a a chiddush he quotes from the Panim Yafos. Although both husbands and children could inherit, the real issue sheivet Menashe had was specifically with husbands inheriting.  Although children of the Bnos Tzelafchad would count as members of their father's sheivet, the Panim Yafos writes that ultimately, since children have only a kinyan peiros(see Gittin 48a-b), the property of the children remained owned by their tribe of Menashe. Given this premis, Bnos Tzelafchad had a way to avoid the problem raised by the leaders of their sheivet. All they had to do was find husbands who would forgo their right to inherit, i.e. husbands who would agree to marry with a tnai that they are mochel on any potential yerusha.

What kind of husband, says the Ksav Sofer, would agree to such a deal? Obviously, one who is desperate to get married, even at the cost of sacrificing any chance to reap potential inheritance. (I guess the Ksav Sofer did not go for Hollywood-like romantic notions of a group of prince charmings gladly sacrificing their right of yerusha for the sake of their beloved Bnos Tzelafchad.  All I can say is that the value of land meant much more back then...). If this was the only way out for the Bnos Tzelafchad, they would be forced to shoot very low in their shidduch expecations! Therefore, the Torah here prefaces it's solution, namely that Bnos Tzelafchad marry only within their sheivet and therefore not have to force their husbands to forgo the right to inherit, with the positive message that the Bnos Tzefchad would now be free to marry whomever they desire, even from the cream of the crop of Menashe.

Before seeing the Ksav Sofer I understood the pasuk almost the reverse of the way he did. Rather than take it as good news, I understood the message that Bnos Tzefchad may only marry other members of their same sheivet to be pretty bad news. Their shidduch pool just shrank to 1/12 of what it was beforehand! (Imagine the shidduch crisis editorials of that time.) Rather than overwhelm the Bnos Tzefchad with this announcement, the Torah first puts a positive spin on things -- don't worry, you still can marry whomever you desire. Only after first stressing the silver lining does the Torah reveal that they"whomever you desire" has a caveat thrown in: provided the person is a member of your own sheivet.

The mussar haskel of either reading of the pasuk is to be sensitive about how bad news is delivered. Don't just deliver the facts without also addressing the emotional content (speaking personally I know this is easy to write but hard to practice.)  The Torah goes out of its way to stress the positive side of the solution being offered to Bnos Tzelafchad not just as a matter of spin, but out of sincere concern that they realize the good that can come out of the situation.

The Ksav Sofer earlier in Matos demonstrates again how by placing a secondary detail first the Torah subtly communicates an important message. Moshe tells the Bnei Reuvain and Gad, "Bnu lachem arim l'tapchem... v'hayotzei m'pichem ta'asu." (32:24) The building of cities in Eiver haYarden was not a point under debate -- the only issue was whether Bnei Reuvain and Gad would keep their and assist the rest of Bnei Yisrael to fight. Why did Moshe even bother to mention cities and homes for the children who would remain behind?

Recall that when Reuvain and Gad spoke to Moshe they first emphasized their desire for pasture land and only secondarily mentioned their children and families. In speaking to them Moshe reversed the order. Rashi explains that Moshe wanted to set their priorities straight: First comes children, and everything else is secondary.

The promises of a person with misplaced priorities -- someone who puts his $ even before his own children -- are not worth much. If one's own children take a backseat to money, surely a promise would take a backseat as well. Therefore, Moshe tells Bnei Reuvain and Gad to build cities and homes for their children. First get straight what is important in life. Once you have that down, "Hayotzei m'pichem ta'asu," you can be trusted to fulfill your promise, because you will then realize that ethics and responsibility, like children, are far more important than dollars and cents.

So in this post we've spoken a lot about speech -- how Moshe spoke to the Bnos Tzelafchad, how Moshe spoke to the Bnei Reuvain and Gad.  I think this is the theme of the closing of BaMidbar.  I haven't had a chance to fully formulate my thoughts on this yet, so I'm just going to throw our my jumbled stream of consciousness since I'm out of time.  Hope something here makes sense.  Sefer Devarim is Misheh Torah, it's the review session, so in a certain sense Matos-Masei is the conclusion of the Torah as a whole.  We started this four book journey with the creation of man, a "ruach m'malela," a speaking creature, as the Targum translates, and we end by coming back to the theme of speech, particularly as highlighted in the subject of nedarim.  The chassidishe seforim explain:  "Lo yachel devaro," do not make one's speech chulin, mundane and profane; "K'chol ha'yotzei m'piv ya'aseh," and if so, G-d will carry out what you ask and speak of before Him. 

"Vayavei Yosef es dibasam ra'ah el avihem," Yosef's evil speech about his brothers brought us through Braishis into the galus of Sefer Shmos.  The Bnos Tzelofchad describe their father as "meis bamidbar," which the midrash explains as a reference to dibur, speech -- he may have been one of the misonenim or mislonenim (see Ksav v'Kabbalah).  And to some degree it was speech, the words of the Mergalim, that did in the entire dor hamidbar, the generation of (corrupt) speech.  Now we have his descendents, the generation who was redeemed and now stands to inherit Eretz Yisrael, being described as, "Kein Bnos Tzelofchad dovros...," Kein mateh Bnei Yosef dovrim..." (36:5 - see Tiferes Shlomo).  The speech of Yosef that led Klal Yisrael into galus is now validated by Moshe and G-d.


  1. "Sefer Devarim is Misheh Torah, it's the review session, so in a certain sense Matos-Masei is the conclusion of the Torah as a whole."

    Wouldn't it make more sense, then, to say that arei miklat are the conclusion of the Torah?

    1. Anonymous2:14 AM

      all's well that ends well, ba, for the kohen gadol's "dibur",
      specifically his tefillah*-- his High-aimed speech-- would make a significant difference in deaths b'shogeg

      *Makos 11a

  2. Anonymous3:44 PM

    beautiful vort about dibbur