By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
1. The laws of nedarim, vows. Moshe taught these halachos to the heads of the tribes: Nedarim must be kept. A father can undo a vow that day for a daughter age 11 to 12-and-a-half. A husband can also annul a wife’s vow. A person should not make his words profane by not keeping his vows.
Why was it just to the heads of the tribes? The Ramban explains that it teaches us that judgment must be used when teaching certain things to others because they might take things lightly if they are taught that vows can be undone. We see from this Ramban how important it is to plan out how we present and teach lessons to others.
2. Attacking the Midyanim. Hashem told Moshe to take revenge on the Midyanim, and then after he would die. One thousand men from each tribe volunteered for a surprise attack. They succeeded and also killed Midyan’s five kings and Bila’am. Moshe, meeting them outside the camp, was angry with them for allowing those who caused Klal Yisrael to sin to remain alive. Anyone who became impure had to remain outside the camp for seven days and be purified on the third and seventh day.
The Midrash explains that Moshe knew that he would die immediately after the battle with Midyan, yet battled without delay. Yehoshua, on the other hand, when given the same instructions, stretched out the battles. His rationale was that Klal Yisrael needed his presence in order for them to remain on a lofty level. He was punished. Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, pointed out that when following mitzvos, it is important not to make our own rationales. We have to look at it as if we are foot soldiers and not generals creating our own strategies. This directive even outweighs Yehoshua’s correct rationale.
3. Purifying Items and People. Elazar HaKohen told the soldiers: Any metal that was used over fire must be koshered with fire. Then it must be purified with water. Any vessel that was not used over fire must be brought through water. The soldiers and garments must also be purified.
This section was said by Elazar. Why? The Gemara (Pesachim 66b) points out that Moshe’s anger caused him to forget the halachos of purifying items, which had to be said by Elazar. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out that anger, no matter how justified, leads to error. This is an important lesson.
4. Dividing the Spoils. The spoils were divided in half between the soldiers and the people. The soldiers paid a meches, a tax, of 1 out 500, which went to Elazar the Kohen. The people paid a tax of 1 out of 50 which went to the Levi’im. There were 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cows, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 people. The officers said that since they lost not one man they wanted to offer all the gold that they obtained as an atonement offering to Hashem. Moshe and Elazar took it to the Ohel Moed as a commemoration.
Why did they only divide the spoils of living things and not the gold and silver? The Shach explains that there was so much that was captured, there was a concern that those who did not go to war would come to hate them. So the Torah commanded that the booty that did not involve excessive carrying be split. However, the Torah did not command that they split the items that had to be physically carried. We see from this Shach how concerned we must be for the psychological dimension of how people would react, for all parties concerned.
5. The Request of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuvein for Other Land. The Bnei Reuvein had much livestock, and Bnei Gad had strong livestock. They asked Moshe for nine cities in the area that was conquered (on the east side of the Jordan River), saying it was suitable land for livestock and they had livestock.
Why did Bnei Reuvein have so much livestock? The Abarbanel suggests that perhaps their focus was more on livestock since they had lost the birthright, and their tendency was to shy away from the others and live more on their own. We see from this Abarbanel the repercussions of a loss of face, and that such feelings continue from generation to generation.
6. Moshe Objecting. They continued in their request for the land and that they did not wish to settle past the Jordan. Moshe attacked their intentions and said that they were discouraging the rest of Klal Yisrael. He said that this is what their fathers had done which caused the 40 years of wandering in the first place.
What was Moshe Rabbeinu’s reasoning? The Seforno, Ohr HaChaim, and Malbim all explain that Moshe Rabbeinu told them that this will cause “your brothers anguish if you sit here in peace while they fight.” It seems from this Malbim that it is both unfair and a grave injustice to allow such disparity within the nation. Fairness is key to the nation’s morale. This is the lesson that Moshe Rabbeinu is teaching.
7. Reuvein and Gad Pledge Assistance. They approached and answered Moshe: They would build pens for the cattle, and cities for the children, and would serve on the frontlines before Bnei Yisrael. They would not return until Klal Yisrael got their inheritance.
Why on the frontlines? The Chezkuni explains that it is only fair that they do so; since they got their land first, they should be the first to fight. We see from this Chezkuni that there should be an underlying fairness in any initiative. The Bnei Reuvein and the Bnei Gad recognized this too. This is an important lesson.
8. Moshe Gives Conditions and the Actual Conquests. Moshe agreed but made sure that the conditions were fully expressed—positively and negatively. The Bnei Gad, the Bnei Reuvein, and half of Sheivet Menasheh said they would do as Moshe said and got the lands. The Bnei Machir (a son of Menasheh) captured and were given the Gilad. Menasheh’s (great) grandson captured cities and he was given them and named them Chavos Yair. Novach (another descendant of Menasheh) captured Knas and named it Novach.
Why did Moshe agree to this? It was not in accordance with the initial plan! The Seforno explains that he did so in order to avoid machlokes, internal strife. We see how important it is to prevent machlokes—but at the same time, the underlying issues must still be met. Moshe addressed both issues with a third solution. This is an important lesson. v
This parashah sheet was written as a z’chus for the three murdered yeshiva students: Gilad Michael ben Ophir, Yaakov Naftali ben Avraham, and Eyal ben Uriel, Hy’d. This sidrah has 8 sections (parshiyos).
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. To subscribe to his weekly parashah sheet, send an e-mail with the word “Subscribe” and your zip code in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sponsorship opportunities are available as well.