This week’s Parshah begins with the Parshah of Nedarim. Why is it mentioned specifically here, after the episode with Bilaam and Pinchas and between the story with the בנות מדין and the war against מדין?
Rashi in Parshas Balak quotes the Chazal that tells us that Bilaam was given to theאומות העולם as a Navi כדי שלא יהא פתחון פה לאומות לומר אלו היו לנו נביאים חזרנו למוטב (כב,ה). The emphasis is on the פה. Rashi in the beginning of Balak also says that the reason they brought Bilaam was because Moshe’s כח was בפה and therefore they needed Bilaam whose כח was בפה as well. However Bilaam used his strength בפה to curse and destroy and not to build.
What makes us human as opposed to animals is our ability to speak, as the Targum in בראשית on the Pasuk ויהי האדם לנפש חיה (ב,ז) says והות באדם לרוח ממללא, a speaking spirit. However, the worth of our word is only as much as the worth of our self-worth. The Rambam in הל' עדות פרק יא says that a בזוי is פסול לעדות, referring to someone who is אוכל בשוק. The reason why he is פסול is because since he has no self-worth and dignity, his word is not a word and he can’t testify. It also says in the רבון כל עולמים that some say before Kiddush on Friday night שתעביר אנחתי וכו' ואעיד אשר בראת בששה ימים כל יצור. What is the connection between these two statements? The explanation is as follows. When a person is in a situation of יסורים, even if it is physical pain, he loses his self-dignity. As it says in תהילים צא-יקראני ואענהו עמו אנכי בצרה אחלצהו ואכבדהו. The person in a צרה needs to be released from the צרה which is the אחלצהו. But what is the purpose of the אכבדהו? Why would a person in a צרה need כבוד? It must be that when a person is בצער not only does he have the צרה but he loses his dignity. Therefore Hashem promises, “I will be with him and restore his dignity”. When a person is in a state of אנחתי, he feels like a nothing and a nobody and that his word is not a word. Therefore he first must be taken out of his אנחתי and only then can he testify אשר בראתי בששה ימים כל יצור. Also only a person who has a sense of self value and dignity is committed to carry out what he commits to.
It is no coincidence that Bilaam who abused his power of speech also was the one who gave the advice to מדין that their daughters should deduce כלל ישראל. There is also a connection between זנות and דיבור. It says in the ספרא דצניעותא פרק א says that the ברית המעור and the ברית הלשון are connected. The גר"א in his פירוש says therefore the Mishnah in כתובות uses the word דיבור to refer to זנות when it says רעוה מדברת עם פלוני. In addition Chazal say החיים והמות ביד הלשון and through the ברית מילה life is created. So we see the connection between speech and ברית מילה that both are the source of where life is created.
The בנות מדין were מזנה with כלל ישראל and they did a מעשה בהמה as it is referred to by a סוטה that her korban has מאכל בהמה because she did a מעשה בהמה. With the זנות, the Jews lost their self-dignity.
The Parshah of Nedarim teaches us that we have a tremendous power with our speech. Through our speech, not only can we describe an existing reality, but we also can create a reality. It says בצלם אלוקים עשה את האדם, and just like the דבר ה' עשה את השמים and בעשרה מאמרים נברא העולם, so to the אדם was gifted the power to create through speech. The idea of a נדר is that we are true to our word and we take what we say seriously. But only when a person recognizes his self-worth and self-dignity can he then take his word seriously. After the זנות with the בנות מדין, the Jews needed to have their כבוד restored, and with the Parshah of Nedarim, their כבוד was restored because it shows the power and gift of speech. Before the Jews were to take revenge against מדין who brought down the sense of self dignity by having them engage in מעשה בהמה, the Jews needed to rise above the level of מעשה בהמה and that is through the Parshah of Nedarim which teaches us about the מעלה of the מין המדבר, of man, who his word is a word.
This is also a preparation for the Parshah of בני גד ובני ראובן, because the same ראשי המטות who received the Parshah of Nedarim in the beginning of the Parshah are the ones that said toבני גד ובני ראובן- ככל היוצא מפיכם תעשו.
תוספות in נדרים ז ע"א says לשון נדרים משונה היא. This could be explained with the Mishna in Chagigah 10a היתר נדרים פורחין באויר ואין להם על מה שיסמכו. The idea is that Nedarim emphasize the fact that humans have the ability to commit themselves and carry what they say and therefore Torah itself hides the fact that it commands us to carry out what we promise, and it is creating space for man. So too by תורה שבעל פה, where לשון נדרים משונה, it’s not even written out and expressed clearly in תורה שבעל פה, which is the המשך to תורה שבכתב. In addition, the Tiferes Yisrael in אבות פרק ב in the בועז says it’s important for מחברי ספרים to write another מהדורא to fix and correct the errors and further perfect a sefer. Even רבינא attempted to write another מהדורא of Shas but died before completing a few Masechtos such as Nedarim, Temurah, Arachin and that’s why they aren’t so clear.
In the beginning of the Parshah, the Pasuk says זה הדבר אשר צוה ה. Rashi says Moshe was מתנבא בכה and other נביאים as well were מתנבא בכה. Then Rashi goes on to say but Moshe was greater because he was מתנבא בלשון זה. The question is the first part of the Rashi seems extra, because once we know that Moshe was greater than other נביאים because he was מתנבא בזה, then why is it necessary for Rashi to tell us that Moshe was מתנבא בכה like other נביאים?
The מהר"ל and the רא"ם say that the difference between כה and זה is that זה is with אספקלריא המאירה and כה is אינה מאירה. Chazal says לא קם בישראל כמשה עוד בנבואה, specifically בישראל there was no one like Moshe, but among the אומות העולם there was someone like Moshe, referring to Bilaam. The מהרי"ל דיסקן, ר' צדוק, באר מים חיים all say that Bilaam was מתנבא with the אספקלריא המאירה. The reason is because a נבואה that is באינה המאירה is unclear and it’s up to the interpretation of the Navi. The Navi receives the דבר השם and then it’s up to the Navi to interpret the דבר השם. As opposed to a נבואה with אספקלריא המאירה, which is with such clarity that there is no room for interpretation. The reason why Bilaam was מתנבא באספקלריא המאירה was because it needed to be as clear as possible in order that it couldn’t be left to his interpretation. Therefore, being מתנבא באספקלריא המאירה is not always a praise, rather it can be a גנאי to the person, as it was by Bilaam. In order to avoid confusion with the level of Moshe, first Rashi needed to say that Moshe was מתנבא באספקלריא שאינה מאירה like other נביאים, which needed interpretation and then it could say that Moshe was also מתנבא באספקלריא המאירה which was then clearly a praise as opposed to by Bilaam. But it shouldn’t be taken lightly that all נביאים are מתנבא בכה, without the אספקלריא המאירה, because the level of all נביאים is not a small מדריגה. As we see even Moshe was מתנבא בכה. On the contrary, it’s a מעלה to be able to live with the כה, which is uncertainty.
By the עקידה, the Pasuk says כה יהיה זרעך and Avraham says to the נעריו with him שבו פה עם החמור and Chazal say עם הדומה לחמור. The goyim are only פה and they are compared to a donkey who has its head down and can only see that which is in front of it. They can only live with what’s in front of them because they can’t live without clarity and with uncertainty. However, Jews have always been the revolutionists and the visionaries because a Jew has to be able to live with uncertainty and with things that are not clear. A vision by definition is foggy and not clear. Therefore, only a person that can live with uncertainty and see beyond what’s clear can have a vision to change the world.
This was really the חטא of אדם הראשון, the first sin in the history of mankind that Adam wanted to be יודע דעת אלוקים which was clarity. He didn’t want to live with uncertainty. The Zohar says that Avraham Avinu was the תיקון for when they ate from the עץ הדעת. It could be the תיקון was when Avraham was told לך לך which was to go with uncertainty, not knowing what was going to be. Also, by Matan Torah, when the Jews said נעשה ונשמע they accepted the Torah with uncertainty. This can also explain the Gemara in שבת דף קמו ע"א that says ישראל שעמדו על הר סיני פסקה זוהמתן. Meaning that they got rid of the defilement that came into the world by חטא of אדם הראשון because we were willing to accept the Torah with an uncertainty. This is also why when they made the עגל, which was because they couldn’t live with uncertainty and not knowing as it says כי זה משה האיש אשר העלנו מארץ מצרים לא ידענו מה היה לו, the defilement returned, as it says in the Zohar. This is how Jews are supposed to live, because only with uncertainty can a person have a vision.
The Gemara in Arachin 8b says צדקתך כהררי אל אלו נגעי אדם משפטיך תהום רבה אלו נגעי בתים. Rashi explains that the reason why נגעי אדם are צדק, like a חסד, is because in one week the person knows whether he is טהור or ודאי חלוט. תוספות there explains that נגעי בתים can take up to three weeks until a person knows. We see that even though the certainty by נגעי אדם is that he might for sure be טמא, it is still viewed as a חסד to know for sure as opposed to by נגעי בתים where one is still unsure after week one and might not know until after three weeks. Human nature is that we prefer certainty over uncertainty regardless of if it is good or bad, and therefore the challenge is to be able to contain, embrace, and work with uncertainty. That is the challenge of כה יהיה זרעך that Hashem took Avraham out and told him to look at the stars and count them אם תוכל לספור אותם. The meaning was that זרעך will have the mission to take on things that can’t be accomplished, just like it was impossible for Avraham to count the stars. But nevertheless take the challenge, and that is the meaning of כה.
This week’s Parshah talks about בני גד ובני ראובן. Their mistake was not in worrying about their money because they understood that if they had it, then it must’ve been their mission. Like the Gemara says it is announced by every טיפה before it is born whether it will be a עשיר or a עני. Therefore, if they were rich, it must have been that it was their mission to develop that and use that in the service of Hashem. However, their mistake was in their priority that they were חסים על ממונם יותר מבניהם. Sometimes people get so hung up on their mission and its fulfillment that they become blinded and can’t function normally.
We say in song המבדיל בין קודש לחול that זרענו וכספנו ירבה כחול וכוכבים בלילה. The Chasam Sofer in Tshuvos (או"ח סימן סז) says that it used to say כספינו וזרענו but was switched to the way it is now to not make the mistake of בני גד ובני ראובן. However, he says the proper נוסח is really the old נוסח because in spite of the fact that we see there was a טנעה against בני גד ובני ראובן for being מקדים כספינו לזרענו. Nevertheless, it makes sense to have it as כספינו וזרענו because we want the כסף to be on the חול and the children to be with כוכבים to show that our money is just compared to lowly sand but our children are compared to stars.
The Rav suggested another explanation as follows. In the Sefer Hachaim, written by Reb Chaim M’Freidenburg (brother of the Maharal) he writes about the סדר הפסוקים in ויתן לך. In ויתן לך it says ברוך טנאך ומשארתך ברוך פרי בטנך ופרי אדמתך but in the Torah it says it in the reverse, first mentioning the פרי בטנך ופרי אדמתך and then פרי טנאך ומשארתך. How could it be that we switch the order from what it says in the Torah? The Sefer Hachaim writes that because the Gemara in תענית יא ע"א says אסור לאדם לשמש מיטתו בשני רעבון and he says the reason is שלא יראה בנים בצער. Therefore, during the times of גלות, we have to first talk about the טנאך ומשארתך and only afterward the פרי בטנך ופרי אדמתך.
According to this the נוסח of the המבדיל could be explained that even though we have a טענה against the בני גד ובני ראובן that they were מקדים the מקנה to the בנים, we in גלות have to be מקדים the מקנה to the בנים.
The Pasuk at the end of the Parshah says ויאיר בן מנשה הלך וילכד את חותיהם ויקרא אתהן חות יאיר. Rashi says that he named the city after himself because he had no children.
(It’s interesting to note that the sefer חוות יאיר was actually named after his mother חוה and himself, יאיר. Therefore he called it חוות יאיר as if to say “Chava’s Yair.”) There was a paper thirty five years ago in Bnei Brak that discussed the hard core ideology of what Bnei Brak represents and someone wrote an article against the idea that streets were named after people and that there is no source for such a thing. But it’s a clear Rashi in this week’s Parshah that there is something to naming cities after people. It’s interesting to see that דעת תורה doesn’t actually have anything to do with תורה, and not only is it a lack of דעת, but also a lack of תורה.
The last Pasuk in the Parshah says ויקרא לה נבח בשמו. There are two ways of reading this Pasuk. Either it can be read with a break between לה and נבח or it can be read with a break between נבח and בשמו. This could be the reason why there is a מרכה כפולה on these words, which is a rarity as it only appears five times in the Torah. The purpose is to separate the לה from the נבח because if it was connected, then it would simply be that ויקרא לה נבח…בשמו. But by placing the מרכה כפולה under the לה, it separates it from the נבח and allows for the meaning to be that he called it נבח בשמו and not that נבח called it in his name.