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SALT | Behaalotekha 5784 - 2024



In Parashat Beha'alotekha we are introduced to the "chatzotzerot," the silver trumpets blown by the kohanim at various times as mentioned in the parasha (10:1-10).  Among the occasions requiring the blowing of the chatzotzerot are "the days of your joy and your festivals."  To what does "the days of your joy" refer?  Interestingly enough, the Sifrei understands this as a reference to Shabbat.

This interpretation raises the halakhic issue of an obligation of "simcha," joy, on Shabbat.  Generally speaking, we associate this obligation with Yom Tov, specifically the three "regalim" (pilgrimage festivals).  On Shabbat, however, halakha generally speaks in terms of two obligations instituted by the prophets, that of "kavod" (honor) and "oneg" (enjoyment).  "Oneg," which requires the consumption of three meals on Shabbat (Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat), differs from "simcha," which is very much connected to the sacrifices offered on Yom Tov.  The practical ramifications of this distinction will become clear as we examine some of the sources related to this issue.

Along the lines of the Sifrei, several sources indeed imply that a mitzva of "simcha" applies on Shabbat. The Yerushalmi in Masekhet Megila (1:4) forbids conducting a Purim feast on Shabbat (even when Purim falls on Shabbat). The Megila requires us to turn the days of Purim into "days of festivity and joy"; this requirement cannot apply when the day is already deemed a day of joy.  Likewise, the Behag, in his listing of the 613 mitzvot, includes "simcha" and "oneg" on Shabbat as two mitzvot, implying that indeed the obligation of simcha applies on Shabbat. Furthermore, the Sefer Ha-manhig rules that we omit the solemn "tachanun" prayer on Fridays in anticipation of the onset of Shabbat, due to Shabbat's status as a day of "simcha."

Other authorities, however, deny the existence of such an obligation on Shabbat. This position is taken by the Maharil in a ruling related to the institution of "ta'anit chalom," a fast conducted after experiencing a frightening dream.  If one has such a dream on the night of Shabbat or Yom Tov, may he fast on the following day?  The Maharil rules that fasting is forbidden on Yom Tov, as the requirement of simcha does not allow self affliction.  On Shabbat, however, when no such obligation applies (in the Maharil's view), one may fast after experiencing a bad dream.  Similarly, Tosafot in Masekhet Moed Katan (23b) employ this distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov to explain why only festivals cancel mourning, but not Shabbat.  Since Shabbat does not require "simcha," it can only temporarily suspend, but not end, the given mourning period. 

How do those holding this second view explain the aforementioned comment in the Sifrei, which interprets "the day of your joy" as a reference to Shabbat?

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l answers by arriving at an interesting "compromise" between these two views. Unlike Yom Tov, Shabbat does not, in and of itself, require "simcha."  However, the "mussaf" offering brought on Shabbat does generate such an obligation.  The verse cited above from Parashat Beha'alotekha states explicitly that the trumpets were to be blown on these occasions in conjunction with the sacrifices offered in the Midkash. In this respect, Shabbat indeed acquires the status of a "day of your joy," as the Sifrei comments.  In all other respects, however, no such obligation applies on Shabbat.  Rav Soloveitchik employed this principle to explain the text of Shabbat shemoneh esrei according to the version of "nusach ashkenaz."  Unlike "nusach sefard," "nusach ashkenaz" does not include the sentence, "Yismechu be-malkhutekha" ("They shall rejoice in Your Kingship") in all the shemoneh esrei prayers on Shabbat; it does so only in the mussaf prayer.  Rav Soloveitchik explained that since the concept of "simcha" relates to Shabbat only through the mussaf offering, it earns mention on Shabbat only in the mussaf prayer, which commemorates the sacrifice.

(Based on Rav Binyamin Tabory's column, "Ha-mitzva She-beparasha," in Shabbat Be-shabbato, Parashat Beha'alotekha 5760)


Among the topics that arise in Parashat Beha'alotekha is that of the korban pesach.  God has Moshe order the people to perform the ritual of the paschal offering "be-mo'ado," in its proper time.  The Gemara (Pesachim 66a) derives from this verse the halakha that should Erev Pesach fall on Shabbat (as it did this past Pesach), we nevertheless bring the korban pesach, despite the Shabbat violations involved.  A dispute exists, however, as to which activities generally forbidden on Shabbat may be performed on Shabbat Erev Pesach for the sake of the korban pesach.  The majority view among the tanna'im, represented in the mishna (Pesachim 65b) by Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva, maintains that only the actual offering of the sacrifice, including the various rituals entailed, overrides the Shabbat. The preparatory activities, known as "machshirei mitzva," such as carrying the sheep over distances forbidden on Shabbat to be offered in the Mikdash, are forbidden.  Rabbi Eliezer, however, allows even these preparatory activities.

Rabbi Eliezer here follows consistently his general view permitting prerequisite activity on Shabbat for the sake of a mitzva.  Most famously, he allows the performance of all activities on Shabbat necessary for a circumcision, including transporting the knife through a public domain.  The conventional view permits only the actual circumcision itself.  The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (131a) asks why Rabbi Eliezer would not allow tying one's tzitzit to his four-cornered garment or affixing a mezuza to his doorpost on Shabbat.  After all, these activities, too, constitute necessary preparations for the fulfillment of mitzvot!  The Gemara answers that Rabbi Eliezer does not permit these activities on Shabbat because one can easily put himself in a situation whereby he becomes exempt from these mitzvot.  Namely, one can renounce his ownership over his garment or house; he then has no obligations of tzitzit or mezuza as far as the now ownerless garment or house is concerned.

Since one can effectively excuse himself from these mitzvot, the preparatory activities do not override the prohibitions of Shabbat.

The Chatam Sofer (O.C. 124) was asked an interesting question regarding Rabbi Eliezer's view as it affects the korban pesach.  Tosafot (Masekhet Pesachim 3b) posit a controversial theory that one who does not own land in Eretz Yisrael is exempt from the mitzva of korban pesach. (Some Acharonim strongly reject this notion.)  According to this position, presumably, one who renounces ownership over his property before Pesach need not bring a korban pesach.  Therefore, how can the needs of the korban pesach override the prohibitions of Shabbat?  According to Rabbi Eliezer, as we have seen, if one can excuse himself from a given obligation by renouncing ownership, then that obligation cannot override Shabbat!

The Chatam Sofer answers based on another position taken by Rabbi Eliezer, in the mishna in Masekhet Arakhin (28a).  There Rabbi Eliezer establishes that one cannot donate all his assets to "hekdesh" (the Temple fund), a halakha that the Gemara there explicitly applies to charity, as well.  If one declares that all his property should go to "hekdesh" or charity, his words are null and void.  The Chatam Sofer extends Rabbi Eliezer's view to "hefker," the renunciation of ownership, as well.  One cannot renounce ownership over all his assets; he must leave some for himself. Therefore, one cannot renounce ownership over all his land.  As such, there is no way for one to exempt himself from the obligation of korban pesach, and its prerequisite activities thus override the prohibitions of Shabbat.


The commentators devote much time and ink to the issue of the relationship between the end of Parashat Naso and the beginning of Parashat Beha'alotekha. Parashat Naso concluded with the dedication offering of the tribal leaders in honor of the mishkan's inauguration, while the final verse describes God's "speaking" to Moshe from above the aron in the mishkan.  Parashat Beha'alotekha begins with the mitzva of lighting the menora in the mishkan.

The Ibn Ezra suggests that the opening of Parashat Beha'alotekha continues the theme of God's communication with Moshe.  The kohen would light the menora before sundown, and it remained lit through the night.  Thus, suggests the Ibn Ezra, the mention of the menora here subtly indicates that the Almighty would speak to Moshe by night as well as by day.

The Ramban (after having rejected Rashi's approach) takes strong issue with the Ibn Ezra, noting Chazal's explicit comment that God spoke to Moshe only during the daytime hours.  We might add a question of our own: why would the Torah choose the menora as the means by which to convey the message?  Could it not have stated this fact more clearly?

The Netziv comes to the Ibn Ezra's defense and, in so doing, uncovers for us the beautiful symbolism reflected in his approach to this issue.  The mishkan contained two symbols of Torah: the aron kodesh (which contained the two "luchot" and the Sefer Torah) and the menora ("For a mitzva is a candle, and Torah is light").  The former represents the written law, the "Torah she-bikhtav."  The aron therefore remains hidden behind the curtain, beyond the reach of the human being, symbolizing its static quality and inability to be tampered by human initiative. The menora, by contrast, alludes to the oral law (referred to by the Netziv as "pipula shel Torah"), whose interpretation is entrusted to the human minds of the scholars.  Just as the kohen himself lights the menora, so do the sages produce with their own initiative the light of the oral law, employing their reasoning and intuition to understand the laws of the Torah. 

With this in mind, suggests the Netziv, we may explain the Ibn Ezra's commentary.  True, as the Ramban noted, God in fact did not commune with Moshe at night. However, as the menora symbolizes, Moshe continued his indirect encounter with the Almighty by applying his own intellectual faculties in processing, assimilating and developing the Torah he heard directly from God.  Even when God did not speak to him directly, Moshe maintained his ongoing communion at nighttime through his own initiative in studying the material transmitted to him by day.  The indirect encounter thus continued well after the direct encounter came to an end.


Towards the beginning of Parashat Beha'alotekha, the Torah describes the ceremony by which the levi'im were formally consecrated for service in the mishkan.  God describes the selection process as follows: "From among Benei Yisrael I formally assign the levi'im to Aharon and his sons, to perform the service for Benei Yisrael in the Ohel Moed and to make expiation for Benei Yisrael, so that no plague may afflict Benei Yisrael when Benei Yisrael come too near the sanctuary" (8:19).  Rashi notes the five-time repetition of "Benei Yisrael" in this verse, and explains it as an expression of love on the part of the Almighty.  So much does He love them, Rashi writes, that He repeats their name five times over, the same number as books in the Torah.

How are we to understand this Midrash?  Of what significance is it that God repeats the term "Benei Yisrael" the same number of times as the number of Chumashim, and why specifically in this verse?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains by taking a closer look at what is happening at this point in Benei Yisrael's history.  Essentially, one group of people is being singled out for special status.  What more, this status was to have been available to all firstborn among the nation.  Now, only one, unique tribe earns rights to the sacred activity in the mishkan.  Understandably, many among the people felt slighted if not outright frustrated. Therefore, smack in the middle of His presentation of this process, God makes a subtle allusion to an equation between Benei Yisrael and the five Chumashim.  Although the Torah divides into five sections, it nevertheless constitutes one, single entity.  There is one Torah, not five.  Similarly, we may view Benei Yisrael as twelve separate tribes, but when all is said and done we all together form a single, indivisible nation.  That the role of one group may seem more appealing than that of another may not and does not undermine this tenet of our faith. The nation is one, and no faction may consider itself inherently superior to any other.

Ironically, this very same principle prompted the disastrous rebellion led by Korach, as we will read in two weeks.  Korach and his followers argued that "the entire nation - they are all sacred," and thus challenged the authority of Moshe and Aharon.  The rebels failed to realize that equality does not negate the need for authority.  Rather, it means that regardless of where one stands on the hierarchy, he ultimately possesses the same, inherent value as everyone else above and below.  It means that both the leaders and their constituents share equal responsibility and must view themselves as equally important in the formation and functioning of society.  Just as all five Chumashim are of equal sanctity, so does God expect all of us, the entirety of Am Yisrael, to aspire for kedusha.


Parashat Behaalotekha concludes with the famous story of Miriam and Aharon, whose inappropriate speech about their brother, Moshe, resulted in Miriam being stricken with tzara'at.  Though this much is clear, the precise content of their conversation is subject to a good deal of debate and confusion.  The most common explanation, adopted by Chazal and Rashi, interprets the verse (12:1) to mean that Aharon and Miriam criticized their brother for his having separated from his wife.  They claim, "Has the Lord spoken only to Moshe?  Has He not spoken to us, as well?" (12:2).  They realized that Moshe separated from his wife because of the level of purity required for his communion with God.  But they wrongly interpreted this decision as a display of arrogance on Moshe's part; after all, they thought, all of Benei Yisrael heard the word of God at Sinai, and yet they were permitted to resume marital life thereafter.  God therefore appears to them and explains that Moshe stands head and shoulders above all other prophets, and his unique stature indeed warranted this drastic measure of separating from his wife.

A much different approach to the content of Miriam and Aharon's criticism of Moshe is offered by the Ri, arguably the most famous and influential of the Ba'alei Ha-Tosefot, as cited in the work "Moshav Zekeinim."  The Ri explains that Miriam and Aharon actually wondered why Moshe did not divorce his wife.  Is it proper, they claimed, that a pious, exalted person like Moshe should be married to a gentile woman?  Moshe had married Tzippora when he fled Egypt to Midyan.  He remained married to her ever since, even after all that has occurred since then, even after he became God's messenger to destroy Egypt, split the sea, and bring the Torah from the heavens to Benei Yisrael.  Aharon and Miriam thought that now that Moshe has achieved such stature, he should abandon his Midyanite wife and marry a woman from a far more illustrious background, one commensurate with his prominent status. 

In response to their accusation, God emphasizes the fundamental distinction between Moshe and other prophets: "… Not so, My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household" (12:7).  The Ri suggests a particularly novel interpretation to this description of Moshe as "ne'eman" – "trusted," explaining it as denoting faithfulness and loyalty.  God here lauds Moshe's fidelity to his wife, who married him when he was but a fugitive, living as a foreigner in Midyan.  Now that he has attained prominence and regal stature, he will not abandon her, but retains his loyalty to her and keeps her as his wife.  Specifically a person of Moshe's stature must remain loyal to his wife rather than simply discard her now that she might be deemed "unworthy" of marriage to him. In Moshe's eyes, stature and nobility mean responsibility and high ethical standards, rather than a preoccupation with one's social status and the external appearance that we all too often associate with it.  (Based on a dvar Torah by Rav Yissachar Frand)

We should, however, point out one difficulty with the Ri's approach to this incident.  As mentioned earlier, Aharon and Miriam add a comment about the fact that God spoke to the entire nation, rather than to Moshe alone.  According to the Ri, that Aharon and Miriam here criticize Moshe for keeping his wife, which they see as an insult to his stature, what is their intention in making this comment?  To the contrary, the "equality" they seek to establish between themselves and Moshe would appear to justify Moshe's decision in remaining married to a woman from a foreign background, in that he is, after all, not much different from them. 

The Ri addresses this comment of Aharon and Miriam and briefly explains, "And if you will claim that he did this by divine command, did God not speak with us, as well?"  It is very difficult, however, to understand what exactly the Ri has in mind in this interpretation.  Why would the fact that God spoke to Aharon and Miriam, and not only to Moshe, preclude the possibility that at some point Moshe was commanded not to separate from his wife?  It therefore remains unclear how the Ri would interpret this verse.  (Suggestions from VBM students would be greatly appreciated!)


Amidst the story of Miriam and Aharon's inappropriate speech about their brother, Moshe, as told towards the end of Parashat Beha'alotekha, the Torah interjects a brief remark about Moshe's extraordinary humility: "The man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble, from all men on the face of the earth" (12:3).  As many commentators explain, the Torah introduces this comment in order to emphasize that the negative remarks about Moshe did not disturb him in any way; God punished Miriam not out of concern for Moshe's feelings, but rather for the sake of his honor.

The final phrase of this verse, however, appears superfluous: "… on the face of the earth."  The verse could have simply stated that Moshe was more humble "than any other man."  What did it seek to convey through the term "on the face of the earth"?

The Netziv, in his "Ha'amek Davar," suggests a particularly novel and insightful interpretation of this phrase, claiming that it comes to reveal the extent and nature of Moshe's humility.  Namely, his humility extended beyond that of "all men on earth"; his attitude towards prestige and honor was that of someone who is no longer on earth.  A deceased person has no reaction or response to an insult or infringement upon his honor; he neither sees nor hears the degradation, and he thus suffers no emotional harm and seeks no revenge.  Moshe Rabbenu treated insults unlike all men on earth, but rather like those who have passed on from the earth.  His siblings' murmuring about him simply had no effect whatsoever on his feelings or self-image, he disregarded it entirely.

In light of this interpretation, the Netziv explains a passage in Masekhet Tamid in which Chazal recommend that one "kill himself" as a means to life.  Happiness and fulfillment in life are achieved by looking upon honor and prestige like a dead person, paying as little attention as possible to the respect shown by others.  Such an attitude allows one to focus his attention on what he should be doing, rather than on what others think of him.


Parashat Beha'alotekha opens with the mitzva of menora lighting in the Mishkan.  After God commands Moshe to instruct Aharon with regard to the lighting, we read, "Va-ya'as kein Aharon" ("And Aharon did so" – 8:3). The Sifrei, cited by Rashi, explains this verse as "telling the praise [of Aharon], that he did not deviate." The Torah wishes to emphasize Aharon's meticulous observance of the laws regarding the menora lighting, which did not deviate one iota from the instructions conveyed to him.

The obvious question arises as to why such praise was necessary, and, moreover, why this constitutes praise at all.  Does a Jewish man earn applause for laying tefillin properly? Are we deserving of special praise for not deviating from the rules established by God in the Torah?

Rav Yehuda Leib Ginzburg, in his "Yalkut Yehuda," suggests that Chazal here refer specifically to the symbolic meaning and significance of the menora lighting, which represents the dissemination of the "light" of Torah.  The kohen's lighting of the menora symbolizes his role as educator and spiritual guide, charged with the responsibility of kindling and sustaining the flame of Torah study and practice among the Jewish people.  It is this task to which Chazal refer when they laud Aharon's obedience. This verse, according to the Sifrei, which reports that "Aharon did so," does not tell of Aharon's actual candle lighting, but rather of his involvement in the figurative lighting and spreading the flame of Torah throughout Am Yisrael.

A different explanation appears in Rav Shraga Pollack's "Tishbi."  Generally, the prominent, aristocratic person assumes the administrative responsibilities of a given enterprise, leaving the "elbow-grease" to his employees. The kohen's role in the menora lighting involved not only the lighting itself, but also cleaning the oil-lamps and preparing them for lighting.  Aharon did not hesitate to perform even the less-than-ennobling tasks associated with the lighting of the menora; understanding that all these jobs fulfilled the will of God, he paid no attention to his prestige and performed all the tasks charged upon him, even those normally reserved for the lower classes.

Yet another approach is cited in Rav Menachem Hakohen's "Torat Am."  There is something degrading, especially for a distinguished person, in simply complying with the rules dictated by a higher authority, without introducing one's own, personal ideas and color into the task performed.  People have a drive to initiate and innovate as a means of exercising their individuality and having something to proudly call their own.  We often loathe the mere carrying out of the ideas of others, rather than creating our own ideas.  Aharon's greatness, as expressed in this passage in the Sifrei, lay in the fact that he felt no such need for personal initiative.  He felt perfectly content obeying God's laws and made no attempt to distinguish himself by introducing his own innovations.

While Judaism undoubtedly allows room for personal creativity and originality, our most basic, primary responsibility, and privilege, is the meticulous observance of all of God's laws.

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