Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chaim Mordechai Hakohen ben Natan Yitzchak, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Avraham Yechezkel ben Yaakov Halevy, HaRav Yosef Shemuel ben HaRav Reuven Aharon, David ben Elazar Yehoshua, the refuah shlaimah of Devorah bat Chana, and Yitzhak Akiva ben Malka, Leah bat Shifra and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
The final pasuk (verse) of our parasha is somewhat difficult to understand: “Moses spoke to the children of Israel in accordance with all that the L-rd had commanded Moses.” (Sefer Bamidbar 30:1, this and all Bible and Rashi translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) We know from numerous verses in the Torah that Moses told the Jewish people solely “that [which] the L-rd had commanded.” Without a doubt, he always acted as Hashem’s loyal servant. Therefore, the Torah states, “… he is faithful throughout My house. (Sefer Bamidbar 12:7, underlining my own) To what, then, does the phrase, “in accordance with all,” actually refer? Based upon Midrash Sifrei, Pinchas 57, Rashi (1040-1105) suggests the following interpretation of our pasuk, and by extension, our expression:
Moses spoke to the children of Israel: [This verse is written] to make a pause; [these are] the words of R. Ishmael. Since up to this point the words of the Omnipresent [were stated], and the [following] chapter dealing with vows begins with the words of Moses, it was necessary to make a break first and say that Moses repeated this chapter [of offerings and the Festivals] to the Jewish people, for if not so, it would imply that he did not tell this to them, but began his address with the chapter discussing vows. (Underlining and emendations to the translation my own)
In sum, Rashi is teaching us that Moses repeated to the Jewish people, both the laws pertaining to the Festival musafim (additional offerings) and the Festivals themselves.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1816-1893), known to posterity as “the Netziv,” builds upon Rashi’s gloss and notes, “Our teacher, Moses, explained the laws of the Festivals to the Jewish people more so than all the other parshiot in the Torah.” (Ha’amek Davar, Parashat Pinchas, 30:1) At first glance, this is a very surprising statement, as it seems there should be many other contenders for the crown of “most explicated section of the Torah.” As such, why did the Netziv single out the Festivals in this fashion? His answer is both incisive and far-reaching in scope:
The [passages concerning the] musafim [and Festivals] are replete with amazing differences [in terminology], as each musaf utilizes a different linguistic formulation. [This is highly substantive, for] without a doubt, these variations do not lack meaning. Instead, they represent the [hidden] secrets of the Torah, and provide a basis for the statutes and laws [that form the essential basis of] practical Halacha. Indeed, all of this may be derived from the very expression of “speaking” (“amirah”) [as we find in our verse, “va’yomer Moshe el b’nai Yisrael] … Our pasuk, therefore, has but one purpose, to teach the inner meaning of the Mo’adim to the Jewish people. This is the case, since they are a great and fundamental principle (haymah ikar gadol) regarding both ethical values and proper behavior. (Translations, brackets, bolding and underlining my own)
The Netziv’s response raises yet another question, “How are the Mo’adim ‘a great and fundamental principle regarding both ethical values and proper behavior?’” The Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) provides us with one of the most famous answers to this question in his presentation of the following halacha:
When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his gut. And with regard to such a person [the verse, Sefer Hoshea 9:4] is applied: “Their sacrifices will be like the bread of mourners, all that partake thereof shall become impure, for they [kept] their bread for themselves alone.” This happiness is a disgrace for them … (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18, translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)
While in the halacha that precedes this passage, the Rambam emphasizes these words of the verse, “And you shall rejoice in your Festival - you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant…” (Sefer Devarim 16:14), in our law he adjures us to be equally zealous regarding the latter half of this pasuk that concerns itself with “… the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are among you.” Their Festival needs, he opines, are no less crucial than our own. Indeed, for Maimonides, if we fail to provide the fundamental necessities to those less fortunate than us, our rejoicing is not “rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of one’s gut.” In short, if we ignore our basic responsibilities toward our fellow Jews, our would-be celebration of the Festivals is transformed into a “disgrace.”
May we ever be solicitous of the needs of the entire Jewish people, so that all may stand before the Almighty with dignity and respect. So, too, may we be zocheh (merit) to celebrate the Festivals as “ish echad b’lav echad” (“as one individual dedicated to the same purpose”) in the newly rebuilt Beit HaMikdash, soon and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.
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