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All For One and/or One for All

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

This week's e-mail shiur has a short history. A year ago I wrote an e-mail shiur for ParshatShlach regarding the sin of the meraglim. The shiur concluded with a somewhat peculiar question regarding the motives of the meraglim which I left unanswered. The week thereafter, Rav Yonatan Horowitz responded in his e-mail shiur to my question, basically dismissing the question and its premises.[1]

For those who did not read the question I will quote it again:

In addition I would like to share with you a question that has been bothering me this last week. I'm not sure whether it is a valid question, and I'm sure many of you will find it slightly odd, but hear me out and let me know what you think!

In our Gemara shiur in the Midrasha this year we learned Masechet Makot. The second chapter deals with the laws of the Cities of Refuge (areimiklat), which is where an accidental murderer would live in order to be safe from the "blood avenger" (go'elhadam). On daf 10a the Gemara states the following law:

"A student (talmid) that goes into galut (ie: to a city of refuge for killing accidently), his Rabbi must go into galut with him."

The reason for this halacha stems from the verse: "As when a man goes with his fellow into the forest to chop wood, and his hand swings the ax to cut down the tree, and the iron flies off the handle, and it reaches his fellow, and he dies he shall flee to one of these cities, and live. "

The Gemara learns from those words, "and live" that we have to provide a "real life" for the person who has to be in the City of Refuge, and therefore the Rabbi has to accompany his student there.

In the words of the Rambam: "When a Torah scholar is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher is exiled together with him. This is derived from Devarim 19:5, which states: "He shall flee to one of these cities, and he shall live." Implied, is that everything necessary for his life must be provided for him. Therefore, a scholar must be provided with his teacher, for the life of one who possesses knowledge without Torah study is considered to be death."[2]

The Gemara then takes this law to its next stage and says that similarly if a Rabbi kills accidentally and goes into galut, his whole yeshiva must accompany him to the city of refuge for the same reason. Once again, Rambam: " Similarly, if a teacher is exiled, his academy is exiled with him."[3]

In light of the above it occurred to me that it would seem that the spies had no choice but to do what they could to ensure that Bnei Yisrael would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Since it was decreed on Moshe to remain in Galut (!)[4];[5] they were fulfilling the abovementioned halacha of "Harav she'gala, maglin yeshivato imo". Moshe Rabbeinu being the Rabbi and Bnei Yisrael being his yeshiva. In fact it seems even peculiar that Yehoshua, who was Moshe Rabbeinu's closest student, didn't comply with the spies as well!

Looking forward to your insights. "

In this week's shiur I would like to answer the above mentioned question and briefly reply to Rav Yonatan's remarks[6].

As mentioned before, I am not implying that my question is based on the simple reading of the text in the Torah. In Israel, over the last decade or so, an ongoing discussion has been going on regarding the correct approach to Torah and Tanakh study.[7] This is not the platform to pursue that polemic, however I will admit that I am not a devotee of the purely "pshat" approach. Much has been written on the issue, but I would briefly like to express the thoughts of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe on the topic.

Relating to the verse in Mishlei, "If you seek it like silver, and hunt for it like treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and understand the knowledge of G-d,"[8]Rav Wolbe says:

The truth is never to be found on the surface. Sometimes one must elevate oneself, as it can be found there, and sometimes one must dig deep, for it may lie there.

For example, the sins of the generation of the midbar, like the complainers and people of desire (from last week's parsha). One who brings down those events to the level one is on today, will be surprised at the people of that generation, how could they, the people who lived on the Manna, desire merely to eat onions and watermelons. It would then appear to us that we are on a much higher level. Only then, one has missed the whole idea that the Torah is teaching in this story. Obviously this approach is absurd from the foundation. In order to understand the stories in the Torah we must understand that these generations were on very high levels and we therefore have to elevate ourselves above our present level in order to understand them

Sins that were committed in a state of revelation of the Devine Presence are not similar to our sins![9]

It is a recurring theme in Chazal and the commentators not to belittle the figures in the Tanakh when trying to understand them. It goes without saying that that applies to the "tzadikim" in the Tanakh, but even the more infamous characters, were not viewed in the automatic way we tend to. Notwithstanding their sins, their motives were always analyzed and the words of Chazal penetrate the seemingly lower characters in Tanakh and show them in a deeper light.

For this reason I find it compelling to try and reveal additional levels in trying to understand the extremely odd behavior of the Meraglim.

As far as I managed to research, the idea that Moshe Rabbeinu was punished with Galut for the killing of the Egyptian is first mentioned by the Ari Z"l.[10]It is an idea that has been embraced by many other commentators as well, including the illustrious Shlah Hakadosh, Rabbi Yesh'a'yahu Horowitz, an ancestor of Rav Yonatan himself.

Based on these fundamental approaches, ie: the assumption not to overly simplify the sins of great people and the existence of precedence in Chazal for the grounds of interpretation, I asked my abovementioned question.

As mentioned before, I posed this question to the readers of the e-mail shiurim and I received several answers. I would like to share the answer we developed in shiur, an answer that was interestingly also passed on to me from a friend of a previous student at the Midrasha, Shana Neumann. His name is Aron Ives, and with his permission I am quoting his articulate answer:

"The law that a rabbis yeshiva is relocated to his place of exile is based on the verse and live with the premise that this transfer will add to his quality of life. This idea is probably true for most leaders/teachers. It was not true, however, in the case of Moshe and if for whatever reason the relocation of the yeshiva will not add life to the teacher it is not necessary, and likely prohibited, to move the yeshiva due to the disturbances to learning it will bring. Moshe was not the typical leader; he was totally devoted to the Jewish people and his life-goal was for the Jewish people to reach the Land of Israel, whatever it took. We see this clearly when God told him that he would die after he fought the Midyanites. This information did not stop him from waging war even though he knew he would die after the war because he knew the war was a necessary step for the Jewish people to enter the Land of Israel. So for Moshe, life did not constitute keeping the Jewish people in the desert. For him that would be the exact opposite of life. If so, the law did not apply in this instance.

(It is interesting that the story of Korach comes right after the episode of the spies. Korach made a similar mistake. He challenged Moshes leadership claiming that the whole community is holy. Korachs mistake was to see leadership in terms of status. In hierarchical societies a leader is one higher than the rest. But that is not what leadership is in the Torah. In Judaism leadership is not a matter of status but of function. The Torah has a marvelous way of putting this. Moshes highest honor is that he is called the servant of God (interestingly, Yehoshua is also given this title). In Judaism, a leader is a servant and to lead is to serve.)

This is where the spies were mistaken; they looked at Moshe as a leader who had his own identity and therefore thought he would want his students/followers to remain with him in exile. They missed the true quality of Moshe. If they would have understood what constituted life for Moshe they would have realized their mistake. Some commentaries explain that the spies were scared to enter the land because they feared they would not be successful and would lose their status as leaders. Again, they viewed leadership as a status that can be tarnished, not as a responsibility that must be undertaken without personal thoughts interfering.

Yehoshua and Calev were different. They did not view leadership the same way the other spies did. They understood and believed in the concept of selfless leadership. As was pointed out in your dvar Torah, the verse says, "Calev silenced the people to Moses." In essence what he was saying was that Moshe was not the center of the show here. There was a goal to be reached and it was the peoples objective to reach it, Moshe was just a channel to that end.

It may be suggested why Yehoshua and Calev in particular did not make this mistake. Yehoshua was Moshes student and was infused with Moshes goal for the Jewish people. When Eldad and Meidad were prophesizing that Moshe would lead the people into the Land of Israel, Yehoshua suggested that they be imprisoned. Moshe, however, was not as concerned. The reason for this is that for Moshe the objective was for the people to reach their goal, it did not really matter who their leader was. Calev was a descendant of Yehuda who was willing to give himself up when Yosef wanted to take Binyomin away from his brothers. He also had this understanding of selfless service and leadership."

Shabbat Shalom

[1]For those who can, please see those two shiurim as a forerunner for this week's shiur. Here are the links to those two shiurim: ;

[2]Rambam Laws of Rotseah uShmirat Nefesh 7;1.


[4]A fact which they certainly knew, see Rashi, Bamidbar 11;28.

[5]That Galut was decreed on Moshe Rabbeinu is a fact. Why specifically Galut, the Zohar and the Ari'zl in fact connect it to the killing of the Egyptian! See Torah Sheleima, Rav Kasher, Shmot 2, footnote 105.

[7]For more information, merely Google "Tanakh at eye-level" or " The Controversy about Studying Tanach" or similar searches.

[8]Mislei 2;4-5.

[9]Allei Shur, Vol 2, Pages 629-631. See there for more on this issue.

[10]See Torah Sheleima, Rav Kasher, Shmot 2, footnote 105.


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