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The Light of Shabbos Food

Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

During their travels in the wilderness, a group of complainers began to protest the Manna that they were forced to eat day after day (Numbers 11:5). They wailed that they missed the fish that they used to eat in Egypt, and now they had nothing to look forward to except Manna. Commenting on this complaint, the Midrash Pliah cryptically remarks "from here we may derive that it is obligatory to light candles for Shabbos," a mitzvah which has no apparent connection to their grievance.

The Chida explains by noting that we must first understand what they were complaining about. Rashi writes (11:5) that the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it desired. If so, why were they mourning the fish they used to eat in Egypt when they were capable of making the Manna taste like fish with no effort whatsoever?

The Talmud (Yoma 74b) teaches that although a person could make the Manna taste like anything he desired, it nevertheless retained its original appearance. Even though the complainers were able to make the Manna taste like fish, they lacked the pleasure and satiety which comes from seeing the food that they wanted to taste. The Talmud adds that a blind person won't enjoy or become as full from a meal as a person with normal vision who consumes the same food.

In light of this complaint, the Midrash questioned how a person will be able to avoid the same dilemma on Shabbos since he won't be able to appreciate the Shabbos delicacies if he is forced to eat them in darkness. The Midrash concluded that from their protest, we may derive that a person is obligated to light candles so that he can see and enjoy his food on Shabbos!

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The Talmud (Shabbos 130a) teaches that any mitzvah which was accepted by the Jewish people with joy, such as circumcision, is still performed happily to the present day. Any mitzvah that was accepted with fighting, such as forbidden relationships, is still accompanied by tension, as the issues involved in the negotiation of every wedding cause struggles. Of all of the commandments, why did the Jewish people specifically complain about the prohibition against marrying family members? (Numbers 11:10 with Rashi)

Dayan Yisrael Yaakov Fisher suggests that when the Jews heard that they would be unable to marry their close relatives, they feared that they would be unable to enjoy successful marriages. They believed that the ideal candidate for marriage would be a person who was familiar since birth and who would be almost identical in terms of values and stylistic preferences. From the Torah's prohibition to marry those most similar to us, we may deduce that God's vision of an ideal marriage differs from our own.

Mas'as HaMelech derives a similar lesson from Y'fas Toar - a woman of beautiful form. The Torah permits a soldier who becomes infatuated with a non-Jewish woman during battle to marry her. This is difficult to understand, as only the most righteous individuals constituted the Jewish army. Rashi writes (Deut. 20:8) that somebody who had committed even the smallest sin was sent back from the war. How could such pious rabbis be tempted to marry a beautiful non-Jewish woman?

Rashi writes (Deut. 21:11) that a person who marries a Y'fas Toar will ultimately give birth to a Ben Sorer U'Moreh - wayward son. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) rules that a child may only be punished as a rebellious son if his parents are identical in their voices, appearances, and height. Mas'as HaMelech explains that even the most righteous soldier will be taken aback upon encountering a woman who looks like him and whose voice is identical to his. All external signs seem to indicate that she is meant for him, and he may be convinced that God's will is for him to convert her and marry her.

However, from the fact that Rashi teaches that a wayward son will come out of such a union, we may conclude that the ideal marriage isn't one in which the husband and wife enter already identical to one another. A Torah marriage is one in which the two partners grow together over time to understand and respect one another, allowing them to overcome their differences and create a beautiful, harmonious blend of their unique perspectives and experiences.

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The Mishnah in Avos (5:7) lists seven characteristics of a wise person, one of which is that he doesn't interrupt another person who is still speaking. From where in Parshas Behaaloscha is this lesson derived?

Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura explains that the reason for not interrupting somebody who is in the middle of speaking is so that he shouldn't become confused and distracted. He writes that the source for this teaching is God's request (Numbers 12:6) that Aharon and Miriam please listen to his words of rebuke for speaking negatively of Moshe. In introducing His comments in this manner, God was asking them to hear Him out and not to interrupt Him. If this concept applies to God, Who doesn't lose His focus, all the more so does it require us to hear out a human speaker in full before responding.

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Maimonides writes (Hilchos Tumas Tzara'as 16:10) that Miriam didn't intend to disparage Moshe with her comments to Aharon. Rather, she erred in equating the level of Moshe's prophecy to that of other prophets such as herself and Aharon. Maimonides lists 13 fundamental principles of Jewish belief and writes that a person who denies even one of them is considered a heretic. One of them is that the level of Moshe's prophecy is unparalleled among all other prophets. Does this mean, God forbid, that Miriam was a heretic?

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (Kovetz Ma'amorim) answers that the very source for this fundamental principle of belief regarding the uniqueness of Moshe's level of prophecy is this incident involving Miriam. After Miriam spoke negatively to Aharon about Moshe, God rebuked them and explained (Numbers 12:7-8) that Moshe's prophecy is not on the same level of all other prophets. In other words, at the time that Miriam made her accusations against Moshe, this principle hadn't yet been clearly stated and established in the world. Even though a person today who repeated Miriam's argument would indeed be labeled a heretic, her position at that time wasn't considered heretical because it didn't contradict any known and established belief.

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Rashi writes (Numbers 8:2) that there was a step in front of the Menorah upon which the Kohen would stand when cleaning out and lighting it. As the Menorah was only 18 tefachim tall (approximately 5 feet), why was it necessary for the Kohen to stand on a step to light it?

Rabbi Leib Tzintz (Peninei Kedem) points out that Moshe was speaking to Aharon, who was a Kohen Gadol. The Talmud (Sotah 38a) rules that although Kohanim in the Temple recite the Priestly Blessing with their hands raised above their heads, the Kohen Gadol may not do so. Rashi explains that this is because God's name is written on the Tzitz (Head-Plate), and it is inappropriate to raise his hands above this level. Just as Aharon could not raise his hands above his head for the purpose of Birkas Kohanim, so too was he forbidden to do so to light the Menorah, and he had no choice but to stand on a step to light it.

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Moshe asked Yisro to remain with them in the wilderness to serve as eyes for them (Numbers 10:31). Why did they need Yisro's advice or guidance when all of their travels were conducted based on Divine instruction (Deut. 9:17-18)?

Rabbeinu Bechaye answers that although the Jewish people traveled based on God's guidance, there were still many Jews who lacked proper faith and trust in God. Because they felt more secure with a human being upon whom they could rely, Moshe suggested that Yisro remain to reassure them.

Alternatively, he suggests that Moshe's intention was that Yisro should serve as eyes not for the Jews, but for the non-Jews. In other words, he would be a witness to all of the miracles that God performed for the Jews, which he could then relate to the non-Jews to inspire them to believe in God.

Rabbi Elya Meir Bloch explains that unlike tzaddikim such as Moshe and Aharon who were born righteous, Yisro was unique in that he was self-made and self-taught. Many Jews had difficulty looking to Moshe as a role model, as his greatness seemed so far removed from them. Moshe therefore asked Yisro to stay and serve as an example of what every person can become if he only recognizes and uses his latent potential.

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