Peace, Perishut, and Peshat

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Naso

Kli Yakar’s comment to Bamidbar 7;12 looks back to the end of chapter six, where the Torah taught the kohanim the blessing to administer daily on Hashem’s behalf. Those end with the promise of God giving us peace, a value Kli Yakar extolls and wishes to show is expressed in the gifts the nesi’im, the heads of the tribes, brought to mark the completion of the Mishkan.

The Supreme Value of Peace

The blessings speak of peace last, for the Midrash a signal of the greatness of peace, because it completes the blessings. Were the blessings full beforehand, there would be no need to continue. Without peace, we have nothing, says Kli Yakar [a leap, because in theory peace might be a blessing the others had not yet produced, but it does not mean they have no value].

Without further elaboration or explanation, he says the creation of human beings demonstrates the point. I think he means humans came last because they culminated what God was putting together in those six days. (He implies the world would be without value or purpose sans humanity, but that is not his focus.)

The Living and the Dead Want/Need Peace

Among the Midrashim he references to support his claim, Bamidbar Rabba 11;7 says peace is so great, even the deceased need it, as God promises Avraham (Bereshit 15;15) he will join his ancestors be-shalom, in peace. Dismissing the possibility the dead have fights, Kli Yakar says they need peace among the living, because strife quickly leads to people denigrating those who have passed away.

A story in Berakhot 18b, too long to reproduce here, ends in a fight where one Jew mocks another for how she treated a deceased relative, the mockery also paining the spirit of the person who had passed away. When we fight, we bring those who are no longer with us into the mix, and hurt them, too, the Gemara makes clear.

As happens every day in our times, Kli Yakar says, pulling back a bit of the veil on why this comment struck him. Only if we get along with each other do our deceased loved ones find full peace as well.

Peace and the Gifts of the Tribal Leaders

The search for peace and accommodation also explains the choice to put the story of the gifts of the nesi’im right afterwards as well. The gifts came from all equally, with no rivalry or tension (he says), alluded to in a few ways. First, after introducing Nachshon b. Aminadav, the leader of Yehuda, the verse says “and his offering,” as if there had been one before him, for us not to think he was first in any way other than chronological. The Torah also does not call him a nasi, in contrast to the rest of the nesi’im, to keep him or us from thinking he was better than any of the rest.

Or would rule over them, says Kli Yakar, a particularly interesting comment because the tribe of Yehuda was in fact destined to rule. He means “rule” in the sense of an arrogant claim to being better or above others, his next words being that ga’ava, haughtiness, is the reason for all fights.

Last, the Torah listed the details of each nasi’s gift—although they all gave the exact same—to be sure we knew they were all equal and preserve the peace among them.

Birkhat kohanim promised peace, and the presentation of the nesi’im evinced it, a blessing we all need, to complete our other blessings, we who still live along with those who have left us for the next world.

The Nazir’s Atonement

Sacrifices a nazir brings come to atone for how s/he sinned against his/her soul, says Bamidbar 6;11. While those sacrifices were for a nazir who had contact with someone who had passed away, Nedarim 10a cites R. Elazar ha-Kappar, who applied it to all nezirim, asserts the nazir sinned by denying him/herself wine.

Chatam Sofer cannot accept the simple meaning of the idea, because he is sure of the value of perishut (as are many sources, including the Gemara)abstaining even from what is permitted. That R. Elazar ha-Kappar thought we would be wrong for staying away from wine was unthinkable.

Rather, he distinguishes between natural perushim, people naturally disposed towards a minimalist life. Such people enjoy life, are satisfied with what they have, know they could always have more, a knowledge that keeps them able to have only a bit. They partake abstemiously without struggle or tension. Others need to train themselves to perishut, work at it. Avot 3;13 said nedarim, vows, were a seyag for perishut, a boundary or fence which Chatam Sofer is taking to mean a good way to instill it in oneself.

Someone blessed with natural perishut lives easily. Someone not so blessed might need a time of nezirut to shift his/her approach, but that need itself is the sin, says Chatam Sofer. When R. Elazar ha-Kappar spoke of the distress of denying oneself wine, Chatam Sofer reads him to mean the distress itself has an element of sin, because the nazir should have been able to achieve the right attitude without distress or vow [an almost opposite reading to our common one, always worth noting, because it means Chatam Sofer approached this Gemara with very different underlying views to ours].

Verse twenty tells us the nazir will return to drinking wine once the offerings have been given, but Chatam Sofer again sees a message about perishut. God is promising the nazir successful return to wine drinking. The nazir took a vow for the best reasons, to achieve a greater sanctity, and is being told by God s/he will find a better balance in that area of life, will find the time away having achieved its purpose, more natural perishut.

A More Literal Desert Generation

After the Torah lays out the laws for sending certain people out of certain parts of the camp (the tamei met, the person who had contact with someone who passed away, from machaneh Shekhina, from the area of the Mishkan itself, for example), 5;4 closes by saying the Jews fulfilled these laws as Hashem spoke to Moshe.

Aside from seeming superfluous, Ha’amek Davar wonders about the change from the usual phrase. Many times, the Torah will say a person or people or the nation did as Hashem tziva, commanded, Moshe, where here it says dibber, spoke to. Netziv suggests tziva incorporates all Moshe had been taught on the subject, in God’s direct commands and the Oral Law surrounding those.

The topic of shiluach machanot, to exclude people of certain statuses (zav, tamei met, tzaru’a, someone with certain emissions, someone who had contact with the deceased, someone with the skin lesions called tzara’at), had much Oral Law to it. In Netziv’s view, however, the Jews only began observing the Oral Law version after they left the desert. This generation kept the laws as Hashem dibber, according to the plain sense of the words of the Torah.

He gives two examples here: all types of people were sent out of all three camps (the parallel in Israel would be out of Jerusalem), where the Oral Law has three levels, the tamei met needing only to avoid the Azara, the courtyard of the Temple itself, zav the Levite camp (the Temple Mount), the metzora all three (Jerusalem and all walled cities).

He had given his second example back in verse two; he thought even non-tamei metzora’im were sent out of the camp in the desert. A metzora does not have the full status of tum’a until his/her lesions are verified, and some such lesions can turn out to be considered not a problem. To Netziv, Jews of the desert had them all leave the camp.

[He doesn’t push the point here, but I think he means they were acting beyond what was needed so as to acclimate themselves to these laws/rules. I think it assumes there is some halakhic meaning to the plain sense of the Torah, even where the Oral Law contradicts it, at least for that first generation. Depending how far he would have gone with it, it is both fascinating and radical. But right here, this is all he says.]

Peace, perishut, and peshat, in Kli Yakar, Chatam Sofer, and Netziv for Naso.

About Gidon Rothstein

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