1 – Greatness of the Dor Ha’Midbar
“במדבר הזה יפלו פגריכם” (יד:כט)
On the one hand the meisei midbar are punished extremely harshly, to the extent that there is a Tanna in the Mishna who holds that they have no cheilek in Olam Ha’Bah. It’s ayom v’norah. On the other hand, these are the very same people who are the ones that stood by Har Sinai and said naaseh v’nishma. The very same ones about whom Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu said, “Who revealed this secret to my children, that the Malachei Ha’Shareis use?” The very same Yidden!
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73b) describes a private tour that a certain “nomadic Arab” gave to Rabbah bar bar Chanah. One of the things he showed him was the meisei midbar. They were lying face up, their faces radiating contentment and happiness. (Paranthetically, it is assur to sleep on your back; that position is reserved for the grave). Simcha is a function of shleimus ha’nefesh.
Their faces pointing upward indicates that they were in a constant state of being mekabeil. The Gaon says that in Olam Ha’Zeh a person necessarily has to experience a state of fluctuation. He cannot just continue, uninterrupted, to receive more and more and more ruchniyus because he eventually reaches a point of saturation and satiation. At that point, some type of a break must occur such that the person’s spiritual appetite returns and he then continues with his being mekabeil more ruchniyus. It cannot be k’seider, it has to go in stages. With ups and downs, plateus and ascents. L’asid lavoh, though, it will be constant. The Dor Ha’Midbar existed on such a plane.
One of the deceased was lying with his leg bent, such that his knee was up (like this: ^). The “tour guide” was riding on a camel, while holding a spear upright. He passed under that person’s knee and didn’t touch it at all. Rabbah bar bar Chanah cut off the corner of his begged so that he could show the other Chachamim how they were noheig for tzitzis, but the animals froze and he had to return it.
The Maharal explains the Gemara to be indicating the supreme madreigah of the Dor Ha’Midbar – who are called by Chazal as the Dor Deiah – that they were on a level that was greater than all of the generations that would ever come after them. How we see this, explains the Maharal is as follows.
The tour guide was riding a camel, gamal, which is mi’lashon gemilah, weaned. In other words, a camel represents complete coming into oneself; full independence and individual greatness. He thus symbolized the greatest, inherent levels of that generation. The spear that he was holding represents the height of accomplishment that the greatest individual of that generation could reach. And yet it did not even touch the knee of the meis under which he passed.
The halacha is that if a person’s leg got cut off above the knee, it makes him a treifah. It’s a mortal wound; he will for sure die unless some type of procedure prevents that from happening. From this we see that the ikar chiyus of a person is until his knee, and that represents the lowest extremity. The external veneer reflects the internal reality. The symbolism of the “tour guide” not even touching the knee of the meis under which he passed is that even the greatest person of that generation, with the greatest accomplishments possible then, did not even touch the lowest edge of the Dor Ha’Midbar. The Dor Ha’Midbar were so great, that even where the greatness of the Amoraim culminated did not even touch where the greatness of the Dor Ha’Midbar began.
Further underscoring this total disconnect of the relative levels of the generations was the fact that the animals froze when Rabbah bar bar Chanah tried to take the corner of his garment. Even the objects belonging to the Dor Ha’Midbar were so totally removed from them that the attempt to take possession of them would result in a freeze of motion. It just doesn’t go together and will not function.
Despite the negative actions that they did – and it is wholly possible that what they did was only considered so negative because of the great madreigah that they were on – their essential status remained the greatest of the great. They are called the Dor Ha’Midbar because a midbar is the opposite of yishuv. Yishuv represents involvement with the material world, and midbar represents disconnect from the material world. Because they were the Dor Deiah, the generation that was separate from chomriyus, and instead absorbed in sichliyus. They were entirely unique in that they were the ones to whom Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu revealed himself at Har Sinai and who received the Torah.
The point of these words of Chazal and the Maharal is not to whitewash what they did. The main point is that although their actions were not in accordance with their exalted level, that essential level nonetheless remained what it was.
(Audio recording, available here: http://nermichoel.org/index/shiur/category/sefer-bamidbar/subcategory/shlach/speaker/rabbi-twersky)
2 – Rebbi’s Encouraging Words
“כי תבאו אל ארץ מושבותיכם אשר אני נתן לכם” (טו:ב), “לצד שראה ה’ מדוה לבם…לזה סעד לבם במצות התלויות בארץ לכונן רוחם כי יעלו וירשו את אדמתם, והפלגת הזמן לא תריע לדבר המוחזק לבא…כי מעשה בנים יתיחס גם להאבות כי את בניהם הקים תחתם (אור החיים)
“Think, what would Rebbi say…If you feel down because you failed, remember, it’s never too late. Just think ‘lamah nigarah’. Theres no missing the boat in ruchniyus. Always move on.”
“When one would say to Rebbi, ‘I don’t feel so close to Hashem’, Rebbi would instantly answer, ‘Of course you are! You’re learning Torah! Do you know how close you are to Hashem when you learn Torah?!’ Rebbi would then suggest to learn Nefesh Ha’Chaim Shaar Dalet, and realize how close we really are. When one heard Rebbi say this, he would immediately feel close to Hashem.”
(Reb Eli Sherman)
3 – Shabbos Breishis and Shabbos shel ha’yachid
“ויהיו בני ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש מקשש עצים ביום השבת” (טו:לב)
All the mefarshim are busy dealing with why the pasuk had to mention the fact that the Yidden were in the Midbar. One of the very nice explanations said by Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and others is based on the Gemara in Shabbos (6b). One Braisah says that a midbar is a reshus ha’rabim and another Braisah says that it is a karmelis. Abayei answers that one Braisah is talking about the time when Klal Yisrael were there in the midbar, and the other Braisah is talking about nowadays that it is empty. Rashi explains the chiluk that inherently a midbar is not a place where the broader public travels, so it is not a reshus ha’rabim, it’s a karmelis. That’s nowadays. But, when Klal Yisrael were there, that made it a makom hiluch la’rabim; so, then, it was considered a reshus ha’rabim.
There is another Gemara in Shabbos (96b) that discusses which melacha the mekosheish eitzim did. According to Shmuel, he carried the wood dalet amos in the reshus ha’rabim. So, according to this shitah, that is the pshat in va’yihiyu Bnei Yisrael ba’midbar – only because it was while they were in the midbar the mekosheish was chayav misah for what he did. Had he done it before Klal Yisrael got to the midbar, or after they left, he would have been patur, because then it only would have been a karmelis.
Rabbeinu Bachayei gives four or five different explanations of this pasuk as well, and then he says that va’yihiyu Bnei Yisrael ba’midbar could be a remez to the din of someone who is travelling in a midbar and loses track of the days. The Gemara in Shabbos (69b) concludes that the way he must conduct himself is to immediately start counting six days, and keep Shabbos on the seventh according to his count. However, since every day of the week is a safeik if it is Shabbos, he can only do however much melacha is necessary for him to survive; no matter what day it is, the seventh according to his count or otherwise. So, asks the Gemara, in what way is the seventh day of his count different from the rest? With Kiddush and Havdalah.
Rashi learns that b’etzem he should not have been able to make these brachos, but so that he shouldn’t forget that there is such a thing called Shabbos, Chazal obligated him to say Kiddush and Havdalah on the seventh day according to his count. This is similar to the Gemara that says that we make Kiddush and daven the teffilos shel Yomtov in Chu”l on Yomtov Sheini even though nowadays we have a set calendar, and we know that the second day is not really Yomtov; because since Chazal enacted that we nevertheless keep Yomtov Sheini (hizaharu b’minhag avoseichem b’yedeichem [Beitzah 4b]), people won’t take it seriously if they don’t make Kiddush and daven the teffilos shel Yomtov. Therefore, Chazal were mesakein that you have to make Kiddush etc.
The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 2:22), though, learns differently. He says, “Someone who is travelling in the midbar, and does not know which day is the day of Shabbos, counts six [days] from the day that he erred, and is mekadeish the seventh, and makes the birchas ha’yom on that day, and makes Havdalah on motzaei Shabbos.” When the Rambam says “mekadeish the seventh”, b’pashtus that is referring to Kiddush, and birchas ha’yom is referring to the teffilos of Shabbos. He davens a Shmoneh Esrei of Shabbos.
The Rambam starts off calling it shvii and ends off calling it motzaei Shabbos. Furthermore, there is no mention of this being just a zeicher so the person doesn’t forget that there is such a thing called Shabbos. The mashmaus of the Rambam is that it is mei’ikar ha’din that he makes Kiddush, davens the teffilos of Shabbos, and makes Havdalah.
It is very mistaver, v’kach nirim ha’devarim, that the pshat in the Rambam is al pi what Rabbeinu Bachayei writes: “Anyone who is travelling in the distant midbar and does not know what day it is, that he is obligated to be shomer the Shabbos and he may not exempt himself therefrom…and the reason for this al derech ha’emes is that every one out of seven is Shabbos…it’s a remez that anyone who is travelling and does not know which day is Shabbos that he is chayav misah if he will not keep Shabbos even in the midbar.” Rabbeinu Bachayei’s lashon that it is a chiyuv misah for not doing is clear that he holds that the chiyuv of the mehalech ba’midbar to make one day nikar as Shabbos is a din d’Oraysah.
What you see from here is that there are two types of Shabbos. There is Shabbos Breishis which is b’etzem the day of Shabbos, but then there is also a new inyan – for someone who nebach doesn’t have Shabbos Breishis – of an individual Shabbos; a personal and personalized Shabbos. Like the Rambam says, he is mekadeish the shvii – when he gets to that day it is just the seventh of his count – but by the time the day is over, he is making Havdalah on motzaei Shabbos. In other words, by dint of the fact that he observed that seventh day as Shabbos, it becomes endowed with the kedusha of Shabbos. He makes it into Shabbos!
The possibility for this second, chiddush din of an individual Shabbos is meduyak in the nusach ha’Kiddush. By all the Yamim Tovim, the nusach is always ha’yom, this day. But in Kiddush of Shabbos, we don’t say “today is Shabbos”, we just talk about the shevach and kedusha of Shabbos. Similarly, we don’t find anywhere that the din of mehalech ba’midbar applies to Yomtov. Nowhere do we find that if he is lost there the whole year that he should make some type of personal cheshbon when to eat matza and say sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim. Because you can’t make such a day. It’s only that day and that’s it. But by Shabbos, it’s nischadesh here a din of an individual Shabbos – that if he nebach doesn’t have Shabbos Breishis, he can make his own Shabbos, the one out of the seven.
(Audio recording, available here.)