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Shabbat Parashat Matot Masei 5783

Parashat Hashavua: Ltzivotam, Byad Rama

Harav Yosef Carmel

Parashat Masei, which completes Sefer Bamidbar, summarizes almost the entire period from the time of the Exodus until Bnei Yisrael’s arrival on the banks of the Jordan River, opposite Yericho, on the way to establishing the “Jewish State.” This also completed the first stage of the project that Avraham began, which is to form a nation that would run its national life, for individuals and the community, along the principles of “they shall observe the path of Hashem to do acts of righteousness and justice” (Bereishit 18:19).

When Bnei Yisrael were slaves to the Egyptians, Hashem promised Moshe and Aharon: “See that I have made you a master to Paroh, and your brother Aharon will be your spokesman … and he will send Bnei Yisrael out from his land … and I will act against Egypt, and I will extricate my tzvaot (we will now translate this as “mass of people”), my nation, Bnei Yisrael from the Land of Egypt with great plagues … and Moshe was 80 and Aharon was 83 when they spoke before Paroh.” (Shemot 7:1-7). At that time, it is also described that Hashem took Bnei Yisrael from Egypt “according to its tzvaot” (ibid. 12:51) and that they “left with a yad rama” (a powerful hand) (ibid. 14:8).

40 years later, Bamidbar finishes with the list of the sojourns that Bnei Yisrael took after leaving Egypt. The Torah again mentions that they left as tzvaot and that it happened with a yad rama. We will try to gain insight into these terms, with which Chazal and early commentators struggled.

We have discussed the description of the nation leaving Egypt: “a man according to his encampment and his flag upon their tzvaot” (Bamidbar 1:52). We pointed out that the stress is on the nation leaving Egypt for the purpose of leaving enslavement and forming an orderly society that functions according to law so that each citizen is equal. If there is not respect for law and justice, the society is worthless, as individuals can be trampled (see Derashot Haran 11; Rambam, Gezeila 5:18).

Therefore, after the Exodus, Moshe needed to organize the nation toward a framework of laws whose purpose was to ensure public order, so that people could make use of their rights “each man according to his flag.” These laws change with the time and place, and therefore they are not included in the immutable Torah.

Yet, Halacha requires that we follow dina d’malchuta (the law of the land), and this is behind the phrases we have highlighted in the beginning of Shemot and at the summary of the time in the midbar. When following justice and kindness, the nation represents the principles of Hashem, which makes them fit for the phrases of tzvaot, which is used regarding the legions of angels, and yad rama, which indicates a transparency in the workings of society. Indeed, there must not be any false pretenses and activity under the table. Rather things should be fully visible and done with clean hands, with bodies to supervise and investigate wrongdoing.

We pray that we will continue to develop the State of Israel, which was founded by a nation that returned to its Land after 2,000 years that included many dark periods. Specifically in the Three Weeks, we should be extra careful to strengthen the national characteristics of tzivotam and yad rama.

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