Parashas Naso

This week’s parashah discusses several topics related to the Jewish People’s setting up camp in the wilderness. In the middle of the parashah, the Torah records the blessing that Hashem told the Kohanim to convey to the Jewish People (Bamidbar 6:24-26): “May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. May Hashem shine His countenance upon you and be gracious toward you. May Hashem lift up His countenance toward you and establish among you peace.” Right afterward, the Torah goes on to discuss the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its inauguration. The Midrash expounds (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:1):
“It was on the day Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan” (Bamidbar 5:1). Thus it is written (Tehillim 85:9): “I hear what the Almighty, Hashem, speaks – for He speaks of peace to His people and to his devout ones ….” R. Berechyah HaKohen said in the name of R. Yehudah bar Siemon: “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe, ‘In the past, there was animosity between Me and My children … but now that the Mishkan has been built there is love between Me and My children, peace between Me and My children.’” … And how do we know that the verse from Tehillim is speaking about the Mishkan (משכן)? We know from the verse right afterward (ibid. 85:10): “Indeed, His salvation is near to those who fear Him, in that [His] glory is set to dwell (לשכון) in our land.” When was their peace for Yisrael? When Hashem’s glory dwelt in the Mishkan. As it is written (Shemos 40:34): “And Hashem’s glory filled the Mishkan.” Said R. Shimon ben Lakish: “Why do we need to turn to a verse in Tehillim for this message? The message can be drawn from the Torah’s account. For it is written, ‘And establish among you peace,’ and then right afterward, ‘It was on the day Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan.’”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. When the Jews committed the sin of the golden calf, Hashem told Moshe that he was going to annihilate them, but after Moshe’s pleas for mercy He canceled the decree. The Torah states (Shemos 32:14): “And Hashem retracted the evil that He declared He would bring upon His people.” Let us examine the meaning of the phrase “retracted the evil.” Suppose Reuvein gets angry at Shimon because of some offense. There are two different ways that they can reconcile. The first possibility is that Shimon placates Reuvein, leading him to agree not to take any action against him; Reuvein considers his initial anger justified, but he forgives Shimon, so that from the time of the reconciliation and onward, Reuvein and Shimon are at peace. The second possibility is that it is proved that Shimon actually did not commit any offense, but rather some scoundrels spread a false rumor about him. In this case, Reuvein regrets that he got angry at Shimon in the first place. It is this second type of reconciliation that the Torah describes when it says that Hashem “retracted the evil” that He said He would bring on the Jewish People. Moshe said to Hashem (ibid. 32:13): “Why, Hashem, should Your anger flare up against Your people?” Moshe was not seeking merely to convince Hashem not to punish the Jews, but rather to show that there was no reason for Hashem to get angry at them. The Maggid elaborates on the matter in his commentary on the golden calf episode.
In truth, however, it is not correct to speak of Hashem “retracting” a previous stance. Mortal men undergo changes in attitude – sometimes angry and sometimes contented, sometimes merciful and sometimes cruel – but Hashem does not, far be it, undergo any such changes. Thus it is written (Malachi 3:9): “I, Hashem, have not changed.” Hashem knows everything; He does not make mistakes. Given this fact, we have to consider more carefully the contrast between Hashem “granting forgiveness” and Hashem “retracting His anger.” The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed), sheds light on this matter. He explains that the Torah’s descriptions of Hashem’s attitude and conduct are only figurative, indicating by analogy the nature of the effects that are taking place within the world at a given moment. Thus, when the Torah speaks of Hashem “getting angry” over a person’s sin, it is describing the evil effects that a sinner causes through what he did. Likewise, when the Torah speaks of Hashem “retracting His anger,” it is describing the peace that ensues when a sinner repents – there is no longer cause for any evil to come upon the person, for he has changed himself by repenting and has rectified the damage he caused. More precisely, when the Torah says that “Hashem retracted the evil that He declared He would bring upon His people,” it means that Hashem not only forgave the people for the sin they had just committed, but also graciously infused them with added holiness that enabled them to avoid provoking His “anger” in the future, so that there would no longer be any animosity between Him and the people – it will be as if there never was any cause for Hashem to show anger toward the people.
This is what the Midrash is describing when it expounds on the passage in Tehillim. In its entirety, the first verse in the passage reads as follows: “I hear what the Almighty, Hashem, speaks – for He speaks of peace to His people and to his devout ones, and they will not revert to folly.” The psalmist says the people will no longer commit the misdeeds that they committed in the past. The passage then continues:  “Indeed, His salvation is near to those who fear Him, in that [His] glory is set to dwell in our land.” In the first half of this verse, the psalmist is associating the people’s being delivered from misfortune with the people themselves, and not with Hashem. In other words, the deliverance is not due to Hashem restraining Himself from anger, but rather to the people’s increased level of spiritual and moral excellence. In the second half of the verse, the psalmist indicates the explanation: the Mishkan provided the people added holiness that enabled them to achieve this higher level.
We can now understand well the words of R. Shimon ben Lakish at the end of the Midrash. R. Shimon ben Lakish said: “Why do we need to turn to a verse in Tehillim for this message? The message can be drawn from the Torah’s account. For it is written, ‘And establish among you peace,’ and then right afterward, ‘It was on the day Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan.’” Hashem told the Kohanim to convey to the people the blessing that He establish true peace among them – namely, peace from the incitements of the evil inclination. The Mishkan served as the means through which the people would attain this peace.
The Gemara in Sukkah 52a speaks about this peace with the evil inclination, expounding on one of Shlomo HaMelech’s teachings (Mishlei 25:21-22): “If your nemesis is hungry, feed him bread, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for through this you will be scooping coals [to heap] on his head, and Hashem will pay you reward (ה' ישלם לך) [see Rashi’s commentary on the Gemara for an explanation of the first half of this verse]. The Gemara tells us: Do not read ישלם לך – He will pay you reward. Instead read ישלימנו לך – He will reconcile your nemesis with you, so that he will no longer badger you with his incitements.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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