Divrei Torah

Perek 5

By: Rafael Dembovsky

After Barak’s victory over Siserah’s army, and Yael’s personal triumph over Siserah himself, we are introduced to a phenomenon that is limited to only the greatest conquests in Jewish history: the concept of song.

In his commentary on Parshas Beshalach, the Nesivos Shalom explains the loftiness of the spiritual song, and its indication about the sanctified state of the composer. He explains that of the levels of serving G-d through the heart and the brain, the serving of Hashem through one’s complete body is unparalleled. When one experiences a true revelation of Hashem, and is willing to serve Him completely, then one can fulfil the Pasuk of (Psalms 35:10) “all my bones shall proclaim: Who is like You, Hashem!” This level of belief in G-d allows Hashem’s Shechina to rest on a person, enabling him the level of prophecy found in song. In fact, the Gemoro in Sanhedrin (94a) goes so far as to say that Chizkiyahu would have been the Mashiach, if only he would have sung Shirah when he destroyed Sancheirev! This depicts the elevated level of Shirah, in that it raises one’s spiritual level immeasurably. Although one cannot attain such high levels of prophecy nowadays, it is nevertheless still paramount to try to serve Hashem using all the facets of our body.

There is an obvious question to be asked on this Shirah. Unlike at Krias Yam Suf, when Hashem revealed His prowess to the world, the defeat of Siserah was not openly miraculous, persay. What then gave it the merit of being among the elite scenarios in which Shirah was sung?

There are a few possible answers.

1: Firstly, as the Bnei Yisrael gained back independence of Eretz Yisrael, they were fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, which is great enough to warrant Shirah.

2: Additionally, the fact that a tiny Israeli army, who according to Meforshim possessed not even basic weapons, conquered the ‘nine hundred chariots of iron’ of Siserah, had to have elements of the miraculous.

3: Finally, Rashi comments in Perek Daled that the oppression of Siserah and Yavin included blasphemy. So great is the mitzvah of destroying Avodah Zarah and preventing Chilul Hashem that once the oppression ended, Devorah and Barak had the merit of Divine Prophecy, due to their victory over Avodah Zarah. This teaches us an imperative lesson about the magnitude of Chilul Hashem, because if so great is the reward of preventing it, how terrible must the punishment be of causing it!

Perek 7

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

In 7:13 Gidon gets a sign from HaShem that he will be victorious in battle; the dream of a roasted barley bread rolling through and destroying the enemy. Rashi explains that this occurred on Pesach, during which the Korban Omer is offered (of barley) and this merit enabled the victory of Bnei Yisrael. Rashi’s source, the Midrash (Rabbah Emor 25) quotes different views on the merit of this Korban; Rav Yochanan says it allowed Avraham to inherit Israel, others say it won the battle for Gidon, and Rav Levi says its merit foiled the plans of Hamman in Purim. Why does this sacrifice give so much merit; why is it so important?

Rav Yosef Salant asks further; why is the korban called the ‘korban omer’ – an omer is a volume. All the other korbanos are named after the way they are baked or their ingredients (e.g. Korban Mincha after its grain used). Why name the korban omer after a volume?

He explains that the title ‘omer’ is to remind us of another ‘omer’ in the Torah – the omer of Manna which we received daily in the desert (Shemos 16:16). The Eved Hamelech explains that the lesson of the Manna is that just like in the desert HaShem nourished the Bnei Yisrael, so too our job is to study Torah and do mitzvos with all our strength believing that HaShem  will help us with our physical needs. In other words, we can’t claim that earning a living leaves no time for Torah and mitzvos, since HaShem is the Source of both of them. This is exactly what the prophet Yirmiyah called out to the Bnei Yisrael to avoid the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash; They claimed ‘how will we live if we just study Torah,’ and Yirmiyah took out the flask of Manna and said ’see…that from this Manna your forefathers were nourished. There are many ways at HaShem’s disposal to nourish those who fear Him.

This explains the Korban Omer and our counting to Shavuos every year. The ‘counting of the Omer’ is to remind us of this fundamental principle – to have full bitachon in HaShem. The Korban Omer is brought from the new barley crop, and until it is offered it is forbidden to use any of the new grain. The fact that we can’t eat until we have offered part of the crop to HaShem first symbolises the recognition that all blessing emanates from HaShem – even the produce of the fields which are ostensibly the result of very hard labour by the farmers and labourers.

Now we can go back to our original question; why was the omer such a merit for Bnei Yisrael over the years? The answer is that the omer shows tremendous Emunah and Bitachon in HaShem, which is the most fundamental principle of the Torah. The Omer reminded Gidon and his warriors that the field of the battle, like the field of grain, is under HaShem’s control and in that merit the miracle occurred.

Perek 13

By: Aron Coten

In Perek 13, we are introduced to Shimshon, the Nazirite from birth. The Gemara in Nazir (4a/4b) discusses different categories of Nazirus. A ‘Normal’ Nazir, e.g. the standard case of a Nazir which we are familiar with, is a Nazir who cannot:

  • Drink wine
  • Cut their hair
  • Come into contact with corpses or graves

However, the Gemara introduces a new category, the ‘Shimshonite Nazir’. Before explaining what this is, let us analyse the differences between Shimshon and Shmuel. Shmuel’s mother, Chana, decided out of her own free will to dedicate Shmuel as a Nazir to Hashem, whilst Manoach and his wife are instructed to make Shimshon a Nazir by a malach (angel). Thus, Shmuel became a ‘normal’ Nazir, whilst Shimshon became a special ‘Shimshonite’ Nazir.

The Gemara explains that a ‘Shimshonite’ Nazir may not cut his hair under any circumstances, even if it becomes ‘too long’ (as the Gemara puts it). However, a ‘normal’ Nazir may cut his hair if becomes ‘too long’. As we know, this was the root of Shimshon’s strength, as he reveals to Delilah in Perek 16, and therefore this special condition was essential for him to fight against the Plishtim.

Additionally, a ‘Shimshonite’ Nazir seemingly can become Tamei Mes, come into contact with dead bodies, as it says “And Shimshon said: “With the jawbone of an ass I have slain a thousand men.” (Shoftim 15:16). The Rosh rejects this logic, saying that Shimshon only acted in this way in self-defence. Nevertheless, the Gemara concludes that we have a mesorah (tradition) that Shimshon could in fact touch dead bodies. Again, this was necessary for Shimshon in singlehandedly fighting off hordes of Plishti fighters.

These conditions made Shimshon the perfect one to fight the Plishtim. Furthermore, the mere fact that he was a Nazir made him stand out from society. The Sforno explains that is was Shimshon’s uniqueness in being a Nazir which set him apart from everyone else and allowed him to acquire the courage and strength to lead and judge the nation under such intense persecution.

Everyone has their own unique talents and strengths. When used effectively, they can achieve extraordinary feats and help the entire Jewish people. The lesson learnt from Shimshon is to discover and exercise our talents to help Am Yisrael.

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

After finally meeting the angel, Mano’ach proceeds to ask this angel what his name is, and the angel repeats the exact wording of the angel which responded to Yaakov; ‘why do you ask my name,’ but he then utters a most incomprehensible few words. The angel continues by saying ‘and it is Peli’ (‘don’t tell them your name, Pike’). As Rashi says there, ‘Peli’ was not the angel’s name, but rather is a word which means ‘hidden.’ The angel was telling Man’oach that his name is hidden, for ‘it constantly changes,’ as Rashi both comments. What does this mean? The angel was informing Mano’ach that each generation is different. Each has their own challenges and situations which they may face – and this is represented by the angels’ change of names across the generations; for in each generation any given angel will have a different mission.

The Chazon Ish used to put across this message; that each generation has its own challenges, and so it cannot solely rely upon learning things from the previous generation(s) – for the previous generation did not face the challenges of today’s generation. Indeed, this is why the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva zt’l would comment that when one gets to Heaven, the leading sage of your generation is summoned to speak at your court case. Why the sage of your generation as opposed to the sage of any previous generation? For the sages of previous generations did not go through the same challenges as those faced by your generation, and so cannot speak for you.

This message of different challenges being faced by different generations is rather poignant; this is often the reason for breakdown in relations between parents and children – for there is a gap in communication and understanding. Since the parents grew up in a generation which experienced different challenges to that of their children, the parents do not understand the children, and the children do not understand where the parents are coming from either.

Perek 16

By Rabbi Daniel Fine

At the end of perek 16 Shimshon asks HaShem to give him the merit of one of his eyes, which had been knocked out by the Plishtim, in order to give him the strength to bring down the roof of the party. How could he ask for reward for his eyes having been poked out – that was a punishment for being swayed by the physical beauty of Delilah? Why is he asking reward for a punishment? The answer is a fundamental way to view the goal of a punishment. Punishments are not all there to ‘smack us on the bottom’ for doing bad – they are so we can grow from them and become better than we were before the sin. This is how Shimshon could receive reward for punishment; because he was receiving reward for having grown spiritually from the punishment. He was asking for reward for having used the punishment appropriately to learn and grow spiritually. This concept is also seen in Rashi Vayikra 14:34. He brings a Midrash that says that HaShem guaranteed Bnei Yisrael that they would have to break down their houses (because of tzara’as of the house form) and would find treasure underneath it. But why are we getting a reward for the tzara’as which was caused by sin in the first place? Again, since punishment is ultimately to make us better people, we can now understand that we are not getting reward for having sinned to cause tzara’as, but rather for having used the punishment of tzara’as to grow and learn.

The same is true of all tests in life – they take on a new perspective when one internalises that they are planned exercises to better ourselves and develop into fuller, more mature people.

Perek 20

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

It seems rare, but the war between Binyamin and the other tribes was actually a real war. Let’s explain. Since the times of Nach saw Klal Yisrael on the level to merit Divine revelation and special hashgacha, the wars we faced tended to be walkovers. If we had sufficient merits in our Heavenly accounts (and Klal Yisrael tend to), we simply wiped out the enemy, barely suffering casualties. On the odd occasion when we didn’t spiritually deserve to win, we would be defeated comfortably (think back to Ai). But I don’t remember any war involving Klal Yisrael in those times which began with one side inflicting heavy casualties and then the other side staging a comeback and winning the war. Yet this is exactly what happened in the war between Binyamin and the other tribes. After members of the city defiled the pilegesh lady, allowing her to die on the doorstep, the other tribes went to war against the tribe of Binyamin (the tribe in whose territory the act occurred). Binyamin inflicted heavy casualties in the first two days of the war, and then the other tribes won the war. Why this sudden change? And more centrally who deserved to win the war at the end of the day; if it was Binyamin then why were they ultimately defeated, and if it was the other tribes then why were they on the losing side in the first two days? The Ramban in Bereishis (19:8) gives us a detailed report on the war…

After briefly explaining the difference between the people of Sedom (who got Divine hail and destruction for what they did) and the people of the pilegesh Be’Givah [namely that the former was ideologically-fuelled evil carried out by the entire town, whilst the latter was carried out by a few low-lives], the Ramban delves into why the tribes staged a war against Binyamin in the first place.

He writes that the crime in question was not one which was punishable by death according to the strict letter of the law; the perpetrators did not intend to kill this lady, neither was her death a direct act of killing (she probably died from exhaustion and the cold after being left outside). However, the tribes decided to make a ‘fence around the Torah’ to ensure no such awful acts would ever happen again (the gemarra tells us that the tribes were entitled to do such a thing). However, Binyamin disagreed; they held that since there was no death penalty for the act in question there was no need for such ‘extreme’ action to be taken, as well as opposing the other tribes for not consulting them in the first place as to a plan of action. Thus, says the Ramban, the tribes were defeated in the first two days of war for two reasons. Firstly, they made a war which they need not have done (they should have left it to Binyamin to take action against the perpetrators anyway). And secondly, they were haughty in the fact that they assumed that their sheer numbers would see them safely win the war. Yet Binyamin were not faultless either; they were guilty of not punishing the perpetrators whatsoever.

So if both were guilty of fault then why was the turning point after two days? For, as the Ramban explains, after losing on the first day the tribes asked HaShem if they should continue with the war. Yet this only corrected one of their faults; the fact that they did not need to start such a war – but it did not correct their haughtiness at assuming that victory was theirs. Thus, they suffered less casualties on the second day of war, but they still came out worse on that day. However, after day two the tribes decreed a fast day and they offered sacrifices to atone for their haughtiness too. This is what brought the turnaround on day three of the war.

Perhaps one message to take out of this is the fact that victory in battle is not won on might or physical strength; ultimately it is our spiritual merit which will decide wars. And practically speaking for us, this means that davening and learning in the merit of success of Jewish soldiers in war (or in their everyday feats) is the greatest and most effective thing that we can do.