By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
In chapter 37:12, במדבר לא:ב, Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu, “נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים, take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites…”
The Ramban explains that though Moshe Rabbeinu had appointed his disciple, Yehoshua, but until the Jewish people had actually crossed the Jordan River, he, Moshe, was the king and leader. Secondly, Hashem designated that he should have the honor in order that he should rejoice when he sees the vengeance as it states in תהילים Psalms 58:11, “But the righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance.” (He sees the retribution which will come when the wicked do not adhere to Hashem’s rulership.)
Nevertheless, the Ramban continues and says, that Moshe designated פנחס, Pinchas, who started the mitzvah to complete it. He made him to a משוח מלחמה, a position of being anointed as a כהן of high rank – to be a leader in battle, but not אלעזר, his father, due to his being the כהן גדול, the high Priest. Due to Pinchos being the one who killed the מדינית, Midianite, he should finish the task at hand.
The דעת זקנים מבעלי תוספות asks, how is it possible that if Hashem commanded Moshe to “take revenge”, that he designated someone else? He answers that Moshe Rabbeinu reasoned that if I was protected in Midian when he was escaping Pharaoh, how can I possibly “destroy” them. “A well from which one draws water, it is inconceivable for one to throw dirt in it.” (The Ramban learns it was a different מדין.)
Again, we ask, how is it conceivable that at these last moments of his life, that he wouldn’t aspire to do Hashem’s will?
From here we derive the impact of הכרת הטוב, appreciation to another. Though the Midianites were a heinous, depraved people, nevertheless Moshe Rabbeinu asserted that for him to be involved would constitute an act of complete ingraciousness.
But didn’t Hashem command him specifically? Moshe Rabbeinu due to his remarkable sensitivity and profound appreciation, deduced that it’s impossible that it was a direct command that he be the leader, but rather to appoint someone else.
We find a similar concept in בראשית יט:יב where the Ramban is troubled by how is it possible that the מלאכים, angels who were sent by Hashem to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, go ahead and save the family of לוט, Lot? If they weren’t commanded by Hashem, who gave them the right to do so?
Answers the Ramban, “This was done in respect of their host, לוט. For it’s דרך מוסר, ethical conduct to save your host and all that is his, just as the messengers of יהושע, Joshua saved רחב and her whole family. Any idea which is logical, it’s absolutely correct in its sensitivity, is considered as if Hashem commanded one to do it! A person is required to analyze the complete scenario; though Moshe Rabbeinu had been instructed by Hashem, to perform a great mitzvah, he was required to understand if there are other ramifications of one’s acting which would limit his participation.
This concept is also taught to us at the end of the פרשה. The בני גד וראובן, the tribes of Reuvein and Gad (32:1) approached Moshe Rabbeinu and proposed that they inhabit the eastern side of the Jordan River.
They reasoned as follows: Hashem had orchestrated a miraculous conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og – these two tribes had an abundance of cattle for which Eretz Yisroel proper could not provide enough grazing land. They therefore decided that the reason they were blessed with extensive cattle was to establish the paradigm of honest business practice – and to do that necessitated that they inhabit a place that would have extensive grazing land. Due to the fact that all battles are miraculous in nature; the Bnei Yisroel have but to throw sand and they turn into spears and arrows; why should we delay in embarking on our spiritual task of establishing the foundation of all service to Hashem – that being אמת – integrity?!
Moshe Rabbeinu scolded them, “Are your brothers going to war and you will comfortably reside in your homes?”
The Alshich explains that, “אינו דרך מוסר, it’s not the proper perspective.” Sure you want to proceed immediately with your “spiritual task” in complete submission to Hashem. But where are your correct feelings to others; should your “brothers” stand on the front lines of battle without you there? It’s incumbent first and foremost to absorb their feelings of abandonment they might incur if you are not there supporting them! If you are acutely honest in analyzing your responsibilities; this would be the dominant feeling! After all, you must have profound appreciation to your extended families!
A second critique of Moshe Rabbeinu was the following: We all are aware that 39 years prior, the מרגלים, “spies” had convinced the Jewish people not to enter the land. As explained by many; they were afraid that residing in a land of infinite holiness due to the presence of Hashem, would be too much of a challenge. Moshe Rabeinu again rebuked them, “Even though your intentions are pure; but did you truly and correctly view the situation? The other tribes may think that deep down you are afraid to enter the land. Why didn’t that come into your calculations?
Sensitivity to others! Appreciation of others! Caring for others! All lessons for us as we start the Nine Days.