Parshas Pinchas - The Daughters of Tzelafchad - Sparks of Hope
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וַתִּקְרַ֜בְנָה בְּנ֣וֹת צְלָפְחָ֗ד בֶּן־חֵ֤פֶר בֶּן־גִּלְעָד֙ בֶּן־מָכִ֣יר בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת מְנַשֶּׁ֣ה בֶן־יוֹסֵ֑ף וְאֵ֨לֶּה֙ שְׁמ֣וֹת בְּנֹתָ֔יו מַחְלָ֣ה נֹעָ֔ה וְחָגְלָ֥ה וּמִלְכָּ֖ה וְתִרְצָֽה: וַתַּֽעֲמֹ֜דְנָה לִפְנֵ֣י משֶׁ֗ה וְלִפְנֵי֙ אֶלְעָזָ֣ר הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלִפְנֵ֥י הַנְּשִׂיאִ֖ם וְכָל־הָֽעֵדָ֑ה פֶּ֥תַח אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר: אָבִ֘ינוּ֘ מֵ֣ת בַּמִּדְבָּר֒ וְה֨וּא לֹֽא־הָיָ֜ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הָֽעֵדָ֗ה הַנּֽוֹעָדִ֛ים עַל־יְהֹוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲדַת־קֹ֑רַח כִּֽי־בְחֶטְא֣וֹ מֵ֔ת וּבָנִ֖ים לֹא־הָ֥יוּ לֽוֹ: לָ֣מָּה יִגָּרַ֤ע שֵֽׁם־אָבִ֨ינוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֔וֹ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין ל֖וֹ בֵּ֑ן תְּנָה־לָּ֣נוּ אֲחֻזָּ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֵ֥י אָבִֽינוּ: וַיַּקְרֵ֥ב משֶׁ֛ה אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטָ֖ן לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:זכֵּ֗ן בְּנ֣וֹת צְלָפְחָד֘ דֹּֽבְרֹת֒ נָתֹ֨ן תִּתֵּ֤ן לָהֶם֙ אֲחֻזַּ֣ת נַֽחֲלָ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֵ֣י אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וְהַֽעֲבַרְתָּ֛ אֶת־נַֽחֲלַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ן לָהֶֽן:
The daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came forward, and his daughters' names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the kohen and before the chieftains and the entire congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, saying, "Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against the Lord in Korah's assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should our father's name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father's brothers. " So Moses brought their case before the Lord. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Zelophehad's daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father's brothers, and you shall transfer their father's inheritance to them. (Bamidbar 27:1-7)
Shortly before Klal Yisrael enters Eretz Yisrael Moshe Rabbeinu is given instructions by Hashem regarding the division of the land. Upon a man's death his sons would inherit his portion in the land so that it would remain in the family. A group of five sisters confronted Moshe before the entire Jewish nation. Machlah, Noa, Choglah, Milkah and Tirtzah were the daughters of Tzelafchad from the tribe of Menashe who had passed away in the desert. Because they had no father they were not going to be given a plot in the promised land.
The daughters refused to accept that they would not have a portion in Eretz Yisrael and argued with Moshe Rabbeinu. The Medrash (Yalkut Shimon, Pinchas 27) relates to us the back and forth of their conversation. Initially Moshe Rabbeinu refused their request on the grounds that only men inherit from their fathers. The daughter's responded that their mother should be allowed to perform the Mitzvah of Yibbum and in this way she should give birth to an inheritor. Moshe denied this request on the grounds that since their mother already had children she was no longer eligible for the Mitzvah of Yibbum. The daughter's had successfully laid their trap and Moshe walked right into it. The daughter's argued that Moshe had contradicted himself. If their mother cannot perform Yibbum then the daughters are considered progeny and should inherit a portion in the land. If they are not considered progeny then
let their mother perform Yibbum! Moshe Rabbeinu was convinced by the wisdom of their reasoning and presented their case before Hashem. The Torah tells us that Hashem told Moshe that the daughters of Tzelafchad had responded justly. Indeed Rashi explains that Hashem said that just as the daughters of Tzelafchad had reasoned so is this section of the Torah written before me on high. The sisters had seen what even Moshe Rabbeinu had not.
As we examine this Parsha let us begin by asking several questions:
The Torah tells us that the argument between Moshe Rabbeinu and the Bnos Tzelafchad happened in front of all of Klal Yisrael. Certainly the division of land in Eretz Yisrael is important but why is the entire nation present for this argument?
The Bnos Tzelafchad argue that their father "died for his own sin." What sin were they referring to?
The Bnos Tzelafchad requested, תְּנָה־לָּ֣נוּ אֲחֻזָּ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֵ֥י אָבִֽינוּ, Give us a holding within the holdings of our father's brothers. The Netziv points out that the words אֲחֵ֥י אָבִֽינוּ, our father's brothers seems to be superfluous. He explains that the Bnos Tzelafchad hailed from Shevet Menashe. Remember that only half of Shevet Menashe entered into Eretz Yisrael while the other half remained on the eastern banks of the Jordan River. The Bnos Tzelafchad were requesting that they be given a share in Eretz Yisrael with their father's brother and not with Tzelafchad's grandfather's brothers who remained outside of Eretz Yisrael. In other words, having a portion in Eretz Yisrael was so important to them that they were willing to give up on land that was already under Jewish control and wait fourteen years so they could settle in Eretz Yisrael. Considering that they were unmarried (see Baba Basra 119b, Bamidbar Rabbah 21:11 which tells us that the Bnos Tzelafchad did not marry until the age of forty when they found worthy suitors) and had no father this was certainly a risky proposition. Clearly their love for Eretz Yisrael was exceptional. In fact, Rashi (26:24) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma which teaches that it was only the men of Klal Yisrael died out over the forty years in the desert since the men wanted to return to Mitzrayim. In contrast, the Bnos Tzlafchad not only did not want to return to Mitzrayim but they demanded a portion in Eretz Yisrael! The Sifrei Zuta explains that the actual request of the Bnos Tzelafchad occurred exactly at the time that Klal Yisrael wanted to return to Mitzrayim. Moshe Rabbeinu was bewildered. "Everyone wants to return to Mitzrayim and you are requesting a portion in Eretz Yisrael?!?" We must ask ourselves, what drives these women? From where did they receive their deep yearning for Eretz Yisrael?
The Sin of Tzelafchad
The Gemara in Shabbos (96b) cites two opinions regarding the sin of Tzelfachad.
Rav Akiva maintains that Tzelafchad was none other than the Mokesheish Eitzim, the man who gathered wood on Shabbos in the desert (see Bamidbar 15:32). Since the daughters of Tzelafchad referred to their father as a man who died in the desert, Rav Akiva understands that this is a reference to the Mekosheis Eitzim who gathered wood in the desert.
Rav Yehuda ben Beseira disagrees and maintains that Tzelafchad was one of the Ma'apilim. You will recall that after the cheit hameraglim, Klal Yisrael was told that this generation was destined to die in the desert and they would not be entering into Eretz Yisrael. Recognizing that they had made a great error, a group of Jews sought to rectify their mistake by storming the land. Moshe Rabbeinu warned that that God would not be with them in this endeavor and they will surely fail. Nevertheless they attempted to invade Eretz Yisrael where they were slaughtered by the Amalekites and the Canaanites.
When the Gemara has a Machlokes it is not two totally disparate opinion arguing with one another but rather it is two half's of one whole. Two ways of seeing the same idea. In fact the word Machlokes does not mean argument, it means a portion. Each side is expressing a particular aspect of one central idea. What is the connection between these two totally different opinions? (It is interesting to note that after the story of the Ma'apilim, the very next story in the Torah is the Mekosheis Eitzim. The juxtaposition surely indicates that there is some connection between these two events.)
In order to explains the fundamental principle of this Machlokes let us first take a deeper look at the Mekosheis Eitzim.
Tosafos in Baba Basra (119b) cites a Medrash that the Mekosheish Eitzim (Tzelafchad) acted lishem shomayim. Immediately after the sin of the Meraglim Klal Yisrael felt that since they were not going to be entering into Eretz Yisrael they were no longer obligated in Mitzvos. In order to teach Klal Yisrael that they were indeed still obligated to be shomer Mitzvos the Mekosheish Eitzim collected wood on Shabbos so that he would be killed. In this way Klal Yisrael would learn that the halachos of the Torah still apply to them.
There are however two questions we can ask on this episode.
Why did he choose to violate Shabbos? Surely there was some other sin that he could have committed which could have shown Klal Yisrael that halacha still applied.
The language of Mekosheish is a curious one. Mekosheish actually describes the gathering of straw. There are different words for the various types of harvests (katzir, katif, batzir and masik to name a few). A more appropriate word would have been osef, to gather. Why does the Torah use the word Mekosheish which is connected to straw?
Many point out that the word Mekosheish seems to link us back to another gathering of straw, namely the gathering of straw in Mitzrayim. The Torah tells us:
לֹ֣א תֹֽאסִפ֞וּן לָתֵ֨ת תֶּ֧בֶן לָעָ֛ם לִלְבֹּ֥ן הַלְּבֵנִ֖ים כִּתְמ֣וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁ֑ם הֵ֚ם יֵֽלְכ֔וּ וְקֽשְׁשׁ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם תֶּֽבֶן:
"You shall not continue to give stubble to the people to make the bricks like yesterday and the day before yesterday. Let them go and gather stubble for themselves.
What is the connection between the Mekosheish Eitzim and Pharaoh's decree that Klal Yisrael gathers straw? (In fact the Mizrachi (Shemos 5:7) connects the Mekosheish Eitzim and the Kash of Mitzrayim.)
The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:18) tells us that in order to accommodate the increased workload, Pharaoh ordered the cancellation of Shabbos. Moshe Rabbeinu had instituted Shabbos as a day of rest and spiritual revival. Once a week Klal Yisrael took a break from their back breaking labor and read from the scrolls that had been passed down generation to generation which foretold their exile and the ultimate redemption. In this way Shabbos not only provided a physical break but it was an opportunity for Klal Yisrael to rejuvenate themselves spiritually as well. The cancellation of Shabbos for the gathering of straw was designed not only to increase their physical hardships but to diminish their spiritual sustenance as well.
Still we must ask ourselves, what was the point of Pharaoh demanding that they gather to straw to make their own bricks? Surely it would have been more reasonable for Pharaoh to continue to provide them with straw and to increase the quote for bricks made. In this way Pharaoh could have continued to destroy both the body and spirit of Klal Yisrael while increasing their productivity for Mitzrayim. Why then does he demand that Klal Yisrael gather their own straw?
Pesach Sheni - A Second Chance
There is an interesting connection between the story of the Bnos Tzelafchad and the story of the Pesach Sheni. A year after Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim Hashem instructed Klal Yisrael to bring the Korban Pesach on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan. They would then eat the Korban Pesach that evening, roasted over the fire, together with Matzah and bitter herbs, as they had done the previous year just before they left Mitzrayim. However, certain persons had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body ( (either carrying Yosef's bones to Israel for burial, carrying Nadav and Avihu from the Kodesh Kodashim, or burying someone who had no one else to tend to him), and could not, therefore, prepare the Korban Pesach on that day. They approached Moshe and Aaron and said:
וַיֹּֽאמְר֠וּ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָהֵ֨מָּה֙ אֵלָ֔יו אֲנַ֥חְנוּ טְמֵאִ֖ים לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֑ם לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜יב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְהֹוָה֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Those men said to him, "We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel? (Bamidbar 9:7)
In response to their plea, Hashem established the 14th of Iyar as a day for the Pesach Sheini. Anyone who was unable to bring the korban during the appointed time was able to bring a Korban a month later.
There is a striking linguistic parallel between the Pesach Sheini and the Bnos Tzelafchad. By the Pesach Sheini the ritually impure men said לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע, why should we be excluded. The Bnos Tzelafchad made the same argument when they said לָ֣מָּה יִגָּרַ֤ע שֵֽׁם־אָבִ֨ינוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֔וֹ, why should our father's name be eliminated from his family.
Aside from the linguistic parallel, the structure of the story is exceptionally similar. In both stories people step forward to argue for a new halacha, in both stories Moshe turns to Hashem and in both stories Hashem grants their request. (In fact, there are only four times in the Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu turns to Hashem for a halachik ruling. 1. Bnos Tzlafchad 2. Pesach Sheini 3. Mekosheish Eitzim 4. Mekallel. In two of the four cases Moshe turns to Hashem immediately and in two of them he delays. The story of the Bnos Tzlafchad and the story of the Pesach Sheini have the commonality that in both stories Moshe turned to Hashem immediately.)
Interestingly, regarding the Pesach Sheini Rashi (Bamidbar 9:7) explains:
וראויה היתה פרשה זו להאמר ע"י משה כשאר כל התורה כולה, אלא שזכו אלו שתאמר על ידיהן, שמגלגלין זכות ע"י זכאי:
This parsha should really have been said through Moshe, like the rest of the Torah, but these people merited that it be said through them, for merit is brought about through the meritorious.
Regarding the Bnos Tzelafchad the Sifri says:
ראויה היתה פרשת נחלות שתאמר על ידי משה אלא שזכו בנות צלפחד שנאמרה על ידיהן לכך מגלגלים זכות על ידי זכאי
The parsha dealing with the inheritances of the land should have been introduced by Moshe – but the daughters of Tzelafchad merited having the parsha said in their name – because merits are brought out through people who are meritorious.
The connection between these two stories is evident but what does it mean?
In order to understand these questions we must examine a process known as birur, which literally means refinement. Every Jew is comprised of two parts, a Godly soul and an animal soul. The Godly soul is the soul that makes us Jewish. It is our unique connection to Hashem. The animal soul is the soul that sustains our body. It is important to recognize that the animal soul is not inherently bad. Though the animal soul has a natural propensity for the physical world and desires self gratification, it can be elevated to the spiritual world. When the animal soul is conquered by the Godly soul it becomes an instrument that the Godly soul uses to connect to Hashem. For example, when a person sits down to eat a meal, the eating can be the pursuit of the animal soul or the Godly soul. The food itself is neither in the realm of Kedusha nor in the realm of Kelippah but because the food is kosher it has the opportunity to be elevated or diminished. There is a Godly spark in this food waiting to be accessed but it depends on how we engage with that food. The animal soul will see eating purely as an experience of pleasure. Such food, having failed to be used in the service of Hashem, has been relegated to the domain of the unholy. The Nitzotz of Kedusha remains untapped and the eating was one of self gratification. The Godly soul sees the food only as the means to an end. The energy that is derived from that food can be used to serve God. In this way the Godly spark within the food has been accessed and the food is therefore elevated to the realm of Kedusha (as is the animal soul that participated in this holy activity). In other words, the food has undergone a spiritual refinement (birur) where the divine sparks that exist within the material world have been elevated by relating to them in their divinely intended fashion.
Straw is the perfect metaphor for the process of birur. The chaff surrounds the kernel of wheat. Our job is to extract the kernel of wheat, the Nitzotz of Kedusha, from the shell that surrounds it.
Thus the Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (83:5) says that the wheat, the chaff and the straw were once arguing, each one contending that it was for their purpose that the field was sown. The wheat said, “Wait until the time of threshing arrives, and we will yet see for whose purpose the field has been sown.” Ultimately, after the process of farming was completed, only the kernel of wheat remains. So too, says the Medrash, do the nations of the world maintain that the world was created for them but ultimately the Jewish people are like the seed which is the true desire of creation. The world is the husk and the Jewish nation represents the spark of Godliness that is hidden within. As the hidden spark within the shell we are capable of recognizing the Godly spark that inheres within the material world and extracting it. In this way we bring the world to its ultimate state of being where Godliness is transparent.
Similarly, Rav Shimon bar Yochai said (Zohar Chadash,Tikunim II:93b, Zohar III:152a)
"Woe are they whose hearts are stuffed and whose eyes are closed! So many secrets are hidden in the Torah, and they pay no attention to them. They only want to eat the "straw" of the Torah - the simple meaning, or the "garment" of the Torah. They don't taste from the deep intellect which it contains within."
Indeed Chazal (Berachos 40a, see also Sanhedrin 70b, Bereishis Rabbah 15:7) maintain that the fruit of the Eitz HaDaas was actually wheat. According to this opinion, wheat was originally meant to grow on a tree, not as a grain, but as bread already baked. After the sin, this tree which would grow ready made baked goods became a plant which had to be harvested and processed to produce flour. In the future, when the sin of the forbidden fruit will be rectified, the Eitz HaDaas will be restored to its former state. In other words, initially, prior to the sin of Adam HaRishon, there was no need for spiritual refinement. Godliness was more clearly manifest in the world. With the sin of Adam HaRishon the kernels of Kedusha became hidden within the material world and it is our obligation to extract them. Only then will the Eitz HaDaas be restored to its original condition where it grows ready baked bread. There will no longer be a need for spiritual refinement. This is what the Gemara means when it says that a child does not know how to call his father and mother until he tastes the taste of grain. Only when a child engages in the process of spiritual refinement do they recognize their parents, namely Hashem.
For this reason we find that straw plays an important symbolic role in the Torah. Wherever it is mentioned we will see the process of this spiritual refinement at play.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (108b) records a discussion that took place between Shem and Eliezer the loyal servant of Avraham. Avraham Avinu battled the four kings in order to rescue his nephew Lot and emerged victorious. Shem inquires of Eliezer as to the nature of the “secret weapon” they employed in their victory over all those mighty kings. Eliezer goes on to describe how Avraham scooped up some dirt that he hurled in the direction of the enemy and it turned into swords. He also grabbed at some straw tossing it towards the enemy and it transformed into arrows. This can be seen from the passuk in Yeshaya (41:2) which states יתן כעפר חרבו כקש נדף קשתות, his sword makes them as dust his bow as the driven stubble (which is actually in the Haftorah of Lech Lecha). What is the significance of the fact that the dirt and straw of Avraham Avniu was weaponized in his fight against the four kings? The dirt represents our world and the straw represents the process of spiritual refinement that our world is meant to undergo. Because Avraham Avinu is dedicated to the mission of spiritually refining this world he is able to be victorious even when is outnumbered (he only had 318 of his disciples with him against four mighty kings). The natural laws of the world no longer apply to him as he is living on a higher spiritual plane.
The first time the Torah explicitly mentions straw is in the story of Eliezer's search for a wife for Avraham. Rivka says to Eliezer, וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו גַּם־תֶּ֥בֶן גַּם־מִסְפּ֖וֹא רַ֣ב עִמָּ֑נוּ גַּם־מָק֖וֹם לָלֽוּן, And she said to him, "Both straw and fodder are plentiful with us; [there is] also a place to lodge." (Bereishis 24:25) Note that there are two words for straw in lashon hakodesh, teven and kash. Teven refers to straw that is fit for animal consumption while kash is the stubble that is too coarse even to be eaten by animals. On a simple level Rivka was offering teven for Eliezer's animals. On a deeper level we can suggest that Rivka is expressing to Eliezer that in the house of Lavan there is much food for the animal soul. There are many opportunities to extract the Nitzotz of Kedusha that dwell within the material world.
But while Rivka engaged with the Teven of this world, extracting the kernel of Godliness within, she would give birth to a son that would not follow in her ways.
וַיֶּעְתַּ֨ר יִצְחָ֤ק לַֽיהֹוָה֙ לְנֹ֣כַח אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה הִ֑וא וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה וַתַּ֖הַר רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ:
And Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived. (Bereishis 25:21)
The Baal HaTurim points out the gematria of אִשְׁתּֽוֹ is the same as kash v'aish which is a reference to Yaakov and Eisav about whom the passuk says (Ovadiah 1:18) וְהָיָה֩ בֵֽית־יַֽעֲקֹ֨ב אֵ֜שׁ וּבֵ֧ית יוֹסֵ֣ף לֶֽהָבָ֗ה וּבֵ֚ית עֵשָׂו֙ לְקַ֔שׁ, The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for straw."
Eisav and Yaakov were meant to play two very different roles. While Yaakov was meant to sit in the confines of the Beis Medrash, Eisav was meant to engage the world extracting the Nitzotz of Kedusha from the teven, the straw that is meant to feed our animal soul. Instead Eisav makes the focus on the straw and not on the kernel of wheat. His Teven becomes kash, stubble that in unfit even for animal consumption. (In fact the Shlah says that Kash is an acronym for kinah, jealousy and sinah, hatred.)
The Torah describes Eisav as יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֶ֑ה, a hunter and a fieldsman. Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 63:15) explain that צַ֖יִד means that Eisav was a liar. He was deceptive in the home and deceptive in the field. At home he would ask how does one tithe salt and in the field he would ask how does one tithe straw. (Straw, being animal fodder, is exempted from the obligation of tithing, which applies only to produce grown for human consumption.) The Torah also tells us that Yitzchak loved Eisav because צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו, he had game in his mouth. Why was Yitzchak so taken with the צַ֖יִד of Eisav? What was it about tithing straw that endeared Eisav to Yitzchak?
Yitzchak understood that Eisav had the capacity to elevate the physical world and this was symbolized by his desire to tithe straw. Unfortunately, Eisav was merely tricking Yiztchak. He was focused on the material world and not on the spirituality that inheres within. Thus Eisav is compared to Kash which cannot be used by the animal.
Hidden within the recesses of Eisav is a spark of the soul of Rav Akiva. The Arizal (see Meor Einayim, Toldos) teaches that when Eisav spoke to Yitzchak, it was Rav Akiva's voice that Yitzchak heard. The Gemara in Nedarim (50a) tells the story that Rav Akiva became betrothed to the daughter of bar Kalba Savua. When bar Kalba Savua heard about their betrothal, he took a vow prohibiting her from enjoying any of his property. Despite this, she went ahead and married Rav Akiva. The Gemara relates that in the winter they would sleep in a storehouse of straw, and Rav Akiva would gather strands of straw from her hair. Rav Akiva said to his wife, "If I had the means I would place on your head a Jerusalem of Gold" (a type of crown). Eliyahu HaNavi appeared to Rav Akiva and his wife as a regular person and asked them for a bit of straw, as his wife gave birth and he do not have anything on which to lay her. Rav Akiva said to his wife, "See this man, who does not even have straw. We should be happy with our lot, as we at least have straw to sleep on."
Again we see a strong emphasis on straw in the married life of Rav Akiva. Not only does he live in a storehouse of straw, he even picks straw from his wife's hair. Ultimately he donates the straw to Tzedaka and even is able to express his gratitude to Hashem for giving him straw to sleep on. Once again, the word that the Gemara uses for straw is Teven. As opposed to Eisav who turns his Teven into Kash, Rav Akiva engages the physical world to extract the Nitzotzos of Kedusha. He quite literally lives in a home of straw. He separates (birur - the process of refinement) the straw from his wife's hair and years to crown her with a Yerushalayim of Gold. While Eisav was tricking Yitzchak when speaking about his desire to tithe straw, Rav Akiva (the hidden spark within Eisav) actually gives his straw to Tzedaka. And while Rav Akiva and his wife may not have had a lot, they valued the straw that they were given, the opportunity to use their meager possessions in the service of God. (Note that this gratitude is also seen in the story of Nachum Ish Gamzo cited in the Gemara above (Sanhedrin 108b) who is gifted with the dirt of Avraham Avinu. Nachum Ish Gamzo was of course the Rebbe of Rav Akiva.)
Ultimately the Kash of Eisav will be consumed by the flame of Yaakov. In Olam Haba there will be no reality of meaningless materialism. This is as the passuk in Yeshayahu (11:7) says, וּפָרָ֚ה וָדֹב֙ תִּרְעֶ֔ינָה יַחְדָּ֖ו יִרְבְּצ֣וּ יַלְדֵיהֶ֑ן וְאַרְיֵ֖ה כַּבָּקָ֥ר יֹֽאכַל־תֶּֽבֶן, And a cow and a bear shall graze together, their children shall lie; and a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw. Even the lion, the greatest of the animal kingdom, will eat the Teven like ordinary cattle. Meaning, in Yemos HaMashiach the animal soul will be at its most elevated point and as it engages with the physical world it will do so only lishem shomayim.
Spiritual Refinement In Halacha
The idea that straw represents the birur of the Nitzotz in our world is also seen in the halachik universe.
The Torah teaches us that when one brings Bikkurim (the first fruits) they do so in a basket.
וְלָקַ֧ח הַכֹּהֵ֛ן הַטֶּ֖נֶא מִיָּדֶ֑ךָ וְהִ֨נִּיח֔וֹ לִפְנֵ֕י מִזְבַּ֖ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ:
And the kohen will take the basket from your hand, laying it before the altar of the Lord, your God. (Devarim 26:4)
Regarding the nature of these baskets the Mishna in Bikkurim (3:8) says:
הָעֲשִׁירִים מְבִיאִים בִּכּוּרֵיהֶם בִּקְלָתוֹת שֶׁל כֶּסֶף וְשֶׁל זָהָב, וְהָעֲנִיִּים מְבִיאִין אוֹתָם בְּסַלֵּי נְצָרִים שֶׁל עֲרָבָה קְלוּפָה, וְהַסַּלִּים וְהַבִּכּוּרִים נִתָּנִין לַכֹּהֲנִים:
The rich would bring their bikkurim in baskets overlaid with silver or gold, while the poor used wicker-baskets of peeled willow-branches, and the baskets and the bikkurim were given to the priest.
But what happened to these baskets after the Bikkurim were brought? Were they returned to the farmer or are they now the property of the Kohen? The Gemara in Baba Kamma (92a) teaches that people say "Poverty follows the poor." Where do we see this? Rabba bar Mari taught, rich people would bring first fruits in baskets of gold and of silver, and poor people would bring first fruits in wicker baskets woven of stripped palm leaves or straw and they would give the baskets and the first fruits to the priests. The rich would have their baskets returned to them, while the poor would not.
Now at first glance it would seem that it is the wealthy people with their opulent baskets that have come out on top. The poor don't even get their baskets back. But in reality it is just the opposite. The baskets of the wealthy remain independent from the bikkurim they contain. Because of their value they retain their own individual identity. While the farmer's fruits are elevated, the baskets are returned in the same mundane fashion in which they were brought. In contrast, because the poor farmer brings baskets of straw they are batel, nullified, to the fruit they contain. When the fruit is elevated, the baskets are elevated along with them.
This gives us a further insight into the nature of the birur process. The world proclaims itself to be an independent existence. It does not project a creator. When we use the world in the way that Hashem instructs us to, the world has been humbled so to speak. It is being used in a way that recognizes that it has a creator. It is in a sense nullified before Him. In the Mitzvah of Bikkurim the straw baskets are nullified to the fruit. The fruit is the kernel of Godliness and the baskets are the Teven. When the Nitzotz of Kedusha is refined, the Teven is refined along with it. The Teven is humbled before its Creator and is now being used in a Godly fashion. The opulent basket has not been nullified or humbled by the Bikkurim it contains. It retains its arrogant posture and therefore is not dedicated to the Kohen. So while it is true that the poor get poorer it is only because their service to Hashem was in fact greater.
We find a similar principle in the Halachos of a Succah. The Gemara in Sucaah (3b, 4a) discusses a case where the Succah is more than 20 cubits high which renders it passul. If one reduces the height of the Succah by placing objects on the ground we need to examine the nature of those objects. Cushions and blankets do not reduce the height of the Succah since one will be concerned that the blankets will be ruined and therefore they will not be left there for very long. In contrast the Gemara says that if someone places straw on the ground and verbally nullified it then the height of the Succah is considered diminished. Although the straw previously existed as an independent entity, its individual identity has been subsumed and it is now part of the greater entity of the Succah. Once again we see that straw is an object that humbles itself before the larger entity. It is subject to nullification. Because of the elevated nature of cushions and blankets they remain an independent entity. Teven is specifically capable of being nullified and therefore it can be elevated and incorporated as part of the Succah.
Great Wealth Brings Redemption
Knowing that Teven represents the opportunity to be refine the spiritual sparks that are hidden within the material world now allows us to understand Pharoah's decree that we mentioned above. Pharoah specifically attacks the Mitzvah of Shabbos because Shabbos is the Nitzotzos of Kedusha within the Kelippah of the week. When a Jew keeps Shabbos it elevates the other days along with it. Thus we call Sunday the first day until Shabbos, Monday is called the second day until Shabbos. In the last stanza of Lecha Dodi on Friday night we turn around and bow towards the door and then we once again bow facing the front of the Shul. Bowing down while facing the door of the Shul symbolizes us turning towards the week we have just completed and ushering it into Shabbos. In this way the kernel of Kedusha that is Shabbos now elevates the Teven of the week.
Already at the Bris Bein Habesarim Hashem tells Avraham Avinu that Klal Yisrael would descend into Golus and would ultimately be redeemed with great wealth. (Bereishis 15:13-14). Chazal explain (Rashi, Shemos 10:22; Shemos Rabbah 14:3) that one of the reasons for the plague of darkness was so that the Jews could ascertain where the Egyptians’ valuables were hidden. In this way they would be able to fulfill God's promise to Avraham Avinu. In fact the Gemara in Berachos (9a) teaches that God was anxious, so to speak, that this promise be fulfilled so that Avraham Avinu would not complain that Hashem fulfilled His word that we would be enslaved but did not fulfill his word when it came to us leaving with great wealth.
This however raises some important questions. When someone finds themselves in a harsh and bitter exile they are surely willing to forego any payment as long as they can leave as soon as possible. In fact the Gemara (ibid.) tells us that Klal Yisrael made this exact claim. Chazal compare this to a prisoner who is told that tomorrow he will be freed and given a large sum of money. The prisoner responds that he would rather leave today and forego any payment. Why then does Hashem extend our exile in order to repay us? Klal Yisrael wanted to leave as soon as possible and surely Avraham Avinu would not want his children to suffer even one more moment of this cruel golus. Would Avraham really have held Hashem responsible for our early departure?
The purpose of this “great wealth” was not meant only as a payment for their servitude but was in fact the purpose for our exile in the first place. The Gemara in Pesachim (119a) tells us that when Yosef ruled over Mitzrayim he was to obtain the wealth of the entire world. When Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim they took with them the wealth of the entire world. Klal Yisrael's descent into Mitzrayim was for the purpose of being mevarer the Nitzotzos of Kedusha in Mitzrayim. The great wealth they were leaving with was not only the physical possessions they left with but the sparks of spirituality they had mined in their time in Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim contained the "wealth", the spiritual sparks, of the entire world and Klal Yisrael brought a great rectification to the world through our exile in Mitzrayim. In a similar fashion, the Baal Shem Tov interprets the statement of Chazal (Rosh Hashana 27a) that “the Torah has sympathy for a Jew’s wealth,” to mean that the Torah has “sympathy” for a Jew’s wealth which contains sparks of Kedusha.
It is now clear why Hashem holds Klal Yisrael in golus and does not allow them to leave until they can do so with great wealth. Though Avraham Avinu surely does not want his children to suffer even one moment longer than necessary, he understands that our descent into Mitzrayim is for the purpose of elevating those sparks of Kedusha that will in turn make our world a more transparent place of Godliness.
Pharaoh understands that Klal Yisrael is attempting to release the Godly sparks in Mitzrayim. As long as we have not done so we will not be able to leave. By ensuring that Klal Yisrael cannot keep Shabbos, they cannot mine the nugget of Kedusha within the week. In this fashion they will never be redeemed. But rather than increasing their quota of bricks, Pharaoh foolishly calls on Klal Yisrael to gather their own straw. It is true that he could have simply increased their quota of bricks but Pharoah wanted to break their spirit. Instead the opposite happened. Rather than break their spirit this was a reminder to Klal Yisrael of the mission of their exile. True they would no longer have time to read from those letters that foretold their Geula but instead they would literally gather Teven thus redeeming those sparks of Kedusha that inhered within the straw of Mitzrayim. In the face of great darkness, the straw was a source of great hope.
And when we left Mitzrayim we sang that Hashem was Yocheleimo kakash, [Your fury] consumes them like straw. (Shemos 15:7). In Mitzrayim we refined all the sparks from the Teven. All that was left was Kash which Hashem destroyed.
We can now understand how Tzelafchad inspired his daughter's passion for Eretz Yisrael. Just as Shabbos is the Nitzotz of the week, Eretz Yisrael is the Nitzotz of Kedusha in the Kelipah of this world (interestingly both Eretz Yisrael and Shabbos are called a matanah - see Berachos 5a, Shabbos 10b - and both are kineged kol haTorah kula - see Yerushalmi, Berachot 9a, Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 5). Tzelafchad's life was dedicated to uncovering the Nitzotzos of holiness in this world. According to Rav Yehuda ben Beseira, Tzleafchad was one of the Ma'apilim. He could not accept that he would remain in the desert for the rest of his life, unable to enter into Eretz Yisrael. How could he not experience the holiness of Eretz Yisrael?!? According to this approach it is clear how Tzelafchad inspired his daughters passion for Eretz Yisrael.
But what connection is there between this pshat and Rav Akiva's contention that Tzelafchad was the Mekosheish Eitzim? And how does being the Mekosheish inspire his daughter's desire to own a portion in Eretz Yisrael? Recall that Mekosheish is not really the most appropriate word here. The Torah is drawing our attention to the gathering of straw in Mitzrayim. Tzelafchad sent a powerful message to those in the desert who no longer believed that halacha applied to them. Just as things were seemingly hopeless in Mitzrayim, they seem hopeless now as well. Our dream of entering into Eretz Yisrael may not come to fruition but there is still straw to be refined. As long as we are alive we have the opportunity be mevarer the Nitzotzos of our world. As long as we are alive, hope is not lost. The Ma'apilim had that hope. They refused to believe that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael and chose to invade despite Moshe's warning. Similarly, the Mekosheish Eitzim inspires the people to remember that in times of great despair there is always a spark of Kedusha that can be mined. Our mission is not over. And of course the Mitzva that the Mekosheish Eitzim used to communicate this message was the Mitzvah of Shabbos, the very same Mitzvah that Pharaoh took away from us in Mitzrayim. But just like in Mitzrayim the loss of Shabbos brought the hope of the Teven so too in the desert as the Mekosheish Eitzim violates Shabbos he inspires Klal Yisrael not to give up hope. Seeing his death the people were reminded that their life was still worth living. Halacha (which is the process of being mevarer the Nitzotzos) still apllies to them. Hope was restored.
It is now clear how the Mekoshiesh Eitzim inspires his daughters to fight for a plot of land in Eretz Yisrael. All hope was lost. The land would be divided among the men and the women would be excluded. The word of God was conclusive. But the Bnos Tzelafchad understood that darkness is just an opportunity for light. A new chapter in the Torah must be waiting to be written. There is no way that Hashem will exclude us from living in Eretz Yisrael. And so it was. The Bnos Tzlafchad saw what even Moshe Rabbeinu could not and a new halacha was brought into the world. The Mekosheish reminded the people that Halacha still applied. The Bnos Tzlafchad actually brought a new halacha into reality! It is now clear why the Bnos Tzelafchad argued, לָ֣מָּה יִגָּרַ֤ע שֵֽׁם־אָבִ֨ינוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֔וֹ, Why should our father's name be eliminated from his family? Tzelafchad's legacy on hope in the face of despair was truly at stake. A failure to obtain a portion in the land of Israel would not just have been devastating for the sisters but for their father's legacy.
We can now understand the connection between the Bnos Tzelafchad and Pesach Sheni.
Several men, due to their Tumah were unable to fulfill the Mitzvah of the Korban Pesach. Surely this should have been the end of the story. There is no makeup for Succos. There is no do over for Tisha B'Av. Many men in the same position would have never even bothered to ask a shaila. They would have considered themselves exempt because of impossible circumstances. But these men were relentless. Like the daughters of Tzelafchad they refused to believe that all hope was lost, that their opportunity was missed. Here too Moshe could have simply responded that they were impure and his hands were tied. He could have reasoned with them that a good thought is like a good deed. He could have recommended that they bring a voluntary korban or that they bring a Korban Pesach and others will eat it. Instead Moshe asks Hashem. Recognizing the power of their holy chutzpah Moshe understands that there is a chance that God will allow a second chance that has never before existed. Indeed it is this holy insolence that brings this new halacha into reality. In the face of impurity these men found a spark of Kedusha that does not exist in any other Yom Tov. No wonder the Torah connects these two amazing stories.
Finally, we can now understand why the story of the Bnos Tzlafchad happens in front of all of Klal Yisrael. This was not simply another halacha.Klal Yisrael watched as quite literally a new halacha came into being. It taught them never to despair. When things seem bleak that is merely the opportunity to find the Godly nugget that inheres within. As they are on the verge of entering into Eretz Yisrael this profound message of hope was surely instrumental as they faced the challenges of conquering the land. The chassidic masters tell us that the Torah’s stories spiral through history, so that each generation relives some particular stage of Klal Yisrael's forty-two-leg journey from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael. The story of the Bnos Tzelafchad occurs on the very last stop of this journey. Thus, its reenactment in the six-millennia scale of history will be one of the last developments before the coming of Mashiach. The birth-pangs of Mashiach are quite painful. In the same way that the expectant mother’s pain increases as she gets closer to giving birth, so the period leading to the arrival of Mashiach is a difficult one for Bnei Yisrael. This is as the passuk says (Yeshayahu 27:16) "As a pregnant woman comes near to give birth, she shudders, she screams in her pangs, so were we because of You, O Lord" The Gemara in Sanhedrin (111a) tells us that just as only two out of six hundred thousand entered into Eretz Yisrael (everyone died in the desert except for Yehoshua and Calev) so too a ratio of only two out of six hundred thousand left Mitzrayim. Similarly,in the ultimate redemption with the coming of Mashiach very few will survive.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98a) says: If you see a generation whose wisdom and Torah study is steadily diminishing, Mashiach will be arriving shortly. If you see a generation whose troubles inundate it like a river, Mashiach will be arriving shortly.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98b) says: "Ulla says: Let Mashiach come, but after my death, so that I will not see him, as I fear the suffering that will precede his coming. Likewise, Rabba says: Let Mashiach come, but after my death, so that I will not see him. Rav Yosef says: Let Mashiach come, and I will be privileged to sit in the shadow of his donkey’s excrement. In other words, Rav Yosef is saying that he is willing to undergo all the pain and disgrace associated with his arrival.
The Gemara in Sotah (49b) describes the days before Mashiach in similarly horrific terms:
בעקבות משיחא חוצפא יסגא ויוקר יאמיר הגפן תתן פריה והיין ביוקר ומלכות תהפך למינות ואין תוכחת בית וועד יהיה לזנות והגליל יחרב והגבלן ישום ואנשי הגבול יסובבו מעיר לעיר ולא יחוננו וחכמות סופרים תסרח ויראי חטא ימאסו והאמת תהא נעדרת נערים פני זקנים ילבינו זקנים יעמדו מפני קטנים בן מנוול אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמותה אויבי איש אנשי ביתו פני הדור כפני הכלב הבן אינו מתבייש מאביו ועל מה יש לנו להשען על אבינו שבשמים
He also said: In the times of the arrival of Mashiach, impudence will increase and high costs will pile up. Although the vine shall bring forth its fruit, wine will nevertheless be expensive. And the monarchy shall turn to heresy, and there will be no one to give reproof about this. The meeting place of the Sages will become a place of promiscuity, and the Galilee shall be destroyed, and the Gavlan will be desolate, and the men of the border shall go round from city to city to seek charity, but they will find no mercy. And the wisdom of scribes will putrefy, and people who fear sin will be held in disgust, and the truth will be absent. The youth will shame the face of elders, elders will stand before minors. Normal family relations will be ruined: A son will disgrace a father; a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog; a son will no longer be ashamed before his father. And upon what is there for us to rely? Only upon our Father in heaven.
How are we to survive the incredible darkness of the period before Mashiach's arrival? We will do so with the same message of hope that Bnos Tzelafchad gave to the entire nation. We will not despair. Where everyone else sees pain we will see redemption. Where everyone else sees straw we will see the kernel of Kedusha that inheres within. We will, as the Gemara says, rely only on avinu sheboshamyim. And just as we left Mitzrayim with great wealth, so too we will greet the coming of Mashiach with the Nitzotzos of Kedusha of this world.