Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Bamidbar

The following is a brief summary of a thought said over by R' Frand in his shiur this evening. I have attempted to reproduce this vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistency is the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

In the 18th perek of the Mesilas Yesharim, the sefer discusses the middah of chassidus. This is not to be confused with being a chassid. The middah of chassidus would best be described as acting lifnim mishuras hadin - going beyond what is required in order to be certain to act properly.

Two perakim later, the Mesilas Yesharim discusses how there must be a weighing of whether it is the appropriate time to act lifnim mishuras hadin (which he calls balancing the middas chassidus).

The above concept can be seen through Parshas Bamidbar when Moshe delineates the roles of the children of Levi in the mishkan. The Medrash Rabbah writes that the sons of Kehath wanted to carry the mishkan when it traveled. This was a double edged sword as the carriers of the mishkan had to behave perfectly or they would die when they carried it. Although the sons of Kehath were the least in number from the sons of Levi they still desired to have this job. To this Moshe states in Bamidbar 4:15 that the sons of Kehath will come to carry the mishkan but they will not touch it so that they don't die. Moshe saw that they were running for this job because it was the most important, but was concerned for them that they might die from acting inappropriately. Thus he warns them, it may not be the proper time for middas chassidus.

The Mesilas Yesharim writes - but what was the problem with their actions? They wanted this job for the higher purpose without seeking personal glory? He answers that this is the weighing of the middah - looking at what the results of the action might be and knowing that it may not be the time or place for the middah.

Rabbi Frand gave the classic example of two men who come to shul for ma'ariv. Both men have yahrtzeit and both want to daven for the amud so that the soul of their departed is elevated by their prayers. If the two men get into an argument over who should get the amud, the desire to take the greater step of being the shaliach tzibbur will be overshadowed by the ill will generated by the argument.

The Mesilas Yesharim brought an example from a gemara in Berachos which discussed the dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai about the proper position for saying Shema (Beis Hillel states that it can be said in any position, while Beis Shammai says that it should be said while seated or reclining). The gemara then mentions that R' Tarfon said Shema like Beis Shammai, although the halacha is like Beis Hillel. The rabbis told him that he was subject to death by Heaven for acting in this manner.

The Mesilas Yesharim asked - why would acting like Beis Shammai put R' Tarfon in the position that he might be killed? He answered that at the time the rule that Beis Hillel was correct was not well established and if R' Tarfon publicly went further than what was required and sat, he would cause those watching him to be confused as to the proper position for Shema. Thus it was not the proper time for middas chassidus.

Rabbi Frand gave one other example involving R' Yisrael Salanter. R' Yisrael was a guest in an area where the weather was quite cold. When it came time to wash netilas yadayim, the man before R' Yisrael and the man who followed him washed their hands to the wrists. R' Yisrael only washed to the minimum standard of the fingers. Those who were observing him asked why he washed in this manner. R' Yisrael answered that the weather was cold outside and someone must go down to the well to get water for people to wash. It would be better that less water then the "lifnim meshuras hadin" shiur be used so that the man would not have to make as many trips to the well.

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