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Mourning One's Self - 5771

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Maasei

Aug 4, 2011

Self Mourning 5771

 Parshas Masei begins with the departure of the Bnei Yisroel from Mitzrayim. They left as the Egyptians were burying their children, the ones who died in the plague of the first- born.1

 The Torah then relates the masa’os, the travels, throughout the desert. Rashi comments that the vast majority of the period in the desert was spent in a state of encampment. This was due to Hashem’s kindness. Although they were punished and were to remain in the desert for forty years, Hashem wished that they would spend the time in relative comfort.2

 Aharon HaKohen, the Kohen Gadol, dies.3

 Moshe Rabeinu gathers the Bnei Yisroel and tells them what is to come when they enter the land. He allocates the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel.4

 Forty-eight cities of refuge are planned for one who commits murder unintentionally. The rotzayach is to find sanctuary within. He lives among the Levi’im and must remain, upon threat of death, until the demise of the Kohen Gadol.5 (This is the second time in this parshah that mention is made of the death of a Kohen Gadol).

 The parshah closes with the family of Tzelafchad approaching Moshe Rabeinu. Their brother Tzelafchad left no male children. Moshe Rabeinu presented Tzelafchad’s portion in Eretz Yisroel to his daughters. If the daughters would marry “out” and choose mates from the other tribes, the land would pass from the tribe of Menashe to the dominion of the other tribes. Moshe, therefore, instructed the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry members of their own tribe.6


 The parshah appears to be a loose confederation of random events. Is there perhaps a common thread that can be found?

 Why is it significant, upon telling of the travels of the Jewish nation, to point out that they left Egypt while the Egyptians were burying their dead? What role or impact does this have on their journey?

 If the bulk of their experience in the desert was one of encampment, why is the term masa’os (travels) used throughout the parshah?  Traveling is just a means to reach an encampment.

 What is the connection between a Kohen Gadol and a murderer? Why does his death set the murderer free?

 Background/Deeper Understanding

 Who was the very first unintentional murderer? It was Adam HaRishon. Man was created to live forever. Through the sin of the Eitz HaDa’as, Adam brought death to himself and to every living being born after him. And Adam was punished with golus. He was banished from Gan Eden.

 Why was he banished? Were he to stay, he would partake of the Eitz HaChaim, the Tree of Life, and would live forever.7 Why must that be prevented? By partaking of the forbidden fruit, he transformed himself from a perfect being to a flawed one. There is no merit in a flawed being living forever. He must first die, return to the earth from where he was formed. His body would decompose, and the soul would undergo purification. The two components would rejoin one another in perfection. Then, and only then, he would live forever.8

 In the Yom Kippur Avoda service, we recite a historical passage that begins with the words Ata konanta. Therein lies the history of the world, as we recite, “You created a world and all that is within. You commanded the first man not to partake of the fruits of the Eitz HaDa’as. He was driven out of Gan Eden, for he did not hearken to your word. Out of your great compassion, he was allowed to survive and produce offspring. They threw off your yoke and all, save Noach, were wiped out in the deluge. The builders of the Tower of Babel sought to wage war with their Creator. The luminescence of Avrohom Avenu pierced the darkness like a star. From him emerged Yitzchok, Yaakov and the twelve tribes, all of them beloved. For Levi you fashioned a crown. Aharon HaKohen was sanctified to serve you.”

 It is clear that the Kohen Gadol is likened to Adam HaRishon. He is the one to facilitate the selichah and kapparah of Klal Yisroel, enabling them to perfect themselves, entitling the Nation of Israel to return to Gan Eden. The Beis HaMikdash itself was a domain within this world that transcended our mundane existence. The Bnei Yisroel came there periodically and were lifted up. The Kohen Gadol resided there. He alone entered the Kodesh HaKodashim, the last remnant on this world of the Gan Eden of old. He, alone, had purged himself of the impurity caused by Adam HaRishon’s sin. The posuk states “Vechol Adam lo yihiyeh bi’ohel” – All those known as Adam may not enter the tent. Only one who is free from the taint of the sin of Adam may enter the Kodesh Hakodashim.9

 The Kohen Gadol is a microcosm of the people. The Mishna states, that when a Kohen Gadol is stricken by the middas hadin, and suffers the loss of a close relative, the people comfort him, saying, “We are your atonement. We place ourselves in your stead to suffer all that is destined to come upon you.”10 These are the same words recited by a child during the year of aveilus over a parent. The child and the parent are one and the same, so the child may accept upon himself the punishment due to come upon the parent. So too, Klal Yisroel and the Kohen Gadol are one and the same.11 They are both reproductions of Adam HaRishon.

 Eternal life eluded Adam Harishon, temporarily. In order to live forever, he must first die and be buried. Then he can rise up and live again.

 The concept of burial is one of kavod. Were a dead body to remain above the earth, it would render the impression that death is a natural phenomenon, revealed for all to see. The body is hidden away, under the ground. Death disappears, until the time comes when the life within the seemingly dead entity bursts forth.

 The process of techiyas hamaysim takes place in the ground, but not just any ground. Only the sacred ground of Eretz Yisroel is worthy and qualified to bond with the “earth” of the dead body, causing it to revert back to its origins, and reconstructing it in holiness anew. Our sages tell us that the dead will rise from amidst the soil of Eretz Yisroel.12


 When the Kohen Gadol dies, it is a sign that he has accomplished all that was placed upon him in this world. He has perfected himself to the level of his ability. His task is completed and he begins the process of living forever. His death frees him from the golus of this world. He may partake of the fruit of the Eitz HaChaim and thus live forever in Gan Eden. All the (unintentional) murderers of his time are positively affected by the spiritual connection each and every Jew enjoys with the Kohen Gadol. He is a part and parcel of them, and when he cleanses himself from the taint of the Eitz HaDa’as, they too are lifted up. In their sin, the unintentional murder of a fellow Jew, they mirrored the failure of Adam HaRishon, who unintentionally caused the death of all mankind. They too must be banished in galus to perfect themselves and rid themselves of what caused their grievous error. The death of the Kohen Gadol is the final step in their quest to raise themselves up. They may now go free.

 The entire dor hamidbar (generation of the desert) was in a state of golus. At the giving of the Torah, they were to live forever. Yet they sinned, and were sentenced to die.13 Just like Adam HaRishon, they were unintentional murderers. They can no longer enter Gan Eden alive. First they must die and undergo techiyas hamaysim. They will travel through the desert, in exile, until Aharon the Kohen Gadol dies. Then they can enter Eretz Yisroel, the land of techiyas hamaysim, and Gan Eden can again be revealed upon this earth.

 Each individual has his own unique role in this world, and so each one has his own connection to Eretz Yisroel in order to help him fulfill that role. For example, if one’s purpose in life is to supply the nation of Hashem with the techeles dye, then he must live near the sea. And if the land plays a major role in bringing forth the everlasting life within each individual, the place where one is buried must also be tailor-made for the purpose. And so, the land was apportioned by way of ruach hakodesh (through lots).

 The concern of the Bnei Menashe becomes quite clear. Portions of their land are in danger of being passed to other shevatim through marriage with the daughters of Tzelafchad. Their concern was not solely in the economic region. The ultimate tikkun (perfection) of their shevet was at stake. The land that was earmarked for them must be the place that only the Bnei Menashe live and die there.

 The Baal Haturim points out a similarity between the first-born sons of Egypt and the warriors of Gog U’Magog.14 They would both merit burial upon their demise. Gog U’Magog is descended from Yefes. Their dead bodies were not left in disgrace due to the worthy response of their ancestor Yefes upon seeing his father Noach’s exposed body. He covered his father’s body and so the bodies of the dead warriors were not left uncovered. Perhaps this is why the journey of the Bnei Yisroel to the perfection of Gan Eden begins with the burial of the Egyptian dead. Even a gentile is a child of Adam HaRishon. Even his body can attain perfection.

 The various travails of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert were all components of one process. They are traveling, on a journey, back to Gan Eden. The name of the parshah, Masei, highlights the reality that all that transpired in the desert, whether it occurred while traveling or at rest, is part of a masa (journey).

 The entrance into Eretz Yisroel marked the end of the journey. They were to appoint a king, eradicate Amalek, build the Beis HaMikdash, and finally attain a state that is worthy of eternity.

 Tragically, the process was interrupted, twice. The idol worshipping sinners inflicted a grievous injury upon creation and were akin to murderers, albeit unintentional ones. The first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. Klal Yisroel was driven into galus.

 Seventy years later we returned from the “arei miklat” of golus, built the second Beis HaMikdash ….and murdered again. This time, whom did we murder? We murdered each other!  We murdered through sinas chinam (baseless hatred), and again find ourselves banished from Gan Eden and eternal life. We enter the state of golus in order to undo the harm that we caused to ourselves.

 In the blessings following the reading of the Haftorah we beseech Hashem, “Rachem al Tzion ki hi Beis Chayaeinu.“ (Have compassion over Zion, for it is the very source of our life). 

 When we mourn on Tisha B’Av, we mourn our own death at the hand of ourselves. May it be Hashem’s will that this year be the one when we come back from the dead.  


1 Perek 33, posuk 4

2 Rashi, perek 33, posuk 1

3 Perek 33, posuk 38

4 Perek 33, posuk 54

5 Perek 35, posuk 32

6  Perek 36, posuk 1

7 Breishis, perek 3, posuk 22

8 Rav Moshe Alshich

9 Shelah, Sefer Shmos, Parshas Tetzave

10 Sanhedrin 18a

11 Rav Moshe Shapiro

12 Kesubos 111b

13 Medrash Rabbah, Shmos, parshah 32, piska 1

14 Perek 33, posuk 4

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