Behaalosecha 5778

RABBI REUVEN GERSON

After travelling for a few days in the Midbar, certain elements of Bnei Yisrael, known as the Misavim, got a craving for meat and complained to Moshe. The context of this complaint is strange. They were eating Mon and also had Slav, quail. In response to their complaint, Hashem told Moshe that they would eat meat until they actually died from it. A second strange aspect of this incident is that Hashem commanded Moshe to appoint seventy elders as leaders of the nation. Why was this necessary in the context of their complaint about the meat?
Rav Hirsch explains that the root of their complaint was not the lack of physical pleasure, but the lack of pleasure from spiritual endeavors. The Yetzer Hara has the power to create a false sense of need that can totally distort one’s perception of his own reality. Indeed, the Mon, which was at first a wonder and a miracle in the eyes of the people, was now disparaged.
The Nesivos writes that the level of the nation was consummate with the level of Moshe Rabbeinu. On such a level, as Moshe exclaimed, it is impossible to satiate the spiritual demands with physical food. Only the Mon could nourish a nation on the level of Mekablei HaTorah. In order to ameliorate this situation, seventy elders would be chosen to create a buffer between Moshe on his level and that of the nation. With this development, the overall spiritual essence of the nation changed. Now, food, good physical food, could whet their appetite, and eating the food could fill this void. But with this came the danger of overindulgence in the physical world.
Once the elders were chosen, the deep crevasse that separated Moshe from the rest of the Nevi’im become a canyon and obvious to all. The elders themselves exclaimed, “Yehoshua, the disciple of Moshe, is no more than the reflection of the sun on the moon.” At this point, they realized that the high spiritual level on which they had been living for years was all to Moshe’s credit; now, their own level was revealed, and it paled in comparison with their own past.
Those who took heed of this rebuke and avoided the allure of the sudden overabundance of the Slav were saved from the destruction that it brought in its wake. For the rest, the new name of the camp, Kivros HaTaave, literally, “the burial of those who desired,” remained as a memory of their failure.
Why Hashem granted them their wish to lower their spiritual level is in and of itself a lesson. Hashem does not demand that Bnei Yisrael live on a level beyond one that is sustainable. Since the higher level was achieved only via Moshe’s leadership, it was not inherently the level of the people. They had achieved a level equal to that of a nation with seventy elders, and Hashem therefore allowed them to default to that level. This descent is fraught with danger, as it could lead to a drop way below their level, as happened to the Misavim; still, it is a necessary aspect of the challenge involved in conquering the Yetzer Hara.
Hashem, in His kindness, always finds a way to break the spiritual fall of Bnei Yisrael. This incident is separated from the other negative narratives by two inverted Nunim. The Gemara (Brachos 4b) associates the “nun” with the word “nefila,” falling. Hashem prevented this pattern of failure from becoming inherent in the character of the nation. The Yetzer Hara can win many battles, but Hashem will not let him win the war. Even multiple failures can be rectified, and the negative traits can be sublimated into positive ones. 


Aharon HaKohen was complimented for his unwavering dedication to the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. Although this Mitzvah was shared by all of the Kohanim, Aharon made sure to do it himself. This raises a question. What of his sons’ responsibility to fulfill the Mitzvah? Were they required to defer to Aharon, or were they expected to attempt to also light the Menorah?
All of the above questions are contingent on the same basic underlying issue: Under what circumstances may one hand over the performance of a Mitzvah that he could do himself?
The basic question can be divided into two categories of Mitzvos: those which are the collective responsibility of the congregation and those that are personal but can be fulfilled by proxy.
It is logical to assume that for a Mitzvah that is communal in nature, the most suitable candidate should be honored with the Mitzvah – because of both his honor and that of the Mitzvah. The Gemara (Sotah 13b) explains that the tribe of Yosef allowed Moshe to carry Yosef’s coffin because Yosef’s honor was increased when a person of Moshe’s stature involved himself with his burial. Similarly, the building of the Mishkan was left up to Moshe, because if others would have built it after Moshe began the process, it would be regarded as a diminishment of the Kedusha of the Mishkan (Menachos 99a). Lighting the Menorah was therefore enhanced by the fact that the Kohen Gadol, and Aharon in particular, did it.
The question of whether one may defer his own Mitzvah to someone else is debatable. The Gemara (Kiddushin 41a) rules that one does fulfill a Mitzvah when it is performed by an agent, although it is preferable to do it oneself. This is called Mitzvah Bo Yoseir Mibishlucho, it is better to perform a Mitzvah yourself then to perform it by proxy.
The Mateh Ephraim (604, 78) writes that it is the Minhag to honor others with the Mitzvah of covering the blood after the Shechita of the Kapporos. The Shach (C.M. 382, 3) criticizes people who are able to perform a bris on their own children but instead honor others with the Mitzvah.
The first consideration is: Granted that, under normal circumstances, a person should perform the Mitzvah himself, has he violated anything by requesting that an agent do it for him? The Gemara implies that a Meshalei’ach, a person delegating someone else to perform a Mitzvah for him, has done nothing wrong; he has, however, forfeited an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah.
The Tevuos Shor (28:14), in discussing his position that one may honor others with the Mitzvah of covering the blood, quotes similar cases in the Gemara. He concludes that one may not appoint a messenger to fulfill the Mitzvah to shirk one’s responsibility, as this denigrates the Mitzvah. But honoring a person who appreciates the opportunity honors the Mitzvah. There is a common practice that many honor the Rabbi with affixing their Mezuzos. In his discussion, the Tevuos Shor implies that this is appropriate but appointing a messenger is not acceptable.
However, other authorities disagree with the Tevuos Shor’s approach, contending that providing someone else with honor is not sufficient reason to justify not fulfilling the Mitzvah oneself (Binas Adam #7). Still others are of the opinion that the opposite of the Tevuos Shor‘s approach is true: they posit that asking someone to act as one’s agent is permitted, since one still fulfills the Mitzvah, whereas honoring someone with the Mitzvah without making him an agent is forbidden (Peleisi 28:3).
The fulcrum upon which this debate rests would seem to be whether the reason that one should do the Mitzvah himself is because that demonstrates respect for the Mitzvah, or whether the reason is that by not doing the Mitzvah oneself, he is denigrating the Mitzvah. The Tevuos Shor holds that if the Mitzvah is enhanced by a more important person fulfilling it, then one may defer to him, because the Mitzvah has not been denigrated. The Peleisi holds that if one does not fulfill one’s own responsibility, either alone or by an appointed proxy, then he has demonstrated a personal lack of respect for the Mitzvah.
It should be noted that a distinction must be made between a Mitzvah that can be fulfilled without the express permission of the responsible party, e.g., covering the blood, and a Mitzvah that cannot be fulfilled without the appointment of the proxy, e.g., the father’s personal Mitzvah to circumcise his son. Different approaches to each Mitzvah would therefore yield different results, depending on how the Peleisi or the Tevuos Shor views that particular Mitzvah.