Matos-Maasei 5777


Parshiyos Matos and Maasei complete the reading of Sefer Bamidbar. On the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av, we begin the new sefer, Devarim. The Gemara (Megilla 31b) says this is the order arranged by Ezra HaSofer.
The Sfas Emes (Devarim 5659) writes that the first four seforim parallel the tefillin shel rosh, whereas Devarim corresponds with the tefillin shel yad. He explains that the tefillin shel rosh are on a higher level in both kedusha and prominence. They are worn on the head, representing the brain and neshama of Klal Yisrael. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) relates that the non-Jews will see them and be afraid of the Jews. The shel yad is hidden near the heart and is regarded as a personal sign, not one displayed to others.
The first four seforim describe the creation of the world and the elevation of the nation of Israel to its highest level, that of the hashgacha in the desert. This unique position of Bnei Yisrael was noticed by the nations of the world and they were awestruck by it, just like the tefillin shel rosh. Devarim is Moshe’s warning to Bnei Yisrael of the potential tochacha if they veer from the path of the Torah.
The hashgacha that Klal Yisrael enjoyed until the churban was one of obvious Divine intervention in their history. With the building of the Beis HaMikdash and its accompanying miracles, the entire world recognized Israel’s exalted level. This corresponds to the first four seforim of the Torah, and is hinted at in the tefillin shel rosh. With the advent of the churban and the three weeks, that hashgacha ended, and we entered the era of hidden hashgacha, as Hashem said, “I will surely hide my face at that time” (Devarim 31:18). But the tefillin shel yad reassure us that Hashem has a personal covenant with Israel and He will never abandon us.
In the ancient Greek culture, philosophers would debate using mime. One heretic challenged Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananya to such a debate.
The heretic first turned his head away from Rebbe Yehoshua.
Undaunted, Rebbe Yehoshua stretched his left hand out.
The heretic was at a loss to respond.
The king in whose presence the debate occurred asked them individually what the exchange had meant. They both agreed that the heretic had mimed that Hashem had turned away from his people.
But the heretic did not understand the response.
Rebbe Yehoshua explained that he was referring to the verse in Yeshaya (5:25), “Although I punish you, my hand is still outstretched.” This verse, Rebbe Yehoshua explained, refers not to continued punishment but to Hashem’s constant watch over us, albeit in a subtle manner (Chagiga 5b and Maharsha ibid.)
The Meshech Chochma (Shemos 3:14) explains that the mime revolved around the desired effects of the tefillin shel rosh. The heretic demonstrated that Hashem had turned His head away from Bnei Yisrael and therefore the nations of the world no longer fear them. Rebbe Yehoshua responded that still we are sheltered by His left hand, the tefillin shel yad. As Yeshaya (51:16) proclaims, “And in the shadow of His hand you are sheltered.” This hand refers to the natural hashgacha that Hashem provides us even when His involvement is hidden.
Moshe Rabbeinu used three adjectives to describe Hashem: HaGadol, HaGibor, V’Hanorah. With the advent of the churban and the exile, Yirmiyahu and Doniel could not bring themselves to use any of these adjectives. The Gemara (Yoma 69b) explains that their integrity and honesty did not allow them to use platitudes.
The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah responded that the very existence of Bnei Yisrael is evidence of Hashem’s great power. For this understanding they were called the “Great Assembly,” because they reinstated the greatness to Hashem’s name. This is the awareness provided by the tefillin shel yad: that even if the hashgacha appears to be the natural order of the world, it is still evidence of His Divine protection.
Hence, as we approach Tisha B’Av, we prepare ourselves, not to feel abandoned and despair of the Geula, but to fortify ourselves with the confidence that this hashgacha will lead to the coming of the final Geula, as Hashem will never forsake us.

In their discussion with Moshe, Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven agree to build pens for their animals and cities for their families and to fight alongside their brothers in the conquest of the land of Canaan. Moshe rebukes them and changes the order of their commitment. First they must build cities for their children and then pens for their animals.
The Chasam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat 119) questions this Midrash. The Gemara (Gittin 62a) states that one must first feed his animals before eating himself. Perhaps building a protective home for them should also come first. He writes that just as in drinking a person comes first, so, too, the safety of a person must come first.
Yet as the Shut v’Chidushei, Rabbeinu Yosef Nechemia, points out (5 & 6), the Chasam Sofer on Parshas Chayei Sorah writes that Rivkah offered Eliezer a place for his camels to eat before she assured him of his own place. The Chasam Sofer writes that she behaved according to the Halacha. Rav Yosef Nechemya explains this according to the Eliyahu Rabbah (167:8), who writes that only one’s own animals can take precedence over oneself, but when serving others, the Halacha of Kavod Habrios, respect for humans, trumps that Halacha.
The Shut v’Chidushei quotes a second precedent. Noach was also told to first enter the ark and then bring in the animals, and also to prepare food for himself and then the animals. Obviously, in the avoidance of an apparent danger, humans take precedence over animals (Yad Ephraim, Orach Chaim 167).
The danger does not have to be as clear as that of the flood or starvation. The Poskim allow for any direct benefit that a human can get as taking precedence over the Halacha of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim. As Rav Yehonoson Dovid Hool writes (Beis HaVaad), the Halacha forbids one from causing any unnecessary pain or distress to an animal.
There is, however, some debate among the Poskim as to whether this prohibition is Min HaTorah or MiD’Rabbanan. This difference of opinion originates in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 32b onwards), in which Rav Yossi Haglili maintains that it is only MiD’Rabbanan, whereas the Chachamim hold that it is forbidden from the Torah. The opinion that forbids Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim from the Torah learns this from the verse that teaches that if one sees an animal struggling under its load, one is obliged to help the owner unload the burden from the animal (Shemos 23:5). The Gemara understands that this is because one may not cause pain to an animal (Rashi, Shabbos 128b). Others (Ra’avad; Shita Mekubetzes, Bava Metzia 32b; Da’as Zekenim, Devorim 25:4) derive this prohibition from the fact that the Torah forbids muzzling an ox while it is threshing grain, because the animal is distressed when it works with food but cannot eat from it.
There are other Poskim, however, who rule that Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim is forbidden only MiD’Rabbanan, because there is an implication in the Gemara that the Halacha follows the opinion of R’ Yossi Haglili. The Rambam (Hilchos Rotze’ach Ushemiras Nefesh 13:14) seems to follow this view.
There are circumstances, though, in which the issur of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim is suspended, and that is if the distress is a result of an action that provides some benefit to man. For example, it is surely permitted to place a yoke on an ox and make it plow a field or to make an animal carry a load. Animals were created for the purpose of mankind; therefore, man’s needs take precedence over Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 5:14).
On this basis, contemporary Poskim (see Tzitz Eliezer 14:68) permit medical testing and research on animals, since there is a clear benefit to humans, although if it can be done in a painless way (such as by administering an anesthetic), that is preferable.
Nevertheless, Shulchan Aruch (ibid) says that it is customary to refrain from such activities as plucking feathers from a live duck, even though there may be some benefit to a person, because it is deemed unnecessarily cruel. Furthermore, R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 4:92) limits this permit to a benefit to man that is apparent and genuine. For example, force-feeding an animal simply so the meat will appear to be of better quality, when in fact there is no actual difference, is forbidden, because such dubious benefit does not justify Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim.