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Parashat Naso: Flour and Torah, the ultimate recipe for revealing G-dliness in the world

Parashat Naso: Flour and Torah, the ultimate recipe for revealing G-dliness in the world

The reliance of Kohanim and Levi'im on charity from people is surprising, but it teaches us an important concept about implementing G-d's goal of creation. We will visit Mizpah from the time of the First and Second Temple and of Shmuel HaNavi.

Yoel Yaakoby

"So, too, any terumah (gift) among the sacred donations that the Israelites bring to the Kohen, it shall be his. A man's holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the Kohen, it shall be his" (Bamidbar 5:9-10).

"'So, too, any terumah'- Rabbi Yishmael said: Do [people] bring terumah to the Kohen?  Is it not the Kohen who makes the rounds for it at the granaries? Why, then does the Torah say, 'that the Israelites bring to the Kohen?' These are the first fruits … the verse has … taught about the first fruits that they are to be given to the Kohen" (Rashi, based on Sifrei).

"'It shall be his' – can a Kohen forcibly take his presents? We learn: 'A man's holies shall be his,' which informs us that the owners receive benefit (=owners have the prerogative to give it to any Kohen they so choose)" (Sifrei).

Torah needs flour: the optimal route

One of the problems facing the head of any Torah institution, no matter how righteous or learned he is, is the issue of "flour" that is so vital to Torah. It would seem that the optimally the spiritual world would be self-sufficient and not need to rely on the masses. The current situation can degrade Torah, which seems to be at the mercy of philanthropists. Worse yet, this can set the stage for those who study Torah but have corrupt character traits: who stoop to flatter the wealthy and even distort the Torah to find favor in their eyes.

Some will say that this is just the way the world works. The world of spirit is not self-sufficient; it needs to connect with the material and earthly in order to exist. The problem with this answer is that it misses one very important detail: G-d didn't come to an existing world and try to introduce His Torah into it. G-d Himself created the world in the best way possible, tailored to achieve His ultimate goals. What follows is that the world was created in a way leads to its most complete rectification, in keeping with the Divine objectives. Thus, the current system for supporting the Torah world is actually optimal—at least at this stage of the world's existence. We will now attempt, with G-d's help, to understand the idea behind this system.

An earthly abode through the "flour" vital for Torah

It seems that G-d wants the world not only to be a world of Yissachars: Torah scholars devoted solely to Torah study. He also wants Zevuluns: those who study Torah and observe mitzvot, but do not engage in the world of sanctity for the majority of the day. To a certain extent, it is the Zevuluns who put into practice the goal of the world's creation. They can infuse G-dliness into the physical world. They need the Yissachars to guide them how to achieve this, however. The bond between the two is vital; not only so that the Yissachars will have what to eat and not only so that the Zevuluns will receive merit for the world to come. This bond is critical to facilitate the creation of an abode for G-d on earth, which is the goal of the world's creation.

The problem that could arise would not stem from the Zevuluns, who also possess lofty souls that pine to do their jobs in the world. They receive ample reminders that their wealth is transient, and that they need to also concern themselves with eternal life. The main potential problem is with the Yissachars, those immersed all day long in the world of spirituality. Would they be completely unburdened by the troubles of this world and receive manna on a regular basis, they would never feel a lack. They would stay cloistered in their spiritual ivory towers and not go out to influence others. In this way, the goal of the world's creation would not be implemented, G-d forbid.

To avert this problem, G-d created a system in which people of spirit are reliant on people of the material world. Both are equal partners in the same enterprise whose entire goal is to reveal G-dliness in the world. Kohanim and Levi'im did not reach a portion of land, since G-d is their portion. This is so they devote themselves to teaching Torah to the Jewish people: "They shall teach Your laws to Jacob and Your instructions to Israel" (Devarim 33:10). They need to go to the granaries, or at the very least be dependent on the gifts of famers for their sustenance. On the other hand, the owners of the produce can choose whom to give the gifts to. Specific Kohanim and Levi'im cannot force farmers to give them the terumot and ma'aserot. Since the goal is to foster a relationship between the spiritual and physical forces within the Jewish People, it needs to be formed between those who can create or enjoy a spiritual bond. The produce owner can give these gifts to the spiritual guide who he feels close to and from whom he receives personal guidance that helps him perform his job in rectifying the world.

This system holds true for the relationship between Kohanim, Levi'im, and the rest of the Jewish People. It is also the relationship between the Torah world, Torah scholars, and the rest of the nation. Of course, both partners in this relationship mustn't be fooled by the exterior mechanisms governing it. Torah scholars need to keep in mind that they are supposed to receive money from G-d, but He wanted the money to reach them through human beings in order to rectify the world. In light of this, flattery certainly has no place here. On the other hand, the donors should not believe that the Torah scholars are indebted to them for their gracious handouts. Donors aren't doing Torah scholars a favor; they are simply fulfilling their part of this important deal, which has the power to bring the world to its complete rectification.

Growing two types of wheat in Mitzpah

"It happened that Rabbi Shimon of Mitzpah planted his field and came before Rabban Gamliel. They both went up to the Chamber of Hewn Stone and asked [about the law]. Nachum the scribe said: I have a tradition from Rabbi Meyasha, who received it from Abba, who received it from the pairs, who received it from the prophets, a halacha for Moses from Sinai, that one who plants his field with two species of wheat, if he makes up of it one threshing floor, he gives only one pe'ah. But if two threshing floors, he gives two pe'ot." (Mishnah Pe'ah 2:6)

Pe'ah is one of the matanot aniyim, gifts given to the poor, which field owners leave at the edge of their fields (and of their trees and orchards). The Torah allows farmers to leave one pe'ah from all crops of the same species, even if harvested at different times. In contrast, one cannot leave one pe'ah for two different species, even if harvested together. The question Rabbi Shimon of Mitzpah asks Rabban Gamliel refers to an intermediate situation, where one sowed two species of wheat (in today's botanical terms we would call this two strains or varieties of wheat). The answer is based on an ancient source (a rarity in the Mishnah to find an exact line of tradition all the way back to Moshe, as opposed to simply stating that it is a halacha leMoshe miSinai): it depends on how the grower views the two types of wheat. If he harvests them together, it is clear that he views them as the same and so he would only leave one pe'ah. However, if he harvests them individually, it is clear that he considers them two separate species, so each require a pe'ah.

The name Mitzpah can refer to several places in the Land of Israel marked by a steep altitude and a broad vantage point. A town by this name is mentioned in the lists of the cities of tribe of Binyamin. It is identified with one of the most significant repentance rally held by Shmuel HaNavi ("He who answered Shmuel in Mitzpah He will answer us"). It is also mentioned as the capital city of Gedaliah ben Achikam, the governor of the remnants of Judea who were in the Land of Israel following the First Temple's destruction and the Babylonian exile. It is the place of Gedaliah's assassination, the event that marked the end of Jewish autonomy and the final stage of the exile (until the Jews' return in the times of Ezra and Nechemiah). In the Second Temple period, Mitzpah is mentioned (in the Books of the Maccabees) as a place of gathering for a spiritual revival rally held by Yehuda the Maccabee for his soldiers before the Emmaus battle: "As the place for prayer was in Mitzpah, within [the Land of] Israel."

There are two candidates for the exact location of Mitzpah: 1) Nebi Samuel, marked as the grave of Shmuel HaNavi. It is located between the Ramot Jerusalem neighborhood and Givat Ze'ev; 2) Tel a-Natzba, which is north of the first site. There are verses that support both. It could very well be that both cities bore the same name, but were in different places. The Mitzpa mentioned by tractate Pe'ah, at the end of the Second Temple period, could be a different city entirely, but it stands to reason that it is one of the two. The reason being (according to Ben Zion Segel) that Rabbi Shimon went up together with Rabban Gamliel the Elder to address the question to the Sanhedrin in the Lishkat HaGazit. From here we see that it was most probably near Jerusalem. Both sites are just north of Jerusalem, and are possibilities.