Bnei Yisrael’s conflict with Midian continues in Parshas Matos. In this week’s parsha, Hashem tells Moshe to prepare Bnei Yisrael for war. This is in response to the story at the end of Parshas Balak, when the daughters of Midian caused Bnei Yisrael to sin. Because of this immoral act against Hashem, and because they specifically targeted Bnei Yisrael, Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to fight.
Together with His instructions for the war, Hashem tells Moshe some very important news. “נְקֹם נִקְמַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֵת הַמִּדְיָנִים אַחַר תֵּאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ” “Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered to your people” (Bamidbar 31:2). Hashem tells Moshe to avenge what Midian did to Bnei Yisrael and upon the completion of this mission, he will die. This battle was to be Moshe’s last act of command for Bnei Yisrael before he passed away and they entered Eretz Yisrael.
When Moshe gives over the instructions to Bnei Yisrael, however, he gives them over a little differently. “ הֵחָלְצוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם אֲנָשִׁים לַצָּבָא וְיִהְיוּ עַל מִדְיָן לָתֵת נִקְמַת יְהֹוָה בְּמִדְיָן” “(And Moshe spoke to the nation,) Arm from among you men for the army, that they can be against Midian, and carry out the revenge of Hashem against Midian” (31:3). Instead of saying they should take revenge for themselves, as Hashem said to do, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to take revenge for Hashem! How could Moshe change from what Hashem told him to say?
The Kli Yakar adds two more questions to this one. Rashi on Pasuk 3 explains the immediate juxtaposition of Hashem’s commanding Moshe to Moshe’s commanding Bnei Yisrael as praise for Moshe. The fact that Moshe knew he would die as soon as this battle ended did not stop him from happily fulfilling the will of Hashem and informing Bnei Yisrael about the impending battle. In this, Moshe showed he was truly an Eved Hashem. Furthermore, in Pasuk 5, when the soldiers are drafted from each tribe, the word “וַיִּמָּסְרוּ”, meaning “to give over”, is used in its past tense when really the present tense should be used. Rashi explains that this shows how beloved Moshe was to the people. When the nation heard that Moshe was going to die following this battle, they were reluctant to even go and fight! Finally, Moshe had to force them to go.
While these two explanations show how great Moshe was and how much he was appreciated, they are not exactly written explicitly in the pesukim. It doesn’t say that Moshe was happy to fulfill the word of Hashem in this case; perhaps he did it because he had no choice! Also, where do we see a special love of Moshe from the pesukim here? How did Rashi realize these explanations?
The Kli Yakar explains that what the Midianites did was a sin against both Hashem and Bnei Yisrael. The sin against Hashem was that they caused Bnei Yisrael to serve Avoda Zara, and the sin against Bnei Yisrael was that because of the Avoda Zara, 24,000 people died. When Hashem told Moshe to avenge Bnei Yisrael, He was saying that Bnei Yisrael were forgiven for those sins against Him, the important thing to do was to avenge the Jews who were killed as a result of Midian’s actions.
When Moshe heard that he was going to die after this battle, he felt no hesitation in going ahead with it. However, he knew how much Bnei Yisrael loved him and he was afraid that if he told them to fight for themselves, as Hashem had told him to tell them, Bnei Yisrael would have decided that having Moshe around was more important than avenging their brothers. They would have claimed that just as Hashem decided to forgive the insult to His honor, they could forgive the insult to them and delay the war and Moshe’s death! As a result, the people would not have gone to fight for a very long time and not fulfilled the will of Hashem, which was Moshe’s biggest fear.
Since Moshe was so excited to fulfill the will of Hashem, regardless of the personal importance this battle held for him, he decided to change the instructions Hashem had given him and told Bnei Yisrael to fight in order to avenge Hashem; there was no way they would delay for that! That’s why the pasuk uses “וַיִּמָּסְרוּ” in the past tense, Bnei Yisrael were going to delay the battle and were only reluctantly coming to fight, until they found out it was for the honor of Hashem. This also proves that Moshe acted out of happiness. He could have given over Hashem’s instructions the way he was told and he would have done everything the way he was supposed to. The fact that he gave them over differently in order to make sure Hashem’s will was done immediately, shows how excited and happy he was to have it fulfilled.
From each aspect of this story, we see an amazing lesson. From Hashem we see that what we take as an offense against ourselves is not as important as compared to the offense taken against people we care about. From Moshe we see how to be a true Eved Hashem, that even when he knew that the faster this mission was done the sooner he would die, he still did not hesitate for a second in fulfilling Hashem’s will. Lastly, we learn from the Bnei Yisrael to appreciate our leaders and tzaddikim, but at the same time, to know that Hashem’s kavod is more important than any of our personal whims.
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