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Dedicated in memory of Yaakov ben Avraham and Sarah Aharonov z"l

Of Tents and Dwellings

Dvar Torah by Rabbi Moshe Aberman,former Rosh Kollel in Chicago (1997-1999), currently a Torah advisor to the Shlichim. comments: [email protected]

“How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel” This verse included in Bilam’s third blessing pertains to some of the cornerstones of Jewish life.

What are the tents and dwellings mentioned in this verse?

Several opinions can be found amongst the classic commentaries. Rashi in his first elucidation speaks of tents in a literal sense, the tents that serve as their homes in the desert.

A different explanation suggests that tents and dwellings pertain to the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Ovadya Sefornu identifies the “tents” as Batei Midrash, study halls, and “dwellings” as Batei Knesset, Synagogues.

The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin), suggests: “How fair are your tents... Two tents of the mass of Jacob”. Namely the tent of women and the tent of men. His understanding is that the verse is not speaking of physical structures but of the internal essence of the Jewfish people.

Were this a mere mortal’s blessing we would be forced to choose a particular understanding. However, since this is the “Word of one who hears God’s speech”, a prophesy from God - it can be understood on multiple levels. Furthermore, the different elucidations can be seen as complementing and serving each other.

The tent is man’s home. In his home man can express his deepest and most intimate feelings. It is the place where he feels a sense of belonging and personal security. The Beit Midrash, in contrast, is a place intended for growth intellectually and spiritually. In the Beit Midrash man meets others and their interaction focusses and sharpens his perspectives. The Beit Hamikdash (or Beit Knesset) is the place of God’s dwelling, where man meets his Creator.

In this prophetic blessing the different understandings of tent and dwelling interact with each other. “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel”, the verse is stated in the plural, tents and dwellings, home, Man, Bait Midrash and Beit Mikdash all interrelate. The man who develops a sense of security and comfort in his home can bring that comfort and security into the Beit Midrash for a more meaningful learning experience.

In turn his development in the Beit Midrash accompanies him back home to create a richer more significant home and family life. So too with the Beit Midrash/Knesset. Without the previous development of home and Beit Midrash man would enter the Mikdash and the encounter of God as a shadow of himself. By building a self-image at home and a spiritual personality in the Beit Midrash man faces God in a more significant and meaningful manner. The powerful impact of the encounter accompanies him back to his home and Beit Midrash and enhances his further development in all aspects of life.

Amongst the different elucidations Rabeinu Bachye’s stands out. “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel. By way of the simple understanding, he (Bilam) prophesized on the dwelling of Israelites in the land of Israel.” The land of Israel is included in the terms tent and dwelling. The land of Israel has significance in deepening and reenforcing the other “houses”.

The home of a Jew living in the diaspora is different than that of the Jew in Israel. The spirit of learning in the Beit Midrash in each place is different. Certainly, the encounter with God in His home, Beit Mikdash/ Knesset is not comparable. Halakhic sources differentiate between a Mikdash Meiat, Minor Mikdash – Beit Knesset built in Israel and that built in the diaspora. They differ both in their permanents and sanctity.

While to the Israeli Jew the connection of Eretz Yisrael and all forms of Bayit, house, is natural, it is less so to the diaspora Jew. It is this spirit and perception that the shlichim of Torah Mitzion bring with them to communities throughout the world.

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Dvar Torah by Liat Jackman, a former Shlicha in Montreal (2003-05) who is currently raising her family, learning midrash and teaching in her community

There is a big jump in Parashat Hukat. We ended last week’s parasha still in the second year after the exodus from Egypt. We begin this weeks’s parasha in the 40th year!

There are many diverse issues mentioned in the parsha. Miriam and Aharon die. There are some incidents that seem repeats from the past, such as complaints about water and food. But there are also incidents that connect to the future - several confrontations with other nations as the Jewish people approaches the promised land.

Among all these incidents is a strange song that Israel sings. In verse 21:17 we have a short, strange song, in which the Jewish people seems to be praising a well:

אָז יָשִׁיר יִשְֹרָאֵל אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת עֲלִי בְאֵר עֱנוּ לָהּ; בְּאֵר חֲפָרוּהָ שָֹרִים כָּרוּהָ נְדִיבֵי הָעָם בִּמְחֹקֵק בְּמִשְׁעֲנֹתָם

Then Israel sang this song: rise up well, sing to it, a well that the ministers dug, the generous of the people hewed, with the sceptre and with their staves.

What is this song about? Why is it here? We are also of course reminded of the song at the splitting of the sea. There the song is sung by Moshe and the Jewish people. Here it just says that Israel sings. Where is Moshe? Why isn’t he mentioned?

Many commentators say that this is the well that accompanied the children of Israel in the desert. But why now?

One answer is that when Miriam died the water stopped and now it returned in the merit of Moshe (see Bavli Taanit 9), so they are praising its return.

Rav Hirsch suggests an alternative answer. We sing a song after the miracle, therefore they sang after they saw the Egyptians drown at the Red Sea. This song is similarly after the miracle. The well that accompanied them is now reaching its resting place. They will not be needing the well from now on because their mode of connection to G-d is changing. While they were in the desert they had open miracles and were directly taken care of by G-d. They had the clouds of glory, the manna, the well.

Now they are transitioning to a different relationship where G-d would be there for them in a less obvious fashion. They will have to actively look for water, grow their own food. This 40th year is a year of transition, and this is strongly felt in the parasha. They are beginning to fight wars and the old leaders are dying. The song of the well is another example of that. They are recognizing that the miracle of the well is coming to an end.

In Nedarim 55 our sages say that this song is a song for the Torah. The Torah is compared to water, it nourishes us and is our lifeline. The Sfat Emet continues this idea (תרנב, ד"ה בענין). The well of water represents the Oral Law. The first song, at the Red Sea, was preparation for receiving the Written Torah, and at that point they felt they were ready to be G-d’s servants. This song is our preparation to receive the Oral Torah. At this point they had been learning the Torah for 38 years and were ready to cleave to it. Cleaving to it allowed them to be at a point that they can learn for themselves, they will be part of it.

Just as physically they will have to be more responsible for themselves, so too spiritually they will take a more active part in serving Hashem, through the Oral Law.

As our people enters the land, it has to learn to live a more normal life, but in a G-d conscious and G-d centered way. It has to both internally cleave to G-d and also actively take care of itself.

I believe that in our generation we can really identify with this transition as we build our own country. Whether it is earning a living on a personal level, or building the national economy, government and army. May we learn to tap into our well and cleave to it while building our land.

In memory of my father, Moshe ben Yehuda Aryeh z”l, who loved the land and managed to return and be buried in Israel. His third yahrtzeit will be next week.


Liat Jackman is a former Shlicha in Montreal (2003-05) who is currently raising her family, learning midrash and teaching in her community.

Torah MiTzion stands in the forefront of the battle for the future of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, offering religious-Zionist Torah scholarship to Jewish communities throughout the world and strengthening the bond between the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in Israel via the study of Torah.