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Parashat Matot-Masei 5757
As we saw at the end of Parashat Balak, the idolatrous Midianite women caused the Jewish men to sin, bringing about the deaths of 24,000 Jewish men in a plague of divine retribution. In this week's Parasha, Hashem commands the Bnei Yisroel to choose 12,000 warriors and stage a war with the Midianite nation in order to avenge the deaths of the sinners.
When the soldiers return victorious, they bring with them an
enormous amount of booty. Hashem tells Moshe to tally what was captured and
to divide it in two. One half is to be given to the warriors, and the other
half to the rest of the nation. From each half, an offering of a different
proportion should be separated. The Torah relates,
The Torah then proceeds to describe exactly how much booty there was in the portion of the warriors and how it was tithed.
"The portion of the warriors was: Sheep, 337,500; the sheep separated for Hashem were 675. Cattle, 36,000; the cattle separated for Hashem were 72. Donkeys, 30,500; the donkeys separated for Hashem were 61. Captives, 16,000; the captives separated for Hashem were 32." (Bamidbar 31:36-40)
(Question #1) Why is it necessary for the Torah to specify the head count of the booty that was separated as a tribute? Wouldn't it suffice to state that the warriors separated 1/500th of their portion in the name of Hashem? We could deduce from that on our own exactly how many of each animal were given to Elazar! (See Ramban 31:36, Rabbeinu Bachye 31:32.). In fact, when the Torah later recounts what was done with the portion of the people it does just that. The Torah simply says that Moshe took 1/50th of the captives and of the animals and gave it to the Levites as Hashem had commanded. Why then, must the Torah calculate for us what the 1/500 that the warriors separated amounted to ?
Rav Shlomo Ha'Kohen of Vilna (author of Cheshek Shlomo on the Talmud and Teshuvot Reishit Bikkurim) suggests an ingenious solution to this problem. First, he points out another curiosity in the Torah's account of the tributes. (Question #2) What does the Torah mean when it says, in reference to the tribute taken from the people's portion, that the people should take 1/50 "from the captives, from the cattle, from the donkeys, from the sheep, from *all of the animals*." What other animals were tithed besides cattle, sheep, and donkeys? The Torah only mentions the splitting and tithing of these three categories of animals! (See Ibn Ezra, 31:30 and Meshech Chochma -MK.)
Rav Shlomo Ha'Kohen suggests that the Torah may be emphasizing here an important difference between the tributes of the warriors and the people. The tributes of the warriors are referred to as "Terumah." The same name is used in reference to another levy; the portion of one's crops that one is obligated to give to the Kohen.
Of this latter Terumah we are taught that one must separate a portion of each and every crop as Terumah. One may not choose a single crop, and separate from it an amount large enough to exempt all of his produce from Terumah (Gemara Brachot 53b, Sifri Bamidbar 18:26).
Rav Shlomo Ha'Kohen suggests that the Terumah of the warriors had a similar requirement. The warriors were commanded to separate 1/500 from each category of booty individually, as the name "Terumah" implies. The tributes of the people, on the other hand, are never referred to as "Terumah." For them, it was not necessary to separate 1/50th of each category of animals as tributes. It would sufficed to separate cows valued at one fiftieth of the total value of the captured sheep, as tributes, instead of giving 1/50th of the sheep themselves.
With this in mind, the verses in our Parsha can be seen in a new light. What does the Torah mean when it reiterates that the people are to separate from their half of the booty tributes "from the human captives, from the cattle, from the donkeys, from the sheep, *from all of the animals* "? The Torah is telling us that the people were allowed to separate tributes "from all the animals" on *each other*. They were not limited to tithing each type of animal unto itself!
The Torah calculates mathematically the 1/500 of the warriors, but not the 1/50 of the people for the same reason. The Torah is making it clear that the warriors separated their 1/500th from each category of animals unto itself. They didn't just separate 1/500 of their value -- as did the people, who could use any animals as the tribute!
The approach of Rav Shlomo Ha'Kohen can be expanded to explain a few more oddities in the verses describing the tributes. (Question #3) As we quoted above, Hashem tells Moshe to separate from the portion of the warriors, "one *soul* from every 500" (31:28). From the people, however, Moshe is told to take "one *out of* 50" (31:30,47 -- see Panim Yafot, Meshech Chochmah).
Based on Rav Shlomo Hacohain's words, the intention of the verses is clear. The warriors had to actually separate one from every 500 *souls* of each category, literally. The people only had to separate animals valued at 1/50 of their entire portion. In actuality, the animals they chose to represent this value may have been much less, or much more, than one animal in 50, depending on whether they chose to use the cheaper or the more expensive animals for the tribute!
(Question #4) Another oddity is the seeming repetition in Hashem's command to the warriors. Hashem tells Moshe, "You shall set aside a tribute for Hashem from the warriors; one soul from every five hundred...," and then He repeats, "From their half you should take that." If all the warriors are separating 1/500 of their booty, isn't it obvious that the tribute is being taken from their half?
Following Rav Shlomo Hacohain's line of reasoning, it's possible to suggest that the people, who only separated the *value* of 1/50 of their portion, were not even required to choose their tribute from the animals that were plundered. Perhaps they could even bring animals from their *homes* as the tribute for the animals they were receiving as booty.
It is therefore necessary for the Torah to tell us that the warriors were *not* allowed to do so. They had to take their Terumah from the animals they had plundered themselves, as the Torah goes on to describe. For this reason, Hashem stressed that only from "their half" shall they separate the tribute, and not from previously owned animals, even if they are the same type of animal as the plundered ones!
The differences between the tributes of the warriors and the people may stem from a basic difference in the purposes of the tributes. The two tributes had entirely different aims.
The Chinuch (Mitzvah #507), among others, tells us that the Torah commands us to offer the Kohanim Terumah from our crops in order to remind us that the produce of our fields is not of our own doing, but rather a blessing from Hashem. Terumah is therefore given to the Kohanim, the representatives of Hashem's will in this world.
There is also a tithe, besides the Terumah that we take off from our produce, this time for the Levites. This tithe is separated in order to provide a ready means of sustenance to the Levites, who serve as Hashem's emissaries in the Holy Temple (Chinuch, Mitzvah #395).
Perhaps this is why even one kernel can be separated as Terumah for an entire field, according to Torah ordinance (and even the rabbinic ordinance only requires a person to set aside approximately 1/50th of his crop as Terumah.) One grain is enough to remind the owner of Hashem's intervention in the production of his crops. This does not suffice, however, for the tithe given to the Levites. One is required by the Torah to give them 1/10th of his produce. One grain per field would never be able to provide an income for the Levites.
Similarly, the Terumah of the warriors was only 1/500; a minuscule amount. Its purpose was to remind the warriors that it was Hashem who brought about their victory in war. Even 1/500 would be enough to get across this lesson. Since the goal of their tribute was to make them grateful to Hashem for all that He had given them, it would have to be brought from the actual animals that were captured, and each type of animal should be represented in the tribute. The tribute was given to Elazar the *Kohen*.
The people, though, did not need to be taught that they did not earn the booty themselves since they did not participate in the battle. Their tribute was meant to teach them to support the servants of Hashem, the Levites, to whom their tribute was given. That is why they had to give much more than the warriors -- 1/50 of their portions.
On the other hand, since their tribute was meant only to deliver monetary support to the Levites, it was not necessary for them to offer their tribute from the captured animals themselves. Nor was it necessary for them to give a tribute from each category of animal unto itself. As long as the Levites were given money, the purpose of this tribute would be served. This is why the people were allowed to tithe from any animal in their possession, as opposed to the warriors, who tithed from the captured booty itself to show their appreciation to Hashem who fought their battle!
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