By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
28 Tammuz 5764 - July 16, 2004
After the stunning victories east of the Jordan, the tribes of
Reuven and Gad settle there, in accordance with the terms set by Moshe. With
the beginning of settlement, the forty years’ wandering in the desert are
coming to a close.
Part of the tribe of Menasheh also conquers territory nearby, and settles
there. The Machir division of the tribe receives the Gil’ad region. One such
conquest is as far east as the Bashan:
And Novach had gone and captured Kenat and all its villages, and he called it
(LA) Novach, by his name (Bamidbar 32:42).
Kenat was at the foot of Mount E-Druze. From Divrei HaYamim (I
2:23) however, we learn that the nations of Geshur and Aram wrested Kenat from
Machir. The change of name from Kenat to Novach, it seems, was not permanent.
There is a peculiarity in the spelling of LA, as noted by Rashi and others.
Normally, we would expect a dot in the letter HEH, yet there is none. Why?
If the letter HEH is at the end of a word, it is usually silent. However, if
we are meant to pronounce it – a phenomenon called mappik HEH, “produce the
HEH” – then it is marked with a dot. In this case, a short breath is heard at
the end of the word. In our verse, however, the HEH is silent.
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) suggests a rather
daring solution. The Torah means to say, “And he called them (LAHEN)” –
namely, Kenat and the surrounding villages – Novach, like the name of a
district. But, since the name refers principally to the city, the Torah wrote
LA in the singular. By leaving out the mappik HEH, the Torah suggests that not
only the city, but also the villages are included. This is because the letter
NUN at the beginning of Novach serves both as the last letter of LAHEN and the
first letter of the name! Haamek Davar insists that this phenomenon, wherein
one letter serves two different words, occurs frequently in Scripture.
Rashi searches for a midrashic explanation for the absence of mappik heh:
“I have seen in the [book] Yesod of R. Moshe HaDarshan (11th Century), that
this is because this name was not maintained for it [this change of name did
not last]. Therefore the HEH is silent, such that its exegetical meaning is
like LO (no).”
But Rashi raises a question based on two other occurrences of LA spelled
without mappik HEH. One is when Rut expresses her gratitude for Boaz’s
And she said, “…You have comforted me and spoken to your maidservant’s heart,
although I am not even like one of your maidservants.” And Boaz said to her
(LA) at the time of eating, “Approach here and eat of the meal…(Rut 2:13-14).”
The other example is when the prophet Zechariah sees a vision
of two winged women bearing an ephah measure suspended between heaven and
earth. He asks the angel where they are taking the measure:
And he said to me, “To build it (LA) a house in the land of Shin’ar, and it
shall be established, and set there upon its setting” (Zechariah 5:11).
Rashi challenges R. Moshe HaDarshan:
“I wonder what would he explain for the two words that are identical to it…”
But R. Moshe HaDarshan’s source is the Midrash (Rut Rabbah 5:5)! Ramban is
surprised that Rashi, whom he calls “the master, the well-stocked storehouse
[a description of Rabbi Akiva in Gittin 67a] in Torah, laws and aggadot,” did
not notice this Midrash.
This Midrash says that in each case LA is explained as LO, “no”:
And Boaz said to her (LA) – Boaz said, “No (LO) – Heaven forbid! You are not
of the maidservants, but of the Matriarchs [an allusion to the blessing that
Rut (4:11) will be like Rachel and like Leah].”
As for Zechariah, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 24a) says that the two women in the
vision symbolize flattery and arrogance. Arrogance remained in Shin’ar/Babylon,
even affecting the way the Sages of Babylon learn Torah. Flattery, however,
did not remain because, as the Midrash says, “Falsehood has no stability.”
Thus, “To build it (LA) a house in the land of Shin’ar” means “To build it
[the flattery] no house in Babylon” (see also Kiddushin 49b, Tosafot, Livnot).
Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) explains, “To build it
(LA) a house” differently, also based on Sanhedrin 24a: He wished to build but
did not build. This refers to the poverty of Torah in Babylon and neighboring
Elam, where they had the merit to learn Torah, but not to teach it.
Siftei Chachamim (R. Shabbetai Bass, 1641-1718), unlike Ramban, insists that
Rashi knew the Midrash, but rather felt that, to be consistent, each LA should
have been interpreted as LO: LA Boaz -- LO BOAZ: not Boaz, but rather an
intermediary, spoke to Rut (which, in fact, is the way Maharam, R. Meir ben
Baruch of Rothenburg, c. 1215-1293, explains it). Instead, R. Moshe HaDarshan
interprets it as if Boaz said “No.” Similarly, LA BAYIT -- LO BAYIT: not a
house, but a tent. Instead, R. Moshe HaDarshan interprets it as if it said,
“No house whatsoever.”
Siftei Chachamim concludes with his own interpretation. Only Novach himself
and others called the city Novach, but his children did not, out of respect
for their father. This is similar to Yoreh Deah 240:2: If someone’s name is
the same as his parent’s, he may not call that person by name, but must alter
R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) derives a moral lesson from Novach’s
unfulfilled intention to immortalize himself:
“Does this perhaps express a slight reprehension of such procedure to found a
memorial in bricks and stone to immortalize oneself, an earthly
immortalization which the true Jew should seek and find solely through the
great deeds of spiritual and moral faithfulness to duty and through the whole
content of noble life?”
Quite a lot to learn from one dot!
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parshat Mas'ei, and thus the book of Bamidbar, ends with a renewed
discussion regarding the five daughters of Tzelafchad. This addendum to
Moshe's original question about how to deal with the request of these
stalwart women for their rightful inheritance in the Land of Israel is the
closing scene of the trials and travails of the Jewish people in the
desert. Only then does the Torah conclude the Book with: "These are the
commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded by the hand of
Contrast this with the end of the previous parsha, Matot, where
inheritance is also a subject of concern. There, the tribes of Reuven and
Gad are berated by Moshe for not moving in to Israel. The tribes protest:
they do not wish to abandon their people. They are simply happy in the
lush pastureland on the east bank of the Jordan. (Eventually, ½ the tribe
of Menashe settles ther as well.) They are, however, ready and willing to
lead the battle for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.
These two episodes represent the dynamic tension that exists within so
many of us. We want to have a portion of the Land of Israel; but we are
also very comfortable outside the Land. We have the things we want in life
which have become the things we need in life. We are prepared to support
Israel and send our children to learn there, but we continue to build
ourselves homes and businesses that create more ties to the Diaspora.
The Torah alludes to a way of resolving this tension: "These are the
commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded by the hand of
Moshe …" It is very difficult to convince yourself to give up a good-life
style. You can only do it out of a belief in God's commandment to Moshe
that all Jews should live and flourish in the Land of Israel.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254