In Parshat Matot, Bnei Yisrael go to battle against Midian, seeking vengeance for the 24,000 Jewish lives that perished due to the Midianites. Although Bnei Yisrael came away with a whopping defeat, we find (31:14-16) that Moshe Rabbeinu became angry at the commanders for allowing the women to live, since they were known to have participated in the scheme that brought the demise of Bnei Yisrael.
But how were they supposed to know to kill the women as well? We seemingly don’t find that they were commanded to do so! The Sefer Chassidim (153) explains that for people of their understanding it should’ve been quite obvious, for if regarding the Cana’anim, it was told “don’t allow anyone to live,” lest they come to influence Bnei Yisrael to sin, then for sure they shouldn’t have let the Midianite women — who actually hands-on caused Bnei Yisrael to sin — to live.
Indeed, some things don’t need to be directly said or explained. While many things may need to be told, some things can be understood even if untold. And for that which we can grasp with our own intuition and ability, we may have a responsibility to act accordingly.
In Parshat Masei, Moshe delivers a command from Hashem regarding the daughters of Tzlafchad: “Let them be wives to whomever is good in their eyes, but only to the family of their father’s tribe shall they become wives,” (36:6). Seemingly, this pasuk carries an inherent contradiction: The first part sounds like they have the freedom to choose from whomever they want — implying from any tribe, while the second part implies that they must only marry members within their father’s tribe! The Gemara (Bava Batra, 120a) explains that the second part isn’t meant to be taken as a commandment, but as an “eitzah tova” (good advice), meaning, although they can marry whomever they wish — nevertheless, it’s recommended to “marry within the tribe,” which means to say that they should marry men who are befitting them.
Rav Shimon Schwab (Ma’ayan Beis Hasho’eyva, Ma’asei), however, persists and asks that if this piece of advice isn’t a command, then why a few pesukim later (verse 10) does it say: “As Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tzlafchad do?” and then, the next pasuk says they married within their father’s tribe. It sounds from here that the concept of them marrying within their father’s tribe wasn’t just “good advice,” but was a command!
Rav Schwab explains (according to my understanding) that while Torah consists of many explicit mitzvot, “the Torah” also carries an inner dimension known as the “spirit of the Torah,” which also encompasses the non-explicit and carries a moral direction. For example, one may find loopholes and ways out of doing mitzvot, however, this may be inconsistent with the underlying intention of the Torah, and the overall Will of God. Hence, within those undefined areas, there is the Will of God, and thus, we are to live with the spirit and the underlying intention of the Torah — to probe what the Torah wants from us and to follow through with it, even though the Torah may not be directly speaking to us in certain situations.
This is the idea of “eitzah” (advice) — that even though something may not be directly commanded, it’s still very wise to take the proper and moral course of action — since that’s what God wants. In fact, in a number of places we find that the Torah itself is characterized as “eitzah” showing that even when the Torah doesn’t explicitly say, there’s still a “Torah way.” Thus, instead of perceiving the “eitzah” within those non-explicit areas as a free space or extra credit, one can instead come to view it as if it’s a “command” from God, since that is essentially what God truly wants. Therefore, Rav Schwab says that the Torah considers the “good advice” given to the daughters of Tzelafchad as a “command” of sorts, for in their eyes, “sound advice” was treated like a command.
While much of our ideals and morals are straightforward and explicit in the Torah, many things might land in “gray areas” — unclear and unspoken. One might think that these “gray matters” don’t matter, but in truth, they may carry much responsibility. Living properly and morally “between the lines” of the Torah’s outspoken dictates is far from just the icing on the cake. For example, Ramban says that if not for the pasuk of “You shall be holy,” a person could literally keep all of the Torah, and yet — at the same time — be considered a “repugnant individual.”
Furthermore, the Torah states (Devarim, 6:18), “You shall do what is ‘yashar’ (straight) and good in the eyes of Hashem,” thus showing, perhaps, how a person is to execute his sense of “yashrut” — moral judgment — in the areas which are not explicitly determined by the Torah (see Ramban there). For if a person doesn’t align his moral sense of judgment and actions with the spirit of the Torah and the underlying Will of God, one might technically be an “observant Jew,” but yet still be a degenerate person — for there are many things that might not be outright in the Torah, but are still moral and proper to abide by. Indeed, some things can be understood even if untold.
As we are in the “Three Weeks,” and as we embark on the new month of Av, the destruction of our Batei Mikdash may become more at the forefront of our minds. The Gemara (Taanit 29a) says, “that day (when the spies returned) was erev Tisha b’Av. Hashem said, “You cried in vain; I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for generations.” While it’s perhaps true that we see from here that it was the sin of the spies that contributed to the future destructions of our Batei Mikdash, Rav Gavriel Friedman suggested that if you go a bit earlier to the root of it, we will find that the mistake of the spies began before relating the negative report and the weeping. Essentially, the mistake began with the fact that although they were technically allowed to send spies; nevertheless, it was not the proper thing to do.
It can thus merge that the destruction of the Batei Mikdash may have started with this idea — not living with the spirit of the Torah and with the ultimate Will of God in the non-explicit areas of life. In fact, incredibly, the Gemara (Bava Metzia, 30b with the commentary of “Toras Chaim” there) says that Yerushalayim was destroyed because the judges of the courts followed the Torah laws and they never went beyond the letter of the law (since the litigants themselves refused to go beyond the letter of the law).
We can ask, but they “followed the Torah laws” — they kept by the Torah! So what did they do so wrong? Yet, based on the above, perhaps following the Torah laws but not going beyond the letter of law, means that although they “lived by the book,” they nevertheless failed to live with the “spirit of the book!” Torah is our guide to all aspects of life even when not directly indicated, and one who lives without this spirit — like Ramban says — can become a highly degraded person.
The same way it, perhaps, led to destruction, we can maybe suggest that by living with “yashrut” and with the spirit of the Torah; it will lead to construction, and be a merit for us to see the final Redemption and the rebuilding of the third Beit Hamikdash, speedily in our days.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at: [email protected]