Masei: Inheriting the Watered Garden ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas מַסְעֵי

Inheriting the Watered Garden

נַחַלָה: inheritance

נְחִיל: swarm of bees

נְּחִילוֹת: musical instrument

נַחַל: stream

וְהִתְנַחַלְתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ בְּגוֹרָל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם
And you will inherit the land with a lottery according to your families.

נַחַלָה: Inheritance

Hashem promised us Eretz Yisrael as our inheritance, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” If Hashem has promised us an inheritance, it must be something of value. Only a land that is fertile can fulfill this requirement. A land where water can reach the fields through a network of נַחַלוֹת/streams is worthy of being a נַחַלָה/an inheritance. This idea is hinted to in the pasuk in Devarim:  “that Hashem is bringing us to a good land,” where it then proceeds to list over twelve factors that relate to the goodness of the land. Since נַחַלֵי מַיִם/watered streams are listed first, it must be because they are of primary importance.

So the difference between an inheritance that is called a יְרוּשָׁה and an inheritance that is called a נַחַלָה is that a יְרוּשָׁה inheritance could be anything, even something not so desirable, like a broken-down car, whereas a נַחַלָה specifically refers to something good and desirable.

הִנֵּה נַחֲלַת ה’ בָּנִים. Sons are referred to as a נַחַלָה/an inheritance, because not only do they inherit us, but they also flow from us. We are also Hashem’s  בָּנִים and we are also Hashem’s נַחַלָה, and, like a נַחַל, we are an outflowing of Him. When are we worthy to be called Hashem’s נַחַלָה? When we do His will and learn His Torah, then we have a חֵלֶק/portion in His Torah. Hashem created us to spread His light in the world, His Torah, His holy words. If we fulfill our mission of immersing ourselves in Hashem’s Torah, then the land flourishes, the heavens give their rain, and the land produces. If we don’t succeed in our mission, then, as we say in the Shema, the heavens will close up, the rains will stop, and the land will not produce.

So we are Hashem’s נַחַלָה. In the same way a נַחַל gives life to the land, so too we give life to the land. This is what is meant in Parshas בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ where it says that when we follow Hashem’s חוּקִים/statutes, so too nature follows Hashem’s חוּקִים.

And this is the reason why particularly on חַג הַשָׁבוּעוֹת (also known as חַג הַבִּיכּוּרִים) the land is judged for its fruits, because since we are also judged for our Torah, and since the land’s ability to produce is inextricably connected to the strength of our Torah learning, it therefore follows that it is also a time of judgment for the fruits. We see this idea clearly reflected in what Chazal tell us regarding what happened when the Torah was given on Har Sinai — that the mountain sprung forth נַחַלֵי מַיִם/springs of water and became lush with flowers and vegetation. This is one of the many reasons why we have the tradition to decorate our shuls with flowers on Shavuos — because it commemorates this very idea that the land’s capability to produce is directly proportionate to our learning and following in Hashem’s Torah. 

The Watered Garden

Har Sinai is also known as הַר חֹרֶב/Mount Chorev, where חֶרֶב means “destruction” since it was a very dry and barren place, being a three-day distance from the well-irrigated land of the Nile.

Har Sinai also comes from the lashon of סְנֶה, which means “dry thorns,” where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the form of a burning bush that was at the foot of Mount Sinai. In Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer it says that Hashem came down from Heaven and rested in the סְנֶה, in a dry thorny place, to show empathy for the Jewish People who were suffering in Mitzrayim.

The Ibn Ezra explains that the רָצוֹן/desire of Hashem, as symbolized by His residing in the dry thorny place of the סְנֶה, is for us to bring moisture to the land until it becomes fertile like a well-watered garden.

Fast-forward to the time when we, all the Jewish People, were gathered around the mountain to receive the Torah and the place was no longer barren, the desert came alive, and the mountain was full in bloom.

Hashem wants us to be His partners in the world, and when we do His will, the world reciprocates and blossoms just like Har Sinai. When we are far from Hashem, though, when we are slaves to our own Mitzrayim, then the land is barren. His will is represented by the Torah, and the Torah is compared to מַיִם, and this is what makes the land moist and fertile.

When the Jewish People were living in Eretz Yisrael before being exiled by the Romans, the land was fruitful, but after we were exiled, the land returned to desert. Since our return in this century, and especially our return to Yiddishkeit, the land is once again in blossom.

Adam was given the task to guard and work the Garden of Eden. He didn’t need to physically work the garden and toil the earth (that was his punishment); all he had to do was to keep the Torah and the garden would flourish.

נְחִיל: Swarm of bees

A swarm of bees can occur when a new queen is born and she and her worker bees set off on a mission to find a new home. During the swarm, the queen bee is at the center. So too Hashem wants us to crown Him King, place Him at the center of our lives, and find Him a home where he can reside among us, as it says וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם/and I shall dwell within you.”

נְּחִילוֹת: Musical Instrument

לַמְנַצֵּחַ אֶל הַנְּחִילוֹת. The נְחִילוֹת is a musical instrument, so called because of its similarity to the sound of humming bees.

נַחַל: Stream

כָּל הַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים אֶל הַיָּם/all the rivers flow to the sea. There is something called the flow of life, like a river flowing to the sea, where, if not for the force of gravity, we would all be floating around.

There is a concept in the secular world of “going with the flow,” to do whatever feels good, not to go against the current, to resist nothing. 

There are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The downward force of gravity affects both water and earth, whereas air and fire go upward. Our bodies are made up of dust and water, so naturally we sometimes feel heavy and tired, feeling the need to just lie down. On the other hand, our neshamah is compared to both a flame and ruach. If not for the body, the neshamah would just jump upward and fly away.

The spiritual way of life is the one that is connected to this upward force that lifts us out of the heaviness of this world. It is a connection to the neshamah that is constantly fighting the constraints of the body and the force flowing to the sea.

Like salmon that strive upstream to mate in the very same waters where they were born, so too the neshamah is striving to reconnect to its source. 

So as we go on our journey through life we have to ask ourselves: in which direction are we heading — upstream or downstream?

מַסְעֵי – Life is a Journey

In the parshah, Hashem lists all the encampments that the Bnei Yisrael traveled along on their journey from Mitzrayim through the wilderness until their entry into the Promised Land.

Why do we need to know all these names? Rashi answers by quoting the Midrash that says it is like a king whose son has taken ill. The king takes him on a long journey to reach a specialist doctor who has the cure. On the way back home, they follow the same route, staying in the same places, the King relating to the child: “This is where we slept, and this is where you had a fever, etc.”  

The commentaries say that each place’s name was significant in describing what happened there.

The first time the root נסע/journey appears in the Torah is in Parshas Noach in connection with the דוֹר הַפְלָגָה/the generation that was dispersed, where it says that they journeyed to the valley of Shinar. The next time it appears is in Parshas Lech Lecha in connection to Avraham and his journey from Charan to Eretz Yisrael. There, Rashi says that each of Avraham’s journeys brought him in the direction of the south, toward Har HaMoriah, the center of the world.

These two journeys were very different in their essences. The journey to the valley of Shinar was a descent, not only physically but spiritually, because they were rebelling against Hashem. Avraham’s journey was an ascent to the highest point of the world, with each step of the way a spiritual elevation to find the Makom, to find Hashem.

So too the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael were a series of ups and downs. They began in Egypt, the lowest spiritual place in the world, and ascended forty-nine levels to Har Sinai, and then continued on to Eretz Yisrael, the highest point in the world both physically and spiritually. However, they fell many times along the way. The Gemara in Sanhedrin says that a tzaddik falls seven times and gets up. The lesson we learn from all this is that we should expect to fall — life is not meant to be plain sailing. However, when we fall, we need to get up and continue onward and upward.

Life is a journey with many stops on the way, where there are snakes and ladders going down or up. Hopefully, when we look back on all the stopping points of our lives, overall we will be looking down and not up.

Living in the land of Eretz Yisrael demands from us a high standard of living.

To truly inherit the land and be a נַחַלַת ה’, we are compelled to play the part of being בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’/children of Hashem. If not, the land, instead of being וְהִתְנַחַלְתֶּם, will becomeוְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם , where the land will divorce us. B’ezras Hashem we will have the continued zechus to live in the land and effect the נַחַלֵי מַיִם/the flowing streams with the waters of our Torah learning, to achieve their purpose of moistening the land into a well-watered garden, where we behave like נְּחִילֵי דְבָרִים/Hashem’s bees, making Him King and placing Him at the center of our lives and giving praise to the one who conducts the נְּחִילוֹת.

1 Bamidbar 33:54.

2 Devarim 8:7.

3 Tehillim 127:3.

4 Rosh Hashanah 16a.

5 See Shoftim 5:5; Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26; Abarbanel to Shemos 17:1.

6 Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 40.

7 Ibn Ezra on Shemos 3:2, quoting Devarim 33:16, ורצון שוכני סנה שמים.

8 Tehillim 5:1.

9 Radak on Tehillim ibid.

10 Koheles 1:7.

11 See Rashi to Bamidbar 35:52.

Masei: The Twin Cities of Zion and Jerusalem ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

Twin Cities: Zion and Jerusalem

Many of us never stopped to think about the names Zion and Jerusalem. We may have always assumed that the two terms are synonymous, and even interchangeable. However, if one closely examines the Scriptures and other traditional works, one will realize that Zion and Jerusalem do not necessarily refer to the exact same place. In fact, the customary formula recited in consoling mourners already implies such: “May the Omnipresent console you amongst the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Zion and Jerusalem; two different places.

When inaugurating the newly-built Holy Temple, the Bible tells, “King Solomon gathered the Elders of the Jewish people and leaders of the tribes in Jerusalem in order to bring up the Ark from the City of David—which is Zion” (I Kgs. 8:1, II Chron. 5:2). The wording of this passage clearly demonstrates that Jerusalem and Zion are indeed two different places. This proof-text is adduced by R. Ashtori HaParchi (1280–1366), R. David Ibn Zimra (1479–1589), and R. Elazar Azkiri (1533–1600). Indeed, Rashi (to Sotah 5a and Yoma 77b) writes quite emphatically that Zion is outside of Jerusalem.

Zion is sometimes known in the Bible as the “City of David” (Ir David) or “Fortress of David” (Metzudat David). That city had its own wall (see Rashi to II Sam. 8:7); however, later on, the outer walls of Jerusalem were expanded to include Zion as well. This may have happened in the late First Temple period, or in the beginning of the Second Temple period. Because Zion was only added to the Holy City later, it may not have had the same halachic status as the rest of Jerusalem regarding the permission to eat certain sacrifices and tithes. For this reason, the inner walls known as chomat beit pagi separated Jerusalem proper from Zion, even in the late Second Temple period by which time the two cities had already merged. That wall served to demarcate the area inside greater Jerusalem within which one may or may not eat from the ritual sacrifices.

R. Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna (1720–1797), also known as the Vilna Gaon, writes (in his commentary to Isa. 1:9) that the population demographics of Zion differed from that of Jerusalem: the noblemen lived in Zion, while ordinary people lived in Jerusalem.

We all know where Jerusalem is on a map, but where is Zion?

Psalms 48 speaks about the City of Our G-d in the most superlative terms. In that context, the Pslamist mentions that Mount Zion is the most beautiful of all places, is the happiest place on Earth, and is tucked away in the north (Ps. 48:3). Ibn Ezra and Radak explain that this means that Mount Zion is in the northern part of Jerusalem. Rashi, on the other hand, cites Dunash ibn Labrat (925–990) as explaining that Mount Zion is another name for Mount of Olives (Har HaZeitim).

However, none of these sources are in consonance with the location of what we call nowadays “Mount Zion”, which is southwest of the Old City. This point is actually made by the Sages, as Midrash Socher Tov asks: “Is Mount Zion really in the north of Jerusalem? Is it not actully in the south of Jerusalem?” Rather, explains the Midrash, “north” in this context does not refer to the physical direction were Mount Zion stood vis-à-vis Jerusalem. Rather, it refers to the intense elation one can experience at Zion/Jerusalem when one slaughters a sin-offering north of the altar (as required by Lev. 1:11). For this reason, Mount Zion is described as being in the north.

The thirteenth century exegete R. Yosef Tuv-Elem (Bonfils), in his super-commentary Tzafnat Paneach (to Lev. 1:11), also discusses this. He cites Ibn Ezra’s assertion concerning the location of Mt. Zion and disagrees with it. Instead, he asserts that Mt. Zion is not north of Jerusalem, but south of Jerusalem. To this effect, he cites the abovementioned Midrash Socher Tov, which clearly positions Mt. Zion to the south of Jerusalem. R. Tuv-Elem writes that this Midrashic source is more believable than Ibn Ezra’s assertion because its author, R. Yochanan, actually lived in the Holy Land (although he admits that Ibn Ezra also visited Jerusalem, he assumes that Ibn Ezra did so only after he already mistakenly wrote that Mt. Zion is north of Jerusalem). R. Tuv-Elem further notes that he himself lived in Jerusalem, and saw that Mt. Zion is south of Old Jerusalem.

Some soruces suggest that Tziyon is sometimes used as a synonym for Jerusalem (see Jer. 31:5 and Ps. 132:14). Actually, a more accurate term might be synecdoche—which is when a literary device, whereby a term that really refers to part of something is used to refer to the entire thing. Indeed, in our daily prayers, we beseech G-d that He may restore the Holy Temple by saying, “May our eyes see Your return to Zion with mercy”. In this case, we refer to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem by mentioning Zion instead of Jerusalem. Similarly, in the Mussaf prayer on Rosh Chodesh, we request of G-d: “You shall prepare a new altar in Zion”, again referring to the site of the Temple as Zion, instead of Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, the Zohar (Idra Zuta, 296b) states that Zion and Jerusalem are two spiritual levels, as one refers to the aspect of mercy and one, to the aspect of justice. This suggests that both terms refers to the same physical location.

R. Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (1871–1955) too disagrees with some of what we have written. He understands that Zion in the Bible does not always refer to a separate city adjoining Jerusalem, but rather refers to a neighborhood within Jerusalem itself.

91666_tumb_750Xauto.jpgR. Tukachinsky further notes that sometimes the word tziyon appears in the Bible as a synonym for the Holy Temple (e.g., Joel 4:18 and Ps. 2:6) or, as a general term for the Jewish people (such as Isa. 51:3). In those cases, the word tzion is not a proper name for a Jerusalemite neighborhood, but is a common noun which means “outstanding” (derived from the word tziyun). In this vein, R. Tukachinsky explains that sometimes Mount Zion actually refers to Mount Moriah, where the Temple stood.

R. Ashtori HaParchi—a prominent rabbinic topographer—actually concedes this point by admitting that sometimes the phrase “mountains of Zion” or “mountain of Zion” does not refer to Mt. Zion, per se, but to the mountains in that general vicinity, which includes Mt. Zion, Mt. Moriah, and Mt. of Olives. Accordingly, R. HaParchi maintains that when Zion appears in conjucuntion with the Temple, it refers to the general area of Mt. Zion which can also include the Temple Mount.

Somebody once asked the anti-Zionist rabbinic figure, R. Yosef Rozin (1858–1936), better known as the Rogatchover Gaon, for his opinion about Zionism. Instead of directly answering the question, R. Rozin playfully replied by explaining that Zion is an area outside of Jerusalem proper where gentile heretics historically gathered. The Mishnah (Shekalim 8:1) rules that spittle found in the Upper Marketplace of Jerusalem should be assumed to originate from a non-Jew, and the Rogatchover Gaon explains that this refers to the area known as Zion. By highlighting the historical fact that Zion in Mishnaic times was essentially a slum, the Rogatchover Gaon registered his disapproval with secular Zionists, whom he deemed akin to said historical heretics.

“A Song of Ascent for David: How good and how pleasant it is—the dwelling of brothers together” (Ps. 133:1). Targum (there) explains that this refers specifically to the unity between the twin cities Zion and Jerusalem. In fact, the spelling of Jerusalem in the Bible and the Aramaic name of the Holy City, Yerushalem/Yerushaleim are written in the singular form, as though the city is made up of one singular component (the English name Jerusalem is derived from this form of the name). However, the way we traditionally pronounce the city’s name in Hebrew—Yerushalayim—is in the double form, as if to allude to the fact that Jerusalem is actually made up of two cities joined together. Just as the Hungarian cities Buda and Pest united to become one city—Budapest—so do Zion and Jerusalem unite to become one Unified Jerusalem.

Much of the information for this article was culled from Har HaKodesh by the late R. Moshe Nachum Shapiro, and Ir HaKodesh VeHaMikdash R. Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky.

Massei: Round and Round it Goes ~ Yehoshua Steinberg


This shall be for you the northern border: from the Great Sea תְּתָאוּ to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor תְּתָאוּ to the approach to Hamath … וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם  for you as the eastern border (Num.34: 7-10)

Most of the Scriptural commentators (e.g., Rashbam) interpret the words וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם and תְּתָאוּ as expressions of a border/boundary, with Rashbam defining תְּתָאוּ as תַּתְּחִימוּ, you shall make a boundary. The verse would then read as follows: from the Great Sea draw a border to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor draw a border to the approach to Hamath … You shall make a boundary for yourselves as the eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shefam. Others (e.g., Ibn Ezra), however, see its root as תו, with the letter א’ superfluous — in the sense of, וְהִתְוִיתָ תָּיו,  and mark a sign (Ezek. 9:4). That is, it refers to the drawing of the line that marks the border, rather than the defining of the border itself.  While Radak, in his comments to Psalms 78:41, also references the Ezekiel verse, in his Book of Roots he offers three different possibilities for the root — אוה, תאה, or תאה — without making a definitive choice.

Similarly, in the verse, The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents to the תַּאֲוַת of the world’s hills (Gen. 49:26), Rashi (citing Menachem ben Saruk) defines the term תַּאֲוַת as end/boundary, and links it to the two words in this portion, וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם and תְּתָאוּ (Rashbam and Radak define it similarly). That is, the blessings will be so great that they will reach until the end boundaries of the world.

Yet despite the fact that Rashi there links וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם and תְּתָאוּ to the term boundary, in his commentary to verse 7 here, he interprets  תְּתָאוּ לָכֶם הֹר הָהָרּ as, “you shall incline, veering from west to north in the direction of Mount Hor.” Likewise, in verse 10, he defines וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם as “an expression of turning and veering.” The question beckons: why was Rashi  not satisfied  with the plain interpretation of a boundary or border  cited by all the aforementioned commentators, and seems to link it to inclining/turning/veering?

However, we find support for Rashi’s interpretation in Onkelos, who translates both תְּתָאוּ and וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם as תְּכַוְנוּן, which means turn/change direction towards. Perhaps Onkelos  felt that the unique terms תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם are intended to connote the distinct twists and turns that highlight the design of Israel’s borders, as necessitated by the local topography. It is for this reason that Rashi specifies the precise characteristics of the northern boundary, which necessitates a bending border that twists and inclines as it follows the nature of the terrain, noting that Mount Hor, in the northwestern corner of the land, extends outwards into the sea, so that the sea runs on both sides of the mountain. In this manner, Onkelos and Rashi teach us about the distinctiveness of these boundaries, in contrast to the straight-line border that would have been implied had Scripture stated here וְהִתְוִיתָ תָּיו, and mark a sign (as it does in Ezekiel 9:4), or similar expressions that denote a plain, straight boundary.

However, Rashi also offers additional support for his proposed interpretation by suggesting that the verbs תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶםare derived from the noun תָּא. Defined variably as a  cabin, chamber, or cellRashi argues that its meaning in the verse, and then return them to the  תָּא of the runners (II Chron. 12:11), and in the verse, the  תָאֵי of the eastern gate (Ezek 40:10), is a lean-to (appendiz  in Old French), “which is a circular  and slanty” attachment to a building. This, he explains, is why the verb תְּתָאוּ means turn.

In his commentary to Ezekiel, Rabbeinu Chananel (who preceded Rashi  by approximately 50 years) preceded him in linking bothוְתָאֵי  andתָּא  to the verb תתאו )more recently, Metz. Tzion  ]to the Ezek. Verse[ also links these verbs to the noun תָּא, but based on its being located on the outside boundary of the building(. However, it is only Rashi who specifies the slanty/circular  nature of the lean-to as the basis of the respective verbs’ meanings. We must therefore understand: How is this small cabin related to the borders of Israel, and what does Rashi seek to teach us by his effort to link these two concepts?

The Sanctuary (הֵיכָל) and Inner Sanctum (דְּבִיר) of the Temple were lined with rooms/compartments  that served various different purposes (these תָּאִים are also referred to variously in Scripture and the Talmud by the synonyms ‘צלע’ and ‘יציע’ [see B.B. 61a]). The nature of their configuration is described in I Kings (6:5-6):Against the wall of the Temple he built an annex  (יָצִיעַ) all around, [built into] the walls of the Temple all around the Sanctuary and the Inner Sanctum. The lowest [story] of the annex, its width [was] five cubits; the middle [story], six cubits its width, and the third [story], seven cubits its width; for he had provided recesses around the outside of the wall of the Temple, in order not to penetrate the walls of the Temple.

Thus, the compartments  surrounded the Sanctuary walls on three sides, and were built on top of each other in three stories. However, rather than anchoring the beams of the annex’s upper stories to the walls by attaching pegs through holes in the walls (which would be deemed an inappropriate and non-esthetic damaging of the walls – Rashi), the wall was indented by one cubit at different levels, so as to form ledges upon which the beams could be placed – with the top story inserted two cubits into the wall, and the middle story inserted one cubit. Furthermore, as stated in Ezekiel (41:6-7), one ascended from the ground level compartments to the second and third level compartments above them via spiral staircases, in which one ascended the steps while circling a central post, as Rashi explains there.

Thus, since the highest level only extended outwards four cubits from the outer Sanctuary wall, the second level extended outwards five cubits, and the bottom level extended outwards six cubits, the three-level design of the compartments was at an incline as one descended from above. Hence, the compartment design contained both this incline, as well as the need to turn and encircle as one ascended the staircase. Thus did these compartments parallel the design of the borders of Israel, with sharp turns at several locations, and with the indent at Mount Hor that made the sea surround like a peninsula, as described in the aforementioned Rashi.

Let us now return to our earlier discussion of the unique terms Scripture uses to describe the borders of Israel. However, we have yet to mention an important introductory remark by Rashi  in verse 2 above regarding the significance of these borders. Rashi  notes: “Since there are many commandments that only apply within the Land [of Israel], but do not apply outside the Land, it is necessary to write the precise design of its outer boundaries, so as to tell us that [it is only] from these borders inward that these commandments apply.”

Now, this seems perplexing. Is it then necessary to provide a nation with a specific reason as to why it needs to define its national borders? Are the usual reasons that apply to every nation’s borders not sufficient reason to define such borders?

However, the answer is that Israel is indeed very different from all other lands, and the design of its borders cannot be compared to the standard border designations of all other lands. For every speck of sand that is contained within these borders is suffused with importance and holiness, as well as Halachic consequences. Scripture could have theoretically depicted a simple map that encompasses the entire land, and the picture might even have been clearer and more easily understood from certain perspectives. However, by repeating the phrase וְנָסַב הַגְבוּל, and the border shall go around, several times, as well as adding the unique verbsתְּתָאוּ  and וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם, the Torah wishes to impart to us that every minor turn of the boundary, every peninsula , every inlet, and every crack of this desirable land – is of inestimable significance.


Until this point, we have only mentioned the  commentaries which interpreted תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם as relating purely to borders. However, it is impossible to avoid comment on the “elephant in the room,” i.e., the seeming phonetic and contextual connection between the verbs תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶםand the word תַּאֲוָה, desire/want. Many have commented on the links between border  design and desire  that are alluded to by this similarity [see, for example, Midrash Zuta (Gen.  49:26); Midrash HaChafetz (Num. 34:10); Eleph HaMagen (ibid.); Tal Oros/Migdal David (Ps. 21:3); Tosaf. HaShalem (Gen. 3:6)]. Indeed, according to Radak (Sharashim, root ‘אוה’), both of these concepts are derived from the root ‘אוה’ (although he fails to explain the nature of their connection, and also proposes alternative roots, as above).

However, R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch (Num.  34:10) does offer an explanation as to how these terms are connected. He notes that in the verse, and you shall not desire (תִתְאַוֶּה)  your fellow’s house (Deut. 5:18), the word תִתְאַוֶּה denotes one’s aspiration to broaden the boundaries of his possessions, by adding a newly desired item to the framework of his wealth.  Similarly, in our verses, תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶםmeans to stretch and expand the marker that is used to designate precisely how far out the boundaries of our property – i.e., the borders of our land – extend, and what is contained within their framework. By contrast, for Rashi, the aim is always to establish first and foremost the plain meaning of the verse. Given therefore that this portion describes the national borders, the primary import of these verbs must be in the context of border designation, with any other potential meanings constituting homiletic understandings alone.


We noted earlier that Rashi  quotes Machberet Menachem  as a source for the link between the words תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶםin our verses, and the noun תַּאֲוַת in the verse, The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents to the תַּאֲוַת of the world’s hills (Gen. 49:26), with its meaning there being end/boundary. However, upon inspection of the source, while we indeed find this linkage under the root ‘תא’, he also provides a second subcategory in which he lists the word describing the compartments: תָאֵי, תָּאִים, and תָּאָיו in Ezek (40:10, 16, 36). This would appear to be Rashi’s  source for linking the two concepts of תְּתָאוּ/ וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶםand the noun תָּא (compartment/lean-to), since both these verbs and the noun תָּא are derived from the same root ‘תא’.

We also noted that Rashi  links the verbs in this portion with the noun תָּא based on two directional and design similarities between them, namely, incline and turning/circling. In the case of the borders, the edge of Mount Hor extends into the sea, so that it is partially surrounded by water, and the mountain also inclines into the water on its outer edge. Likewise, parts of the Sanctuary’s compartments extended into the Sanctuary walls, and there was an incline in their contours due to the lower levels extending further outward than those above them.  Additionally, the expanse of the Sanctuary and Inner Sanctum were surrounded on three sides by the system of compartments, just as Mount Hor was surrounded by seawater on a section of its boundaries. Finally, the inner design of the compartments was circular and inclined, on account of the spiral staircases. Rashi seemingly alluded to this aspect by defining the word תְּתָאוּ as an expression of circling/turning, and linking it to the lean-tos  mentioned in the verses in Ezekiel and II Chronicles, which he notes are circular  and inclined.

However, there appears to be an even deeper stratum to the comparison between the borders of Israel and the compartments. For we mentioned earlier Rashi’s  introductory note to the portion on boundaries, in which he emphasizes that the primary need for clearly defined borders in Israel was to delineate precisely where the commandments that are linked to the land apply, for each twist, turn and incline has actual Halachic consequences. Precisely the same holds true for the compartments of the Sanctuary. For we find in the Talmud that many laws regarding ritual contamination and the eating of sacrifices, tithes, and other sacred foods are delineated by certain boundaries. The outer walls of Jerusalem were themselves included in the boundaries of Jerusalem with respect to the eating of the Pesach offering , so that if one sat on the wall itself, it was deemed as if he was in Jerusalem proper (see Pesachim 7:1). Likewise, with respect to the prohibition banning a contaminated person from entering the sacred grounds of the Temple Courtyard, the depth of its outer walls are also considered part of the Courtyard under certain circumstances, and one is deemed to have violated this ban if he climbs onto the wall itself (see Maaser Sheni 3:8, and Rambam’s Commentary ad loc.). The same is true with respect to the Sanctuary compartments, since the Sanctuary wall is the marker that separates between the elevated sanctity of the Sanctuary itself, and the lesser sanctity in the Courtyard area outside its walls. A Kohen who enters the Sanctuary without having washed his hands and feet is liable to death, but that is not the case outside of the Sanctuary (see Keilim 1:8-9). Thus, if the walls of the Sanctuary are also deemed equivalent to the Sanctuary itself, there may be life or death consequences depending on where the wall begins and ends. Thus, the compartments, which are built over the thickness of the walls, are part and parcel of this delineation. So too if the Kohen ascends from a lower level compartment to one of the upper level compartments through the spiral staircases, it may be necessary for him to wash his hands and feet, since the upper chamber is built over the wall, whereas the lower one is not.

To summarize, the comparison between the descriptions of the national boundaries alluded to in the words תְּתָאוּ/וְהִתְאַוִּיתֶם, and the design details of the Temple compartments that are called תָּאִים, is an extraordinarily precise comparison, since each one has very serious Halachic consequences that are determined by its precise details.

Closing Prayer: May it be the will of the Holy One, blessed is He, that He convert our desire (תַּאֲוָה) to witness the Temple Service and the Levite Song on His holy Mount into a reality, and in so doing, He shall turn (יִסוֹב) our mourning into joy and celebration (מְסִיבָּה) speedily in our times, Amen.