Who is a Tribe?
What is the criterion for being considered one of the Twelve Tribes?
This issue is relevant to the main topic of the first perek of our mesechta. If the Sanhedrin misled the nation with an erroneous ruling, and a majority of the nation subsequently transgressed, it is incumbent on the court to offer a bullock as an atonement sacrifice. A majority may consist of a majority of the people even if they all belong to only one tribe, or of a majority of the Twelve Tribes even if their total population is less than the majority of the entire nation.
The main focus of this issue is whether the Tribe of Levi is considered as one of the Twelve Tribes despite the fact that it has no portion in Eretz Yisrael, and whether the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim are considered as two separate tribes.
When Yaakov told his son Yosef that his sons "Ephraim and Menashe will be for me like Reuven and Shimon" (Bereishet 48:5), it is understood by the Sage Abaye that he was granting tribe status to both of these two grandchildren in all matters. They would therefore replace their father Yosef and Levi in the calculation of the Twelve Tribes. According to this approach the tribe of Levi would not be considered a tribe. The rationale for this was supplied by Rabbi Acha Bar Yacov who cited an earlier passage (ibid. 48:4) which links tribe status to a share in Eretz Yisrael.
This position is challenged by the Sage Rava who cites a later passage (ibid. 48:6) which limits the tribe status of Menashe and Ephraim to inheritance of separate portions in Eretz Yisrael. Although this approach rules out counting these two as separate tribes for calculating the above-mentioned majority and reinstates the tribe of Levi for this purpose, we do find a couple of places where they were related to as two tribes. In the camping and marching order of the tribes in the wilderness (Bamidbar 2:18-20) they appear as separate tribes. The explanation offered by Rava for this was that it was done in order to honor the order which Yaakov had dictated for the bearing of his coffin by ten of his sons and two grandsons. (See Rashi in Bereishet 50:13 why Levi and Yosef were excluded.)
The other place was the offerings brought by the heads of the tribes for the inauguration of the Mishkan (Bamidbar 7:48, 54). Here too, this is not considered evidence of their status as separate tribes but rather an honor accorded to the heads of the tribes who voluntarily came forward with this generous initiative.
A Question of Motive
"One should always study Torah and perform mitzvot even if his intention is not for the sake of the mitzvah itself because this will eventually result in the mitzvah being performed for the right purpose."
This statement by Rabbi Yehuda in the name of the Sage Rav is supported by what happened when the Moabite King Balak invited the evil prophet Bilam to curse the Israelites in the wilderness whom he feared as a threat to his nations security. At Bilams request Balak erected three altars upon which he offered 42 sacrifices to gain heavenly support for his curse (Bamidbar 23:1-30). Even though Balaks motivation was a selfish one he was rewarded with a great-great-granddaughter by the name of Ruth, the saintly convert from whom the kings David and Shlomo were descended.
Maharsha raises a problem with the proof brought from Balak. Tosefot (Nazir 23b) distinguishes between two categories of a mitzvah performed with an improper motive. Where the motive is self-aggrandizement such as gaining honor it still contains the positive element mentioned in our opening statement. However, if the purpose of the Torah study or the mitzvah is to make trouble for others, the person performing it, say our Sages (Berachot 17a), would have been better off not being born. Since Balak offered these sacrifices in order to harm the Israelites, asks Maharsha, why is this considered an example of the positive performance which can eventually lead to the mitzvah being performed for the right reason?
The resolution he offers is that Balaks action must be viewed as self-defense against what he considered a serious threat to his nation. This then comes under the category of self-aggrandizement and not spiteful harm. Even though the sacrifices he offered were not motivated by a genuine desire to serve G-d, his action was rewarded with his descendant Ruth establishing a family including David and Shlomo, who offered many sacrifices with the proper intention.
An interesting lesson arises from this gemara. The concept of a mitzvah performed with a selfish motive does not necessarily lead to the performer eventually performing with the proper motive, as we have no record of Balak himself reaching such a level. It can, however, plant the seed for future generations as we see this effect in the lives of Ruth, David and Shlomo.
Read My Face
In this selection, which is the final one for the entire Order of Nezikim, we encounter some important advice for those who wish to properly learn gemara. In the counsel which Rabbi Mesharshia gave to his sons he urged them to carefully study the mishna before they enter the gemara shiur of their teacher so that they will have the informational background necessary for understanding the analysis in depth. He also pointed out the need for looking upon the face of their teacher, quoting the passage "Your eyes shall see your teacher" (Yeshayahu 30:20).
Why is it so important to see the teachers face in addition to hearing his words?
Maharsha, a master teacher for generations of students of gemara and the early commentaries, offers us an answer which is a vital lesson in pedagogy.
Words can sometimes be understood in more than one way. The proper way to understand the real meaning of the teachers words can often be discerned by watching his facial expressions. For this reason we find (Horayot 13b) that the young sons of a Torah scholar who has been appointed the spiritual leader of his community are seated directly before their father when he is lecturing even though their backs are to the rest of the audience. Since these youngsters are already capable of understanding the lecture it is important for them to be able to see the face of their father.
This "Weekly DAFootnote" column of "Ohrnet" is intended as an appetizer to real gemara learning and not as a substitute for hearing a regular shiur in which one has the opportunity of seeing the face of his teacher and fully understanding his words.