By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
"And Yair Ben Menasheh went and captured their villages, and he called them Chavot Yair. And Novach went and captured Kenat and its suburbs, and he named it Novach, in his name." [Bamidbar 32:41-42]. Rashi notes, "'He called them Chavot Yair' – Since he did not have any children, he named the area in his own name, in memory. 'He named it Novach' – There is no dot in the 'heh' of the word 'lah' – it. I saw in the writings of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan that since this name did not continue to exist it is written in such a way that it could imply the word 'lo' – a negative."
What did the Torah want to teach us by writing the word "lah" in this way, implying an additional meaning of a negative? In addition, we might ask why the name "Chavot Yair" did continue to exist, as is written, "they are called Chavot Yair, to this day" [Shoftim 10:4].
A person's possessions are not his or her essence. And that is why the villages are called "Yair's villages" – that is, Yair owns some property. But they are not the same as Yair himself. When Novach tried to name the area after himself, he implied that both he and the property were one and the same. When a person and his property are identical, they will not exist for all eternity. This is what the sages taught us about the tribes of Gad and Reuven – since they loved their money it did not remain in their hands forever.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsh writes as follows: "Perhaps this is a harsh scolding of Novach. He wanted to make an eternal monument for himself out of buildings made of wood and stone. But that is not the proper path for a true Jew who wants to memorialize himself on the earth. The only way his name will be remembered for all generations is the great flights of the spirit, through moral dedication to Divine obligations, and through a noble life."
Two basic mitzvot can be considered the essence of man – the Torah and prayer. When a person starts out, "He desires the Torah of G-d" [Tehillim 1:2]. As time goes on and the person becomes dedicated to the Torah, it becomes his own possession: "And he will study his Torah day and night" [ibid]. Torah and the man become one and the same. Therefore, the sages wrote, "How silly other people are – they stand up before a Torah scroll, but they do not stand up for a great man."
The same is true for prayer, as is written by David: "And I am my prayer... [Tehillim 69:14].
With respect to the verse about Nevuchadnezer, "And he burnt down every great house with fire" [Melachim II 25:9], the Talmud quotes a dispute – "One says this is a place where Torah becomes great, and the other says it is a place where prayer becomes great." [Megillah 27a].
The Master of the World promised Avraham that "I will make you into a great nation" [Bereishit 12:2]. The sages explain that He said to him that he would be the father of the nation about which it is written, "For who is such a great nation who has G-d so close to it, like our G-d, whenever we call out to Him? And who is such a great nation which has such righteous laws and decrees, like this entire Torah?" [Devarim 4:7-8]. This is a promise that we will be a "great nation," and it is also a promise about a "great home," where both Torah and prayer will be enhanced. The synagogues and the Batei Midrash display the greatness of Bnei Yisrael. The sages teach us that when Nevuchadnezer burned "a great house," he was burning synagogues and Batei Midrash, which reveal the great characteristic of Yisrael.