Parshas Chukas

This week’s Sedra opens with the words “this is the statute of the Torah”. This statement is really meant to be a prelude to the Parsha of the Parah-Adumah (red calf). The Parah-Adumah was to be used in order to purify Klal-Yisroel after being contaminated by the corpse of a Jew. There is a lot of attention given to the fact that the Torah seems to single out this particular Mitzva as being the statute of the Torah to the exclusion of all other statutes.

Aside from the implications that “this” is the statute of the Torah it is a bit unclear what exactly is included as part of this statute and what are just related auxiliary laws. While traditionally this declaration is considered to be referring to the actual Parah-Adumah and its purification waters, at face value it would seem to be a form of introduction to the entire Parsha of Tumah and Taharah that is about to be discussed. The Torah doesn’t merely discuss what to do when someone has been contaminated but rather the Torah explains exactly what being contaminated entails. The Torah discusses how one contracts Tumah, its level of severity, what one must do while being Tamai, and finally the process of purification.

Although it does seem that the Torah is providing this passage of “this “ being the Chok (statute) of the Torah by way of introduction, it seems a bit problematical to attach a passage that seems so particular to such a general topic.

The Ohr-HaChaim Hakadosh seems to take the aforementioned approach. The Ohr –HaChaim says that this Passuk refers to the entire idea of contracting Tumah and the purification process thereof. The reason the Torah singles out this Chok as being the statute of the Torah, explains the Ohr-HaChaim, is that there is a great similarity between Torah and Tumah, and in fact this commonality is due to their close relationship with one another. The Ohr-HaChaim explains: Tumah and Taharah are ideas that are pertinent to Jews alone. To a gentile they have no relevance. A Jew’s only difference (a great one at that) from a gentile is the fact that he has the Torah. Am-Yisroel is different from the other nations because Am-Yisroel has a Torah that it keeps and the other nations don’t. Therefore the Ohr-HaChaim explains the correlation between Torah and Tumah with the following analogy: if one has two vessels that were emptied, one that contained honey and the other which had contained excrement. The one that had contained honey will attract far more flies then the other. Says the Ohr-HaChaim that so too is a Torah Jew. A Torah Jew since he was filled with better elements will attract more of the negative elements once those better elements have been separated from their host vessel (in this case the human body). Just like flies, the negative elements like to be able to feast on whatever traces of goodness and holiness that might be left behind.

While the Ohr-Hachaim’s approach is very nice and deep it doesn’t seem to answer our above raised technical questions. Perhaps we can reconcile our issues and still apply the Ohr-HaChaim Hakadosh.

True the Torah seems to be referring to something very particular when it says “this” is the Chok of the Torah, and true the whole of Tumah and Taharah seems to be not a narrow subject, but a rather broad one. Perhaps, however, the whole subject of Tumah and Taharah is not as broad a topic as it seems. When we now apply the Ohr-HaChaim’s approach, it would seem that Tumah is something that just happens to occur upon the emptying of a physical object of its spiritual and holy counterparts just like flies being attracted to some sort of good food. Strictly speaking, therefore, the Torah in essence does not need to tell us of the idea of Tumah. When the Torah does tell us the idea of Tumah it is only in the context of explaining to us how to rid ourselves from this contamination called Tumah. Hence the whole Parsha of Tumah and Taharah is all the same and it is here in its entirety only in the form of a prelude to the purification waters of the Parah-Adumah. Therefore, just as the Ohr-HaChaim Hakadosh had suggested, the reason that the Torah so explicitly says “this” is the statute of the Torah is in order to bring out the idea that Klal-Yisroel is susceptible to contracting Tumah contamination because Klal-Yisroel is special and has the Torah.

Am-Yisroel is special — we have the Torah – but along with this specialness comes the desire of lesser and negative elements wishing to have a connection to us. It is from these associations that we must keep ourselves. We must remain away from their reaches. For if the lesser elements aren’t willing to raise themselves then in essence their intent is to lower us, causing us to be no different from them. Were that to be the case, Klal-Yisroel would cease to be different and thus cease to exist. We must always lift ourselves up to be the Am-Hashem, and a Mamleches Kohanim for the other nations.

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At the end of this week’s Sedra we read of Klal-Yisroel’s battles with Sichon the Emorite King, and Og the King of Bashan. On the surface they appear as two similar conflicts. There is, however, one major difference between them.

Before the Emorite’s battle with Klal-Yisroel the Torah just tells us that they came out towards Klal-Yisroel and then they attacked Klal-Yisroel, and then Klal-Yisroel was victorious over them. In the case of Og and the people of Bashan, the difference is that before Bashan attacked, Hashem came to Moshe and told him not to fear for Hashem has placed Og as well in Klal-Yisroel’s hands, and that Hashem would do to them as He did to the Emori.

This leaves us with the obvious question: why should Klal-Yisroel have feared Bashan more than the Emori? If anything, just the opposite should be true: Wouldn’t Klal-Yisroel, having just witnessed how Hashem wiped out the Emori from before them, naturally expect the same outcome with Bashan?

Rashi explains (see accompanying Sifsei Chachamim) that the difference between Og, and Sichon was that Moshe feared that Og may have had great merit because he was the one who came and told Avrohom of Lot’s being captured. Therefore Hashem came to Moshe and told Moshe not to fear.

While we can understand this being a difference between Sichon and Og, the question still remains: Hashem made us victorious against the Emorite so as to enable us to enter and conquer Eretz-Yisroel. Why should there be any reason to doubt our success against Bashan?

The Chazon-Ish in his collection of letters explains many times that being Botaich BaHashem (trusting in G-d) doesn’t mean that we should believe no troubles will ever befall us. The Chazon-Ish explains that we must believe everything is from Hashem, and that if Hashem tells us to do something then we must – not necessarily because it will be easier, but because it’s what’s right.

In our scenario of the pending war against Bashan, although Moshe Rabeinu knew that it was Hashem who was leading us to it, he still had reason to fear from Og’s Zechuyos. Therefore Hashem comforted Moshe by telling him not to fear, because Hashem was going to make Klal-Yisroel successful.

Very often in life we are faced with difficult decisions. All too often the good and more honest alternatives may be the more arduous and difficult ones. Nonetheless they are the right decisions. We must realize that part of believing in Hashem is to do His Will because he so willed even though it may be difficult. Should we, however, chose to ignore Retzon Hashem, any apparent ‘gain’ derived is but an illusion arising from faulty logic.

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In this week’s Sedra we read of the passing of two of Klal-Yisroel’s all time greatest figures: Aharon HaCohen, and Miriam. Klal-Yisroel benefitted tremendously from both of these figures. Chazal tell us the spring of water from which Klal-Yisroel drank throughout their travels in the Midbar was in the merit of Miriam, and that the Ananaei HaKavod (Clouds of Glory) were in the zechus of (because of the merit of) Aharon. Both of these figures were larger than life; they were true leaders of Kal-Yisroel. While there are many comparisons that can be drawn between the two of them, we find a stark contrast between them in this week’s Sedra. When Miriam passes on the Torah just makes a brief mention that when Klal-Yisroel camped in Tzin Miriam passed on. The Torah does not announce the event with any fanfare but rather mentions her passing only incidentally. Whereas when Aharon is Niftar the Torah tells us that the entire Eida (Assembly) realized that Aharon had passed on and that the entire Am-Yisroel mourned him for a month. Why does Aharon’s passing appear as a monumental event whereas Miriam’s seems as much less so?

In describing Aharon’s petira (passing) the Passuk seems a bit redundant: “the entire assembly saw that Aharon was Niftar, and the entire Bais-Yisroel (house of Israel) wept for him for thirty days”. The Torah already told us the “entire assembly”. Why must it add the entire “Bais Yisroel”? Rashi, by way of answering this question explains that “Bais Yisroel” is referring to the fact that both the men and the women mourned Aharon because he made Shalom between people and helped to bring about Shalom Bayis between husband and wife.

Aharon HaCohen and Miriam Hanevia were both tremendous personalities, they were both tremendous Tzadikim, and they were both leaders of kal-Yisroel. Yet when they were Niftar it wasn’t their Tzidkus or their leadership that was missed. Aharon HaCohen was mourned deeply because he made peace between people; the people cried over him because he had won a special place in everyone’s heart. Aharon HaCohen was mourned because he helped and assisted others. In a way, he was seen as a very special friend to everyone.

Klal-Yisroel derived benefits bezchus Aharon and Miriam, but they weren’t mourning the sudden loss of these. Klal-Yisroel mourned Aharon because he was Rodef Shalom. It was what Aharon gave socially that had its greatest impact on Klal-Yisroel.

While it may be difficult for us to have the tzidkus of Aharon HaCohen or to have the Nevua of Miriam, we should all be Rodef Shalom. We should all seek to emulate Aharon in our interactions with others.

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In this week’s Sedra Klal-Yisroel once again complains to Moshe about not having anything to eat and drink. Hashem punishes Klal-Yisroel by sending ‘fiery serpents’ to bite them and kill them. Klal-Yisroel realizes that they sinned and beseech Moshe Rabeinu to daven to Hashem to stop the serpent (Nochosh).

Hashem commands Moshe Rabeinu to make a copper serpent and to place it on a high pole. Whoever had been bitten and now looked at the copper snake survived and was somehow healed. The Gemorah asks (Rosh Hashanah, & see Rashi here): could it be that the copper Nochosh of Moshe Rabeinu contained a healing power of a sort (the implication is that such an idea would be Avoda Zara)? The Gemorah answers that of course not, rather that since this serpent was placed on a high pedestal in order to look at it one would need to look up at it. By looking upwards [at the Nochosh] one would be reminded of Hashem above and this would cause them to think about Hashem – thinking about Hashem would then allow for Divine intervention.

There is a second Chazal that praises Shlomo Hamelech for getting rid of the Nochosh. The reason Shlomo Hamelech was praised for this was because the Nochosh’s healing powers had contributed to turning it into some sort of Avoda Zara.

There seems to be an obvious contradiction between these two Gemoros. In the first Gemorah it would appear Chazal are telling us the Nochosh had no intrinsic powers, whereas the second Gemorah would seem to indicate that the Nochosh indeed did have inherent healing powers. Did the Nochosh have some sort of power, or not? If the only power the Nochosh had was that of reminding people of Hashem’s Omnipotence, why would Shlomo Hamelech have felt it necessary to get rid of it?

It would appear both from the Pesukim here and from Shlomo Hamelech’s acts that the Nochosh actually had some sort of healing powers. Chazal insist though that it didn’t, that the only power was the fact that it reminded us of Malchus Shamayim.

In life there are many things that can and are channeled for good purposes. Over time these items develop into very strong tools of good. The more something is used the more strength and the more powers it develops.

The Gemorah actually asks more than just if the snake had healing powers. It asks: did the Nochosh have killing powers? While this question of it having powers to kill could be explained in regards to the Nochosh Hanechoshes, it can also be explained as referring to the Nochosh that Hashem sent to kill Am-Yisroel. When Klal-Yisroel looked at the copper snake they not only remembered that Hashem had the power to heal them, but they also remembered that Hashem was the one punishing them.

Moshe Rabeinu’s copper nochosh fulfilled an important role in reminding us of Hashem’s Omnipotence, but after a while the strengths that it accumulated began to be abused. The abuse didn’t change the nature or character of the power it had accumulated, but it made that power no longer justified. What Shlomo Hamelech needed to get rid of was the unjustified power that was being turned straight into idolatry.

The good always accumulates power. It is our job though to make sure that the power of the good doesn’t become corrupted.

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This week’s Haftorah is from Shoftim. It tells us the story of how Yiftach rose to power. The reason that this Haftorah is chosen for parshas Chukas is because the war Yiftach fought was a war on the very same land as Klal-Yisroel fought for in the Sedra. The story of our Haftorah carries with it a tremendous lesson in its own right.

Chazal tell us “Yiftach Bedoro KeShmuel Bedoro” – that “Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in Shmuel’s generation”. Yiftach was, it would seem, something of a simpleton. Born from a concubine (or out-of-wedlock see Meforshim), he was for that reason shunned and excluded by his half-brothers. He was a leader, but he was the leader of low class people. Somehow in our Haftorah Yiftach rises to become the leader of Klal-Yisroel. Chazal are in essence telling us that no matter how great a leader is in his own right he must be respected as great because he is a leader. Yiftach had clearly adapted to his circumstances and became the leader of a lower class group, but why precisely was he Zoche to become the Manhig Hador?

Chazal(Ben-Azai) in Pirkei Avos tell us אל תהי בז לכל אדם – that we shouldn’t reject anyone completely שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה – because there isn’t anyone who doesn’t have a point in time at which he fulfills a crucial role. Chazal intended us to understand that we must respect everyone because no matter how insignificant people might sometimes seem Hashem created them with a purpose. Since they have a purpose, that ‘purpose’ is bound sooner or later to surface, and at that point we will owe them for their contribution to mankind. Essentially this means that some things, while unfolding or ‘in-process’, might seem inconsequential. If we are patient with them and allow for some distance or time perspective, we will see that they are truly important.

Very often in life we tend to get frustrated with how other people treat us. We get frustrated with how life is treating us. Perhaps this stems from the same lack of patience and tendency to jump too soon to conclusions. People tend to know themselves better than anyone else does. People consequently often understand their own value far better than others do. We get frustrated when what we see as our value is not properly recognized. Our disappointment often results in our own abandonment of our potential. We sometimes give up on doing what we can because we are just fed up.

Yiftach was a human being just as any other. He was a Tzelem Elokim with unlimited potential. His half-brothers kicked him out and put him down because he was born out-of-wedlock (or from a concubine)and not from a noble woman like their mother. Yiftach could have thrown in the towel. He didn’t. He adjusted to his given context and found a place to settle into. He created the best situation for himself under the circumstances.

Yiftach is someone we can all relate to. He is a true hero. The moral is to always persevere patiently because one day it will be our turn to be the man of the hour. One day each and every one of us can make a mark in world history.