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Simcha Groffman

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Kinder Torah
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Parashas Chukas

Medicine or Poison?

"What is the prognosis, doctor?"

"You are a very sick man, Mr. Zara."

"Oh, no."

"However, I have good news for you. There is a new wonder drug that can cure you."

"That is wonderful, doctor!"

"It is made from an ingredient that is imported from the Far East - the bark of an Asheira tree."

"Asheira tree? That is used for idol worship. We are not allowed to derive any benefit from idol worship or its accessories. Can't they substitute another tree in the formula?"

"Apparently not. Mr. Zara, you life is in danger. Doesn't life take precedence over any mitzvah?"

The question is:

Can Mr. Zara take the medicine?

The answer is:

The Gemoraii Pesachim 25a states, "One can use anything for healing except an Ashera tree." Why? Because it is used to worship idols. Either the tree itself is worshipped, or an idol is placed under it. Idol worship is one of the three mitzvos in the Torah that one must give up his life rather than transgress it. The other two are murder and immorality. Therefore, although the medicine may heal his body, it is spiritual poison to his soul and he may not take it.

These puzzles and answers are for learning and discussion purposes only. Do not rely upon them for psak halacha! Consult a Rav to determine the correct halachic ruling.

Make the Cheshbon

"Therefore the moshlim (poets) would say, 'Come to Cheshbon - let it be built and established as the city of Sichon'" (Bamidbar 21:27). Cheshbon was the name of a stronghold city, which once belonged to the nation of Moav. Sichon had conquered it and was ready to rebuild it as his own city. The poets, Bilaam and Beor, were gloating because they had foretold this victory.

The Gemoraiii Bava Basra 78b has a beautiful drasha on this verse. The word for poets is "moshlim." The same word can also mean rulers. The word "cheshbon" also refers to making an accounting. Based upon this, the verse can be darshened: "Therefore the moshlim - ones who rule over their desires - say, 'Come to cheshbon - come let us make an accounting of this world! Weigh a mitzvah's loss against its gain, and a sin's gain against its loss. You will be built and established (by making this accounting). You will be built up in this world, and you will be established in the World to Come." The following story, adapted from Rav Shimshon Pincus' sefer on Pesach (p. 144), gives a vivid example of this cheshbon.

* * *

"My esteemed chavrusa, how do you understand this Gemora? What is Rava's kasha (question) on Abaye?"

"I think I know, however, I am so thirsty. I must get a drink before I can continue."

"Okay, hurry back."

The chavrusa leaves his seat and walks out of the Beis HaMedrash. There is a water fountain outside the door. The water would quench his thirst; however, he wants something more. He leaves the Yeshiva and walks up the street. He finds a grocery store there, but it is closed. He goes a bit farther until the next grocery store. The store is open however; he does not find the drink that he wants in the refrigerator. And so, he moves on to the next store, where he finds his drink. He slowly sips it, and then makes his way back to the Yeshiva. He sits down next to his chavrusa and looks at the clock. Twenty minutes have passed since he got up to leave.

"My dear chavrusa, I hope that I didn't hold you back."

"Not at all. I learned an entire amud (one side of a page) of Gemora while you were gone."

The chavrusa was in shock. He had missed the opportunity to learn an entire amud of Gemora. That amud contained approximately 300 words of Gemora, 600 words of Rashi, and 350 words of Tosafos. Each word of Torah is equal in weight to all 613 mitzvos combined. Therefore, he lost the chance to perform 766,250 mitzvos! The reward for each mitzvah is greater than all of the combined pleasures experienced by all of humanity in the entire history of the world! In addition, the reward is eternal. For this unfathomable pleasure, he exchanged . . . a few minutes of sipping a drink - a fleeting pleasure that was gone as soon as the last drop finished. What a fool he was! Why didn't he make the cheshbon?!?

Kinderlach . . .

People make all sorts of cheshbonos. They add up the shopping bill. The make a total of how many hours they worked. They examine the size and quality of an item, to see if it is worth the price. A businessman calculates how much a project will profit, in order to decide whether to invest the time and money into it. These are all cheshbonos of material things. There is another cheshbon, which is far more important. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (2:1) states, "Calculate the loss of a mitzvah against its reward, and the gain from an aveyra against its loss." That mitzvah in the story cost twenty minutes of time and a cool drink. What was the reward to be gained? Hundreds of thousands of mitzvos, each one with an unfathomable reward. Kinderlach, take the time to make the cheshbon. You will see that there is no contest. The mitzvah always wins . . . by far.

i Pesachim 25a
ii Bava Basra 78b

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