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by Daneal Weiner
Sorry you couldn't be there for the anniversary bash last week. I didn't
know it but I threw myself a surprise party and you should have seen the
look on my face when I walked in! I snapped a picture but it didn't come
out well. My face was blocked by the camera.|
Make sense, or not make sense? That is the question! And exactly the theme of this weeks
Just when you think it's making sense, it suddenly isn't! Let's begin with my new tradition, only begun last week, of plagiarizing last years opening vort...
But first, along the lines of not making sense, there is a Rav out there in Cybishterspace who enjoys reading this parsha sheet. When I write that I heard a Rabbi So-And-So say, "bleh", this Rav writes me back what Gemorah/Midrash "bleh" came from, which commentaries discusses it, what they had for lunch and their average bowling scores. Why he reads this when he already knows everything, that's the part that doesn't make sense. He says he enjoys it. That's like the owner Disneyland getting on one of those little coin operated rocking horses, l'havdil eleph havdalos. Here is one of his vorts.
Last week I pointed out the mnemonic for Parshas Korach, which is 95 verses long, is the name 'Daniel'. This name was chosen over all the others with the value 95 because the time of the final redemption is encoded in the book of Daniel and this alludes to the attempt of Korach's rebellion to advance the final redemption before it's time. He said in the name of the Holy Kdushas Levi (Chicken and cabbage soup. 178, if the lane is freshly oiled) that 'Haman' also equals 95. The relevance is that Daniel AND Haman were both players in the Purim Story! Daniel, in the Megillah, goes by the name of Hasoch. At the time he was an aide in the palace and he went up and back with messages between Esther and Mordechai. Why 'Daniel' over 'Haman' for the mnemonic? Because Haman advised killing Vashti hoping to get his own daughter to marry Achashvairosh, a step in his attempt to eventually take over the kingdom. Korach wanting to take-over, according to the Ba'ale Tosfos. Daniel (Hasoch) wanted things status quo. Since Moshe remained leader, retaining status quo, we have 'Daniel' as the mnemonic and not 'Haman'. A great little vort! Than you, haRav!
Just one more thing regarding not making sense (and status quo). The police break the law by allowing and protecting reform and conservative activists to pray by the Western Wall. This is "religious" coercion? The police allow and protect the Antiquities Authority when destroying ancient grave sites, by removing skulls and bones while leaving the unwanted strewn about, all which is against the law. This is "religious" coercion? This country has operated according to a status quo regarding religious issues established by the founding non-religious fathers of the State of Israel. The non-religious grand children of these founding fathers are determined to uproot the 50 years of religious status quo. Yet the world somehow looks at this upheaval and calls it "religious" coercion?? Getting back- I think there's a train heading that way-
Just when you think it's making sense, it suddenly isn't! Let's begin,again, with my new tradition, only begun last week, of plagiarizing last years opening vort...
...Introducing the Parah Adumah- red heifer. Hashem tells Moshe (19:2) "Zos chukas haTorah..." "This is a decree of the Torah..." 'Decree' is a bad translation for 'chukas,' the root being 'choke', (khoke, hoke, any way you want to spell it to get that 'spitting' sound. Or to be politically correct, that salivary challenged sound). A choke is a command from Hashem for which we were given no reason. Hashem said to do so we do. Of course, this is the reason for every mitzvah! But since Hashem create us with a thirst for knowledge (which explains the spitting sound), He let us in on a few ideas behind many of the mitsvos. Some, however, were kept a mystery. Let's say at least as a reminder for the whole.
Shlomo HaMelech- King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said in Koheles (7:23) "I thought I could become wise; and it is far from me." What is 'it' referring to? The only thing in the world that was beyond the grasp of Shlomo HaMelech, was the Parah Adumah. Along the lines of this oral tradition, the Ba'al HaTurim points out that the gematria of "and it is far", "v'he rechoka" =341="parah aduma."
The Gemorah Yoma records an argument between Rebbe Akiva and the other Rabbis. Rebbe Akiva says the ashes of the Parah Aduma can make pure the contaminated and can contaminate the pure. The Rabbis say that if it can make pure the contaminated than it can certainly keep pure the already pure! That's certainly what logic would dictate. There is a rule in the Gemorah. Whenever Rebbe Akiva argues with a colleague, due to his greatness the law always went according to Rebbe Akivah. But when Rebbe Akivah argued with the majority, the majority wins. In this case the Gemorah concludes with...Rebbe Akiva!?! Not only is Rebbe Akiva the minority, what he says doesn't make sense!? That is EXACTLY why he won! Remember Shlomo HaMelech's one stumbling block? If the Parah Adumah didn't make sense to him, it sure won't to us. And what the Rabbis said made sense!
Now just one cow poking minute! Rashi explains the early verses of the parsha, the ones dealing with the Parah Adumah, as he usually does, and then, in a highly unusual fashion, at the end of the topic Rashi brings the writings of Rav Moshe HaDarhshan and re-comments on the verses!!! The theme through all these comments is that the Parah Adumah is the atonement for the sin of the golden calf! There are at least a dozen direct or indirect references to the sin of the golden calf. Every facet of the Parah Adumah is a direct parallel to the calf thereby atoning for it's every aspect! So what's all this talk about this incomprehensible Parah Adumah?!?! Now you know Rav Wolfson never answers just one question at a time.
Here's something else that you might have thought made sense. Verse 20:10, "Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock..." This weeks parsha also tells the sad episode of Moshe Rabbeinu striking the rock, which Hashem told him to speak to, and was forbidden from entering Israel. On this verse Rashi says, "This is one of the places where "shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah"- something small holds something greater." Only by a miracle could all Bnei Yisrael gather in front of a rock. Moshe is about to commit the mistake of his life and Hashem performs a miracle to have every member of Bnei Yisrael witness it!?
Back in chapter 11, verse 22, after Bnei Yisrael complained about the manna and just after Moshe warned them they were going to have meat for a month, Moshe then turns to Hashem and says, "Can flock and cattle be slaughtered for them and suffice for them?" Rashi brings Rebbe Akivah who says Moshe is questioning Hashem's capabilities of providing meat. Indeed, in the following verse Hashem says to Moshe, "Is the hand of Hashem too short? Now you will see if what I said will happen to you or not!" Rashi then asks the question, which is worse? If Rebbe Akivah is correct and Moshe actually doubted Hashem, that was certainly worse then Moshe's sin by the rock. Yet here no punishment is mentioned at all and there Moshe is told he won't enter Israel?! Rashi answers that by the meat, Moshe was speaking to Hashem in private and there Moshe was before all Bnei Yisrael. A lesser error publicly becomes much graver then the greater done in private! All the more reason to ask, why did Hashem perform the special miracle "shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah" to get all Bnei Yisrael in front of the rock knowing Moshe was going to sin???
There is a verse in T'hillim- Psalms which states (66:5), "Go and see the works of Hashem, He is awesome in deed toward mankind." The word for "deed" is "Alilah". Midrash takes this verse and says to Hashem, "The awesome things You bring upon us, b'Alilah You bring them." This time the Midrash is playing on a different definition of the word 'Alilah' and that is 'excuse' or 'accusation'. "The awesome things You bring upon us, by accusation You bring them!" The examples it brings are the sin of Adam and the Moshe's sin by the rock.
What was Moshe's sin by the rock? The Ohr Hachaim HaKodesh, he brought 10 opinions of what the sin was. The Ohr HaChaim questioned each one and brought his own answer. Since the Ohr Hachaim, his answer has also been questioned. The anthology Sha'arei Aharon brings 25 commentaries and there interpretations of what Moshe's sin was!! One might feel like asking "Did Moshe sin or didn't he???" The sin which Moshe commited was on a level beyond that of human comprehension. And accordingly, with such an event about to take place in the world, the world responded accordingly and took on an nature beyond human comprehension. "Shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah"- something small holds something greater." The limited area in front of the rock was able to give millions of people a front row view.
This episode is very relevant to parshas Chukas because it introduces us to the incomprehensible Parah Adumah. The first Rashi in the parsha says, "'Zos Chukas HaTorah'- this is the decree of the Torah; The other nations will mock asking, 'What is this Mitsvah? What reason is there?' It is a decree and no one has right to question/contemplate it." It is beyond human understanding. But as we asked above, Rashi brings down Moshe HaDarshan and he tells us exactly why we have the Parah Adumah? Now we need to understand the aforementioned Midrash on the verse from T'hillim and again, the examples it brings are the sin of Adam and Moshe's sin by the rock. The sin of Adam was eating and the consequence was death! But it also says in this weeks parsha (19:14), "This is the Torah regarding a man who would die in a tent." The Torah is the blue print for the universe. Our Sages teach that Hashem wrote the Torah and looked in it to create the world. In fact, they say that Hashem wrote the Torah, so to speak, 2000 years before creating the world. And in this Torah is the instructions regarding a man who would die in a tent! Then there already was 'death' in the Torah!? So why is it blamed on Adam?! "The awesome things You bring upon us, by ACCUSATION You bring them!"
If the consequence of the golden calf (which we bear to this day!!!) was an 'awesome thing' Hashem brought upon us, and if His infinite wisdom saw to tie it in to the sin of the calf, which basically means the sin of the calf HAD TO BE, then for what do we need the Parah Adumah to make amends? That is the incomprehensible aspect of the Parah Adumah. Moshe Rabbeinu was not to enter the land of Israel. All agree that if he did, he would have built the Temple and it would have been indestructible! But then, generations later, long after Moshe died, when Bnei Yisrael were to succumb to the influences of reform, when Hashem was to be so angered as to want to destroy Bnei Yisrael, this time He would not have been able to take His anger out on the stones of the Temple. Bnei Yisrael would have to be destroyed, r'l! So it had to be that Moshe would not go into Israel for the sake of Bnei Yisrael. And the excuse used, so to speak, was the sin by the rock. "The awesome things You bring upon us, by accusation You bring them!"
There is a famous analogy. A child who never saw bread being made before. He sees a beautiful plain of earth on which he so often ran around playing. Along comes his father, a farmer with a plow and turns over the earth. The once beautiful plain lies scarred with ugly furrows and scattered clumps of dirt. Why? Then the farmer takes a bag of grain. Wonderful grains which the child saw his mother soak and cook and turn into tasty and delicious cereals and his father discards them into those crevices of dirt, and then loses them forever by closing the dirt over them. Finally he floods the area with water rendering the entire field a useless mess of mud. What for??
As time passes the father brings the child out to the field and behold, what a beautiful sight! Tall statuesque stalks of wheat! Standing so firm and yet bowing gently with every breeze. What fascinating shape! What color! What's his father doing now? In the harvester? Father, what are you doing!?! Your destroying them! Killing them! By the time he's finished, there is nothing left but a sorry reminder of the glorious wheat which once stood, now just hollow stalks of hay. So few and dispersed, not even a mule would spend the time to scrounge for a meal. Where's Hanoch Teller when you need him? Since I'm running out of adjectives, you'll have to depend on your own imaginations for the dramatic effect. Again the delicious grains are ground into dust. Then the dust is mixed with water, making a sticky sludgy mess. It gets shoved in the ovens. That's it! It's finished for sure! And finally emerges the bread! There is nothing like it. No, there is something like it. "The awesome things You bring upon us, by accusation You bring them!"
In this weeks Parsha we also read the of the battles against Sichon (king of Amor) and Og (of Bashan). The Torah tells us that Sichon had warred against Moav and taken land from them. Earlier, Moav was smug with the idea that Israel would not war with them. Hashem just had the Amorites walk over Moav and Bnei Yisrael then took possession of Moav's land by defeating Sichon. The Bnei Yisaschar describes Sichon and Og as 'locks' to the land of Israel. No doubt more than the just a matter of geography and demographics, now with these 'locks' open, the land of Israel is now ready for Bnei Yisrael to enter.
This weeks haftorah is about a man named Yiftach who was born to his father, Gilad, by a concubine. His brothers, from his father's wife, threw him out of the house. After a period of time Ammon, cousin to Moav (both descendants of Lot's daughters) made war with Israel. Due to Yiftach being a great warrior, the elders asked him to lead them into war. Yiftach's demands for leading them was to be not just the general but the leader of the generation! The elders agreed. Yiftach sent a message to the king of Ammon who was looking to recapture his cousin's land. He reminded the King of Ammon Israel had no gripes with him or his cousin but his cousin lost to Sichon and Israel warred with Sichon. Tough nuggies! Ammon didn't buy Israel's right to land lost in an offensive attack and came to war. Yiftach made a vow to Hashem and Hashem delivered Ammon into Yiftach's hands.
Why didn't the king of Moav just try to get his own land back? Why did Yiftach want to be the leader of the generation? What does it matter Yiftach was born to a concubine? Rav Wolfson brings the Malbim who says that by this time, Ruth the Moavite was born. She is the maternal line of King David. The manifestation of a king in Moav was only due to this spark of the holy monarchy which resided within. Now that Ruth was born, she took every bit of that essence out of Moav. They then fell under the auspices of cousin Ammon.
In our parsha (21:21) it says, "Israel sent emissaries to Sichon." Rashi there says that elsewhere it says Moshe sent the emissaries. Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. The leader of the generation is like the whole generation. Rashi then quotes the verse from the haftorah when Yiftach's emissaries to Ammon are recapping events from this parsha and are saying, "And Israel sent emissaries." Rashi says, "One locks and one opens!" In the Torah Moshe unlocked the land of Israel by conquering the land of Moav. It seems that generations later, Ammon wanted to lock it up again. Along comes Yiftach, whose name means "he will open" and destroys any threat to the closure of the land of Israel. Yiftach knew his merit to accomplish this would only be if he were the leader of the generation. The leader of the generation is like the whole generation. And even if that leader is the son of a concubine.
It does not matter how lowly a generation is or how lowly the leaders may be as compared to the leaders before them. The leaders of the generation are the generation and visa versa. And it is further emphasized how far removed Yiftach was because he made a vow with Hashem which ended up costing him the life of his daughter. If he had any foresight, prophetic or through wisdom, he would not have made such a vow. Still, he was the leader and he lead the people to victory!
Just as we have now entered the lowliest months, of Tamuz and Av. Times when awesome decrees have been wrought upon Bnei Yisrael because of our sins, and in this generation when so many follow paths which cost them the lives of their sons and daughters, the message of Chukas and it's Haftorah is clear. There is still hope. There is still a chance of redemption. The bitterness of Tamuz and Av can be turned into times of festivity! Ruth has been born. Our Sages say that on the mournful day of the 9th of Av the Mashiach will be born. As we saw by the bread, from every devastation not can but DOES emerge something even greater which, at this time, might still be beyond our comprehension. We have to know it exists. We have to know that everything Hashem does is for our good. We have to get behind our leaders who have shown their commitment to Hashem, Torah and Israel evident by the very lives they lead. And may we soon merit the final unlocking of Israel, the final ingathering of our people, the final spiritual redemption of even this lowly generation. As the Haftorah says, "Empty handed people gathered themselves about Yiftach and ventured forth with him." A message for all times. A message for this time, of all times. Shabbot Shalom.