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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
...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 salivaraly challenged sound). A choke is a command from Hashem for which we are given no reason and from our human perspective, it doesn't make any sense. Hashem said to do, so we do. Of course, that is the ultimate reason for doing every mitzvah! Hashem says to. Since Hashem create us with a thirst for knowledge (which explains the spitting sound), He lets us in on just a few ideas behind the majority of the mitsvos. Some mitsvas, the chokes, were kept a mystery. At least a reminder that we really don't know what's behind any mitsva. Hey, a reason! Never mind. Good night everybody!
I'm back. 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? Our Sages say the only thing in the world that was beyond the grasp of Shlomo HaMelech, was the parah adumah. Paralleling that oral tradition, the Ba'al HaTurim points out that the gematria of v'he rechoka, "and it is far" = 341 = parah aduma.
The Gemorah Yoma records an argument between Rebbe Akiva and his colleagues. Rebbe Akiva says the ashes of the parah aduma can make pure the spiritually contaminated and can contaminate the spiritually pure. The other 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 for determining halacha- Jewish law. Whenever Rebbe Akiva argues with a single colleague, due to Rebbe Akiva's exceeding wisdom, the law always went according to Rebbe Akivah. But when Rebbe Akiva argued against his Rabbinic peers, that is, against the majority, the majority wins. The world's first democracy, l'havdil elef havdalos. Obviously in the case of the parah adumah the Gemorah sides 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 mystery? 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! What sense is all this making sense or not sense non-sense? Rashi explains the verses of the parah adumah as he usually does. Then, when he's all done (verse 19:22), in a highly unusual fashion he brings the writings of Rav Moshe HaDarshan and re-comments on the verses!!! The theme throughout this second commentary is that the parah adumah is the atonement for the sin of the golden calf! There are at least a dozen direct and indirect references to the sin of the golden calf. Every facet of the parah adumah parallels one of the calf, thereby atoning for it's every infraction! So what's all this talk about this incomprehensible parah adumah?! Rashi just went out of character to tell us exactly what it's for!? It makes perfect sense! Doesn't it? What a great question!
Now you know Rav Wolfson never asks just one question.
Here's something else you might have thought made sense. Verse 20:10, "Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock..." This weeks parsha tells the sad episode of Moshe striking the rock, which Hashem told him to speak to, and is forbidden from entering the Land of Israel. On this verse Rashi comments, "This is one of the places shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah- where something small holds something great." By miracle all Bnei Yisrael gather in front of the rock! Now we just have to ask; Moshe is about to commit the mistake of his life and Hashem performs a miracle to have every member of Bnei Yisrael witness it?
The question is even bigger! Back in chapter 11 Bnei Yisrael had complained about the mon and Hashem told Moshe they were going to have meat for a month. The worlds first all-you-can-eat-buffet. Moshe says to Hashem, "Can flock and cattle be slaughtered for them and suffice for them?" Hashem says back, "Is My hand limited? See whether My words come true or not!" Rashi brings Rebbe Akiva who says Moshe is actually questioning Hashem's capabilities of providing meat! Rebbe Akivah answers the implied question. If Moshe doubted Hashem, that was certainly worse then Moshe's sin by the rock! Not doing what Hashem asks is bad. Questioning Hashem's ability, that's blasphemy! Yet there, there's no mention of punishment at all there and here by the rock Moshe is told he won't enter Israel? [[Rashi also brings Rebbe Shimon who tells Rebbe Akivah what he says just can't be. Moshe questioning Hashem? No way. That's not for now.]]
Rebbe Akiva answers, there Moshe was speaking to Hashem in private and here Moshe was before all Bnei Yisrael. A lesser mistake done publicly becomes much graver then the greater done in private! Our question becomes tenfold! When Moshe sounded blasphemous all he got was a tongue lashing. Compared to that, the sin of striking the rock wouldn't seem worth the ink. Why would Hashem perform the miracle shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah and give all Bnei Yisrael front row seats making it a enormous mistake, knowing Moshe was going to sin??? That's Rav Wolfson's second question.
There is a verse in T'hillim- Psalms where King David writes (66:5), "Go and see the works of Hashem, He is awesome in His deeds for mankind." The word for "deed" is alilah. The Midrash plays off this verse and praises Hashem with, "The awesome deeds You bring upon us, b'alilah You bring them." This time alilah has a different meaning. It means 'libel' or 'frame'. "The awesome deeds You bring upon us, by libel You bring them!" ??? What does the Midrash mean? It sites two examples. The sin of Adam and Moshe's striking the rock! (Did I hear someone ask if that makes sense? Rav Wolfson's third question.)
What was Moshe's sin by the rock? The Ohr Hachaim HaKodesh brought 10 opinions of what the sin was. He questioned each one and then brought an 11th answer of his own. Yes, the Ohr Hachaim's answer has since been questioned. An anthology of Torah commentaries, the Sha'arei Aharon, brings 25 opinions of what Moshe's sin was!!! I think (cause for alarm) the idea is that Moshe's sin was beyond comprehension. Maybe there is two ways something can be beyond comprehension. One, the obvious, is for no one to have an explanation. The other way is for everyone to have an explanation. Because either way, we just don't know. We haven't a clue. 25 clues to one answer is having a clue. 25 answers is no clue. The sin which Moshe commited was beyond comprehension. AND, though relatively small, done publicly it bore a heavy consequence. Moshe's SIN was shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah. With such a leader committing such an act in the world, the world responded measure for measure. Nature bent beyond comprehension and shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah- the limited area in front of the rock gave millions of people a close view.
Wait a minute! According to this the world should have responded AFTER the sin. As a consequence of the sin! How does it react to the sin making the sin public when everyone fit in before the sin? It doesn't make sense!
Exactly why this episode is very relevant to Parshas Chukas which introduces us to the incomprehensible parah adumah AND the laws of tamai meis- spiritual impurity due to contact wa corpse. Verse 19:14, "This is the law regarding a man who would die in a tent..." The Torah is the blue print for the universe. Our Sages teach that Hashem created the Torah first and looked into it to create the world. And in this Torah is the instructions regarding a man who would die in a tent! Wasn't it the sin of Adam which brought death into the world? If there already was 'death' in the Torah why is it blamed on Adam?!
Moshe Rabbeinu was not to enter the land of Israel. If he did, he would have built the Temple and it would have been spiritually perfect and therefore physically indestructible! Centuries later, when Bnei Yisrael were to succumb to the influences reforming them, Hashem would be so angered he'd want to destroy Bnei Yisrael. His Mercy would have Him take His anger out on the stones of the Temple. Were it the handiwork of Moshe the Temple would have been more precious to Hashem then Bnei Yisrael. So it had to be that Moshe would not go into Israel for the sake of Bnei Yisrael.
Now we can understand the aforementioned Midrash, "The awesome deeds You bring upon us, by libel You bring them." and it's examples of Adam and Moshe's sins. Rather than create a world with death, Hashem created a world without death and 'had' the sin of Adam bring death to the world. Rather than create a world with Moshe not entering Israel, Hashem created a world with Moshe entering and 'had' his sin keep him out.
The first Rashi in the parsha says, " Zos Chukas HaTorah- this is the decree of the Torah; The other nations will mock us asking, 'What is this mitsvah? What reason is there?' Know it is a decree and no one has right to contemplate it." It is beyond human comprehension. But as we asked above, Rashi later brings Rav Moshe HaDarshan and he tells us exactly why we have the Parah Adumah? As an atonement for the golden calf? What is so incomprehensible about it???
The consequences of the golden calf we live with till this day. 3300 years our lives are dimmed by the shadow of that sin. If those consequences are of Hashem's 'awesome deeds' and if His infinite wisdom saw it would be for our good and if His infinite wisdom 'had' the sin of the calf bring those consequences into the world... If the golden calf HAD TO BE... then why do we need the parah adumah as atonement? That is the incomprehensible aspect of the parah adumah. "The awesome deeds You bring upon us, by libel You bring them!"
What is Hashem doing for us? All these sins 'had' to be? 3300 years of history, the majority of it a devastating exile, all for our good? There is an analogy. A child sees a beautiful plain of earth on which he runs around, rides his bike, plays. One day, his father comes with a plow and turns over the earth. The once beautiful field is a gutted, scarred mess. Why?
Then his father takes seeds. The boy loved those seeds. The feel in his hands, them running through his fingers. He made them into piles, lines, drew pictures on the ground. His father is taking them and throwimg them into the dirt! What a waste! Now he's closing the dirt over them. He's flooding the field with water! His precious field and his seed are nothing but a useless mess of mud. Why??
Time passes the father brings the child out to the field. WOW! What a beautiful sight! Majestic stalks of wheat! Standing straight and tall and bowing only slightly with a every breeze as if to say "Thank you for your praises." What fascinating new shapes and colors! What's his father doing now? In the harvester? Father, what are you doing?!? The devastation! The chaos! Soon, nothing left! No trace of the majesty which once reigned in that very place! Why???
After the winnowing the father brings the boy to the silos and shows him....seeds! More seeds than he could have ever imagined! Wall to wall, as high as the highest ceiling! A miracle! How'd it happen? How'd they get there? Now what? Where are they being taken? Maybe his father is going to draw a huge pictures with all these seeds...? What is that? Father, you're crushing them! Into dust! Nothing but crushed chalk! Why????
He's bringing some into the house? Mom is pouring water on it. What a mess! What a sticky sloppy mess! It's all over her hands! She's beating it. Pounding it. Slapping it over and over. If she didn't like the mess it made why did she start with it in the first place? She's putting it in the oven. That will certainly be the end of it. "The awesome things You bring upon us, by libel You bring them!"
The spiritual demise of Eastern Eurpoean Jewry is largely credited to a maskil named Asher Ginsberg, a.k.a. Echad Ha'am. He then succeeded Hertzl in the fight for political recognition of a culturally Jewish state. A kosher-style state. When he saw that his secular students did not share his nostalgic attatchment to Judaism, in a fleeting moment of sanity he said to their culturless leadership, "When the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem after the destruction of the first Temple they brought with them diamonds in the form of the Tanach. When exiled after the Second Temple they brought with them the Mishnah. When chased out of Babylonia they had the Talmud. From Germany and France they emerged with the the works of Rashi, the Ramban, the Rif. From Poland they fled with the The Baal Shem Tov, the Maharsha. With what gems shall we emerge with from the State of Israel? Jewish cows and chickens of the kibbutsim?" He recognized the awesome things You bring upon us, by libel 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 previously warred against Moav and taken land from them. Moav had been smug with the idea that Israel would not make war against them. Hashem had the Amorites conquer 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 he means more than the just the geography and demographics of the matter. Now that these 'locks' were open, Bnei Yisrael can enter the land of Israel.
This weeks haftorah is about a man named Yiftach who was born to his father, Gilad, by a concubine. Yiftach's half brothers threw him out of the house. After some time Ammon, cousin to Moav (the two descending nations from Lot's daughters) wanted to make war with Israel to get their cousin's land back. Yiftach had by then become know to be a great warrior and the Sages asked him to lead the fight against Ammon. Yiftach's agreed on condition he'd be not just the general but the leader of the generation! The Sages agreed. Yiftach sent a message to the king of Ammon saying Israel had no gripes with him or his cousin and reminded him his cousin lost to Sichon and Israel warred with Sichon. Tough nuggies! Ammon didn't buy Israel's right to land gained in war and attacked. Yiftach made a vow to Hashem beseeching His help 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, the mother of the house of King David was born. The fact that Moav ever had a king was only due to this spark monarchy which resided within them. Now that Ruth was born, she took every bit of that essence out of Moav. They then fell under the soveriegnty of cousin Ammon, never to rise again.
In our parsha (21:21) it says, "Israel sent emissaries to Sichon." Rashi there mentions times Moshe sent emissaries. They're synonomous. Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. The leader of the nation is the nation. Rashi then quotes the verse from the haftorah when Yiftach's emissaries to Ammon are reminding him of said events in our parsha- "And Israel sent emissaries to Sichon..." and the land is ours, tough nuggies. Rashi says, "One locks and one unlocks!" In the Torah Moshe unlocked the land of Israel by conquering the part of Moav. Years later, Ammon wanted to lock it up again. Along comes Yiftach, whose name means "he will open" and destroysthat threat. Yiftach knew his merit to accomplish that would only be if he were the leader of the generation. The leader of the generation is the generation. And even if that leader is the discarded son of a concubine.
It doesn't matter how lowly a generation is or how lowly the leaders may be when compared to the leaders before them. The leaders of the generation are the generation and visa versa. It is further emphasized how far removed Yiftach was because the vow he made with Hashem costing him dearly. If he had the wisdom or foresight he would not have made the vow he did. Still, he was the leader and he lead the people to victory!
This week we enter the lowliest months, Tamuz and Av. Times when awesome deeds have been decreed upon us due to our sins. In our generation when so many are lacking the wisdom or forsight which cost them the lives of their sons and daughters, the message of Chukas and it's Haftorah makes perfect sense. Many things in this world are beyond our comprehension but Hashem is with us and is guiding us, no matter how difficult it seems. There is still the promise of redemption. And if an act of sin can be shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah then an act of repentance must be just a powerful. The bitterness of Tamuz and Av can and will be turned into sweet and festive celebration! Between the lines of our parsha, Ruth has been born. On the 9th of Av is when the Mashiach will be/was born. There is hope. We have to know that everything Hashem does is for our good. We have to stand behind our leaders who show their commitment to Hashem, Torah and Israel far beyond the norm of the 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 our time, of all times. May we soon merit the freedom in our unlocked Land of Israel, merit the final ingathering of our people, merit the final spiritual redemption of especially our lowly generation. What makes the most sense right now is leading your family in an incomprehensibly festive Shabbot Shalom. !"