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by Daneal Weiner
introduces us to the Parah Adumah- red heifer. Hashem tells Moshe (19:2) "Zos chukas haTorah..."- This is a decree of the Torah. 'Decree of' is a bad translation for chukas, the root being choke (khoke, hoke, any way you want to spell it to get that 'spitting' sound). A choke is a command from Hashem for which we are given no reason. Hashem said to do it so we do it. Of course, that is the ultimate reason for doing every mitzvah! 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, the chokes, are still a mystery. Maybe a reminder that we really don't know what's behind any mitsva.
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 King Solomon 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 adumah.
The Gemorah Yoma records an argument between Rebbe Akiva and his colleagues. Rebbe Akiva says the ashes of the parah adumah 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. 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 the majority of his peers then the majority wins. Obviously, regarding the case of the parah adumah 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 King Solomon’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! What's the sense of 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 seems to parallel 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!? You hear the question? And you should know by now that Rav Moshe 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 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 gathered in front of the rock. Moshe was about to commit the mistake of his life and Hashem performs a miracle to have every member of Bnei Yisrael witness it? Let's make the question even stronger.
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, there, brings Rebbe Akiva who says Moshe is questioning Hashem's capabilities of providing meat! Rebbe Shimon tells Rebbe Akivah what he says just can't be. [But that's not for now.] If Moshe doubted Hashem, that was certainly worse then Moshe's sin by the rock! Yet there, there's no mention of punishment there and here by the rock Moshe is told he won't enter Israel?
Rebbe Akiva says there that Moshe was speaking to Hashem in private while later Moshe was in front of all Bnei Yisrael. A lesser sin done publicly becomes much graver then the greater sin done in private! Our question just became tenfold! When Moshe sounded blasphemous all he got was a tongue lashing. Compared to that, the sin of striking the rock doesn’t seem worth the ink. So why did Hashem perform the miracle shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah and give all Bnei Yisrael front row seats knowing Moshe was going to sin??? That's Rav Wolfson's second question.
In T'hillim, King David writes, (66:5), "Go and see the works of Hashem, He is awesome in His deeds for mankind." The word for "deeds" is alilah. The Midrash plays on this verse to say to Hashem, "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!
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. An anthology of Torah commentaries, the Sha'arei Aharon, brings 25 opinions of what Moshe's sin was! I think (warning!) the idea is that Moshe's sin was beyond our comprehension. There may be two ways something can be beyond comprehension. One way is for no one to have an explanation and one way is for everyone to have an different explanation. Either way, we just don't know. The sin which Moshe commited was beyond human comprehension. AND, though relatively small, done publicly it bore a heavy consequence. It seems we can say that Moshe's SIN was shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah! A little sin which held a lot of consequence.
To answer Rav Wolfson's second question first, Hashem didn't 'decide' to cause the miracle. With such a Torah leader as Moshe committing such an act in the world, the world responded, measure for measure. Nature acted beyond comprehension and made itself shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah. The limited area in front of the rock was able to give millions of people a close view. But wait! Shouldn't the world 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?
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 with a 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?! Now we can understand the aforementioned Midrash and the examples it brought of Adam and Moshe's sins. "The awesome deeds You bring upon us, by LIBEL You bring them."
Rather than create a world with death, Hashem created a world without death and had the sin of Adam bring death into the world. 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! Its indestructibility would be a serious problem centuries later when Bnei Yisrael would bso corrupted as to deservedestruction. Hashem's Mercy would prefer taking out His wrath on the stones of the Temple but It couldn’t if it were built by Moshe. It had to be that Moshe would not go into Israel for the sake of Bnei Yisrael. 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." Rashi says it is a mitsva beyond human comprehension. But didn’t Rashi then brings Rav Moshe HaDarshan to tell 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. For 3300+ years our lives have been dimmed by the shadow of that sin. If those consequences are some of Hashem's 'awesome deeds' which King David and the Midrash spoke of and if His infinite wisdom saw it would be for our good to have the sin of the calf bring those consequences into the world... 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!"
3300 years of history, most of it a horrific and it is all for our good? There is an analogy.
A child spends much time on a beautiful field near his home. He runs around it. Plays ball. Rides his bike there. One day, his father comes with a plow and turns over the earth. His beautiful play field is a gutted, overturned mess. Why?
The boy sees his father with a bag of seeds. The boy loves those seeds. He would make them into piles and lines. Draw pictures with them. His mother occasionally soaked them and cooked with them. His father is taking them and throwing 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 is now a scarred and muddy mess! His favorite seeds are buried underneath. 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. They bow, slightly, with the breeze as if to say, "Thank you for your praises." What fascinating new shapes and colors! What's father doing now with that big noisey machine? “Stalks, run! Run!” Where can they go? There is nothing left. Not a trace of the majesty which was once present. Why?
Shortly thereafter the father brings the boy to the silos and shows him....seeds! More seeds than he could have ever imagined! Wall to wall and as high as the highest ceiling! A miracle! How'd it happen? How'd they get there? Finally, something good. Hey! Where are they being taken? Father, you're crushing them! Nothing but white dust! Why?
He's bringing some into the house? He's pouring water on it! What a sticky, sloppy mess! What good is that? Pounding it, folding it, beating it again and again. It's going in the oven!? That will certainly be its end. "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 creations did not share his nostalgic attatchment to Judaism, in a fleeting moment of sanity he was remembered for having said to their new 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 Baal Shem Tov, the Maharsha. With what gems shall we emerge with from the State of Israel? Jewish cows and chickens of the kibbutsim?" That would have been an accomplishment. 50 years into the state, 30-40% of students of the secular high schools carry weapons with them for protection. Golda Meir had said, "I can forgive the arabs for everything but nor for turning our sons into killers." Highschool is before army conscription. There is not a single high school in Tel Aviv which is not infested with drugs. The awesome things You bring upon us, by libel You bring them!
Rav Wolfson also discusses the battles against Sichon (king of Amor) and Og (of Bashan) in this weeks parsha. Sichon had warred against Moav and taken land from them. Earlier, Moav was smug with the idea that Israel would not war with them so Hashem had the Amorites war with them. Bnei Yisrael then defeated Sichon and the Amorites and took possession of Moav’s land. The Bnei Yisaschar describes Sichon and Og as 'locks' to the land of Israel. No doubt he means more than just geography. Now that these 'locks' were open and Bnei Yisrael was able to 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 declared war with Israel to get cousin Moav's land which Israel took from Sichon! "You took our land!" Where have we heard that before?
Yiftach had become a great warrior and the Sages asked him to lead Israel against Ammon. Yiftach's demand was not just to be the general but the leader of the generation! The Sages agreed. Yiftach then sent a message to the king of Ammon reminding him Israel had no gripes with him. Moav lost to Sichon and Israel warred with Sichon. Tough nuggies! Somehow they didn't agree with the logic. Yiftach knew well where the powers of Israel lie. He made a vow to Hashem asking His help and Hashem delivered Ammon into Yiftach's hands.
Moav was not wiped out yet. Why didn't Moav try to get their 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. Ruth is the mother of the house of King David. 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 fell under the sovereignty of cousin Ammon and never established their own king again.
In our parsha (21:21) it says, "Israel sent emissaries to Sichon." Rashi there mentions elsewhere when Moshe sent emissaries! Moshe = Israel and Israel = Moshe. The leader of the nation is the nation! [Shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah!] Rashi then quotes the verse from the haftorah when Yiftach's emissaries to Ammon are reminding him of the events we read in the parsha- "And Israel sent emissaries to Sichon... the land is ours... tough nuggies." Rashi says about the two juxtaposed verses, "One locks and one unlocks!" In the Torah Moshe unlocked the land of Israel by conquering the land of Moav. Years later, Ammon wanted to lock it up again. Along comes Yiftach, whose name means "he will open" and he destroys that threat. Yiftach knew his merit to accomplish this would only be if he were the leader of the generation. The leader of the generation is the generation. Even if that leader is the son of a concubine.
It doesn't matter how lowly a generation is or how lowly the leaders may be compared to the leaders before them. The leaders of the generation are the generation. It is further emphasised how far removed Yiftach was because the vow he made with Hashem costing him his daughter. If he had the wisdom or foresight he would not have made the vow he did. Still, he was the leader and he led the people to victory!
This parsha is the first in the lowly month of Tamuz. A month when awesome deeds have been decreed upon Bnei Yisrael. In our generation when so many Jews are lacking the wisdom or forsight which cost them the lives of their sons and daughters, the message of Chukas andit's Haftorah is most welcome.
Hashem is with us and guides us no matter how difficult things seem. "The awesome things You bring upon us, by libel You bring them!" But there is still hope. There is still the promise of redemption. And if an act of sin can be shehechzik mu'ot es hamerubah then an act of tshuvah must be just a powerful. The bitterness of Tamuz and Av can be turned into sweet festival celebration! Between the lines of the parsha, Ruth has been born. We see by the making of bread that from every destruction emerges something even greater. In the moment it might seem 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 as evident by the 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!
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