Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 3 No. 35

Parshas Chukas

The High Stakes of Torah-Study

"And this is the law of a man who dies in the tent" (Ba'midbor 19:14).

The Gemoro in B'rochos (63b), in view of the irregular grammar used here by the Torah, quotes Resh Lokish, who states that the words of the Torah can only have a lasting effect on someone who "kills himself" for them.

The Chofetz Chayim explains this with a moshol to a wealthy merchant who, realising how fast time was running out on him, and that he had so few "provisions" to take with him on his final journey Heavenwards, decided to stock-pile some of those provisions. And so he began to spend a few hours each morning after davening, studying Torah.

The first morning his wife did not take his absence too seriously. "It happens," she thought, "people do get delayed." But the second morning she became worried. There were clients waiting to see her husband and, goodness only knows, if he did not come soon, the clients would go elsewhere.

Frantically, she began searching for him. Imagine her surprise, when she discovered him, still in Tallis and Tefillin, studying Torah with a group of men. She began to scold him and berate him for being so lax, but he cut her short. What would happen, he told her, if the Angel of Death would pay him a visit to tell him his time in this world was up. To what avail would he tell his visitor that his clients were waiting and that his business would collapse?... "Imagine then", he told his wife, "that the Angel of Death has paid me a visit and that I have joined the land of the dead. Be grateful if, a short while later, I experience 'techiy'as ha'meisim' and return to the land of the living."

And that, says the Chofetz Chayim, is what Chazal mean when they say that Torah can only have a lasting effect on someone who kills himself (who makes himself out to be dead), for then, nothing will deter him from learning.

The previous Gemoro in B'rochos however, does not appear to support the Chofetz Chayim's interpretation. The Gemoro there is referring to a Possuk in Devorim - "Cut yourselves up over the words of the Torah", which Rashi explains to mean that one should be prepared to suffer on account of Torah-study (in keeping with the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos - "Eat bread and salt, and drink a measure of water and sleep on the floor, etc." [should that be necessary] in order to study Torah). The Gemoro then connects that saying to the statement that we quoted at the beginning from Resh Lokish. Clearly the term "death" of which Resh Lokish speaks is not literal, but refers rather to pain and suffering (as the Gemoro writes in Bovo Kamo (65a) - "What difference does it make whether his wound has killed him completely or only partially" [i.e. wounding is also considered partial death]).

And that is very similar to the explanation of the Torah Temimah, who explains death to mean toil and pain - Torah cannot have a lasting effect, he writes, other than on someone who toils hard in his studies, to the exclusion of hearty eating and much sleeping (as we quoted earlier from Pirkei Ovos).

For monetary reasons or for reasons of health, people are quite happy to go with little sleep and with little food. Who doesn't work overtime if he knows he can earn a little extra on the side? And don't we go without food and without sleep when (r.l.) someone in the family is ill. Just see how the gold-diggers rushed in droves to live under inferior conditions, deprived of all the comforts and luxuries of their homes, many of them having invested all they owned, because they envisaged gold! And there the stakes were doubtful!

Dovid Ha'melech wrote in Tehillim that Torah is more desirable than the best quality gold, so why should we not be willing to give away a little of our daily comforts, to spend a little of our personal time and money, in order to gain the highest stakes of all - and there is no doubt about those stakes! Indeed, the stakes are so high that the whole world depends on them - when one Jew studies Torah diligently, the world exists solely for him.

Perhaps if we boosted the stakes of Torah -study in our own eyes, we would raise its esteem and strengthen our commitment to it. Perhaps we should bear in mind the Gemoro in Shabbos (31a), which puts Torah-study as the first thing for which we are taken to task by the Heavenly Court (see Tosfos there and in Sanhedrin[7a]). That might help!



R. Bachye writes that the Torah places Chukas next to Korach because Korach concludes with the "Matnos Kehunah". The Poroh Adumoh" too, was encumbent upon the Cohanim to prepare and administer.

The Ba'al Ha'turim quotes a Chazal "The Torah was given specifically to those who ate the Mon; second to them, are those who eat Terumah. This is hinted in the juxtaposition of the last possuk in Korach, which speaks about separating terumah and the first possuk in Chukas, which mentions "the law of the Torah".

"The generation of the desert" was chosen to receive the Torah for two reasons:

1) Because, relieved of the yoke of parnosoh, they were able to immerse themselves fully in the study of Torah, and, as Chazal (Eiruvin 55a), commenting on a possuk in Nitzovim (30:13), write: "Torah is not to be found among businessmen and merchants". Conversely, it is only possible to excel in Torah if one applies oneself to its study day and night. G-d taught us this lesson by giving the Torah to that particular generation, a generation that was free to spend all their time learning Torah.

2) Because the "mon" that they ate in the desert was a spiritual food. Consequently, the body did not react to it in the same way as it does to physical food. (See Rashi in this week's Parshah 21:5 and the Ba'al Ha'turim there.) The more refined and the more spiritual the food that one eats, the more refined and untainted the Neshomoh remains. The Torah was given to the generation that ate the mon in order that their Torah-study, just handed down at Har Sinai and ready to be passed on to the next generation, should be of the highest level of purity.

The Cohanim were given "t'rumos" etc. in order to relieve them of the need to work. In this way, they would be entirely free to dedicate their lives to the service of G-d, one week in every twenty-four working in the Beis Ha'mikdosh, the other twenty-three, one assumes, they were studying in the Beis Ha'medrash, learning Torah and disseminating it, as the possuk writes about them (Devorim 33:10) "They will teach your judgements to Ya'akov".

Like the "mon" in the desert, terumah freed the Cohanim from the yoke of parnosoh. And like the mon, terumah was essentially spiritual, since it was separated and given as a mitzvah. More than that, the Torah in a few places, refers to terumah as Kodesh (see, for example, Vayikro 22:10 and Rashi there).

That the Torah was given to those who ate mon is a known fact. Its significance however, may not have been so clear. The Torah therefore, writes "This is the law of the Torah" next to the separation of terumah, to stress that idea and to extend it to the Cohanim, as the Ba'al Ha'turim writes.

The Ba'al Ha'turim offers a second explanation to the placing of the two parshiyos.

Although it is obligatory to give one fiftieth of one's crop to the Cohen as terumah, the choice of Cohen lies entirely with the owner of the produce. The Cohanim would make their rounds to the various granaries and wine-presses etc., but the Yisroel was under no obligation to give terumah to every Cohen who came to ask.

In fact, there is a halochoh that one should give one's t'rumos to a Cohen talmid-chochom and not to a Cohen "am ho'oretz" - similar to the mitzvah of tzedokoh, which one should preferably give to a a talmid-chochom. That halochoh, explains the Ba'al Ha'turim, is derived from the placing of the two parshiyos where, at the end of Korach, the Torah deals with the giving of terumah, and at the beginning of Chukas, it writes "Zos chukas ha'Torah" ("Chukas" derives from "Mechokek" - this week's Parshah 21:18, which means "sages" - see Targum Unklus and Targum Yonoson).


(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

Miriam The Tzadekes

"And Miriam died there and she was buried there" (20:1).

Chazal derive no less than five things from these few words.

From the juxtaposition of Miriam's death to the Parshah of the Poroh Adumah, they derive that a tzadik's death atones for the people just as the Poroh Adumoh does. It is not so much the death itself that atones, but lamenting the tzadik's demise and eulogising him, explains the Torah Temimah.

And why the Poroh Adumoh, when the Torah could just as well have taught us this using a host of Korbonos that also atone? He answers this with the moshol that Rashi quotes when he compared the Poroh Adumoh to the mother who must clear up the mess that the baby (the Eigel Ha'zohov) made in the palace. Miriam was like a mother to her generation. So her death served to atone for their sins.

To Die With a Kiss From G-d

From the word "there", Chazal draw an analogy with Moshe Rabeinu's death, where the Torah also uses the same word. Consequently, they say, just as Moshe died with a kiss from G-d (and not through the sword of the Angel of Death), so too did Miriam. The ramification of this is that:

a) They died serenely and painlessly;

b) Their bodies were not subject to decomposition;

c) Their bodies did not render those who touched them "tomei".

Miriam's High Level

From the above statements, we can understand the very high level attained by Miriam. Indeed, the mere fact that the well ceased to provide water at her death teaches us that just as Yisroel received the Mon through the merit of Moshe, and the Clouds of Glory through the merits of Aharon, so too, was it the great merit of Miriam that provided them with water in the form of the roving well. Yes, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam are sometimes referred to as the "three leaders" of that generation.

G-d's Kiss

It appears that no-one other than the above-mentioned three ever died by a kiss from G-d. Not even the Ovos Ha'kedoshim.

Therefore we find R. Bon'oh marking the grave of Avrohom Ovinu, to ensure that nobody walk over it inadvertently and become tomei (Bovo Basro 58a).

On the other hand, there is a Medrash Yalkut that quotes Eliyohu Ha'novi who, when asked how he, a Cohen, could carry R. Akiva's body for burial, replied that when tzadikim die, they do not transmit tum'oh. This would seem to contradict what we wrote earlier.

Tosfos however, in Bovo Metzi'a (104b) explains that Eliyohu Ha'novi's real reason for bringing R. Akiva to burial, in spite of the fact that he was a Cohen, was because R. Akiva was a "meis-mitzvah". The people were frightened to bury him since he was killed by the Roman government (presumably because permission to do so had not been granted by the Romans). So Eliyohu Ha'novi took upon himself this great mitzvah, in spite of the fact that he was a Cohen.

About a Corpse

So far, we have dealt with personal issues regarding Miriam's greatness. But Chazal also derive three general dinim regarding dead people.

1) Again from the word "there", used both here and by the Parshah of "Egloh Arufoh", Chazal establish that any benefit from a corpse (e.g. his hair or his teeth) is prohibited.

2) Yet again from the word "there", mentioned here and mentioned also with regard to avodah zoroh, they derive that if someone weaves a garment to use as a shroud for a dead person, it is not forbidden to derive benefit from that garment, as long as it has not actually been used.

3) And from the fact that the Torah writes "And Miriam died and was buried there," Chazal understood that a woman should be buried as close to her death as possible. For that reason, one does not stop a woman's coffin on the way to her burial, even in order to encourage people to eulogise her (which is customary in the case of a man).

And by the same token, the Torah Temimah adds, if a man and a woman both need to be buried at the same time, one should bury the woman first.

Miriam Died First

Miriam was the first of the siblings to die. She died on the 10th Nissan (a date that became known as "Ta'anis Tzadikim"), in the 40th year of Yisroel's wandering in the desert, four months before Aharon (Rosh Chodesh Av). Moshe died on the following 7th Ador, and on the 10th of Nissan, exactly one year after Miriam's death (on the 40th anniversary of "Shabbos Ha'godol"), Yisroel crossed over the Yarden into Eretz Yisroel.

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