If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Chukas - Vol. 6,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Dabeir el B’nei Yisroel v’yikchu aleicha parah adumah temimah (19:2)
The Gemora in Kiddushin (31a) relates the tremendous dedication of a non-Jew named Dama ben Nesina to the mitzvah of honoring his parents. The Sages once came to him to purchase something for a tremendous amount of money, but the key needed to access it was underneath the pillow on which Dama’s father was sleeping. Although Dama would have made a tremendous profit if he woke his father to get the key, he chose to honor his father and refused to inconvenience him.
The Gemora adds that many years later, Hashem rewarded Dama when a rare parah adumah (red heifer) was born in his herd. When the Sages heard about the cow, they came to his home to purchase it. Dama told them that he recognized the cow’s value to them and knew that they would agree to whatever price he demanded for it. Nevertheless, he asked them to pay only the money which he lost as a result of honoring his father. Why did Hashem specifically reward Dama with a parah adumah, and what lesson is the Gemora teaching us through this episode?
The Darkei Mussar suggests that the Gemora is using this incident to teach a fundamental difference between Jews and non-Jews in their approach to doing mitzvos. A Jew would never be willing to sell or trade the reward that he receives for his mitzvah performance, yet Dama had no compunctions about doing so. In fact, he was the one who insisted on it!
Perhaps it is for this reason that he was specifically rewarded with a parah adumah. If the prosecuting angel attempts to use Dama’s exemplary honor for his father to challenge the Jewish people’s dedication to this mitzvah, they can respond by pointing out that he had no reservations about selling his reward for the mitzvah. The Kotzker Rebbe goes one step further, pointing out that while Dama was willing to trade away the logical mitzvah that he performed, the Jewish Sages were willing to spend an exorbitant amount of money to fulfill a mitzvah whose understanding was completely beyond them.
Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov offers an innovative explanation of an expression used in the Mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashana. He begins by noting an interesting difference between the proper attitude toward mitzvos and sins. It is preferable to remember sins constantly (Tehillim 51:5) so as to fully repent them and to be careful not to repeat them. Regarding mitzvos, however, it is advisable not to remember and dwell on one’s successes, which may cause a person to become haughty and complacent. Instead, it is better to leave them in the past and to always focus on future growth and accomplishments.
At the end of the section of the Remembrances section of the Rosh Hashana Mussaf prayers, we say You (Hashem) remember everything that is forgotten. In other words, Hashem remembers whatever we forget and “forgets” whatever we remember. If a person acts properly, remembering his sins and forgetting his mitzvos, Hashem will overlook his misdeeds and focus on recalling his accomplishments. If, however, the person forgets his sins and arrogantly dwells on his mitzvos, Hashem will meticulously remember each sin while overlooking all of his good deeds.
In this vein, the Darkei Mussar writes that although Dama was blessed with the birth of a parah adumah in his herd, several years had passed and there was no reason to assume that this was his reward for honoring his father. The Gemora is teaching us that the non-Jewish approach is to dwell on the past and focus on the good deeds that he has already performed, whereas a Jew looks to the future and is never satisfied with what he has already accomplished.
Vanitzak el Hashem vayishma koleinu vayishlach malach vayotzieinu miMitzrayim (20:16)
Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to travel through his land. He instructed the messengers to recount to the king their national history, including a mention of how much they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians until Hashem sent an angel to free them. Rashi explains that the angel refers to Moshe. How could the humble Moshe refer to himself as an angel?
The following story will help us appreciate the answer to this question. One of the leading Torah scholars in Vilna encountered an ignorant, uneducated farmer riding in a wagon which was being pulled by a horse and a cow in violation of the Torah prohibition (Devorim 22:10) against coupling two different species for any kind of work. The Rav warned the man that what he was doing was forbidden, but the farmer refused to listen. After several more attempts to convince the man of the severity of his actions fell on deaf ears, the Rav finally proclaimed, “Do you know who I am? I’m the greatest Rabbi in Vilna, and if you refuse to stop what you’re doing, I will publicly excommunicate you!” Cognizant of the stature of the man whose opinion he had been ignoring and the dire consequences of continuing to do so, the farmer quickly unharnessed his horse and cow.
The Oznayim L’Torah explains that although the nature of a Torah scholar, and certainly one as great as Moshe, is to be humble and unassuming, he must also realize that there are times when circumstances require him to acknowledge his greatness. By disclosing his true identity and stature to the farmer, the Rav was able to intimidate him into compliance with a Torah commandment in a way which no other form of rebuke was able to accomplish.
Similarly, when Moshe wanted to lead the Jewish people through the land of Edom on their way to the land of Israel, he hoped to instill fear and terror into the Edomites so that they would permit the Jews passage through their land. Moshe understood that the odds of his request being approved would increase greatly if he would not-so-subtly inform them that it was being made by no ordinary human, but by one as great as an angel.
Al kein yom’ru ha’moshlim bo’u Cheshbon tibaneh v’tikonen ir Sichon (21:27)
On a literal level, our cumbersome verse discusses the battles between two of the non-Jewish peoples who lived at this time and commemorates the victory of one over the other. However, the Gemora (Bava Basra 78b) homiletically reinterprets our verse as coming to teach an important life lesson in values and priorities. The Gemora explains that the verse can be read as quoting not rulers over kingdoms, but rather rulers over their own base instincts and evil inclinations. What is the message of these masters of self-control? They advise that a person make a reckoning of the reward for performing a mitzvah versus the loss incurred by doing so, and the potential gain from sinning relative to its downside. The Gemora concludes that these individuals promise that somebody who makes the appropriate calculation will be built in this world and well-established in the World to Come.
One Friday night during Kabbalas Shabbos, the Alter of Kelm showed his son the children who were playing games in the synagogue courtyard. The Alter explained to his son that virtually all people spend their time in this world playing games. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) is very smart and very strong, and as the Mesillas Yesharim writes, one of its primary techniques is to distract a person with “games.” Unless a person follows the Gemora’s advice to weigh and calculate the effects of his actions, although he gets older and thinks that he outgrew the games of his past, in reality he remains a child his entire life and merely exchanges them for bigger, seemingly more exciting and sophisticated games.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein tells a story of somebody who took the Gemora’s advice quite seriously. At the age of 18, a yeshiva student in Lithuania who was wise beyond his years collected 20,000 pieces of paper and placed them in a box. Each day, he would transfer one sheet into a second box. The pieces of paper represented the approximate number of days remaining for him until the age of 70, which Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 90:10) is the average lifespan of a person.
Although one box initially appeared full and the other empty, over time he was able to see their relative sizes changing ever-so-slowly. Since human nature is to be strongly impacted by what we see, this visual reminder of the ephemeral nature of our time in this world inspired him to make the reckoning advised by the Gemora. Not surprisingly, Rav Zilberstein concludes that this student grew up to become a sagacious and wise Mashgiach, who imparted to others the lessons that he had learned about our true purpose and priorities in this world.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe stripped Aharon of the garments of the Kohen Gadol and dressed Elozar in them inside the cave (20:28), as Hashem had commanded him to do, thus inaugurating Elozar as the Kohen Gadol. As a Kohen Gadol is forbidden to become ritually impure even upon the death of his immediate relatives, how was Elozar permitted to remain in the cave in which Aharon died, thus rendering Elozar impure? (Ayeles HaShachar)
2) Rashi writes (20:29) that upon seeing Moshe and Elozar descend from the mountain, the Jewish people immediately asked regarding Aharon’s whereabouts. Upon hearing that he had died, they refused to believe it, wondering how a person who had successfully stopped an angel killing people in a plague could succumb to the angel of death. Moshe prayed for Divine assistance and the people were shown an image of Aharon lying dead in a bed, at which point they believed that he had indeed died. How did this constitute an adequate proof for them, when they knew that they had also been shown a picture of a dead Moshe being carried to Heaven (Rashi Shemos 32:1), which inspired the sin of the golden calf and which they later found out was completely false and unreliable? (Rav Elya Meir Bloch quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
3) Rashi writes (21:1) that when the Amalekites came to attack the Jewish people, they were afraid that the Jews would pray to Hashem to defeat them. In an attempt to thwart the efficacy of their prayers, the Amalekites spoke in the Canaanite language, hoping that the Jews would be tricked into praying for victory over their Canaanite foes. Because they were still wearing the clothing of Amalekites, the Jews were confused regarding their true identity and simply prayed to Hashem for help in defeating “this nation” – whichever it may be – and they prevailed. Why didn’t the Amalekites also change their garments to those of the Canaanites to ensure that their ruse would be successful? (Rashi Divrei HaYomim 2 20:1, Chiddushei HaRim, Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa quoted in Tal’lei Oros)
© 2011 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to email@example.com
Shema Yisrael Torah Network