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

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Vol. 6 No. 35

Parshas Chukas

Who Knows Three?
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)

"My son, observe My words, and My mitzvos conceal with you. Guard My mitzvos and live, and My Torah, like the pupil of your eye" (Mishlei 1:1-2).

King Shlomoh speaks constantly in the Book of Mishlei in the name of wisdom, and he refers to the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, both as 'words' and as 'mitzvos'. Dovid ha'Melech too called them 'words' when he wrote in Tehillim (12:7) "The words of Hashem are pure words".


All the mitzvos are divided into three categories: traditional mitzvos, logical mitzvos and mitzvos whose reasons are obscure.

Traditional mitzvos constitute those mitzvos that, were it not for our tradition, a person would not discover on his own. These include the mitzvos of Tefillin, Tzitzis, Bris Milah, Sukah, Shofar and Lulav. They are all Divine mitzvos, which are known as 'Eidos' (Testimonies), because they are a true testimony either to Hashem, or to the creation of the world, like the mitzvah of Shabbos, Shmittah and Yovel. That is why we find many pesukim in Kesuvim (predominantly in Tehillim), that talk about 'eidos'.


Logical mitzvos constitute those mitzvos which a person could arrive at even if the Torah had not commanded them; such as robbery, cheating, murder and theft - mitzvos which the Torah refers to as 'Mishpotim' (Judgements) - so called because they form the basis of civil law.


Mitzvos whose reasons are obscure include kil'ayim, the prohibition of meat and milk, the So'ir la'Azozel and the Poroh Adumoh. These, the Torah calls 'Chukim' (Statutes).


Thus the Torah writes in Vo'eschanan "When your son will ask you tomorrow, saying 'What are the Eidos, Chukim and Mishpotim that Hashem, our G-d commanded you?' Then you shall say to him 'We were slaves to Par'oh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out from there ... ". The Torah is saying that G-d's Name began to become publicised among the nations as soon as Yisroel left Egypt. And it is because He became known for our sake, whilst at the same time, performing with us wonders, that we became obliged to accept this triumvirate of mitzvos, those that are tradition, those that are logical, and those whose reasons are obscure.


And that is precisely what Shlomoh was referring to when he wrote "My son, observe My words" (referring to the traditional mitzvos); "Guard My mitzvos and live" (to the logical mitzvos, because on account of them one is able to live a civil and orderly life); "And My mitzvos conceal with you" (to the statutes, whose logic is concealed, their reasons are not revealed by the Torah). They are statutes, decrees of the King, like the Poroh Adumoh which is called 'Chukoh'.


Parshah Pearls

Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim


The Lid's Off

"And any open vessel whose lid is not firmly closed, is impure" (19:15). The Chofetz Chayim would interpret the open vessel to refer to the human mouth. Someone whose mouth is constantly open, who does not keep the lid firmly closed - meaning that he fails to adopt the various fences and safeguards against loshon ho'ra, is impure (due to the loshon ho'ra that he will inevitably speak).


The Prosecuting Snake

"And G-d sent against the people the burning snakes " (21:6).

The Chofetz Chayim poses three questions on this parshah. Firstly, why does the Torah first write "And they bit the people", and then, "and many people died from Yisroel"? Secondly, seeing as the plague comprised many snakes, why did Moshe daven for G-d to remove the snake (in the singular)? And thirdly, why did Moshe's prayer not prove sufficiently effective to remove the snakes, just like it removed the plague of frogs from Par'oh and the Egyptians?

The fact is, he replies, that the punishment here was for having spoken loshon ho'ra against both Hashem and Moshe. The difference between loshon ho'ra and other sins is that whereas, when a person sins, he creates an angel whose very existence serves as his prosecution - without needing to open his mouth - this is not the case with loshon ho'ra. When a person speaks loshon ho'ra, he creates an angel who not only prosecutes by his mere existence, but who prosecutes verbally (measure for measure).

This helps us to understand the Medrash Sifri Zuta, which describes how, although Hashem is able to save us from all troubles that befall us, He is 'helpless' to intervene when the troubles come as a result of loshon ho'ra. And it illustrates this with the parable of a rich man who had a friend who lived in a village, where there was a ferocious dog. The rich man once told his friend that should he ever be in financial straits, he should not hide from his creditors. He need only contact him, and he will gladly assist. But should he ever come across the ferocious dog, he should immediately hide from him, because he was helpless to rescue him from its clutches.


That is why, by any other sin, Hashem removes the prosecuting angel from before the sinner or from behind him, in order to judge him leniently. Not so with the prosecuting angel that is created from loshon ho'ra. How can Hashem simply remove an angel whose loud and distinct accusations are undeniably justified, and who is demanding a revenge that is well-deserved? In such a case, He has no choice but to see to it that justice is carried out.


In our case, although it was the people (the Eirev Rav) who were guilty of speaking loshon ho'ra, because they were weary from the journey, Yisroel were also guilty, for not rebuking them, and for allowing them to speak evil of Hashem and His annointed one. That explains why, although the snakes bit the people, many people of Yisroel died (too). (The Chofetz Chayim interprets 'the people' as the nation, and 'Yisroel', as the leaders.)


Now Moshe prayed, not to remove the biting snakes, but the snake, the prosecuting angel that was created from their loshon ho'ra (for indeed, the Gemoro in Erchin 15b connects the snake with loshon ho'ra in a number of ways). Once the prosecuting angel would be removed, it stands to reason that the snakes would go too. Hashem however, replied that, for the reason that we mentioned earlier, it was not possible to remove the prosecuting angel that was created for the sin of loshon ho'ra. The only antidote for that was to set up a copper snake on a pole because, as the Mishnah explains in Rosh Hashonoh (29a), looking towards G-d and rendering their hearts subservient to Him is what was required. That alone would cause the snakes to go away.


Din ve'Cheshbon

"Therefore the parable sayers (Bil'om and his father Be'or) said, 'Come to Cheshbon' " (21:27).

The Gemoro in Bovo Basra (78b) explains this possuk alegorically: "Therefore those who rule over their Yetzer ho'Ra will say 'Come, let us make a din ve'Cheshbon (a reckoning), the loss of a mitzvah as against what one gains from it, and the benefits of a sin as against the ultimate loss' ".


The Chofetz Chayim explains this with the well-known S'mag, who describes the creation of man. Hashem first created angels, who are devoid of any desires, and who are pure 'da'as' (knowledge), which guides them in all that they do. On the fifth day, He created animals, which have no da'as at all, and who are guided entirely by natural desires, until they will happily be drawn to the slaughterhouse for a few grains of barley.

Then on the sixth day, Hashem created a combination of angel and animal (the Soul of one, and the body of the other), to see which of the two will overcome the other. He can become an animal without effort (and to be sure, without effort, he will). But to become an angel, for his da'as to overcome his desires, he needs to make a din ve'cheshbon (which can easily equated with learning musar) - constantly, day in, day out. It is the one and only way to ascend the mountain of G-d.


When the Ba'al ha'Turim writes in last week's Parshah (17:10) that Moshe and Aharon did not daven when they fell on their faces, 'as they did earlier', he is referring, not to possuk 16:4, (as we suggested in last week's issue) but to 16:23, where the Torah specifically writes that they davened.

Many thanks to the reader who pointed this out. We apologise for the error.


(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer
of the Chofetz Chayim.

7. Not to leave the T'chum on Shabbos - as the Torah writes in Beshalach (16:29) "No man should leave his place on the seventh day". This refers to going beyond twelve mil (approximately twelve kilometres , corresponding to the Camp of Yisroel in the desert) outside the town - by even one amah. For doing so, one receives Malkos (39 lashes).

Someone who goes two thousand amos outside the town (the area that the Torah alots for the town's suburbs), receives only Makas Mardus (the name given to Rabbinical Malkos). This is the opinion of the Rif and the Rambam. Many Rishonim however, hold that Techumin, even more than twelve mil, is mi'de'Rabbonon (not min ha'Torah).

One reckons the two thousand amos in a square (i.e. due north, south, east and west of the town) rather than in a circle, so that one gains the corners. In the town itself, one may walk anywhere, irrespective of the town's size.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


8. Not to consider even for one moment, that there is another god besides Hashem - as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:3) "You shall not believe in any other god in My presence". Someone who imagines (chas ve'sholom) that there is another god besides Hashem, or that there is some sort of partnership (such as that in which the Christians believe), or even if one just ascribes a glimmer of reality to any deity, denies G-d.

One is not permitted to say anything that implies blasphemy, or any words of praise for any god, because to acknowledge another god is tantamount to denying the entire Torah. In fact, we are obliged to give up our lives for this, because whatever touches on the basis of our religion, obliges us to die rather than transgress.

This mitzvah applies everywhere, and at all times and at every moment, to men and women alike.


9. Not to make an idol in order to serve it - as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:4) "Do not make for yourself an image". Someone who transgresses and makes an image, whether he made it for himself or he asks someone to make it for him, receives malkos. Someone who himself makes an image, for himself, will receive two sets of malkos, one for this la'av, and one for the la'av in Kedoshim (19:4) "And molten gods do not make for yourself".

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.

About The Mitzvos

Reward and Punishment

(part ll)

The Torah never refers to the reward that is due for mitzvos in the World to Come, either because it is not something that we can truly fathom (implying that the extent of even the lowest level of reward there, far exceeds anything that this world has to offer), or because it is natural for the Soul, which is ethereal, to return to its source when its stay in this world terminates. Sometimes, the person has sinned so badly, that the Soul is punished by excision. That is unnatural, and that is what the Torah needs to record.


On the other hand, whenever the Torah describes reward for mitzvos in this world, it always does so in the context of communal reward. This is due to the fact that this is Hashem's unique way of dealing with the community at large - if they behave, there will be rain, there will be food and there will be prosperity and peace (as we see clearly spelt out in the second Parshah of the Shema), and if not, there won't!

This is not necessarily the case with the individual, whose apparent reward may well be a trial (to see what he will do with the Divine blessing), or even a punishment (to deprive him of a more meaningful reward in the World to Come). Conversely, what appears to be a punishment in this world, may indeed be a punishment, but it may also be a test (as we find by Iyov), or even a reward, in order to increase one's portion in the World to Come. In addition, Chazal have taught us in Kidushin (39b), that the real reward for the performance of mitzvos, is due in the World to Come, and not in this world.


Either way, it emerges that there is no World to Come for the community, and no reward in this world for the individual.


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