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

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Vol. 7   No. 40

This issue is sponsored by Zev and Miriam Kaplan
on the occasion of their third wedding anniversary.
May they enjoy many, many more!

Parshas Chukas

The Judgements of Hashem

Rashi (20:23), quoting Chazal, ascribes Aharon ha'Cohen's death to the fact that Klal Yisroel came too close to Edom - "Because they came in the vicinity of Eisov ho'rosho, their deeds were breached and they lost this tzadik".

No doubt, Chazal derive this reason from the juxtaposition of the two episodes since, immediately after their encounter with Edom, the Torah tells us how Klal Yisroel arrived at Hor ho'Hor and that Aharon died there.

Why do Chazal find it necessary, asks the S'fas Emes, to search for reasons for Aharon's death that are not specifically written in the Torah? The Torah has already written (in posuk 24) that Aharon died because, together with Moshe Rabeinu, he rebelled against Hashem, when they struck the rock at the waters of Merivoh. So why search for additional explanations?


True, answers the S'fas Emes, Aharon had to die for that reason, but that does not explain why Klal Yisroel deserved to lose Aharon prematurely. Unlike human judges who cannot possibly concern themselves with the moral justification of causing anguish to the family and the acquaintances of the accused, Hashem can, and He does. As our sages derive from the posuk in Tehilim (19:10), "The judgements of Hashem are true, they are righteous all together". Anybody, they explain, who is adversely affected by G-d's punishment, even of a third person, must deserve that suffering - otherwise Hashem would not punish the sinner, or He would punish him differently, in a way which would affect only those who deserve to suffer. Consequently, whereas Aharon died because of his sin, the people lost Aharon because coming too close to wicked people is bound to leave its mark. In fact, the answer of the S'fas Emes' fits beautifully into Rashi's carefully chosen words. "Because they came too close to Eisov ho'rosho", writes Rashi, "they lost this tzadik". It is the reason that Klal Yisroel lost Aharon, not the reason that Aharon died.


"The Torah of Hashem is perfect" (Tehilim 19:2), so it goes without saying that the G-d from whom Torah emanates, is perfect too. Yisroel, who form the third party of the triumvirate, are obliged to strive towards that perfection, as the Torah writes, "And you shall go in His ways" (28:9). However, human limitations render this goal unattainable. There are bound to be certain areas which simply remain beyond the scope of human endeavour. Consequently, man is able to judge the deeds of his fellow man at only one level, whereas Hashem is able to judge him and then to reward him or to mete out retribution at every level. That is what the Novi means when he writes, "Because My thoughts are not (like) your thoughts, and your ways are not (like) My ways" (Yeshayoh 55). Indeed not, for the ways of G-d are perfect and flawless!


Another example of G-d's flawless execution of judgement concerns the exile down to Egypt which the commentaries attribute to the brothers' sale of Yosef. It had already been decreed that Avrohom Ovinu's descendants would go down to serve in a foreign land, due to the doubt expressed in Avrohom's words "How do I know that I will possess it?" (Four hundred years for the four Hebrew words.) So why do we require the additional reason of the sale of Yosef? Unless it is to tell us that, to be sure, the golus was attributed to Avrohom's 'lack of faith', but why did it specifically have to begin with Yosef's brothers? What did they do to set the wheels of golus in motion? The answer lies in the sale of Yosef - that was the catalyst that caused the exile of Egypt to take place then. "The judgements of Hashem are true, they are righteous all together". And that is also what the Torah means when it writes in Devorim (32:4): "A faithful G-d (in whom there is) no injustice" - "He is faithful", and ultimately, every good deed is rewarded and "there is no injustice," since nobody suffers without justification.


There is nothing new in the concept of having righteous neighbours and righteous friends (see Pirkei Ovos 2:9), both because there is much that one can learn from them and because one has the advantage of sharing in their blessings (much in the same way as Lot shared in the blessings of Avrohom). What we do now have though, is an additional reason to do so. It is now possible that one will be spared all forms of anguish and suffering that may be one's lot, but, because that will cause pain to these friends and neighbours who do not deserve it, one will, at best, be spared from them altgoether or, at worst, will be made to suffer them in a milder form.


Parshah Pearls


Going to the Root

"A cow that is completely red" (19:2). Rashi, (quoting the Medrash Tanchuma) compares this to a baby who dirtied the palace. 'Call the mother,' they said, 'and let her clean up the mess'. Similarly, if the (Golden) Calf caused Yisroel to sin, then it is a cow that must serve as an atonement. A cute metaphor! But what does it mean?


What the Medrash Tanchuma means, says the Kli Yokor, is that when one has sinned and wants to do teshuvah, it is not sufficient to remove the sin, but one must go to the root of the sin and remove that too. Much in the same way as someone who wishes to remove a poisonous plant must dig up the roots, or he will find that the plant will simply grow again. Indeed, a doctor who cures the ailment without getting to its root is likely to find that the illness will soon return.

In the case of the Golden Calf, the root of the sin was too much money (see B'rochos 32a), which is why the cow had to be red, the colour of the finest quality gold, he explains. Consequently, the only teshuvah that can be totally effective is to remove the desire to live a life of affluence, and to live modestly.


Before the sin of the Golden Calf, they were free from the Angel of Death. Perhaps they would still have died, the Kli Yokor contends, but by a kiss from Hashem rather than by the Angel of Death's sword. Consequently, they would not have been subject to tum'as meis. Let the mother come and clean up the mess (let Yisrael learn to live modestly) and bring back the situation as it was before the sin, (that they will no longer be at the mercy of the Angel of Death's sword).


Small Holes, Big Holes

"And any open vessel" (19:15). The Ba'al ha'Turim comments that the word 'open' - "posu'ach" occurs four times in T'nach: here; in Iyov "Shorshi posu'ach elei moyim"; in Tehilim "Kever posu'ach g'ronom"; and in Yirmiyoh "Ashposo ke'kever posu'ach". These four pesukim hint at the Gemoro in Shabbos (95b), which gives four measurements regarding the invalidation of earthenware vessels. (Refer to final paragraph)

An earthenware vessel that has a hole large enough to allow liquid to seep in, may no longer be used to 'sanctify' the ashes of the Poroh Adumah (our posuk, which is actually discussing the Poroh Adumoh).

It is still however, considered a vessel with regard to seeds (which will still be subject to tum'ah, even whilst they are growing there, because they are growing in a vessel and not in the ground). Should it however, acquire a hole the size of a small root, it loses that status too (shorshi posu'ach elei moyim").

But it is still a vessel with regard to olives (as far as carrying on Shabbos is concerned). Should it however, become holed to the size of an olive, it is no longer considered a vessel in this regard either ("kever posu'ach g'ronom" (their throat) - since most shiruim of eating comprise the size an olive).

Yet it is still considered a vessel should one designate it to hold pomegranates, until it displays a hole the size of a pomegranate, when it is no longer considered a vessel at all ("Ashposo ke'kever po'su'ach" - because once it has a hole that size, it has no use at all and one throws it away, into the rubbish bin).


As a matter of fact, the Gemoro lists five measurements (and not four). However, the first measurement (a hole large enough to let water leak out, but not to let it seep in) concerns a broken piece of vessel (causing it to lose its status regarding tum'ah) whereas we are talking about earthenware vessels (not broken pieces).


On Miriam's Merit

"And there was no water for the congregation to drink" (20:2).

It appears, the Kli Yokor suggests, that Yisroel was punished here for not eulogising that outstanding tzadekes, Miriam, in the way that they eulogised Moshe and Aharon. For the Torah records that she died and that she was buried. Nothing is mentioned about the people crying at her passing.

That is why G-d stopped their water-supply, to bring home the realisation that it was on her merit that until now, the whole of Klal Yisroel had had water for years, in a place where one person would normally have died of thirst within days.


When Tzadikim Die

The Kli Yokor also cites a Gemoro in Mo'ed Kotton (28a), which explains that the Torah juxtaposes Miriam's death to the Parshah of Poroh Adumah, to teach us that the death of tzadikim atones in the same way as sacrifices.

And they made a similar d'roshoh on three other occasions. That is the reason why the Torah juxtaposes - the death of the sons of Aharon to Yom Kipur; the death of Aharon to the bigdei kehunah (the garments worn by the Kohen) which atone ... and to the breaking of the Luchos, to teach us that the death of tzadikim is tough on Yisroel like the breaking of the Luchos.


The reason for these four d'roshos is because every tzadik benefits the people of his generation in four ways, the K'li Yokor explains:

1. The entire world is fed on account of him, as Chazal specifically wrote about Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa (B'rochos 17b) - like a mother feeds her baby (similar to the analogy of the cow and its calf, and of 'out mother' Miriam on whose merits Klal Yisroel received water).

2. The tzadik teaches his generation how to serve Hashem - when he dies, it is as if the Luchos with all their contents had broken.

3. He shields over them and protects them with his merits like a shade, like a garment protects from the heat and from the cold - hence the comparison of a tzadik to the Bigdei Kehunah.

4. And he atones for their sins with his death - like Yom Kipur.


Names Are Made In Heaven

In Parshas Sh'lach, we cited the Gro, who explains the significance of Nachal Eshkol with a 'vov' and without a 'vov'. We also referred to the Or ha'Chayim who learns that the Torah called the place Nachal Eshkol in advance (see Rashi, Bereishis 14:7).

The Medrash Tanchuma combines the two ideas: Nachal Eshkol was so called because it was situated in the property of Eshkol, Avrohom's friend, he says. And do you know why Eshkol was called by that name? It was because the spies, many, many years later, would pick a cluster of grapes from there.


History of the World

(Part 63)

(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)


The Emperor Augustus, with the help of his good friend, the valiant Anthony, avenges the blood of his uncle Julius Caesar. He wages war with the conspirators, until finally he has killed them all. On the last day of the war alone, his army kills one hundred thousand men, including the arch-conspirator Cassius. Each of the conspirators that he captures alive, he tortures to death.



Antignos the son of Aristobulus invites Pigrus, King of Persia, to attack Yerusholayim. He captures the city and crowns Antignos king in place of Hurkenus, whom he takes in chains to Bovel, but not before Antignos has cut off his uncle's (Hurkenus)' ear to invalidate him from the Kehunah.



Sh'mayah and Avtalyon, sixth generation righteous converts, receive the leadership (head of Beis-din and Nosi) from Yehudah ben Tab'ai and Shim'on ben Shetach. This is the thirty-second appointment since Sinai.

Akavya ben Mahalal'el lives at this time, and so does Rebbi Yehudah ben Beseirah, Admon and Chonon ben Avisholom (the Dayanim who specialised in matters to do with theft) and Rebbi Meyashe.



The Emperor Augustus appoints Herod King in place of Antignos. Herod accompanies Cassio the Roman general, who attacks Yerusholayim. Herod succeeds in killing Antignos in the third year of his reign, bringing to an end the dynasty of the Chashmono'im which lasted a hundred and three years.


Herod the first is from Ashkelon. He is the son of Antipater, and a slave of King Hurkenus, who saved him from the death penalty (for killing Chizkiyoh) at the hand of the Beis-din of Shamai and Hillel. (See Sanhedrin 19a, where an identical episode is cited in the time of Yanai ha'Melech, who saved his slave from the death-penalty for murder, at the hand of the Beis-din of Shimon ben Shetach.)

Herod marries Merimi, the daughter of Alexander ben Aristobulus (great-grand-daughter of King Hurkenus) - see Bovo Basra 3b - for a different version of events.


After this, Pigrus, King of Persia, releases Hurkenus from prison and places him in charge of all the Jewish exiles in his kingdom, but in a gesture of pretence of friendliness and peace, Herod then asks to see him. Hurkenus, longing to see Yerusholayim and the Beis ha'Mikdosh once again, falls for his ruse. He returns to Yerusholayim, where he is murdered by Herod.

When people snilch on his wife and their two sons, he kills her together with all of the family of the Chashmono'im, and hangs their two sons. (Although the original Chashmono'im were righteous, their family is wiped out because they usurped the kingdom from the tribe of Yehudah.)


For the first two years of his reign, Herod treats the people harshly, until they swear their allegiance to him. Then his attitude towards them becomes more favourable. Herod builds Kaprus in honour of his mother whose name that was.

Hillel and Shamai receive the mantle of leadership from Sh'mayah and Avtalyon (the thirty-third link in the chain from Sinai). Hillel's princehood will be passed on from father to son for ten generations - Hillel, Shimon, Raban Gamliel the elder, Rabbon Shimon ben Gamliel (who will be killed at the time of the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdosh) rule during the 100-year period prior to the destruction of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh. The ten generations will culminate with Hillel the younger in the era of the Amora'im. The sovereignty during this period, may well have been in the hands of the Chashmono'im, but the princehood always remained in the hands of Dovid ha'Melech's family (from whom Hillel descended).

Yonoson ben Uziel is a disciple of Hillel. Rabbi Nechunyah ben ha'Koneh (who wrote Seifer ha'Bohir and other s'forim) lives at this time, as does Bovo ben Buto, Rebbi Yehudah ben Beseirah (as we stated earlier), Rebbi Pinchos, Rebbi Yochonon ben Bag-bag, Rebbi Yochonon ha'Chorni, Chananyah ben Chizkiyah, Raban Gamliel the elder and Nachum ha'Lavlor.


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