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

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Vol. 8   No. 35

This issue is sponsored for the speedy recovery of
Moshe Ze'ev ben Michla z.l.
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Parshas Chukas

The Powerful Tongue

The vast majority of sins perpetrated by Yisrael in the Desert were connected with the tongue - the spies, Korach, Miriam, grumbling about the mana, that they had no water and that they had no meat. Why, even the sin of the Golden Calf began with the declaration 'These are your gods Yisrael!'

In this Parshah too, when they complained about their wanderings in the desert, Hashem punished them with a plague of snakes. He did so to draw their attention to the woes of the evil tongue, reminding them what happened to the doyen of ba'alei lashon ha'ra, the Snake, when he spoke evil of Hashem in Gan Eden (see Chofetz Chayim on the Parshah, 21:6).


The Ma'aseh la'Melech cites a Yerushalmi in Pei'ah, which contrasts Torah-study with Lashon-ha'Ra. Just as the reward for Torah-study is equal to that of all the other mitzvos ('ve'Salmud Torah ke'neged kulam'), so too, is the punishment for Lashon ha'Ra equal to that of all the other sins.

To explain this, he draws an analogy to the four elements, fire and wind, water and earth. Of these, the first pair is predominantly ethereal, the latter, physical. And it is precisely for that reason that fire and wind are the more devastating of the elements, when they run out of control. By the same token, he says, mitzvos, as a rule, take effect when they are connected to physical objects; Tzitzis, Tefilin, a Sucah, Lulav, Shabbos candles ... . Certainly those mitzvos cause G-d's Name to be sanctified, as well as the person who performs them. But they cannot compare with Torah-study, which is totally spiritual, with no physical attachments. Consequently, it affects those who learn it far more profoundly than any mitzvah, and causes G-d's Name to be sanctified at a far deeper level.

In the same vein, Lashon ha'Ra, which like Torah-study, is performed by the spoken word, with no physical attachments (though it is unclear, why the mouth, in both cases, is not considered physical), is the most devastating of all the sins. In other words, when the power of speech is controlled in the performance of mitzvos, it is the most beneficial of all one's faculties; whereas when it runs out of control in the performance of sin, it is the most devastating.


This may well explain why mitzvos and sins performed with speech are superior on the one hand, and more destructive on the other, to those performed with the hands and with other parts of the body. It does not however, explain why Torah-study is superior to Tefilah, Hallel or Hagadah, for example, all mitzvos connected with speech. Nor does it explain why Lashon ha'Ra is more destructive than other mitzvos that are performed with the mouth (such as false testimony, lying, flattery) unless we extend Lashon ha'Ra, in this instance, to cover all sins of the tongue.

And besides, if Mitzvos and sins performed with the mouth were superior to those performed with other parts of the body for the reason mentioned, then Mitzvos that one performs with the mind only, such as faith, loving G-d and fearing Him, ought to take precedence, even over Torah-study. After all, these Mitzvos are even more ethereal than Torah-study, and should be considered on a higher plain still.


It therefore seems to me that Torah-study is the greatest mitzvah, not because it is performed only by word of mouth, or even because it is the antidote to Lashon ha'Ra, which is the worst sin (though it is not clear why Torah-study should not rather be considered the antidote of Bitul Torah [the sin of being idle from Torah-study]).

But because, if Mitzvos are the most valuable commodity in the world, then Torah is the factory that produces them. Much in the same way as the G'ro in E'ven Sh'leimah compares Torah-study to a tree, and the Mitzvos, to the fruit. Torah-study is the entree to Mitzvos, and that which makes their immaculate performance possible.

Nor is Lashon ha'Ra the gravest sin merely because it is perfomed with the tongue, but because, as well as being one of the most commonly transgressed sins, it is at the same time, the most contagious and the most damaging, killing three in the process, as Chazal have explained. It appears then, that Torah and Lashon ha'Ra carry so much weight, not because they are opposites, but because each one, in its own context, is so tremendously potent. And that too, is what Sh'lomoh Hamelech means when he writes in Mishlei (18:21) "Death (Lashon ha'Ra) and life (Torah) lie in the hands of the tongue".


Parshah Pearls

(based on the Ba'al ha'Turim)
Like Mother ...

Chazal have taught us that the Parah Adumah came to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf - 'Let the mother come and wipe up the mess that her baby made' (see Rashi 19:22).

The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the numerical value of 'Parah Adumah' is the equivalent of 'al avon ho'Eigel' (for the sin of the Calf).


It Doesn't Take Much

"Asher Lo Oloh Olehah ol" (19:2).

The word "ol", explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, is written missing a 'vav'. It is to teach us, he says, that the calf did not need to have drawn the yoke, in order to be rendered invalid. It is sufficient for the yoke just to have been placed on its back.

This is in contrast to the prohibition of working with an ox and a donkey, which is only forbidden if they actually worked together (see 'The Mitzvos ...', Mitzvah 180).


Lots of Wood

"And he shall burn the cow ... together with its dung he shall burn" (19:5).

The Pasuk begins with the word "burn" and ends with the word "burn", comments the Ba'al ha'Turim, an indication that whoever burned it, should add a lot of wood to ensure that it burned to a cinder.


The Fig-Tree and the Vine

" ... This is not a place of seeds, fig-trees vines or pomegranate-trees ... " (20:5).

The Torah usually precedes the vine to the fig-tree. The only time it does not do so is here, the Ba'al ha'Turim observes.

The reason for this, he explains, is because it follows the parshah of the Parah Adumah, and for the burning of the Parah Adumah they would use wood from a fig-tree. Just a little hint perhaps, but another proof that everything is hinted in the Torah.


Suffering the Consequences!

G-d instructed Moshe "Take your stick and gather the eidah (implying the grown-ups only - 'Eidah' has connotations of the elite, and we often find it used in connection with the Sanhedrin)" (20:8).

But this is not what Moshe did, the Ba'al ha'Turim remarks. In pasuk 10, the Torah writes "And Moshe and Aharon assembled the (entire) community, including the children.

Who knows whether it was not those very youngsters who grumbled (as we so often see today) causing Moshe to sin and forfeit his rights to enter Eretz Yisrael!

Quite a costly mistake on Moshe's part!


Measure for Measure

" ... therefore ("lochein") you will not bring this congregation to the land ... " (20:12). We know that G-d always punishes measure for measure (as the Gemara in the first Perek of Sotah explains). And the commentaries do indeed discuss the connection between Moshe's sin here and the punishment he received.

To indicate the veracity of this statement, the numerical value of "lochein", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is the equivalent of 'Midah be'Midah'.


Some Brother

"And Moshe sent messengers ... to the King of Edom ... So says your brother Yisrael. Please let us pass through land ... ." He said . "Let us pass through " and he said "Please".

But when he sent messengers to Sichon, he said "Let me pass through ..." and he failed to say please.

He did not say "Please" when he sent to Sichon, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, because the message was no more than the fulfillment of the Mitzvah to open with words of peace, rather than as a result of an intrinsic desire to make peace with him. Whereas with regard to Eisav, he was talking to Yisrael's brother (indeed, his opening words were "So says your brother Yisrael"), and his desire for peace was a genuine one.

Sichon felt Moshe's lack of warmth, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, because, unlike Eisav, who sent Moshe a reply (however curt it may have been), Sichon just gathered his army and marched out to fight, without uttering a word!

And finally, when he spoke to Eisav, Moshe said "Let us pass through your land" because he was referring to a statement made by Eisav when he met Ya'akov upon his return from Lavan "Let us travel together" (an offer that Ya'akov declined at the time, because of the spiritual danger to his family that would have resulted from such close contact with that rosho). Nevertheless, Moshe was trying to evoke that spirit of unity once again. But alas, to no avail! For what was Edom's response? ...


You Shall live by the Sword

" ... And Edom said, You will not pass through my land, lest I go to meet you with the sword!" (20:18).

This is what David wrote in Tehilim "I am for peace, but even as I speak, they are for war". Absurd as it may sound, some people carry this to even great extremes. They are for peace, even as their enemies go to war!


About the Mitzvos
The Reward for a Mitzvah

Chazal have taught that one mitzvah leads to another, and this is also the simple interpretation of the Mishnah 'because the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah'. If we would realize, not only the real value of a mitzvah, but also the spiritual bliss that accompanies its wholesome performance, we would set about performing the mitzvos with total dedication, so as to attain that experience. And having experienced it, we would not contemplate any further reward, nor would we even understand why any further reward should be necessary. However, now that we have been promised additional reward for the performance of mitzvos, we can only ascribe it to the infinite loving-kindness of G-d, who is in the habit of rewarding those who come close to Him even though, when they do so, it is for their own benefit. And we find by this by Avraham Avinu, where the Torah writes "And he had faith in Hashem, and Hashem considered it an act of kindness" (see Rashi Lech-Lecha 15:6).


The commentaries base the statement that one mitzvah leads to another, on the fact that when a Jew performs a mitzvah, that mitzvah creates an angel, which puts pressure on him to perform another mitzvah, and the more mitzvos one performs, the greater the pressure, and the momentum grows. The same of course is true when someone performs an aveirah (as Chazal have said 'Aveirah goreres aveirah').

At a more simple level though, it can be understood if we bear in mind that just as our bodies have certain needs, and that some of those needs are more vital than others, so too, is the case with our Souls. Our Souls pine for mitzvos in exactly the same way as our bodies pine for food. In that case, the above can be compared to someone who, having tasted a delicious food, will make every effort to repeat the experience. And if this is true of physical delights, then it is no less true of spiritual ones.


(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim).

180 ... not to plough with an ox and a donkey together - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (2:10) "Do not plough with an ox and a donkey together".

This La'av applies to any form of work (such as threshing or pulling a wagon) that one performs with two different species of animals or wild beasts, provided one of them is a non-kosher species, and the other one, kosher (though the Rabbanan decreed on any two species). And one receives malkos, even for leading them with one's voice only. One is not however, Chayav for merely tying them to the yoke, but only for pulling them or leading them vocally, thereby inducing them to work together.

Even if a hundred people pull the animals, lead them vocally or sit on the wagon (whilst it is moving), they have all contravened the La'av.

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


181. ... not to wear a garment made of wool and linen - as the Torah writes in Chukas (22:11) "Do not wear Sha'atnez, wool and linen together".

This is called 'K'lai begodim' (Kil'ayim [a mixture] of garments). By wool, the Torah means lamb's or ram's wool exclusively. The moment the wool and the linen have been joined in any way whatsoever, the combination becomes forbidden to wear min ha'Torah. And even if one wears Kil'ayim casually, one transgresses. Likewise, one transgresses, even if one wears it on top of ten items of clothing, in a way that one derives no pleasure from it at all, or even if one's sole intention is to smuggle the garment through the customs.

It is also forbidden to cover oneself with Sha'atnez, even though one is not actually wearing the garment.

The Rabbanan added to this the prohibition of sitting on top of sheets or blankets of Sha'atnez, and even if there are ten sheets one on top of the other and the bottom one is Sha'atnez, sitting on the top one is forbidden. It does not however, apply to materials that are hard and do not fold when one sits on them.

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


182. ... not to hide oneself from the lost article of a fellow-Jew - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (22:1-3) "You shall not see your brother's ox or his lamb going astray , and hide from them ... Do not hide yourself from them!" (see Mitzvos Asei, Mitzvah 69).

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


183. ... not to leave your fellow-Jew's animal crouching under its burden, and go away without helping to unload it - as the Torah in Ki Seitzei (22:4) "Do not see your brother's donkey or his ox falling by the wayside and hide from them (see also Mitzvos Asei, Mitzvah 70).

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


184. ... not to contravene a neder (a vow) - as the Torah writes in Matos (30:3) "A man who declares a neder ... he shall not desecrate his words" (see also Mitzvos Asei, Mitzvah 39).

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


185. ... not to delay a neder (e.g. 'I undertake to bring an animal as a Korban') or a nedavah ('I will bring this animal as a Korban') that one declared - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (23:22) "When you declare a Neder ... do not delay its payment". One only actually transgresses the La'av when three Yomim-Tovim have passed from the time of the declaration (irrespective of which one arrives first - e.g. Sukos, Pesach and Shavu'os).

Tzedokoh is also included in the La'av of 'bal te'acher', except that someone who fails to fulfill his Neder to give Tzedokoh transgresses 'bal te'acher' immediately, seeing as there are plenty of poor people who need help.

In the event that there are no poor people however, one puts the money aside until a needy person turns up.

Someone who stated that he will only give Tzedokoh when he comes across a needy man, is under no obligation to separate the money earlier.

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


186. ... that an employee may not eat from the attached fruit on which he is working until the final stage of work - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (23:26) "and do not wave a scythe on the standing corn of your friend". Chazal understood this pasuk traditionally to mean that until he has finished reaping the harvest, he is forbidden to cut any for himself to eat.

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


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