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

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Vol. 11   No. 36

This issue is sponsored anonymously
with fervent wishes
for a Refu'ah Sh'leimah for
Yehoshua Heshel ben Ayelet n.y.

Parshas Chukas

The Blessing of the Water
(Adapted from the Meshech Chochmah)

Two Kinds of Blessings

There are two categories of blessings, the Meshech Chochmah explains, the one qualitative, the other, quantitative. The Divine blessing is of the former category, which Rashi alludes to when, with reference to the Pasuk in Bechukosai (26:5) " ... and you will eat your bread to satisfaction", he comments that you will eat little and be satisfied. Excessive eating is unhealthy, as we all know. Indeed, anything excessive in the physical world is unhealthy. On the other hand, eating too little leaves a person hungry and undernourished. The ideal blessing is when one is able to eat little and yet be satisfied, and it is the sort of blessing that one merits when one's sustenance comes directly from the Hand of G-d. It is measured purely in the quality of the food that one eats, and has nothing to do with the quantity. A fine example of this we find this by the Lechem ha'Ponim in connection with which Chazal have taught that a Kohen who received as little as a bean was satisfied. That is why the Torah writes in connection with the Mon "Someone who collected more did not gain and someone who collected less did not lose". And what's more, Divine food enriches the person who eats it spiritually, as Chazal comment in Yuma (78b) regarding the Mon, in connection with the Pasuk in Tehilim "Lechem Abirim Ochal Ish".

If Moshe had adhered to G-d's instructions and spoken to the rock, the blessing connected with the water would have come directly from Him. Consequently, it would have been qualitative, and Yisrael would have benefited spiritually, as well as physically, like they did by the Mon. They would have drunk little and become both physically satisfied and spiritually enriched. Their drinking would have differed entirely from that of their animals, which drank to quench their thirst exclusively.

However, now that Hashem's Name had not been sanctified as G-d originally intended, the blessing was of the second category, of the physical kind. Consequently, the blessing of the water was purely quantitative, and their drinking was on a par with that of their animals.

This explains why initially, G-d told Moshe to 'produce water from the rock, and to water the people and their cattle ("ho'eidoh ve'es be'irom"). Whereas after he had struck the rock, the Torah changes this to "And a lot of water came out, and the congregation and their animals ("ho'eidah u've'irom" [without the dividing word 'Ve'es']) drank" (20:11). The Torah no longer made a break between them and their animals, because the two were on the same level. Both drank with one and the same motive - to quench their thirst, and nothing more.


The Lost Initiative

The Ri Elbo (in Seifer ha'Ikrim) describes Moshe's sin as not sanctifying G-d's Name, by his failure to strike the rock before G-d told him to. When Moshe saw that the people were thirsty, he should have taken the initiative and produced water by striking the rock (without waiting for Divine instructions).

Since when, asks the Meshech Chochmah, was Moshe accustomed to do things of his own initiative? Looking back at all the miracles that he performed, the Mon, the well, the quails, the crossing of the Yam-Suf ... , Moshe always waited for G-d's command before proceeding. Other Nevi'im did not - Yehoshua ordered the sun to stand still, Shmuel brought rain in the middle of summer and Eliyahu caused fire to burn the saturated animals that he had prepared. But Moshe, on principle, made a point not to do that, with one exception - by the incident of Korach (as we will explain in a moment). And for good reason. For all the other prophets did not speak face to face with G-d. They would lose their senses when prophesying, even to the point of behaving like lunatics. So even if, on occasion, they took the initiative and performed miracles off their own bat, nobody would ever dream of considering them Divine.

Moshe on the other hand, spoke face to face with G-d when prophesying. He realized that if he were to start performing miracles on his own initiative, there was a real danger that the people would begin to portray him as Divine and proceed Chalilah, to worship him. So he played low profile, as it were, doing only what Hashem commanded him to. In that way, they would know that he was no more than G-d's Sheli'ach.

The one exception was with Korach, where Moshe took the initiative, as we explained. And that was precisely because Moshe's motive was to prove Korach wrong when he came to undermine Moshe's role as G-d's Sheli'ach. Korach's very argument was that Moshe acted independently, and that his actions were not Divinely inspired. That is why there, where it was consistent with his policy of stressing his role as G-d's Sheli'ach, Moshe did not hesitate to take the initiative in proving Korach wrong, since no-one could possibly label him as Divine, as a result.

So now, having just a short while earlier, taken the initiative by the episode of Korach, Moshe should have done the same by the rock, to remove the Chilul Hashem caused by the people believing that G-d was unable to provide water. And that is why specifically here, he was taken to task for not doing so.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

A Striking Story

"Take the staff and assemble the people" (20:8).

The staff, explains the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos quoting the Rav B'chor Shor, was meant to strike the rock with. As a matter of fact, he says, this is the episode that the Torah already described in Beshalach, where the Torah explicitly writes (17:6) "and you shall strike the rock".

In reality, it took place here, he says. There the Torah is merely describing how G-d sustained Yisrael with the Mon, the quails and the water. And it repeats each episode in its place, when it occurred.

The proof of this lies in the fact that the Pasuk in Beshalach records that they called the name of the place 'Masa u'Merivah', and in ve'Zos-ha'Berachah, describing this very incident, the Torah writes (33:8) " ... which You tested him at Masa, and You quarreled with him at the waters of Merivah". Indeed, in this very Parshah, the Torah writes (22:14) "These are the waters of Merivah of Kadesh in Midbar Tzin".

And when G-d instructed Moshe to speak to the rock, it was not to preclude striking it. What G-d meant was that he should speak to the B'nei Yisrael in front of the rock to enable them to see with their own eyes that He would produce water from a dry rock.

The Rosh too, cites various places in T'nach where 'speaking' really means striking, and he also cites the Pasuk in Yeshayah (11:4) which writes, in connection with Mashi'ach "And he will strike with the staff of his mouth", which refers to 'speaking'. And he concludes that if "striking" there can mean speaking, then why should "speak" here not mean 'strike'? In that case, he asks, what did Moshe and Aharon do wrong?

Well, what they should have done was to speak to Yisrael softly and with supplication to persuade them to fulfill Hashem's instructions. But instead, they scolded them with the words "Listen now you rebels, are we able to produce for you water from this rock?" They figured that there was no justification for Yisrael to pick a quarrel with him (Moshe) when the only one who could answer their claims was G-d Himself.

In short, they should have spoken kindly to K'lal Yisrael, in spite of their verbal attack on him and Aharon. But they did not do that, they took them to task - and that is why they were punished.

Alternatively, Moshe's sin lay in the fact that he used the words "shall we produce water". Never mind in what context he said it, or what the connotations were. What he should have said was 'will He (G-d) produce water for you'. His words conveyed the impression that he was the one who would or who would not, produce water from the rock, instead of giving the credit to the Master of miracles - and that is why he was punished. See also later 'Pearl' dh 'Carved out of a Rock'.


The Great Disappointment

"And they traveled from Hor ha'Har ... and the people were distressed from the journey" (21:4).

Following Aharon's death, they left Hor ha'Har expecting to enter Eretz Yisrael immediately, to eat from the produce of the land, the Da'as Zekeinim M.T. explains. So when they were told to go back towards the Yam-Suf, they were bitterly disappointed.

What was the problem, you may ask? Didn't they have the Mon to eat, which as we know was a multiple tasting food? The answer lies in the next Pasuk "And we are sick of that light bread" (see Rashi). The Mon may have possessed many tastes, but it had only one appearance, and one cannot compare food that one eats and cannot see, to food that one sees as one eats it (a fine source for the importance of food presentation. The commentaries do indeed learn from here that a blind man does not enjoy his food to the extent that a man who can see does).

And besides, the Da'as Zekeinim adds, the Mon may have contained many tastes, but not before they had gone to the trouble of grinding or pounding it ... . And that is implied by the Pasuk in Beha'aloscha, where the Torah writes S'tam "and it tasted like an oil cake".


The Torah was Given in the Desert

" ... and it was given to them as a gift from the desert" (21:18).

Why was the Torah given, of all places, in the desert, asks the Medrash Tanchuma?

And it answers that firstly, because had it been given in Eretz Yisrael (as might have been expected), each tribe would have clamoured for it to be given in its portion, with all sorts of reasons why it ought to be. So G-d circumvented the problem by giving the Torah in the desert, where everybody was equal, and no one person or tribe would ever be able to lay more claim to it than another. And secondly, because a desert is a place that cannot be sown or cultivated. So too, someone who accepts the yoke of Torah is exempt from the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of Derech Eretz (which the Bartenura in Pirkei Avos explains to mean that he is free from any form of royal taxes and from the travails of Parnasah, since his work is blessed). And just as a desert does not obligate anyone to pay taxes, so too, is a Talmid-Chacham exempt from paying taxes (Rosh).

The Tanchuma actually adds a third explanation. He explains that only someone who makes himself Hefker like a desert, who clears his mind of all other interests, truly fulfils the Torah.


Perhaps the Medrash Tanchuma holds like those who maintain that Yerushalayim belonged to the tribe of Yehudah. Because according to those who hold that it was not given to any specific tribe, his first reason falls away, since the Torah could (and perhaps, in view of the Pasuk "Ki mi'Tziyon Teitzei Torah ...", it should) have been given in Yerushalayim. Or perhaps that is why he requires the two latter reasons.


Carved out of a Rock

"The well that princes dug ... carved out with their staffs (21:18).

Not like other wells, the Da'as Zekeinim M.T. explains, which one digs deep into the ground to produce. This well was carved from a rock with the Divine staff.

A clear proof, he adds, that Moshe's sin was not that he struck the rock. Because if it had been, and G-d was angry with Moshe for doing so, how could Yisrael sing Shirah over something that had caused G-d's anger (see Rashi Pasuk 20, who explains Moshe's sin in precisely that way).


The Undeserved Merit

"And G-d said to Moshe, do not fear him (21:34)".

Rashi explains that this command was necessary, because Moshe was afraid, not of Og's physical strength (which was enormous), but of his merit in being instrumental in Lot's rescue from the four kings.

Strange, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., seeing as Og's sole intention was so that, when the brave Avraham would attack the kings and get himself killed, he could marry the beautiful Sarah.

No matter, he replies, the fact is that Avraham was not killed and that he recaptured Lot. The fact therefore remains that this merit would stand him in good stead, at least Moshe thought that it would.

And we have a precedent for this line of thought in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (105b), they add, which states that Balak merited Rus as a daughter on account of the forty-two Korbanos that he sacrificed to Hashem in the time of Bil'am, even though his intentions were to destroy Yisrael.


It seems to me however, that although that may well have been what Moshe thought, G-d did not agree. And who knows, perhaps it was precisely on account of Og's evil motives that G-d responded by informing Moshe that he had nothing to be afraid of. And as for Da'as Zekeinim's proof from Balak, Balak was different. To begin with, he called Bi'lam, as some commentaries explain, because he genuinely believed that his country was under imminent attack from Yisrael, and acted in order to save his people from defeat. Indeed, they say, that explains why the Pasuk in Pinchas speaks about avenging what Midyan (who interfered in a matter that did not concern them) did, but not Mo'av (who acted in self-defense). In any event, Balak's motives were not totally corrupt, as were Og's.

And besides, bringing Korbanos to G-d was a righteous way of achieving his goal (he could equally well have brought sacrifices to his own god). Not so Og, whose actions contained not one iota of righteousness.

In short, Balak had genuine merits to his name, Og did not!


The above explanation follows the opinion in Nidah (61a) that the Torah in Lech-Lecha (14:13) describes Og as "ha'Palit" (the refugee) because he escaped from the war of the kings. According to others there, it is because he escaped from the flood. There is a problem with this however, based on another Gemara there, which describes Sichon and Og as brothers. Now Og is hinted in Parshas No'ach, where the words "Va'yisha'er ach No'ach" have the same numerical value as 'Og'. But there is nothing to suggest that Sichon was saved too? And seeing as he too was saved, why does the Torah give us no hint that he was, like it does by Og.

Citing Rebbi Yechiel bar Yosef, the Rosh explains that Og was indeed born before the Great Flood. His mother however, who was pregnant at the time of the flood (from one of the giants who dominated the world at that time), went and married one of the sons of No'ach, and gave birth to Sichon - in the ark. In that case, the Torah does not hint at Sichon is simply because there was nothing miraculous about his survival.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 388:
The Mitzvah of Guarding the Mikdash

*The Kohanim and the Levi'im* are commanded to guard the Beis-Hamikdash, to walk round it night by night, the whole night, as the Torah writes in Korach (13:4) "and they shall guard the charge of the Ohel Mo'ed". The Sifri, commenting on the Pasuk there (ibid. 2) "and you and your sons with you before the Ohel of Testimony", explains that the Kohanim shall guard from the inside, and the Levi'im from the outside.

The purpose of this 'guarding' is to honour it, elevate it and glorify it, and not Chalilah, out of fear of an attack by the enemy. The Mechilta writes that a Sanctuary rises in esteem when it has guards, and that there is no comparison between a palace with guards and a palace without guards, as we find regarding the palace of a human king.

*A reason for the Mitzvah* the Chinuch has already explained on a number of occasions that honouring the Beis-Hamikdash causes an increase in the awe that fills the hearts of those who visit it. Consequently, the hearts of those who come there to beg the Master of the world for forgiveness for having sinned, will soften, and they will quickly repent for their misdeeds, as the author explained at length in Parshas Tetzaveh.

*Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah* ... Chazal have taught in Midos (1:1/2) that forty-eight people would stand guard in twenty-four locations each night, the Kohanim in three locations on the inside, and the Levi'im in twenty-one locations on the outside ... One man was appointed to check on the guards each night, who was known as 'the man of the Har ha'Bayis'. With lit torches carried in front of him, he would make the rounds of the Beis-Hamikdash. Any guard who failed to greet him with 'Man of the Har ha'Bayis, Shalom olecho' was assumed to be asleep, and the officer would hit him with his stick. He also had the authority to burn his clothes. And when people would ask in Yerushalayim about the noise emanating from the Azarah, the reply would be 'That's the sound of a Ben Levi being beaten and his clothes burned for falling asleep at his post!' ... the remaining details about where exactly the Levi'im and the Kohanim stood, what happened to a guard who had an emission and the exact procedure as dawn approached, is all explained in the first chapter of Maseches Tamid, in Maseches Midos and in the eighth Perek of Hilchos Beis-ha'Bechirah of the Rambam.

*This Mitzvah applies to the Levi'im* and the Kohanim in the time of the Beis-Hamikdash. Any Kohen or Levi who fails to perform his guard duty, has negated a Mitzvas Asei, as well as a Lo Sa'aseh (see following Mitzvah).


Mitzvah 391:
Not to Negate the Guarding of the Beis-Hamikdash

*One may not negate the Mitzvah of walking round the Mikdash each night*, throughout the night, as the Torah writes in Korach (18:5) "And you shall observe the charge of the Kodesh" (and the word 'observe' [Hishamer, as well as 'Pen' and 'Al'] has connotations of a Lo Sa'aseh, as is well-known). Indeed, the Mechilta specifically interprets this Pasuk as a Lo Sa'aseh.

It is also possible that Chazal derive the Asei and the La'av, from the two current Pesukim; the first Pasuk, ("and they will guard") which speaks indirectly, as an Asei, and the second one ("And you shall guard"), as a Lo Sa'aseh.

For it is easy to see that an indirect command is less severe than a direct one, which explains why they connect the Asei (which is less stringent) to the first Pasuk, and the La'av, to the second.

*A reason for the Mitzvah together with some of its Dinim*, the author already presented in the Asei (see previous Mitzvah).

* * *

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