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

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Vol. 23   No. 40

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Rachel Devorah bas R' Yaakov Chanoch a"y

Parshas Chukas

A Horse will be a Horse
(Adapted from the Chafetz Chayim)

"Therefore the parable-sayers say 'Come to Cheshbon, the capital of Sichon, King of the Emori, the city of Sichon will be built and established' " (21:27).


The parable-sayers, Bil'am and his father Be'or, were heralding the victory of Sichon over the hitherto invincible Mo'av. Sichon did indeed go on to conquer Cheshbon, which was then rebuilt as part of his country. And it was the prophetic curse against Mo'av, which had worked so well against his own country of birth, that convinced Ballak, the new King of Mo'av, that Bil'am was the right address to curse Yisrael, who, he felt, were now posing a threat to his country.


The Gemara in Bava Basra (78b), however, explains the Pasuk out of context. Interpreting "moshlim" as rulers and "Cheshbon" as reckoning, it explains it as follows: 'Therefore, those who control their Yeitzer-ha'Ra say 'Come and make the reckoning of the world (i.e. on which the world rests) - the loss incurred when performing a mitzvah as against the reward, and the benefit of an aveirah against the loss. If you do this you will be built and established in both this world and in the World to Come'.


The Chofetz Chayim connects this with the S'mag, who explains the purpose of the creation of man, by contrasting him to the angels on the one hand, and to the animals on the other. The angels, he points out, have no freedom of choice, since they are totally spiritual and follow the dictates of wisdom, whereas animals have no choice because they are completely physical and automatically follow their every whim and fancy.

G-d therefore created man, with the physical body of an animal and the spiritual Soul (Neshamah) of an angel. The combination of the two enable man to choose between good and evil - which in effect, is the purpose of the creation. The moment he turns bar-Mitzvah, the battle between the two forces rages. Sometimes the Neshamah dominates, sometimes, the body. Tzadikim are those people whose Neshamah consistantly gains the upper hand, whilst those whose bodies predominate are called resha'im. Most of us are beinonim (average), because we hover somewhere in the middle, winning one day, losing the next.

What the Gemara is therefore teaching us, says the Chofetz Chayim, is the importance of constantly weighing one's deeds, to make sure that one's victories grow more frequent with the passing of time.


The Ma'aseh la'Melech illustrates this with a mashal: A wagon-driver, who was transporting a wealthy merchant through the night, allowed himself to take a nap. Meanwhile the horse, spying some delicacy, veered off the road, causing the wagon to overturn, spilling its contents, including the merchant and all his merchandise, into a ditch.

The wagon-driver explained to his client that he had assumed his horse to be steady and reliable. He truly believed that his trusted and experienced steed understood how to keep a straight course, and that it would never deviate from it for all the tasty morsels in the world. Indeed, he tried to convince him, his horse was exceptionally wise!

The angry merchant remained unimpressed. 'You fool!' he shouted at him 'Since when does one ascribe wisdom to a horse? Unless it is guided, a horse follows only its instincts and does as it pleases. Without guidance, a horse will always be a horse.


Man too, is a 'horse'. Unless he makes a regular Cheshbon ha'Nefesh - weighing up the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and creating a barrier between the good and the bad, he will inevitably find himself travelling on the road that leads to Gehinom.

A guided horse will lead its rider to his destination; a guided person will end up in Gan Eden.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

The Parah Adumah
(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

From the time that Moshe brought the first Parah Adumah in the desert until the destruction of the second Beis-ha'Mikdash - a time-span that covered over 1300 hundred years - the nine cows that were used were brought by:

1). Moshe Rabeinu,

2). Ezra,

3&4). Shimon ha'Tzadik,

5&6). Yochanan Kohen Gadol, 7). Elioheini Kohen Gadol,

8). Chananel ha'Mitzri Kohen Gadol,

9). Yishmael ben Fiabi Kohen Gadol.

The tenth and final Parah Adumah is destined to be brought by Mashi'ach.


If it is remarkable that only nine Poros Adumos sufficed over such a long period of time, the fact that only one Parah was needed for the more than nine hundred years between Moshe and Ezra is mind-boggling indeed.

In any event it demonstrates the extreme care that the people took to avoid becoming Tamei Meis, a concept that, apart from Kohanim, is quite alien to the rest of us.


Snakes Don't Kill!

" whoever is bitten and will see it (the copper snake) will live" (21:8).

The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (Daf 29a) comments 'Does a snake really kill or bring to life? Only whoever looked up and submitted his heart to his Father in Heaven was cured; whoever did not, died'.

Prior to that, in connection with the battle with Amalek, about which the Torah writes at the end of Beshalach "Whenever Moshe raised his hands, Yisrael began to win ", the Mishnah comments - 'Do Moshe's hands win wars or lose wars? It is therefore coming to tell us that as long as Yisrael looked upwards and subjugated their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were victorious. If not, they fell'.

Why does the Mishnah see fit, asks the Torah Temimah, to provide us with the same information twice? And why the change of expression between the two cases?


It seems to me that the second question answers the first. Here's how

Like most sins perpetrated by Yisrael in the Desert, both of the above sins sprung from a lack of Emunah, the first, when they queried whether G-d was in their midst, the second, when they downgraded the Manna, despite the absurdity of both grievances.

On both occasions, G-d responded immediately, as He tended to do throughout those forty years, the one by inciting their arch-enemy Amalek to travel from afar to attack them, the other by sending snakes (man's adversary) to attack and bite them. And both times, Yisrael prevailed over the threat by looking upwards towards G-d, and submitting themselves to His jurisdiction - the ideal way of making amends for the lack of faith that brought on the punishment. The major difference between the two cases however, lies in the fact that, in his Divine wisdom, whereas Amalek had attacked and was poised to defeat Yisrael, he had not yet succeeded in doing so, the snakes had already bitten the people. Consequently, when the former did Teshuvah, they were able to turn imminent defeat into victory, whilst the latter went one step further - their Teshuvah brought about a miraculous recovery from the brink of death.

It transpires that the Tana is coming to teach us that Teshuvah helps, not only to stave off the punishment and to turn imminent defeat into victory, but it also helps to snatch the sinner from death's door and to restore him to his former health. That explains why the Mishnah changes from the word 'they were victorious' to 'they were cured'.


Cheshbon Once Belonged to Mo'ov

Why does the Pasuk (21:26) see fit to inform us that Cheshbon had once belonged to Mo'av and that Sichon had captured it from them?

The Gemara in Chulin (Daf 60b) asks the question. It gives the following answer: Although G-d had promised Avraham that his children would inherit ten lands, only seven (the seven nations comprising Cana'an) were actually given to them then. The lands of Amon, Mo'av and Edom were temporarily given to the sons of Lot and to Eisav - and Yisrael would only inherit them in the time of Mashi'ach. Until then, Yisrael were forbidden to take them. Consequently, it is important to know that they were only permitted to capture Cheshbon because it no longer belonged to Mo'av, but to Sichon King of the Emori.


Incidentally, we learn from here that min ha'Torah, any territory conquered in battle belongs to the conqueror and need not be returned.

* * *

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