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

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Vol. 5 No. 37

Parshas Chukas

Hashem's Judgements

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 clearly stated in the Torah, when the Torah has already written (in possuk 24) that Aharon died because, together with Moshe Rabeinu, he rebelled against Hashem when they struck the rock at the waters of Merivoh?

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 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 possuk in Tehillim (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, however slightly, 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, Aharon died because of his sin, whereas the people lost Aharon because coming too close to wicked people is bound to leave its mark. In fact, the S'fas Emes' answer 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, but not the reason that Aharon died.

"The Torah of Hashem is perfect" (Tehillim 19), 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 - and that is what the Torah 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 judgment 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 for 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.

What a good idea then, to befriend righteous people. Besides the advantage of sharing in theIR blessings (as we find Lot sharing in the blessings of Avrohom Ovinu), we now have the added benefit of being spared pain and suffering, if this will in any way cause undeserved pain and suffering to the tzadikim that one has befriended.

Parshah Pearls
Parshas Chukas

To Keep One's Mouth Shut

"And every open vessel whose lid is not tightly sealed, is tomei" (19:15). The Chofetz Cayim explained this possuk, in typical fashion, with regard to loshon ho'ra: It refers, he said, to the mouth. If it's lid is not sealed, i.e. the various fences and safeguards against loshon ho'ra are not practised, then it is inevitably tomei.

And one's head coveredý

Nor is it inappropriate to apply it to keeping one's head properly covered. I once heard a story of a Rov in Manchester who, upon meeting the son of another prominent Rov with his head uncovered, said to him, "Even dust-bins have lids".

The Mountain of Hatred

Our enemies have not changed much over the years. We can speak to them about peace, we can offer them peace, but they do not want it. They want war. When Moshe offered Sichon peace-terms, he responded by gathering an army and attacking. Og did not even wait for the peace-offer. He attacked immediately. Of the thirty-one kings of Cana'an, all, except for the Girgoshi, who fled, opted to fight. (One - the Giv'onim - later changed their minds and tricked Yehoshua into accepting their peace offer.)

When Yisroel requested from Edom no more than to allow them to pass through their land, they responded with threats: "If you attempt to pass through our land, we will attack you!"

The Ba'al ha'Turim cites Dovid ha'Melech, who wrote in Tehillim "I am peace, but when I speak, they want war".

Our enemies do not want to make peace with us, they want to fight and to destroy us, because they are jealous of us and hate us. And our modern enemies of today are no exceptions, except they are more subtle, inasmuch as they announce peace with their mouths, whilst simultaneously, their hands prepare for war.

Why Har Sinai (which has various other names, among them Har Chorev) is called by that name, explains the Gemoro, is because the moment we accepted the Torah, the nations of the world took to hating us. It is because it caused us to become a hated nation. Har Sinai means "the Mountain of hatred". It is fair to assume that their hatred is nothing other than a guilt complex - which is the result of their refusal to accept the Torah.

A Kiss of Death

Only three people are recorded in the Torah to have died by a kiss from G-d: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam (see Rashi 20:1 and Ba'al ha'Turim 20:28 and Devorim 32:50). See also Rashi (Devorim 32:50) who explains how Moshe would later die the same death as Aharon, because he so desired it.

One other person is described as having died by the kiss of G-d - Rabbi Yehudah ha'Nossi, better known as Rebbi. Chazal say that when Rebbi died, they announced that the Cohanim should come and help to bury him, because it is only the sword of the Angel of death which renders a person tomei mes when he dies, but not the kiss of Hashem.

The Shema (Part XVI)

The Yoke of Heaven

Many people have the custom to move their heads in all four directions, up and down, when saying the word 'echod', to demonstrate their belief that Hashem is G-d in all directions, in Heaven and on earth. Rebbi Yisroel Salanter said that one should not forget to include oneself in this demonstration. It is so easy to acknowledge His jurisdiction over the entire universe, but it is equally easy to forget to crown Him king over oneself.

Hashem is Our G-d

The Mishnah in B'rochos (54a) instructs us to 'bless G-d for the bad just as we bless Him for the good', and the Gemoro explains this to mean that we should thank Him with the same joy (with a full heart i.e. with equal sincerity - Rashi) for the bad things, as we do for the good things.

This is because Hashem is the epitome of kindness, and everything that He does is for the good. Even Divine justice is firmly rooted in mercy.

An alternative interpretation of the possuk will be that, seeing as Hashem is the Name of G-d that denotes Chessed, the Torah is telling us here that even when G-d judges us in His capacity as Elokim, He is still Hashem, and all of His judgements, however harsh they may appear on the surface, are based on Chessed, because everything that G-d does is based on Chessed, if it is not for the direct or indirect benefit of the person concerned, then it is at least a chessed for the rest of the Jewish people.

That explains why, immediately after explaining the above Mishnah, and basing it on no less than four sources, the Gemoro quotes Rebbi Akiva, who advises every Jew to get into the habit of always saying that everything (repeat everything) that Hashem (whom he refers to as Rachmono - the Merciful One) does is for the good. And it goes on to illustrate this with the classical story of Rebbi Akiva himself, who once arrived in a town where nobody would take him in for the night. So, with the words 'Everything that Hashem does is for the good', he went out to the fields to settle down for the night.

With him, he had a lamp, a rooster and a donkey. A wind blew out the lamp, a cat ate the rooster and a lion the donkey. 'Everything that Hashem does is for the good!' And he fell asleep.

The next morning, he discovered that robbers had attacked the town and taken all the inhabitants captive. There is no doubt, says Rashi, that had his lamp been burning, had his rooster crowed or his donkey brayed, the robbers would have caught him. When Rebbi Akiva next saw his disciples, he said to them 'Didn't I tell you that whatever Hashem does is for the good!"

And that is what is meant by Hashem is our G-d: the G-d who judges us is none other than Hashem, whose very Name denotes kindness.

Hashem is One

The Oneness of Hashem has many ramifications:
He is unique, for there is none in Heaven or on earth that can compare with Him, in any way.

He is unchanging; as He was, so he is and so He will be - for He is eternal.

He is total, for He is perfect - and His perfection is flawless.

He is one indescribable and inconceivable entity - because He is not made of component parts. All of these are incorporated in the words 'Hashem is One'.

Hashem Echod

The numerical value of 'Echod' is thirteen, the equivalent of the numerical value of 'ahavoh' - love. (Note that 'ahavoh' is the word that precedes Shema at the end of the previous b'rochoh, and it is the root of the word that follows the possuk of Shema in the Torah - because more than anything else, Hashem's relationship with us and ours with Him is based on love, and its success depends on the extent that that love is displayed.) We spoke already about the significance of that love in the b'rochoh of 'Ahavah Raboh'.

Perhaps the message is that the bond between Hashem and Yisroel is forged through a mutual love, and that love (on our part) can only be attained through a deeper understanding of Hashem's oneness. That is why 'echod' and 'ahavoh' share the same numerical value of thirteen. Perhaps in a more basic way, the numerical value for 'love' and for 'one' are the same, because it is through love that two people become one, a fact which is equally true of Hashem and Yisroel.

Hashem - Elokeinu - Hashem Echod

The role that the Ovos play in our liturgy is a vibrant and an essential one, and we have discussed it already before (in 'Keil Melech Ne'emon'). It is by their merit that we left Egypt, and it is by their merit that we entered Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, it is by their merit that we continue to exist as G-d's chosen nation. They figure prominently in the opening b'rochos of our daily amidah, and they figure prominently in the opening possuk of the Shema. Three names of G-d appear in the opening possuk: 'Hashem, Elokeinu and Hashem Echod'. Hashem represents His quality of chessed - kindness (the characteristic of Avrohom); Elokeinu, His quality of din - judgement (the characristic of Yitzchok); and Hashem Echod, the combination of the two, the quality of glory (the characteristic of Ya'akov). And the very same sequence is to be found in the last possuk of the third paragraph of the Shema (Parshas Tzitzis) which concludes with "Ani Hashem Elokeichem... Ani Hashem Elokeichem emes". "Ani Hashem" (the chessed of Avrohom), "Elokeichem" (Yitzchok), "Ani Hashem Elokeichem emes" (Ya'akov). So the Shema begins and ends with a declaration of G-d's rulership over us, and it begins and ends with the merits of our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov - because the two go hand in hand.

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