by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS CHUKAS 5767 BS"DCh. 19, v. 2: "Zose chukas haTorah asher tzivoh Hashem leimore da'beir el bnei Yisroel" - This is the statute of the Torah that Hashem commanded to say speak to the bnei Yisroel - Fulfilling Hashem's statutes is the most powerful way of guaranteeing continuity of adherence to mitzvos in future generations. Doing mitzvos that are logical is limiting the act to that which we understand. Our offspring might ch"v decide that the reasoning behind certain mitzvos no longer applies, and they might discard some mitzvos. Keeping edicts that are statutes teaches that we are Hashem's army and we do as He bids, understood or not.
This is the statute of the Torah, keeping the Torah intact and not having it fall to the whims of our limited understanding. This is "asher tzivoh Hashem," we do the mitzvos simply because Hashem commanded, "leimore," this is what we are to say, "el bnei Yisroel," to our children. (Nirreh li)
Ch. 19, v. 14: "Zose haTorah odom ki yomus b'ohel" - The is the law when a person will die in an enclosure - A person finds himself in a physical world, which it appears, has numerous delights to offer, and with immediate rewards. The Torah teaches him to concentrate on the pursuit of the spiritual, as delineated by the Torah, through its positive and negative precepts. Its rewards are not readily visible, not usually received in the immediate future, as per the dictum in Pirkei Ovos, "V'da shematan s'choron shel tzadikim l'osid lovo," - know that the reward for the righteous will be paid in the world to come. Choosing the right path is therefore a daunting challenge.
Our verse offers a great ideological approach to winning this battle. This is that one keep in mind that this world is ephemeral, short-lived. "Zose haTorah," this is the way to follow the Torah, and not be drawn after this physical world's desires, "odom ki yomus," BECAUSE (not WHEN) a person will die, and his years are this world pass like the blink of an eye, "bo'ohel," he should therefore spend his time in the "ohel" of Torah. (Nirreh li)
Ch. 19, v. 23: "Vatomos shom Miriam" - And Miriam died there - This verse follows immediately after the chapter of "poroh adumoh." Psikta Zut'r'sa 16:2 derives from this that just as "poroh adumoh" brings atonement (This is derived from the words "chatos hee" in verse nine.), so too, the death of the righteous provides atonement. The gemara Mo'eid Koton 28a says that the death of Aharon's two sons, Nodov and Avihu, although it took place at the beginning of the month Nison, is recorded next to the Yom Kippur services to teach us that just as Yom Kippur offers atonement, so too, does the death of the righteous. The question arising from these two statements is obvious. Why is there a need for two sources for the same point?
1) The Torah states a few reasons for the death of Nodov and Avihu, while it gives no reason for Miriam's death (This was dealt with in a previous edition of Sedrah Selections). Perhaps, from the death of Nodov and Avihu we learn that sins in the realm of "mishpotim" are forgiven, in step with their deaths being understood, while sins of the "chukim" type being forgiven is derived from Miriam's death. (Nirreh li)
2) Yom Kippur offers atonement, while "poroh adumoh," albeit that it is called "chatos," actually offers only purification. Possibly from Yom Kippur we derive that sins are forgiven, but some taint of the sin, the stain on the soul, remains. The second source teaches us that the soul is purified, similar to "poroh adumoh."
3) There are sins that are personal, i.e. they only directly impact on the person himself, and there are sins that impact on the broader community. Nodov and Avihu were righteous people who kept to themselves, as indicated by the words "uvonim lo hoyu lo'hem" (Bmidbar 3:4), they had no children, no students. Miriam was very communal minded, as evidenced by her saving Jewish males in Egypt from death, and her arousing all the women to sing praise to Hashem at Yam Suf. The lesson from Nodov and Avihu's death is that personal sins are forgiven, and Miriam's death teaches that sins that impact on the community are also forgiven. (Nirreh li)
Ch. 20, v. 1,2: "Vatomos shom Miriam, V'lo hoyoh mayim lo'eidoh" - And Miriam died there, And there was no water for the congregation - Rashi comments that it was in the merit of Miriam that the bnei Yisroel had water for forty years in the desert. Toldos Yitzchok says that their lacking water now was a sort of punishment in kind. We note that the Torah tells of the nation mourning the deaths of both Aharon and Moshe, but not that of Miriam, who was a prophetess, and the older sister of both Aharon and Moshe. Their not pouring tears brought a reaction in kind.
Ch. 20, v. 11: "Va'yach es ha'sela" - And he smote the stone - Rashi in the following verse explains that Moshe did not maximize the "kiddush Hashem" because had he only spoken to the stone the masses would have learned a more powerful message of hearkening to Hashem. If a stone, which awaits no reward or punishment follows Hashem's WORD, all the more we should follow Hashem's commands. This is a bit difficult to understand. The stone's miraculously giving forth water in response to being hit with a staff conveys the same message. What difference is there if the mode of communication is "talking to a rock" or hitting it?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Dorash Moshe explains that we could have learned the message that our WORDS have a positive effect when we attempt to bring someone closer to proper Torah observance, even when we feel we are "talking to a rock." This lesson is not derived from smiting the rock.
Perhaps there is another symbolism here as well. The Torah is likened to water. The first time, Moshe hit the rock and it issued forth water. Now he was to speak to it. Issuing forth water, studying and understanding Torah comes with difficulty, symbolized by smiting. When one continues studying, understanding comes more easily, just as speaking is a lesser effort than smiting. (Nirreh li)
Ch. 21, v. 5: "V'nafsheinu kotzoh b'lechem haklokeil" - And our soul is disgusted with this negligible bread - Rashi says that the bread was considered negligible because it was totally absorbed into the body, with no waste expelled. They complained, "The manna will swell in our intestines. Can a human being take in and not have output?" This is most puzzling. They existed this way for close to forty years!
The gemara Gitin 56b relates the story of Rabbi Tzodok, who fasted for forty years. When he was given an expanded diet, it was done in very carefully measured, tiny increments, so that he not have a sudden expansion of his intestines, which could well be fatal.
Their complaint was not about the manna itself, but that when they would enter Eretz Yisroel and begin eating normal food, they would die, because their digestive waste expelling system was not functioning all these years. "Osid hamon she'yisApach (meaning it will cause to swell, not 'she'yispach,' it itself will swell - this point seems to be necessary for the validity of this insight) b'mei'einu." (Sifsei Tzadik)
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