Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Chukas


 Dabeir el B’nei Yisroel v’yikchu aleicha parah adumah temimah (19:2)

The Gemora in Kiddushin (31a) relates the tremendous dedication of a non-Jew named Dama ben Nesina to the mitzvah of honoring his parents. The Sages once came to him to purchase something for a tremendous amount of money, but the key needed to access it was underneath the pillow on which Dama’s father was sleeping. Although Dama would have made a tremendous profit if he woke his father to get the key, he chose to honor his father and refused to inconvenience him.

The Gemora adds that many years later, Hashem rewarded Dama when a rare parah adumah (red heifer) was born in his herd. When the Sages heard about the cow, they came to his home to purchase it. Dama told them that he recognized the cow’s value to them and knew that they would agree to whatever price he demanded for it. Nevertheless, he asked them to pay only the money which he lost as a result of honoring his father. Why did Hashem specifically reward Dama with a parah adumah, and what lesson is the Gemora teaching us through this episode?

The Darkei Mussar suggests that the Gemora is using this incident to teach a fundamental difference between Jews and non-Jews in their approach to doing mitzvos. A Jew would never be willing to sell or trade the reward that he receives for his mitzvah performance, yet Dama had no compunctions about doing so. In fact, he was the one who insisted on it!

Perhaps it is for this reason that he was specifically rewarded with a parah adumah. If the prosecuting angel attempts to use Dama’s exemplary honor for his father to challenge the Jewish people’s dedication to this mitzvah, they can respond by pointing out that he had no reservations about selling his reward for the mitzvah. The Kotzker Rebbe goes one step further, pointing out that while Dama was willing to trade away the logical mitzvah that he performed, the Jewish Sages were willing to spend an exorbitant amount of money to fulfill a mitzvah whose understanding was completely beyond them.

Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov offers an innovative explanation of an expression used in the Mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashana. He begins by noting an interesting difference between the proper attitude toward mitzvos and sins. It is preferable to remember sins constantly (Tehillim 51:5) so as to fully repent them and to be careful not to repeat them. Regarding mitzvos, however, it is advisable not to remember and dwell on one’s successes, which may cause a person to become haughty and complacent. Instead, it is better to leave them in the past and to always focus on future growth and accomplishments.

At the end of the section of the Remembrances section of the Rosh Hashana Mussaf prayers, we say You (Hashem) remember everything that is forgotten. In other words, Hashem remembers whatever we forget and “forgets” whatever we remember. If a person acts properly, remembering his sins and forgetting his mitzvos, Hashem will overlook his misdeeds and focus on recalling his accomplishments. If, however, the person forgets his sins and arrogantly dwells on his mitzvos, Hashem will meticulously remember each sin while overlooking all of his good deeds.

In this vein, the Darkei Mussar writes that although Dama was blessed with the birth of a parah adumah in his herd, several years had passed and there was no reason to assume that this was his reward for honoring his father. The Gemora is teaching us that the non-Jewish approach is to dwell on the past and focus on the good deeds that he has already performed, whereas a Jew looks to the future and is never satisfied with what he has already accomplished.

Vayomer Hashem el Moshe v’el Aharon ya’an lo he’emantem bi l’hakdisheini l’einei B’nei Yisroel lachein lo savi’u es hakahal hazeh el ha’aretz asher nasati lahem (20:12)

As a result of Moshe’s sin at Mei Meriva (the waters of strife), Hashem told him that he would die in the wilderness and wouldn’t merit leading the Jews into the land of Israel. In Parshas Ha’azinu (Devorim 32:51), the Torah seems to give two explanations for Moshe’s actual sin: he trespassed against Hashem, and he also failed to sanctify Hashem’s name among the Jewish people. What are the two different components of this sin, and in what way are they connected?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:1) warns a person to remember that he will be required to give a din v’cheshbon – judgment and accounting – before Hashem, the King of Kings. As Chazal don’t waste words or repeat themselves with unnecessary synonyms, a number of commentators question what is the difference between judgment and accounting?

The Vilna Gaon explains that din is what a person visualizes when he imagines the process of Divine justice; it is the punishment that a person will receive for his actions. As if that weren’t scary enough, the Mishnah teaches us that a person must also give a cheshbon. He will additionally be punished for the opportunity cost of the sin, which is all of the good deeds which he could have accomplished with the time and resources that he invested in the sin.

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the Torah is emphasizing these same two concepts. It begins by stating Moshe’s actual sin: he trespassed against Hashem by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Additionally, Rashi writes that had Moshe followed Hashem’s orders and publicly demonstrated the rock bringing forth water at Hashem’s verbal command, a tremendous sanctification of Hashem’s name would have occurred. The Torah emphasizes that even the great Moshe had to give a din v’cheshbon and was punished not only for what he did, but also for what he had the potential to do.

Vayishlach Moshe malachim mi’Kadesh el melech Edom koh amar achicha Yisroel … vanitzak el Hashem vayishma koleinu vayishlach malach vayotzieinu miMitzrayim (20:14-16)

Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to travel through his land. He instructed the messengers to recount to the king their national history, including a mention of how much they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians until Hashem sent an angel to free them. Rashi explains that the angel refers to Moshe. How could the humble Moshe refer to himself as an angel?

The following story will help us appreciate the answer to this question. One of the leading sages of Vilna encountered an ignorant farmer riding in a wagon which was being pulled by a horse and a cow in violation of the Torah prohibition (Devorim 22:10) against coupling two different species for any kind of work. The Rav warned the man that what he was doing was forbidden, but the farmer refused to listen.

After several more attempts to convince the man of the severity of his actions fell on deaf ears, the Rav finally proclaimed, “Do you know who I am? I’m the greatest Rabbi in Vilna, and if you refuse to stop what you’re doing, I will publicly excommunicate you!” Cognizant of the stature of the man whose opinion he had been ignoring and the dire consequences of continuing to do so, the farmer quickly unharnessed his horse and cow.

The Oznayim L’Torah explains that although the nature of a Torah scholar, and certainly one as great as Moshe, is to be humble, he must also realize that there are times when circumstances require him to acknowledge his greatness. By disclosing his true stature to the farmer, the Rav was able to intimidate him into compliance with a mitzvah in a way which no other form of rebuke was able to accomplish.

Similarly, when Moshe wanted to lead the Jewish people through the land of Edom on their way to the land of Israel, he hoped to instill fear and terror into the Edomites so that they would permit the Jews passage through their land. Moshe understood that the odds of his request being approved would increase greatly if he would not-so-subtly inform them that it was being made by no ordinary human, but by one as great as an angel.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (20:1) that the death of Miriam is juxtaposed to the section containing the laws of the parah adumah in order to teach that the death of the righteous effects atonement similar to the bringing of sacrifices. Why is the death of the righteous compared to the parah adumah and not to one of the more traditional sacrifices?

2)     In the prayer for rain recited by the chazzan during the Mussaf prayers on Shemini Atzeres, each stanza invokes the water-related merits of one of our righteous forefathers. In the stanza referring to Moshe, we include a reference to the fact that at the time that the Jewish nation was thirsty for water, he struck the rock and caused water to come forth (20:11). Since Moshe was punished for his actions and wasn’t allowed to enter Israel as a result, why do we invoke an action which is considered a sin? (Imrei Daas, Taam V’Daas, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

3)     Moshe stripped Aharon of the garments of the Kohen Gadol and dressed Elozar in them inside the cave (20:28), as Hashem had commanded him to do, thus inaugurating Elozar as the Kohen Gadol. As a Kohen Gadol is forbidden to become ritually impure even upon the death of his immediate relatives, how was Elozar permitted to remain in the cave in which Aharon died, thus rendering Elozar impure? (Ayeles HaShachar)

4)     Rashi writes (20:29) that upon seeing Moshe and Elozar descend from the mountain, the Jewish people immediately asked regarding Aharon’s whereabouts. Upon hearing that he had died, they refused to believe it, wondering how a person who had successfully stopped an angel killing people in a plague could succumb to the angel of death. Moshe prayed for Divine assistance and the people were shown an image of Aharon lying dead in a bed, at which point they believed that he had indeed died. How did this constitute an adequate proof for them, when they knew that they had also been shown a picture (Rashi Shemos 32:1) of a dead Moshe being carried to Heaven – thus inspiring the sin of the golden calf – which they later found out was completely false and unreliable? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Yad Av)

5)     Rashi writes (21:1) that when the Amalekites came to attack the Jewish people, they were afraid that the Jews would pray to Hashem to defeat them. In an attempt to thwart the efficacy of their prayers, the Amalekites spoke in the Canaanite language, hoping that the Jews would be tricked into praying for victory over their Canaanite foes. Because they were still wearing the clothing of Amalekites, the Jews were confused regarding their true identity and simply prayed to Hashem for help in defeating “this nation” – whichever it may be – and they prevailed. Why didn’t the Amalekites also change their garments to those of the Canaanites to ensure that their ruse would be successful? (Chiddushei HaRim, Tal’lei Oros, Taam V’Daas, Rashi Divrei HaYamim 2 20:1)

© 2008 by Oizer Alport.