Torah Weekly

For the week ending 27 June 2020 / 5 Tammuz 5780

Parshat Chukat

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The laws of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer, are detailed. These laws are for the ritual purification of one who comes into contact with death.

After nearly 40 years in the desert, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. The people complain about the loss of their water supply that until now has been provided miraculously in the merit of Miriam's righteousness. Aharon and Moshe pray for the people's welfare. G-d commands them to gather the nation at Merivah and speak to a designated rock so that water will flow forth. Distressed by the people's lack of faith, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it. He thus fails to produce the intended public demonstration of G-d's mastery over the world, which would have resulted had the rock produced water merely at Moshe's word. Therefore, G-d tells Moshe and Aharon that they will not bring the people into the Land.

Bnei Yisrael resume their travels, but because the King of Edom, a descendant of Esav, denies them passage through his country, they do not travel the most direct route to Eretz Yisrael. When they reach Mount Hor, Aharon dies and his son Elazar is invested with his priestly garments and responsibilities. Aharon was beloved by all, and the entire nation mourns him for 30 days. Sichon the Amorite attacks Bnei Yisrael when they ask to pass through his land. As a result, Bnei Yisrael conquer the lands that Sichon had previously seized from the Amonites on the east bank of the Jordan River.


The Premium of Freemium

“...regarding this, the poets would say, ‘Come to Cheshbon! Let it be built and established as the city of Sichon!’” (21:25-27)

For those of us whose memories stretch back to 8-track cartridges, the current revolution in music streaming is truly mind-boggling. Spotify is a ‘freemium’ service (we’ll come back to that) that offers access to over 50 million tracks. If we say that the average lifetime of a human being is 25,915 days, so that’s 621,960 hours and 37,317,600 minutes, and the average track is about 3 minutes long — so that’s enough music to keep you going for over four lifetimes — assuming that you give up sleeping and spend your entire life listening to music. Now that’s what I call dedication!

It seems almost too good to be true. You never need to buy another record! Once in a very long time, they’ll play an ad, but then, why not? And then the ads seem to be a teensy bit more frequent, almost something you wouldn’t notice. And then comes an ad that says that if you want all the ads removed, you can get a free subscription for three months and then you start to pay. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The ads start to come with more and more frequency. Two ads one after the other, and then three. At this point I was sorely tempted to give up and just pay. But I was fascinated to know how far Spotify would be prepared to take this ‘nuisance factor.’ One track every ad? I’ll let you know when I get there…

I was thinking that the yetzer hara (negative human inclination) must have taken a lesson from Spotify.

“...regarding this, the poets would say, ‘Come to Cheshbon! Let it be built and established as the city of Sichon!’”

Commenting on the verse in this week’s Torah portion, the Gemara (Bava Batra 78a) says, “Said Rav Shmuel bar Nachman in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: What is the meaning of the verse, ‘the poets (hamoshelim) would say…’? Answer: ‘Hamoshelim’ are those who rule over their evil inclinations. ‘Come to Cheshbon’ means Come, let us make an ‘account’ (cheshbon) of the world, meaning, let us consider the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a mitzvah against the reward for performing it and set that against the gain (the pleasure) of a transgression against the loss it involves.

We all have a little voice inside us that loves a freebie, but when you go into a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu, remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch — or a free record for that matter. Life comes as a freemium.

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