Torah Weekly - Parshat Chukat

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Parshat Chukat

Outside Israel, Parshat Chukat is read with Parshat Balak
on the week ending July 15, 2000 / 12 Tamuz 5760
In Israel for the week ending July 8, 2000 / 5 Tamuz 5760

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    The laws of the para aduma -- 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 which until then has been provided miraculously in the merit of Miriam's righteousness. Aharon and Moshe pray for the people. Hashem 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 Hashem's mastery over the world, which would have resulted had the rock produced water merely at Moshe's word. Therefore, Hashem 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 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.




    "This is the decree of the Torah" (19:2)

    Who would ever have thought that Judaism, or at least its more arcane teachings, would have become hip amongst the glitterati? And yet it's happened. Pop stars and other media darlings are all hot-footing it to be the latest adherents of Instant Kabbala.

    While one may suspect that this gross trivializing of the deepest secrets of the cosmos is no more than another quick fix for an increasingly jaded generation, this "one-stop" spiritual shopping actually reveals a deep-seated longing.

    Modern man displays a curious dichotomy: On the one hand he has rejected religion. On the other hand you find "Korrespondence Kabbala" -- an enormous clamor for all kinds of spiritual exotica and esoteric wisdom.

    Our Sages tell us that "the lover of money will not be satisfied by money." To re-mint an old saying: "You can never be too rich or too thin." Someone who has a million dollars doesn't want another million. He already has that and it didn't do the trick. What he wants is two million. Of course, the same goes for someone who has two million, four million, or a million million. A person is never satisfied with what he has. Most people die with not even half their desires fulfilled.

    But there's another saying by our Sages which is a little more difficult to fathom. "The lover of Torah will not be satisfied by Torah." It's easy to understand why material craving leads to more material craving. The desire for possessions is really the desire to possess. The act of taking possession is the sweetness. The actual object of my desire itself ceases to give me the kick that I'm looking for once I own it. But why should the lover of Torah never be satisfied with Torah?

    In this week's Torah reading, we learn about the mitzvah of the para aduma (red cow). The para aduma was the quintessential command whose function is hidden from the human mind. King Solomon, the wisest of people said: "I said I would be wise, but it [this commandment] is far from me." (Proverbs 7:23)

    The paradox of the para aduma is that while it purifies from the spiritual miasma that results from contact with death, it itself taints those who prepare it. That is, it purifies the impure and taints the pure. This paradox is beyond normal understanding.

    The root of all knowledge is another seeming paradox: To know that there is a Knowledge beyond knowledge, beyond the hollow skull of man. We live in a world that has been tainted by the concept that what is beyond our mind's grasp cannot exist. This is the basis of all atheism.

    Those who reach for spirituality, albeit in a superficial way, reflect the axiom: "The one who loves Torah, will not be satisfied by Torah." A person is never satisfied with his spiritual level. He always wants to be closer to G-d. And the closer he becomes, the more he feels the distance that remains.

    In the book of Job it says "Who can draw a pure thing out of an impure one? Is it not the One? (Job 14:4) Only He who is One can draw a pure generation out of an impure one.

    However, the Torah does not yield her secrets to everyone. Someone who thinks that he can achieve a quick spiritual fix by a superficial embrace with mysticism will find, at best, disappointment. For G-d gave his most secret wishes in the form of a Divine kiss. And just like a kiss, it is bestowed only on those of the greatest intimacy.

    • Talmud Avoda Zara 35a, Tosfot ibid.
    • Rabbi E. E. Dessler

    Haftara (Chukat in Israel)

    Shoftim 11:1 -- 33


    To the Amonite king's demand that Israel withdraw from the land east of the Jordan, Israel's new head, Yiftach, gives him a history lesson taken straight out of Parshat Chukat. Yiftach relates how the Jews had captured that land purely in self-defense against an unprovoked attack, and that it had been won from the Ammorites, not from the Amonites. Ignoring this, the Amonites attack; and -- echoing the vow made by the Jews in their battle for that same land 300 years before -- Yiftach vows to sacrifice whatever exits his house first to greet him on his victorious return. G-d gives him victory, and in a tragic twist Yiftach's daughter is the first to greet him upon his return.


    Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation," says the Talmud. This refers to our obligation to honor a leader of the Torah community even if he doesn't quite measure up to the leaders of old. Compared to Shmuel, Yiftach had relatively small spiritual stature: Shmuel's greatness as prophet is likened to that of Moshe and Aharon; whereas regarding Yiftach the word "prophet" is never even used. Nevertheless, "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation." Dreaming about the great leaders of "the good old days" is no excuse to ignore the direction of our present-day Torah leaders.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    All that is left of this ancient city is a flat-topped mound just north of the Tannier Waterfall, not far from the northern town of Metulla. It was in this city that Sheva ben Bichri took refuge after the failure of his abortive rebellion against King David (Shmuel II 20). When the city was threatened with destructions by David's commander-in-chief Yoav, a wise woman resident convinced the people to deliver the head of the hunted rebel into the hands of his pursuers and thus save the city.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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