The Greatest "Choks" of the Century
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, "This is the statute of the Torah
(chukas haTorah) which G-d has commanded you ..." (Bamidbar 19:1)
I would like to make a point, one, which I believe, is worthwhile to make
in light of this week's parshah.
By now, many people are familiar with the "Bible Codes." For those who are
unfamiliar with this term, it refers to hidden references in the Torah to
either people or events that occurred outside the Torah's historical point
of reference. If the references are in indeed what they are claimed to be,
then the "author" of the Torah was very, very clever, and, he also knew the
future. The implications of this statement are obvious, and, the reason why
the Bible Codes are part of many outreach programs.
The truth is, some of these references were arrived at before the impact of
the computer age, either as a result of tradition, or pure genius, or both.
(For example, there is a reference to Hitler in the Plague of Darkness that
was discovered shortly after World War II, exactly where one would expect
to find it.) Many codes today, however, are quite sophisticated, and make
use of modern computer technology to surface what often seem to be
black-and-white references to people or historical occurences that we would
have assumed should not be there.
Unless, as we have already mentioned, one believes the Torah was Divinely
written, and, as the Vilna Gaon emphasizes, all of history is embedded in
the Torah on one level or another. The Bible Codes are therefore used to
make this point, a point often taken seriously when the "odds" are
considered about the possibility of such references existing as they do and
in their context. If you can "prove" to a non-believer that the odds are
too great to logically assume the references are random, then the mind
obligates a person, at the very least, to check further into the Divine
validity of Torah.
This has been a gross over-simplification of an important idea. However, it
is enough of the discussion to mention that herein lies a major
controversy, not just between the religious and non-religious "scientific"
communities, but also within the Orthodox Community itself, amongst the
mathematical and physics "experts" on the same side of the "line."
Simply put, some don't buy it--vehemently they don't buy it. And they worry
out loud (often in publications) about the eventual damage to Torah's
credibility if the Codes continue to be used as a reason to believe in
Torah from Sinai. They hold (as it was explained to me), that the testing
of the "codes" to mathematically ascertain the odds of the results being
"random" are neither accurate nor rigorous enough. They feel, therefore,
that potential belief in Torah is being put at risk, because the results
are just not absolute enough to be used as a basis to convince intelligent
people about the Divine authorship of Torah.
The other side, the "Presenters" of the Codes, obviously disagree, and they
include big name people from the scientific community as well. They have
also been successful with the Bible Codes to pique the interest of many
people over the years, with varying ranges of intellgence. They also, it
might be added, have leading rabbis on their side encouraging them to
continue with their work and seminars.
Fine ... All that is very fine.
However, that is not the point I wish to address, nor am I coming to enter
"my head between mountains" in order to discuss the merit or demerit of the
Codes and the teaching of them as a basis for belief. Personally, I have
found that the Torah, with all of its many facets is so awesome, so
fantastic, that it is enough to convince any rational and
intellectually-honest person about Torah being from Sinai. Simply put,
Torah in its totality (or, at least as much of it as a person merits to
grasp), is so godly that it is next to impossible to negate its divine
connection. (As one rabbi once said, "If you knew what I knew, you would
believe it too!)
Furthermore, when you consider the incredible gematrios
(Kabbalistic-numerology, in short) found in the Arizal, and even just in
the Ba'al HaTurim on the Chumash, many of the codes become more than
credible--but not because of any odds or rigourous mathematical testing.
Consider the following quote (not because this person is an
expert-of-experts, but because he eloquently expresses a point that
everyone should consider):
" ... Among the causes of this scientific tunnel vision I would like to
discuss two that result from the nature of scientific tradition. The first
of these is the issue of methodology. In its laudable insistence upon
experience, accurate observation and verifiability, science has placed
great emphasis upon measurement. To measure something is to experience it
in a certain dimension, a dimension in which we can make observations of
great accuracy which are repeatable by others. The use of measurement has
enabled science to make enormous strides in the understanding of the
material universe. But by virtue of its success, measurement has become a
scientific idol ..." (The Road Less Traveled, III Growth and Religion,
Scientific Tunnel Vision; Simon and Schuster, 1978)
The author adds much more to this, also important and well-written.
However, this is all I need to quote as a Torah-Jew to wonder out loud,
"Are we making the mistake of measuring the validity of the codes according
to the wrong standard of measurement? If the Talmud says that 'a finger
does not go up in the air unless it is decreed in Heaven' (Chullin 7b),
and, 'All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of G-d' (Brochos 34b),
can we not safely assume that if something happens--like the Codes--it is a
matter of Divine Providence?"
In other words, if the odds of something happening are even one-in-two,
that doesn't bother Torah-Jews, if the concept is true according to Torah,
and it strengthens a Torah idea. And if the odds are two-billion-to-one
that something bad could happen to you while engaging in an anti-Torah
activity, then you have to worry about the one, because in a system of
belief like that of Torah, the "one" becomes none other than the "One."
After all, this is G-d's "game," and He can do whatever He wants, the way
He wants to do it, and whenever He wants to do it. He usually does.
There is no such things as "odds" or "coincidences" when it comes to Torah
and Divine Providence, which brings us to the connection (just as you
probably gave up on one) between what we have just said, and this week's
parshah. At the beginning of Parashas Chukas, Rashi defines a "chok"
(Torah-statute) as a mitzvah for which ...
"... The Satan and the Nations-of-the-World taunt Israel, asking, 'What is
this commandment and what reason is there for it?" On this account, it
writes "chukah," as if to say, it is an enactment before Me, and you are
not allowed to wonder about it ..." (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:1)
The underpinning of this statement is not that there are some mitzvos that
do not make sense at all, but that we Jews are good soldiers who blindly
follow orders and do them anyhow. Every mitzvah, right down to the Red
Heifer in this week's parshah--the ultimate Torah-statute--makes perfect
sense, well, at least to G-d. Well, at least for now, for, as our tradition
teaches, eventually, they will also make sense to us, when we finally come
to view the world from G-d's supernatural perspective later in history.
And that's what we have to try to do everyday, and this is also the point
of learning Torah: to develop a godly perception of reality, and to measure
the events of daily life not by non-Jewish mathematical standards, but in
terms of Hashgochah Pratis-standards. The Jewish people are not supposed to
try to live within a world governed by nature (Shabbos 156a): "Ain mazel
l'Yisroel" (Jews are not necessarily bound by a fixed destiny) is a
standard to live up to, not into.
In fact, it has been brought forth many times, mathematically, Jewish
survival should not have been. Even leaving Egypt was against all odds, and
the only thing that was "rigorous" with respect to those odds was the
slavery the Jewish people underwent before leaving. However, "Bris Avos"
(Covenant of the Fathers) means that G-d deals with the Jewish people in a
supernatural way, even in exile, and "speaks" to us through various
different means and acts of Providence, and often works quietly behind the
scenes instumenting redemption.
You just have to know how to read the writing on the wall.
So, in conclusion (for now), let me reiterate that I have come to neither
to defend or condemn the use of such outreach devices as the Bible Codes.
That is not my job, nor am I qualified to do so. However, what I have come
to express is a concern that, in the midst of the heated debate, the most
important points to emerge from all of this is getting lost in a stream of
equations, computer jargon, and plain old rhetoric.
The first point? That there is wonderful Divine Providence behind all that
we have been able to uncover through Torah and in Torah throughout the
generations, today including, including with the help computers. The second
point? That we Jews celebrate and greatly rejoice in these discoveries,
even when the rest of the world questions us for doing so, and their rules
of logic dictate that we ought not to.
We celebrate the chukim as well as the mishpatim--no matter how odd it
appears to others.
The entire nation of Israel reached the Tzin desert in the first month. The
people camped in Kadesh, and that is where Miriam died and was buried.
There was no water for the people, and they gathered against Moshe and
Aharon. (Bamidbar 20:1-3)
As Rashi reminds us, the juxtaposition of these two incidents is to inform
us that the miraculous well that followed the Jewish people around for 40
years in the desert, supplying them with all their water-needs, was in the
merit of Miriam. We have already discussed that merit in previous years.
Whatever happened to Miriam's Well in the end? Do we even know? The Talmud
seems to have the answer:
Rav Nechemiah said in the name of Rav Chiyah: One who wants to see the Well
of Miriam should ascend to the top of Har Carmel and look and see a rock
that looks like a sieve. (Shabbos 35a)
As Rashi explains, Har Carmel is on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and
provides a tremendous viewing point of the whole area for miles around.
Seemingly, according to the Talmud, the Be'er Miriam took its retirement
somewhere in the sea off the shore of Eretz Yisroel.
However, there is a story that seems to indicate that the well might be
somewhere in the Kinneret Sea instead. According to a tradition, when Rabbi
Chaim Vital, the foremost student of the Arizal himself and who was
responsible for writing down the teachings of his saintly master, had
difficulty remembering what he was learning, the Arizal took him out in a
small boat to the center of the Kinneret. There he had his student drink
from the waters from the Well of Miriam, after which time Rav Chaim rarely
How serious do we take any of this? According to the "Kol Bo," "some have a
tradition to draw water [from a well] Motzei Shabbos, because Miriam's Well
supplies all the wells each Motzei Shabbos, and one who does so and drinks
will be cured of illness" (Orach Chaim, 299:10)
The "Ramah" adds that he "never saw this" tradition actually being carried
out, but it doesn't mean the idea itself is not true, especially given the
miraculous nature of the well itself.
The spiritual quality of a "well" might be indicated by the Hebrew word
itself: be'er--which is spelt: bais. aleph, raish. On the other hand, a
"bor," which is the Hebrew word for a "pit," is spelt: bais, vav, raish,
the difference between the two words being the middle letter, which is an
aleph in "be'er" and a "vav" in "bor."
The physical difference between the two is that, a be'er contains water,
and a pit usually does not (at least not well water). We see this in the
Rav Kahana said: Rav Nachman bar Munyumi elucidated in the name of Rebi
Tanchum: Why does it say, "The pit [bor] was empty and was without water
..." (Bereishis 37:24)? If the pit is empty, do I not know that it was
without water? Why does the Torah say that it "was without water"? [To
teach that] there wasn't any water, but there were snakes and scorpions.
The spiritual difference is the following. The Hebrew letter "aleph" is
actually a composite of three letters, two yuds and a vav running
horizontally between them, connection the upper and lower yud. This has
many Kabbalistic connotations, one of which is that the three letters add
up to twenty-six, the numerical value of G-d's Holy Ineffable Four-Letter
Name. This is one of the reasons why an aleph also symbolizes G-d, as we
have discussed in the past.
Hence, in the word "bor," the middle "vav" is missing the two "yuds" to
transform it into an "aleph," and the waterless pit into a water-filled
well, so-to-speak. And of course, as the Talmud says, "There is no water
except for Torah."
Now, the numerical value of the two yuds is twenty, and twenty is a number
that symbolizes intellectual blindness (see, "Redemption to Redemption").
So, the "bor" without its water, and without its Torah, alludes to
intellectual blindness, and the lack of potential to see past physical
reality and to connect to G-d.
However, the be'er, on the other hand, is filled with water, Torah, and
connection to G-d. Which is why, according to the Pri Tzaddik, Miriam's
Well actually symbolized the Oral Law, and one's ability to retain it. This
would explain, therefore, why the Arizal took his most important student on
an excursion out to a point in the sea that is watered by the "springs" of
The princes dug the well, the nobles of the people hollowed it, by the
law-giver, with their staffs. From the desert [they went] to Mattanah; from
Mattanah to Nachliel; from Nachliel to Bamos. (Bamidbar 21:18-19)
When the Jewish people witness great miracles on their behalf, they like to
sing about it. After the splitting of the sea (Parashas Beshallach), they
sang shirah--song of the soul. Now, after the tremendous miracle of water
from the well, the souls of the Jewish people could not contain themselves,
and shirah and its vocalized praise of G-d's providence again was the
The rabbis ask in the Talmud:
Why does it say, "From the desert they went to Mattanah"? If a man makes
himself like a desert, abandoning himself to all (Rashi: he teaches Torah
to everyone free-of-charge), then Torah will be given to him as a gift
(mattanah), as it says, "From the desert to Mattanah." Since it is given to
him as a gift, he will inherit it from G-d (nachalo E"l), as it says, "from
Mattanah to Nachliel." Since he inherited it from G-d, he will become
elevated to greatness, as it says, "from Nachliel to Bamos (elevated
places)." (Nedarim 55a)
Hence, according to the Talmud, the last part of the verses above are
really speaking about Torah. However, according to the Vilna Gaon, the
first part of the above paragraph is also speaking about Torah:
"... Because a well is the Torah, as it says, 'Drink water from your own
cistern, and flowing water from your own well.' (Mishlei 5:16)."
The Gaon then adds:
"It is a trait of the Torah, as we see from the verse, 'For wisdom protects
as well as money ...' (Koheles 7:12), and, 'It is a tree of life for all
those who grasp it' (Mishlei 3:18), that one who cannot learn Torah on his
own, but 'grasps' it through those who can learn Torah, is rewarded as if
he learned Torah on his own, because 'wisdom protects as well as money'
In other words, the Zevulun-Yissachar relationship really works. The former
were sea-merchants who lacked the ability to learn Torah like their fellow
Jews, Yissachar, who only had a drive for Torah, and nothing else. Hence,
Zevulun financially supported Yissachar, who learned on behalf of both of
(What a shame it is today that the attitude has changed so dramatically,
and therefore, the opportunity as well. There are Torah scholars who have
little desire but to learn Torah all day long, with tremendous
self-sacrifice yet. On the other side of the "table," there are Jews who
have tremendous financial resources, but little or no desire to learn
Torah, or to financially support those who do. The "shidduch" is therefore
not made, and the result is less Torah learned by the scholars, and less
reward earned by the people who could support them! Then again, as the
Zohar predicted, this is the result of the reduced respect for Torah just
before Moshiach's arrival.)
The Gaon continues:
"And this is what it means: the well is the Torah 'dug by the princes,'
that is, the 'princes' of Torah who learn it and 'dig' out and deepen their
knowledge from learning it and its mysteries."
Learning Torah, explains the Vilna Gaon, is comparable to digging an
intellectual and spiritual well ...
" 'The nobles of the people hollowed it ...' refers to the people who give
gifts and the wealthy people, who are constantly involved in business,
acquire Torah with their money ... when they support Torah." (Kol Eliyahu,
In the past, this may not have been easy to do because of the lack of
wealthy Jews amongst the Jewish population as a whole. The willingness to
financially support Torah institutions and Torah scholars might have been
there, but the money just wasn't.
Ironically, as is often the case with Divine Providence, the situation has
reversed itself: currently, the money is there; however, the willingness,
as a result of assimilation and the times we live in, has become
diminished, just as the angel had precipitated. For, as the Zohar points
out, when the angel "grabbed" and damaged the leg of Ya'akov that fateful
night he became "Yisroel," he was, in fact "attacking" the supporters of
Torah, in the "End-of-Days."
This is something to think about next time you feel resistance to write
that check to strengthen Torah, and all those who uphold it.
Yiftach the Gilladi was a mighty man ... Gillad's wife gave birth to sons
for him; his wife's sons grew up and drove Yiftach away, and they said to
him, "You shall not inherit in our father's house for you are the son of
another woman." Yiftach fled from his brothers ... (Shoftim 11:1-3)
The story of Yiftach is a moving story about a man who was rejected by his
people, left alone to his own devices for survival. He was sent away for
the wrong reasons, and justice did not work on his behalf. And, even though
he possessed the physical prowess to take revenge on his own and avoid
expulsion, instead, he chose to be patient with G-d, trusting that the day
would come when he would be vindicated, the right way.
The day came. It was "after many days that Ammon made war with Israel," and
this forced his people to seek out Yiftach as a leader. After the elders
humbled themselves to Yiftach, who had not been a Torah scholar, he
consented to be their leader in war against Ammon. Such is the power of
belief in G-d and His ways (Bava Kamma 92b). When it came to the "chok"
(the unclear-and-difficult-to-understand) aspect of G-d's Divine
Providence, Yiftach was a patient, loyal servant.
However, this week's parshah starts off with the words, "This is the
statute of the Torah ..." as if to say, you have to have both aspects:
faith in G-d and Torah background. Because Yiftach did not, he stumbled
into a tragic mistake that cost his daughter the chance to get married and
have children like other eligible women, his own life, and the great
Pinchas his prophecy. A vow made to express his gratitude to G-d for his
success in battle ended up undoing other important things in life, and
souring his success.
The understanding of chukim may be "distant" from us, but that of the
mishpatim is not. And if we devote ourselves to understanding and relating
to the parts of Torah that G-d has made available to us, it is bound to
result in insights into the chukim as well.