Volume 33, No.39
10 Tammuz 5779
July 13, 2019
Martin and Michelle Swartz
on the yahrzeit (12 Tammuz)
of Martin’s grandfather John Hofmann a”h
This week’s Parashah begins with the Mitzvah of Parah Adumah / red heifer. R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (1914-2005) writes: The purpose of the Parah Adumah is to get rid of the spirit of Tum’ah / ritual impurity that is created by the Mal’ach Ha’mavvet / Angel of Death. We cannot sense this Tum’ah, notes R’ Wolbe, but neither can we sense air pressure. The reason we do not sense air pressure is that it surrounds us; similarly, Tum’ah surrounds us. But, we know that changes in air pressure exist and have effects–for example, allowing an airplane to fly.
R’ Wolbe continues: Our Parashah teaches that spirituality is a reality, not just a concept, that Tum’ah is as real as air pressure. Only with difficulty and with Hashem’s help can that reality (i.e., Tum’ah) be changed. Midrash Eichah Rabbah teaches that only two Korbanot / sacrificial offerings in history–those of Hevel (Bereishit 4:4) and Noach (Bereishit 8:21)–were accepted without reservation, because those were the only two Korbanot brought at times when there were no idolaters anywhere in the world. What, asks R’ Wolbe, would the existence of an idolater at the opposite end of the world have to do with my Korban? That is the nature of the spiritual reality; an idolater, even at the far end of the world, constructs a barrier that impedes our Divine service.
Our Sages say: “Woe to a Rasha and woe to his neighbor.” Evil is a reality, no different than the bacteria that transmit a contagious disease. We must recognize that fighting Tum’ah and evil is an actual battle. (Shiurei Chumash: Vayikra p.161)
“The people came to Moshe and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against Hashem and against you! Pray to Hashem that He remove the serpent from us.’ Moshe prayed for the people.” (21:7)
R’ Meir Simcha Hakohen (1843-1926; rabbi of Dvinsk, Latvia) writes: The Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) teaches that a Talmid Chacham / Torah scholar is permitted to waive the respect that is due to him, but a Nasi / political leader is not permitted to do so. The difference, explains R’ Meir Simcha, is that a Talmid Chacham’s honor is intrinsic to him, as it comes from the Torah learning he has absorbed. Therefore, even if he does not insist that people honor him (for example, by standing up for him or serving him first at a meal), he remains honorable. Not so a Nasi; his only distinction is that people elevate him (the literal meaning of the word “Nasi”). If people no longer honor him, he has nothing.
R’ Meir Simcha continues: This explains why Moshe prayed for the rebellious members of Bnei Yisrael here, but he did not pray for Korach. Korach challenged Moshe by saying (Bemidbar 16:3), “All of the congregation are holy . . . ; why do you elevate yourselves (‘Tit’nas’u,’ from ‘Nasi’) over the congregation of Hashem?” If Moshe had prayed for Korach, he would have been foregoing his honor as a “Nasi,” which he could not do. Here, in contrast, the people had equated Moshe to Hashem (“we have spoken against Hashem and against you”), which Moshe could disagree with without diminishing his own status. (Meshech Chochmah)
“Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of Hashem, ‘The gift of Reeds and the rivers of Arnon’.” (21:14)
What happened at the rivers of Arnon? The Gemara (Berachot 54a-b) explains: The Emorites planned to ambush Bnei Yisrael as they passed through a canyon along the Arnon River [identified with Wadi Mujib in present-day Jordan]. The Emorites did not realize, however, that the Aron Kodesh that traveled before the Camp of Yisrael flattened any mountains that were in Bnei Yisrael’s way. As a result, the Emorite ambushers were pulverized, their plan was foiled, and Bnei Yisrael passed by, completely unaware of the danger that had threatened them. Only when two Metzora’im / lepers trailing behind and outside the camp noticed a river of blood running through the wadi did the miracle come to light. [Until here paraphrased from the Gemara]
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) writes: Everything that happened to our forefathers is a sign of what would/will happen to their children. In particular, the Generation of the Desert experienced in a short time events that foreshadowed all of Jewish history.
R’ Kook continues: Besides its plain meaning, our verse and the above Gemara allude to a time in history when anti-Torah philosophies will lay in ambush for us, without our being aware of the spiritual danger we face. However, the Torah that we study–represented by the Aron Kodesh that carried the Luchot and flattened the mountains–will always be there to smooth the way for us, “crushing” foreign ideologies in its wake. Those who were always loyal to the Torah will be unaware at first what the Torah has done for them. However, those who were outside and experienced foreign ideologies will relate the danger we were in and how the Torah saved us. (Ain Ayah)
Siddur Avodat Yisrael cites a custom to recite Psalm 95 on the Shabbat on which Parashat Chukat is read. Accordingly, we present here verses from, and commentaries on, that Psalm. (Psalm 95 is also the first paragraph of Kabbalat Shabbat, which is recited on most Friday nights of the year.)
“For forty years, I was angry with the generation; then I said, ‘An errant-hearted people are they, and they know not My ways.’ Therefore, I have sworn in My anger that they shall not enter My [place of] restfulness.” (Verses 10-11)
Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (32:2) comments: Hashem said, “To this place of restfulness they [i.e., the Generation of the Desert] may not come, but they may come to a different place of restfulness.” To what may this be compared? To a king who became angry at his son and swore that he may never again enter the palace. [After a time, he missed his son.] What did he do? He razed the palace and built a new one; thus, he kept his oath and also brought his son home. Similarly, says Hashem, “To this place of restfulness they may not come, but they may come to a different place of restfulness.” [Until here from the Midrash]
R’ Chanoch Zundel z”l (Poland; died 1867) explains: The “Place of restfulness” refers to Yerushalayim in its fully built state. “My place of restfulness” implies a place that exists, not some place that will exist in the future. (Etz Yosef)
Midrash Bemidbar Rabbah (19:13) says that the reason Moshe did not enter Eretz Yisrael was so that he would lead the Generation of the Desert into the Land at the time of the resurrection. R’ Yehuda Rosannes z”l (Turkey; 18th century) asks: If that generation deserves to return, why does it need Moshe? If it does not deserve to return how will Moshe help it?
He explains: Some authorities hold that if a person makes a vow excluding another from his house, then, if the house is razed and rebuilt, the vow is nullified (as in the above Midrash). Our Sages teach that had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael, he would have built the Bet Hamikdash and it would never have been destroyed. However, it is precisely because the Temple was destroyed that Hashem’s oath can be nullified. This is what is meant by the statement that, because Moshe died in the desert, his generation will be able to enter the Land. (Parashat Derachim No.8)
Avot D’Rabbi Natan
This work, which dates from the time of the Gemara and major Midrashim, expands on many of the ideas found in Pirkei Avot. Here, we present excerpts from and commentaries on Avot D’Rabbi Natan.
There are seven Middot / attributes that serve before the Throne of Glory. They are: Chochmah / wisdom, Tzeddek / righteousness, Mishpat / justice, Chessed / kindness, Rachamim / compassion, Emet/ truth, and Shalom / peace and harmony, as is written (Hoshea 2:21), “I shall marry you to Me with righteousness and with justice, and with kindness, and with mercy.” . . . Rabbi Meir says: A person who has all these Middot will know as the Omnipresent One knows. (Ch.37)
What do these Middot “do” before the Throne of Glory? R’ Yehoshua Falik z”l (Rabbi and Dayan in Lissa, Poland; late 18th century) explains: They highlight our merit when we are being judged. As a result, we remain “married” (connected) to Hashem forever. (Binyan Yehoshua)