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For the week ending 23 June 2018 / 10 Tammuz 5778

Parshat Chukat

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
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Overview

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 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.

Insights

The Carrot and the Stick

“G-d said to Moshe and Aharon: Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me…” (20:12)

My Rabbi once told me what his grandmother told him at his Bar Mitzvah more than seventy years ago. She said, “In the Next World they hit you with iron bars.” Apparently this is what a Jewish boy was to be aware of when he reached the age of spiritual majority. I’m not sure how well this would go down as a Bar Mitzvah shmuz (ethics lecture) from bubby these days.

Am I mistaken, or hasn’t the average mussar shmuz morphed in the past thirty years, leaving aside any mention of “fire and brimstone”?

It could be that we are so weak as a generation that any mention of the “G” word (Gehinom) sends us into paroxysms of depression and despair, which, of course, is totally counter-productive.

“G-d said to Moshe and Aharon: Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me…”

As a result of the verse, Moshe and Aharon lost the merit of entering the Land of Israel. The Rambam and the Ramban have differing opinions of the sin that caused this. The Rambam says that the main reason for their punishment was that Moshe became angry with the Jewish People and insulted them with the words, “Listen now, you rebels!” (20:10) The Ramban, however, says that Moshe’s mistake was hitting the rock rather than speaking to it.

Really, the two reasons can be understood as being one. There are two kinds of tzaddikim: One type never ceases to exhort his flock with words of fire until they return, while the other type raises them up and makes them feels that it is beneath them to sin. The difference is that the tzaddik who brings his flock to return through the goodness of their hearts causes the natural world to subject itself to him and does his bidding for the good of the Jews. This is because the whole world was created to help the Jewish People in their service of G-d.

However, when teshuva has to be forced out of the people through stern and frightening reproof, the natural world also has to be coerced physically to act for the benefit of the Jewish People.

When Moshe became angry and admonished the Jewish People with harsh words, the rock was not prepared to respond to Moshe’s words alone, and required physical “encouragement” to bring forth water.

  • Source: Kedushat Levi

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