Torah Weekly - Parshat Chukat

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Parshat Chukat

For the week ending 9 Tammuz 5761/ June 29 & 30, 2001

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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 now has been provided miraculously in the merit of Miriam's righteousness. Aharon and Moshe pray for the people's welfare. 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 Exodus.




    "Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Take the staff and gather to gether the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock... Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock twice; abundant water came forth...'" (19:7-11)

    Instruction booklets are a dying breed. Nowadays when you buy a new product - be it a computer or a washing machine - among the welter of paperwork wrapped in pristine cellophane you will find a small cardboard gatefold which will have emblazoned on it in large and strident letters "READ THIS FIRST!"

    Having just bought the latest superdooper whizzbang all-whistles-and-bells computer, washing machine, palm pilot or Ferrari, the last thing you want to start bothering with is reading the instructions; you just want to plug the thing in and GO! You just paid all that money for this beautiful gleaming new toy, and no-one is going to tell you how to use it! Least of all the manufacturer.

    Aware of HCS (Hysterical Consumer Syndrome), companies who don't want to see their new product back in the repair department two minutes after the box has been opened have produced a MMSK (Minimum Machine Survival Kit). All you have to do is READ THIS FIRST!

    "Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock... Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock twice; abundant water came forth...' "
    Because Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it, G-d didn't allow him to enter the Land of Israel. It was a tragic mistake.

    It's difficult to understand how Moshe could have made such a fundamental error. G-d told him specifically to speak to the rock. Why did it even enter Moshe's mind to hit the rock? Why didn't Moshe just do as Hashem had told him?
    Never try and second guess the Manufacturer.

    This world is no less precise than a computer. Its functional parameters no less forgiving than a Ferrari. If you try to build a 500-piece Revell® plastic model of the USS George Washington without using the instructions, you're going to end up with more than a few spare bits at the end - and the whole thing will look like it was kludged together.

    Moshe reasoned that if G-d told him to take the staff, it must be that he should hit the rock to produce water (as indeed he had done on a previous occasion).

    Moshe was provoked to anger by the vehemence of the people complaining. Instead of reading the Manufacturer's instructions, he looked at "the parts in the box" and thought he knew how to put it all together.

    When all else fails - read the instructions.

    Rashi, Be'er Mayim Chaim and others



    Shoftim 11:1 - 33


    At the Amonite king's demand that Israel withdraw from land east of the Jordan, Israel's new head, Yiftach, gives him a history lesson taken straight out of this week's Torah Portion. Yiftach relates how the Jews had captured that land in self-defense against an unprovoked attack, and that it had been won from the Emorites, not from the Amonites. Ignoring this, the Amonites attack; and - echoing the vow made by the Jews in their battle for that same land three hundred years earlier - Yiftach makes a vow. He vows to sacrifice the first thing he sees exiting his house upon his victorious return. G-d gives him victory, and, in a tragic twist, Yiftach's daughter is the first to exit his house 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's spiritual stature was small: 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.

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

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