Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Marilyn Mazal Chaya bat Adela by her Children
The Red Heifer
This week’s parasha opens up with the laws of para aduma, the Red Heifer (cow). The para aduma is a decree from Hashem that’s well beyond human comprehension. This law is a chok, a law whose reason Hashem has not revealed to us.
More than that, it’s a paradox, because the ashes of the Red Heifer will purify anyone who has become contaminated from contact with a dead body, yet those who engage in its preparation themselves become contaminated. It was regarding this that King Solomon exclaimed in proverbs, “I said I would be wise, but it’s far from me.”
Rabbi Yohanan told his students regarding our failure to understand the laws of the Red Heifer, “It’s not the corpse that causes contamination or the ashes of the cow that cause purity. These laws are decrees from Hashem, and man has no right to question them.” In other words, an essential component of wisdom is the knowledge that man’s failure to understand the truth does not make it untrue!
The Story of the Goy and the Cow
There’s a story in Masechet Kiddushin (31a), where the Rabbis wanted to a buy a stone for the efod for the Kohen Gadol from a non-Jew. But the key to the non-Jew’s safe was lying under the pillow that his father was sleeping on. He refused to disturb his father’s sleep to get the key, thereby passing up on a tremendous profit.
The next year, Hashem blessed this non-Jew with a para aduma in his herd. The Rabbis went to him to purchase the para aduma. He said to the Rabbis “I know that if I asked you for all the money in the world, you would give it to me. But I will only ask for the amount that I lost as a result of Honoring my father last year.”
We learn from this, the reward that even a non-Jew receives in this world for respecting his father. How much more of a reward will we Jews receive, because we are commanded from the Torah to respect our parents!
Because of this story, there was a prosecution against the Jews. A goy was willing to lose so much money to respect his father! This overshadowed B’nei Yisrael, who were the ones commanded to keep this mitzvah. However, this divine accusation was counteracted by the mitzvah of the para aduma, which showed the greatness of the Jewish people. They were willing to spend such large sums of money on a mitzvah like para aduma, that has no known logical basis. Contemporary examples of this are the amount of money that we spend on an etrog for Succot, or shemura matza for Pesach, or for our tefillin etc.
There’s a famous story that Rabbi Diamond told us about the time that General Eisenhower visited the displacement camps after the United States liberated the Jews from the concentration camps. He saw the Jewish people suffering from disease and malnutrition and asked them, “Pease tell me, what can the U.S. government get for you? Please tell me what you need!” The Klausenburger Rebbe was the people’s spokesman and said, “It’s getting close to the time of our holiday of Succot, can you please get us lulavim and etrogim, so we can do our mitzvah?” The general was shocked at this request. He thought that they would ask for food, clothing, or other basics to make them more comfortable. But a Jew needs his mitzvot to survive in this world! That’s what connects us to Hashem, which is the true life-source of all Jews.
We also learn in this week’s parasha about the reasons that Hashem didn’t allow Moshe and Aharon to enter the land of Israel. We always learned that the reason Moshe wasn’t allowed to enter Israel was because he hit the rock, rather than speak to it — as Hashem commanded him to —but there’s much more to it than that.
Miriam had just passed away, and B’nei Yisrael didn’t mourn her properly. The water that flowed for B’nei Yisrael through their journeys in the desert was a zechut for Miriam. The reason that Miriam had this zechut was from a midda k’neged midda from when she was a young girl. Miriam watched over Moshe as a baby when she and her mother put him in a basket and placed it in the Nile, and she followed it to make sure he ended up in good hands. So too, the water followed her and watched over her when B’nei Yisraelsojourned in the desert for forty years. But now that Miriam passed away and no tears were shed for her — as they would be for Moshe later — Hashem held back their drinking water.
Hitting the Rock
B’nei Yisrael complained of having no water to drink. Hashem gave Moshe instructions to bring the people water by speaking to the rock. At first Moshe tried to speak to the rock, but it didn’t work, so he hit the rock. It says in perek 20 pasuk 8, “kah et hamatteh… — Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters.”
As he was commanded, Moshe took the staff and went with Aharon to summon the entire assembly and give them water in such a way that Hashem’s name would be sanctified. Moshe succeeded in drawing forth water from a stone, but did not sanctify Hashem’s name, at least not in the way and to the degree to which he had been commanded.
If they would have continued to try and speak to the rock, water would have eventually come from the proper rock. Hashem’s name would have been sanctified. All of B’nei Yisrael would have drawn the intended lesson that “If a rock, which does not speak or hear, and doesn’t need sustenance listens to the word of Hashem, then of course how much more of a lesson would that be for us to listen and follow the words of Hashem!”
What Was the Sin?
The exact nature of this sin has puzzled the Rabbis, and has been variously interpreted by the commentators. Even Rambam comments that this is really beyond the scope of our comprehension and is one of the great secrets of the Torah. Rabenu Hananel and Rambam say that the key words are when Moshe asked rhetorically, “Shall we bring forth water?” This implied that Moshe and Aharon had the power to bring water on their own. Rather, Moshe should have said, “Shall Hashem bring you water?”
Rashi’s view is simply that Moshe sinned because he struck the rock, rather than speaking to it as Hashem had commanded him to. He also states that Moshe sinned because he became angry at the people for demanding water. Abarbanel agrees with Rashi that the immediate cause for the sin was hitting the rock, but he says that there’s other reasons. One reason is that Aharon had a hand in the sin of the golden calf, which caused national suffering to this very day. Another reason is that Moshe sent the spies to check out the land. Their false report led to the punishment of wandering through the desert for the next forty years and the death of an entire generation. Hashem chose to keep Moshe and Aharon from entering the land — like the rest of the generation — since they were their leaders and were held responsible for their actions.
Listen to Hashem for Our Own Good
We learned in Parashat Hukat to follow the chokim even though we don’t know the reason and just because Hashem commands us. The following story told by Rav Shlomo Bussu that he heard from Rav Emanuel Tehillah, shlita exemplifies this point. “I am pained to tell you,” said the doctor, “But you will never have children of your own!” This was the doctor’s conclusion after having done numerous procedures for ten years with a couple that so much wanted to have a child of their own. The wife wept bitterly, and they returned home broken and dejected. After his wife calmed down a little, her husband said, “My precious wife, maybe we try to adopt a child?” After an emotional conversation they agreed that this is what they should do, and they went to the appropriate offices to begin the lengthy process.
It was, indeed, a very long and tedious process with interviews and interrogations to see if they were fit to adopt a child. Finally, they were very excited to hear that they had been accepted. They waited for a long time until they were told that there was a baby who had been abandoned by his mother in the hospital, and he was handed over to their department – as is done in such cases. However, they were informed that there is one last test that they must pass to receive this child. A social worker would have to come to their home to get a feel of the atmosphere there. The social worker couldn’t hide her dissatisfaction when she realized that she was dealing with an ultra-orthodox couple; it was quite evident that she didn’t like chareidim (to say the least). The couple each had to fill out the long slew of questions. One of the questions was, “Who do you love most in the world?” And they both understandably answered, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” The next question was, “What would you do if your love of the one you named in the previous question would contradict the love you would have for the child you adopt; who would you pick?” This question put each of them in a very precarious position and was a big nisayon for them. The right answer, of course, was “Hakadosh Baruch Hu”; however, they understood very well that if they would write that they would lose the chance in adopting any child! They finally got to the last phase, they would finally be able to have and care for a child, which would also bring warmth and life to their lonely lives. Nonetheless, with tremendous self-sacrifice they both wrote the same answer: “I would choose Hakadosh Baruch Hu!” The social worker coldly gathered together all the papers, and flatly commented, “They will let you know what they decide. Goodbye.”
A few days later they received the letter, informing them that they were not found to be worthy of adopting children. Though they knew what to expect, the disappointment was hard – even more difficult for them than what the doctor had told them. They now hoped for a miracle! Especially after they withstood this great test and remained totally faithful to Hashem Yitbarach and were not willing to tarnish their love for Hashem Yitbarach in the slightest way! “My dear husband,” said the wife, “even though we lost the chance of adopting a child, I have no regrets – not even for a moment – of what we wrote, that we stuck with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and fulfilled the mitzvah of ahavat Hashem with all that we have!”
Then the unbelievable took place. That very month the wife conceived! Nine months later she gave birth to twins: a boy and a girl that were healthy in every way! She conceived without any doctors, without any procedures, without any questions and tests to see if they were fitting... or it would be more appropriate to say, with one test: to see if they were faithful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And with this test they passed with flying colors!! More than a few people who would have found themselves in the same predicament would have come up with all types of justifications to answer in some ambiguous way in order not to lose that last chance of having a child. And maybe they would have been successful and adopted a child. But they would never have known what they lost: to have their own son and daughter! And even more than that: the embrace of Hashem Yitbarach, kiveyachol; to be considered one of His choicest children who merit fulfilling the mitzvah of ahavat Hashem completely!
May we all learn how important it is to respect our parents, even for a mitzvah that we may not understand. May we also know that we were put in this world to follow the will of Hashem and to be an eved of Hashem. We will then be assured that we will always benefit. May we pass our own nisyonot with clarity and flying colors!!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
• How far are we willing to go for mitzvot and halachot that “may not make sense to us?”
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah Saadia Ben Miriam
Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal
Natan Ben Rachel
Margalit Bat Mazal
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