Parashat Hukat

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for My Good Friend Seymour Escava by Neil Tobias


Parashat Hukat The Red Heifer This week’s parasha, Hukat, opens up with the laws of para adumathe Red Heifer. 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 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! 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 matzah 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 things 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. No Water! 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 Yisrael sojourned 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 “Kach 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 (20:8).” 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. 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 we must listen and follow the words of Hashem!” 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 words when Moshe asked, “Shall we bring forth water?” 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. Learn from the Snake The Torah says, “The people spoke against G-d and Moshe, ‘Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is no food and there is no water, and our soul is at its limit with the insubstantial food (21:5).’” In this parasha, B’nei Yisrael are on the boundary of Eretz Yisrael, and they are complaining again. They grumbled at the beginning of the 40 years and they protested at the end of the 40 years. What is their complaint this time? “We can’t stand the mann.” The passuk continues, “Hashem sent the snakes, the burning ones, against the people, and they bit the people, and a large multitude of Israel died (21:6).” When the people cried to Moshe and asked for the remedy for the snakes, he answered to put a snake on a flag pole and “Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live (21:8).” Rabbi Frand asks a very interesting question. Throughout Sefer Bamidbar, the Almighty punished the people in different ways. Here, Hashem used a new method – they were attacked by snakes. Why snakes? Why could they not just drop dead? Why did the earth not swallow them up like in Korach? Why did fire not come down from heaven and consume them like in Shemini? Why snakes? What is the message here? The plague is strange and the cure—looking at the snakes—is even stranger. To interpret this, we must first understand the reason the mann fell so often. Hashem could have easily let the mann fall once a year, and it could’ve lasted the nation the whole year until it fell again. There is a famous parable told in the Gemara. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s students asked him this same question, and he answered with a parable of a king who had an only son. He provided his son with his needs of sustenance once a year, for the whole year. Therefore, the son only came to see the king once a year when he needed money. The king consequently changed his method of financing his son. He provided for his daily needs, one day at a time. This way the king heard from his son every day. So too it was with B’nei Yisrael. Every day they worried how they would be able to feed their families. Every day they were afraid the mann would not fall the next day, and so everyone had their hearts focused on Hashem, praying for Him to send them food. Rabbi Frand goes on, bringing a point from the Sefat Emet. Hashem cursed the snake saying, “Dirt shall you eat all the days of your life (Bereshit 3:14).” An obvious question is, what kind of curse is that? Dirt is available ubiquitously. The snake never has worry about the source of his next meal. However, the Sefat Emet explains, the curse is that the Almighty is, in effect, saying to the snake, “Here is your sustenance. Do not bother me. I do not want to see you ever again.” Hashem gave mann every single day to teach us that we are dependent on Him. But that is precisely why they kept complaining about the mann. The people resented that. Human beings like to delude themselves into thinking they are independent. Now the punishment they received makes sense. The penalty came from snakes because the people were acting like snakes – they did not want to be dependent on Divine handouts. And the cure wasn’t just to look at the snakes. The Talmud clarifies the answer lied in the part of the passuk about putting the snake high on a flagpole (Rosh Hashanah 29a). When they lifted their eyes towards their Father in Heaven, figuring out from where their Help came from and upon whom they were dependent, they were cured. In His Hands There is a story in Living Emunah 3 about a businessman who was on a flight, seated next to an unaccompanied little girl. After the plane took off, she took out her crayons and coloring book and happily kept herself occupied. About an hour into the flight, the aircraft suddenly experienced extreme turbulence. The pilot’s voice came over the PA system, asking everyone to fasten their seatbelts and remain calm, as they were encountering rough weather. The plane made drastic dips and turns and shook for the next half hour. People were crying, praying; the businessman was sweating and holding on to his seat as tightly as he could. Meanwhile, the little girl, about 8 years-old, sat quietly. Her crayons and coloring book were put away neatly in the seat pocket in front of her, and her hands rested folded in her lap. She was the picture of calm. When the turbulence ended and the plane finally began its descent to land, the man asked the little girl, “How did you manage to remain calm the entire flight, especially since you are here all alone?” She looked at the man and said, “My father is flying the plane. He is the best pilot, and he’s taking me home.” When a little girl knows she is in her father’s hands, she feels secure. When a Jew knows he’s in Hashem’s hands, he has peace of mind. Look up towards the Heaven’s like B’nei Yisrael were told to. Remember that we are dependent on Hashem, and that He will always take care of us, whether it’s health, financial success, a shidduch, or anything else! May we realize how important it is to respect our parents, even for a mitzvah that we may not understand. May we always know, like with the rock and the mann, that Hashem is the source of our sustenance. And continually pray to Him to give everyone in the community happiness, health, and success!! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:

  • How far are we willing to go for mitzvot and halachot that “may not make sense to us?”

Summary:

  • This week’s parasha, Hukat, opens up with the laws of para adumathe Red Heifer. 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.

  • Miriam had just passed away, and B’nei Yisrael didn’t mourn her properly. Because no tears were shed for her, Hashem held back their drinking water.

  • 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. If Moshe and Aharon would have continued to try and speak to the rock, water would have eventually come.

  • The sin occurred when Moshe asked, “Shall we bring forth water?” which implied that Moshe and Aharon had the power to bring water on their own. Rather, Moshe should have said, “Shall Hashem bring you water?”

  • B’nei Yisrael complained about the mann and were punished with snake bites to signify that unlike the snake who was cursed to eat dust, the Jewish people are dependent on Hashem to receive sustenance as a symbol of His love for them. We must always remember from Whom our berachot are coming.



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