Torah Weekly

For the week ending 5 July 2008 / 2 Tammuz 5768

Parshat Chukat

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

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 worldh, 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 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 Quality of Mercy

“This is the Torah of a man who dies in a tent…” (19:14)

I well remember my father, may his memory be for a blessing, remarking when he was some ninety years old that the last twenty years of his life had passed literally like a flash. Time seems to go faster the longer we live. The distance between my seventh and eighth birthdays was measured in light years. Somewhere in my late twenties, a year was a year, and now as what remains of my hair turns white, Pesach is separated from Succot by about two months.

But however long is our life, it is a pitifully short affair. Most people try and sublimate this reality by running after the pleasures of this world, amusing themselves to death. But I never met anyone, nor anyone who said they met anyone who lived their life without being hurt. Some more, some less. This world gives few reasons for joy. As Kohelet said, “I said of laughter, ‘It is mad’ and joy, ‘What does it accomplish?’ ” (2:2)

Animals at least are oblivious to all this. They live their lives with the feeling of life itself, unaware of the precipice over which all must plunge. The greatest punishment of being a human being is knowing the sorry state in which we exist.

How can we come to terms with the certain knowledge of our own demise?

One of the names for the Torah is Rachmana – the Merciful. Rachmana is connected to the Hebrew word for ‘womb’ – rechem. What is the connection between Torah and the womb?

Without Torah we are doomed to a pathetic transitory existence in this world. The Torah is called Rachmana because the future comes from the womb, and it is only the Torah that can give us the future, as we say in the blessing on the Torah, “and eternal life, You have planted within us.”

Originally, G-d wanted to create the world with Din, strict justice. Din is connected to Dai, which means “enough”. In a world of pure Din, you get only what you deserve and no more. G-d saw that world could not survive in this way and thus He included in the creation the possibility of a future existence beyond the grave. He gave us Rachmana, the Torah.

He gave us the quality of mercy.
  • Sources: Maharal, others

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