Parashas Chukas – Wisdom through Ignorance : This week's sedra is Parashas Chukas and it is literally over-flowing with key events from our time in the Midbar/desert during those fateful forty years of wandering. Both Miriam and Aaron die in our sedra this week and the Torah describes the infamous event of Moshe's error in the hitting of the rock which comes as an indirect consequence to Miriam's death. The sedra then veers into an account of the wars which occurred during our final years in the Midbar which include the attack of the Amalek, the battle with Sihon the king of the Amorite and the final battle with Og, king of Bashan who was of course a humongous giant... yes in the physical sense.
The parasha begins with the very interesting laws regarding the famous פרה אדמה/para adoma, known to us common folk as the red heifer. This is also a prime example of a 'חקת התורה/chukas hatorah'... a decree of the Torah, meaning that it is beyond human intellect to fully understand it. The Ramban explains how this particular type of chukas, the para adoma, incites the taunts of heretics as it has this innate indistinguishable logic to it. The rationale of the laws behind the para adoma were divinely revealed to Moshe at Mount Sinai and even King Solomon, who researched the reasons behind all the mitzvahs and was successful in finding explanations for all of them, professed that this mitzvah was incomprehensible to him. The Midrash tells us that this deficiency was the source of his famous statement in Koheles [7:23] that... “I thought I would get wisdom, but it (the understanding of the mitzvah of the para adoma) is far from me”. When we consider the fact that King Solomon was blessed with “very much wisdom and understanding and breadth and knowledge like the sand that is on the sea shore” (from Kings I [5:9]) we can realise how incredible a talmid he was and therefore all the more so how much of a chuka the para adoma is for him not to have fully understood it.
The para adoma was used to purify us from tamei mace which is a state of spiritual impurity which we obtain when we come in contact with or are under the same roof as a dead body. Without the red heifer we can not rid ourselves of this impurity and this is in fact the main reason why we are not allowed on the Temple Mount today as it is a desecration to enter such a holy place when we are tamei mace. The para adoma was burnt whole and it's ashes were then mixed with spring water and sprinkled on the contaminated person to purify him. Within this exact possuk of this week's sedra we see allusions to both Moshe and King Solomon and their subsequent relationship to the subject...
The Torah states...“לטמא מעפר שרפת החטאת/(they shall take) for the contaminated person some of the ashes of the burning of the purification (animal)...” [19:17]... Now if we take the first letters of these four words we get the word למשה/to Moshe, meaning the rationale of the laws behind the para adoma were divinely revealed to Moshe, and if we were to rearrange these letter we would get the name שלמה/Shlomo, implying that the rationale was hidden or 'out of order' to King Solomon. The actual sticking point with which King Solomon was perturbed came from the fact that within the laws of the para adoma lies a blatant paradox; its ashes purify people who had become contaminated, yet those who engage in its preparation become contaminated from doing so. On this, the Midrash notes a number of examples of this theme of paradoxical cases whereby something pure comes out from something which is tamei. By using cases of righteous people who descended from wicked parents the Midrash gets this point across quite neatly... Avraham from Terach, Ezekial from Ahaz and Josiah from Ammon. So we learn a key theme here in the fact that something which is impure or bad can produce purity or good and therefore no matter how low we might be there is always the potential to rise and bring good out of our own impurity.
The para adoma is not a total mystery however and there are illusions to what the essence of this Mitzvah is trying to teach us. So what do we know... firstly the most obvious observation is the fact that it is the colour red which is always symbolic of sin (for example the red scarlet string tied around the goat offering on Yom Kippur) and then there is the fact that it is a cow which is indicative of the Sin of the Golden Calf whereby the mother now comes to clear up the mess caused in that incident. The Sin of the Golden Calf was also said to have brought death back into the world (Parashas Ki Sisa) and if it wasn't for this sin then there wouldn't be evil or death in the world today, as we were on such a high medraiga at Mount Sinai... the para adoma therefore seems to rectify the problem of coming in contact with death and serves as an atonement for the Sin of the Golden Calf. In truth however, even the Mitzvahs of the Torah which seem understandable are also chukim and their true meaning and significance is far beyond man's intellect. To get a bit philosophical on you... we must understand that Hashem is unlimited in His intelligence and any law of the Torah is ultimately a product of this infinite ability, we as the students must therefore realise that any inability to comprehend them indicates our own limitations rather than that of the Torah's. The Rambam writes that, there is nothing meaningless or purposeless in the Torah, and if it seems so, it is only as a result of our own deficiency. As Rebbi Yochanan told his students regarding our failure to understand the laws of the para adoma, “It is not the corpse that causes contamination or the ashes of the red heifer that causes purity. These laws are decrees of G-d, and man has no right to question them”. An essential component of wisdom is the knowledge that man's failure to understand the truth does not make it untrue. The Sefer Meain Ganim writes that the Jews who sacrificed themselves for kiddush Hashem (sanctifying his name) in times of religious persecution were not those who based their observance of Torah upon philosophical research, but rather those Jews who observed the Torah with firm emunah/faith.
Immediately following the chapter of the para adoma, the Torah turns back to the narrative of our time in the Midbar with the death of Miriam. This event occurred thirty-eight years after our previous narrative and from this we can safely assume that the decree that the entire generation of the spies would die in the Wilderness had been fulfilled. Rashi informs us that the death of Miriam is juxtaposed with the previous chapter on the para adoma to teach us that just as the offerings bring atonement to the nation, so to does the death of righteous people. What follows on from the death of Miriam is the realisation that the miraculous well which followed the people throughout their wanderings and provided plentiful supplies of fresh water was only present during this time in her merit, and therefore after Miriam's demise, the well suddenly disappeared. The generation of the wilderness received three gifts in the merits of its three great leaders; in Moshe's merit they had the manna food from heaven, in Aharon's merit, they were protected by the Clouds of Glory, and in Miriam's merit they had the well which provided water... this is even alluded to in her name מרים/Miriam which contains the word מים/water! So the people protest and according to the Or HaChaim, rightly so, as water is a basic necessity and therefore their complaints were understandable, even Rashi notes here that death by thirst is a horrifying prospect. With the people thirsty and full of complaint, Moshe and Aaron go to Hashem and they are told to “take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters” [19:8]. This wasn't just any rock however and the sages teach us that Hashem created a rock that he often used as a source of miraculous waters, this was the same rock that the angel revealed to Hagar when her son Yishmael was dying of thirst (Parashas Vayeira) and was also the same rock that Moshe was commanded to draw water from nearly forty years earlier (Parashas Beshalach)... If we take the word for rock in Hebrew... סלע we can see that there was water in it all along... if we spell out the letters of the word סלע we have;
ס = סמך, ל = למד ,ע = עין... and if we take just the middle letters of these words we have ממי which can be rearranged to spell מים/water... so we see that there was water in this rock all along!! ;-)
With that I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and Chatzlacha Rabba for the week ahead.
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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