• Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    Nature dictates that children look somewhat like their parents, fruits look like other similar fruits, and animals act in predictable ways. But if that were always true, then how do the laws of the Red cow, brought in Parshat Chukat, make sense? How could the impure be purified, while the pure become impure? How do these things make sense, if there is to be order in nature and creation?

    The Mofet Hador explains that we too were all given opposing forces. We were given the Torah, which tells us of these and other ‘contradictions’, and we were given the brain that wonders about all of it. The Parsha starts by helping us deal with these, and other issues. ‘This is the law of the Torah” …our laws make sense, even if we don’t understand them. We’re limited in our wisdom. In fact, Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), who was given all the knowledge, couldn’t understand the laws of the Red Cow, and said, “It is far from me”. The logic is there, but none can discern it, and that too is part of nature. So when we come to a fork in our lives, and we’re deciding whether to do what we know we should or what we think we could, we should remember this lesson: Our minds might be limited in understanding, but the Torah’s wisdom is eternal.

  • Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    Nature dictates that children look somewhat like their parents, fruits look like other similar fruits, and animals act in predictable ways. But if that were always true, then how do the laws of the Red cow, brought in Parshat Chukat, make sense? How could the impure be purified, while the pure become impure? How do these things make sense, if there is to be order in nature and creation?

    The Mofet Hador explains that we too were all given opposing forces. We were given the Torah, which tells us of these and other ‘contradictions’, and we were given the brain that wonders about all of it. The Parsha starts by helping us deal with these, and other issues. ‘This is the law of the Torah” …our laws make sense, even if we don’t understand them. We’re limited in our wisdom. In fact, King Solomon, who was given all the knowledge, couldn’t understand the laws of the Red Cow, and said, “It is far from me”. The logic is there, but none can discern it, and that too is part of nature. So when we come to a fork in our lives, and we’re deciding whether to do what we know we should or what we think we could, we should remember this lesson: Our minds might be limited in understanding, but the Torah’s wisdom is eternal.

  • Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    The latter portion of Parshat Chukat discusses Jews’ victory over the Amorite king Sichon, whose capital city was Cheshbon. The Torah tells us that Cheshbon was originally a Moabite city, but that it had been captured by Sichon along with a large portion of other Moabite territory. There is a famous midrash on this passage based on the fact that the word “moshlim” can also mean “ruler” and the name “Cheshbon” also means “accounting.” The midrash says “Those who are rulers (moshlim) over their evil inclination would say ‘Come and take an accounting (Cheshbon)’ – take an accounting of your deeds; think about what you gain from good deeds and what you lose as a result of bad deeds.” Very often, a midrash is not merely a homiletic tangent, but has a close connection with some aspect of the text. What is the connection between Sichon’s conquest of Moab and the battle against the evil inclination?

    R’ Yonatan Eibeschutz (cited in Talelei Orot) provides a beautiful explanation. Cheshbon was a city on the border between the land of the Amorites and the land of the Moabites. It was not a particularly important city, and therefore the king of Moab did not focus resources on its defense. As a result, Sichon was able to conquer it. This was a fatal error by Moab, for once Sichon had established this beachhead, he was easily able to capture a much larger swath of Moabite territory. This is a metaphor for the battle against the evil inclination, which often tempts a person to violate a small mitzvah, since such an infraction is easier to rationalize than something more serious. Once a person gives in on something small, their defenses have been breached and each subsequent conquest becomes much easier for the evil inclination. By the same token, each victory over temptation, no matter how small, gives an individual a huge advantage in their future battles. Thus, the moshlim teach us “Come to Cheshbon” – do not repeat the mistake that the king of Moab made in his defense of Cheshbon; hold the front line against the evil inclination even in those skirmishes that seem insignificant, because the consequences of a defeat or victory will be dramatic.

  • Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    Nature dictates that children look somewhat like their parents, fruits look like other similar fruits, and animals act in predictable ways. But if that were always true, then how do the laws of the Red cow, brought in Parshat Chukat, make sense? How could the impure be purified, while the pure become impure? How do these things make sense, if there is to be order in nature and creation?

    The Mofet Hador explains that we too were all given opposing forces. We were given the Torah, which tells us of these and other ‘contradictions’, and we were given the brain that wonders about all of it. The Parsha starts by helping us deal with these, and other issues. ‘This is the law of the Torah” …our laws make sense, even if we don’t understand them. We’re limited in our wisdom. In fact, King Solomon, who was given all the knowledge, couldn’t understand the laws of the Red Cow, and said, “It is far from me”. The logic is there, but none can discern it, and that too is part of nature. So when we come to a fork in our lives, and we’re deciding whether to do what we know we should or what we think we could, we should remember this lesson: Our minds might be limited in understanding, but the Torah’s wisdom is eternal.

  • Daily Aliya for Chukat, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Jews approach the land of the Emorites, which lies on the east bank of the Jordan River. They send a message to Sichon, king of the Emorites, asking permission to pass through his land en route to Canaan. Sichon refuses and instead masses his armies and attack the Jews. The Jews are victorious and occupy the Emorite lands. Og, king of Bashan, then attacks the Jews. The Jews are triumphant again; they kill Og and occupy his land too. Now the Jewish nation has reached the bank of the Jordan River, just across from the city of Jericho in the land of Israel.

    Sichon was the bully of the region, having wrestled the strategic city of Cheshbon from Moav. When the Jews neared, though, Sichon inexplicably (unless you realize it’s all G-d’s work) took every warrior out of the city to go fight the Jews. Apparently he didn’t learn the lesson from the previous army that attempted to fight the Jews for no reason. The Jews just wanted to pass through, but instead were forced to fight and win the land. Once they settle in the newly acquired land, Moshe sends spies to Ya’azer, and the spies themselves end up conquering the land (no need for armies or confrontations when you’re on a roll). Then they head north to Bashan, and once again the leader comes at the Jews in battle, and once again loses (this time 120-year-old Moshe gets involved the fighting, as the Gemara describes how he lifted an entire mountain and dropped it on the enemy).

    I’m not sure what there is to learn from all this fighting, other than sometimes people attack the Jews for no good reason other than maybe feeling threatened, and we have to have faith that we have G-d on our side, looking out for us.

  • Daily Aliya for Chukat, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Jews journey on, making their way towards the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Encrypted in this Aliya is a great miracle which occurred when the Jews passed through the Arnon valley. Tall cliffs rose from both sides of this narrow valley, and in the clefts of these cliffs the Emorites, armed with arrows and rocks, were waiting to ambush the Jews. Miraculously, the mountains moved towards each other, crushing the Emorite guerrilla forces. This section ends with a song of praise for the well which sustained the Jews throughout their desert stay — and whose now-bloodied waters made the Jews aware of the great miracle which G‑d wrought on their behalf.

    Look how far the Jews have come! Earlier in their tenure in the desert, they complained despite overt miracles, and now they sing the praises of G-d for a miracle they did not even witness (all they saw was their enemies’ blood in the streams). Either they all learned from their experiences, or the new generation had a different attitude about what they were experiencing. Either way, they are closer to being ready to enter Israel because of it!

  • Daily Aliya for Chukat, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Jews arrive at Mount Hor. At G‑d’s command, Moshe, Aaron and Aaron’s son, Elazar, go up the mountain. Aaron removes his high priest’s vestments and Elazar dons them. Aaron then passes away. The entire nation mourns Aaron’s death for thirty days. The Amalekites, disguised as Canaanites, attack the Jews. The Jews pray to G‑d and are victorious in battle. The Jews complain about their food, claiming that they are “disgusted” by the manna. G‑d dispatches serpents into the Israelite encampment, and many Jews die. Moshe prays to G‑d on the Jews’ behalf. Following G‑d’s instructions, Moshe fashions a copper serpent and places it atop a pole. The bitten Jews would look at this snake and be healed.

    And why did they Amalekites disguise themselves as Canaanites? The Midrash explains that they figured that the Jews would pray to G-d to help them defeat these enemy Canaanites, and because they weren’t really Canaanites, their prayers wouldn’t work. Their mistake was that they only disguised their language, not their clothes, so when the Jews saw them, they weren’t sure who they were, and simply asked for help in defeating this enemy (general request), and that worked. This definitely puts prayer in a different perspective, a perspective we could probably use more of these days.

  • Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    The latter portion of Parshat Chukat discusses Jews’ victory over the Amorite king Sichon, whose capital city was Cheshbon. The Torah tells us that Cheshbon was originally a Moabite city, but that it had been captured by Sichon along with a large portion of other Moabite territory. There is a famous midrash on this passage based on the fact that the word “moshlim” can also mean “ruler” and the name “Cheshbon” also means “accounting.” The midrash says “Those who are rulers (moshlim) over their evil inclination would say ‘Come and take an accounting (Cheshbon)’ – take an accounting of your deeds; think about what you gain from good deeds and what you lose as a result of bad deeds.” Very often, a midrash is not merely a homiletical tangent, but has a close connection with some aspect of the text. What is the connection between Sichon’s conquest of Moab and the battle against the evil inclination?

    R’ Yonatan Eibeschutz (cited in Talelei Orot) provides a beautiful explanation. Cheshbon was a city on the border between the land of the Amorites and the land of the Moabites. It was not a particularly important city, and therefore the king of Moab did not focus resources on its defense. As a result, Sichon was able to conquer it. This was a fatal error by Moab, for once Sichon had established this beachhead, he was easily able to capture a much larger swath of Moabite territory. This is a metaphor for the battle against the evil inclination, which often tempts a person to violate a small mitzvah, since such an infraction is easier to rationalize than something more serious. Once a person gives in on something small, their defenses have been breached and each subsequent conquest becomes much easier for the evil inclination. By the same token, each victory over temptation, no matter how small, gives an individual a huge advantage in his future battles. Thus, the moshlim teach us “Come to Cheshbon” – do not repeat the mistake that the king of Moab made in his defense of Cheshbon; hold the frontline against the evil inclination even in those skirmishes that seem insignificant because the consequences of a defeat or victory will be dramatic.

  • Daily Aliya for Chukat, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe sends messengers to the King of Edom requesting permission to pass through his land (which is south of Canaan) on the way to the Promised Land. Despite Moshe’s promises not to cause any harm to the land whilst passing, Edom refuses the Jews passage. The Jews are therefore forced to circumvent the land of Edom, and approach Canaan from the east.

    Not only did we ask permission to cross their land, but we offered to pay for whatever we eat or drink (good for the local economy), avoid any fields where our animals might graze, and yet Edom still refused. Not only did they refuse, but they came at us with their entire force, just to make sure we adhere to their orders. Their actions hardly seem logical, unless you consider that they were still bitter over the affairs that happened many years prior, when Esav was “cheated” out of his blessing, and the Jews got it instead. Rather than focusing on the fact that we were cousins, they chose to be guided by their hate, much to their own detriment.

  • Daily Aliya for Chukat, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: G‑d tells Moshe and Aaron to take a staff and gather the people in front of a certain rock. They should speak to the rock, and it will give forth water. Moshe and Aaron gather everybody, and Moshe strikes the rock and it gives forth water. In the course of this episode they committed a grave error, the conventional explanation being that they struck the rock instead of speaking to it. This caused G‑d to punish Moshe and Aaron, barring them from leading the Jews into Israel.

    This is probably the sin that contributed the most to what happened to the Jews. The Egyptian astrologers saw that Moshe will be punished because of something to do with water (this event, where he hit the rock instead of speaking to it), and that’s why they decided to throw all Jewish babies into the water, and that’s how Moshe was saved, etc. There is so much to learn from what Moshe did wrong, why the punishment fit the crime – this Aliya is dripping with lessons (pun intended).

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