Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Chukas 5770- Parah Adumah

1) What is so unusual about the Parah Adumah that other nations would mock the Jews?
2) Why was it specified that Eleazar must be the one to offer the sacrifice?

This weeks parsha; Parshas Chukat Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22:1


The answer frequently given to this is that it makes no logical sense since it makes the pure impure, and the impure pure. However, Ramban has a difficulty with this answer as none of the sacrifices for the sake of purification make much sense. How does the sacrifice of a zav or a woman after childbirth remove the impurity? Perhaps the idea of a mikveh makes sense in that you could say that the water “washes” away the impurity- but the mikveh is insufficient without a sacrifice- and there is no logical connection between the removel of impurity and a sacrifice. so why is it this sacrifice where it is emphasised it is a “chok”? Why is it with this sacrifice that we state that the nations of the world would come to mock?

There is an interesting facet to this sacrifice- it is central to Judaism. It is the only means for the nation to remain pure over an extended periond of time- and in the modern era we are all assumed to be impure because of Tumas Meis since we have not been able to purify ourselve for so long. Considering its importance, one would expect it to be mandated to be offere in the most important place- on the inner alter- and f not there, at least within the Temple or Mishkan. Yet, for all its importance, it does not take place in eithr of those places- but outside of the Temple and the Mishkan! Outside- where everyone can see it, where everyone can question it, and thus why this sacrifice unlike the other Tohoros sacrifices which re within the walls of the Temple, will be visible and open to mockery.

One would also expect that due to its importance, it would be assigned to the most important figure- the Kohen Gadol. However, while the Kohen Gadol can offer the sacrifice- it is not restricted to him. Any Kohen can offer the sacrifice and we learn this from the assigning of Eleazar to perform this very first sacrifice of a parah adumah. If so, then why not Itamar? He would be a better example of any Kohen being allowed to do it? The answer is simple- out of respect for Eleazar and not to slight his honour, G-d ordered that it be him and not his younger brother.

Ramban also brings additional reasons why Aharon was not the one to offer the parah Adumah:
1) because of his involvement with the golden calf, it would not be appropriate for him to be associated with the parah adumah
2) as the first annointed Kohen Gadol, G-d did not want him to perform sacrifices in an area of lesser sanctity than the Mishkan, and thus assigned this sacrifice to another as a sign of the holiness of Aharon

Note: as always discussion, comments, questions are welcome

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshas Chukas Balak 5769- The decree of the Torah

Parshas Chukas starts off with the statement “This is the decree of the Torah”.  It then goes on to the sacrifice of the red heffer and how it is used to purify people from tumat HaMeit- impurity contracted from a corpse, the only form of impurity which makes someone touching the impure item able to convey to the next person the highest level of impurity (av hatumah).  The procedure can be summarised as follows:

A red heffer was to be sacrificed by Eleazar, the deputy high priest.  Ramban discusses in depth whether this was a specific commandment for all time that the Kohen Gadol should not offer this sacrifice, whether it was only this once that the Kohen Gadol could not offer the sacrifice .  The conclusion (as I understand it) is that the Kohen gadol can, if he wishes, offer the sacrifce but is not compelled to.

So, the red heffer is sacrificed and then burnt completely on a large stack of wood and other items.  The ashes are collected.  When a person becomes impure from tumat hameit, they go to the kohen on the third and seventh dat of the purification period.  The ashes from the parah adumah are mixed with water, and sprinkled onto the person.At the end of the process, the impure person is pure, and the pure person is impure.  Where the great mystery lies in this sacrifice, is- how does a substance that provide purification, cause impur” decree so as to deter those who would mock the Torah and thus claim it is nonsensical?

Rashi remarks on this verse that the Torah explicitly uses the word “chok” (decree) is used whenever a law seems to be nonsensical and has no rational explanation.  Thus, he says, the word is used here in order to deter those who would attack the Torah, claiming this sacrifice is nonsensical.  yes, rashi says, we are aware, that of all the mitzvot in the Torah, the parah adomah is the one that we cannot understand- and the Torah tells us this fact!

HaRav Moshe Feinstein zst”l offers a very interesting insight into the use of the word “chok” here. He points out that the word chok is also used when it comes to how we purify utensils to make them kosher when they have been used for non-Kosher purposes by non-Jews.  In that case, he points out, the law is rational, sensible, seemingly obvious, so why is the word “chok” used?  The purpose, says Rav Moshe, is to make us sensitive to the fact that no matter how well we think we know a mitzvha, even if their appears to be an explanation from the Torah or Gemorrah or the Geonim- we should never presume to change the details of how to perform a mitzvah, even though we think we have a complete understanding of it, we cannot change what the Torah has written.  the use of the word “chok” when it comes to a seemingly obvious mitzvah, which a clearly visible explanation and understanding, is to sensitise us to the fact that, even there, we have to understand that there is an element to every mitzvah that comes from Hashem, and as such, an element that we cannot clearly understand.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshat Chukat – Part II

In our parsha we have the deaths of both Miriam and of Aharon. There is an interesting statement in regards to Aharon that is not found with the death of Miriam. When Aharon dies- it states that the entire assembly of Israel wept and mourned for thirty days. However, the first thing that is mentioned after the death of Miriam, is the people complaining about water. Undoubtedly they would have mourned for her- but it would seem that the grief they felt at the death of Miriam was muted in comparisaon to that at the death of Aharon!

Why was there such sadness at the death of Aharon? Why did his death have such a huge effect on the entire nation? There is comment in the Talmud that we should be like Aharon- to love peace and to chase after peace. How did Aharon exemplify this trait of peace, a trait of Hashem himself? In the parsha dealing with the sotah, we learn that G-d is so concerned about shalom bayis (peace in the home- i.e. relationship between the husband of wife) that it is the name of G-d that is erased as the final step of the process to determine her innocence or guilt.

In a similar vein, Aharon took great care to men relationships between people- particularly between husband and wife. He, personally, regardless of the importance of his position and the indignity of the role, would make sure to visit both sides of the conflict- speak soothing words and encourage them to come together and resolve their differences. Like G-d with the sotah, Aharon involved himself in creating shalom bayis, creating peace in the home and thus strengthening the overall nation.

It was this attribute of his- that he was so involved with ensuring happiness in the home and harmonious relationships he was beloved by the entire nation and thus the grieving over his death was very pronounced, far more so than with Miriam who, while loved by many (especially the women for whom she was a leader)

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , | 2 Comments