"This is the statute of Torah... and they shall take to you a red heifer." (19:2)
QUESTION: Why does it say "Zot chukat haTorah" — "This is the statute of the Torah" — instead of "Zot chukat parah adumah" — "This is the statute of the red heifer"?
The laws concerning the parah adumah
are paradoxical. On the one hand, when the mixture is sprinkled on the defiled person he becomes cleansed. On the other hand, those who are involved in the preparation of the parah adumah
The people appointed to prepare the parah adumah may rationally argue, "Why should we become defiled for the sake of those who were not careful to avoid contact with a corpse?"
Through the statute of parah adumah the Torah is teaching that a Jew must help another Jew even if it requires sacrifice. This is "chukat haTorah" — "a basic principle of Torah" — and though we may not easily comprehend it, we must practice it in our daily lives.
There is a popular adage, "Give till it hurts." Unfortunately, many people give when it hurts, but very few give till it hurts. The statute of parah adumah, which is described as "the statute of Torah," teaches us to help another Jew even if it hurts.
"This is the decree of the Torah..." (19:2)
QUESTION: The Ba'al Haturim writes, "The pasuk, 'Zot chukat haTorah' — 'this is the decree of the Torah' — follows the final pasuk of Parshat Korach, which states, 'Beharimchem et chelbo mimenu' — 'When you raise up its best from it' — to hint that Torah was given to those that ate the manna."
How is this derived from these two pesukim?
The word "mimenu"
— "from it" — has the numerical value of 136, and the word "chelbo"
— "its best" — adds up to 46. When one "raises up" (beharimchem)
, i.e. subtracts "chelbo"
(46) from "mimenu"
(136), the remainder is 90, the numerical value of the word "mann"
The pesukim are alluding that one who lives off manna — i.e. one whose income is provided (such as a Kohen who receives Terumah) or one who has no worries of parnasah, must make full-time Torah study a "decree," i.e. something imperative, and dedicate himself to uninterrupted, diligent Torah study.
"Whoever touches the corpse of any human being... Whoever touches the dead body of a human being... This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent." (19:11, 13-14)
QUESTION: Why isn't the term "adam" or "ha'adam" used consistently?
According to halachah
, if a person comes into a tent containing a Jewish corpse, he becomes defiled, even if he does not touch it. However, if one touches a corpse (even outside a tent) he becomes defiled even if it is of a non-Jew (Tumat Meit
The Gemara (Yevamot 61a) says that the term "adam" is reserved for the Jewish people and "ha'adam" also includes non-Jews. Therefore, the first pasuk, which talks of physical contact and uses the term "adam," is teaching that one becomes defiled when he touches a Jewish corpse. The second pasuk also discusses defilement through contact and uses the word "ha'adam" to indicate that this law applies to a non-Jewish corpse as well. The third pasuk discusses "tumat ohel" — entering a tent where there is a corpse — and it uses the term "adam" to emphasize that, as in the first pasuk, this applies only to a Jewish corpse.
The term "adam" is reserved for the Jewish people because the word has two contrasting meanings:
- Stemming from the word "adamah" — "earth" — "And G-d formed the man of dust from the ground" (Bereishit 2:7, Midrash Rabbah 17:4).
- As in "Adameh le'Elyon" — "I [man] resemble the One above" (see Shelah, Toldot Adam 3a).
These contrasting meanings of the title "adam"
impart that Jewish people have the unique ability that even when, G-d forbid, they stoop to the lowest level, through teshuvah
they can rise to the loftiest heights.
There was once a chaplain who visited a jail to deliver a sermon to the inmates. While ascending the podium to speak, he tripped and fell flat on his face. The room erupted in laughter. He picked himself up and went over to the podium and said, "I have just concluded my sermon; the moral is that even when a person falls flat on his face, he can rise up again."
"This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent." (19:14)
QUESTION: The introductory words "zot haTorah" are superfluous; it would have been sufficient to start with "adam"?
A corpse in a tent defiles the entire tent, and one who enters becomes defiled even without touching the corpse itself. In the Gemara (Niddah
70b) there is a question whether Lot's wife, who turned into a pillar of salt and who was thus not a normal corpse, would similarly defile a tent. The Gemara
concludes that only a normal corpse can defile and not a pillar of salt.
Tosafot asks, "We have a rule that when the Torah uses the expression 'adam' it refers only to a member of the Jewish people (see Yevamot 61a). Consequently, Lot's wife could not defile a tent even if she died a normal death because she was not a Jewess?"
Tosafot answers that the term "adam" is a title of distinction which the Jewish people acquired upon receiving the Torah. However, before the Torah was given, the laws of transmitting defilement were universal and even a non-Jew's corpse could defile everything in a tent.
A source for the theory expounded in Tosafot may be our pasuk. The Torah conveys the laws of defilement of a tent with the term "adam," which leads to the conclusion that these laws only apply to the Jewish people. Preceding it with the words "zot haTorah" emphasizes that this law applies only to — "adam" — a member of the Jewish people — because of "zot haTorah" — "this Torah" — which the Jewish people had received.
"This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent." (19:14)
QUESTION: Regarding this pasuk the Gemara (Berachot 63b) says: "Ein divrei Torah mitkaymin ela bemi shemeimit atzmo aleihah" — "Torah has a lasting effect only with one who kills himself for it."
Suicide is forbidden! How can a dead man study Torah?
Often when people sit down to study, they permit various factors to interrupt them, such as a telephone call or the arrival of visitors. There is no way, however, of disturbing a dead person with a telephone call or the like. The Gemara
is teaching that a person who wants to succeed in his learning must consider himself "dead": He cannot permit anything whatsoever to interrupt him.
"They shall take for the contaminated person some of the ashes of the burning of the purification animal." (19:17)
QUESTION: Since the parshah is discussing one who has become defiled and has already said that the heifer should be burned to ash, the word "latamei" — "for the contaminated person" — is superfluous, it should simply have said "velakechu mei'afar" — "they shall take from the ashes [and put upon it spring water]"?
The Torah refers to the purification process through the red heifer as a "chok"
— a "statute" — meaning that it is incomprehensible to man. Even King Shlomo the wisest of all men exclaimed, "I said I would be wise, but it is far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:23). Our sages (Midrash Rabbah
19:3,6) explain that with his wisdom he thought he would be able to comprehend the reason for the red heifer, but he did not succeed; Moshe was the only one to whom Hashem explained it.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 21b) explains the pasuk "Kohelet (Shlomo) sought to find words of delight" (Ecclesiastes 12:10) to mean that Kohelet wanted to be equal in wisdom to Moshe. However, a Heavenly voice responded, "Vekatub yosher divrei emet," what is written in the Book of Devarim (which is known as "Sefer Hayasher" — "Book of Fairness" — see Avodah Zarah 25a), are words of truth, and it states that "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe" (Devarim 34:10).
What gave Shlomo the idea that he could duplicate Moshe's achievement and understand the concept of the red heifer?
The first letters of the words letamei meiafar sereifas hachatas can be arranged to spell (Shlomo), and since he found an allusion to his name in the portion that discusses the red heifer, he assumed that with proper diligence and assiduous study he could understand its meaning and significance.
The Heavenly message can be explained to mean "Vekatub yashar" — "That which is written in the "proper order" — is definitely "divrei emet" — "words of truth." Thus, while there is indeed a hint to Shlomo's name in the parshah, the letters in sequence do not spell "Shlomo" but rather leMoshe — "to Moshe" — meaning that the understanding of the red heifer is revealed only to Moshe and no one else.
Throughout the history of the Jewish people the ashes of nine red heifers were prepared, and the tenth one will be prepared when Mashiach comes. (See Yalkut Re'uveini and Parah 3:5.) When Hashem conveyed to Moshe the statute of the red heifer, He said to him, "veyikchu eilecha parah adumah" — "they shall take to you a completely red heifer" — which our sages explain to mean, "It will always be accredited to 'you' (Moshe) because even in the ashes of all future red heifers there shall be mixed in some of the ash from the original one which you prepared."
The acrostic of leMoshe which is spelled by the words letamei meiafar sereifas hachatas — "[and they shall take] for the contaminated person some of the ashes from the burning of the purification animal" indicates that throughout all generations the Jewish people shall take for the contaminated, ashes which are mixed together with some of the ashes prepared by Moshe.
"And Miriam died there and she was buried there." (20:1)
QUESTION: If she died, obviously she was buried. Why does the pasuk mention it?
When the spies returned from their journey to Eretz Yisrael
and incited the people against it, Hashem was very angry. As a punishment, all the people who had left Egypt between the ages of twenty and sixty perished during the forty years they sojourned in the wilderness. Every year, on Erev Tisha B'Av
, the people dug graves for themselves and slept in them throughout the night. Those who were supposed to die that year passed away, and those that survived returned to their tents (Bava Batra
Accordingly, throughout the forty years, the people were first buried and then died. Miriam was the first person to die and be buried after her death.
"And why did You have us ascend from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? Not a place of seed, or fig, or grape, or pomegranate; and there is no water to drink!" (20:5)
QUESTION: If a poor man were to come begging and say, "Help me, I don't have any gourmet food," people would laugh at him. The Jewish people should have only complained that they had no water to drink. What sympathy did they hope to evoke with their complaint about "figs, grapes, or pomegranates"?
In printed chumashim
there is a vertical line (indicating a pause) between the word "lo"
— "no" — and the words "mekom zera"
— "place of seed." This vertical line serves as an explanation as to what the people complained about.
When Hashem took them out of Egypt, He never promised them that He would provide them with luscious fruit during their travels. However, it is self-understood that He was required to give them at least the bare necessities and not let them perish from thirst.
Consequently, when they arrived in the Wilderness of Tzin and there was no water, the people became upset and quarreled with Moshe. When they bemoaned their situation they proclaimed, "Why did you take us out of Egypt to bring us to this place? 'Lo' (pause) — our complaint is not — 'mekom zera ute'einah vegefen verimon' — that this is not a place of seed, fig, or grape or pomegranate — because we can get along without these. However, our complaint is 'mayim ayin lishtot' — there is no water to drink. Water is a bare necessity for human existence!"
"It is not a place of seed, or figs, or vines or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." (20:5)
QUESTION: Throughout the sojourn of the Jewish people in the wilderness, a well of water accompanied them in the merit of Miriam. When she died, the well ceased. Why did they now complain about the lack of tasty fruit in addition to the lack of water?
Some have a custom to fetch water from a well or a spring after Shabbat
ends. This is because on Saturday night Miriam's well, which is in the sea of Tiberias, travels throughout all wells and springs. Whoever is fortunate to drink of its water is immediately healed from all sicknesses (Orach Chaim
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 17b) lists the prerequisites a city must have in order for a talmid chacham to dwell there. According to Rabbi Akiva, one of them is a variety of different fruits, because through them, the eyesight of a person is improved.
Consequently, before Miriam's passing they did not complain about the lack of fruit because the drinking water healed them of all their ailments. Now that they had neither water nor fruit, they quarreled with Moshe and argued that their health was in jeopardy and that it was no longer permissible to remain in the wilderness.
"Take the staff...and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters." (20:8)
QUESTION: Which staff was Moshe instructed to take? What purpose was the staff to serve, and what was Moshe to say to the rock?
Aharon and Moshe each had his own staff. When Hashem wanted Moshe or Aharon to take his own staff, He would say "matecha"
staff" (see Shemot
7:9). Since in this pasuk
it says "ha
mateh" — "the
staff" — obviously it was a special one with unique qualities.
In Parshat Korach, Moshe told the leaders of each tribe to bring a staff to be put in the Tabernacle. On each would be written the name of the tribal leader, with Aharon's name written on the staff of the tribe of Levi. The staff belonging to the one who was Divinely-chosen would blossom. The staff of Aharon blossomed and produced almonds and eventually was put next to the holy Ark for posterity. It was this staff that Moshe was to take. This corresponds to the verse, "Moshe took the staff from before G-d" (20:9).
The purpose of taking the staff was to show it to the rock as if to say, "Learn this lesson; just as this dry piece of wood suddenly became moist and alive in order to sanctify Hashem's name, so should you sanctify Hashem's name by giving water, even though it is not your nature."
"And speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters." (20:8)
QUESTION: Why now did Hashem instruct Moshe to speak to the rock whereas in Rephidim (Shemot 17:6), when they thirsted for water and complained, Hashem told him, "You shall strike the rock and water will come forth"?
Hashem said to Moshe, "When the child is young his teacher hits him and teaches him. Once he becomes older, he reprimands him with words. Similarly, when the rock was small you hit it, but now you shall speak to it. Teach it and it will bring forth water" (Yalkut Shimoni)
This may be further expounded: The rock is analogous to people who at times seem to be "hard as rock" and obstinately refuse to direct their lives morally and ethically as a Jew should.
The incident in Rephidim occurred before the Torah was given. The only method available then to guide a Jew in the right path was to strike him harshly. The episode in our parshah however, took place after the Torah was given. The way to reach a Jew now, is not through striking him, but through talking to him with sincerity and warmth and introducing him to the beauty of Torah.
The Torah assures that with such an approach one will successfully penetrate and "venatan meimav" — "he shall give his waters." One will eventually bring to surface the beautiful "pintele Yid" — the spark of Judaism hidden within him.
"And he struck the rock with his staff twice." (20:11)
QUESTION: Why did he strike the rock twice?
The letters of the word "sela"
— "rock" — spelled out in full are samech, lamed, ayin
. The middle letters of the name of each letter spell the word "mayim"
— "water." Thus, in a rock — "sela"
— there is hidden water — "mayim
Moshe, by striking the rock twice, knocked off the first letters as well as the last letters, leaving the middle letters (mayim), and water flowed forth abundantly.
"G-d said to Moshe and to Aharon, 'Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given them.' " (20:12)
QUESTION: Why didn't Moshe speak to the rock?
Had Moshe spoken to the rock, Hashem would have indeed been sanctified. Every Jew would have come to the conclusion: "If a rock, which does not speak and does not hear, performs Hashem's will, how much more so are we required to listen to Him!"
However, Moshe thought to himself that this logic could also be used by Satan against the Jewish people when they sinned. He would come before the heavenly tribunal as a prosecutor and say to Hashem, "Your children, the Jewish people, are even worse than an inert rock. The rock does what You want, and Your people for whom You do so much do not perform Your will."
Not wanting to give Satan any ammunition against the Jewish people, Moshe jeopardized his life and future, and decided not to speak to the rock.
"G-d said to Moshe and to Aharon, 'Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me... therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given them.' " (20:12)
QUESTION: It was Moshe who disobeyed and struck the rock; why was Aharon also punished?
Aharon was punished because the act was repeated
. Possibly, at first he did not know what Moshe was about to do and could justifiably claim innocence. However, after Moshe struck the rock the first time, he should have protested saying, "We were told to speak, not smite." Now Aharon was also liable and equally punished.
"Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to the king of Edom: 'So said your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that has befallen us.' " (20:14)
QUESTION: The Jews were only seeking permission to travel through the land of Edom; why was it necessary to tell them that, "Our forefathers descended to Egypt, and the Egyptians mistreated us, and we cried out to Hashem, and He sent an emissary who took us out of Egypt"?
If the Jewish people were actually not law-abiding citizens and left Egypt after being victorious in a rebellion, it would have been logical for Edom to deny them permission to pass through his land. Therefore, they declared to them that "We dwelled in Egypt for many years. We were not rebellious or disruptive; on the contrary, it was the Egyptians who were evil to us and our forefathers. Nevertheless, instead of rebelling, we cried to Hashem, and He heard our voices and sent an emissary, who took us out of Egypt. Thus, there is no reason at all for you to fear our passage through your land."
Despite this reassurance, the inherent hatred of Edom for the Jews manifested itself, and they went out against them with a massive throng and strong hand.
"The king of Edom said to him, 'You shall not pass through; maybe I will come against you with the sword.' " (20:18)
- Instead of saying "pen" — "maybe" — why doesn't he simply say, "If you pass through, I will come against you...."?
- Why was he so unsympathetic to the plea of the Jewish people to pass through the land?
In reality, Edom would not have minded the Jews passing through the territory, particularly when they were offered a handsome profit on all the food to be consumed. However, the nations of the world are anti-Semitic, and one nation will always rally to the support of the other when they are at war with the Jews. Thus, his concern was that perhaps in the future, the Jews would be at war with another nation who would call upon Edom for assistance.
Consequently, their response to the Jews was, "You shall not pass through because, pen bacherev eitzei likeratecha — maybe in the future our allies will solicit our assistance against you in battle. If we permit you entry, you may explore our country and learn all our strategic installations. Hence, it will help you retaliate against us, and we will be at a military disadvantage."
"And the Canaanite heard... And he fought against Israel." (21:1)
QUESTION: The "Canaanite" was Amalek. Upon hearing that Aharon had died and that the Clouds of Glory had departed, he thought that permission was granted to battle with Israel (Rashi, ibid. and 33:40).
When Miriam died, the well ceased and the Jewish people quarreled with Moshe. Why was there no uproar from the people when the clouds departed? Moreover, how and when the well returned is clearly detailed in the Scriptural text (see 20:8-11); why isn't there an indication concerning how the clouds returned?
Careful analysis of the pesukim
shows that there were two types of clouds:
- ananei hakavod — Clouds of Glory —
- ordinary clouds (see Rashi 20:29, 26:13 and Rashi Vayikra 23:43).
The Clouds of Glory hovered over the camp of Israel, and their presence proclaimed the glory of K'lal Yisrael
. The others surrounded them from all four sides and also from above and beneath. They served as protection against alien attacks and shielded them from heat and sun (see 10:35, 20:22, Rashi).
In accordance with peshuto shel mikra — the simple explanation of the text — it was not the ordinary clouds that departed but the Clouds of Glory, which in actuality never returned afterwards. Though Amalek knew very well the purpose of the Clouds of Glory, upon witnessing their departure, his audacity led him foolishly to think that Hashem had now granted permission to attack the Jewish people.
The Jews did not raise a protest when they departed because the Clouds of Glory were a special gift to the Jewish people in merit of Aharon and did not serve the personal needs of the people (unlike the well which provided their drinking water), so they had no basis for murmuring and demanding their return.
Moshe, as a sincere and dedicated shepherd of K'lal Yisrael, considered it his obligation to do everything in his power to ensure that their needs were provided for. Therefore, he made sure that the water supply (well) returned after the demise of Miriam but did not request from Hashem the return of the Clouds of Glory.
"And the Canaanite king of Arad, who dwelled in the south, heard that Israel had come by the route of the spies, and he warred against Israel." (21:1)
QUESTION: Of what significance to the war with the Canaanites is the fact that the Jews had come "derech ha'atarim" — "by the route of the spies"?
The spies who went to the land of Canaan (Eretz Yisrael)
outwardly presented themselves as righteous people, but inwardly they were wicked and corrupt.
In reality, the nation that launched the attack mentioned in our pasuk was Amalek, not Canaan. They merely altered their dialect to speak like the Canaanites so that the Jewish would erroneously pray to Hashem for protection from the Canaanites, and thus their prayers would be of no avail.
Hashem conducts Himself with the Jewish people middah keneged middah — measure for measure. If he punishes them, G-d forbid, he does so in a way that echoes the offense. With the words "derech ha'atarim" — "the route of the spies" — the Torah is telling us that this occurrence was Hashem's way of punishing measure for measure. Since the Jews "followed the route" — i.e. succumbed to the influence — of the spies, who endeavored to disguise themselves, Hashem now sent upon them the Amalekites, disguised as Canaanites.
"If You will deliver this people into my hand, I will utterly destroy their cities. G-d heard the voice of Israel and He delivered the Canaanite and they utterly destroyed them and their cities." (21: 2-3)
QUESTION: The Jews only vowed to utterly destroy their cities, why afterwards did they utterly destroy them, too?
The Canaanites who attacked the Jewish people were actually Amalekites. Although they dressed like Amalekites, to mislead the Jewish people they spoke the language of Canaan. Thus, when the Jews would pray to Hashem to deliver them from the Canaanites, their prayers would be of no avail.
Thinking that they were being attacked by Canaanites, the Jewish people vowed to destroy only their cities. However upon realizing their true identity, and cognizant of the mitzvah "You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven" (Devarim 25:19), they utterly destroyed them, too.
"G-d said to Moshe, 'Make yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole' ...Moshe made a serpent of copper and placed it on the pole." (21:8-9)
QUESTION: Why didn't Moshe follow Hashem's instructions to make a fiery serpent?
The Jewish people complained about the heavenly food Hashem provided to sustain them, and also about Moshe's taking them out of Egypt and their having to be in the wilderness. Thus, their sin was twofold: they spoke evil against both Hashem and Moshe (21:5).
The serpent was for the sin of speaking evil about Hashem, as Rashi (21:6) states, "Let the serpent who was punished for slandering G-d to Chavah (Bereishit 3:1-15) come and punish the ungrateful slanderers." For slandering Moshe, our great teacher, the appropriate punishment was a fiery serpent, as stated in Pirkei Avot (2:11), "Warm yourself by the fire of the sages, but beware of their glowing embers lest you be burnt...for their hiss is the hiss of a fiery serpent."
Hashem is more concerned about the honor of the righteous than His own. Therefore He said to Moshe, "While I may pardon them for sinning against me, they must be punished for slandering you. Hence, make yourself — i.e. for the sin against you — a fiery serpent. Place it on a pole so that they may see it and confront their offense against you."
Moshe had exceptional love for the Jewish people, and like a loving father who forgives his children, he always magnanimously forgave their insurrections against him. However, he wanted them to repent and beg forgiveness for speaking evil about Hashem. Consequently, he did not make a fiery serpent, but a copper ordinary one, so that instead of thinking of the significance of the serpent being fiery (the sin against Moshe), they would focus on the significance of the sin against Hashem.
The purpose of placing it on a pole was as the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 29a) says, "When the people looked 'upward' and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed — forgiven."
"So it was that if the serpent bit a man, he would stare at the copper serpent and live." (21:9)
QUESTION: The word "vehayah" denotes "simchah" — "joy." It is definitely no pleasure to be bitten. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say "vayehi" which denotes pain and sorrow? (See Midrash Rabbah Bereishit 42:3.)
Regarding the serpent, the Torah says, "vehayah kol hanashuch"
— "anyone who was bitten [will look at it and live]." The word "kol"
— "anyone" — which is superfluous, is written to emphasize that "anyone" (including a person terminally ill from another sickness) who was bitten and then looked at the copper serpent would be healed from all
his illnesses and remain alive. To him, being bitten was indeed an occurrence which brought joy.