Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chukas, Bamidbar 19:2. Zos Chukas Hatorah, Fasting Erev Parshas Chukas

The Magen Avrohom in 580:9 (brought in Mishneh Brurah) brings a minhag to fast on Friday, the day before Shabbos Parshas Chukas, because that is when the twenty wagon-loads of Gemaros were burned in France. This is the only commemorative day I know of that is not tied to the calendar, but rather to a specific day of a specific week. He says that a early sefer called the Tanya says that the date of the taynis is erev parshas Chukas, not the day of the month (which happened to be the ninth of Tammuz), because this was the instruction delivered in answer to a she’eilas chalom, and that the first words in Onkelos, “Doh gzeiras Oraiso,” was the remez used in the chalom that they should commemorate it and that it should be on that specific day. The sefer Shallal Shel Torah also brings from a talmid of Rabbeinu Yonah that years before the French burned the Gemaros, we had burned the Rambam’s Moreh on that same spot, and when the French burned the Gemoros, the leaders realized that they were being punished for burning the Rambams. (They say that Rabbeinu Yonah wrote his Sha'arei Teshuva in penance for the burning of the Rambam. I don't believe it. If this were so, he would have made some allusion to the event, or at least would have warned others to not do such things or similar things. In fact, though, nowhere in the Sha'arei Teshuva is there any reference to the event or the concept.)

What is the connection to Parshas Chukas? It seems that the connection is so strong that it transcends and surpasses the usual calendrical association to a date. If so, there has to be a very strong connection to the Parsha, so that the fast must take place on the day before reading Parshas Chukas.

I belive that Parah Adumah at the beginning of the parshah is really a distraction. There is no reason the connection has to be to the first words of the Parsha. It could be that the connection to the parshah is not to Parah Adumah, but instead to another event related in the Parsha, the story of Mei Me’rivah. The lesson of Mei M’rivoh is that a religious leader who needs to correct a mistake in hashkafa or middos should indeed carry a stick, but he should do everything in his power to influence his community with words and persuasion. Violence is an extreme step and should be the last resort when dealing with theological problems. You may have problems with the Moreh Nevuchim, and those problems may indeed by serious and require resolution. But don’t deal with it by burning them in public. Deal with it with words; Say it is wrong and bad and people shouldn’t have it in their houses. But don’t burn it in public.

As Chazal say, Talmidei Chachamim Marbim Shalom Ba'olam: not that they are passive and phlegmatic. On the contrary, talmidei chachamim are contentious and argumentative and prone to coming up with strange ideas. The point is that conflict resolution is a skill that talmidei chachamim are experienced at-- argue, convince, debate, but never argue ad hominem, and never resort to physical persuasion.

A minor, though interesting, support for this approach is the similarity of the words in Moreh N’vuchim and “Shim’u noh haMorim.” If you don't like the Morim, the Moreh Nevuchim, then Shim'u nah-- explain to the people why you don't like it. Don't hit it with a stick.

The Kedushas Levi here in 20:8 says a very similar thing. He brings that the Rambam says that the aveirah was hitting the rock. The Ramban says it was calling Klal Yisroel ‘Morim.’ Both pshotim are true. There are two kinds of leaders. One kind leads by yesurim and warnings and intimidation, and the other by example and teaching and being a role model. These leaders have the zechus of Klal Yisroel helping them to be meshaneh the tevah in a manner reflecting their style of leadership. Hashem wanted Moshe to be the latter, so he could be meshaneh the tevah by talking to the rock. But once Moshe called us ‘Morim,’ which was a departure from his usual leadership method of example and persuasion, he momentarily lost the ability to be meshaneh the tevah by dibbur, and could only do it by hitting the rock. This is the lesson of Parshas Chukas– that if you don’t like the Moreh Nevuchim, put up a kol korei or write a reasoned response. Don’t call it intemperate names and don’t throw it into a fire.


  1. I think the Blog is becoming Thematic.

  2. Your commentary regaring the need for a spiritual leader to bring along a stick however he should always use words is well worded.

    However to state that the beginning of the parsha is a distraction certainly seems to be a very bold statement!

    Why not simply agree with what has already been written on the topic of the Red Cow. The Red Cow was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf?

  3. I didn't say that the laws of the Parah Adumah are a distraction in the sense that they don't teach us anything. What I said was that there seems to have been a minhag, perhaps divinely inspired, to fast before Parshas Chukas in commemoration of the burning of the Gemara manuscripts by the French Church authorities. This minhag is closely tied to something in Parshas Chukas. One naturally assumes the connection is to the first law of the Parsha, that of Parah Adumah. On that thought, I said this is not the case; there is no connection betweem the fast and the law of Parah Adumah; the connection is to the story later in the Parsha, that of the Mei Merivah.

  4. Thematic? What's that supposed to mean? Is it a criticism? As someone once said, I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam.

    I only post things that I said, not things that others have said, no matter how brilliant. So why would I post other people's torah? Anyone can pick up Reb Elya Meir's sefer, or Rav Povarsky's sefer, and see what I saw. What distinguishes this blog is that it is all original. So if I have a style, or a peculiar way of looking at things, this is a problem? As it happens, the torah from Rav Bloch and Rav Povarsky is wonderful, insightful, and not generally known. But I didn't add anything to them, so why post them? They're not mine, I wish I would have thought of them, but I didn't. So if the two aforementioned people want them posted, let them get their own blogs.

    Here's what they say:

    19:21. Umazei mei haniddoh y’chabeis b’godov.... R Elyah Meir in his P’ninei Da’as brings Rashi that the mazeh does not become tomei, only a nogei’ah or a nosei, and the reason the Torah describes a nosei as a mazeh is to tell you that it is only m’tamei if there is a shiur to be mazeh. (This is from the Gemora in Psochim in the first perek, where it brings a machlokes R’ Akiva and the Rabbonon.) He explains that a person that has the opportunity to do good and doesn’t use it, or he carries a holy thing that can be used for the benefit of others for no good purpose, he becomes tomei. But a person that uses it for its intended use is certainly not tomei.
    Failure to use an innate talent is not just bal tashchis. It destroys its bearer.

    20:1-2. Vatomos shom Miriam...velo hoyoh mayim lo’eidoh. Rashi from Taanis 9a– the be’er was in the zechus of Miriam.

    Kli Yokor here: the be’er disappeared because they weren’t maspid her properly: by Moshe and Aharon (Bamidbor 20:29, Devorim 34:8) it says “vayivku...” but not by Miriam.

    Reb Berel Povarsky in his Bahd Kodesh asks: if the be’er was in the zechus of Miriam, how can the Kli Yokor say that it disappeared because they weren’t maspid koro’ui? It disappeared because she died! With her passing, her zechuyos were no longer meigin on the dohr!

    He answers that pshat in proper hesped is that by deep consideration of the life of a tzadik, one learns to emulate them as well as possible, and thereby brings forward in this world their life and influence. It ties the life of the tzadik to the life of the living world. If they had been maspid her properly, her zechusim would have continued to benefit the generation. But by just wiping away a tear and saying goodbye, they left her in her grave and she was no longer tied to this world, and her zechusim no longer were able to benefit them.

  5. And I'll have you know that while my blog is becoming thematic, that doesn't stop hundreds of people from schnorring divrei Torah for Bar Mitzvahs, levayas, and Sheva Brochos, judging by what they were searching for when they accessed my site. They don't usually write to thank me, but that's because most people don't want to lift a finger to express hakaras tov, or they are constitutionally incapable of even FEELING hakaras tov. I once lent someone twenty thousand dollars; not only has he not paid me back, but he didn't even call to apologize. Call, for God's sake! He's not a thief, at least I don't think so. So why not call, write, apologize, express dismay at your unfortunate circumstances? Because PEOPLE are thematic! The theme is "Solipsism is Not Just a Hobby, It's a Way of LIfe."

  6. Did I mention Brisim and Pidyon Haben? No? Then let me mention Brisim and Pidyon Habens.

  7. And here's one: Several people have written for assistance in delivering a vort at a sheva brachos because they were recently divorced, and feel weird talking about love and commitment.

    Thematic my foot.

  8. Thematic, was intended as a comical note about the theme of Machlokes in no way was it a critique.

  9. Oh, that's alright. I just needed to let off some steam.

  10. Firstly I appoligize for my typo missing the "d" in regarding.

    Secondly perhaps I should have used a semicolon after "regarding" and then a comma after the word "words" Would that have been grammatically correct?

    Thirdly, hey take it easy, be happy people are reading and commenting on your blog.

    I am a google blogger too, and I am still trying to figure out how to get people to comment. However I do not want anonymous comments.

    Also if you click on my name of my first comment you will find my url which is now being hosted by tripod. I am ready to upgrade to paid hosting, have you thought about that?

    Feel free to contact me via e-mail: stevesanders38@yahoo.com

    PS: I too sometimes make bold statements and I secretly worry that a Torah authority might come down hard on me.
    Chukas Pg 1 & 2, 2008

  11. Just a Reminder No fasting this Year It is Rosh Chodesh!!

  12. Barzilai, I wonder at what point do we say that the person is indeed a thief? I have many people who delay paying for their ads. They don't usually admit to actually stiffing me. But I believe that once the person gets the warning about a suit in small claims court and then loses the judgment because she did not even bother to show up, and then fails to pay the judgment, I think that person has proven herself dishonest, especially when she lives in the biggest, newest house on the block and treats herself to manicures. Another one I've been calling and calling since November who offered one excuse after another and constant broken promises to call me back had the chutzpah to tell me that since it's been so long and only a couple of hundred dollars, I should just write off his debt! He tried to lay a guilt trip on me for hounding him for the money he owes and insinuates his obligation is lightened because I "sweet-talked" him into taking the ad, which he considers a waste of money! Is he a thief now?

  13. Mrs A, your note is very upsetting. As you know, many people distinguish between picking someone's pocket and failure to pay a debt. This is a distinction without a difference. When my father was in the hospital, his greatest concern was that he not dying, it was leaving this world with outstanding debts. Most people just shrug it off. I realize it wouldn't help to suggest that you take credit card info for new clients; people hesitate to offer it, and might decide not to take the ad if that is necessary. Unfortunately, the likelihood of people changing is no better that people stopping talking in shul; everyone knows it's wrong, and everyone does it anyway. I think people need a father to occasionally give them a slap in the face.

  14. Along the lines of (I was about to write "on the theme of") your insightful Machshava we can also connect tomorrow's taanis to Missas Aharon - perhaps the exemplar of Talmidei Chachamim Marbim Shalom Baolam - which also happens in this Parsha. Especially since we know that his Yahrtzeit on 1 Av is also designated as a Taanis Tzadikkim. An easy fast to all the Yechidim out there. YO