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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers / Chukat/Balak- 101
Posted July, 2000
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For this week, there are two Parashot in Bamidbar (Numbers) - Chukat (Perek Yud-Tet/Chapter 19 through Chav-Aleph/Chapter 21) and Balak (Perek Chav-Bet/Chapter 22 through Perek Chav-Hay/Chapter 25, pasuk tet/verse 9) 

Parashat Chukat discusses the parah adumah (red heifer).  In current times, this has been a major news item in that it was believed that a kosher red heifer had been located in Israel.  The point of such a discovery is that the ashes of the parah adumah can be used to sanctify the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).  It was not Jewish sources who were promoting this discovery but rather other religions.  As is typical with those who have a limited or poor understanding of Judaism, a red heifer wouldn't be of much use without the Temple to sanctify.  Needless to say, once this point was raised, the story lost its luster.

The point of the parah adumah is that the ashes reverse the spiritual state that a person is in.  If a person who is cleansed comes into contact with the ashes, he becomes unclear; and vice versa.  Most interesting is the fact that the ashes also cleansed a person of sin, as we can see in verse 9:

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch translates this verse as follows:

9. And a man who is pure shall gather up the ashes of the cow and lay them down outside the camp in a pure place.  And it shall remain for the children of Israel to be kept as a water of separation, it is an expiation-from-sin offering.

In any event, the focus for this week can be found at the end of Parashat Balak.  Two areas warrant consideration.  The first has to do a unique line in the Torah that is only occasionally listen to.  The second continues with the theme that was discussed in last week's commentary.  This first can be found at Chav-Daled/tet (24:9)

9. "He crouched and lay down like a lion, and, like a lion cub -- who can stand him up? Those who bless you are blessed and those who curse you are accursed.":

The "he" in this case is Klal Yisrael.  Frequently throughout the Tanach (the Hebrew Scriptures), Klal Yisrael is referred to as Yaakov.  The "he" is identified in verse 5.  Rav Hirsch's commentary is as follows:

When [Klal Yisrael] has conquered the nations and has taken up its peaceful position in their midst, then it rests, commanding such respect that no one dares attack it.

This applies both in the time of Yehoshua (Joshua) and current history.  Following the War of 1948, the State of Israel commanded a great deal of respect from its neighbors.

The commentary continues:

[God] looks down again at Israel and pronounces the great saying "Those that bless . . ." the greatest one, that once God proclaimed when He first chose Abraham (Bereshit/Genesis 12:3), and Isaac repeated when he blessed Jacob (ibid 27:29).  Here, as in the last quotation mentioned, Those who bless you and Those who curse you are in the plural but the predicates blessed and cursed are in the singular.  So it seems that it is to be taken thus:  all those that bless thee, i.e., that respect thy principle and further it, they have the blessing, i.e., they are those that can expect blessing and prosperity from God, they are those who altogether have a future under God's government of the world.  But those that curse thee, i.e., who are opposed to the principle which is to be brought into the consciousness of mankind through thee and wish to see its ruin through thy ruin, they are those who bear the curse in themselves, whom God has destined to ruin, that have no future on God's earth.

Now to continue with last week's discussion concerning Klal Yisrael's responsibilities and consequences.  In Perek Chav-Hay (Chapter 25), we see the second, but first real, instance of the commission of idolatry by Klal Yisrael and the results of that.

1. Israel settled in the Shittim and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab:

2. They invited the people to the feasts of their gods; the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods:

3. Israel became attached to Baal-peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Israel:

4. Hashem said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people. Hang them before Hashem against the sun -- and the flaring wrath of Hashem will withdraw from Israel.":

5. Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Let each man kill his men who were attached to Baal-peor.":

6. Behold! a man of the Children of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman near to his brothers in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel; and they were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting:

7. Phineas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the Kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand:

8. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman into her stomach -- and the plague was halted from the Children of Israel:

9. Those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand:

Rav Hirsch covers this:

The sword of no stranger, the curse of no stranger had the power to damage Israel.  Only it itself could bring misfortune, by seceding from God and His Torah.

His direct commentary to verse 9 is:

At the Golden Calf only three thousand fell, and although there, too, in addition, guilty ones also died by sudden death, the number that fell here still seems to have been considerably greater.  Thus a cult of idol-worship of depraved immorality gains infinitely more ground than mere metaphysical idol-aberration.

It should be noted, as I discussed last week, that Moshe interceded during the episode with the Golden Calf.  In this case, it was the actions of Phineas, the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aharon, that halted the plague.  To continue with next week's Parashah,

10. Hashem spoke to Moses, saying:

11. Phineas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance:

12. Therefore, say - Behold! I give him My covenant of peace:

13. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his God, and he atoned for the Children of Israel:

Idolatry, abandoning the worship of Hashem and worse, putting other gods before God, carries terrible penalties for Klal Yisrael.  As I have mentioned in other commentaries, Klal Yisrael is blessed or cursed as a whole - not as individuals.  This creates an awesome responsibility for every Jew living today to attempt to live up to the commandment that, by our lives and the way we live, we set an example for others to emulate.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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