Jujy 2008, Contributed by Asher ben
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In this week's Torah portion, Chukat, we read about the passing of
Moshe's siblings, Miriam and Aharon. Not only was their passing,
naturally, a cause of grief, but also, it directly affected the lives
of the entire Jewish people.
After telling us of the passing of Miriam, the Torah lets us know
that there wasn't any water. From that we learn that the Traveling
Well that had accompanied and supplied the people with water for
forty years had only existed in the merit of Miriam.
After the passing of Aharon, the Torah says: "And the Canaanites
heard...[that Aharon had passed away and that the Clouds of Glory had
disappeared – Rashi] ...And they attacked the Jewish people". [The
Canaanites thought Hashem had now given permission –Rashi]. From
here we know that the Clouds of Glory that had surrounded and
protected the people for forty years had been there in the merit of
After the well had ceased to exist the people came to Moshe to ask
for water. Then Hashem instructed how to make the water flow once
more, as we read in the Parsha. From then until after Moshe passed
away, the well continued to supply the Jewish people with water.
Although it would seem plausible to say that the clouds also returned
after Aharon's passing, again in the merit of Moshe, it is interesting to note that
the Torah doesn't mention anything about the clouds returning at
all. It is even more interesting when we realize that there is no
mention of an uproar caused by the disappearance of the clouds. No
revolution against Moshe or even a small complaint is ever mentioned
in the Torah!
What were those clouds?
During their stay in the desert, seven clouds surrounded the Jewish
nation. There were four on each side of them, one above and one
below, and there was one more cloud going ahead at all times. The
clouds had several purposes. They would protect the people from the
burning sun, they would clean and press the Jewish people's clothes
(they only owned one pair of clothing which would miraculously grow
with them as they were growing). The clouds would show the Jewish
people the way (whenever the cloud moved, they followed wherever it
went). The clouds would kill all scorpions, snakes, etc. hidden in
the desert sand. It would flatten out the desert (from dunes or
irregularities of slope), filling in all holes and removing all
mountains. Only three mountains were not levelled - the Sinai, on
which the Torah was given, and the mountains on which Moshe and
Aharon passed away.
One might suggest that the clouds never returned after the passing of
Aharon based on what we just said. Aharon passed away on Rosh
Chodesh Av, which is towards the end of the summer. Although we find
that the Torah considers the months of Av, Elul, and half of Tishrei
to be the warmest days, it must be taken into consideration that the
heat is actually because the sun has warmed the earth for many months
prior. However, the true heat of the sun begins to lessen in the
month of Av. Since the ground where the Jewish people had been
walking wasn't "pre-heated" months earlier because the clouds had
been under their feet, they did not have a need for clouds to protect
them from the sun in those later months.
In addition, at the time of Aharon's passing, the Jewish people were
stationed near well-populated areas. Therefore, there wasn't too much
of a need for the clouds to clean their clothes, as new clothing
could easily be purchased in the surrounding villages. It also
wasn't necessary for the clouds to kill any snakes or scorpions, as
they weren't usually found in populated areas. At this point it also
wasn't necessary for a cloud to show the way as the Jewish land was
now in full view, and it was unlikely that they would lose their way.
It didn't seem likely that the clouds were further needed to flatten
the desert as that one cloud that travelled in front of them was
normally a distance of three days ahead. It is therefore possible
that the cloud had previously flattened whatever pathways they would
still need to use.
However, there are a few problems with this theory. First of all,
when it states that the cloud showed the way, it doesn't just mean
that the cloud ensured that the Jewish people wouldn't get lost in
the desert. Rather, it was an indication of the places where Hashem
wanted his chosen nation to be at that time. The Torah gives us a
list of 42 stops on the journey between Egypt and Israel. Some of
those stops took place after Aharon's passing. Obviously the clouds
were still there to show them where to go. (After Moshe's passing,
under Yehoshua's rule, the Holy Ark used to show the way.) In fact,
the Jewish people ran seven stops back into the desert after Aharon
had passed away. The clouds were certainly needed at that time to get
them back. Not only did the clouds indicate WHERE to go, they also
indicated WHEN to go. That also had to continue after Aharon's
There was one more purpose of the clouds that we haven't yet
they served as a shield against enemy arrows. This protection was
definitely needed after Aharon's passing. We mentioned previously
that the first attack on the Jewish people took place as soon as the
clouds had been taken away. Since no one was hurt at the time, we
must say that the protecting clouds were still there.
When we take a closer look at how our Sages talk about the clouds, we
note that at times they are simply called `clouds', and at times they
are called `Ananei Ha'kavod', `Clouds of Glory'. There were two
sorts of clouds.
A) Clouds that provided protection from the burning sun and enemy
attacks. These clouds also flattened the desert and killed any
snakes. Although the mere fact that these clouds existed, showed that
Hashem had great affection for the people they were protecting, they
also had practical and much needed purposes.
B) Clouds of Glory. These clouds were only there to show the world
that Hashem held the Jewish people in very high esteem. The clouds
that washed and pressed the Jewish people's clothes, for instance,
were not really needed. They could have washed their own clothes, as
the rest of the world does. There was also no real need for the
miracle of the Jewish people's clothing growing with them. They had
brought enough clothing with them from Egypt and had enough money to
buy more from the other nations when they were near any villages.
They even had sheep with them so that there was no lack of wool to
make new clothes. The fact that Hashem performed this miracle for
them was ONLY to show the Jewish people's greatness to the world.
When Aharon passed away, Rashi tells us that the 'Clouds of Glory'
were taken away. Those clouds probably never returned. Therefore we
do not find any clear and explicit mention in the Torah that the
clouds returned, (after Aharon's passing) though we do find mention
of the return of the well after Miriam's passing.
It is also now understood why there weren't any complaints from the
Jewish people, as they weren't lacking anything they needed. The
protection etc. was still there. Only their honorary "guards" had
been taken away - obviously not something they could have demanded
back, as one cannot demand honor.
There is a famous question regarding the way we build a Succah. The
Succah is built to commemorate the clouds that we had in the desert.
According to Halacha, (Jewish Law), it is enough to have 2 and a half
walls in order to make a proper Succah. If there were seven clouds in
the desert, why don't we have to build four walls, and a roof, a
floor and a one wall in front of our Succah, to remember the cloud
According to what we previously explained, the Succah comes to
commemorate only the Clouds of Glory, not the clouds of protection.
The number of protecting clouds changed from time to time. At times
of an attack from the left, for instance, the cloud on the left side
would be considered a protecting cloud. After the skirmish, it would
again be considered an honorary cloud. Therefore, we cannot connect
the amount of walls of the Succah with a specific number of clouds.
(The reason why we need 2 ½ walls is to give it the name, "Succah".
Less would not make it recognizable as a hut.)
We quoted Rashi in the beginning, saying that when the Canaanites
heard that the Clouds of Glory were removed, they thought that Hashem
had given PERMISSION to attack the Jewish people. Rashi does not say
that they thought they now had the POSSIBILITY to win the Jewish
people. They knew very well that the protecting clouds were still in
their place, but because the Clouds of Glory had been removed, they
figured Hashem wasn't on the Jewish nation's side any longer. The
protecting cloud only protected those who stayed "inside" and would
not guarantee that active battle would be won.
At an earlier battle, Hashem instructs Moshe to: "Leave the cloud and
go to war." In the skirmish with the Canaanites, the Jewish people's
army left the cloud and returned fire. Since Canaan (who were
actually the already infamous Amalek dressed up as Canaan) had made
the wrong conclusion and Hashem was still on the side of his chosen
nation, the Canaanites lost the war, their land was conquered, and
their army taken captive.
There is still one detail that we have yet to understand.
If the well returned because of Moshe's merit, why didn't the Clouds
of Glory return in his merit as well? The truth is that the well
didn't actually return in the MERIT of Moshe. Miriam and Aharon were
very holy and special people. Their merit was so great that the
entire Jewish nation had a Travelling Well with them and Clouds of
Glory surrounding them for forty years until Miriam and Aharon's
passing. When they passed on, their merit was no longer there and
automatically the well and clouds were removed.
Moshe was a leader. A leader provides his people with their needs.
The Clouds of Glory therefore did not return because they were no
longer a necessity. The protecting clouds returned because they were
needed to ensure the safety of the Jewish nation. The well was a
NEED, therefore Moshe made sure it returned. After his passing, there
wasn't any need for a well since the Jews' were already near the
Jordan River. The same is true for the manna, the heavenly
food. Although it stopped coming down after Moshe passed away, there
was still enough to last until the first harvest in Israel. In the
desert the manna would get spoiled after a day, but now it remained
fresh for many months. When Moshe "left" his people, he ensured that
all their needs continued to be met. That is the difference between a
special person and a leader.
May we soon merit to be led by our final Moshe, our final leader,
Moshiach Tzidkeinu to Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh!
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
Torah Portions Archive
here or Torah for Tots