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Parshios Chukas & Balak

The Uncursables

Volume 20, No. 35
12 Tamuz 5766
July 8, 2006

Sponsored by
Martin and Michelle Swartz and family
on the yahrzeit of Martin's grandfather
John Hofmann a"h

Rikki and Nat Lewin
on the 65th yahrzeit (this past week)
of Nat's grandfather,
Harav Aharon ben Harav Noson Lewin
(the "Reisher Rav") z"l hy"d

Today's Learning:
Megillah 3:6-4:1
O.C. 582:1-3
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Yoma 31
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ma'asrot 5


The Gemara (Bava Batra 14b) teaches: "Moshe wrote his book - i.e., the Torah - and the parashah of Bilam." Commentaries ask the obvious question: Isn't the parashah of Bilam part of the Torah? Why is it singled out?

R' Chaim Zimmerman z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Chicago; died mid-1990s) explains: The parashah of Bilam and the rest of the Torah serve different purposes. The entire Torah, other than this section, is G- d's word to His nation. The parashah of Bilam, however, is G-d's word about His nation. More than that, it is directed not only to the Jewish People, but to the world at large. Indeed, that is why it was said originally by a non-Jewish prophet.

What does this parashah teach about Klal Yisrael / the Jewish Nation? It teaches that Klal Yisrael is a unit. Individual Jews may be righteous or wicked, but the Jewish People as a whole is always righteous in G-d's eyes. By way of analogy, R' Zimmerman observes, the laws of physics that describe the movement of atoms in general do not predict the movements of a specific atom. Similarly, every individual Jew has bechirah / free will to do good or bad. Independently of those choices, however, every Jew has a right to exist because he is part of Klal Yisrael as a whole.

Where do we see this in our parashah? When Bilam failed in his first attempt to curse Bnei Yisrael, Balak said to him (23:13), "Go now with me to a different place from which you will see them; however, you will see its edge but not see all of it." The Jewish Nation as a whole, Balak realized, could never be cursed. (Torah L'Yisrael p.50)


"This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, to say: `Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to you a completely red cow, which is without blemish, and upon which a yoke has not come'." (19:2)

The law of Parah Adumah / Red Heifer is regarded by our Sages as the quintessential chok / decree, i.e., a law with no discernible rational explanation. However, there is disagreement about exactly what aspect of Parah Adumah is a chok. It is not the basic mitzvah; our Sages tell us that the Parah Adumah atones for the sin of the Golden Calf. "Let the mother come and clean up the mess that her calf made," our Sages say. [Understood simply, the sin of the Golden Calf brought death to the Jewish People, while the Red Heifer cleanses man of the impurity of death.]

R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (rabbi of Brody, Galicia; died 1869) suggests that the chok is contained in our verse. "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to you-i.e., to Moshe--a completely red cow." Why should the Parah Adumah be Moshe's? Indeed, there is an opinion in the Gemara which states that each Parah Adumah in history was prepared only by someone who first was sprinkled with the ashes of Moshe's Parah Adumah. Of all of the Jewish People, Moshe seemingly was the one who least needed atonement for the Golden Calf! This is the mystery of the Parah Adumah.

(Kohelet Yaakov: Drush Heh Le'Parashat Parah)


From the same source:

"Miriam died there and she was buried there." (20:1)

The Zohar states: "Once judgment was exacted against the Parah Adumah [in the preceding chapter], judgment was exacted against Miriam." What does this mean?

R' Kluger explains: The Gemara (Mo'ed Kattan 28a) asks, "Why is the death of Miriam recorded next to the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah?" The Gemara answers: "To teach that just as the Parah Adumah atones, so the death of the righteous atones." But why are two atonements needed?

R' Kluger writes: One of the laws of the Parah Adumah is that it purifies one who is impure, but if one who is pure comes into contact with it, he becomes impure. Why? This alludes to the fact that it is easier to repent from improper deeds than from improper thoughts. One who has done bad deeds knows he has sinned, and he repents. He was "impure" and he becomes "pure." However, one who has only had improper thoughts does not believe he has sinned. He thinks he is "pure," but his failure to repent leaves him "impure."

The death of the righteous has the potential to atone for the sin of improper thoughts. Why? Because the suffering that one experiences when the righteous die is in one's mind. If one is pained in his thoughts at the death of a tzaddik, he thereby purifies his thoughts and achieves atonement.


"Behold! it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." (23:9)

The message of the gentile prophet Bilam, writes R' Aharon Lewin z"l hy"d (the "Reisher Rav"; rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland and member of the Polish Senate from the Agudath Israel party who was murdered by the Nazis 65 years ago this past week), is that any attempt by the Jewish People to assimilate into the non-Jewish world must inevitably lead to the former's destruction. If the nation does not dwell in solitude, it will not be reckoned at all because it will ultimately disappear.

How can we protect ourselves? R' Lewin writes that one answer is provided by the following enigmatic statement of the Gemara (Menachot 43b):

The verse (Bemidbar 15:39) states: "It shall constitute tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them." [Says the Gemara:] See this mitzvah and remember another mitzvah. Which mitzvah? Kilayim!

R' Lewin explains: Kilayim is the prohibition against mixing species. For example, the Torah prohibits planting wheat and grapes together. Likewise, the Torah prohibits interbreeding animals of different species (as defined by halachah). The mitzvah of Kilayim reminds us that G-d created each plant and animal with unique characteristics and He intends that each remain unique.

Similarly, G-d created separate nations. In particular, He separated Klal Yisrael from the other nations, and He intends that it remain separate.

What aid did He give us to remind us of our separateness? He gave us a uniform, i.e., tzitzit. When we see ourselves in that uniform, we will remember our own separateness.

(Ha'drash Ve'ha'iyun)


"He declaimed his parable and said: `Who will survive when He imposes "El"?'" (24:23)

The Midrash Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer comments: Bilam said, "G-d created seventy nations and did not attach His Name to them. He did attach His Name to `Yisra-El.' And, He equated the name of `Yishma- El' with the name of `Yisra-El.' Accordingly, who can survive in his (Yishmael's) days?!"

R' Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum shlita observes: The Midrash is teaching that the descendants of Yishmael derive their power to oppress the Jewish People from the fact that G-d's Name is in their name. This alludes to their strong emunah, both their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs and their willingness to kill others because they believe it is G-d's will. These characteristics were not found among the other nations that persecuted the Jewish People throughout their history.

(Matzmiach Yeshuah p.15)


R' Aharon Bakst z"l hy"d ("Reb Archik")

Reb Archik was born in 1869 in a suburb of Vilna. At age 14, he joined the yeshiva in Volozhin, and later he studied in Rav Yitzchak Blazer's yeshiva in Slobodka. However, the person that Reb Archik considered to be his true mentor was Rav Simcha Zissel, the "Alter mi- Kelm." This teacher held Reb Archik in equally high esteem, saying that Reb Archik was the most suited of his students to carry the mussar movement to another generation.

The essence of mussar (character improvement), according to Reb Archik (as reported by his son), is to not be a hypocrite. Mussar also teaches us how to understand Chazal's teachings, as opposed to "finding" our own ideas in Chazal's words. Along these lines, Reb Archik objected to those who invent new approaches to mussar, saying that these were products of the ego, not genuine mussar.

After his marriage, Reb Archik briefly engaged in business (at his father-in-law's insistence), but he knew that his real calling was the Torah. His first rabbinic position was in a small, but difficult, town. His opponents there, actually opponents of the mussar movement, even took to the newspapers to vilify him.

In 1895, Reb Archik was invited to serve as rabbi of a distant Russian town. When he asked how they knew of him, they cited the newspaper articles mentioned above. Reb Archik later served as rabbi and rosh yeshiva in other towns, including Shadova, Suvalk, and Lomza. His last position was in Shavli, where he served until he was murdered by the Nazis.

Only a small portion of Reb Archik's written legacy survives. He turned down a chance to send his writings to London at the outset of World War II because he felt that they required additional editing. A halachic work, Torat Aharon, has been published, as has Lev Aharon, a volume containing mussar discourses. Reb Archik was killed on 15 Tammuz 5701 /1941.


Copyright 2006 by Shlomo Katz and Torah.org.

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