Rabbi Raymond Beyda
"This is the decree [Hukat] of the Torah, which Hashem commanded" [Bemidbar
The laws pertaining to the Red Heifer that was burned to produce an ash and
water combination used to purify the spiritually impure are the most
difficult statutes of the Torah to comprehend. Even King Shelomoh, who was
the wisest of all men, said, "All this I tested with wisdom; I thought I
could become wise, but it is beyond me." Kohelet, 7:23] The Gemara explains
that King Shelomoh studied the reasons for all the commandments of the
Torah and was successful in understanding all -- except the Red Heifer. The
law is paradoxical. The one who sprinkles the waters becomes contaminated,
while the one who is sprinkled with the waters becomes pure.
On an intellectual level one can come to terms with the discrepancy by
accepting that the Torah reveals the "thoughts" of the "Supreme Intellect"
--Hashem -- and that being the case, there are concepts that are beyond the
understanding of limited mortals. Rebbi Yohanan explained, "It is not the
corpse that causes contamination nor the ashes of the cow that cause
purity. These laws are the decrees of G-d and man has no right to question
them." A wise person realizes that man's failure to understand truth does
not make it untrue.
A question arises. Shelomoh Hamelekh studied all of the Torah until he was
able to make the honest statement that he truly understood the reason
behind 612 of the 613 commandments. In the verse above from Kohelet,
Shelomoh confessed that since he did not understand the reasons behind the
misvah of the Red Heifer he did not really correctly comprehend the reasons
for any of the commandments at all. Why did his inability to grasp only one
commandment invalidate his understanding of the others?
My grandfather, a'h, was a dapper dresser. All the photographs that we have
of him, regardless of the occasion, show a man who was meticulous in his
attire and grooming. Many of the pictures show his watch chain draping from
his belt to his pocket. I remember as a boy going with grandpa to the watch
repair man and staring in awe as the European technician opened the back of
grandpa's antique gold timepiece to make the necessary adjustments.
Hundreds of little mechanisms, intricately intertwined, interacted to move
the hands of the watch second by second. The inaccuracy of even only one
component would make the watch run either too slowly or too rapidly. Only
when ALL of the pieces functioned in synchronized perfection did the
timepiece keep accurate time.
The Torah is not a to do list or a menu from which one can set priorities
or choose preferences. It is the unit given to man as a revelation of the
will of Hashem which, when observed completely, will produce a human being
running in perfect synch. The laws are interdependent. Shelomoh Hamelekh
realized that one who does not accept to perform the TOTAL Torah -- one who
observes only what he or she understands -- is making a huge mistake in his
or her approach to observance. That individual does not only lack
understanding of a small detail of the Torah -- that person has no
understanding of the Torah at all!
TABLE TALK -- QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION AT THE SHABBAT TABLE
"Balak, son of Sipor, saw all that Israel had done to the Amoree" Bemidbar 22:2
King Balak saw the victory of the Israelites over Sihon the King of the
Amorite people and became fearful of the Jewish onslaught. His solution was
to hire the wicked gentile prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews so that he
would be able to defeat them in battle. Ultimately, Hashem intervened and
the words of Bilaam were blessings rather than curses.
Question: Why was it that Balak became afraid when he heard about the
defeat of Sihon -- why didn't he tremble when he heard about the miraculous
downfall of Og the Giant at the hands of Moshe? Og was defeated first!
Answer: In the battle with Og the Torah refers to the people of Israel in
the plural "THEY beat" [Vayookoo] and "THEY inherited" [Vayirshoo].
(Bemidbar 21:35) The plural indicates a lack of unity amongst the Jewish
people. In all of the travels through the desert, except for the rest
period at Har Sinai, the verse says Vayahanoo "and THEY camped". When the
Jews arrived at the holy site and prepared for the acceptance of the Torah,
the Torah says Vayihan "and HE camped" in the singular. This slight change
in grammatical syntax indicates that the people reached a state of unity
unsurpassed in all of their travels and thereby merited the receiving of
the Torah. In the war with Sihon the Torah says, Vayakehoo -- "And HE beat
him" and Vayirash -- "And HE inherited" (Bemidbar 21:24) in the singular
syntax. Balak realized that the Jews were not unified when they defeated Og
--but were now unified--as they approached his borders -- a unit in the
eyes of G-d that was invincible. He understood the power of unity amongst
the Jews and therefore, feared their approaching mass -- an indivisible
army of G-d fearing people who cannot be beat.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Raymond Beyda and Project Genesis, Inc.