Friday, July 03, 2009

Parshas Chukas Balak

Rabbi Frand on Parshas Chukas-Balak

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #687, Water, Coffee and Tea.

Good Shabbos!

Never Underestimate the Power of a Cow

I would like to share the comments of a Pesikta Rabbasi on the pasuk [verse]: "This is the statute of the Torah" [Bamidbar 19:2]: A Jew once had a cow which he used for plowing. The Jew fell on hard times and had to raise cash so he sold his cow to a Gentile. The non-Jew plowed with the cow for six days from Sunday through Friday. However, when the non-Jew took out the cow on Saturday to plow, the cow plopped down and refused to budge. The non-Jew whipped the cow but it still refused to move. He took the cow back to the Jew and insisted that the Jew take his cow back. "You sold me a 'lemon' of a cow. It sits down in the middle of the field on Saturday and refuses to budge."

The Jew understood that the cow was not working on Saturday because it was used to not working on Shabbos. He told the Gentile, "Come with me, I will get the cow going for you." The Jew then approached the cow and whispered into its ear: "Cow, my dear cow, you know that when you were my cow I worked you for six days and on the seventh day you rested. Now, because of my sins I became poor and I had to sell you and you are the property of a non-Jew. Now you are allowed to work on Shabbos. Please, therefore, get up and plow." Immediately the cow got up and started to work.

The amazed Gentile asked the Jew, "What did you tell the cow? Tell me the secret. Was it magic? I will not leave you until you tell me what you whispered into its ear. I whipped it and did everything I could but I could not get it to move. Yet, you whispered something to it and it started plowing. You must tell me the magic words you used!"

The Jew told the Gentile – I used neither magic nor enchantment. I merely told the cow that until now he was my cow and he did not need to work on Shabbos, but now he was the cow of a Gentile and had to work on Shabbos. The Medrash says that the Gentile immediately became frightened. He said "If a cow that cannot speak and has no intelligence und erstood that he was not supposed to work on Shabbos, I who was created in His image and who was given intelligence – should I not recognize my Creator and do His Will? The Gentile immediately became a righteous convert and merited to study Torah. He was called Yochanan ben Torasa (which sounds like 'Ben Torah' – son of Torah, but also implies he was the son of a cow as tora is the Aramaic word for cow) and to this day halacha is quoted in his name.

The Medrash concludes, "If it strikes one as odd that through a cow a person was drawn near to the wings of the Divine Presence, it is really not so strange. For it is through a cow that all Israel becomes pure as we read: "This is the statute of the Torah" (introducing the law of the Red Heifer which is used in the purification ritual).

We learn from this Medrash that anything – sometimes even a cow – can make an impression on a person that turns him around and allows him to "see the light". The Medrash is emphasizi ng that even a cow can have an influence. Certainly, even the smallest actions or human beings can do something for a person to help turn their life around and bring them to the light of Torah.

If we read stories of Baalei Teshuva and hear what made them become religious, it is rarely through deep philosophical discussions. Typically, it is from seeing how religious people live and how they interact with other people in a positive fashion. This is what has an impact on people.

It has been documented that lives have been changed by inviting non religious people to a religious Shabbos table. Just seeing religious teenagers who are respectful and decent can be an eye opener! Most 14 year olds today are walking around with pierced body parts and are surly, in their own world, and not interested in talking with any adult. When parents of such children see our Bais Yaakov daughters dressed like decent young women or our yeshiva sons looking like clean cut and intelli gent individuals, they recognize that we just might be onto something that they are missing. Sometimes, merely wearing a dress or wearing a suit can draw someone near. This is one of the lessons we should take away from this Medrash.

A Pasuk From Chukas Is Linked With A Pasuk From Ashrei

The Medrash Shochar Tov makes an interesting observation. The Torah describes the message Moshe sent to the King of Edom describing a brief history of the Jewish people. Among other things Moshe said "We cried out to Hashem and He heard our voices and he took us out from Egypt..." [Bamidbar 20:16]. The Medrash links this pasuk with a line from a prayer we say thrice daily [Tehilim 145:18] and notes that Moshe informed the King of Edom that "Hashem is close to all who call out to him, to all who call out to Him in sincerity."

The Vilna Gaon comments that every pasuk in Ashrei [Chapter 145 in Tehillim] consists of two phrases connected with the letter 'vov' (the conjunction 'and'). This indicates that every pasuk speaks of two different levels. There is one exception to this rule – pasuk 16 (quoted above). This indicates that in this pasuk only one level is mentioned. G-d is indeed close to those who call out to him, BUT ONLY when they call out to Him in si ncerity. There is a single dimension to this Attribute, and it is a tough standard to live up to.

An Interesting Tidbit

Finally, the Sefer Medrash Halacha cites an interesting bit of information. We are told in the parsha that "the people saw that Aharon died" [Bamidbar 20:29]. How did they know that he died? Rashi says that it was because the Clouds of Glory disappeared. The Sefer Medrash Halacha points out that the anniversary of the death of Aharon is Rosh Chodesh Av. The day of the week when Rosh Chodesh Av falls is always on the same day of the week as Aharon is the Ushpizin guest in our Succah (the following Succos). And one of the explanations for why we eat in a Succah on Succos is in commemoration of the Clouds of Glory.

This week's write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic portions for this parsha from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:

Tape # 018 - Rending Garments on Seeing Yerushalayim
Tape # 063 - Intermarriage
Tape # 107 - Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva -- Do Sons Inherit?
Tape # 152 - Halachic Considerations of Transplanted Organs
Tape # 199 - Stam Yeinam: Non Kosher Wines
Tape # 245 - Skin Grafts
Tape # 335 - Postponing a Funeral
Tape # 379 - The Jewish "Shabbos Goy"
Tape # 423 - Tefilah of a Tzadik for a Choleh
Tape # 467 - Detached Limbs and Tumah
Tape # 511 - Autopsies and Insurance
Tape # 555 – Women Fasting on 17th of Tamuz, Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur
Tape # 599 - Blended Whiskey
Tape # 643 - Choshed Bekesherim and Daan L'kaf Z'chus
Tape # 687 - Water, Coffee and Tea
Tape # 731 - Shkia - 7:02: Mincha 7:00 A Problem?
Tape # 775 - Wine At a Shul Kiddush
Tape # 819 – Mayim Gelyuim – Uncovered Water – Is There a Problem?
Tape # 863 – Shabbos in the Good 'Ol Summertime
Tape # 907 – Bracha Acharono on Coffee and Ice Cream
Tape # 908 – K'rias HaTorah and Tircha D'Tziburah
Tape # 951 – The Body Works ExhibitTape # 952 – Beer: Is This Bud For Yo