Living With Moshiach To The Fullest Extent PossibleSichos in English
Shabbos Parshas Chukas;
7th Day Of Tammuz, 5750
There is a unique dimension to
Parshas Chukas not found in any other parsha in the Book of BaMidbar.
With the exception of the opening passage of the book, which was not conveyed
(to Moshe by Hashem) until Rosh Chodesh Iyar of the second year after the
exodus, the entire book is written in sequential order.
Parshas Naso describes events that took place on the first of
Nissan, the day when the Sanctuary was erected. Parshas B’Haalos’cha also
mentions commands that were given on that same day and then describes the
decamping of the Jews, which took place on the 20th of Iyar. The narrative of
the sending of the spies described in Parshas Sh’lach began on the 29th of
Sivan. The rebellion of Korach described in the parsha of that name took
place after the 9th of Av of that year according to tradition.
Consequently, the order of events described in Parshas Chukas
raises questions: The portion begins with a passage on the red heifer, which [Hashem]
related [to Moshe] on the 2nd of Nissan in the second year after the exodus.
Directly afterwards, the passage skips to the description of events which took
place at the conclusion of the Jewish people’s forty years of wandering through
the desert - the death of Miriam, the dispute at the springs of Meriva, Aharon’s
death, the conquest of Sichon and Og, and ultimately, the camping of the Jews on
the Jordan. From a passage that was related (to Moshe by Hashem) directly after
the construction of the Sanctuary, the portion skips to the events that occurred
at the conclusion of the Jewish people’s wandering through the desert.
Rashi explains that the narrative of Miriam’s death is joined
to the passage concerning the red heifer to teach that "just as the sacrifices
atone, the death of the righteous atone." Thus, it can be explained that after
mentioning the death of Miriam, the Torah continues with a description of the
events that followed. However, since the Torah is precise in every detail, it is
likely that there is a connection between all the events described in the
parsha and the offering of the red heifer.
The above concepts can be understood in light of another
problematic element in the conclusion of the parsha, which discusses the
conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og. The Torah mentions that Moshe Rabbeinu
sent spies to explore the land of Yaazer. Not only did the spies carry out their
mission, they actually conquered the land. Notwithstanding the positive aspect
of their behavior, the question is raised: Why did they disobey their
Furthermore, the first spies, whose sin caused the Jewish
people to wander in the desert for forty years, transgressed because they made a
similar mistake. Moshe Rabbeinu instructed them to explore Eretz Yisroel in
order to find out the easiest way to conquer it. The spies, however, took an
additional step. They added to their description of the land their conclusion
that the land could not be conquered. Thus, the question arises: Why did these
spies, who apparently wanted to correct the behavior of the first spies, emulate
their example and add to the mission with which Moshe charged them?
There is another difficult point in regard to the Jewish
people’s settling in the lands of Sichon and Og: Why did the tribes of Reuven
and Gad desire to remain in that land? On the surface, G-d had promised the land
of K’naan - the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean - to the Jewish
people. The territories of Sichon and Og on the eastern bank of the Jordan were
not included in that land, as clearly indicated by the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu
sent messengers to Sichon asking him to allow the Jewish people to pass through
his land on their way to Eretz Yisroel. If so, why did these two tribes desire
to settle in these lands? Indeed, their behavior appears reminiscent of that of
the spies who refused to enter Eretz Yisroel.
(The Torah relates that they explained that their desire was
because they had a lot of cattle, and Transjordan was fit for cattle grazing.
Nevertheless, the question remains: How could they, members of Moshe Rabbeinu’s
generation, "a generation of knowledge," care more about their property than
about entering Eretz Yisroel?)
The problem is accentuated by the fact that ultimately, Moshe
Rabbeinu agreed to their request and allowed them to settle in these lands. The
agreement he made with them - that they would serve as the vanguard of the
Jewish people’s armies - effectively nullified the possibility that they would
cause the entire people to lose heart and refuse to enter the land, but it did
not resolve the fact that these tribes themselves did not settle in Eretz
The above difficulties can all be resolved in light of the
following explanation: Since the Jewish people were all prepared to enter Eretz
Yisroel, it can be assumed that they desired to correct and atone for the sin of
the spies. To correct this transgression in a complete manner, it was necessary
to perform an act resembling the transgression, but of a positive nature. Hence,
the spies mentioned in this portion - like the original spies - altered and
added to the mission on which Moshe Rabbeinu sent them. However, their addition
was of a positive rather than a negative nature, reflecting Moshe Rabbeinu’s
true desire. As Rashi comments, "they were confident in the power of Moshe’s
prayer to be able to fight."
A similar concept can be explained in regard to the desire of
the two tribes to stay in Transjordan. Their actions were motivated by a genuine
love for Eretz Yisroel and a will to atone for the sins of the generation that
did not wish to enter Eretz Yisroel.
To explain: When G-d promised Avrohom in the Bris
Bein HaBesarim that his descendants would inherit Eretz Yisroel, G-d
mentioned the conquest of ten nations - the seven who dwelled in Eretz Yisroel
and also the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni (identified with Moav, Amon, and Edom).
These lands encompass an area stretching from "the river of Egypt until the
great river, the Euphrates." Nevertheless, Moshe Rabbeinu only mentioned the
conquest of the seven nations who dwelled in Eretz Yisroel. The conquest of Moav,
Amon, and Edom, who dwelled (at least in part) in Transjordan, was forbidden;
that was left for the Messianic Age.
There was a way, however, in which the Jewish people were
able to dwell in a portion of these lands before Moshiach’s coming. As our Torah
portion relates, Sichon conquered some of the land belonging to these nations.
After conquering his lands, the Jewish people were able to take possession of
this territory, as well. Indeed, our Sages use the expression that Sichon
"purified" these lands. Thus, these tribes’ desire to settle in this territory
was actually motivated by a commitment to dwell in all possible portions of
When understood in this context, their acts also represent a
correction of the behavior of the Jewish people, who desired to remain in the
desert. Just as those Jews did not want to enter Eretz Yisroel proper, these
tribes did not desire to do so. However, their intent was not to reject the
land, but rather to bring about its most complete settlement, extending it to
the territory of the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni to the fullest extent possible
before Moshiach’s coming. For these reasons, Moshe Rabbeinu was willing to
accept their proposal and allowed them to settle in these lands.
The reason why these two tribes in particular desired to
settle in Transjordan can be explained as follows: The tribes of Reuven and Gad
possessed much livestock and, therefore, sought to settle in Transjordan because
it was excellent pasture land. Chassidic thought explains that pasturing flocks
is a profession requiring less toil and labor than agriculture, thus affording
the shepherd time for meditation and contemplation.
This explanation also relates to the sin of the spies and the
desire to correct and atone for it. The spies desired that they should not enter
Eretz Yisroel - because they desired to remain above worldly matters. This
approach was faulty, however, because G-d’s intent is that the Jewish people
involve themselves in the refinement of the world. The efforts of the tribes of
Reuven and Gad corrected this error. These tribes composed the vanguard of the
Jewish armies that conquered Eretz Yisroel, demonstrating their appreciation of
the importance and commitment to the refinement of the world. Nevertheless,
after the land was settled and that task had been undertaken, they returned to
Transjordan to involve themselves in service above day-to-day reality.
This concept also relates to the Mitteler Rebbe’s explanation
of the difference between Eretz Yisroel and the land of the Keini, Knizi, and
Kadmoni. The Mitteler Rebbe associates the seven nations who lived in Eretz
Yisroel with our seven emotional qualities, and the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni
with our three intellectual faculties. At present, our service consists of
refining our emotional potentials. Accordingly, we were given the land of the
seven nations. In the Messianic era, we will also be able to refine and develop
our intellectual potentials and thus we will be granted the lands of these other
three nations, as well.
These two points are interrelated, because the service of the
intellect reflects a step above the work of refining our day-to-day reality. The
involvement of the tribes of Reuven and Gad with this uplifted intellectual
service had an effect on the entire Jewish people - for these tribes maintained
their connection with the people as a whole - and gave the people the power to
accomplish the task of refining the world.
(In particular, the fusion of the two services can be seen in
the tribe of Menasheh, which was divided because of Moshe Rabbeinu’s decision.
Realizing that the area in Transjordan was too large to be populated by the
tribes of Reuven and Gad alone, Moshe Rabbeinu ordered half the tribe of
Menasheh to join them. Thus, in this instance, the fusion of the service of
intellect [above the reality of the world] and the service of refining the
world, was reflected in a single tribe.)
These concepts are related to the Mishna’s statements
concerning the lands of Amon and Moav (which, as explained above, correspond to
the lands of the Keini and the Knizi) in regard to the laws of Sh’viis
(the Sabbatical year):
"What is the law regarding the lands of Amon and Moav in
Sh’viis? Rabbi Tarfon decreed that they should separate ‘the tithe of the
poor’...so that the poor people of Eretz Yisroel could derive support from
In the period of the second Beis HaMikdash,
these lands did not have the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel and were not required to
observe its agricultural laws. They could sow their fields in the Sabbatical
year. There was reason to assume that the Sages would have required them to
separate the second tithe. Instead, [the Sages] ordered that the "tithe of the
poor" be separated, so that the poor, who this year would not receive their
portion from the fields of Eretz Yisroel which lay fallow, could benefit from
This law contains a homiletic dimension relating to the
concepts described above. Our Sages stated: "One is only poor with regard to
knowledge." The poor of Eretz Yisroel, i.e., the people lacking knowledge who
lived in the Holy Land, could derive sustenance from the service of knowledge
carried out in the lands of the Keini and Knizi.
Based on the above, we can also understand the connection
between the events mentioned at the conclusion of Parshas Chukas with the
portion of the red heifer mentioned at the outset. The portion of the red heifer
was originally related after the construction of the Sanctuary, when the Jewish
people were on a high spiritual level (having atoned for the sin of Golden Calf,
as Rashi mentions). Only at the end of the forty-year period after the conquest
and settlement of the land of Sichon, which atoned for the sins of the spies,
were the Jewish people able to reach a similar spiritual rung.
An added dimension to the above is contributed by the name
Chukas. "Chok" (from Chukas) can also mean engraved, as the letters of
the Ten Commandments were engraved in the stone. Thus, the letters are part of
the stone and cannot be separated from it. Similarly, after the forty years of
the desert, the Jewish people became totally united with Eretz Yisroel, so much
so that the most appropriate metaphor to describe their connection was "chukas,"
This was reflected in the desire of the tribes to settle in
all the lands promised to Avrohom Avinu in the Bris Bein
HaBesarim. Although the conquest of those lands could not be completed -
because of the Divine command, "Do not disturb Moav" - that command also had a
positive dimension: through it, the potential was granted for the birth of Ruth,
"the mother of royalty," the ancestor of King David and thus, Moshiach Tzidkeinu,
who will complete the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. May it be in the immediate
The above concepts are emphasized by the fact that Parshas
Chukas is read in the month of Tammuz, the month associated with the Rebbe
Rayatz’s redemption on Yud-Beis-Yud-Gimmel Tammuz. All redemptions are related
to the ultimate Messianic Redemption. In particular, this applies to the Rebbe
Rayatz’s redemption, for he is a Nasi, and as Rashi explains, "the
nasi includes the entire people." This point is further emphasized in a
letter of the Rebbe Rayatz:
"It was not myself alone whom the Holy One, blessed be He,
redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its
commands, and so too, all those who merely bear the name ‘Jew.’"
Thus, the redemption of the Nasi of the last
generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption prepares for and
hastens the coming of the ultimate Messianic Redemption. Indeed, it is many
years now since the Rebbe Rayatz declared, "Immediately to teshuva;
immediately to Redemption." We have surely completed the task of "polishing the
buttons" and are ready to "stand prepared to greet Moshiach." This is connected
to Parshas Chukas, which relates how the Jewish people were prepared to enter
Eretz Yisroel, and indeed, as explained above, anxious for the full and ultimate
conquest of the land.
This will be intensified by the Jewish people’s commitment to
maintaining possession of Eretz Yisroel, declaring that this is a land which G-d
has given to us. Indeed, the gentiles emphasize this themselves, referring to
the land as the Land of Israel, identifying the land with the true nature of a
Jew, the dimension which "strove with man and G-d and was victorious."
In light of the above, efforts should be made to spread the
celebration of Yud-Beis-Yud-Gimmel Tammuz in every place throughout the world.
These efforts will augment the campaign to establish public sessions of Torah
study mentioned previously. May the resolutions for activities in connection
with Yud-Beis Tammuz hasten the coming of the Messianic Redemption.