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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 instructions?

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 Yisroel.

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 Eretz Yisroel.

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 them.”

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 them.

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,” engraved letters.

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 future.

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.


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.





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.”


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