Chukas

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זאת חקת התורה…ויקחו אליך פרה אדמה       יט:א

Why does the topic of parah adumah appear at this point in the order of the parshiyos?  Already from the beginning of Nissan they processed a parah adumah.  And according to one opinion in Chazal, parah adumah was included in the mitzvos that Klal Yisrael were given way back in Marah before Maamad Har Sinai!  So why is the parshah of parah adumah here, and why now? My grandfather (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l) proffered an explanation which is clearly correct and is the simplest, most straightforward way to understand the matter.  When – chronologically speaking – did the debacle of Korach described in last week’s parshah take place?  It was in the second year since leaving Mitzrayim.  And when did the death of Miryam – the topic that appears immediately following parah adumah in this week’s parshah – take place?  In the 40th year.  That means that from parshas Korach to parshas Chukas there’s a gap of 38 years!  What was happening during those 38 years?  Nothing really, other than the fact that about 50,000 people died every year.  That being the case, the halachik topic of tumas meis (ritual defilement resultant of a corpse) and all its varied ramifications was applicable on the most practical level for those 38 years.  It is the mitzvah of parah adumah, then – which is of course how one becomes purified from that tumah – that bridges this 38 year gap! (From audio recording)

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כל הבא אל האהל וכל אשר באהל יטמא שבעת ימים       יט:יד

Halevai that we should merit experiencing techiyas ha’meisim very soon and all the halachos of tumas meis should no longer be something that we encounter on the practical level. For the time being that it is still pertinent on the practical level for Kohanim, there’s something to mention about tumas ohel – which we learn from this pasuk – that can often go overlooked. If a Jew dies inside of a building, the knee-jerk reaction of many people would be to tell a Kohein to make a bee-line for the door and get out of the building as quickly as possible.  However, if it is a building with multiple rooms, that is not at all necessarily the case.  The halacha is – and I am not paskening, but just telling you what it says in Shulchan Aruch – that as long as the deceased is in a different room and there is a closed door separating the two rooms, the tumah does not move from one room to the next.  That is what is called ohel chotzeitz bifnei ha’tumah: any structure that is halachikally classified as an ohel blocks and prevents the tumah from leaving or entering it. Therefore, if a Kohein is in his apartment, for example, and he discovers that someone died in his building in a different apartment, he should just make sure to keep the door to his apartment closed. It goes even further, though.  There is another halachah called sof ha’tumah latzeis.  What that means is this: an ohel-structure that the deceased is currently not inside or under, but the deceased will eventually be brought through that structure on his way to the cemetery – as in a bridge that overpasses the main road that leads from the town to the cemetery – then the halachah is that that structure is tamei right away and a Kohein is not allowed to go there (until the deceased has already passed through it and is already further along the way).  The most straightforward way of understanding is that this is a takanah d’Rabbanan. Now, the lobby or stairwell of an apartment building is a classic example of this halachah of sof ha’tumah latzeis.  If someone dies in his own apartment, the stairwell and lobby immediately become tamei m’d’Rabbanan because the deceased is eventually going to be carried through them.  Therefore, in such a situation, telling a Kohein who is in his own, separate apartment to run out of the building is not only unnecessary, but it would actually be causing the Kohein to violate an issur d’Rabbanan! (From audio recording)

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בחלל חרב   יט:טז

From this expression, Chazal darshen, “cherev harei hu k’chalal”, from which we derive the halacha that any metal utensil that was defiled by a corpse assumes the level of tumah of the corpse itself. A corpse is the highest level of tumah. What is known as “avi avos ha’tumah”. It can thus make that which comes into contact with it, carries it, or is under the same ohel as it into an av ha’tumah (which can in turn make something else a rishon, and so on). So, if a person touches a corpse, for example, that person becomes an av ha’tumah. Not avi avos ha’tumah like the corpse itself, but one level down. When it comes to a metal utensil, though, that is not the case. When it contracts tumah from a corpse, it assumes the exact same level of tumah as the corpse itself and thus becomes an avi avos ha’tumah (such that if a person were to touch the metal utensil, that person would become an av ha’tumah as though he touched a corpse). Based on this, Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen sent a fascinating shailoh to Rabbeinu Tam: we have to assume that, at one point or another, every house had a deceased person in it. That being the case, all the metal utensils inside of every house have to be assumed to be avi avos ha’tumah (since, after all, they were in the same ohel as a corpse, and a corpse defiles everyone and all utensils that are in the same ohel as it). As such, how can a kohen go into any house in the world since the metal utensils in every house have to be assumed as having the same tumah status as a corpse?! Just like a kohen cannot enter a house if there is a corpse inside, how can he enter a house that has metal utensils whose tumah status is equivalent to a corpse?! The answer that Rabbeinu Tam gave him is that the prohibition on kohanim to not become defiled by tumas meis (the defilement of the dead) is only from a corpse itself. Although a living person or a utensil can be tamei with the tumah that came from a dead person – and a metal utensil even has that tumah on the most severe level like the corpse itself – nevertheless, the prohibition on kohanim does not include that. So, yes, if a kohen goes into a house where there is a metal utensil that became tamei from a corpse, that kohen becomes just as defiled as if he had gone into a house where there is a corpse, but that doesn’t matter. Because the prohibition on kohanim is not, “don’t become tamei meis”; rather, it is “don’t become tamei from a meis”. The Ramban offers a different resolution to the question: that although a metal utensil indeed becomes an avi avos ha’tumah if it touched a corpse, but that is only insofar as touching and carrying are concerned. If someone touches or carries such a utensil, then he becomes tamei as if he touched an actual corpse. But the defilement-transmission of ohel, such a metal utensil does not have. Therefore, there is no problem for a kohen to go into a house that has such metal utensils. What is somewhat difficult to digest of the Ramban’s explanation, is that it should come out that kohanim cannot touch any metal utensils! If so, that is quite a tremendous chiddush! However, the Ramban also holds that there is another difference between an actual corpse and a metal utensil which touched it: if someone became defiled from a corpse, he has to undergo the special mei-chatas sprinkling on the third and seventh day, but for someone who touched a metal utensil (that was an avi avos ha’tumah) it suffices to simply toivel himself in a mikveh. (From the notes of Reb Matis Feld)

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ותמת שם מרים…יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את העם הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם        כ:א,יב

Moshe and Aharon’s being barred from Eretz Yisrael is explicitly explained in the pesukim.  But what about Miryam? Why was she prevented from entering Eretz Yisrael? This is a big question with no answer readily apparent. The truth is that this question has already been asked. Where? In parshas V’zos Ha’Brachah! On the pasuk that says t’riveihu al mei merivah, Rashi writes as follows: “Nistakafta lavo ba’alilah. Im Moshe amar shimu na ha’morim, Aharon u’Miryam mah asu?!”  The pasuk challenges, as it were, the Ribono shel Olam for barring Aharon and Miryam from Eretz Yisrael.  After all, it was only Moshe who said “listen you rebellious ones!”?  The pesukim do not seem to offer an answer to this question… (From audio recording)

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אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת עלי באר ענו לה    כא:יז

The Mishna in Maseches Tamid delineates the shir shel yom that was said each day of the week.  Every day of the week, one song of the day was recited both when the morning korban tamid was brought and when the afternoon korban tamid was brought. Shabbos, however, is an exception.  On Shabbos, says the Gemara, the order is as follows. The song of the morning korban tamid is always Mizmor shir l’yom ha’Shabbos.  For Musaf, we divide up the shir of parshas Haazinu into six portions, and the portions are recited each week in rotation. And for the afternoon korban tamid there is a three-week rotation comprised of a) the two halves of Az Yashir of Krias Yam Suf, and b) the Az Yashir of this week’s parshah which is known as shiras ha’b’eir (the song of the well). Now, why Mizmor shir l’yom Ha’Shabbos is relevant to Shabbos we readily understand.  It says l’yom ha’Shabbos!  But what about Haazinu, Shiras Ha’Yam, and Shiras Ha’b’eir?  What do those have to do with Shabbos?  Of course, each person can think for himself, but the following is what would appear to be what one can say about the matter. Chazal tell us that, during Krias Yam Suf, even the simplest maidservant experienced a revelation greater than that of the navi, Yechezkel ben Buzi.  It was an incredible experience of ruach ha’kodesh similar to that of Maamad Har Sinai; one of the main differences being that, whereas Maamad Har Sinai was of a permanent nature, the revelation of Krias Yam Suf was temporary.  But temporary is also something!  And that contains a parallel to Shabbos.  On Shabbos we are given a neshamah yeseirah that enables us to reach greater heights of understanding and wisdom.  It is an opportunity – whether one feels it or not – to lift oneself up from the realm of the mundane and occupy a completely different realm, a totally different reality.  A reality that is akin to that of Olam Ha’Ba; literally.  It is mei’ein, like echad mi’shishim, but it is not batel.  It is a once-a-week, temporary uplift. The Gemara in Maseches Nedarim explains, in the manner of derush, that Shiras Ha’b’eir is talking about Torah sheh’b’al peh. The whole shira is all about Torah. Shabbos, as well, is a day which is entirely Torah, as the Medrash in Tanna d’vei Eliyahu makes abundantly clear. The shir of parshas Haazinu is all about acharis ha’yamim (the end of days).  It describes, poetically and prophetically, how Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is going to bring about the ultimate end and goal after the long, difficult, winding history of Klal Yisrael.  The Ramban says that all of the events of world history are hinted at in the six days of creation. Shabbos represents the ultimate end and goal when, as Rav Shimshon Pinkus elaborates upon in Shabbos Malkesa, everything will revert back to the beginning.  It is, as we say in the davening, tachlis Maaseh Breishis. That is why the shir of parshas Haazinu, which describes how Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is going to bring about that tachlis – the ultimate end and goal – is appropriate to be recited on Shabbos. (From audio recording)

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Quotables

“Looking forward, one’s primary focus is, ‘It’s up to me and the choices I make’; looking back, though, it’s ‘Hodu la’Hashem ki tov ki l’olam chasdo’.”

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Featured Story

I once posed the following query to Rav Twersky: “At this point in my life, perhaps I should be considered exempt on the grounds of being ahnus regarding many, many halachos.  Practically speaking, there is no way for me to know at this moment every last thing that is assur or that I have to do. Let’s say that I really started caring about my Yiddishkeit at the age of 19. Even if I immediately undertook to begin seriously and assiduously learning Halachah, still, at my age (I was then 21) it is impossible for me to know every halacha, and this Shabbos I will definitely violate some issur…” The moment those last few words exited my mouth, Rav Twersky jumped up as if bitten by a snake, immediately cut me off, and said loudly and extremely emphatically, “Chas v’shalom, chas v’shalom!! Don’t say that! You will not be mechallel Shabbos this Shabbos!! Oy! Chas v’shalom!!” I responded that those really aren’t my words, but what the Chafetz Chaim writes in his introduction to Hilchos Shabbos – that no matter how much mussar someone learns and no matter how big of a tzaddik he is, if one doesn’t thoroughly know Hilchos Shabbos, one will necessarily violate numerous prohibitions every week. That notwithstanding, Rav Twersky was not at all happy with me saying that “I would break Shabbos”.  As far as the question of whether or not I could be considered exempt because I am an ahnus, he told me that he was not sure. (Reb Yoni Ash)

 

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