Parshas Chukas: Our Mysterious Destiny & The Coming of Moshiach

In this week’s parsha (chutz la’aretz), Parshas Chukas, we learn of the laws of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, whose ashes purify one who has become tamei meis (ritually defiled by proximity/contact with a corpse).  While its ashes, mixed with mayim chaim – ‘living water’ – purify one who is impure, at the same time, it causes the one who is pure to become impure!  No human mind can make sense of such a law, and so, it is known as zos chukas ha’Torahthe classic ‘chok’ of Torah, the greatest mystery, the most unexplainable of laws of the Torah.  

As the very first Rashi of the parsha teaches us:

זאת חקת התורה. לְפִי שֶׁהַשָּׂטָן וְאֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם מוֹנִין אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לוֹמַר מַה הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת וּמַה טַּעַם יֵשׁ בָּהּ? לְפִיכָךְ כָּתַב בָּהּ חֻקָּהגְּזֵרָה הִיא מִלְּפָנַי, אֵין לְךָ רְשׁוּת לְהַרְהֵר אַחֲרֶיהָ

Because the Satan and the nations of the world aggrieve Israel (over this law) by saying: What is this commandment?!  What reason is there to it?  Therefore, the Torah calls it a ‘chok’ – a statute, which implies: It is a decree before Me, you do not have the right to question it (Rashi to Bamidbar 19:2).

From the topic of this great enigma, parah adumah, the parsha abruptly moves us thirty-eight years forward (!) to the deaths of Miriam and Aharon, and the punishment of Moshe (Num.20), all of which occurred in year forty.  We learn of the tragedy of our three great leaders who were condemned to die on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and would never enter into the Promised Land.  

The deaths and burial of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam on ever la’Yarden are such an enigma, that commentators from across the spectrum – as well as across the ages – have offered their own interpretation of what their sins were.  From the Medrash, to Rashi, to the Ibn Ezra, to the Ramban, Rambam, Abarbanel, Sforno and forward throughout the ages, each commentator offers his thoughts on their actions (and words) that caused them to die, and lay eternally, on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

And yet, in grouping Paraha Adumah, the great mystery of Torah, in the same parsha as the end of Miriam, Aharon and Moshe; even more so, placing their narratives immediately after that of Parah Adumah, the Torah is teaching us a very great lesson indeed… Parshas Chukas begins with ‘chok’, and continues with ‘chok.’  The first chok is the law of the Red Heifer.  The next chok is the chok of the mystery and inexplicability of human life, and human death.  The chok of our three greatest leaders being banished forever from Eretz Yisrael.  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches, “King David could not build the Temple for the same reason that Moshe could not cross into the Land of Israel.  Had Moshe crossed the border, the Land of Israel never could have been taken away from the Jewish people.  And since Providence planned differently [namely, that it should, and would, be taken away from the nation], Moshe died on the far shore of the Jordan.  Had David built a Temple, no power in the world could have destroyed it.  But Providence has decreed differently for our people.  A Sanctuary built by David would have had to usher in an era of peace and salvation for all, forever.  In the time of King David, the world was not ready for the King Messiah.

“From the viewpoint of human reason, the redemption in Egypt should have been the only one in Jewish history.  The messianic era should have commenced with the Exodus.  G-d said, ‘I will take you to Me for a people… and I will bring you into the Land’ (Ex.6:7); why, then, did those who left Egypt die in the desert and never enter the Land of Israel?  Why were the Jews exiled from their land the first time?  Why the second time?  Why all the suffering in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and particularly in our time – the Holocaust?  Are not the words of זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה (this is the mystery and inexplicability of the Torah) applicable to our total historical experience?  Our whole existence is a mystery, an enigma!

“The entire Haggadah is permeated with the question of why we are still slaves, not to Pharaoh, but now to others.  It not the phrase ‘hashata avdei – this year we are slaves,’ self-contradictory?  Declaring ourselves to be slaves contradicts the very sanctity of Leil Shimurim, the Night of Watching, the night of the Exodus and our celebration of freedom.

“Yet we believe that at some point in time all contradictions will be resolved and the Almighty will purge the historical order of contradictions and antithetic elements.  At present the redemption from Egypt – whose end goal was never realized with that generation, as G-d originally foretold – is still classified under זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, zot hukkat ha’Torah.  It will be explained through the intervention of G-d, ‘וְהִזָּה הַטָּהֹר עַלהַטָּמֵאthe clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean’ (Bamidbar 19:19).  [A reference and allusion to G-d, the Clean One (keviyachol), who will sprinkle the cleansing waters upon us, the unclean ones, in the end of days.]

“The Exodus will finally be completely realized; the eschatological era [the era of Moshiach] will begin; only then will the redemption from Egypt be endowed with its final meaning” (Vision and Leadership, p.221-222).

There are so many difficult, painful and perplexing mysteries which we are confronted with in life – personally and nationally.  From the laws of the Red Heifer, to the deaths of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, to our long national exile and suffering through the ages, to our own individual trials and tribulations.  The parsha of Zot hukkat ha’Torah is our story, our destiny, our journey and the enigma of Klal Yisrael.  

Only in the end of days, will we be sprinkled with the purifying, cleansing, illuminating waters, when all the mysteries will be explained and our destiny will finally be realized.  May it be immediate and in our days.  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום


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