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Parsha Chukas

07/11/2019 08:02:29 PM

Jul11

Parshas Chukas is particularly unique in the sense that its content spans the entire duration of B’nei Yisrael’s 40 year stay in the desert.  The opening topic of the Parsha, the detailed laws of spiritual impurity, was actually presented to the Jews during their second year in the wilderness, on the day the Mishkan was erected, (Gittin 60a) even preceding the mistake of sending spies to Israel.  From there, the narrative skips to the fortieth year- Miriam’s death and the plethora of subsequent issues that followed- lack of water, the fault in hitting the rock, passing through the land of Edom, the miraculous wars with Ca’nan, the plague of snakes, and the wars with Sichon and Og.  The Jews who faced this new wave of difficulties and trials were the children of the previous generation who left Egypt and sinned with the Golden Calf and the spying mission.  With that generation completely eradicated from sin, the future of the Jewish people and the people who were destined to enter the Land of Israel found themselves facing similar and definitely consistent issues that their parents previously faced.  Although with new characters, shapes, and novel contexts, the root of bitter complaints, internal fighting, dangerous outside peril, and the surrounding of various adversary continue to threaten the children much as it endangered their parents.

Although it is not well known, the end of the Parsha says that Moshe again sends spies to the city of Jazer where the Amorites were living.  The Midrash Tanchuma, cited by Rashi, notes that since there is no source of the spies returning, we are meant to conclude that they themselves captured Jazer.  Rashi explains that they said, “We will not act like the first spies as we are instead confident in the prayers of Moshe to do battle.”  This entire episode of a second successful spying mission is completely overshadowed by the great hype of the first sinful mission, but it shows a remarkable display of confidence from both the new generation and from Moshe himself.  What poise they exhibited, wiser from the sins of their parents, aware and experienced in the risks involved and the potential disaster, and acutely focused on what they needed to do to succeed.  What trust from Moshe Rabeinu, to believe in the new and fresh generation in a way for them to transcend the sins of their fathers and to flourish in face of trial.  There were certain consistencies in the experiences of the two generation in the wilderness and certain common areas of struggle, and yet it was only the younger generation who learned from and were able to amend some specific mistakes of the past and who were distinguished and worthy to enter the Land of Israel.  It is in this light that the theme of the Parsha is to take us “full-circle” in the story of the Jews in the desert- we began with the teachings of Para Aduma on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan in the utmost purity and pristine form.  We see a generation who suffer and fall in different areas and who are lowered from the purity that the Para Aduma advocates.  Then we find their children who, despite suffering from similar problems, regenerate the purity and somehow manage to rehabilitate the identity of the Jewish people by correcting past mistakes.

This is really the prototype for the story of the Jewish people throughout our history.  There are certain constants of challenge that all generations face- be it anti-Semitism or the responsibility of being the chosen nation.  We find a generation who pushes too far, who falls too far in an extreme to test the waters in a dangerous way that inevitably provokes that course of History in its Divine orchestration that leaves its indelible mark of tragedy upon the nation.  And yet, their children always find a way to be like the second spies to say “We will not make the mistakes of our parents” and in somewhat of a reactionary way amend the mistakes to rehabilitate the identity of the people.  Korach may die and his personal name may be obliterated form the face of the earth, but Chazal say “B’ne Korach Lo Meisu”- his children repented and perpetuated his legacy.  This speaks both to the miracle of Jewish History and the resilience and tenacity of our spirit and also to the very natural and human side of every child to say “I will not make the mistake of my parent.” We have innate tendencies to strive to amend the mistakes of the previous generations of all forms.  Sometimes we unrealistically believe we can be nothing like the previous generation at all and are foolishly willing to ignore all past history because “we are different,” and then we have to unfortunately realize how certain constants always exist and we are so similar to our parents.  Despite the attitude of the younger generation and their ability to be successful in a second spying mission, they still echo the voices of their parents in their complaints a lack of total faith in God.  This overall theme of the Parsha in its conceptual sense gives us a beautiful flavor of the story of the Jews in the wilderness as the example for all future History.

Sat, September 21 2019 21 Elul 5779