Parshas Chukas


JUNE 29, 2012
9 Tammuz, 5772

Candle-lighting Time: 8:14 PM

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Bark Mitzvah

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

I wish this were a joke. I saw a newspaper report discussing the latest addition to the calendar of synagogue life cycle events – the Bark Mitzvah. None other than a celebration for the coming-of-age of Fido the family dog, the event includes Star-of-David dog biscuits and a little Yarmulke and Tallis for the bar mitzvah beast. The article failed to mention what those in attendance should say in place of the traditional, “Didn’t he read his portion so beautifully?” It did mention, however, that a Bark Mitzvah usually takes place in the parking lot in front of the synagogue, lest one of the canines ‘lift his leg’ in the main sanctuary.

To the author’s credit, the article itself was rather skeptical of the concept. There was, however, someone (from L. A.) quoted in the article who felt that there is something more than a flippant excuse for a party involved in a Bark Mitzvah. After all, if the animal is part of the family, the animal is Jewish, too, right?

Far be it from me to suggest that there aren’t strong bonds created between people and the animals that they live with for years of their lives. A pet can bring a tremendous amount of happiness to a family, and in its death, a great sense of sadness and loss. However, let us not be seduced by the specter of modern absurdity – ‘equality of the species.’

In this week’s parsha, our Sages find a hint to this very idea. After the death of Miriam, Moshe and Ahron’s sister, the people complain that they have no water. The entire population in the desert without water is reasonable cause for concern. They turn to Moshe and Ahron for leadership and help, who go straight to the Mishkan (Tabernacle). God instructs them to bring forth water miraculously from a stone and give water to the people and their animals.

Explains the Medrish, here we see an important principle, that God is mercifully concerned with the property of the Jewish People. See how He makes sure they have enough water to feed their livestock?

The clear implication is that our animals are our property, no different than our kitchen utensils (another place in Jewish law where this principle is applied).

On the other hand, perhaps the comparison between animals and inanimate property is not so simple. Kitchen utensils aren’t alive. Animals are. They are God’s creatures. How could such an inference be drawn by our Sages from this verse? Wouldn’t God want to provide water for the Jewish People’s animals simply because He would want the animals to live? Why shouldn’t God want to save them as well, along with the human beings?

Answered Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of course God would provide water for the animals for their own sake. Rain falls all the time, so that animals all over the planet will have their sustenance. Just not through a miracle. Water drawn miraculously from a stone only comes for the sake of humans. If the extent of the miracle is increased to include water for animals, it is only because they are the property of the Jewish People, for whom the miracle was performed.

The Hebrew word for miracle is ‘neis’, which can also mean ‘signpost’ (see 21:8 in our parsha for just such a usage). When a miracle is done for us, it’s like a massive neon sign pointing out Who it is that provides for all our non-miraculous needs, every day, all day long. In the desert, when the Jewish People forgot Who was taking care of them and complained, God held up the sign to remind them. Only in the context of our national mission does a miracle make sense. There is no point in a miracle for animals.

And therein lies the inescapable distinction between people and animals. The awesome potential of humanity is to live a life of holiness, to emulate our Creator and to achieve our fullest spiritual potential. There is no concept of holiness for animals.

Not to mention that animals lack sufficient sense of humor to appreciate starring in their very own Bark Mitzvah.


Fighting the Torah Way

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

As the Jewish people approach Israel and prepare to enter the Land, they first come to the country of Emori, ruled by Sichon. They send emissaries to Sichon requesting his permission to travel through his country, promising not to disturb anyone or anything. Their request is denied and Sichon gathers his entire army on the border and readies them for battle against the Jewish people. They attack, the people defend themselves against his army and destroy them.

The commentators raise the issue that Sichon was from the seven Canaanite nations which we were commanded to wage war against and not leave any survivors. Why did Moshe initially pacify them when he should have immediately attacked and destroyed them?

The answer given is both simple and complex. We were only commanded to kill them when we were at war with them. The mitzvah was to capture the Land of Israel from the other Canaanite nations that resided there. Once we had conquered the Land, we would branch out and perhaps our conquest would lead us to other lands nearby. However, we were not supposed to do battle with the nations that were essentially outside of the main area of Israel at first.

Once we were attacked by Sichon, of course, we were allowed to defend ourselves and we fought Sichon until he was soundly defeated. In this case, not only was his army conquered, but his country was lost as well as we took his entire kingdom.

Although this answer seems simple and straightforward, it contains an amazing perspective on the nature of our people. Normally, if two nations have a strained relationship, they would attempt to destroy one another, or at least weaken them until they were no longer a threat to the security of the other, at the first opportunity they had. In this situation, we would preferably have passed by and avoided any conflict. However, since we were attacked, we were allowed to defend ourselves.

War is not a way of life that we accept as a natural state of being. It is rather a mitzvah which we are commanded to obey, if and when it applies, just like any other mitzvah. Therefore, since we had not yet captured the Land of Israel, it was not yet appropriate to fight and conquer Sichon.

The upshot is that we only wage war as a necessary tool of protecting ourselves, our communities and our Torah way of life. The mitzvah to conquer the Land served that function as we prepared to settle amidst seven idolatrous nations. Conversely, the presence of those nations that we were commanded to approach in a peaceful manner did not pose a threat to our Torah way of life. On the contrary, their close proximity was acceptable on condition that they would not adversely affect us and thus they could remain without corrupting our people.

It was in this vein that the entire conquest of Israel was performed. We were only commanded to destroy the corrupt nations who would have corrupted us. And according to many opinions, had one of those nations accepted to convert and join our way of life, we would have accepted them. Violence is not our way of life; it is merely the eradication of evil that we pursue.


Byte For Shabbos

The Torah states that when we were in Egypt and we cried out to G-d, He sent His ‘angel’ Moshe to redeem us, for the prophets are referred to as angels. We no longer merit such prophets as Moshe. We no longer have people even on the stature of commentators such as Rashi or the Ramban. However, G-d does occasionally send us messengers, such as natural occurrences, to carry out His bidding and to convey His messages to us.


A Question for the Rabbis

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv was asked if it is correct for a customer at a Jewish-owned restaurant or hotel to say the “Blessing for the Host” during Grace after Meals. He is, after all, paying for the meal and is not really a guest. He answered that it is appropriate to bless the owner, as he is certainly benefiting from the existence of the restaurant and its convenience. He added that there is support for this from the Torah portion this week. The Jewish people, when requesting passage through Edom, offered to buy food from Edom, even though they had their own provisions. Rashi (Numbers 20:17) notes that this teaches us that when one stays somewhere, one should specifically buy food locally in order to benefit the host (e.g. the innkeeper). The Torah wants us to benefit our host, and a blessing is an appropriate way to fulfill this idea (Chashukei Chemed, Berachot 46a, paragraph 3).

Reprinted with permission from Parsha Partner, a publication of Partners in Torah. Please add us to your weekly Parsha reading list.


Joke of the Week

While leading a Friday evening service, the rabbi was alarmed when a member of the congregation walked in with a dog. He asked the cantor to continue the service and went to talk to the fellow. “Bernie, what are you doing here with a dog?”

“The dog came here to pray.”

“You’re just fooling around,” the rabbi said. “That’s not a proper thing to do in temple.”

“But it’s true!” Bernie insisted.

“Then show me what the dog can do,” the rabbi replied, thinking he would call Bernie’s bluff.

“OK,” Bernie said, nodding to the dog. The dog proceeded to put on a yarmulke and tallis, opened a prayer book and began reciting in Hebrew. The rabbi listened for 15 minutes. He was so impressed with what he had heard, he asked Bernie, “Do you think your dog would consider going to rabbinical school?”

Bernie threw his hands up in disgust. “You talk to him! He wants to be a doctor.”



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