1. There is a unique dimension to Parshas Chukas which is not found in regard to any of the other parshiyos in the Book of Bamidbar. With the exception of the opening passage of the Book which was not conveyed 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 Behaalos’cha also mentions commands that were given on that same day and then describes the decampment of the Jews which took place on the 20th of Iyar. The narrative of the sending of the spies described in Parshas Shelach began on the 29th of Sivan and the rebellion of Korach described in the parshah of that name took place after the 9th of Av of that year according to our tradition.

Consequently, the order of events described in Parshas Chukas surely raises questions: The portion begins with the passage of the Red Heifer which was related on the 2nd of Nissan in the second year after the exodus. Directly, afterwards it skips to the description of events which took place at the conclusion of the Jew’s forty years of wandering through the desert, the death of Miriam, the dispute at the springs of Merivah, Aharon’s death, the conquest of Sichon and Og, and ultimately, the camping of the Jews on the Jordan. From a passage which was related directly after the construction of the Sanctuary, the portion skips to the events which occurred at the conclusion of the Jews’ 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 continued with a description of the events which 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 parshah and the offering of the Red Heifer.

The above concepts can be understood in light of another problematic element in the conclusion of the parshah which discusses the conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og. The Torah mentions that Moshe sent spies to explore the land of Ya’azer. Not only did the spies carry out their mission, they actually conquered the land. Notwithstanding the positive aspect of their behavior, it raises a question: Why did they disobey the instructions that they were given?1

Furthermore, we find the first spies, whose sin caused the Jews to wander in the desert for forty years, transgressed because they made a similar mistake. Moshe instructed them to explore Eretz Yisrael in order to find out the easiest way of conquering it. The spies took an additional step, adding to the description of the land, their conclusion that the land couldn’t be conquered. Thus, the question arises: Why did these spies who apparently2 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 Jews’ settling in the lands of Sichon and Og: Why did the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half the tribe of Menasheh desire to remain in this land? On the surface, G‑d had promised the land of Canaan — the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean — to the Jews. The territories of Sichon and Og on the eastern bank of the Jordan were not included in that land3 as clearly indicated by the fact that Moshe sent messengers to Sichon asking him to allow the Jews to pass through his land on their way to Eretz Yisrael. If so, why did these two and a half tribes desire to settle in these lands. Indeed, their behavior appears reminiscent of that of the spies who refused to enter Eretz Yisrael.

[The Torah relates that they explained their desire as follows: They had a lot of cattle and TransJordan was fit for cattle grazing. Nevertheless, the question remains: How could they, members of Moshe’s generation, “a generation of knowledge,” care more about their property than about entering Eretz Yisrael?]

The problematic aspect of this narrative is further emphasized by the fact that ultimately Moshe 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 Jews’ armies — nullified the possibility that they would cause the entire people to lose heart and refuse to enter the land. It did not resolve the fact that these tribes themselves did not settle in Eretz Yisrael.

The above difficulties can all be resolved in light of the following explanation: Since the Jewish people were all prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael, 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 sent them. However, their addition was of a positive rather than a negative nature, reflecting Moshe’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 and a half tribes to stay in TransJordan. Their actions were motivated by a genuine love for Eretz Yisrael and a will to atone for the sins of the generation which did not wish to enter Eretz Yisrael.

To explain: When G‑d promised Avraham that his descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael in the Bris bein haBetarim, G‑d mentioned the conquest of ten nations, the seven who dwelled in Eretz Yisrael and also the Keni, Knizi and Kadmoni (identified with Moav, Ammon, and Edom) an area stretching from “the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates.” Nevertheless, Moshe only mentioned the conquest of the seven nations who dwelled in Eretz Yisrael, the conquest of Moav, Ammon, and Edom, who dwelled (at least in part) in TransJordan was forbidden, left for the Messianic age.

There was a way, however, in which the Jews were able to dwell in a portion of these lands before the Mashiach’s coming. As our Torah portion relates, Sichon conquered some of the land belonging to these nations. After conquering his lands, the Jews were able to take possession of this territory as well. Indeed, our Sages use the expression that Sichon “purified”4 these lands. Thus, these tribes’ desire to settle in this territory was motivated by a commitment to dwell in all the portions of Eretz Yisrael possible.

When understood in this context, their acts also represent a correction of the behavior of the Jews who desired to remain in the desert. Just as those Jews did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael 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 Keni, Knizi and Kadmoni to the fullest extent possible before Mashiach’s coming.5 For these reasons, Moshe was willing to accept their proposal and allowed them to settle in these lands.

The reason why these two and a half tribes in particular desired to settle in TransJordan can be explained as follows: The tribes of Reuven and Gad possessed many sheep and therefore, sought to settle in TransJordan because it was excellent pasture land. Chassidic thought explains that pasturing sheep is a profession which requires less involvement and effort in toil and labor than agriculture and thus, affords the shepherd time for meditation and contemplation.

This also relates to the sin of the spies and the desire to correct and atone for it. The spies did not desire to enter Eretz Yisrael because they desired to remain above worldly matters. This was a mistake because G‑d’s intent is that the Jews involve themselves in the refinement of the world. Thus, the efforts of the tribes of Reuven and Gad corrected this error. These tribes composed the vanguard of the Jewish armies which conquered Eretz Yisrael, thus 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 the day to day mundane realities.

This concept also relates to the Mitteler Rebbe’s explanation of the difference between Eretz Yisrael and the land of the Keni, Knizi and Kadmoni. The Mitteler Rebbe associates the seven nations who lived in Eretz Yisrael with our seven emotional qualities and the Keni, Knizi and Kadmoni with our three intellectual potentials. 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 therefore, we will be granted the lands of these other three nations.6

The two points are interrelated because the service of the intellect reflects a step above the work of refining our day-to-day realities. The involvement of the tribes of Reuven and Gad7 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 who were divided because of Moshe’s decision. He realized that the area in TransJordan was too large to be populated only by the tribes of Reuven and Gad and ordered half the tribe of Menasheh to join them. Thus, in this instance, the fusion of the service of intellect, above the realities of the world, and the service of refining the world was reflected in a single tribe.]

These concepts are related to the Mishnah’s statements concerning the lands of Ammon and Moav (which, as explained above, correspond to the lands of the Keni and the Knizi) in regard to the laws of Shevi’is (the Sabbatical year):

What is the law regarding the lands of Ammon and Moav in Shevi’is? Rabbi Tarfon decreed that they should separate “the tithe of the poor”... so that the poor people from Eretz Yisrael could derive support from them.

In the period of the Second Beis HaMikdash, these lands did not have the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and were not required to observe its agricultural laws. Accordingly, they could sow their fields in the Sabbatical year. Although there was reason to assume that the Sages would have required the separation of the second tithe, instead, they 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 Yisrael which lay fallow, could benefit from them.

This law contains a homiletic dimension which relates to the concepts described above. Our Sages stated: “One is only poor in regard to knowledge.” The poor from Eretz Yisrael, i.e., the people who lacked knowledge living in the holy land could derive sustenance from the service of knowledge carried out in the lands of the Keni 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 related after the construction of the Sanctuary when the Jews were on a high spiritual level (having atoned for the sin of Golden Calf as Rashi mentions). It was not until the end of the forty year period after the conquest and settlement of the land of Sichon8 which atoned for the sins of the spies, that the Jews were able to reach a similar spiritual rung.

An added dimension to the above is contributed by the name Chukas. Chok can also mean “engraved” as the letters of the Ten Commandments were engraved into the stone. Thus, the letters are part of the stone itself which cannot be separated from it. Similarly, after the forty years of the desert, the Jews became totally united with Eretz Yisrael until 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 Avraham in the Bris bein haBetarim.9 Though 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, the Mashiach, who will complete the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. May it be in the immediate future.

2. The above concepts are given greater emphasis by the fact that Parshas Chukas is read in the month of Tammuz, the month associated with the Previous Rebbe’s redemption on Yud-Beis-Yud-Gimmel Tammuz. All redemptions are related to the ultimate Messianic redemption. In particular, this applies to the Previous Rebbe’s redemption for he is a Nasi and, as Rashi explains, “the Nasi includes the entire people.” This point was emphasized by the Previous Rebbe himself who wrote:10

It was not myself alone that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its commands, and so to 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 since the Previous Rebbe declared, “Immediately to Teshuvah; immediately to redemption.” We have surely completed the task of “polishing the buttons” and are ready to “stand prepared to greet Mashiach.” This is connected to Parshas Chukas which relates how the Jews were prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael and indeed, as explained above, anxious for the full and ultimate conquest of the land.11

This will be intensified by the Jews’ commitment to maintaining possession of Eretz Yisrael, declaring that this is a land which G‑d has given to us. Indeed, the gentiles emphasize this themselves referring to the land as Israel, identifying the land with the true nature of a Jew, the dimension which “strove with man and god 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 study12 mentioned previously. May the resolutions for activities in connection with Yud-Beis Tammuz hasten the coming of the Messianic redemption with which it is related.13

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3. It is customary to also mention a concept from the chapter of Pirkei Avos learned this Shabbos (Ch. 5). This chapter includes several listings in groupings of ten, groupings of seven, and groupings of four. There are many other numbers that have a unique Torah significance. For example, the Torah describes the Jews as being “11 days from Choreb.” There are 12 tribes and 13 Attributes of Mercy. Similarly, there are many numbers from 1 to 600,000 which have significance. Nevertheless, as explained on another occasion (See Biurim to Pirkei Avos, p. 121), the three numbers repeated in this chapter share a common quality.

On the surface, the question might be raised: Of what purpose is the mention of the number in these teachings? It can, however, be explained that the mention of the number insures that all the particulars mentioned in the teaching will be remembered.

This teaches us an important concept. Not only is a general principle important, every particular, even those which appear minute are of significance. To allow for all the particulars to be recalled, the Mishnah mentions a number at the outset.

There is a connection to the latter concept to the teaching studied as an introduction to each chapter in Pirkei Avos:

All Israel have a portion in the World to Come as it is written: “And your nation are all righteous...”

In regard to the righteous, the Talmud teaches, “The righteous hold their money dearer than their bodies” and are precise even concerning matters worth less than a penny, i.e., they endeavor to use each particular element of existence, even if it is of seemingly minimal worth, for a holy purpose. This is reflected in a halachic concept which explains that, at times, an article which is not large enough to be considered significant is given halachic importance because it is used for a mitzvah.

There is a reflection of this concept in each of our lives. We must try to relate the mission of transforming the world into a dwelling for G‑d to every aspect of our existence. If a person has a chance to perform a task associated with a mitzvah, be it great or small, he should be happy to fulfill it. We are speaking about carrying out G‑d’s will which transcends all definitions of great or small, high or low. If anything, since “G‑d desire that He have a dwelling in the lower worlds,” involvement in services that are low, including also those low in importance, are necessary to fulfill that desire.

Our Sages declared: “This world is like a marriage feast. One should grab and eat, grab and drink;” i.e., this is a world in which G‑d’s marriage to the Jews is being celebrated. There is no time to sit and take stock. Rather, one should grab every opportunity to perform a mitzvah available.

Here, we see a connection to Parshas Chukas which reflects a commitment above reason and understanding. Though rationally, one might have reasons to think that there are other things which are more important, one must act above his intellect and devote himself to G‑d’s service, involving himself in activities, which his intellect might judge as too petty. Indeed, the feeling that one needs to judge the relative importance of different services stems from one’s yetzer hora which dresses up in a silk kapote and tries to sway a person away from doing what he has to.

A person should tell his yetzer hora: Take off your silk kapote! I know where you come from. You come from Sodom. For in Sodom, they were known to steal less than a penny’s worth.

We see a reflection of this concept in Jewish law as well. When a person who is thirsty drinks water, even if he drinks less than a penny’s worth, he recites the blessing, shehakol niheyoh bid’voro, proclaiming how the entire world was brought into existence through G‑d’s speech.

The above should not be taken as a charge to become involved merely with things of no consequence. The intent is that one should be involved in whatever service Divine Providence presents one. If it turns out to be very important, to quote next week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos, a matter which is worth “a million golden dinars, precious stones, and pearls,”14 one should definitely remain involved. Nevertheless, one should show a similar commitment even the service is “less than a penny’s worth.”

A commitment to service of this nature should not lead to pride or inflated self-esteem. On the contrary, these emotions are the very opposite of the establishment of a dwelling for G‑d in this world. In regard to a proud person, G‑d states, “He and I cannot dwell in the world.” To Chassidim, however, this point need not be stressed, because it is self-understood.

May we each fulfill the mission which G‑d grants us in the midst of affluence and may this lead to ultimate Messianic redemption. May it be in the immediate future.