This week, we present a d’var Torah from our archives, by guest writer Eagle Scout Jordan Block, of Yeshiva Ohr Somayach (Jerusalem).
We’re reading Parshas Chukas this week. The parsha begins with the laws of the red heifer (parah adumah), which involve an entirely red cow used to cleanse spiritual contamination. We won’t go into detail now, but I will tell you that this is the only law that absolutely defies explanation. All 612 other mitzvot have some benefit or rationale, but the only reason given for this one is that God said to do it. This is an exercise in obedience.
When the Torah introduces this mitzvah, it says, “This is the law of the Torah that God commanded …” That’s kind of general and unspecific. We would expect the Torah to say, “This is the law of the parah adumah,” instead. The Torah makes this general statement to teach us that really all the mitzvos are like this one. The fact that God commands something is good enough reason to do it.
Later on, we see the juxtaposition – the placing of one thing next to another – of some of the least Scoutlike behavior ever with some of the most Scoutlike behavior ever. While we’re traveling through the desert, we come to the land owned by the nation Edom. Moses sent a message to the king of Edom asking whether they could pass through his land. In Scouting terms, he requested permission to enter his campsite. Moses assured the king that we would stay on the main highway so that no land or property would be damaged and that we would not even drink well water to be sure that the Edomites would be in no way affected by us. In Scouting terms, we would “leave no trace”.
The king refused to let us pass through, so Moses sent another message explaining that we would pay for anything we drink. Why bring that up? Moses was giving the Edomites a chance to make money by selling us water (which can be very profitable in the desert!). We certainly had enough water from the well that traveled with us, and we weren’t planning to drink any of theirs. Moses was being Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, and Kind all at once.
Unfortunately, the king still refused to let us pass through his land. Very unHelpful, unFriendly, disCourteous, unKind, and just not Thrifty. Ever Cheerful in the service of God, Moses did not let this experience discourage him from giving others a chance. We arrived at the land of Emor, and Moshe sent a similar message to its king, Sihon, asking permission to pass through. Not only did Sihon refuse, he actually assembled his army and waged war on us! Of course, God protected us and wiped out the Emorites before us.
Why was Emor punished when Edom wasn’t? Edom may not have been hospitable to us, but the behavior of Emor was completely unacceptable. At the end of the day, Edom doesn’t HAVE to let us pass through. Sure, it would have been nice of them, but it’s their land and their decision. Emor had the same right, but nothing gave them the right to use violence. As a result of this mistake, they lost their king, their soldiers, and even their cities. All of this could have been avoided if these people had decided to help other people at all times and keep themselves morally straight.
©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tsofeh are available at www.jewishscouting.org and on Facebook at The Jordan Block Shabbos Observatory