CHUKAS/BALAK (Numbers, 19:1–25:9) — “The Kiss of LIFE”

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel).  Moses and Aaron, the leaders of Israel, were dearly respected in their lifetimes, and sorely missed when they died:

The entire assembly saw that Aaron had perished, and the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days.  (Numbers, 20:29)… The Children of Israel wept for Moses in the fields of Moab for thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended.  (Deuteronomy, 34:8)

Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths.  The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron.

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses.  The men wept over the loss of their respected judge.  The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker.

If a husband and wife weren’t getting along, Aaron the High Priest, whose job was to bless the People with peace, (see “Blessing the Blessers” and “Bless Your Heart!”) would make it his business to restore harmony to the home of this conflicting couple.  Whenever Aaron heard about an argument between two people, he approached each person separately and told him how bad the other one felt about their disagreement. (This is an example of a situation when it is a Mitzvah to “stretch the truth” for the sake of peace.)  As a result of his efforts, each person believed that the other person was sorry, and when they met they patched up their differences.  Aaron encouraged people to love each other.  In the process, he earned their love as well.

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It appears that the way Aaron lived is the way he died.  Together with his son Elazar and his brother Moses, he climbed a mountain and stood at the entrance of a cave.  Aaron’s special Priestly garments were removed and transferred to his son, the new High Priest.

Rashi describes the final moments of Aaron’s life:  “Moses told him, ‘Enter the cave,’ and he entered.  He saw a made-up bed and a lit candle.  (Moses) told him, ‘Go up onto the bed,’ and he went up.  ‘Stretch out your hands,’ and he stretched them.  ‘Close your mouth,’ and he closed it.  ‘Shut your eyes,’ and he shut them.”

And then he was gone.  In what the Talmud describes as a “Death Kiss,” G-d gently and lovingly called home the soul of that very special man.  The man of peace who lived his life in pursuit of peace returned to his Creator in peace.

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Moses and Aaron had different jobs.  Necessarily, Moses, as the King and “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” had to maintain a more distant and aloof position.  On many occasions, he reprimanded individuals as well as groups in order to steer them from sin.

Aaron had a different technique in dissuading sinners.  He would greet every person, saint and sinner alike, with a friendly greeting.  Then the sinner would ask himself, “How can I continue to sin, when a righteous man like Aaron is so kind to me?  He thinks I’m righteous too.  How can I let him down?”

Maskil LeDavid (a commentary on Rashi; it is quoted in Artscroll Rashi on Deuteronomy, 34:8) points out that people in conflict received different resolutions depending upon whom they consulted.  If they went to Aaron the peacemaker, he would attempt to work out a peaceful compromise that made everyone happy.  On the other hand, Moses, the judge, would examine the dispute based upon the merits of the case and render a decision as to who was right and who was wrong.  As a result, it was more likely that the disputing parties left Aaron in peace than if they had consulted Moses.

Therefore, the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses.

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Whose approach was better?  Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?  If the answer were to be determined purely by a popularity contest, Aaron would appear to be the winner.

However, it seems that G-d viewed it differently.  Moses’ life ended with the same peaceful “Death Kiss” that his brother Aaron received.  We find many references to Moses and Aaron being considered as equals in their importance in G-d’s eyes.

Moses and Aaron played different roles in the leadership of Israel.  One was more “peaceful’; one was more “tough.”  Different situations require different methodologies.

The Torah tells us to “Honor your father and your mother, (Exodus, 20:12), while it tells us, “Revere one’s mother and father.” (Leviticus, 19:3) The order of who comes first is reversed.  Human nature is such that one tends to honor one’s mother more because she is USUALLY the softer and kinder of the two parents. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes honoring one’s FATHER, making sure he doesn’t take a second row seat behind the mother.  Conversely, when it comes to reverence, human nature would put the father ahead.  Therefore the Torah emphasizes the MOTHER, assuring that she is not a “second-class citizen.”

Every person has strengths that make him special.  When G-d created the world, He created the human race starting with one man and one woman.  We all descend from that original couple.  The animals, on the other hand, began with lots of lions and tigers and bears.  The Talmud tells us that the reason we started off with one couple is so that every person can say, “the world was created for me.”

There is only one of me, and there is only one of you.  I’m not more important than you, and you are not more important than me.  We each have contributions that we can and must make.  It behooves us to see and appreciate the greatness of every single human being – and recognizing our own potential is a good place to start.

Have a great Shabbos

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Chukas and Balak are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths. For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – CHUKAS

“A Sad Shabbos in New York State” (2011)

… While some societies have not condemned these activities the way the Torah does, it was always recognized that the institution of marriage was about a man and a woman. A man doesn’t marry his car. A man doesn’t marry his pet iguana. And a man doesn’t marry a man…

Last Shabbos, we read the story of Korach. Korach didn’t like the way the Commandments were working out…

Last Friday night … the State of New York decided to emulate Korach…

How did this tragedy/travesty in New York happen? It’s really rather simple…

Read more.

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“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010)

… Ezekiel cites the special relationship between G-d and Israel…

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean “You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ‘MAN.’

What does the Talmud mean by, “You are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ’MAN’”? Certainly it can’t mean to humiliate Gentiles and to consider them less than human! The Talmud is replete with references to the fact that all of humanity was created in G-d’s Image. We share the planet with our fellow Children of G-d.

So what does it mean?…

Read more .

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“Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads” (2005)

G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole. Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.” Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live

The symbolism is beautiful. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues. Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes. After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths. They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly. Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake.

Great! Just one question. What’s the deal with the copper?…

Read more.

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“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004)

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel) … Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths. The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron.

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses. The men wept over the loss of their respected judge. The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker…

Moses and Aaron had different jobs… the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses.

Whose approach was better? Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?…

Read more.

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“Stone Drunk” (2002)

… The People were thirsty. … Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.”

G-d was furious: “Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.”

… the people witnessed a great miracle. A rock was struck, and water flowed from it. The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years! How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part? …

Read more.

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“The Bigger They Are…” (2001)

Og … organized an army against Israel, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor. … Moses needed some encouragement:

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him…”

G-d doesn’t waste words. He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og. … Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before…

What a Mitzvah!! Og tells Abraham to go save Lot so he can be killed and Og can marry his widow! With friends like Og, who needs enemies?! How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – BALAK

“Rocky Road” (2010)

…What’s with this guy?! He’s a sorcerer, the great Midianite prophet! He is “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One.” (Verse 16) How is it so hard for him to see that G-d doesn’t want him to do this?

… it all started with a question. G-d had asked Balaam, “Who are these people?”

“Aha!” thought Balaam. “G-d doesn’t know everything! He needs to ask me who these people are! If I play my cards right, I’ll be able to pull the wool over His eyes and curse His beloved Nation.”…

Read more.

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“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007)

…Balak, the Moabite king, hired Balaam to curse Israel. Now why, you may ask, would an anti-Semite like Balak need to hire someone to curse Jews? Plenty of people would be happy to do it for free!

Cursing, you see, is a great talent. Some people do it better than others. Balaam was a pro…

Read more.

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“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003)

… There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites. They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.”

… “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it. All you have to do is…

Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? …

Read more.

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“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?” (2000)

… Balaam still didn’t get it. Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace.

What was going on in Balaam’s head? How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake? How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission? How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?!

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on June 23, 2004 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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