CHUKAS (Numbers, 19:1-22:1) — “Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!”

There are many rules in the Torah pertaining to ritual purity and impurity.  Most of these laws apply to the circumstances under which one may enter the Temple or consume sacrificial foods.  As such, most of these laws currently don’t apply due to our temporary lack of a Temple in Jerusalem.  (This situation will hopefully be rectified in the very near future.)

One exception is the requirement for Kohanim-Priests to avoid contact with the dead.  A Kohain, even nowadays, may not enter a cemetery except for the funerals of certain very close relatives.  Under most circumstances a Kohain may not become a doctor because most medical schools require direct contact with cadavers.  (In some schools this is changing.)

A Kohain may not even enter a building if there is a dead body inside:

This is the law concerning a man who dies in a tent.  Anything that enters the tent and anything that is in the tent shall be contaminated…  (Numbers, 19:14)

A “tent” for these purposes is defined as anything the serves as a common “roof.”  If, for example, a large tree overhangs graves in a cemetery and also covers the sidewalk outside of the cemetery, the Kohain needs to walk across the street, rather than being in the same “tent” as the graves.


There is a dispute as to whether this ritual “contamination” applies to all graves or just Jewish ones.  While a Kohain may not come in physical contact with ANY dead body, some authorities maintain that the prohibition of entering a “tent” where there is a body is only if the deceased was Jewish.

The basis for this ruling is an analysis of the specific wording of the verse quoted above, as well as a verse in Ezekiel.  Often the Torah teaches us important lessons based upon a nuanced choice of wording.

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

“They will know that I, their G-d, am with them, and that they are My nation, the House of Israel … you are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are Man, I am your G-d…”  (Ezekiel, 34:30-31)

There are several words for “man” in Hebrew.  One of those words is “אדם – Adam.”  The Talmud (Yevamos 61a) observes that the Hebrew word “Adam” – Man, is used in the two verses we have quoted:

“This is the law concerning a man (ADAM) who dies in a tent.”

…you are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (ADAM), I am your G-d…

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean ‘You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called “MAN.”  Therefore, concludes the Talmud, “…the law concerning a MAN who dies in a tent” only applies to Israel.


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?

Several commentaries offer interpretations.  One explanation I have seen is that G-d created the world and called upon Adam to live a life of spiritual devotion.  Adam was given one Mitzvah to fulfill, and he messed up!  Adam and his wife were expelled from the Garden of Eden; they had failed their mission.

That mission was put on hold until there was an Abraham who could be a Light to the Nations.  Abraham’s children stood at Mount Sinai and received 613 Commandments.  We have taken over Adam’s role.  We ARE Adam.  We have more commandments.

This is not to say that Jews are better than others; it means we have different responsibilities.  A non-Jew who observes all seven of his required commandments is a Righteous Gentile.  (See “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile”.)  A Jew who fulfills only seven of his hundreds of his religious requirements obviously falls far short of his obligation to be an “Adam.”


In our history, there have been those who chose to demean Jews and our beliefs by quoting the Talmud out of context.  What better excuse for a blood libel than to “prove” that we think non-Jews are animals?! “Look what those Jews think of us!  Israel is called ‘Man’, and the nations of the world are not?!”

There is an interesting analysis of the Hebrew word “ADAM.”  I have heard it attributed to Rabbi Meir Shapiro.  (See “(Madison Square) Garden of Eden”)  I have also heard it attributed to Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim.)

There are several ways to say “man” in Hebrew:

איש –  ISH = Man.  The plural is ANOSHOM.  (Some claim that ANOSHIM is plural of ENOSH, which also means “man.”)

גבר –  GEVER = Man.  The Plural is GEVARIM.

אדם ADAM = Man.  The plural is ADAM!!!

The word ADAM is unique in that the plural form is the same as the singular form.  (We have a similar concept in English.  Sometimes “man” means a single person, and sometimes “man” means the human race.)

When a Frenchman robs a bank, people say, “Francois is a thief.”  When a Russian breaks into a house, people say “Igor is a burglar.”  When an Italian kills someone, people say “Giovanni is a murderer.”

When, however, a Jew does something wrong, “The Jews are no good!”

We are ADAM.  Jews, whether we like it or not, are viewed collectively by the world.  When my front lawn is a mess, my neighbors are given the opportunity to complain about sloppy Jews.  If my ethics in the workplace are less than pristine, it reflects upon all of us.

We are ADAM.  We are one big (happy?) family.  We are responsible for one another.  When my fellow Jew has a Simcha, I should share his joy.  If he is sad, I should share his pain.  When terrorists attack Israelis, they are attacking US.  When Europeans boycott Israel, they are boycotting US.  When the President of the United States snubs the Prime Minister of Israel, he is snubbing US.


G-d told Ezekiel to remind us who we are. “…you are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (ADAM), I am your G-d…”

In that phrase, “… you are Adam,” the word “you” is written in plural form.  G-d is saying, “You people are one man.  You are viewed as one unit.”

We are Adam.  We are one.  Maybe it would be a good idea if we would act that way.

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.


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:


“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.


“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 .


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.



“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


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


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( 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 17, 2010 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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