Parshat Chukat: The Loss of a Tzaddik


Chukim… These are the laws of the Torah that have no reason to them – much like the fact that we are forbidden to eat pork, to mix meat and milk, or forbidden to wear a garment made of Shatnez – a mixture of wool and linen. There’s no reason why these things should be forbidden. Not, at least, according to human logic! However, the Torah is not the mind of a human, it is the instruction book (as well as the Book of Mysteries) given over to us from the Creator of the world – of the universe, and really of everything one could ever imagine to exist.

The ultimate mystery of the Torah – unexplainable, and which makes no sense – is highlighted in this week’s Parshah – the Parah Adumah. This is a cow that is completely red in colour. It may not have even two hairs of another colour! It may not be blemished, and it may not have had a yoke placed on it. The cow is burnt, and its ashes are used to purify those coming into contact with a corpse. How that works – makes absolutely no sense! What’s more surprising is that the one preparing the mixture to be used for purification – who is in fact pure – becomes impure as he prepares the mixture! The impure person – to whom the ashes are thrown upon then becomes pure! Makes no sense – but then that is the Torah.

We fulfill many mitzvot simply because we are told that somehow this achieves the goal of Creation. True – some commandments do have meaning, but many make no sense.

We live in a world of the glove. If we are sharp – we can perceive the hand underneath it – though we may have no knowledge of what the hand really is. When the glove moves, we must realise there is a hand underneath doing the moving – though we have no idea (unless we have physically seen it) what the hand is and what it is composed of, that makes it actually move. When the glove does its duty – whatever it may be (e.g. holding a boiling glass of liquid, protecting one from the cold etc.) we appreciate it, and in fact simply follow the instructions of the manufacturer so that we will get the best use out of the glove that we can! If we do so – the glove will work well – even if we don’t understand the hand inside and the actual purpose of the glove. However, if we ignore the instructions of the manufacturer and misuse the glove, we will come to harm ourselves.

While in this world, there is much we can actually see as being the harm from misusing the glove. When it comes to the observance of mitzvot, we usually do not understand the damage done when we refuse to fulfill the mitzvot. In fact, often – we don’t even realise the good things that are happening through our observance either! Our duty of course, is to simply act out and to do!

In addition to the mysterious Parah Adumah, there is another mysterious portion immediately juxtaposed to the portion of the Parah Adumah.

This is the portion dealing with the death of Miriam. Miriam dies during the journey of Bnei Yisrael into the Land of Israel. Rashi asks, “Why is the portion of the death of Miriam joined to the portion of the Parah Adumah?” and he answers, “To teach that just as offerings (/the Parah Admah) atone, so too do Tzaddikim (righteous people) atone.”

When a Tzaddik leaves this world, his actual leaving atones for the entire generation. Perhaps this is the very theme of the “incomprehensible, illogical” law as well! How can it be that when a person leaves this world, that he atones for an entire generation?! Yet the Torah speaks about this theme again and again – most notably in the Zohar (the work of Jewish mysticism written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.)

There are mysteries related to the “repairs” that are done in the world until the Divine Purpose of creation will be met, and all will be aware of God’s presence in the world. The Zohar teaches that when the Tzaddik dies, all his service in this world rises up with him and awakens Divine mercy for the world, causing blessings to be brought down into this world (much like the waters of the seas rise up into the sky, producing clouds filled with the water that will rain down onto the ground, causing nature to grow and bring life into the world!)

Those who devote their lives to Torah study (most notably the Tzaddikim) play an important role in the rectification of this world. Those who follow the weekly Parshah and the news – may often be amazed to see how often it happens that some of the greatest Tzaddikim die at the time that this Parshah is read! Two such Tzaddikim who died within days of each other during the week that this Parshah was read, include the Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and the Klausenberger Rebbe – Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam. You will find further posts about Chabad, Lubavitch and the Rebbe on this blog by simply clicking on these tags. I hope to post something about the Klausenberg Rebbe this coming week on his Yahrtzeit, the 9th of Tammuz.

When Yaakov left Be’er Sheva (see Parshat Vayeitze), the Torah writes that, “And Yaakov left (Vayeitze) Be’er Sheva”. Rashi asks, “Why did the Torah use the word Vayeitze (he left) as opposed to Vayeilech (he went i.e. he walked on his journey)?” Rashi answers, “To teach that the departure of a Tzaddik from a place creates an impression. At the time the Tzaddik is in the city, he is its glory, he is its radiance; when he departs from there, its glory and radiance depart.”

Indeed, when Miriam died, the well which accompanied the Israelites during their journey through the wilderness dried up as well – leaving them without water! At that time, all knew well that it was only due to her righteousness, that they had merited the water in the wilderness throughout their travels! In fact, it was as a result of the lack of their appreciation for this that ultimately lead to the need for Moshe having to speak to rock and coming to strike it – and losing his opportunity to enter the Land!

The Tzaddik is the very glory and radiance of the world, providing goodness and blessing to it. When the Tzaddik leaves, the glory and radiance of life leaves with him.

This is the value of the Torah scholar and his contribution to the world – even when we cannot see it; even when it seems like he has accomplished nothing with his life; even when it seems completely illogical in our eyes!

This is the Chok (the illogical law) of the Torah. Just as we cannot understand the mysteries behind the Parah Adumah – we will not be able to understand the value and contribution of the Tzaddik, the Torah scholar and those who study Torah and fulfill mitzvot every single day.

While they are here in this world with us – though we cannot see it – these people are the generation’s glory and radiance. When they are gone, that radiance and glory go with them – whether we see it or not, whether we understand it or not. This is what Miriam was to her generation, what Aharon was to his generation, what Moshe was to his generation – and what every person who follows in their footsteps and supports those who do – are in their own generation too.

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