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Generously Stingy

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

by Rabbi Eli Scheller

This is the decree of the Torah... (Num. 19:2)

This week's Torah portion begins, "This is the statute of the Torah," and proceeds to discuss the laws of parah adumah (the red heifer), a mitzvah that is beyond human comprehension. Why is this mitzvah called "the chok (statute) of the Torah." Does this mitzvah encompass the entire Torah? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to say, "This is the chok of purity"? (1)

A paradox is found in the laws of parah adumah; its ashes purify one who had become impure, yet those who engage in its preparation become impure themselves! The apparently contradictory elements of this mitzvah teach us that a person has to serve God with all his attributes - even conflicting ones.

It is important for a person to be humble and modest, but that is not enough. When one is unconcerned about his own honor, he may begin to be carefree with his friend's honor. He'll feel free to cause him pain and embarrass him. Likewise, it is important for a person to be giving and generous, although when one is generous and openhanded with his own money, he may begin to be very easy-going with other people's money as well, and end up causing damage to their property or stealing from them. The Torah is teaching us that the paradox of parah adumah must be applied to other parts of the Torah as well.

A person has to be generous yet stingy. When it comes to one's own money, a person has to be openhanded. However, when it comes to other people's money, one needs to be tightfisted. He has to make sure his friend does not lose any money or spend one cent more than he has to. Similarly, one has to be humble, not seeking any honor or admiration from others. But, when it comes to his friend's honor, he has to give his friend plenty of respect and honor.(2)


1. Ohr Hachaim.

2. R' Moshe Feinstein.



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