Why Now?

June 13, 2010

5 min read


Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

The first section of the sidrah discusses the most enigmatic law of the Torah: the parah adumah (red cow). This perfectly red specimen was burnt completely in a special ceremony, together with certain other materials. Its ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled on a person who had acquired tumas mes (ritual impurity contracted from a corpse). This procedure restored the subject to a state of taharah (ritual purity), allowing him to enter the Beis HaMikdash and to eat certain holy foods. One of the very many unusual aspects of this law is its position in the Torah. The sidrah jumps to the final year of klal Yisrael's sojourn in the desert, but before doing so, the Torah records the parah adumah. This is particularly hard to comprehend, as the laws themselves were transmitted to the nation soon after the Exodus, at Marah:

There He made for them a statute and a judgment, and there He tested them. (Shemos 15:25)

There He made for them - at Marah He gave them a few sections of the Torah with which they could involve themselves: Shabbos, parah adumah, and civil laws. (Rashi loc. cit.)

Since the nation knew all about the parah adumah at the start of their desert journey, why does the Torah wait until now to record it?

* * *


When Moshe was first chosen by God to lead the people, he resisted adopting the role on the basis of a speech difficulty:

I am not a man of words ... for I am heavy of speech. (Shemos 4:10)

This problem, however, did not last throughout Moshe's life, as the Midrash relates:

Before Moshe merited the Torah, the verse says of him: I am not a man of words. Once he merited the Torah, his speech was healed, and he began to speak... (Devarim Rabbah 1:1)

There is a famous discourse of the Maharal which analyzes this apparent speech impediment. The Maharal considers Moshe's difficulty, not as a problem to be overcome, but as an expression of his true greatness! Briefly, he explains that the unique human ability to speak is a function of the connection between the body and the soul. This is derived from the fact that when Adam HaRishon was created, God "breathed a spirit of life into his nostrils, and man became a living soul." At this moment, according to Targum Onkelos, Adam gained the power of speech. Thus the moment of animation, when body and soul joined, was also the instant when man was empowered with speech. Moshe Rabbeinu was a man of such tremendous spiritual abilities that his soul was unable to entirely link with his body. As such, he spoke with difficulty.

This makes the midrash difficult to understand, for surely, when Moshe received the Torah, he became a still more spiritual being. How could this cure his speech defect? It should have made it worse. The lesson of the midrash is quite profound. When the man of God received the Torah at Sinai, his entire being underwent a great change. His physical being was raised by the experience, so much so that it was able to reach the heights of his soul. And once they were properly connected, he was able to speak!

* * *


Having considered one aspect of the relationship between the body and the soul, let us now examine another. There is an established principle that time is a function of matter. This means that only physical entities are subject to time and its consequences, whereas spiritual ones are not. As such, any changes which happen to a human being (which is a conjunction of body and soul) are the responsibility of the body. For the soul enters the body at birth and leaves it at death without having aged or changed in any real sense. While the soul is attached to the body, it can be affected - improved or damaged - but only by extension of its association with the body.

This concept has a remarkable corollary. If a person existed who had so perfected his body that it resembled his soul, then neither his soul nor his body would ever be subject to change. As we have explained thus far, Moshe was such a person. After Matan Torah, his body and soul were on equal footings, as the spirituality of the soul had totally pervaded his body. All other prophets underwent a complete change of personality during their revelations, whereas Moshe was unchanged, as he was in constant touch with the Divine and ready for God's word whenever it might come:

Moshe said to them, "Stand still and I will hear what God will command about you." (Bemidbar 9:8)

Let us consider just one more point before returning to our original discussion. Moshe understood more of the Divine than any other human before or since. Chazal tell us:

Fifty gates of wisdom were created in the world, and all were given to Moshe, except for one. (Rosh HaShanah 21b)

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azulai, in his work Chesed L'Avraham, notes that if anyone were to reach the fiftieth level of Divine comprehension, then his soul and body would be equal, and he would no longer be subject to change. We may suggest that the above statement from our Sages is referring to Moshe's state before Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. But afterwards, when he had elevated his body to meet his soul, he may indeed have entered the fiftieth gate.

We may see in this a comparison between the parah adumah and the Torah itself. The Midrash says:

The words of God are pure words, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified sevenfold [forty-nine] times. (Tehillim 12:7)

Purified sevenfold times - what is this sevenfold times? Rabbi Yochanan ben Pazi said, "The Torah is explained in forty-nine ways; so, too, this parshah [that of the parah adumah] is refined forty-nine times, for there are forty-nine purities involved..." (Pesikta Rabbasi 14:5)

There are only 49 aspects of the Torah. Someone, like Moshe, who has mastered and internalized all of these levels will eventually ascend to the fiftieth of his own accord. The parah adumah, whose laws are so enigmatic, are a microcosm of this. Indeed, only Moshe Rabbeinu was able to understand them: Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina said, "God said to Moshe, 'To you I will reveal the rationale for the parah, but to everyone else it is a chok [statute].' " (Bemidbar Rabbah 19:6)

We are now able to see the link: it was only after Moshe had maximized his development and entered the fiftieth gate that he could understand the rationale of the parah adumah. Once he stood, so to speak, in a spiritual locus never before or since trodden by any human, then he could appreciate the profound wisdom underlying the forty-nine purities of the parah adumah.

We may now suggest why this parshah is left out of the Torah until the last months of klal Yisrael's journey in the desert. We may assume that a man of Moshe's stature continued to develop in a spiritual sense until the last moment of his life. Therefore, in the last year of his life, he was presumably at his greatest. God wanted Moshe to understand the parah adumah, and this demanded supreme spiritual qualities. As such, God waited until this moment, toward the end of Moshe's mission to record the laws, to ensure that not only could His disciple fully understand them, but that this fact would be apparent for posterity.

Excerpted from Shem MiShmuel by the Sochatchover Rebbe, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, published by Targum Press. Click here to order.


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