Chukat ? 5779

Victory without Miracles ? Chukat
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This week?s Torah portion, Chukat, is famous for the law it begins with: Para Aduma, Red Heifer, and because of the story that follows later: the sin of hitting the stone which led to Moses and Aaron being prohibited from entering the Promised Land, Canaan, the Land of Israel. Later in the parasha, we read the description of the long journey taken by the Jewish nation along the southern and eastern border of the Land of Israel, a journey which entailed several battles. This was the first of them:

The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the south, heard that Israel had come?and he waged war against Israel and took from them a captive. Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If You deliver this people into my hand, I shall consecrate their cities." The Lord heard Israel's voice and delivered the Canaanite?and he called the place Hormah.

(Numbers 21, 1-3)

Chukat  ? 5779

This was not the first battle encountered by the Jewish nation on its way from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Immediately after the Exodus, the Egyptian army pursued the liberated nation, wanting to return them to slavery. The battle resulted in the total defeat of the Egyptian army: the pursuers drowned in the sea with their horses and carriages (known to us today from illustrations that were preserved for thousands of years in Egypt). The Jewish nation did not have to fight for itself. On the contrary. They were told explicitly: ?The Lord will fight for you, but you shall remain silent? (Exodus 14, 14).

Then Amalek came and fought the Jewish nation. There, there was no complete miracle as in the parting of the Red Sea. The nation had to fight, but the victory was attained through Moses? arms as he stood on the hill. As long as Moses raised his arms up, the Jewish nation was victorious. The Mishna said about this: And do Moses? arms make or break a war? This is to show us: As long as Israel looked up and enslaved their hearts to their Father in heaven ? they prevailed; and if not ? they fell (Tractate Rosh Hashana, Chapter 3, Mishna 8).

Now the nation faced a new situation. They were demanded to fight the enemy, the Canaanite king of Arad, without a miracle, completely naturally. Was this change advantageous or disadvantageous for the nation?

One of the spiritual leaders of Eastern European Jewry at the end of the 19th and early 20th century was Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen, the rabbi of Dvinsk in Latvia. He wrote two books that left a tremendous mark on the beit midrash to this day: the first is a halachic (Jewish law) book called ?Or Sameach?, and the other is a book of commentary on the Torah called ?Meshech Chochma?, which includes a variety of styles, halachic discourse, and brilliant philosophical thought. When it discussed the short story in our parasha, it compared the Jewish nation to a son seated at his father?s table who does not find a way to support himself, and therefore, he writes, ?it is not respectable for the nation that G-d must make miracles to save it from its enemies?.

Indeed, the nation understood something very important. Victory could not be attained without G-d?s help. In this, the nation passed the first test of independence: the independent nation, battling, understood that even in war being fought with natural tools, victory cannot be attained without divine assistance. And for this, they turned to G-d and asked Him for help.

Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen concludes that a nation should fight on its own, taking advantage of its abilities without depending on miracles. But this can only be achieved if we remember the source of our strength and success.

Today June 18, 2021

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Interesting Facts

The Western Wall Plaza hosts approximately 60,000 people. It symbolizes the Jewish link to Jerusalem and serves as the synagogue closest to the remains of both Holy Temples.
The Western Wall's visible stones tell of its history from the time of the Holy Temples' ruin. The original Herodian stones are distinct from the others in size and in their unique borders.
The building style of "grading" used when layering the Western Wall's stones, teaches us that the Temple Mount's walls were not perpendicular but marginally sloping.
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