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Parshat Chukat Learning to accept authority

In Parshat Chukat the Torah presents the laws of the Para Aduma (The red Heifer). Rashi cites, from Rabbi Moshe Hadarshon: The reason why the purification for the Children of Israel was performed with a cow may be exemplified by a parable. It may be compared to the case of a handmaiden’s child that defiled the king’s palace. The punishment was for the mother to come and clean up the excrement. Similarly, since the Israelites became defiled by a Golden Calf, let its mother [a heifer] come and atone for the calf. (Midrash Tanchuma – Chukas Par 8).

 

The Midrash demonstrates that there is a connection between the Golden Calf and the heifer of Parshat Para but what is the more symbolic connection between the two incidents ? Too often we speak of the sin of the Golden Calf without delving beyond the actual sin and into its cause! The sin of the Children of Israel began when they did not follow Moshe’s instructions regarding who was to be in authority during his absence. Moshe had, prior to his ascending the mountain, clearly appointed his deputies who were delegated to resolve any problems that might arise in his absence (Shmot 24:14).

He informed the people, “Behold, Aharon and Chur [Moshe’s nephew, son of Miriam and Calev] are with you. Whoever has a claim [problem] shall draw near to them”.  The sin of the Golden Calf did not begin with  Bnei Yisrael declaring, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt”, it began when the Bnei Yisrael refused to accept the authority of their designated leaders (Shmos 32:4). The Midrash Shmot Rabbah (41:7) teaches that after the Israelites miscalculated the day that Moshe was to return, Satan showed them an image of Moshe being carried as dead in the firmaments of heaven. Rather than following Moshe’s directions and accepting the advice and instruction of Aharon and Chur as to what the proper response should be, Chur was approached with a solution to the impending crisis. It was insisted that he make gods who would subsequently lead them. Chur rebuked them rejecting their solution, and reminded the petitioners of the miracles and wonders that Hashem had wrought on  their behalf.   The Israelites spurned Chur and killed him!(Medrash Vayikra Raba 10:3). Aharon was then threatened, and when he saw that Chur had been killed, reasoned that “Chur was a prophet, and I am a Kohen, lest they kill me and be guilty of ‘slaying a priest and prophet in the Sanctuary of the Lord’ (Lamentations 2:20)” he was concerned that thus, the people’s suffering would be greater if they killed him as well as forming the Golden Calf, he tried to delay and asked for contributions of gold jewelry.  Thus the sin of the Golden Calf began with the Nation rejecting the authority of its leaders. To atone for this sin, Hashem gave the Nation “ Chukot HaTorah” the decree of the Torah! Gave them something to perform which was totally incomprehensible and they would have to perform it nonetheless, so learning to accept authority.  King Solomon himself declared (Kohelet 7:23), ” I said I would become wise [would understand why a mixture that purifies the impure has the reverse effect on someone already pure] but it is still beyond me!” . The Gemora Yoma (14a) that cites the above frustration of Shlomo Hamelech teaches us that despite the apparent enigma of the Para Adumah. The Gemora Yoma (14a) that cites the above frustration of Shlomo Hamelech teaches us that despite the apparent enigma of the Para Adumah there is a reason for it.  The mitzvah of Para Adumah (the Red Heifer) is based on accepting a higher authority. That is why it was a Tikkun (rectification) for the sin of the Golden Calf  – the Children of Israel had rejected the authority of Aharon and Chur, were taught to accept authority by being given a mitzva to perform that was totally beyond human comprehension.

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