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PARASHAT CHUKAT

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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook

(First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) “All culture, steeped in falsehood, will necessarily perish from the world, and in its place will rise a kingdom of the holy and sublime. The light of Israel will appear to create a world with nations of a new spirit, nations that will not mutter in vain nor be in an uproar against G-d and against His anointed.”

(Orot, HaMilchamah 15)




Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today: “Do Not Forget”

“When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Israelites were traveling along the Atharim Highway, he attacked them and took some captives” (Numbers 21:1). Rashi comments:
“This was Amalek, as it is said, ‘Amelek dwelled in the Negev’ (Numbers 13:29). They changed their language and spoke in the Canaanite tongue, so that the Israelites would pray to G-d to deliver the Canaanites into their hands —but they were not Canaanites. The Israelites saw that they were dressed in Amalekite clothing, but spoke the Canaanite tongue.

The difference between the Amalekites and Canaanites is that the goal of the Amalekites was to annihilate Israel, wherever they might be. They tried to do so immediately upon Israel’s exodus from Egypt in the first Amalekite war, won by Joshua, and down through the ages, all the other “Amalekites” and all who follow in their path have been trying to do the same. Examples include Haman, in the days of Mordechai and Esther; the foe from Germany, a generation ago in Europe; and his anti-Semitic torchbearers, the various enemies of Israel who unfortunately raise their heads even in our own generation. Heading the list is the head of Iran, who morning, noon and night proclaims his ambition of destroying Israel, and is also preparing practically to carry this out.

As opposed to the Amalekites, who wish to annihilate the Jewish People in all places and at all times, the Canaanites’ goal in their war against Israel was to prevent them from conquering the Land of Canaan. Seemingly this was the legitimate goal of any nation opposing those coming to conquer its land. The King of Arad, speaking Canaanite, went off to war, seemingly in order to defend his land from conquest. Truthfully, however, his goal was “Amalekite” in nature, i.e., to hurt and humiliate the Jewish People, and ultimately to destroy them.

Today, as well, our reality very much resembles that of the war of Arad. The Arabs attack us with the “Canaanite” claim that they are fighting against an occupation. Unfortunately, they have succeeded in convincing even some of our leaders, so much so that they have fallen prey to the temptation to think that establishing a state for the Arabs would cancel out the occupation and bring peace to Israel. Truthfully, however, the Arabs have “Amalekite” goals, i.e., the destruction of the State of Israel. Their goal in taking captive our soldiers in Lebanon and Gaza is first and foremost to humiliate us as a people and as a country, precisely the way the King of Arad did with the slave girl. Captives are not the private matter of their families. Rather, those captives went into battle on a national mission, and their being held captive is a disgrace for the entire nation. We must shake off our enemies’ claims that we are “occupiers”. We must unmask them and understand that we face a cruel enemy who explicitly wishes the annihilation of the Jewish People in general, and the State of Israel explicitly, just as all the anti-Semites have tried to do down through the generations.
Every day, and every moment, we must fulfill the mitzvah to “remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt… Blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom

 

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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“The People Are With Sderot”

If the spirit moves you to visit Sderot, do it! It’s not really dangerous. For the sake of a mitzvah, according to the Halachah, you can take a slight chance (Pit’chei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah 157, quoting Tiferet Yisrael on Berachot, at the end of Chapter 1), all the more so for the sake of the great mitzvah of settling the Land. As is well known, people sacrifice their lives for this mitzvah. Our brothers in Sderot have been there for many years, so you can be there for several days.

And if you live in Sderot, we view you with appreciation and esteem for standing strong on the border. A Jew once asked the Chazon Ish: “I live on the border. Perhaps I should move inward?” The Chazon Ish answered, “If everyone who lives on the border moved inward, the middle would become the border…”

All the same, dear Sderot resident, if you want to leave for a while to rest, to recharge your battery, that too is a mitzvah. Even an army officer sometimes has to take a break and relax. Fortunate is the nation living in Zion, that it has moral citizens, Sderot residents who recognize their duty, and citizens from outside Sderot who recognize their duty as well. We are waiting for our government to increase its own morality and understand that their duty is to fight against the wicked people who are turning our own citizens into unfortunates. Against these most evil human beings, against such beastly creatures, we cannot act with conciliation and tolerance, but with force and militarism.

One time a high-placed Knesset politician said, “When the Arabs lay down their weapons, there will be no more wars. When Israel lays down its weapons, there will be no more Israel!” (Binyamin Netanyahu).

All of us together must be strong and courageous. In our history, we have been through immeasurably harder times, and we shall survive this as well. Whoever looks with open eyes at what has happened to us during the last hundred years will see clearly that the Master-of-the-Universe has decided to restore His Divine Presence to Zion and to remember His people. We know which direction we must take, and we are taking it. We are looking forward, straight towards the light. We are continuing, we are growing stronger, overcoming our tribulations. We are becoming greater. We are approaching safe harbor. We shall arrive at good times.





Rabbi Azriel ArielGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“He Took Some Captives.” *

* (The article is dedicated as a prayer to G-d that He should speed the release of our captives and our MIA’s, amongst them Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive the week that Parashat Chukat was read a year ago, and Jonathan Pollard, who is rotting in an American jail cell.)


A great misfortune befell the Israelites as they were setting out for Eretz Yisrael. “When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Israelites were traveling along the Atharim Highway, he attacked them and took some captives from them [Hebrew: mimenu]” (Numbers 21:1). If we compare this event to other debacles that occurred during Israel’s wars, we will immediately discern that this event was not considered traumatic in the national consciousness. The reaction of the Israelites was not at all like that of Joshua after the defeat at Ai, where thirty-six fighters were killed. Joshua tore his garments, fell on his face, cried out to G-d, stoned Achan, and prepared in an entirely different manner for the second battle.

By contrast, the Israelites’ response was local and to the point: “The Israelites made a vow to G-d, and said, ‘If You give this nation into our hand, we will render their cities taboo’” (21:2). In this light, we can well understand our sages’ comment that those “captives” consisted only of a single female slave. The harm to Israel was symbolic, not tangible.

Yet between the lines we can get a profounder perspective on the event, as alluded in the Hebrew by one word: “mimenu” – from them, the people. The people understood that the capture affected them. They took no solace in the fact that it was “just” a female, Canaanite slave. It was “from them” – from their very flesh and blood. Also, it was “from them” – their own fault that it occurred (Ohr HaChaim).

The people’s guilt had found expression in Aaron’s death, which, in turn, had led to the disappearance of the clouds of glory [which the Midrash said had protected them from the dangers of the desert]. Aaron “loved peace and pursued it, loved his fellow man and brought them close to the Torah” (Avot 1:12). Aaron’s death reflected a serious flaw in national solidarity. The female slave’s capture spelled out and deepened anew the feeling of a shared fate, even with female slaves.

Israel’s reaction was twofold. First of all, they followed in the footsteps of Abraham, who upon hearing that his nephew, Lot, had been taken captive immediately went to war to save him. Moreover, like Abraham, they forewent any claims to booty. Abraham said, “Not a thread nor a shoelace! I will not take anything that is yours!” (Genesis 14:23), while the Israelites said, “We will render their cities taboo.”

That war had a twofold significance. Our sages draw our attention to the fact that the attackers were not Canaanites, but Amalekites disguised as Canaanites. The Israelites had a territorial quarrel with the Canaanites over Eretz Yisrael. Yet with the Amalekites, by contrast, it was an existential struggle, a fight over the very existence of the Jewish People. The Amalekites veiled their identity and their “Nazi” ideology, and they disguised themselves as Canaanites coming to defend their land and property from foreign invaders.

All that the Amalekites captured was property – slaves are mere chattel. Thus, they seemingly had not succeeded in harming Israel’s existence at all. They had only touched their property. Yet Israel understood that the true significance of what had occurred. Amalek, even when they attack us “just to take straw and chaff” [see Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 2:23], are really out to destroy us. It matters not whether they take Aaron captive, or a lowly slave girl.

Israel therefore went forth to an all-out battle against the King of Arad, even at the risk of losing the national elite in battle. And in order to emphasize that the struggle was not over property or territory but over their very survival, Israel vowed that the booty would be declared off-limits.

Indeed, G-d heard His children’s prayer: “G-d heard Israel’s voice, and He allowed them to defeat the Canaanites. [The Israelites] declared them and their cities taboo” (Numbers 21:3).



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