Friday, July 6, 2007

CHUKAT- ON THE PARADOX OF FIGHTING FOR PEACE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



The Red Heifer (parah adumah) is perplexing. It is considered the ultimate "chok," or statute, because no rational explanation seems forthcoming. Those who became ritually impure, or tameh (conTAMinated), could only reverse their condition via contact with the ashes.

Perhaps that is the origin of the English word "pure," a connection to the idea of the ashes of the PaRah (PU-reh) that had the power to render one spiritually cleansed. But I digress. The ultimate paradox of it all is that everyone who is involved in the process of the making of the ashes of the purifying red heifer became IMpure in that very same process! That is the ultimate quandary, the great PARAdox.

PARAH is also connected to PURim, the great holiday of cleansing all the blockages that keep the Jewish people from their unity with themselves and Hashem, their source of strength. Although Purim comes from the Persian word for lottery, as lots were used to choose the date for the annihilation of world Jewry, G*d forbid, in a deeper sense it is connected to the idea of PaRah Adumah. They each share the same root letters- the Pey and the Reysh, thus forging a cosmic connection- for in the language of Edenic lore, all words are ultimately connected to their Hebraic root source.

Confusing to many readers of the Purim story is the actual placement of the ora ve'simcha.
The Light and Happiness (Orah veSimcha) given to the Jews in the story of Purim was not connected to the RESULTING victory and redemption at the end of the story, but rather to the initial IDEA of self-defense, that we must necessarily play a role in our own redemption. Precisely when the king decrees that the Jews may defend themselves is when the Jews had "light and happiness, (unexpected) joy and respect..orah vesimcha, sasson veyikar." To reiterate, the light, representing arousal or awakening, appeared FIRST at the initial germinating IDEA of self defense, not as its victorious celebratory consequence.

In the PURim story Esther needed to gird herself for spiritual battle (fasting and prayer) and risk her life to go "sans appointment" before the king. To face the king at the non-appointed time might possibly result in death. But avoiding the problem and wishing for peace only postpones an inevitable but now certain demise. Peace is a noble ideal, a truly noble end. But the Torah is teaching us that we have to be ready to fight for peace, if need be. Prayers for peace must be wed to action for war. Laying down arms and making concessions in the face of evil for the sake of peace only emboldens evil in the world. It is not true peace that is achieved by such means, only the ostrich-like surrender to fear.

The rabbis struggled with the military aspects of Chanukah, placing the Book of the Maccabees outside of the canon, albeit out of a sense of disgust with the morally corrupt Hasmoneans, who, being of priestly lineage, should have returned the throne to Judah.
Similarly, many people have a problem with any military association with Purim, of recounting the battles and the victories. Many even have problems with the idea of an army altogether, that somehow armies in and of themselves foster war. Surely, G*d would not permit the annihilation of the entire Jewish people in the Holocaust. Allied forces saw to that. Similary, G*d would not permit the destruction of Israel in 1948 or 1967 or 5767. Acting through the vessel of the man-made IDF, peace and security would come about through the necessary precondition of armed might. To ensure world peace in WW2, good people needed to rise up to do battle against evil dictators. And *then* G*d would help. The "arousal from below" arouses Divine aid from above (letata itaer le'eila). And why the emphasis on the Book of Esther as any kind of proof text at all? Because it is said that in the Messianic Age the only holidays we will still celebrate will be Purim and Chanukah- each reflecting the salvific messianic idea of letata itaer le'eila, representing both exilic and non-exilic loci respectively.

In this parsha we see the death of Israel's beloved assistant leadership- Miriam and Aaron.
Knowing that Moses' passing is not far off, and now beset by wars before they even enter the Land of Israel as the forty years are up, they rightly ask themselves, is this how it will always be? What price freedom? We had no wars in Egypt! The parah adumah provides the answer. The dumb cow's ashes speak to the people in mute silent testimony. You worry about wars? Trust in Hashem and you will taste true freedom.You will have earned the blessing of being an Ohel Met, of dying in your own tent in the fullness of your years.

This is the meaning, then, of the paradox of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Just as the notion of "fighting for peace" seems contradictory and paradoxical, so too does the notion of "impurifying through purity," embodied in the ash making process of the red heifer, seem improbable. But that is the cosmic law of the universe. It is to teach us that while logic would dictate that one cannot fight for peace, and thus logically we should embrace pacifism, the Torah is giving us a higher logic. It is a logic of learning to be responsible for our own fate. Peace doesn't just happen. You have to work for it. And sometimes that even means fighting for it.

Shabbat Shalom © 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman This Torah is dedicated to the soul ascent in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben HaRav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman, z"l., whose yahrzeit is in Tammuz (27).

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor." - Aish Kodesh
"As you want G*d to give you a chance, give everyone else a chance to also begin again." - Shlomo Carlebach

About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!