This week’s parsha is jam packed with many subjects, most of which are seemingly unrelated. However a closer examination shows a common theme threaded throughout – the power of the tzaddikim and attachment to them.
The first topic is the para aduma. Rashi brings that part of the reason that davka a para is needed is to fix the sin of the egel hazahav – the mashal that a maid’s son messed up the kings palace, they said let the child’s mother come and clean up his mess. The egel itself was tied into the concept of the tzaddik as Rashi brings that the justification for making it was that Am Yisrael mistakenly believed Moshe had died and they wished to have a replacement to access the conduit to Hashem he served as for them. Thus, at its root, fixing the sin of the egel (via the para aduma) is tied to fixing our relationship with the tzaddik. Additionally Reb Noson brings in his Lekutei Halachot that the concept of the para aduma is further tied to Moshe Rabbeinu as Chazal says that all ashes of future para adumas had to have mixed in some of the ashes of Moshe’s original para aduma from the midbar.
The next event in our parsha is the death of Miriam. Rashi there cites the Gemara in Moed Katan that Miriam’s passing is mentioned right after the sugya of the Para to teach that just as korbanot (such as the para aduma) atone, so too is atonement granted through the death of tzaddikim. He additionally mentions that the water of the be’er ran out when Miriam passed away to show that Am Yisrael’s entire time in the midbar, the be’er gave water in the zchut of Miriam. This is similar to Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa, who Hashem attested lived off a few servings of carobs for the whole week, yet his merit granted sustenance for the entire rest of the world during his generation.
Next Moshe sends emissaries to the king of Edom asking to pass through his land. Later in our parsha the passuk states that Israel sent emissaries to Sichon. Rashi there cites Yiftach’s retelling of these events in sefer Shoftim where he said that Moshe sent the emissaries to show that in both cases it was actually Moshe who sent them. Why in one case is the entire nation of Israel mentioned as having sent them if Moshe did in both instances? Rashi says it is to show us “Sh’nasi hador hu k’kol hador, ki hanasi hu hakol.” Not only is the entire generation tied into the tzaddik of that generation but everything in the world is. This is as Shlomo haMelech stated, “Tzaddik Yesod Olam” (the tzaddik is the foundation of the world).
Following this Aharon haKohen passes away. Immediately afterwards the clouds of glory depart and Amalek attack. This teaches that the clouds only appeared the entire time in the midbar in the zchut of Aharon, and additionally that the zchut of the tzaddikim protects am Yisrael, however when their zchut isn’t protecting us G-d forbid we become vulnerable. There is a story that once people rushed into the beit midrash of Rav Moshe Feinstein saying that a little Jewish boy had been hit by a car right around the corner. Rav Moshe calmly told them that it wasn’t true. The exclaimed that they had seen the boy laying in the street with his kippah right next to him in the road. Rav Moshe repeated that it couldn’t possibly be as it appeared to them. Later they found out that the boy was indeed not Jewish, but had stolen the kippah of a Jewish boy who was chasing him to get it back. As he was trying to run away from the Jewish boy he ran into the street without looking and straight into the path of the car. The witnesses asked Rav Moshe if he was a navi. He replied, I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, however I simply knew that in the zchut of my learning something like this couldn’t possibly happen in my vicinity. Additionally the location of Aharon’s passing on Hor haHar is significant. The Zohar hakadosh says that Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe Rabbeinu were specifically buried in the spots they were so that the three of them could be semi-surrounding the land of Israel and therefore provide a constant protective spiritual shield to it through their zchut.
Next is the story of the Be’er testifying to Am Yisrael of the miracle that Hashem had killed enemies they didn’t even know were waiting to kill them. Rashi brings of the Be’er that each nasi from the 12 tribes would take his staff and carve a line in the ground from the rock until it reached the camp of their particular tribe. The water would then flow following their line until it reached their tribe so that each tribe would have its own direct water source. Reb Noson says in his Lekutei Halachot that this is representative of the tzaddikim drawing forth the water of the “Be’er Maim Chaim” i.e. the wellsprings of Torah to draw bracha and sustenance to those attached to them.
Finally the parsha concludes with the war against Og. The passuk states that Hashem told Moshe, “Al tira oto,” (don’t fear him), regarding Og. However previously when battling his equally enormous brother Sichon (both brothers were roughly the height of the World Trade Center) there is no indication that Moshe was fearful. If Moshe didn’t need worry about defeating Sichon, why would he need to be afraid of confronting Og? However Rashi states that as Og had once unintentionally helped Avraham Aveinu, he was worried his zchut might protect Og and therefore he required Hashem’s reassurance that it would not. The Zohar examines the matter a little deeper and interprets the words “Al tira oto” as “Al tira ot shelo,” i.e. don’t fear his “ot”. The word “ot” is often used to refer to the brit milah. The Zohar states that as Og was a member of Avraham’s household (some opinions hold he is none other than Eliezer) he was included in those circumcised by him. Unlike Sichon, Og had received a brit milah from Avraham and Moshe was worried that such a spiritual protection might be enough to even give him victory over Am Yisrael. However the Zohar says that as Og didn’t keep the laws of sexual purity and defiled his milah, he no longer had a zchut from it and therefore Moshe had nothing to fear. This could be hinted at by the fact the word “oto” is spelled in the passuk missing a vav. In the language of the kabbalah the letter vav represents the sixth sefira of Yesod, which in turn is anthropomorphized by brit milah and Yosef haTzaddik who was the epitome of upholding the laws associated with this. Additionally his very title “tzaddik” suggests that the concept of the tzaddik is tied in with the sefirah of Yesod, and as we mentioned before “tzaddik yesod olam.” Because Og defiled his milah, he lost his connection to the sefira of yesod, and therefore his connection to the concept of the tzaddik and this removed any protection that may have prevented his being defeated.
On this parshat Chukat, may we all be blessed to have faith in and connection to the tzaddikim – true emunat chachamim - and may their merit protect us and all of Am Yisrael.