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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Chukas 5775 "A Paradoxical Eternity"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“This is the decree of the Torah… a completely red cow, without blemish…”[1]

Rashi explains that Satan and the nations would taunt Klal Yisroel about parah adumah. Therefore, the Torah states that it is ‘a decree of the Torah’; therefore no one has the right to question it.

There are many laws in the Torah for which we are not privy to reasons, such as shatnez and the prohibition of eating milk and meat together. Why did they specifically question parah adumah?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita explains that offering the parah adumah entails many seemingly paradoxical components. The color red symbolizes blood and murder, so why is a completely red animal used as the offering to purify from tumah of a dead body?

In addition, when the ashes of the parah adumah were sprinkled, the pure sprinkler became impure while the impure recipients of the sprinkling become pure. It is those inherent contradictory components that the nations question and mock.

On a deeper level, parah adumah represents the complexity and paradox of life. Klal Yisroel is the holiest and most elite of all nations, and yet there is no nation so persecuted and afflicted. We witness righteous people suffer and malicious sinners prosper.

The nations scoff and mock us just as they mock the parah adumah. About both of them our response is “This is the decree of the Torah – it is a decree from before Me”.

The following is excerpted from תורת ממאור עינינו, a pamphlet of Torah thoughts from Rabbi Leible Chaitovsky delivered in Ashar[2], which I was privileged to author and disseminate at this year’s Ashar graduation:

“A number of years ago, a girl from Russia joined Ashar in 7th grade. At that time it was still prevalent for children coming out of the recently disbanded communist U.S.S.R. to come to yeshivos in America.

“This girl was an only child of her Russian parents. After not having had the opportunity to learn anything about Judaism in Russia, they very much wanted their daughter to receive a Jewish education.

“Her parents performed menial jobs which paid little, so they could afford the tuition payments to send her to Ashar.

“When she first arrived she barely spoke any English. She had a very difficult experience and it was completely an uphill climb for her. She didn’t understand much of what was taught in English, and she didn’t know one word of Hebrew.

“She would go home each night after school and try to review and understand what was taught in school.

“Her teachers offered her extra time and tried to help her along. She worked very hard and reviewed everything she learned, including to incorporate new words into her lexicon.

“At first she had no friends and would review each night with her parents.

“I had her as a student when she entered eighth grade. When I would teach she would stick her head out into the aisle and watch my eyes diligently watching my every move. I felt like she was a sponge absorbing everything I said.

“When the faculty met to discuss which student should be valedictorian, it was unanimously agreed that it should be her.

“At graduation when she got up to speak you could have heard a pin drop. It was one of the most moving speeches ever given in that old Ashar auditorium. She spoke about her parent’s struggle to maintain Judaism in Russia. She lauded her parents and thanked them for all they did for her.

“There was one thing she didn’t share, that we only found out later. Students often hang up pictures or mementos which excite or (rarely) inspire them in their lockers. In the back of her locker there was one small photo – it was of her parents. She said that every time she opened her locker she thought about how much sacrifice they invested to send her to a Jewish school where she could learn Torah. It would have been so much easier to send her to public school, but they accepted the challenge because it was important to them. She related that it was their selfless sacrifice that inspired her to do her utmost to be successful.

“When Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh demanding that he release the Jews from Egypt, the first sign they displayed was Aharon’s staff transforming into a snake. But the real miracle was when Aharon’s staff swallowed the Pharaoh’s and the Egyptian advisors’ staffs. Incredibly, even after it swallowed the other staffs Aharon’s staff did not expand or change at all.

“That miracle was reminiscent of another event which occurred in Egypt a few centuries earlier. At the beginning of Parshas Miketz, the Torah relates the dream of Pharaoh in which seven skinny stalks swallowed seven healthier stalks and yet they remained the same.

“That dream symbolized Yosef himself – the greatest underdog story in the history of the world. A Jew alone in jail, cast away and abandoned, then became second to the king literally overnight.

“The miracle of Aharon’s stick swallowing their sticks wasn’t meant to scare Pharaoh and the Egyptians, although it almost invariably did. It was meant to symbolize to Moshe and Aharon themselves – don’t think there’s no chance here. Don’t think the situation is beyond repair! Remember Yosef’s dream! The Jews will yet swallow up all of Egypt. Former slaves will assume dominance over the country, and no one from ancient Egypt will remain.

“We need to maintain a mental image in our metaphorical lockers of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who risked so much, who gave their blood, so that we could learn Torah today, so that we can recite berachos, so that we can wear tefillin and tzitzis without fear, so that we can daven together in unison. We need to keep that mental image in our minds; it needs to inspire us.

“Moshe and Aharon were encouraged by the dreams and saga of Yosef, and so should we be as well!”

The Parah Adumah symbolizes to us the paradoxical eternity of our people. Though we have never had it easy we have always persevered because we have never forgotten the sacrifices of those who have given all so that we can continue to bear the banner of Torah. It may be a long and arduous journey but we live with the confidence of knowing that the day will come when Aharon’s staff will again swallow the staffs of all the scoffers and all will know the truth.

“The seven thin sheaves swallowed the seven healthy sheaves”

“This is the decree of the Torah”

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[1] Bamidbar 19:2

[2] Yeshivas Hadar Avrohom Tzvi - known as “Ashar” - is the yeshiva where I am privileged to serve as fifth grade rebbe and Guidance Counselor

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