Parashas Chukas begins by describing the process of preparing ashes from a red heifer for use in purifying people from defilement due to contact with the dead. The law of the red heifer is the classic example of a chok – a Torah law whose reason we do not know. In Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8, the Midrash says that the red heifer atones for the sin of the golden calf. I would like, building on the Maggid’s teachings, to bring out a lesson from this Midrash.
We start by considering the motive behind the sin of the golden calf. Following the Kuzari, the Maggid explains that the making of the calf was not, far be it, driven by a desire to engage in crass idol worship. Rather, the Jews were trying to develop a way to connect with Hashem. Moshe went up to Mt. Sinai to have Hashem teach him the means of connecting with Him. But while the Jewish People were waiting for Moshe to come down, the Adversarial Angel (satan) tricked them by showing them the likeness of Moshe’s bier floating in the air. Having concluded that Moses had died, the people tried to figure out on their own the means of connecting with Hashem, which Moshe was supposed to convey to them. They came up with the lamentable idea of making a golden statue of a calf. Living in a time when people were accustomed to making figures in the likeness of some heavenly entity, the Jewish People’s misguided instinct led them to make the calf. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, the Jews had beheld the Divine Chariot, and they had seen that one of its wheels was in the form of the face of an ox (Shemos Rabbah 42:5). Hence, after concluding that Moshe had died, they decided to make a figure in the form of a calf, to use as a means of worshipping Hashem and drawing close to Him.
The people’s error was engaging in a form of worship that Hashem did not direct them to perform. In effect, they were not content to rely on Hashem’s control of affairs, but instead tried to take matters into their own hands. The remedy for this error was the law of the red heifer – a law that calls for us simply to follow Hashem’s word, without any understanding of the reason behind it.
The episode of Korach parallels the episode of the golden calf. Korach was not a crass person seeking personal glory. Rather, he wanted to draw closer to Hashem, and he felt that the system of appointments that Moshe had instituted (which, in fact, was legislated by Hashem) was unfairly limiting him. He sought the kehunah in order to be able to connect more closely with Hashem. He did not leave matters under Hashem’s control, but instead tried to take them into his own hands. He did not realize that his position, rather than being a straitjacket, was specifically designed as the means through which he could draw close to Hashem to the maximum degree.
As we go through the ups and downs of life, we must submit ourselves to Hashem’s control, and avoid feeling anxiety or discontent about our situation. We must realize that nothing that comes upon us limits from connecting to Hashem; on the contrary, everything that comes upon us is designed to help us draw closer to Him.David Zucker, Site Administrator