Parashas Chukas

This week’s parashah describes the process of burning a red heifer and using its ashes to purify people who became defiled through contact with a human corpse. According to Torah law, “contact” with a corpse includes being in a roofed structure together with a corpse. The Torah introduces this rule with the declaration (Bamidbar 19:14): “This is the law regarding a man who dies in a tent.” Our Sages, taking the word “tent” as an allusion to the tents of Torah study, remark (Berachos 63b): “The Torah abides only within a man who kills himself over it.” A common interpretation of this teaching is that a person can absorb Torah only by toiling over it “to the point of death.” The Maggid offers another interpretation, which we present below.
The Gemara teaches (Berachos 5a): “A person should always incite his good inclination against his evil inclination.” The idea here, the Maggid says, is that a person should strive to totally subdue his evil inclination and conquer it. Refraining from heeding the evil inclination’s urgings is only the initial stage. The ultimate goal is to confront the evil inclination head-on and gain complete mastery over it. For example, suppose a person decides to distance himself from worldly pleasures by not eating delicacies. He could maintain this practice of abstinence by keeping delicacies far away from him, so that his desire for them is not aroused by seeing them. But if he is a man of spiritual excellence, he will place delicacies in front of him, allow his desire to be aroused, and then deliberately disregard it. A person who has trained himself to regularly ignore overt temptation is a person who has truly conquered his evil inclination. In this connection, David HaMelech said of himself (Tehillim 109:22), “My heart is emptied out within me” – he had emptied his heart of the drive for for worldly gratification. When a person purges his evil inclination in this way, he has, so to speak, killed his animal self.
It is written (Tehillim 37:32): “The wicked one watches the righteous one and seeks that he should kill him.” The plain meaning of this verse is that the wicked one seeks to kill the righteous one, but the Maggid turns the verse around and interprets it as saying that the wicked one seeks to be killed by the righteous one. That is, although the evil inclination lies in wait to trap the righteous man, its true wish is for the righteous man to rise against it and kill it. The Sages teach (Avos 6:4): “This is the way of Torah – eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the ground; live a life of deprivation, and toil in the Torah.” The Maggid asks: Given that the Sages state that a person should eat bread with salt and drink water by measure, what are they adding by saying that a person should live a life of deprivation? The answer is that a person should constantly be deliberately depriving himself of worldly pleasures, in the manner we described above.
The Sages teach further (Berachos 18a-b): “The righteous, in their death, are called alive … and the wicked, during their life, are called dead.” By killing his evil inclination day after day, the righteous man achieves true life, in this world and the next. Conversely, the wicked man, by “living it up,” puts his spiritual self – his real self – to death, and he remains dead in this world and the next. Thus, the righteous man experiences the taste of death every day, but his departure from this world is imbued with spiritual vibrancy – one who is bound to Torah “mirthfully awaits the last day” (Mishlei 31:25). But it is not so with a wicked man on the day of his death; indeed, even before the day of his death he was already dead. It is written (Yechezkel 18:32): “I do not desire the death of the dead, says the Lord God, Hashem – turn [yourselves] back and live!” Hashem does not want a person to be already dead on the day of his death; rather, He wants a person to come truly alive by killing his animal self while is he is yet in his prime. Only then will the Torah abide within him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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