Parashas Chukas

Near the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah recounts an episode of successive conquests of the city of Cheshbon and its surroundings, with the Jewish People ultimately taking control. The territory originally belonged to Moav, was conquered by the Amorite king Sichon, and afterward was conquered by the Jews. As part of its account of this episode, the Torah records a ballad about Sichon’s initial conquest of the territory from Moav. The Torah states: “Regarding this, the bards (moshlim) would say, ‘Come to Cheshbon – let it built and established as the city of Sichon.” The Gemara expounds homiletically (Bava Basra 78a):
What does this verse teach? Moshlim refers to those who rule over (mosheil) their drives. They say, “Come and let us reckon the account (cheshbon) of the world – the cost of doing a mitzvah versus the gain, and the gain in committing a sin versus the loss.”
We previously presented a segment from the Maggid’s commentary on this teaching. We now present another segment. In this segment, the Maggid discusses a key difference between a person whose drives rule over him and a person who rules over his drives and whose actions are dictated by his intellect.
The Maggid’s discussion concerns the way a person relates to his relationships and his possessions. A person whose drives rule over him will often seek something simply for the pleasure it provides, even if the item does not serve a practical need. The Maggid (in the context of the period he lived in) gives the example of a clock. Suppose a person has a neighbor who owns a clock which chimes every quarter hour loudly enough that he can hear it. The person then does not need a clock, since he can tell time through his neighbor’s clock. But if he is ruled over by his drive for pleasure, he may well buy a fancy clock anyway, either for the delight he will have in enjoying its beauty or for the satisfaction he will have simply in owning a nice clock. By contrast, a person who operates according to his intellect focuses on the goal that the relationship or possession will help him achieve. In this vein, the Gemara relates (Shabbos 118b): “Said R. Yose, ‘All my days I never called my wife “my wife” or my ox “my ox.” Rather, I called my wife “my home” and my ox “my field.”’” In regard to his wife, R. Yose focused not on the pleasure she could provide him, but rather on her role as his partner in building a Jewish home. And in regard to his ox, he focused on its utility in providing a means of plowing his field.
Elsewhere, the Gemara teaches (Sukkah 46a-b): “Go and see how the nature of the Holy One Blessed Be He is not like the nature of a mortal man. A mortal man puts his wares into an empty vessel but not into a full one, while the Holy One Blessed Be He puts His wares into a full vessel but not into an empty one.” This teaching brings out a basic principle regarding human desire. When a person whose desire rule over him attains the object of his desire, he initially feels great pleasure, but over time the pleasure wears off, and eventually dissipates entirely. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 27:7): “The satiated soul loathes the honeycomb, but to the hungry soul, all bitter is sweet.” The Maggid elaborates on this principle in his commentary to Eichah 1:7. In particular, for a person who focuses on the pleasure he derives from his assets, the more money he amasses the less satisfaction he gets from it. But with a person who focuses on what his assets help him do, it is just the opposite: The more he acquires, the more satisfaction he gets, for he is able to accomplish more, especially in the area of mitzvos. In the Gemara’s words, he may be full, but he is always able to take in more. Along these lines, in concluding the discussion of the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits, the Torah says (Devarim 26:11): “You shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your God has given you.” He never gets tired of what Hashem grants him; everything he receives gives him satisfaction.
This idea is reflected in the following passage from Tehillim (verses 63:4-6):
Your kindness surpasses life; my lips continually praise You. Thus I will bless You all my life; in Your Name I will lift up my hands. My soul is sated as with fat and plenty, and my mouth praises You with joyful lips.
We can interpret what David HaMelech is saying to Hashem as follows: “All my life I will praise and bless You for the superlative good You granted me in the past, and at the same time I will lift my hands in Your Name to entreat You to grant me further good in the future. Although I am sated as with fat and plenty, my joy does not diminish in the way that a person’s delight in worldly pleasures diminishes after he attains them. Rather, since I focus on what I can accomplish with the good You grant me, my mouth will continue forever to praise You with joyful lips.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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