B”H
CHUKAS
TORAH BRIEF
CHUKAS
Are you a rational person?
Most people think they are.
The truth is that most people are not always rational. They base their behavior on convention and habit. If enough people accept a certain lifestyle, it’s deemed normal and rational to engage in it. Even if I’m the only one to behave a certain way, if I do it often enough it becomes second nature to me and I would think it is rational.
So if we’re really frequently driven by non-rational ideas, instead of being below the line of rationality let us go above and beyond the level of rationality.
This is precisely the theme of this week’s parsha: Chukas. It is about following an enigmatic commandment that was designed to go above our intellect. These commands are often referred to as “supra” or “trans” rational.
To some people, the belief in the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption is irrational. The truth is that it is eminently rational to accept the notion that G‑d’s world will one day conform to His plan.
But if we insist on the supra-rational let us recognize that Moshiach will introduce us to a supra-rational world; a world in which the rational and the supra-rational will coexist.
 
 
WHERE IS MOSES’ NAME?
 
The Song’s Omissions 
Moses was verbally assailed by the children of Israel because they no longer had water. The faithful rock that traveled with them in the desert for the last 38 plus years no longer functioned. Miriam, in whose merit G‑d provided the people with the miraculous source of water, passed away and with her passing the water miracle ceased as well.
G‑d instructs Moses to take his staff and speak to the rock and ask it to provide them with water. Moses strikes the rock instead and water flows. G‑d was unhappy that Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Moses was “punished” with a decree that he would not live to cross into the Promise Land.
When the Jewish people witnessed the great miracle of the water coming from the rock, they sang praise to G‑d.
A question has been raised about this song: why didn’t the song mention Moses by name?  After all, when the well which provided them with water in Miriam’s merit ceased, it was restored in Moses’ merit. Why wouldn’t his role be mentioned if he was the one responsible for the water?
Rashi addresses this question and states that the reason for this lacuna is that Moses suffered on account of the water.
While the water came in his merit, he nevertheless suffered on its account. The absence of his name indicated that his stature was diminished, as his life was cut short and he was denied the privilege of entering into the Promised Land.
 
Where was G‑d?
But this raises another question, why is G‑d’s name not mentioned in a song, sung to express gratitude to Him for the miracle of the water? How could a song of praise to G‑d not mention His name?
Rashi addresses this question as well, and states that G‑d did not want His name mentioned because Moses’ name was absent.
Rashi then provides us with a parable of a king who was invited to a party. When he discovered that his beloved friend was not invited, he also did not feel comfortable attending.
 
A Similar but Different Omission
The omission of Moses from this song, concerning the miracle of the water, reminds us of a similar absence of Moses’ name from Parshas Tetzaveh. This lapse, commentators state, was due to Moses telling G‑d that if He did not forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf, then “erase me from Your book.” Although G‑d did spare the Jewish people, G‑d “granted” Moses his wish and “erased” his name from that parsha.
However, in that parsha, G‑d’s name is mentioned several times. Why did G‑d not say, in that instance,  that if His beloved friend’s name was absent so too should His name be deleted?
 
Two Distinct Situations
The answer is that these were two very different situations. In Parshas Tetzaveh, Moses’ name was left unmentioned to underscore the self-sacrifice that truly defined Moses’ greatness. Indeed, as the Rebbe explains, the absence of his name there is because his name does not do justice to his true greatness. Moses’ essence, which transcended his name, was manifested when he was shown as willing to sacrifice that which was most precious to him for the sake of the Jewish people by asking for his name to be erased from the Torah. The absence of Moses’ name expressed something greater than his name. It expressed Moses’ essence; his powerful love for the Jewish people.
In our parsha, by contrast, Moses’ behavior in striking the rock was a sign of a diminished love for them. G‑d asked him to speak gently to the rock, but Moses spoke harshly and angrily to the Jewish people and used force against the rock. This suggested that his unmitigated, unconditional and essential love for the Jewish people was not at its highest point.
 
Faithful Shepherd
We may still be troubled with the fact that Moses’ love for his people had diminished to the point where his name had to be deleted and, with that, G‑d’s name as well. How could the man characterized by our Sages as the Raya Mehemna-the faithful shepherd so decline in his love for the Jewish people near the end of his life? Isn’t there a well-known principle that the righteous always ascend in their spiritual journey? Yet, Moses seemed to have declined.
The truth is that Moses did not change; it was the Jewish people who changed.
The relationship of a true spiritual leader to his flock is based on the degree to which the people show their support, attachment and dedication to him. When the people distance themselves from the leader, the leader’s spiritual light reflects back to them in a diminished form.
 
No Substitute for Moses
Moses’ love to the Jewish people at the time they worshipped the Golden Calf did not diminish the love the people had for Moses. In fact, the reason they created the Golden Calf was because they feared that Moses disappeared, never to return. It was not a rebellion against Moses. Indeed, the Jewish people refused to replace Moses with another human being. Even his brother Aaron was not a candidate because they couldn’t bear to see anyone take Moses’ place. The only “substitute” they felt comfortable with was an inanimate calf so that nobody could have the notion that any human being could possibly replace Moses.
Since their love for him did not diminish, the Jewish people were able to absorb Moses’s love for them. This translated itself into Moses’ willingness to be erased from the Torah to save them.
In this week’s parsha, however, the relationship between the people and Moses was different. The people openly rebelled against him when their water supply dried up. By creating a barrier between themselves and Moses they could not be receptive to his light and essence. Moses’ love for them did not change; their receptivity to that love did.
Hence, the withholding of Moses’ name here was unlike the deletion in the Golden Calf story. There it reflected a love transcending his name. Here, it reflected a loss of connectivity and thus receptivity even to Moses’ name, let alone his essence. Because it reflected the strained relationship with Moses, G‑d too said He did not feel comfortable. When our relationship with Moses is compromised it also conceals G‑d’s relationship with us.
 
Connecting to Moshiach
The lesson for our times is that in our requests for Moshiach, the ultimate successor to Moses, his closeness to us is commensurate with our connection and devotion to him.
The Rebbe emphasized that a king is empowered when the nation declares “Yechi Hamelech-Long live the king.” This was not simply a wish for long life, but it expressed the people’s acceptance of his sovereignty and his empowerment. This is based on the dictum of our Sages, “there is no king without a nation.” The nation determines the quality of the leadership of the king.
The Rebbe then explained that this symbiotic relationship is even more pronounced with regard to Moshiach based on the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teaching that every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. When we ignite our sparks, we empower Moshiach to do his part by redeeming us.