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Parshas Chukas 5770

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Chukas

Jun 17, 2010
The Bnei Yisroel came, the assemblage in its entirety, to the Desert of Tzin. Miriam died and was buried there. There was no water for the assemblage to drink. They congregated upon Moshe and Aharon. “Why did you bring the Congregation of Hashem to die in this desert?” Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the rock. Moshe erred. Instead he smote the rock. For their error, Moshe and Aharon were punished. Neither of them would merit entering Eretz Canaan. (1)


Miriam’s death directly follows the laws of the Parah Adumah. The Gemora explains, (2) that just as the Parah Adumah atones for the sins of Israel, so too does the death of Tzadikim. Understandably, the death of Tzadikim atones for their own sins. How does the death of Tzadikim atone for the sins of others?

Why is her death compared to the Parah Adumah? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to compare the atonement of her death to the Sin Offering (Korban Chatos)?

For what reason is this lesson learned from the death of Miriam. Is she the first Tzadik/Tzadekes to die?

The Medrash tells us that Moshe and Aharon gathered the Congregation before the rock. (3) The entirety of the Bnei Yisroel fit inside of a small area. This was a miracle. Hashem performs a miracle for good reason. Why was it so integral that Hashem should suspend the laws of space at this moment?

Background/Deeper Understanding

The miracle known as mu’at machzik es hemerubah (immensity contained in a small area) crops up in many settings.

When Moshe adorned Aharon and his sons with the priestly garments, he assembled the entire Congregation in a miniscule area. (4) And so,  Korach, when he  gathered the entire Eidah in front of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of Meeting), challenging Moshe, miraculously, all fit in the small area. (5) Upon crossing the Yarden, all were made to fit between the two poles of the Aron HaBris, by Yehoshua. (6)

And more. There was room for all of Israel to lodge in the city of Yerushalayim when they came up to the Temple. No one ever complained of lack of space. (7) In the courtyard of the Temple, when all were assembled pressed against one another, there was sufficient space to bow down. (7) The Aron HaBris, itself, took up no space in the Kodesh HaKadashim. (8)

In the time of King Yannai, there was an area in Eretz Yisroel called Har HaMelech. It contained 600,000 cites. Each city had 600,000 inhabitants (except for three, that had 1,200,000 inhabitants). The number of people is astounding!!! The sage Ulah exclaimed, “I’ve seen that area, it is not even large enough to contain 600,000 reeds”. Rav Chanina explained, Eretz Yisroel is called Eretz HaTzvi (Land of the Deer). It expands to embrace the Bnei Yisroel who live there. When the land is empty of the Jewish nation it contracts, as a deer hide. (9)

To gain even a glimmer of understanding in the above instances, the topic of makom (space) must be explored. Hashem, when He created the world, created space. Everything in creation exists within space. Each entity has its own unique space that it occupies. It is totally inconceivable for two things to occupy the same space. In order to go/travel from one entity to another, a process is required. New York and Cleveland are two separate places. If one is in Cleveland and wishes to go to New York he must progress from one place to another. Hashem created the world in this form for a purpose. In our world, as we know it, all who enter have a task, a responsibility. We must advance towards completion of our task. We are not born at the point of our final destination. There is a long road laid out before us. This is a vital function of the physical world. Humans are called mehalchim (travelers). (10)

Angels, on the other hand are called omdim (locked in place). (10) They have no trials or tests. They have no personal need to go anywhere. They are created “already there”. If they go anywhere, it is only for our sake.

Even in our mundane physical world, there exists a link, a place where the physical is imbued with the properties of the spiritual. The Ohel Mo’ed, Eretz Yisroel, the city of Yerushalayim, the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Kodesh Hakadashim all share a common thread. They are all representative of what will be when the world reaches its perfect state. They are like the domain of the Angels, exactly as Hashem envisioned at the dawn of creation. In Eretz Yisroel, even the dirt and the vegetation that grows within are imbued with sanctity. The Holy Abodes are to be built according to a divine scale, down to the minutest detail. The worship within performed by his holy attendants, the Levi’im and Kohanim, who earned the right to be the sole vanguards of the Temple, by defying their human nature.  Pinchos, the Kohen is known as Eliyahu Malach HaBris (The Angel of the Covenant). Even the slightest deviation in the service is a non-entity. The Mikdash, in Yerushalayim, in Eretz Yisroel, is a microcosm of the world that awaits us when the world reaches its final goal. Then, there will no longer be any need for the creation called makom (space). And so, space has no place there. (11)

On another track:

There are two types of people in this world, those who consider themselves a work in progress, and those who view themselves as finished products. Those who don’t feel the need to advance and improve themselves are spiritual descendants of Eisav HaRasha. His very name, Eisav means “done” or finished”. An inherent danger lies within this “theology”. If one is done and finished, then one has attained perfection. One is without blemish. Then, whatever one desires or wishes is perfection incarnate, for it emanates from a perfect being. This blindness is a result of the original sin of Adam HaRishon. Upon partaking of the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as, man internalized within himself, the ability to have his own agenda. If one’s goal is to fulfill the will of the Creator, then one must constantly advance towards that goal. If one believes that he may create his own path, then the journey is over even before it starts.


At the time of Miriam’s death, the Bnei Yisroel were whole. The entire generation of the Sin of the Golden Calf and of the Meraglim had passed away. (12) They were poised on the point of perfection.

The death of Tzadikim is an atonement. Tzadikim, when they die are completing a cycle. They entered a world of choices, seemingly empowered with the ability to worship one’s own set of values, with no higher goal in sight. A world filled with self-gratification, where all the pleasures of the world are free to be absorbed into one’s self, thereby going nowhere. And they rose above, and died the death of Tzadikim. Their death marks the end of a divinely imposed journey. It is not an end, but a new beginning. The experience of their demise affects all those who were in contact with them, all those who are exposed to the revelation that they died “a death of Tzadikim”. This world is the world of  “space”. It is incumbent upon us to go from one place to another. We have a higher responsibility to perfect ourselves. We have a responsibility to our Creator to mold ourselves in accordance with his will. If one dies in this manner, death is only a beginning. It is through death that one rids himself of the sin of Adam HaRishon, and then the journey continues … for all eternity. And their death serves as a cleansing process for all.

This is true of all Tzadikim, but particularly Miriam. The rock that supplied the Jewish nation with life sustaining water was in her merit. She is thus considered “The Mother of Life” and as such, she parallels the original mother, Chava. Her death was a kapparah, a cleansing of the sin of Chava Imeinu. The same is true of the Parah Adumah. It is the process of purifying death. (13).

Upon her death, the rock ceased giving its waters. No longer would it bring forth water in the merit of Miriam. It was incumbent upon the Jewish people to rise to her level, and the water would then return.

And so, they assembled together. Their state was such, that they attained the level of perfect spiritual beings. They took up no space. They were almost there.

Moshe was instructed to speak to the rock.

When one is forced by physical intimidation to perform the will of another that is considered the bending of one’s will. There are two wills at work, and one overpowers the other. Hashem required a demonstration, that there are no two “wills”. Our will and Hashem’s will are one and the same. We are as the rock, that no external force is necessary to bring forth its waters. Innately, upon hearing the expressed wish of its Creator, it performs. The very words that Moshe Rabeinu uttered contain the resounding echo of the sin of Adam HaRishon. He proclaims, “Hamin hasela hazeh notzi lachem mayim” (from this rock should we produce water). The word “Hamin” is found elsewhere in the Torah. Hashem said that very word to Adam upon questioning him, Hamin Ha’eitz? (Have you partaken of the tree). (14) And indeed, the numerical value of the word sela (rock) equals 160, the same gematria as the word eitz. (15) The Bnei Yisroel were on the verge of freeing themselves from the influence of the nachash. (16)

Instead he smote the rock, and an opportunity was lost.

May we all merit to sit in the Succah made of the skin of the Leviyoson, where all will fit, for there will be room for all. (17)

(1) Perek 20, Posuk 1
(2) Mo’ed Katan 28
(3) Rashi, Perek 20, Posuk 10
(4) Parshas Tzav, Perek 8, Posuk 3
(5) Parshas Korach, Perek 16, Posuk 19 (See Sefer Agra DiKallah)
(6) Breishis Rabbah, Parshah 5, Piska 7
(7) Pirkei Avos, Perek 5, Posuk 5
(8) Meseches Yoma 21a
(9) Meseches Gittin 57
(10) Zecharya, Perek 3, Posuk 7
(11) Rav Moshe Shapiro
(12) Rashi, Perek 20, Posuk 1
(13) Kli Yakar, Perek 20, Posuk 2
(14) Baal HaTurim, Perek 20, Posuk 10
(15) Kli Yakar, Perek 20, Posuk 8 (He has a different explanation for the gematria)
(16) Sefer HaKsav VeHaKabala
(17) Meseches Bava Basra 75 & HaRama MiPano
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