Chukat - The Perfect Combination

The kohen shall take a piece of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool, and cast them into the burning of the cow.
. וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת וְהִשְׁלִיךְ אֶל תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה

 Bamidbar 19:6

There are a few interesting aspects to this verse.
  • First this is not the first time that we have this combination of materials brought together for spiritual purification. We saw these elements back in Parshah Metzorah, however they appeared in a different order. Why in our parshah do elements "cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool" appear in a new order?
  • Second why do these elements specifically have to appear after the burning of the Parah Adumah.

  Downfall from Arrogance

Then the kohen shall order, and the person to be cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop.
וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת טְהֹרוֹת וְעֵץ אֶרֶז וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב
Vayikra 14:4
We learn that the affliction of Metzorah comes as a result of speaking badly (gossip and slander) - loshon harah.
Further did R. Yohanan say in the name of R. Yoseph b. Zimra: Any one who speaks 'loshon harah' will be visited by the plague of leprosy, as it is said: He who slanders his neighbor in secret, I cut him down; one whose eyes are raised up high and his heart is expansive, I cannot tolerate him. (Tehilim 101:5)
Erechin 15B
Many of the commentators, like Rashi,  point out how the cedar stick represents arrogance. For just as the cedar is tall and mighty so also the arrogant person holds his head high, overly believing in his own self-importance. Further we see the combination of the elements - 'a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop' where the hyssop is a lowly bush, shows us the dramatic arc that arrogance takes us. From the great heights and sense of self-importance, arrogance draws us down, bringing out the worst in us, pulling to low points as represented by the hyssop bush.

Ultimate Combination

So if the cedar stick is strongly symbolic of arrogance and the hyssop represents the low state that this arrogance can bring us, then why put the cedar and the hyssop next to each other in our parshah. The Slonimar Rebbe takes a different perspective on these two elements, noting how the pride of the cedar represents the holy pride that Aharon HaKohen encompasses in his service, and the lowly hyssop represents the profound humility as depicted by Moshe. 

The Rebbe says bringing together these great traits - a proud holy leader and a humble, insightful leader - create the ultimate combination for spiritual and national leadership. 

Personal Strength

Going deeper, the Rebbe doesn't just bring these two elements on the national, but also on the personal level. He says that we bring into our own lives a strong sense of pride about our spiritual potential and couple that with deep humility we can reach amazing spiritual levels. 


However the spiritual potential can only be reached by first taking care of material issues. That is shown by the order of elements that go into the special mixture. The verse states "cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool, and cast them into the burning of the cow," where the cow, the mighty, fleshy beast, represents materialism. So the mixture that is prepared to purify those suffering from impurity of the dead, starts by burning the cow - removing our material drives. Only then, after removing our removal passions, then can we empower this combination of spiritual pride and humility to reach great spiritual heights, and draw closer to Hashem.

Shlach - Power of the Tzaddik

And the L-rd said, "I have forgiven them in accordance with your word.
  וַיֹּאמֶר  ה' סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ 
Bamidar 14:20

Rashi says for in accordance with your word: Because of what you said, namely,“They might say that Hashem lacks the ability..."

Kedushat Levi is quite surprised by Rashi's statement, explaining the meaning of Rashi as where Moshe prayed to Hakadosh Baruch Hu in support of Yisrael with the claim that there shouldn't be (ח"ו) a chillul hashem (desecration of the name) as mentioned in the verse But the Egyptians will hear: meaning "They will hear that You killed them."

This is difficult! Does it not lie with the Hakadosh Baruch Hu the thoughts of all mankind, and aren't all the ways of man bent towards the will of Hashem? Then shouldn't Hashem simply be able to bend the thoughts of the nations to not say anything critical of Hashem and not have a chillul hashem?

However the power of a Tzaddik's speech makes a great impression both above and below, as it says in Iyov "You will make a decision, and it will be accomplished for you, and light will shine on all your ways."(Iyov 22:28) -  וְתִגְזַר אוֹמֶר וְיָקָם לָךְ וְעַל דְּרָכֶיךָ נָגַהּ אוֹר.

Moses said to Hashem "But the Egyptians will hear that You have brought this nation out from its midst with great power.
  וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל ה' וְשָׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי הֶעֱלִיתָ בְכֹחֲךָ אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה מִקִּרְבּוֹ
Bamidbar (14:13)

Since Moshe said in his prayer that there may be a desecration of the name of Hashem (ח"ו) if Yisrael would be annihilated. This is what Rashi means by  "Because of what you said, namely,'They might say that Hashem lacks the ability...'" It is as though Hashem is saying to Moshe that your concern of what the nations of the world would say is legitimate and has made a profound impression unlike if someone else would raise this issue, just as the verse says in Iyov - and light will shine on all your ways -  about the power of Tzaddik.

Shlach - Thought Precedes Action

If because of the eyes of the congregation it was committed inadvertently, the entire congregation shall prepare a young bull as a burnt offering for a pleasing fragrance for the L-rd with its prescribed meal offering and libation, and one young he goat for a sin offering.
וְהָיָה אִם מֵעֵינֵי הָעֵדָה נֶעֶשְׂתָה לִשְׁגָגָה וְעָשׂוּ כָל הָעֵדָה פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר אֶחָד לְעֹלָה לְרֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לה' ומִנְחָתוֹ וְנִסְכּוֹ כַּמִּשְׁפָּט וּשְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּת

Bamidbar 15:24
Why is the sin offering (חַטָּת)  spelled without an Aleph?

for a sin-offering: Heb. לְחַטָּת [This word] is missing an ‘aleph,’ because this [sin-offering] is different from all other sin-offerings. In the case of all the other sin-offerings [mentioned] in the Torah which are brought together with a burnt offering, the sin-offering precedes the burnt offering, as it says, “he shall make the second one a burnt offering” (Lev. 5:10), but this one-the burnt offering-precedes the sin-offering. - [Hor. 13a]

The Kli Yakar explains the sin offering referred to is about the sin of Avoda Zara, which is really being denial of the entire Torah. Every sin is bound by thought and action, for all action precedes thought, for if one faults without intention this is not sin rather Force majeure.  Thus every sinner must bring 2 offerings - Oleh for the thoughts and Hatat for the action. Even though the thoughts generally lead to the action, in any case action is worse than thought for HaKodesh Baruch Hu doesn't punish for mere thoughts.

In every case, the action is the main aspect to the sin, that is why the Hatat is brought first to remove the major part of the sin and then the Olah. Except in the case of Avoda Zara, since the thought in the sin of Avoda Zara, that is the essence of the sin since this is dependent upon one's intimate beliefs. Thus Olah precedes Hatat here to remove the greater sin first.

Now we can understand why the Hatat is missing the Aleph. For Aleph is the first letter and comes to represent the intimate connection of Hashem with living creations. The sinner that commits Avoda Zara denies this connection. Thus the Aleph is missing showing that we are talking about Avoda Zara.

Shlach - Actively Seeking

From Rabbeynu Bechayai

Every week Rabbeynu Bechayai captures the theme of the week's parsha in a verse from Mishlei.
A steed is prepared for a day of battle, but the victory is the L-rd's
סוּס מוּכָן לְיוֹם מִלְחָמָה ולה' התשועה
Mishlei 21:31

This emphasizes that the theme of the parshah is saying that we should not rely on miracles, but need to take action ourselves and to do everything that we can in the most natural way possible, to the fullest extent that our strength allows - and only then leave the rest to the Hands of Heaven. For miracles come to complement where nature lacks, and man as a part of nature has to work in this world to fulfill Hashem's will.

In preparing for war against one's enemy (a worthy opponent)  we need to prepare instruments of war, horses, and chariots. For if we are not prepared and look to rely on miracles, we will fall into the hands of our enemy. We are not expected to necessarily succeed, but to definitely try with all our own power.

I found this surprising considering the dramatic events that take place, with cataclysmic turn and its impact on Jewish history. QUESTION: How does the events of the parshah underscore this theme?

A Good Land

Moses sent them to scout the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, "Go up this way in the south and climb up the mountain.  You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak? Are there few or many? And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities in which they reside are they in camps or in fortresses? What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land."
Bamidbar 13:17-20
The status of the land is repeated and is central to the instructions that Moshe gives. He did not expect that the spies would report that the land is bad, but expected for them to say it is good. Moshe's instructions carry clear expectations that the spies are meant to return from their mission and declare how good the land that Hashem has promised really is.

Their journey is a good one and the destination is good. But out of the spies response, our journey begins to collapse.

Why did they tour Eretz Yisroel specifically for 40 days?

According to the number of days which you toured the Land forty days, a day for each year, you will [thus] bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation.
 בְּמִסְפַּר הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר תַּרְתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם יוֹם לַשָּׁנָה יוֹם לַשָּׁנָה תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵיכֶם אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וִידַעְתֶּם אֶת תְּנוּאָתִי
Bamidbar 14:34
The Torah exacts a punishment of a year for every day of waywardness. Why?
This gave the spies an impetus to demand a return to Egypt - "Is it not better for us to return to Egypt", for they knew that Egypt was destined to sit forsaken for 40 years.

Kli Yakar

 No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, it shall not be inhabited for forty years. And I will make the land of Egypt desolate even amongst the desolate lands, and its cities, a desolation even amongst cities in ruins, forty years.
 לֹא תַעֲבָר בָּהּ רֶגֶל אָדָם וְרֶגֶל בְּהֵמָה לֹא תַעֲבָר בָּהּ וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה. וְנָתַתִּי אֶת אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁמָמָה בְּתוֹךְ | אֲרָצוֹת נְשַׁמּוֹת וְעָרֶיהָ בְּתוֹךְ עָרִים מָחֳרָבוֹת תִּהְיֶיןָ שְׁמָמָה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה
Yechezkel 29:11-12
"it shall not be inhabited for forty years"
Forty-two years of famine were decreed in Pharaoh’s dream.
- Corresponding to the 3 times the dreams are told.
1) Pharoah Dreams (Breisheit 41:1-7)
7 plump cows
[7] thin cows
7 healthy stalks of grain
[7] thin stalks of grain [14]

2) Pharaoh retells dreams to Yosef (Breisheit 41:17-24)
7 plump cows
[7] thin cows
7 healthy stalks of grain
[7] thin stalks of grain [28]

3) Yosef tells Pharaoh back his dream (Breisheit 41:25-31)
7 plump cows
[7] thin cows
7 healthy stalks of grain
[7] thin stalks of grain [42].
But they had only 2 years of famine, as it is stated (ibid. 45:6): “For it is two years now that the famine has been on earth,” and when Jacob came down to Egypt, the famine ceased, for behold in the third year they sowed, as it is stated (ibid. 47:19): “and then you give us seed that we may live etc.,” and the forty years were paid to them now.
 Rashi - Yechezkel 29:11
The spies knew that the Egypt still needed to suffer another 40 years of either desolation or famine. Therefore the spies wandered for 40 days to communicate to Yisrael a coded message that these 40 days of seeing a place, a place where they raised the false claim that the  land consumes it's inhabitants. They asserted that this was worse than to suffer 40 years of desolation that had been decreed upon Egypt, inspiring a nation to speak loshon harah. In a bizarre statement, the Jewish people were then rallied to say 'Lets go back to Egypt. (Bamidbar 14:4)' that they would have been either better off to be in Egypt or to have died in the desert.

Why Demand to Return to Egypt?

"And each man said to his brother: 'Let us appoint a leader and lets go back to Egypt.'"
Bamidbar 14:4
 Rav Meidan (Torah MiTzion) explains, that it was this sentence that sealed the fate of the Jewish People.

This is the first time that Am Yisrael explicitly requested to go back to Egypt. Previously, they had complained that Hashem (and Moshe) took them out of Egypt, and they yearned for the delicacies of Egypt, yet they had never before actually suggested returning to Egypt.

The main problem with going back to Egypt is the fact of going back into Egyptian slavery. So clearly, Am Yisrael was not talking about the actual place called Egypt. Rather, they were expressing their desire to go back to their previous way of life. They expressed a yearning not directly for Egyptian slavery but to nullify their service of Hashem. HKB"H liberated them from Egyptian slavery and made them into a nation - so that they could serve Him.
I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Shemot 20:2
Where serving Hashem is conditional upon leaving Egypt,  so wanting to return to Egypt is, in effect, equivalent to wanting to cease serving Hashem. When they were in the desert, Am Yisrael had not yet internalized the idea that they were to only go forward - to Eretz Yisrael. Since they did not view the conquest as an inescapable and unavoidable war, they easily changed their minds about entering the Land when faced with potential danger, and they were not yet prepared to enter the Land. 

The Very Very Good Land

As the Imrei Noam says, the speech of Tzadikim is composed of combinations of letters, numerical values, and calculations in order to nullify harsh decrees, where they can actually flip Midat Hadin (the strict law) into Midat HaRachamim (the merciful side).

They can take a 'נגע' - an affliction, and turn it into an 'ענג' - a pleasure. So as Tzadikim decree,  HaKadosh Baruch fulfills, seemingly able to force Hashem to want the new state Himself, like it says in Tehillim (145:19):  He does the will of those who fear Him - "רְצוֹן יְרֵאָיו יַעֲשֶׂה"

We see how the great leaders, the Tzadikim,  Caleb and Yoshua provide an emergency intervention and  give the spies a chance to speak good of the land.
They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, "The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land."
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ מְאֹד מְאֹד
Bamidbar 14:7
In response to the slander of the spies and the people's calls to return to Egypt, Caleb and Yoshua implore the people emphasizing that "the land is very very good."

Netivot Shalom

Why emphasize the goodness of the land by Miod Miod (מְאֹד מְאֹד)? The goodness could not simply be a material goodness, but rather a spiritual aspect, showing the need for humility, as we learn in the gemarah in Ketubot (110B) "whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have  a G-d, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no G-d." For Eretz Yisrael is considered to be a donation from the entire world.

HKBH provides a number of tools for strengthening our connection with Hashem: Shabbat, Torah learning, performing mitzvot, and Eretz Yisrael - the dwelling place of the shechinah.

This is the meaning of Miod Miod, this is to say that in EretzYisrael we can  best rise up to highest spiritual levels more than in any other place. Nevertheless, where residing in Eretz Yisrael also as obligations. As opposed to the spies position.

Had the spies spoken good then they would have reversed a process that had begun with the earlier complaints about delicacies in Egypt, taking us out of a spiritual malaise and out of the grip of death.

While sin can lead to sin, nothing is irreversible, so in fact Moshe's intention in sending the spies was to thwart a deteriorating process and save the journey.

Rav Sacks: Lubavitcher Rebbe

The most remarkable by far of all the commentators on the episode of the spies was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. He raised the obvious question. The Torah emphasizes that the spies were all leaders, princes, heads of tribes. They knew that God was with them, and that with His help there was nothing they could not do. They knew that God would not have promised them a land they could not conquer. Why then did they come back with a negative report?

His answer turns the conventional understanding of the spies upside down. They were, he said, not afraid of defeat. They were afraid of victory. What they said to the people was one thing, but what led them to say it was another entirely.

What was their situation now, in the wilderness? They lived in close and continuous proximity to Hashem. They drank water from a rock. They ate manna from heaven. They were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory. Miracles accompanied them along the way.

What would be their situation in the land? They would have to fight wars, plough the land, plant seed, gather harvests, create and sustain an army, an economy and a welfare system. They would have to do what every other nation does: live in the real world of empirical space. What then would happen to their relationship with Hashem? Yes, He would still be present in the rain that made crops grow, in the blessings of field and town, and in the Temple in Jerusalem that they would visit three times a year, but not visibly, intimately, miraculously, as He was in the desert. This is what the spies feared: not failure but success.

This, said the Rebbe, was a noble sin but still a sin. God wants us to live in the real world of nations, economies and armies. God wants us, as he put it, to create “a dwelling place in the lower world.” He wants us to bring the Shekhinah, the Divine presence, into everyday life.That is what ten of the spies failed to understand, and it was a spiritual failure that condemned an entire generation to forty years of futile wandering. (from Covenant & Conversation: Confidence)

Story- Asserting our Internal Strength

I heard story related about the Rebbe from Tzanz. One day the Rebbe called over a Chassid and said, "If you found a large sum of money in the road, what would you do?"
The Chassid answered, "I would announce a lost object and return it."
"Liar!" said the Rebbe.
He called over another Chassid and presented the same situation, asking what he would do?
"Well Rebbe I've been going through hard times recently and I'd have to keep the money."
"Fool!" said the Rebbe.
He called over another Chassid and asked what he would do.
"Rebbe, the right thing to do is to announce a lost object and to seek out the owner. Yet, my enemy, the Yetzer Harah, is strong and will try to impress upon me to keep the money and not release it.  I just hope that I would have the strength to withstand that influence and do the right thing."
The Rebbe smiled and was satisfied.


Rabbeynu Bechayai makes our actions the central theme of this week's parshah. Bringing evidence from Tanach, we see how Hashem promised to save  Noach and his family, nevertheless he  built an ark. And David HaMelech  doesn't take it for granted that a victory is ensured, but turns to the Urim V'tumin to get insight for which direction to head in battle. And so also in our Parshah, despite getting divine assurance that we will inherit the land of Israel and that it is good, Moshe sent a the group of spies to check ourselves.

Our world is like standing on an escalator that is going down, you want to maintain your level you have to put in work to stay at your spot. Even if you have attained a level, it doesn't stick. We get too comfortable. There is a gravity to spirituality. The nature of the world pulls us down.

To maintain the normal level requires an assertion of effort. And to grow requires work. We have to actively seek out to grow. Most of us go through life waiting for something nice to happen ( and then forgetting it did). If you want to stay in this very positive place. It requires an effort. Sometimes we become passive participants in our lives. So let's actively seek out.

We have to take action and make things happen - setting that time for a little more learning, putting more effort into doing a mitzvah etc. This is what living more in the moment is all about.

Good luck!