Friday, June 26, 2009

Parshat Chukat - פרשת חוקת

"אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת עלי באר ענו לה"
(פסוק יז: פרק כא)

I haven't had too much spare time this week, but I do have a quick parsha thought I'd like to share with you. In the quote above, we read of how Am Yisrael sing of the "Be'er Miriam," the well from which water miraculously flowed that accompanied them during their travails in the desert. While this seems reasonable enough, a question is begs to be asked; Why is it only now that Am Yisrael recognise the blessing of this well? After all, they had been in the desert for many years - shouldn't they have made their gratefulness known earlier?

To understand this difficulty, we have to look at the situation it's proper context. The generation who were suddenly (quite literally) singing the well's praises had never fully appreciated what a blessing the Be'er was. This generation had been born in the desert and to them, a rock that rolled around of it's own volition and produced drinking water (in huge quantities) was of no great consequence. To them, it was no more miraculous than a rainfall or a sunrise.

When Hashem punished Am Yisrael for speaking against him a few verses earlier in the Parsha, the B'nei Yisrael finally understood what a miracle this well was. Until this time, they had never appreciated Hashem's beneficence and it was only when that which they had always had was taken away that they grasped it's goodness and their dependence on Hashem.

Part of their punishment was that "הנחשים השרפים," "the poisonous snakes" that lived in the desert, were sent after B'nei Yisrael, and consequently bit and killed many Jews. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out the letter ה - which means "The." This word indicates that these snakes were already in the desert and that they had always been there, even though Am Yisrael had not encountered them in their desert travels thus far. Rav Hirsch teaches that we should understand that these snakes were kept away from the B'nei Yisrael in an act of kindness by Hashem. However, because they had shown themselves to be unappreciative of the kindness of the Be'er, Hashem punished them with the snakes so that they would appreciate all that Hashem had done to prevent them from experiencing hardship.

There is a vital lesson that we must learn from this incident. We cannot only be thankful for that which we are blessed with, rather we must appreciate all that we are not burdened with. Here we learn that the snakes had always been in the desert and only by Hashem's grace were the B'nei Yisrael spared being bitten by them. The B'nei Yisrael grew accustomed to the miracles that Hashem had done for them. The moment Hashem stopped sustaining these miracles, it became abundantly clear just how much we are dependent on his love and good will for us.

I'd like to credit Ezra Javasky for telling me this D'var Torah. Ezra points out that we should thank Hashem for planting his Torah in our minds.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from the Old City of Jerusalem :)

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