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Parshas Chukas - Of Colors & Numbers              9 Tammuz 5779

07/17/19 12:35:19


By the time this Parsha rolled along, school was out and I sighed a sign of relief. Believe it or not I was not the model student that one might assume,seeing and knowing me now. Elementary school wasn’t bad educationally, but I didn’t particularly enjoy going to school. I concocted any excuse to get out of going to school ~ a made-up stomach-ache, some clouds threatening an approaching drizzle, or even a medical appointment that I needed to recuperate from so I could go home instead of back to school. At least my grades were respectable, my behavior was in check and I consistently convinced my parents that I was trying my best. High school, however, was a completely different story.

Compounding my dislike of school, my grades and attitude during my high school years were painfully reflected on my report cards. I sometimes joked about my report cards, describing my grades in a rather creative manner. I would ask someone, “Do you know the highest number on my report card?” They’d reply, “No”. I wittily responded, “The highest number on my report card was the number of days I was absent.” When I was asked which periods of the day I liked the most, I would reply, “It’s a close call between recess and lunch, and that rest period, officially referred to “library” was a close second. Finally, to sum up my performance when completing a semester, I’d quip, “Overall, there was more red ink on my report card than black and white.”! But, as stated earlier, by this time of the year I was enjoying the well-needed summer vacation – a deeply appreciated break from a rough and tough school year. When my parents questioned me about my report card, I explained that this high school had a different scoring and marking system; the emphasis on higher and lower numbers were different, just like the red and black colorings represented different interpretations of the grading classification. I further explained that just as the category of mitzvos called ‘Chukim’ which, to the average person, don’t make sense, the report card really didn’t make sense based upon the way it looked. For some odd reason, I don’t think they actually believed me, but they continued to love me, nonetheless.

  1. halacha, Jewish law, numbers and colors teach us many different points, but it is not often that the two coincide and teach us some halacha. Such is the case regarding the mitzva of the Parah Aduma, the Red Heifer. As an aside, the one purpose of this mitzva and its process and procedure was to purify someone from corpse impurity and make him wholesome again. The significance of the color and number of non-red hairs on the cow is crucial to its validity as seen in the follow discussion.. In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah states in Bamidbar 19:2זאת חוקת התורה אשר צוה השם לאמר דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין :בה מום אשר לא עלה עליה על “Speak to the Israelites and have them bring you a completely red cow [at least three years old], which has no blemish, and which has never had a yoke on it”.

Rashi ,regarding the words perfectly red, explains this to mean that the heifer should be perfect in redness, that if there were as few as two black hairs on the body of the cow, it is disqualified. Even though Rashi says black hairs instead of red, it does not mean specifically black versus red, rather any color other than red, such as white. In other words, even if there were two white hairs, it would also be disqualified. The reason the Mishna teaches black hairs is to teach us something additional. That is that even if the hair was initially red and then turned black, perhaps because of aging, it is still invalid. Rashi quotes only a part of the Mishna, but there is more. The Mishna in Parah 2:5 states: If the red heifer had two black hairs or two white ones [developed] within a single hole or cavity, it is invalid. Rebbi Yehuda says, even if they grow from within one follicle, it is invalid. Rebbi Akiva maintains that even if there were four [hairs] or five, which were widely separated, they may be plucked out, the animal remains a valid Parah Adumah/Red Heifer. The halacha follows the first opinion that what disqualifies a cow from being a Parah Aduma is it must have at least two hairs from a single hole that are not red. Otherwise, one black or one white hair in one area and another black or white hair further away is still deemed acceptable as a Red Heifer. Once again, we need the Torah SheB’Al Peh the oral law to explain in full detail what the written Torah - She’Biksav - means. On a deeper level, is there a particular reason the Mishna chooses white and black as the alternative colors to red?

Rav Abulafia* in his master work Imrei Shefer expounds upon the words of Rebbi Moshe HaDarshan**. In Kabbala Cheit, sin is called ‘red’, and a merit is called ‘white’. The reason sin is red is because the sins a person commits come from his physical body; the body is sustained and dependent upon blood, which is red. As we read in parshas Acharei Mos, ‘…the life of a person is in his blood. Therefore, when a person sins with his body, the resulting act is colored red. On the other side, the mitzvos and good deeds a person performs creates merit which comes from the neshama/soul which resides in the brain and is called white. Therefore, when a person becomes angry or desires something and is out of control, his face turns red from his physical side. But when a person is calm and stands in awe and fear of Hashem and everything on that level comes from the neshama/soul, then his face remains a cool, pale white.

Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, in his work the Sfas Emes, expounds the notion that the Parah Aduma is not invalid until it has two hairs together, but the Temimus, the perfection of man, to be perfect and blemish free to walk with Hashem, disqualifies with even one white hair. If a human being is missing a tiny bit of wholesomeness, whether it is in how he fulfills a mitzva or is lacking in his sincerity or in his fear of God, then he is not at all complete. Our goal is to strive to have fewer red marks on our records and more of the black and white that represent calm and effort from our souls. The symbolism of the ‘red cow’ is to reduce the infractions that it represents and use it to purify us from our misgivings. Numbers are significant, showing us the fewer of something odd or different the better it is.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia אברהם בן שמואל אבולעפיה was the founder of the school of "Prophetic Kabbalah". He was born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1240 and is assumed to have died sometime after 1291

** Moshe haDarshan (11th century) משה הדרשן was chief of the yeshiva of Narbonne, and perhaps the founder of Jewish exegetical studies in France. Along with Rashi, his writings are often cited as the first extant writings in Zarphatic, the Judæo-French language. Moshe was descended from a Narbonne family distinguished for its erudition.

As a Haggadist, Moshe ha-Darshan was considered a rabbinical authority, owing his reputation principally to the fact that, together with Tobiah ben Eliezer, he was the most prominent representative of midrashic-symbolic Bible exegesis (derash) in the 11th century. His work on the Torah, sometimes called Yesod, is known only by quotations found mostly within Rashi's commentaries (Rashi quotes him 19 times in his pirush Al HaTorah, and only twice in his pirush on Shas - once in Kesuvos 75b, and the other in Niddah 19a), contained extracts from earlier haggadic works, and midrashic explanations of his own.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780