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Chukas: Becoming a Torah-Person

זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל וכו'.

“This is the Torah; a person who dies in a room...” (Bamidbar 19:20)

The Torah is discussing the laws of the Para Aduma – the Red Heifer, which was used to purify those who were in a room where there was a deceased body (among other forms of impurities).

Our sages comment on this verse, using a homiletic interpretaion: “The Torah cannot be kept unless the person kills himself for it.”

This teaching seems to contradict the verse "וחי בהם" - which means that a person must live by the Torah. We know that the Torah is our source of life. It was given to us to enrich our lives and keep us alive, so that we should not die. If so, how can our sages tell us that the Torah can only be kept by a person who kills himself for it?

The truth of the matter is that everyone can learn Torah. However, if a person truly wants to internalize the Torah’s words, if he wants the Torah he learned to stay with him throughout his life so that he should be a true Torah-person, then he must put “himself” aside. This means that a person who is busy pursuing physical pleasures cannot keep the Torah within himself. He may be learning Torah, but he cannot “keep” it - he cannot internalize it. Only a person who kills his personal desires and quells his body’s appetite for more and more pleasure, only such a person can properly keep the Torah within himself.

Let us remember that the body doesn’t last forever. Why should a person spend his life satisfying his body, when it won’t last more than a few years anyway? On the other hand, the neshama is the true source of eternal life. If a person learns Torah in order to bring pleasure to Hashem and fulfill the needs of his neshama, then the Torah will not run away from him and he will be able to keep the Torah properly.

Later on in this week’s sidra it says: “And Egypt did evil to us, and to our forefathers.” The obvious question is: why do we say that the Egyptians did evil to our forefathers? By the time their evil decrees were issued, our forefathers we no longer alive.

Rashi explains: “From here we learn that the forefathers are distressed in their graves when troubles befall the Jewish people.” Every time a Jewish person is in pain, the holy Avos feel his distress and suffer along with him in their graves.

Why does Rashi say that the Avos are distressed in their “graves,” instead of saying that they feel the Jewish people’s pain even in Gan Eden?

If Rashi would have said that the Avos are distressed in Gan Eden when we suffer, we would assume that this is referring to our spiritual suffering, because in Gan Eden there is no place for physical matters. By saying that they are distressed in their graves, where their physical remains are, Rashi is telling us that the Avos do feel along with our physical pain – they feel it on their own bodies!

This is teaching us that our holy forefathers feel the needs of our bodies. A person should not worry that if he will only fulfill his neshama’s needs, he will be lacking the physical things he must have in this world, because the Avos are already worrying for our physical needs. We can put our physical desires aside completely, so that we should be able to keep the Torah properly, and we still won’t lack for anything.

May Hashem help us, we should be able to bond with the Torah completely for its own sake, for Hashem’s holy Name, in order to bring pleasure to our Creator. And by doing so, we will find that our lives will be enriched spiritually, as well as physically.


The yartzeit of the holy Meor V’Shamash was this week. When he was a young man, the Meor V’Shamash used to be an attendant of the saintly tzaddik, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk. One evening, he prepared a tea for the Rebbe and brought it to his study. As he approached the closed door, he saw a strong light shining out through the keyhole. When he opened the door, he saw that next to the Rebbe sat a person with a radiant face; his entire being shone and his light filled the room. The young attendant was so overawed that he dropped the glass of tea and it shattered to the floor.

Later on, the Rebbe asked him where his tea was. The Meor V’Shamash replied that he was about to serve it to him when he saw the stranger with the radiant face and he dropped it. “Rebbe, who was he?” he dared to ask. “I didn’t see anyone coming in or leaving the room.” Rebbe Elimelech replied: “Woe to the child who doesn’t recognize his own father!” The “stranger” was no other than Avrohom Avinu.

We see from this story that tzaddikim who study Torah purely for the sake of Heaven merit seeing the holy Avos in their physical appearance. This is similar to what we explained before, that our holy forefathers physically feel along with the pain of every Jew. May they always intervene for us and pray for us.

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