Parshas Chukas :
Dying to Learn

By Rabbi Shlomo Pomerantz

" This is the law [regarding] a person who dies in a tent; anyone who enters the tent and everything that is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days."

Bamidbar 19:14

Parshas Chukas begins with the discussion of the laws of ritual impurity in relation to being in contact with a corpse. As the text reads, anyone and anything in the same room (in his ohel [tent]) as a corpse, becomes ritually impure for seven days.

 The Torah uses particular terminology to introduce this topic. It reads:

"Zos HaTorah Adam Ki Yamus BaOhel . . . (This is the Torah: A man, who dies in a tent . . . . )

The very beginning of Parshas Chukas already states: Zos Chukas HaTorah (These are the statutes of the Torah.) Why is it necessary for the Torah to repeat the obvious?

 The rabbis derive from this verse that there is a meaningful proximity to the words Torah and dies (or death). They explain that the words of the Torah exist only in one who sacrifices his life for them. The Chofetz Chaim offers a novel approach on how this is done:

 When one is overwhelmed with obligations, and he believes these obligations require his personal involvement, he should remember that no individual is indispensable. What if he should die tomorrow? Would not some one else take over his responsibilities? Somehow, a solution would be found and his void would be filled.

One should pretend that his moment of truth has arrived, and that he has left this world behind. Then, he should spend a few hours studying, undisturbed. After studying, he can return to his mundane activities as if he was resurrected from the dead.

 In this way, one is prepared to (figuratively) die for the Torah. If one plays dead every day, his opportunity to grow in Torah knowledge and involvement will come alive. He will have the time to learn. But how should one approach Torah study?

 In Pirchei Avos it says: Eem ein derech eretz, ein Torah (If there is no respect and common decency, then there is no Torah.) It also says that the are forty-eight ways to acquire Torah, These forty-eight ways include character improvement -- striving for perfection -- in order to acquire Torah knowledge. The more a person can break faulty habits and character traits, the more successful he will be in acquiring Torah knowledge! In other words, one must SLAUGHTER his evil inclination, and KILL his poor midos (character attributes) which were once a part of his life. This is what is meant by the words of the rabbis, that the words of the Torah exist only in one who sacrifices his life for them.[see Kovetz Igros of the Chazon Ish]

 The verse "Zos Ha'Torah Adam Ki Yamus. . ." teaches us another lesson. It teaches us to what degree one must persist in Torah study, and under what circumstances one is obliged to study. This is illustrated in the story of Rav Zalmela from Vilna.

 On the final day of his life, Rav Zalmela from Vilna was visited by many of his students and friends. As he lay on his deathbed, he read from Tehillim (Psalms) in a sweet, melodic voice. The visitors suggested that he stop reading aloud and conserve his energy.


Rav Zalmela responded:

G-d forbid! The Talmud explicitly comments about the verse that reads this is the Torah, when a man dies in a tent. . .! According to Rabbi Yochanan, one should not refrain from Torah study even at the time of his death. Perhaps now the time has come when I can personally fulfill this requirement. In today's age of technology, the demands on our time are becoming greater and greater. A myriad of professional, social and familial obligations converge on us a daily basis. Torah study is becoming increasingly difficult. Following the advice of the Chofetz Chaim may be more important than ever.

"Ki hem Chayenue V;Orech Yamenu" -

It [the Torah] is our life, and the length of our days.


 --Rabbi Shlomo Pomerantz
Published Sunday July 13, 1997  




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