" 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."
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.
Published Sunday July 13, 1997