PARSHA CHUKAT: INSTANT GRATIFICATION VERSUS ETERNAL VALUES: G-D’S HOLY WARS
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, first chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, discusses the obscure reference to the “Book of G-d’s Wars” that concludes this week’s Torah portion. What are G-d’s wars? Rav Kook states they are the ideological battles of the Torah against foreign cultures, beliefs and ways of living. In this week’s portion, the Israelites are traveling on their way home to the Land of Israel after wandering for 40 years in the desert. Unbeknownst to them, the Amorites had hidden in crevices they created by chipping away at the rocks of the narrow pass in the Arnon Canyon. Their malicious intent was to attack the Jewish nation on its way and destroy them, but as often is the case, Hashem came to the rescue. This would be a real cliff-hanger if it were a movie as the unsuspecting Israelites meander blissfully through the canyon unaware of both the lurking danger and their deliverance. According to Rav Kook, the Amorites didn’t count on the power of G-d’s Holy Ark which preceded the Israelites on their travels through the desert. In fact, when the Ark arrived at the Arnon Pass, its power i.e., G-d’s power caused the sides of the mountains to crush together and kill the Amorite soldiers.
Interestingly and here’s where the intrigue builds; The last two men to pass through the Canyon noticed the crimson riverbed and deduced that a miracle had taken place and reported it to the rest of the Israelites. Suddenly, upon checking, they realized the profound truth of their narrow escape from death and they joined together to sing a stunning song of thanks to G-d as recorded in the Talmud. The names of the two men were ET and VAHAV. As we know from the Torah, there are no unnecessary words.
Rav Kook, on Parsha Chukat, wrote that the word ET contains the first and last letters of the word EMET which means truth. Thus with the middle letters missing, this individual named ET represented that which is lacking both in truth and true substance. The word VAHAV comes from the Hebrew word AHAVAH meaning love. Being that the letters are mixed up and not in their proper order, it represents an uncontrolled and mixed up form of love and passion. It also represents unbridled living: the constant contest between instant gratification and eternal values. When these two competing forces come together to challenge us and we allow the instant gratification to rule over eternal values, we may find ourselves trapped with no escape, like the Israelites in the Arnon Pass. Fortunately, just as salvation came about in our Parsha, the eternal Light and Truth of Torah (as represented by the Ark) can illuminate the way….crushing the mountains of confusion and defeating the enemies of unbridled living to restore us to our Eternal values which nourish and sustain us.
Many Jews residing outside the Holy Land may not notice what is holding their attention, as they reside in their comfortable homes and communities but this Torah portion clearly asks us to get real with confronting our core values according to the Eternal Truth of Torah.
I am currently in America in Denver, Colorado visiting family. This Parsha resonates strongly with me as I witness the mixed up values of Jews living in a foreign country. As an example, we went to a Kosher pizza place, owned by a Jew, and it is called Brooklyn Pizza and then we drove by an Arab owned Falafel place called Jerusalem Falafel. Does this bother you as much as it did us? Like the letters VAHAV instead of AHAVAH, I find there is great confusion relating to Torah core values. Since my arrival, I personally feel like a Jew set apart from her true identity. I feel like an alien and it does not feel good. In my humble opinion which may count for nothing, I perceive a watered down version of Torah living like the name of our good friend ET in our Torah Portion i.e., lacking both in truth and the deepest substance. Don’t get me wrong, the Denver Jewish community is wonderful. They are fine Jews but they could be finer and truer Jews. They are missing one essential component and that is our Land! And our Land is what makes a nation a nation. Ours is a Holy Land selected by G-d Himself which he bequeathed to His beloved Jewish children.
I hate leaving the Holy Land and my life there unfolding each day through G-d’s Divine providence which is so openly revealed. But, I miss my children and grandchildren and so I return to Denver to visit and there are things I enjoy. I especially enjoy; pushing a grocery cart whose wheels actually go in the right direction, a parking lot big enough for me to turn around in without having to back up, and break my neck, grocery items where I can read the ingredients. I enjoy right turn on a red light and I enjoy seeing old friends. ALL these things are nice, they are comforting and enjoyable but they do not nourish my soul and do not build up our nation.
My challenge while being here is that I am deeply pained by the fact that I cannot be home in Israel to be a part of the prayer rallies and vigils for the kidnapped youth. Here, the news is just a dot.com on the computer and not even a topic of much conversation. In fact, the hot topic here is the recently opened Trader Joe’s with its extensive gourmet, sugar-coated, mouth-watering kosher delights. Now, one can buy all the gourmet ice cream, cookies and sweets ever longed for along with crackers and spreads in one location. But it is not a Jewish owned business, so once again, I am not building up our nation and people. In fact, here in America, easy access to everything one desires is another reason to stay put and not return to our homeland. If I can get all the pleasures and goodies and live life with comfort and ease why STRUGGLE? I will tell you why; because Chukat tells us not to get mixed up in other forms of strange love and passion that cause us to stray from our true identity as SERVANTS OF THE KING IN THE KINGS PALACE (Israel). These hidden enemies may go unnoticed by you and therefore the Torah reminds us through ET and VAHAV of what is missing.
Another disconcerting observation I am making about Jews living in any foreign country, is their apparent willingness to forgo so many mitzvah opportunities. As our Pasha states: there is no comparison to the constant daily opportunities to do good in our beloved Holy Land. For example, upon arriving in Denver, I reached out to touch the Mezzuza on the first doorpost I went through but there wasn’t one. In Israel, almost all the doorposts in Jewish hotels, banks, offices, businesses, shops, airport etc. have a Mezzuza and I touch and kiss them all the time, thereby forging a connection with G-d. Outside the Land, this is not the case. Suddenly this realization struck me that Jews in America do not have the opportunity to COLLECT all the Mitzvot we do while living in Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I am not playing a child’s game about competing for collectables but it is my understanding that our job as Jews is to perform Mitzvot as G-d ordained in the Torah and that we should desire to do them. So many people in America are into collecting things such as knickknacks, art objects, shoes, clothes, etc. ultimately being possessed by their possessions. In Israel, we collect mitzvot ALL THE TIME. Greeting other Jews and saying Shalom is a mitzvah, walking 4 amot in the Holy Land is another mitzvah, lending help to Jewish neighbors—mitzvah. I barely get my car out of our driveway before I have the chance to give a ride to a neighbor. It feels so extraordinary to help other Jews on their way through various forms of giving. I was one of those folks who had collectables and they were beautiful and special but they weren’t holy and they didn’t enhance my soul. They collected dust instead of eternal reward.
I don’t see much of ET and VAHAV in Israel, thank G-d. I hope you too can make the switch and turn ET into EMET and VAHAV into AHAVA and attach to it with love and devotion THEREBY SWITCHING FROM INSTANT GRATIFICATION TO THE ETERNAL VALUES G-D GAVE US IN OUR Land.
May we be blessed through our valiant efforts to witness the victory of the Torah on behalf of our nation and through our powerful choices merit to see our boys returned home safe and sound. With Blessings of Love and Light, Ariella Bracha in Denver.