Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5771
Parashat Hashavuah: “We are Ready to Go Up” – Proper Willingness to SacrificeHarav Yosef Carmel
Twice in the book of Bamidbar, there is mention of a battle involving a place called Chorma. The first is in Parashat Shelach, in the aftermath of the sin of the spies (Bamidbar 14: 40-45). Hashem told the people they could enter the Land, but a group of enthusiastic people known as the ma’apilim attempted to go despite Moshe’s warnings. There, we are told that the Canaanites and the Amalekites smote them until Chorma. The second tells of a counterattack of the Israelites against the Canaanites that ended successfully at Chorma (ibid. 21: 1-3). The early commentaries dispute whether these are referring to different elements of the same battle, which took place in the second year in the desert, or whether they are referring to events that were separated by almost 40 years. Let us take the approach of Unkelus, Ibn Ezra, and others, who see the accounts relating to the same event, and see what we can learn from it.
The account of the ma’apilim contains several elements that we would like to take note of. The people woke up early in the morning, saying “henenu” (we are ready) to go up “to the place that Hashem spoke of.” Moshe warned them not to because “Hashem will not be in your midst.”
Many of these elements are present in an even more famous section of the Torah, that recounting akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac). Avraham said he was ready and woke up early in the morning to go to the place that Hashem had appointed. Yitzchak, too, said he was ready. In both cases, people were ready to give or risk their lives for what they believed was desired by Hashem. The great difference was that Avraham went to the mountain on which it was said that “Hashem will be seen.” In contrast the ma’apilim went in a situation where Hashem was not in their midst.
Why was Hashem’s presence found in one place and missing in the other? Avraham and Yitzchak nullified their personal interests in order to fulfill that which Hashem had commanded them to do, at the cost of dear life. However, the ma’apilim did what they wanted, albeit to get to the Land that Hashem had wanted to give to Bnei Yisrael, but not by following His commandments. That ended in Chorma, in destruction (which is what the word means). However, in the part of the story that is accounted in our parasha, the people first received permission to fight and swore to dedicate their victory and its spoils to Hashem. In that case, the destruction was done by them in retaliation against the enemy.
Let us hope that the young and brave amongst us, who are ready to sacrifice their lives, will do so in a manner of being ready to listen to Hashem’s instructions.
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