KEEP AN ACCOUNTING
Rabbi David Walk
This week's parsha is fascinating on a number of levels. When most people hear the name Chukat they immediately think of the most mysterious of mitzvoth, namely the red heifer, which begins this week's reading. I find the chronological issue most interesting. In the middle of our reading we jump from year two in the desert right to year 40. What happened to those 38 years? I mean all of us periodically lose an afternoon or an evening, but to not remember where we placed 38 years. That's amazing. But the hits just keep on coming. We also have the deaths of Miriam and Aharon this week. Don't forget the incident of Moshe hitting the rock instead of chatting with it. Plus we have Judaism's first attempts at diplomacy. Not surprisingly, those efforts end in war. The more things change, etc. However, I like the poetry in this week's Torah reading.
I referred to this week's first poem last week. It reads: That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says: "...Waheb in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the site of Ar and lie along the border of
As cool as that poem is, I want to comment on the second poem of our parsha. That poem begins: This is why the poets say: "Come to Cheshbon and let it be rebuilt; let Sihon's city be restored…(verse 27) " This sounds like an ad jingle from the Cheshbon tourist authority or chamber of commerce. Translating these lines is even more treacherous than the last poem. The first poem's difficulties spring from the problem of whether to present the material literally or metaphorically. This poem has a major obstacle to straight translation because a critical term is obscure. I followed the most common approach to translation by stating that poets are speaking, but many authorities claim that a better translation of the Hebrew moshlim should be 'rulers' or 'governors'. If poets are addressing us then we have a flowery prayer for the future of this area. However, if these are declarations by political and military leaders, we don't have wishes but policy statements.
Assuming that kings or generals are speaking, this verse expresses the intention of rebuilding the area destroyed by the war between
How does one go about staying in control of their Yetzer? Well, according to the founder of the Mussar (ethical) Movement, Rab Yisroel Salanter (1810-1883) the most successful method (Based on Benjamin Franklin, I kid you not.) to manage our behavior is to keep an accounting or reckoning of all our actions. The Hebrew (and Yiddish) word for an accounting is Cheshbon, which just happened to be the name of the city that we're trying to rebuild in the verse. So, now the verse contains instructions for us about how to rule our passions and appetites by keeping a tally or cheshban of all our actions.
This poetic verse ends with words tiboneh v'tikonen, which is usually translated as be built and established. There's a problem, though (isn't there always?). The second term tikonen really means to prepare or plan. Don't we usual plan our buildings or cities before we build them? This is a hint that we're not talking about structures. We're building human beings, and this requires continual mid course adjustments. We must always be reassessing our actions. It is important to think and plan before we act, but even more important to change when we notice that our course is off target.
Today, we again have a Jewish nation and army functioning in Eretz Yisroel so that the literal meaning of our poem is once more significant. The leaders must continually build and plan the future of our wonderful State. However, the personal reading of our verse remains in effect. Every individual can only be master of their lives and destiny when a careful accounting of all behavior is carefully recorded, and the ongoing construction of their personality reflects these observations. Plan carefully, but be flexible.
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