SALT - Monday, 19 Tammuz 5779 - July 22, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 25
            We read in Parashat Matot that after Benei Yisrael’s soldiers returned from the successful battle waged against Midyan, bringing with them vast amounts of spoils, they were instructed as to how to prepare the Midyanites’ utensils so they may be used with food.  Specifically, they were told that utensils that were directly exposed to fire with non-kosher food (such as a roasting spit) needed to purged by fire, and utensils used in hot water with non-kosher food (such as pots used for boiling food) needed to be immersed in hot water (31:23).  These verses establish the basic rules of what is commonly called “kashering” – the process whereby utensils used with non-kosher food can be made permissible for use with kosher food.  As Rashi explains based on the Gemara (Masekhet Avoda Zara 75b), this process is necessary in order to purge the utensil of the taste of the forbidden food with which had been used.  If the taste was absorbed through fire, then it must be expunged through fire, and if the taste was absorbed through the medium of boiling water, it is expunged through boiling water.
            The Chiddushei Ha-Rim is cited as offering a symbolic explanation of this halakhic principle, that kosher food may not be eaten if the taste of non-kosher food was imparted into it.  He suggests that this halakha reflects the notion that even an inherently acceptable action is tainted if it is accompanied by inappropriate thoughts and intentions.  If a person performs a perfectly legitimate action but with an improper mindset, the mindset can disqualify the action – just as the taste of forbidden food imparted into permissible food makes the permissible food forbidden.  The underlying concept of this halakha is that we must ensure not only to act the right way, but to also think the right way, to conduct ourselves and chart our course in life with sincere intentions and pure motives. 
            Rav Baruch Yitzchak Yissachar Leventhal, in his Birkat Yitzchak, adds that this might expain why this section in Parashat Matot begins with the introduction, “Zot chukat ha-Torah” (“This is the statute of the Torah” – 31:21).  This phrase is used also earlier in Sefer Bamidbar – in the beginning of Parashat Chukat, introducing the law of para aduma (19:2).  Rashi (19:22) famously cites from Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan that the law of para aduma serves to atone for the sin of the golden calf, when Benei Yisrael worshiped a graven image.  Rav Leventhal thus suggests that the two “chukot ha-Torah” – the two most basic obligations we have – are to refine our actions as well as our thoughts and characters.  The para aduma represents the process of correcting wrongful behavior, whereas the laws of kashering represent the process of eliminating improper intentions and attitudes.  We are to work to ensure not only that we do the right thing, but that we have the right priorities, ambitions and aspirations, that our minds and hearts are in the right place.  And thus the two “statutes of the Torah” – our most fundamental religious responsibilities – are the para aduma and kashering, striving to perfect our conduct and our minds, so that our actions are minds are in sync and are both fully devoted to the service of God.