Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Matot
To dedicate this lesson

From Pots and Pans to People and Places


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tamuz 23 5780
Our (double) Sedra begins by delineating the laws of oaths and vows. In Halacha, a promise is a promise and it must be kept, and a debt is a debt that must be paid. Our words create a tangible reality that binds us, as surely as Hashem created the entire universe through His "speech:" ("And G-d said, let there be....."). So it seems appropriate that this section of oaths is followed immediately by the call for war against Midian; we had been abused by them (at the end of Parshat Balak) and the time had now come to exact vengeance.

What is somewhat perplexing is that after the war, the laws of kashering vessels is given. The utensils we captured in battle had to be purified, had to undergo a purging, either via water (hagala) or fire (libun), before it was permitted for us to use them. This is the basis of how we kasher till this very day. But does it not seem like a rather odd time to interrupt the narrative for a lesson in practical Jewish law?!

Perhaps this is one reason why the pasuk prefaces the laws of kashering with the statement, "Zot CHUKAT Ha-Torah," this is the statute of the Torah. The term, "Chok" refers to a law for which the reason is not readily apparent. Wearing tzitzit or keeping kosher, for example, are chukim for which we do not know the precise reason. But "hagalat keilim" would not seem to fit into that category! After all, it seems logical that if non-kosher food was absorbed into a pot through heat, traces of that same food could be removed via heat. Indeed, the principle of kashering is, "k'bolo, kach polto," the medium by which something is absorbed is the medium by which it is expunged. So it is the placing of these laws here - and not the law itself - which is indeed a kind of chok, or mystery.

Some want to suggest that using the term "chok" regarding kashering is a way of telling us that each and every Mitzva - no matter how logical or self-apparent it may seem - is to be viewed as a Chok. Why? Because there are always manifold layers to the meaning of each Mitzva, many of which are beyond our comprehension. Plus ideally, we should relate to every Mitzva as if it is a Chok, observing that Mitzva primarily because Hashem commanded it to us, and not because it "makes sense" to us. In this way, we connect to G-d and demonstrate our faith in Him.

But I want to suggest something else. Perhaps this Halacha of kashering was placed precisely here, just after the war with dastardly Midian, to tell us that as horrible as war can be - with all its concomitant suffering and indiscretions - at times it is necessary as a way of cleansing, or purging something evil in our midst. In this case, we had to completely cleanse ourselves of the impure influence of Midian and their despicable form of scatological idolatry, a ritual totally abhorred by Hashem.

Later, in Masei, a similar warning is given to Bnei Yisrael. We are told to demolish the idols we found in Canaan and completely purge Israel of the immoral Canaanites and their practices, driving them out of the land. If we failed to do so, says G-d, "they will be pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides; and what I had meant to do to them, I will do to you."

Kashering, we may conclude, is as much about freedom from impurity as it is about food; and cleansing people and places is at least as important as cleansing pots and pans.
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר