The first section Parshas Chukas is the parsha of poro aduma. However, it would appear to be in the wrong place. Moshe Rabeinu learned the details of the poro aduma before Matan Torah and long before the episodes of the spies and Korach. Why is it not mentioned until now?
In Parshas Shelach, we read about the sins of the princes of the Shevatim, who said that Hashem could not overcome the Canaanites. On the other hand, Rochov in the Haftora had no doubts whatsoever: “I know that Hashem has given you this land. We are fearful of you and all the people of the land are broken in spirit before you.” How could a simple Canaanite woman like Rochov have a clearer understanding than the nesi’im, the cream of Klal Yisroel? Korach was also a baal ruach hakodesh. How could he have thought that his challenge to Moshe Rabbeinu would succeed?
In Parshas Vayera, when Avrohom Ovinu was about to sacrifice Yitzchak, the malach told him, “Now I know that you fear Hashem.” (Bereishis 22:12). The Netziv asks why the malach described Avrohom Ovinu as fearing Hashem rather than loving Hashem, as the novi Yeshayahu described him? (41:8). He answers that although fearing Hashem is a lower level than loving Hashem, someone might lose his fear of Hashem on reaching the level of loving Him. Hashem had indicated before that He was open to hearing Avrohom Ovinu’s opinion about His plans and was even prepared to change His plans, if need be. (Bereishis 18:23). Avrohom Ovinu might have thought it reasonable to argue with and challenge Hashem. Such closeness could lead to cheshbonos coming into his mind not to do the rotzon Hashem. Ahava mekalkeles es hashura – love sometimes causes a straight line to be crooked – one might do illogical things. After Hashem told him to do the Akeida, Avrohom Ovinu might have put forward many reasons not to sacrifice Yitschak, his only heir, but he didn’t. He simply accepted the rotzon Hashem. This is why the malach called Avrohom Ovinu one who fears Hashem, recognising that, despite the fact that you love Hashem, you haven’t lost your fear of Him.
A moshol to illustrate this balanced relationship: a loyal servant feared the king and did everything the king asked without delay. He rose through the ranks until he became the king’s trusted private assistant. The king even invited him for working lunches and encouraged the servant to comment on his plans. One day the king told the servant that a neighbouring country was threatening to attack, with thousands of troops ready to invade. He told the servant to take one hundred of his own soldiers and confront the enemy. Despite the suicidal nature of the plan, the servant immediately stood up, asking when he should begin. As he reached the door the king called him back. “Well done! I was only testing you. Despite our closeness, you still fear me and are ready to follow my commands without question.”
This may be the meaning of our request in Ahava rabboh every morning, “l’ahava uleyira es shemecho” – to love and fear Your Name. Even if we have reached the level of loving You, we should still fear You.
Those who challenged Moshe and Aharon – the nesi’im, Korach and his cohorts were great people who had reached a high level of ahavas Hashem. Unfortunately they no longer had the same fear of Hashem that they used to have. Precisely because of their love and the closeness to Hashem which accompanied it, they made cheshbonos – perhaps Hashem would be pleased to hear their opinion, even if they argued with Him. “Love can make a straight line crooked.” This was their undoing.
Rochov only feared Hashem. She and all the other Canaanites had heard how Hashem had taken the Jews out of Mitzrayim and split the Yam Suf with amazing miracles. They trembled. As Rochov said, “We are broken in spirit before you.” With Rochov there was no love for Hashem, no cheshbonos, no possibility of arguing, just total submission.
Reishis chochma yiras Hashem. (Tehilim 111:10) Fear of Hashem is the foundation of a Jew. There are higher madreigos such of awe of Hashem and love of Hashem but fear of Hashem must always remain. This was Avrohom Ovinu’s achievement and this is what we ask for in Ahava rabba, ‘ to love and (still) fear Your Name.’
Perhaps this is why Chukas follows Shelach and Korach. After the nesi’im and Korach sinned, despite their high madreigos, the Torah is telling us to get back to basics: “Zos chukas Hatorah” as Rashi says. “This is a gezeira from Me and you have no permission to question it!”