Parshas Chukas and Balak

This week’s Parsha is Parshas Chukas and Balak. In Parshas Chukas we learn of the war that the Jewish people waged with Sichon and Og, two great Kings, as they came to enter the land of Israel. The Torah tells us that the city of Cheshbon, which was the capital of Sichon, was captured by the Jews. This city, Cheshbon, had been captured by Sichon in an earlier war. A verse is then added in the Torah, which needs some explanation;

“Therefore the rulers say, come to Cheshbon. May it be built and established as a city of Sichon. “ (Numbers 21:27) The simple translation of this verse is that the Kings and rulers of the area, when watching Sichon battle for this area, said that this city of Cheshbon should become his city. Indeed, it did become his capital until the Jews captured it from Sichon.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 78b) offers another explanation of this verse: “Therefore the rulers” - this refers to people who rule (are in control) over themselves; “Come to Cheshbon” – Come and make a cheshbon>/b> – A calculation of what we are doing in this world. Calculate the cost of a mitzvah as opposed to its reward; Calculate the gain of a sin against what it costs in the long run. This piece of advise sounds fairly simple; think about what you are doing with your life before it is too late. Why is this necessary for the Sages to say this?

The Chofetz Chaim used to explain this with a parable; One time a wealthy businessman had to travel to a nearby town. He hired a wagon driver to take him in his wagon. “One thing I warn you. Make sure that you watch your horse carefully that he doesn’t veer off the road.” The wagon driver agreed, and they set off on their trip. As soon as they left the city, the wagon driver fell asleep. The horse soon spotted a patch of grass and ran off the road to eat some of it. The wagon turned over, and the businessman was thrown from it. He screamed at the wagon driver – “Didn’t I tell you to make sure that your animal goes on the road? How did you allow yourself to fall asleep and leave it to go on its own?” The wagon driver tried to justify himself and said, “I know my horse. He knows the way. I never thought he will go off the road.” Enraged, the businessman replied, “Fool! Is a horse capable of understanding? Even if he is better then other horses, he is still a horse! If he sees something enticing, of course he will go after it! You must always hold onto him and not him roam on his own!”

This, the Chofetz Chaim concludes, is true of each of us. Since our body has animalistic drives, we must always hold onto reins to control it. Those reins are the intellectual capacity that we have. If we think about what we are doing we can control ourselves, and live a life of success. If we don’t take the time to reflect, we can be off the right road, indulging in a meal of grass, and missing the road to true perfection.