This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Chaim Baruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi. May it be a merit for his soul.
In Parshas Chukas, we are told of the death of Miriam. One of the seven prophetesses and known in Chazal as someone who embodied the middah of kindness, her death was a tremendous blow to Bnei Yisrael as they traveled through the desert. Losing one of their leaders when they were so close to finally entering Eretz Yisrael made it even worse.
A typical train of thought among Torah Commentators is figuring out the connection between two topics placed next to each other in the Torah, and the death of Miriam is no different. The story of her death directly follows the laws of the Red Heifer, which is used to rid people of tumah brought upon by a dead body. Chazal explain that the heifer also helps atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. They use a mashal to explain that just as the mother cleans up after the child, so too the “mother” heifer will clean up after the “child”, the golden calf. Rashi explains that this is the connection between the two stories. The same way the Red Heifer atones for the nation’s sins, so too does the death of tzaddikim atone for the nation’s sins.
This idea of the death of a tzaddik atoning for the people is a well-known idea we find four times in the Torah. The other three instances are as follows: Right after the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, the laws of Yom Kippur are taught, teaching us that just as Yom Kippur atones for our sins, so too does the death of tzaddikim. The second time is later in this parshah when Aharon is niftar. The pasuk mentions that he changed out of his special Kohen Gadol garments and gave them to his son Elazar. Again, Chazal explain the connection that just as the wearing of these garments atones for our sins, so too does the death of tzaddikim. Lastly, in Sefer Devarim when Moshe discusses breaking the Luchos, he mentions the death of Aharon immediately afterwards. Chazal explain that just as the breaking of the Luchos was an atonement for the nation, so too is the death of tzaddikim.
The Kli Yakar explains that these four instances correspond to the four benefits a tzaddik provides to their generation. The first thing is that food and drink are provided to the world only through the merit of a tzaddik, similar to how a mother provides sustenance for her children. Chazal teach us that the well that sustained Bnei Yisrael in the desert was in the merit of Miriam. This corresponds to the Red Heifer who is also a mother protecting her children. The second benefit of a tzaddik is that they teaches Torah to the generation, and show the people how to properly serve Hashem. Therefore, when the tzaddik dies, it is as if the Torah is lost with him; just like when the Luchos were broken and we had no physical record of the Torah leftover (except for Moshe and Aharon, a further proof of this idea).
The third benefit a tzaddik provides is that their merit is a protection from evil for the world, similar to how clothing protect a person’s body from the elements. And the last benefit a tzaddik provides to the world is by dying. Because of everything a tzaddik does for the world, upon his loss, the world’s loss is so great that it actually atones for people’s sins! This is how big the tzaddik’s impact can be!
Sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by people whom we don’t know or even realize the impact they have on us, our friends, our community, and the world as a whole. Only after they are gone do we and can we truly appreciate not only what they meant to us on a personal level (if we do have that personal connection), but also what the world gained by having them around. Let’s take notice of the people around us who truly impact our lives. It’s not only us they are changing, it’s the entire world, even if the world doesn’t realize it.
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