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The decree of Torah

Written by Rabbi Moshe Kormornick

This is the statute of Torah which Hashem has commanded Moshe, saying ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take to you a completely Red Heifer… (19:2)
Whereas the simple translation of this verse is, “This is the statute of the Torah,”Targum Onklus translates it as, “This is the decree of the Torah.” The word “decree” has more of a negative connotation, as the Chasam Sofer notes.  He explains that it refers to the decree on Moshe to teach the Jewish People the whole of Torah, and if he was not successful in teaching them effectively, he would bear responsibility for their sins.  This is what the negative connotation of the word is referring to.But why is this “decree” specifically mentioned here in reference to the Red Heifer?

The laws of the Red Heifer are the most perplexing of Hashem’s laws.  Its laws are the basis for the wisest of all men, King Solomon’s comment, “It is far from me”[1], due to the paradox that the ashes of the cow purify those who had become contaminated, yet those who are involved in its preparation themselves become contaminated.  Based on this, Rav Pam answered that the “decree” on Moshe came specifically within the laws of the Red Heiffer since it was only Moshe who was told the secret of the Red Heifer and he was not permitted to share it with anyone.  It was a “decree” on Moshe because of the pain that he felt by learning a piece of Torah, yet not being able to teach it to others.

The Kotzker Rebbe famously referred to “atzaddik in peltz – a tzaddik in a fur coat” regarding a tzaddik who is out in the cold.  There are two things that he could do.  He can either put on a warm coat or light a fire; either way he will be warm but if he lights the fire, others will benefit too.  Moshe was the tzaddik who lit the fire for others.  He lit the fire of Torah in everyone’s heart and the fact that the refusal to allow him to teach this aspect of Torah is termed a “decree” is a true testament to Moshe’s devotion to the Jewish People.

[1] Koheles Rabba (7:35) based on the verse in Koheles (7:23)

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