Parshas Chukas (5772)
Summer is upon us, and so is the sun, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about the sun … and how it rates when compared to the Torah that we were given at Mount Sinai over 3300 years ago.
I know you’re probably scratching your head at this point and thinking: “Did I read that correctly - or maybe I’ve been out in the boiling hot sun for way too long and am just hallucinating? Is he actually going to compare the sun to the Torah?”
Well, as strange as it sounds, I am going to do just that … and I wouldn’t be the first Jew to do it either. You see, King David did the exact same thing over 3000 years ago when he composed Psalm 19 of the Book of Tehillim (Psalms), in which he extolls the virtues of the sun and the other heavenly wonders and then tells us why the Torah is even better. Let’s take a closer look:
Psalm 19 (which was subsequently incorporated by the “Men of the Great Assembly” into the Sabbath Morning Prayer Service) begins with the verse: “The heavens declare the glory of G-d and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork …” This talks to the idea that the stars and the planets in the high heavens - which could have not have been created by man or by random accident - “declare” that G-d created the universe and everything in it.
The Psalm continues (verse 6): “The sun is like a groom coming forth from the bridal chamber …” Rada”k (one of the great 12th century Bible commentators) explains that just as everyone joyfully comes out to greet the groom, so does all of creation rejoice every morning when the light of the sun rises forth anew.
After completing his description of the sun and the stars which proclaim G-d’s wisdom and the beauty of His creation, King David proceeds to declare that exists a testimony to G-d’s greatness that far surpasses the heavens – and that testimony is the holy and perfect Torah that G-d gave us at Mount Sinai, with all the beauty and kindness and wisdom contained within it.
In verses 8-10, he enumerates the praises of the Torah and how it is more beneficial than the sun: “The Torah of G-d is perfect, it restores the soul. The testimony of G-d is trustworthy, making the simple one wise. The orders of G-d are upright, gladdening the heart. The command of G-d is clear, enlightening the eyes. The fear of G-d is pure, enduring forever. The judgments of G-d are true, altogether righteous.”
The Rada”k (in verse 10) explains these verses as follows:
“The Torah of G-d is perfect, it restores the soul.” – The sun can damage certain things, but Torah is perfect for all. A person who is overexposed to the sun can die of sunstroke. Not so the Torah, which you can never have too much of. The more one basks in its warmth, the more it refreshes and restores the soul.
“The testimony of G-d is trustworthy, making the simple one wise.” – The Torah contains great wisdom for the intellect and sharpens the mind, whereas the heat of the sun can sometimes affect the mind adversely and make a person go mad.
“The orders of G-d are upright, gladdening the heart.” – G-d’s commandments, as written in the Torah, bring gladness to the heart, with all their attendant beauty and sensitivity, unlike the sun which can bring fear and worry to the heart, for a person is always afraid lest the heat of the sun harm him.
“The command of G-d is clear, enlightening the eyes.” – The study of Torah lights up the eyes and brings clarity and meaning into our lives, but prolonged staring at the sun injures the eyes.
“The fear of G-d is pure, enduring forever.” – Although some of the Torah’s commandments are limited to specific times and circumstances, fear of G-d is always necessary and beneficial in order for man to be in control of his impulses and base urges. Thus, it surpasses the illumination of the sun which can be obscured by clouds during the daytime, and which is gone at night.
“The judgments of G-d are true, altogether righteous.” – There is no contradiction between one law of the Torah and another. With enough study, patience and faith, a Jew can begin to see the amazing righteousness, conformity and truth of G-d’s Torah. The sun, on the other hand, is self-contradictory and lacks consistency. When it shines in one place, it ceases to function elsewhere. It also gives us different amounts of sunshine at different times of the day.
So this summer, as we sit outside in our cozy lounge chairs, sipping our mango smoothies, basking in the rays of the glorious hot sun for many long hours – and worrying whether or not we are going to die of skin cancer, or if it is going to get cloudy and block the sun – let’s remember that we Jews have something even better and more beneficial than that big fat ball of fire up there in the sky – and which we can study from and enjoy worry-free, any time, and without applying sunblock first. The Torah rocks!
[Sources: Artscroll Tehillim (Psalms) with commentary by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer]