By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
The Hebrew word “hok” means “decree.” The plural of “hok” is “hukat.” A “hok,” however, is not just any decree, it is a decree from Heaven for which we mortal humans can discern no obvious logical reason or purpose. Commandments which prohibit actions such as murder and theft, for which a logical reason or purpose is obvious, are also “decrees,” but they are decrees of a different type, which do not constitute hukat.
Two hukat are described in the beginning of Parashat Hukat, the first being “tumat hamet” (ritual contamination from a corpse); the second type of hok being “parah adumah,” the “Red Heifer” (purification from that contamination).
After receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish People, which had become the nation of “Israel” at Mount Sinai, set off on their journey to the land that the Creator had promised them, the Land of Israel. In order to arrive at their destination, they needed to pass through several kingdoms (countries). The most direct route was through the Kingdom of Edom.
Toward the end of Parashat Hukat, we learn that the King of Edom denied a request by Israel to peaceably pass through his country. Although disappointed, Israel accepted Edom’s refusal to grant their request for passage and looked for an alternative route.
An alternative route was through the Kingdoms of Ammon and Bashan. Israel asked the King of Ammon for permission to peaceably pass through his country. The King of Ammon, like the King of Edom, also denied Israel’s request for passage. But unlike the King of Edom, the King of Ammon used his “military” to attack Israel. Israel defended by going on the offensive and, in so doing, conquered the territory, including the cities and towns, which then constituted the Kingdom of Ammon. The King of Bashan also attacked Israel and was likewise defeated.
After the war, the former lands of Ammon and Bashan became part of the Land of Israel. There was no immediate request that, in exchange for “peace,” Israel return to Ammon and Bashan the land which Israel had captured during the war.
However, some 300 years later, however, Ammon proposed “Land for Peace,” stating that it would once again wage war against Israel if Israel did not “return” to Ammon the land Israel had captured from it in battle. Shoftim (Judges) 11:13, 23-24. Israel refused; Ammon attacked Israel again, and was again defeated in battle.
Thus, we see that the Torah rejects the idea of “Land for Peace.” Exercising full and complete sovereignty over the entirety of the Land of Israel, including lands which Israel has captured in wars which are waged to secure the Land of Israel, is nothing more than the logical extension of a full and complete rejection of the idea of “Land for Peace.”
It is no coincidence that the hukot of tumat hamet and parah adumah are discussed at the beginning of Parashat Hukot and that the foundation is laid toward the end of Parashat Hukot for Israel’s rejection of the idea of “Land for Peace.” Although some may contend that there is no obvious logical reason or purpose for rejecting offers of “Land for Peace,” the Torah clearly teaches otherwise.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American lawyer who resides in Jerusalem, Israel. Rabbi Sasson received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Haim Ovadia, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Torah VeAhava. Rabbi Ovadia, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, was ordained by Mordechai Eliyhau, Chief Rabbi of Israel (1983 – 1993), and is a descendent of the renowned kabbalist Hakham Yehuda Fetaya Z”L.