Q. (See question 2730). Thank you for explaining that unusual fast of Erev Shabbos Chukas. Although I understand the remez (allusion) in the Targum, still what connection does the burning of the sefarim have with parshas Chukas itself?
A. Parshas Chukas refers to the mitzva of Parah Aduma. It represents the quintessential illogical mitzvah that contains and exposes no rational conception of why we do it. We perform the mitzvah simply because it is Hashem’s will. That is exactly its point, strength and the reason why it purifies.
In addition the parsha mentions ” Zois Hatorah adam ki yomus b’ohel – This is the law: when a man dies in a tent.” (Bamidbar 19: 14). Our Sages explain (Brochos 63b), that this posuk teaches a most important and fundamental principle about learning Torah, namely, that the Torah will not survive and be extant, unless one is ready to give his life for it. (“Meimis Atzmo Aleha”). Those two points definitely connect this parsha to the tragic future events.
There is no question that the burning of that collection of seforim in Paris, at a time when every book was painstakingly written by hand and when many were original and irreplaceable, was a most terrible tragedy. It represented the destruction of generations of Jewish learning and work. It’s estimated that the wagons held about 10,000 sefarim and manuscripts. For how many Sages and Baalei Tosafos, it represented the extinction of a life’s work!
Yet as we commemorate that catastrophe, we realize that not only we have survived, the Torah itself has not only survived but multiplied exponentially. As the eternal words said by Rabi Chaninah ben Teradion, testify. He was one of the Ten Martyrs executed for having defied the Roman ban on teaching Torah. When burned alive at the stake together with the forbidden Torah scrolls, which he had been teaching, managed to proclaim with a smile to his many talmidim and followers, for all of history: “I see the scrolls burning but the letters survived, flying up in the air.”
True the Torah will demand sacrifice, but at the same time it is Toras Chaim, or the giver of life.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld