Weekly Portion: Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (Parah Adumah) which was burnt with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure. It is a lesson that we must do the commandments even if we can’t understand them. God decreed the commandments. They are for our benefit. We may not always know why.

Miriam, Moshe’s sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceased to flow. Once again the people rebelled against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth. However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)

Aharon dies. His son, Elazar, is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, repent and live.

The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us. There are many questions which need to be asked. Please consult the original work and a good commentary.

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Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. 

Regarding the mitzvah of the red-heifer, the Torah states:

“This is the decree of the Torah (Numbers 19:2).

Why is this mitzvah referred to as “the decree of the Torah” as though it encompassed the entire Torah?

Rashi states that the reason for the mitzvah of the red-heifer is beyond our understanding, yet cites a reason for the red-heifer as being a sin offering to attain forgiveness for the worship of the Golden Calf. Is this not contradictory?

The mitzvos of the Torah are to be observed as Divine decrees. We can apply human reasoning in an attempt to understand and benefit from the mitzvos. However, we must observe them because they are the will of God.

The worship of the Golden Calf was the outcome of the misapplication of human logic. Moses had said that he would return at the end of forty days. When he did not return at the precise moment he was expected, some people argued that Moses must surely have died. Logic dictates that no mortal can survive forty days without nourishment. It was this fallacious conclusion that led to the Golden Calf debacle.

The mitzvah of the red-heifer, precisely because if is beyond human understanding, is the rectification of the error that led to the worship of the Golden Calf. Rashi is, therefore, not contradictory. Yes, the reason for the red heifer is unknown, and yes, the very fact that we observe mitzvos that are beyond our understanding constitutes a rectification of the sin of the Golden Calf.

The mitzvah of the red-heifer is thus appropriately referred to as “the decree of the Torah.” Its principles applies to the entire Torah. Whether or not we have a logical grasp of any of the mitzvos, they are to be observed as Divine decrees.


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