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Chukat (Degree) B'midbar Numbers 19-20

Torah Portion: Chukat (Decree) B’midbar (Numbers) 19:1-21:1

HafTorah: Judges 11:1-33

Tonight we read the Torah portion Chukat or Decree. In this Torah portion we read of the death of both Miriam and Aaron her brother. This leaves Moses alone, the last of his siblings. We also read of the incident of bringing forth water from the rock and the decree of the Red Heifer.

In Numbers 19 we read of this decree of Torah. It tells what is to be done to cleanse a person who is defiled by a dead body. This ritual uncleanness would bar a person from participating in the Temple life of Israel until they were cleansed by the ashes of the red heifer. Always remember this kind of defilement had nothing to do with sin but only barred a person from the corporate worship at the Temple or Mishkan. Interestingly after this decree we are told of the death of two of the leaders of Israel.

First I would like to talk for a bit about this word, chukat which appears in Numbers 19:2. G-d says, “This is the ordinance of the Torah.” The sentence structure seems to say, “all the commandments of Torah are wrapped up in this one commandment. We ask how can this be? To answer this question we must understand the word, “chok” in Hebrew. This word is used to describe a commandment which defies logic or a rational answer. It is a commandment that is observed by simple acceptance of G-d’s will. Commandments such as, “thou shall not kill, steal, oppress are designated by the Hebrew word Mishpatim. These are commandments easily understood, in fact man or society probably would have arrived at them on their own. Chok is not like that, especially this one. It defies logic. So many of these chukim have to do with ritual purity which for two thousand years has not been a practical problem. There is no Temple. So we tend to over look the lesson here. This commandment of the Torah touches us to our core. It calls us to obey the Father even if we don’t understand. We do what He tells us because we love Him and yearn to please Him. We desire to do His will for no other reason than it is His will. We are not motivated by any personal sense of intellectual enjoyment but simply by the fact we love our Maker.

In Exodus 1:8 we can see Miriam and her mother risk their lives because they feared G-d not Pharoah. We see it in Yeshua when He could say, “Not my will but Thine be done.” In Luke 22”42 So when we read about this chok it should remind us of what our deepest spiritual motive is: doing what G-d commanded just because we love Him and want to please Him. Not for any other reasons. We don’t always understand but we don’t have to. He is our G-d and we love Him. So we read this and other chukim with that in mind.

This brings me to Numbers 20 where Moses and Aaron are bringing water out of the rock. What did Moses do wrong that brought about such a punishment from G-d. G-d told him to bring his staff before in scripture, in fact that is how he brought water from the rock before. So why such a punishment now? The answer lies in the words of Moses, “Shall we then bring forth water for you.” Do we see G-d anywhere in He’s answer? No, Moses put himself and Aaron in the place of G-d. It was him doing this not G-d. For a moment Moses did not obey this chok. For a moment he forgot to obey just because G-d said it. He did not bring glory to G-d but to himself and Aaron. He failed in his role as an example to Israel. He had a failure of faith. G-d’s opening words to Moses in effect says this, “Because you did not believe me.”

My prayer for each of us is that we never lose faith when G-d puts a seemingly impossible task before us or a task we do not understand. I pray we hold fast to what He has said and faithfully obey.