Torah Portion Chukat (Ordinances) Numbers (B’Midbar) 19-22

Haftorah Reading: Judges 11:1-33


Today we read a Torah portion about the death of both of Moshe’s siblings, Aaron and Miriam. We also read of the remedy for being ritually unclean. You could become ritually unclean by being with or in the house of someone who had died. The only remedy for this level of uncleanness was to be sprinkled with water that contained the ashes of a red heifer.

Interestingly, while this took away the unclean state of the person, it also made all participants that helped in this service unclean. Yet G-d then said this is the ordinance of the Torah, saying in effect this ordinance is the entire Torah. How are we to understand this? If you remember, everyone who was a part of the process of helping the unclean person became unclean themselves. This happened to the priest and all of the other people involved, even though they may or may not personally have known the unclean person. It did not matter if the person was rich or poor they helped them even though they became unclean in the process. This may help us understand how this could be called, “ordinance of the Torah.”

This ordinance wrapped up the entire Torah and in fact the entire Bible. There is a story that a convert to Judaism came to Hillel and asked him to condense the whole Torah while he stood on one foot. If he could do that the man would convert. Hillel’s answer was basically the golden rule. In Matthew 7:12 we read the golden rule. Here, in fact, Yeshua equates it with summarizing the Torah and prophets. How could this be? G-d is telling us, through the ordinance of the red heifer, we are required to do acts of kindness, helpful to those around us, with no thought of reward. We do it because it is the right thing to do. It is how we are to act in the world. We may have to put ourselves out to be this kind of person. It is who we are. If it is not who we are then we have a problem. Without the ashes of the red heifer there was no way for an unclean person to be physically cleansed from the touch of death. This kept the person from participating in any actions inside the Mishkan or Temple. They could not come physically into G-d’s presence. Also, the whole process of preparing the ashes of the red heifer for use in the Mishkan or Temple had to be done outside the camp.

In Hebrews 9:13-14 we read the verses that compare Yeshua’s death and resurrection spiritually to the use of the ashes of the red heifer. The difference in the two experiences would be that Yeshua brought spiritual purity and it was eternal and everlasting. The red heifer only affected the physical body where as Yeshua affected us spiritually. As the heifer was killed and prepared outside of the camp in our reading today, Yeshua was crucified outside the camp. (Jerusalem).  Hebrews 13:11-13 The parallels are striking when we stop and look at the two together.

What does it mean for us to go outside the camp? It means our decision to follow Yeshua requires that we go outside the camp, as the person in our reading had to do. What does this mean to us?  We leave our old life behind. We leave our old habits behind for our spirit has been renewed and we are different.

Now we are able to help and spiritually minister to those with whom we come in contact. We are able to reach out to people we may not even know or have little in common with. We are truly able to love our neighbor as ourselves. So when we read these verses about the red heifer each year I pray we can see them in a new light, in a way that connects with us and who we are as children of the King. 

To finish up I would like to also spend a minute on the punishment of Aaron and Moshe. Moshe struck the rock to provide water for the people instead of speaking to the rock as G-d has directed. The punishment G-d handed down to them was that they would not be leading the people into the Promised Land. This punishment might see a bit out of proportion to their sin, but was it? In Numbers 20:10 we read these words of Moshe, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” What is missing? Moshe does not mention G-d at all. He says, “we.” When we come to the place in our spiritual walk that we take personal credit for what G-d does we have a problem. G-d does not take it lightly when we begin to see what we do as “we” and not “Him.” Always make it clear whom you serve.