Torah Portion: Chukat (Regulations) B’midbar(Numbers) 19:1-22:1
Haftorah Reading Judges 11:1-33
This Torah portion is one of the more difficult portions to understand on several levels. The name, chukat, gives us a hint to its difficulty. The word, when used as it is here, can mean regulations. The root of the word means to engrave, as in stone or metal, something that is meant to endure. Chok, the singular form of the word always means something that, on the surface, seems to be illogical or impossible to grasp. In our portion we read where the people involved in preparing the ashes of the red heifer became unclean. However, when those ashes were applied to a person, who was unclean from being in contact with a dead body, that person became clean again. For an Israelite, being unclean by contact with death meant they were excluded from worshiping G-d in the Temple. That person could not come into the confines of the Temple until they were cleansed by the ashes of the red heifer.
Given that background, I want us to now look into the Messianic scriptures and see what the book of Hebrews says about the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Messiah. Hopefully these verses will help us see a parallel between what happened to Yeshua and our Torah verses describing the preparations of the red heifer and the application of its ashes. In Hebrews 13:10-16 we read where Yeshua suffered outside the camp – the camp being the city of Jerusalem. He sanctified the people with His own blood. Both the cross, crucifixion and burial were outside the camp. Then, most importantly, we as His disciples are encouraged to also go outside the camp (verse13) in order to bear His reproach.
This book of Hebrews was most likely written just before Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE. Therefore, the Jewish believers were on the edge of giving up hope and becoming exiles or worse possibly facing death. The writer of these words was encouraging them to hold fast to their faith, even in the face of hardships that were coming. He was telling them and us that our faith can cause us to be outside the camp. We may have to suffer loss of friends, family and sometimes, even our life. When we go outside the camp for our faith we may be looked at as odd, out of step or radical. However, we must keep in our spirit how Yeshua suffered.
Even sometimes the words we hear from other believing friends may tell us we are going overboard in this whole faith thing. We may be told G-d loves us and wouldn’t ask us to take an unpopular stand. We are supposed to belong and fit in. That is not the message in these verses in Hebrews. These verses tell us our faith requires us to go outside the camp. It requires us to be an active participant in the camp as well. We are to promote peace, charity and love of all people. However, it does not call us to go against the Word of G-d. It does not call us to over-look sin. It does not call us to allow people to continue in their sin. We are to stand for the truth of G-d’s Word.
G-d calls us to stand on truth, not on feelings or what the latest trend is telling us. Faith costs us everything. We are changed because we have made that step outside the camp. We are still to love the sinner but we are never to love them at the cost of our faith, such as allowing sin to continue in our midst.
We are to be united in faith (John 13:35) We see an example of this in our reading today. In B’Midbar/Numbers 20:1 we read the phrase, “the whole congregation.” In Hebrew, this is a phrase that indicates the people of Israel were now united in a single purpose. Most of the people who came out of Egypt had died and a new generation had come to the front. No longer do we see the mention of tribal lineage to any great extent. Here the people are all united in one task. That task was to enter the Land.
Now, in our reading we can see that has its benefits but it also can have problems. We can read this single view blinded them to the dangers of bad decisions such as complaining they had not food or water. We as believers are all called to be united, but even in that unity, we must stand for truth. Here their single mindedness blinded them and we can read the result. We are to be unified as the body of Messiah but not at the cost of truth.