Torah Portion: Chukat B’Midbar(Numbers) 19-22
Haftorah Reading: Judges 11:1-33
Tonight we read one of the more difficult Torah portions to understand. It includes the death of Miriam and Aaron. It contains the verses giving Moshe notice that he will not be allowed to enter the Land, his dream and goal for over 40 years of his life. Even the name Chukat, hints at the difficulty in understanding what we are about to read. We will try to bring some clarity to this portion over the next few minutes together.
First, let’s begin with the word “Chok” which is the root of Chukat, the name of our portion.. The word chok means at its root, to engrave. This gives us some idea of the magnitude of what we are going to read. In fact, the opening phrase of our portion when written in Hebrew, means that this is the essence of the Torah. This commandment of the Red Heifer stands at the center of Torah. What are we to understand from this? To grasp what it means lets look at the commandments. The ashes of the Red Heifer were used to cleanse someone who had become ritually unclean form being in contact with a dead body, either by touch or by being in the same structure with a dead person. This was the pinnacle of uncleanness. This meant, until you were cleansed by the ashes of the Red Heifer, you could not take part in the religious life of the community. Another odd thing about this statute was that the priest who prepared the ashes and the one who administered them became unclean themselves in order to cleanse the person. They were then excluded from the religious life of the community until the evening. Numbers 19:1-10. Think about this a moment. The priest made himself unclean in order to help a fellow Israelite, someone he probably did not know. It was just something someone in his place was expected to do. You might say it was an act of loving kindness, helping out a person because that is what you are expected to do. There was no reward in the physical world, no clashing cymbals, just being who you were supposed to be. We can easily see how Yeshua did this for us when He died for us.
Also in the Messianic writing we see this idea expressed where? In Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 we see in the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua describes His teaching as the summary of the Law and the Prophets, engraved on our hearts. We are to look at people as G-d looks at them, His creation, that we have the duty to do what we can, even for those we do not know. That is the Law and the Prophets. That is loving kindness. So in this Chok here we learn a profound lesson on how to live our daily lives as G-d’s people.
To add to this picture let us take a moment and see what we can learn form the refusal of G-d to allow Moshe to enter the Land. There are many ideas on why G-d did this, one being that Moshe lost his temper and struck the rock. Another thought is that Moshe took the credit for the miracle instead of giving it to G-d when he said, “We extract the water for you” in Numbers 20:10-11. I would like to offer another reason based on the Hebrew wording. In verse 20:2 we see the English word “gathered.” This word comes from the Hebrew word Kahal and that usually describes a disassociated group of people who come together with a common purpose, the purpose here being a lack of water. In verse 7 we see G-d’s instructions to Moshe. G-d told him to assemble the congregation together. In this instruction to Moshe G-d used the word “Edah”, translated as congregation. The root of Edah means a witness or testimony. This word expresses more clearly a group bound together by a common purpose and goal. Later, in verse 10 we read where Moshe and Aaron gathered together the Kahal. The word used here, as we have seen, is not the same as the one used by G-d. It would seem that Moshe and Aaron had lost the vision of the people as G-d’s edah and saw them more as a people with little or no common purpose outside of their thirst. Moshe and Aaron, because of the limited way they saw the people, lost their ability to lead them into the next phase of their journey, entering the Promised Land. They had lost their “loving kindness” towards G-d’s “Edah.” So for us in our daily life it is so important to be able to cultivate G-d’s view of the people we come in contact with each day and to treat them with loving kindness.
May G-d give each of us the strength each day to be a light to the world around us.