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Parshat Chukat

Numbers 19:1-22:1

In this week Parasha Moses is taught the laws of the red heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body.
After forty years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and the people thirst for water. G d tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is told by G d that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.


Aaron dies at Hor Hahar and is succeeded in the high priesthood by his son Elazar. Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people "speak against G d and Moses"; G-d tells Moses to place a brass serpent upon a high pole, and all who will gaze heavenward will be healed. The people sing a song in honor of the miraculous well that provided the water in the desert.
Moses leads the people in battles against the Emorite kings Sichon and Og (who seek to prevent Israels passage through their territory) and conquers their lands, which lie east of the Jordan.


The Parsha title "Chukat" comes from a word for a Divine ordinance that has no "rational" explanation. (As opposed to Eidot/Testimonies and Mishpatim/Laws, that can be sensibly understood.) Within the category of Chukim (plural) are two levels; 1) those decrees that could in principle be understood by human intelligence, but details of which are beyond comprehension, and 2) those which are entirely beyond the scope of human understanding. The law of the Red Heifer is alone in belonging to the second category. Even Solomon, who possessed great wisdom, said that the only part of Gods Torah that he could not explain were the commands concerning the red heifer.

Waters of Strife
After 40 years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and is buried there; "and there was no water for the congregation."
The people complain to Moses and Aaron: "... Why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? It is not a place of seeds, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink."
G-d instructs Moses to "gather the congregation together, you and Aaron your brother; and you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it shall give forth its water."
When they are thus gathered, Moses admonishes the people: "Hear now, you rebels! Shall we get you water out of this rock?"
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice.
And the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.

G-d speaks to Moses:
"Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation in to the land which I have given them."
These are the Waters of Strife; because the children of Israel strove with G-d, and He was sanctified by them.

The commentaries offer various explanations as to what Moses (and Aarons) sin was. Rashi says that it was that he struck the stone instead of only speaking to it, as G-d had instructed. According to Maimonides, it was the fact that he got angry, and said, "Hear now, you rebels."
Nachmanides questions both explanations, pointing out that: a) G-d told Moses to take along his staff, implying that he wassupposed to strike the stone (as in Exodus 17:6); b) It does not say here that Moses words were spoken in anger; whereas on other occasions we find Moses getting angry (cf. Numbers 31:14), and we dont find that he was punished for it; c) the verse explicitly says that his sin involved a lack of faith--not disobedience or anger. Nachmanides therefore explains the sin as lying in Moses declaration, "Shall we get you water out of this rock?" when he should have attributed the miracle solely to G-d.

Chassidic Master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev sees Maimonides explanation (that he rebuked the people angrily) and Rashis explanation (that he struck the rock instead of speaking to it) as two sides of the same coin. If a leaders influence on the community is achieved through harsh words of rebuke, than his relationship with the environment is likewise: he will have to forcefully impose his will on it to get it to serve his peoples needs and their mission in life. If, however, he influences his community by lovingly uplifting them to a higher place so that they, on their own, will desire to improve themselves, the world will likewise willingly yield its resources to the furtherance of his goals

Why is G-d unsanctified by that action of hitting the rock? After all, the collective didnt know what Moshe was actually commanded; they just wanted water!
It seems that the problem was that the nation had seen the miracle of hitting the rock already, and so doing it again wouldnt be anything out of the ordinary. Water coming out of a rock by hitting it became natural to them. Moshe therefore needed to do another miracle to WOW the people and by hitting the rock he missed that chance.

G-d is always around us creating miracles in our lives. Man wakes up in the morning healthy, he has a family, he has many beautiful things in his life, and these ARE miracles. But good things become the norm rather quickly, and we forget to thank G-d for them. Let us learn from our nature as human beings not to take the things in our life for granted and to take a step back once and a while and see how blessed we truly are! 



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