Parashat Chukat

Saturday 1 July 2017 Tamuz 7 5777

Parashat Chukat “Ordinance of...”

Numbers 19:1-22:1; Judges 11:1-33; John 3: 10-21

Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (Parah Adumah) which was burnt with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure.

It is a lesson that we must do the commandments even if we can't understand them. God decreed the commandments. They are for our benefit. We may not always know why.

Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceased to flow. Once again the people rebelled against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock (instead of speaking to it) and water rushes forth. However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)

Aharon dies. His son, Elazar, is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, repent and live.

The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us.

The Torah states regarding Moshe's hitting the rock instead of speaking to it (as he was commanded to do by the Almighty): "And the Almighty said to Moshe and Aharon, because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore, you will not bring this congregation to the Land which I gave them." (Numbers 20:12)

Rashi elucidates that if Moshe were to have spoken to the rock (instead of hitting it) and it would have given forth water, there would have been a greater sanctification of the Almighty in the eyes of the congregation. The people would say, "If this rock which does not speak and does not hear fulfills the word of the Almighty, all the more so should we."

We see from here that the essence of sanctifying the Almighty's name is not merely that someone should be impressed by another person's righteous behaviour or to think that a person is acting in an elevated manner.

Rather, the key factor is that other people should be influenced to improve their own behaviour. Whenever you behave in a manner that influences others to follow the Almighty's will, you sanctify His name.

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