There is so much here that I have to just give the highlights.
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We start with the regulations regarding the Red Heifer and the purification procedures involved with it. Next, we read of the death of Miriam, and the water coming from the rock after Moses struck it. But in his anger, Moses did not give credit to God so God tells Moses that he will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
They come to Mount Hor, where Aaron dies and Eliazar takes his place as Cohen HaGadol (High Priest).
The people are still wandering around the desert, and as they are now nearing the end of the punishment God decreed for them, they again complain about no meat generally kvetch about their lives, so God sends snakes against them as punishment. After repenting and asking forgiveness, God tells Moses to make a brass serpent and place it on a pole as a symbol so that when someone is bitten, if they look at the serpent they will not die.
This first parashah end with the defeat of both Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan.
The next parashah we will read for this double-parashot Shabbat is Balak, the story of how Balak, the king of Moab hired Balaam to curse the Jews. Balaam tells the messengers from Balak he refuses to go, as per God’s instructions, but Balak sends more important men with greater promises of reward and Balaam agrees to go. God sends an angel to block Balaam, and even though Balaam doesn’t see the angel, his ass does and three times avoids the angel. The third time Balaam begins to beat the ass for her disobedience, but God allows the ass to talk to Balaam, and then God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel, with drawn sword and ready to kill.
Balaam asks forgiveness and says he will return, yet God says to keep going but say only what God will tell him to say. Balak takes Balaam on a high hill to see the multitude of God’s people, and instead of cursing them, Balaam blesses them. Balak tries to get Balaam to curse the people three times, but all he does is bless them. Finally, enraged, Balak sends Balaam back home.
This parashah ends with the sin at Ba’al-Peor when the men of Israel began to associate with the Midianite women, sinning and worshiping their gods with them (we learn later, in Numbers 31, that this was Balaam’s idea). As Moses is telling them to stop, one of the princes of the tribe of Simeon is with a Midianite woman, and mocking Moses in full view of all the people; meanwhile, God has sent a plague as punishment for this terrible sin. Phineas, the son of Eleazar, is so enraged at the Simeonite prince that he thrusts a lance through both the prince and the woman with him, and this act of zealousness for God stays the plague, and that is where this second parashah ends.
As I said at the start, there is so much here.
Chukkat are the laws that God gave to us for which we can’t understand their meaning. The laws regarding the Shew Bread on the table, for instance, and this law about the Red Heifer, in which everything associated with preparing the heifer makes one unclean, but that which has made you unclean is then used to cleanse you.
The snake in the desert is so important for two reasons: first, the snake represented God’s salvation for those who would die, which has the spiritual message that when we look to, i.e. call upon God, we will be saved from death. Second, the snake is mentioned by Yeshua (John 3:14) as a foretelling of his form of death, as well as a prophecy about the distant future when he is held up and worshiped as God, just as the snake was later called Nehushtan and turned into an idol (2 Kings 18).
And finally, the lands that were taken from the two kings, Sihon and Og, are later given to Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, which ended up separating them from the protection of their brothers and their eventual destruction and dispersion throughout the world by the Assyrians, well before the Northern Tribes suffered the same fate.
Oy! Where to start, how much to say, and how can I stop once I start (which is always a problem)?
I am going to make this a simple lesson because as I reviewed these chapters, one thing stuck out in my mind: in my Chumash, the commentary on the Red Heifer gave a story about Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai telling his talmudim (students) “…but the law concerning the Red Heifer is a decree of the All-holy, whose reasons for issuing that decree it behooves not mortals to question.”
This is pretty much what God told Moses later, which we read in Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
Too often I hear people asking questions about the secret things, such as the pronunciation of God’s name, are he and Yeshua the same or separate beings, when does a certain holy day on the calendar really begin, and other such Gnostic-like questions. They want to know every little detail about every single line of the Torah and use the excuse that they are trying to be obedient as their reasoning.
God told us everything we need to know, and beyond that, he told us to mind our own business. God doesn’t care if we understand why he said what he said, or why he wants us to do something, he only cares that we do it. The Torah is the first time people were told they don’t have the need to know. To me, the willingness to accept that because God said something, that is all the justification we need is a demonstration not just of obedience, but of our respect, trust, and faithfulness.
So today’s message is this: if you don’t understand why God wants you to do something, it’s OK to ask God to explain it to you; but, if he doesn’t give you an answer, accept that his silence means it isn’t necessary for you to understand, it’s just necessary for you to obey.
The ultimate demonstration of our faith in God is to come to him like little children (sound familiar?), meaning we don’t question why we have to do something, we just do it.
You don’t get on God’s good side by trying to understand him, you get on God’s good side by trusting that he knows what is best for you and faithfully obeying him.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!