Parashah Chukkat (Regulations) Numbers 19-22

This parashah starts with the regulations about the Red Heifer ashes being used to cleanse people defiled by contact with a dead body. We then find ourselves in the 40th year of the desert travels, with Miriam dying, leaving Israel with no water (we will come back to this soon.) Aaron and Moses are told by God to strike the rock to give water, but in his anger Moses strikes it twice, and claims that he and Aaron are the ones giving them water (Numbers 20:10):

He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?

This statement made God angry because they did not give the proper credit to God and make Him holy in the sight of the people, and their punishment was severe- Moses and Aaron were prohibited from entering the land of Canaan.

The rest of this parashah tells us of the death of Aaron, describes the sin of rebellion that caused God to send snakes against the people, and the successful military battles of the people against Arad (this battle is out of place, chronologically, as it had preceded the battle referred to in Numbers 14:40-45), ending with their conquering Og, the King of Bashan and Sichon, the king of Heshbon and taking all their lands (which later were the lands in which Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh settled.)

As I have complained about so many times…where do I start? There is just so much in this one parashah to talk about. But I did promise to come back to the point about there being no more water after Miriam died, so let’s start there.

Miriam is considered to be one of the three good leaders of Israel and Jewish legend says that due to her merit, the rock which brought forth water accompanied Israel as long as she lived. Reference to this rock is made by Shaul in 1 Corinthians, 10:3-4:

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was the Messiah.

This is confusing: Jewish legend has it that Miriam was the Rock that produced the water, and here a well-trained, knowledgeable Pharisee is saying that it wasn’t Miriam, but Yeshua who was the Rock travelling with Israel through the desert. The bible isn’t supposed to contradict itself, so what do we make of this seeming contradiction? I looked this up in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, by Dr, Daniel Stern: he related many of the different ways the term “Rock” has been used to describe God and Messiah, both in scripture and in songs, but in the end he confessed he didn’t know why Shaul (Paul) used it this way in his letter. Maybe we will never know what was in Shaul’s mind at the time, just like I don’t think we will ever know what he meant when he wrote about the “Israel of God” at the end of Galatians, either.

But we can say that this is not a biblical contradiction because Miriam being the Rock is not specifically stated in Torah- it is just a legend. And Shaul referring to the Rock as Messiah is nothing more than a descriptive analogy which doesn’t contradict any specific event in Torah.

This issue does present us with a midrash from today’s parashah: do we always need to understand what we read in the bible? The commentary in the Chumash states that the ordinance regarding the Red Heifer is so mysterious that even King Solomon was unable to fathom it’s meaning. In Jewish history, Johanan ben Zakkai told his students, “…but the law concerning the Red Heifer is a decree of the All-holy, Whose reasons for issuing that decree it behoves not mortals to question.”  In other words, God said it is to be that way and that’s all we mere mortals need to know.

And that is, in my opinion, the main reason people reject God and create their own religions: we want to know why. We HAVE to know why! It is a compulsion, and I believe that it is based on the desire for power. As they say, knowledge is power, and people want to be more powerful than the next guy, so if I understand God better than you I am above you, more powerful than you, and deserve to lead you.  Selfish, self-centered, egotistical behavior…all innately human. The good news is that this need to know why drives us to scientific investigation and, thereby, is the root cause of the discovery of useful and wonderful inventions, as well as all the medical and technological advancements we have made over the centuries.

On the other hand, that alone may be reason to question if needing to know the “why” of everything is actually a good thing. Technology has taken us over, medical advancements have cured diseases but the cost of discovery is so high no one can afford the cure! We know how to read the human genome, and how to use stem cell technology, but the more we learn about our genetic make-up, the closer we come to thinking we are like God because we are able to heal, and even create life. That is NOT a good attitude to have.

Maybe we should try to be more humble, less inquisitive and more accepting of God’s omniscience so we can be more obedient? Isn’t it time to redirect our footsteps from the path of discovery to the ways of worship?

I think we should, but I  don’t see it ever happening. Human nature is inquisitive, curious, and we all want to be self-determining. We want to be in charge, we want to know what it is all about, and we want to have control over our lives. It is the reason we were thrown out of Eden; it is the reason we sinned with the Golden Calf; it is what killed Dathan, Abiram and Korach; it has been the bane of humanity and the foundation of sin since humanity was created. And I don’t think it is going to end until humanity ends in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days.) Once we are no longer shackled with this mantle of sinful flesh and are resurrected into our eternal, spiritual bodies will we be able to enjoy and find peace in being humble and obedient to God, constantly worshiping Him. Humility and obedience is just not part of our DNA, and no amount of Recombinant DNA, cloning, stem cell technology or biological research will ever put it there.

We need to work at being humble and accepting what God said to do as simply something we should do. To paraphrase from the great poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ours not to reason why; ours but to do and live!

So do what God says (that’s the stuff in the Torah, in case you weren’t sure) and do so without asking why, without kvetching about it, and without trying to figure out what it all means.  Really- understanding what God means won’t get you any more “saved” than the next person, and a Gnostic search for meaning just might end up pulling you further from your salvation than bringing you closer to it.

Parashah Beha’altecha (When you light..) Numbers 8-12

There are a few really important events in this parashah. One is that the Levites are separated from the rest of the children of Israel and dedicated to God, to serve Him only. God reminds us that the first born children of Egypt were sacrificed in order that all of the children of Israel may be set free; therefore, all the first born children of Israel belong to God. The Levites serve as substitute for the first born of all the other tribes, which is why a census of the Levites was compared to the first born of the other tribes, and for the difference there was a payment of 5 shekels per child redeemed ( Exodus 13:1, Numbers 3:1 – 4:29.) 

An important commandment that originated in this reading is for those who are unclean on Passover. This parashah takes place on the first Passover in the desert, the first month of the second year (on the first Passover they were still in Egypt); some men who were unclean by reason of having been near a dead body could not partake in the Passover, and when asked what to do God told Moses that when this happens they are to have their Passover on the 14th day of the second month.

It is also important to note God commanded that all people who worship Him are to be treated the same way; consequently, all people who worship Him are to worship Him the same way (this was first stated in Leviticus 24:22):

Numbers 9:14 – And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the Passover unto the Lord: according to the statute of the Passover, and according to the ordinance thereof, so shall he do; ye shall have one statute, both for the stranger, and for him that is born in the land. 

God has Moses make the silver trumpets, which are used to call the people to important events, war and for the issuing in of the Jubilee Year (Yovel.)

Chapter 10 tells us who led each of the tribes as they traveled in the desert, and how when the cloud was lifted up the people traveled, and when it came to rest on the Tabernacle the people remained. Numbers 10:35-36 gives us the prayers that Moses said as the Ark of the Covenant was taken and returned; these prayers are also found in Psalm 68, and are still used today as the Torah is removed and returned to the Ark:

And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said:”Rise up, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel.”

Chapter 11 relates how, when the people complained about not having meat to eat (effectively rejecting the miraculous gift of manna God provided to them every day), God sent quails to satisfy them. However, because they did not ask respectfully and rejected God’s provisions, He also sent a plague (perhaps some form of Avian Flu?) that killed many. During this time Moses was overwhelmed by the pressure placed upon him, and to help Moses God had Moses gather 70 Elders for Him to give some of the Spirit (Ruach) that Moses had, so they could help him.

In Exodus 18 we are told that Jethro, Moses’ Father-in-law, recommended that Moses appoint people to help him adjudicate: I believe this is a different event than God giving His Ruach to the 70 Elders. These Elders were to spiritually edify and comfort the people, not to be judges. When they prophesied as the Ruach came upon them, this was a Divine sign of their appointment in this role. Moses also showed his humility and love for the people when he was told that others now had his spirit, and he replied (Numbers 11:29) that he wished all of God’s people were prophets (given God’s Ruach HaKodesh); as stated in Joel and Jeremiah, when we accept Yeshua, this does happen.

The last chapter is the rebellion, so to speak, of Miriam and Aaron against their own brother, God’s appointed leader. They speak out against him for marrying a Cushite woman. Scholars disagree about who the Cushite woman is: it could be Zipporah, a Midianite, since Midian is a synonym for Cushan, where the Kusi people live. It could also be an Ethiopian woman, a second wife. No one knows for sure. Either way, it seems Miriam is the instigator of this speaking up against Moses, and although Moses does nothing to defend himself, God doesn’t like the fact that Miriam and Aaron attack Moses. God decided to defend Moses Himself, and struck Miriam with leprosy. Aaron seemed to get a “bye” on the punishment, most likely because he was just tagging along with Miriam and, as High Priest (Cohen HaGadol) he really couldn’t be unclean because of the position he held. Miriam was struck with leprosy, Moses prayed for God to forgive her (which He did) and Miriam ended up shut outside the camp for 7 days until she could be declared clean by Aaron (in accordance with the Torah.)

BTW…this portion of the Torah was the reading for my Bar Mitzvah, some 50 years ago this month.

As always, there is just so much to talk about. I usually like to talk of Moses’ prayer for Miriam, because it is short and heartfelt, the way I believe we should always pray. In my book on Prayer  I refer to it often.

Today I feel led to discuss, as I (again) often do, about the need for people to realize that the Torah was not done away with by the teachings and life of Yeshua (Jesus); in fact, His life and teachings confirmed the importance and validity of Torah. As shown above, Numbers 9:14 (and other places in the Torah) is very clear that once someone commits to worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, although they are still considered strangers (Ger, in the Hebrew), or non-Hebrews, they are afforded the same rights and privileges as a native born Hebrew.  As I say, over and over…and over….God has no religion. He has His rules for how we worship Him and treat each other, and if anyone accepts God as their God, which includes those that accept His son, Yeshua, as their Messiah, they are bound up with Israel; and just as Israel, they are bound under the Torah. If you are someone who worships God and accepts Yeshua as your Messiah, you are sojourning with Israel, and also come under the commandment of Numbers 9:14.

Most of Christianity has not learned these two simple lessons: you can’t obey the Son without obeying the Father, and you shouldn’t worship the son instead of the Father.

Once Christian churches begin to teach the Old Covenant as being the basis and root of the New Covenant, instead of teaching that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant, then the full blessing of God will come upon them. Yes, accepting Yeshua as Messiah results in salvation, Grace and blessings, but God never runs out of blessings. He tells us, in Deuteronomy 28, that the more we obey, the more blessings we receive.

I can understand, having studied the history of the schism between Christianity and Judaism, why Christianity might have overlooked that. What I don’t understand is why they still haven’t caught on that they’ve missed it!

If you are a Christian, and you don’t believe that you need to be obedient to the Torah because it is only for Jews, then you, my friend, are missing out on many, many wonderful blessings. And, worse than that, you may even find yourself losing out on the very salvation you feel secure in as you continue to ignore God’s commandments, which He said you must follow! Grace from sin is not license to sin, and disobeying God is a sin.

I am not “Judiazing” anyone, and I am not saying that eating ham will guarantee you go to hell, no matter what else you do: Yeshua’s sacrifice allows us to be forgiven any sin SO LONG AS WE MEAN IT WHEN WE ASK FOR FORGIVENESS! Without true T’shuvah there is no repentance, and subsequently your request for forgiveness will be ignored.  God can see your heart and know if you mean it or not, but the rest of the world can’t do that, which is why Yacov (James) tells us faith without works is dead. To be a light unto the world, you must show your faith through your actions and words, and those actions are detailed in the Torah.

No one can live Torah perfectly, but we are to try to live it as best as we can. Ignoring Torah is rejecting God…you might want to consider that if you have been taught Torah is not for Christians.

Can we talk?

How many times have you heard someone praying, and they seem to go on, and on, and on andonandonandon……sometimes stopping to think of what to say, maybe to take a breath, as if they need to be like King Solomon or Elijah.

I have also heard people praying and interjecting “Father God” or “Lord God” over and over, every other word.

Hey- He knows who He is, OK?

I may be upsetting some people with this little pet peeve of mine, especially those that like to pray as if there is nothing else to do, but I believe the bible supports my feelings: prayer should be honest, direct and from the heart. Too many people pray from their head, meaning they try to speak in King James bible-ese, with flourishing speech, like some Shakespearean actor on the stage.

In Matthew 6:6-13 Yeshua told us what and how to pray:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,  your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Many interpretations use “debt” instead of “trespass”, but I believe trespass is the correct interpretation because in the First Century that meant to sin against someone. The fact that verse 14 confirms that if we do not forgive on Earth those who sin against us we will not be forgiven in heaven is why I believe this verse is not about debt but about forgiveness.

This prayer is simple, and it serves as a template for any prayer we make.

We should start with recognizing who and what God is as we approach Him. Psalms 120 to 134 all start with the words “A Song of Ascents” and there have been different interpretations of what this means. I believe the teaching these specific psalms were sung as the Cohanim  (Priests)  ascended the steps towards the altar is correct. Each one is sung on a different step as the Cohan is bringing the sacrifice to God.

That is why our prayer should always start with recognition of God, like the Priest bringing the sacrifice to the altar, praising God before before anything is asked of Him, to show our respect and reverence for Him.

After we have recognized God’s goodness and awesomeness, then we can ask for ourselves. We should ask only for what we need, and only for now. We do not need to ask for anything past today, because tomorrow is up to God and we should trust that He will do for us tomorrow just as He will do for us today.

And when we ask to be forgiven, we need to be forgiving, as well, because our own forgiveness will be held against us. That is what the verse that says ‘forgive us as we forgive others’ means- judge us as we judge, forgive us the same way we forgive others, and if we don’t forgive others, well…we’re up the creek without a paddle. Why? Because we have told God not to forgive us if we refuse to forgive others.

And that will be all on our own head- no one else to blame for that one.

When Moses’s big sister was white as death because she spoke out against him, what was the prayer Moses presented to God? Was it long and drawn out? Was it with flourishes and beautiful language? Nope! When Moses sees his sister looking like death, he prays to God this way (Numbers 12:13):

So Moses cried out to the LORD, “Please, God, heal her!”

That’s it- four words. But those four words speak volumes to God, for they are straight from Moses’ heart. They were all that he needed to say, and all that God needed to hear to answer him.

When we pray we should pray quietly, from the heart, and tell God only what we want, which should be within His will for us or others. When we pray  as intercessors, we don’t need to babble on- pray to God that ‘whatever needs to be taken care of be done so, and swiftly, in Yeshua’s name. Amen.’

That’s it- that’s all you need to do. Yeshua tells us two important things:

  1. Don’t go on like the pagans, thinking that the more you talk the more He’ll listen, and;
  2. God already knows what you want and what you need.

So when you pray, pray as God wants you to, and as His son tells you you should. Prayer should follow the KISS rule:

Keep It Simple, Schlemiel!

So, to follow my own advice, I’m done.

Why Die Young?

We read about it every day in the paper, or hear it on the news: someone who is young and helpful, a real angel (so to speak) and he or she has died.

Don’t we ask ourselves, “Why? Why, Lord, did you take this wonderful person away from their family and loved ones? And away from all the good they were doing? Why?”

I wish I had an answer. I am thinking about this because I saw one of these stories in the paper the other day. A beautiful, young woman with young children who left them a video of herself while she was still lucid and healthy looking. A few weeks later she was dead.

It started me thinking about God’s plans and purposes. I think of all the prophets and could-have-been heroes that are not in the Bible because they didn’t heed God’s call to them. I always say you can’t make an argument from nothing, and you may say, “Steve- if these people aren’t in the Bible how can you say they didn’t heed the call? If there’s nothing about them, you can’t talk about them.” But there are some mentions in the Bible about people that didn’t heed God’s call, or tried not to. Jonah almost made the list of not-knowns, but he changed his mind and did as God asked. Moshe almost made the list, but God sent him Aaron and was very convincing (although Moshe almost caused God to kill him for disobedience on the way to Egypt.) There are some people we hear mention of in the Gospels; the man who wanted to follow Yeshua but wouldn’t give up his wealth, and the other guy who Yeshua asked to follow him but he said he needed to bury his father first. The event about the person is talked about, but the person is on the list of not-knowns.

There is another list, and one that is closer to finding an answer to why people die young. That’s the list of those God took for (apparently) no reason. Miryam (Miriam, Moshe’s sister) died and was buried in the desert. No reason, she just up and died. Aaron was gathered to his people, too, but there was no reason. No mention of sickness, no reminder of the sin he committed at Mt. Horeb, just, “Time to go, Big Bro: Bye-bye.” Moshe also was gathered to his people, even though he was still as sharp as a tack and in good health (the Bible tells us this.) Although here we pretty much know why Moshe was called home- the people were ready to enter the land and Moshe was not allowed to go, so God decided to call Moshe home instead of leaving Him alone in the desert. Moshe was called home because his service to the Lord was at an end.

Hey- maybe that’s the answer? When what the Lord has called us to do is at an end, he will take us home. That’s why Miryam and Aaron were gathered without any obvious or stated reason. That might be true also of Enoch, who walked with God and then just wasn’t there anymore. And Elisha, who was taken into heaven by the chariot of God.

Oh, wait- Elisha didn’t see death. Hmmm….oh, I get it! Elisha was done on Earth but not done, totaly. He had to return to foretell the coming of Messiah, so he was taken from life but not gathered to his people. Not yet, sort of an in-between.

We also have the stories of children that died and were brought back to life- Elijah, Yeshua, Shaul all brought children back to life. Perhaps the kids died so that God’s purpose could be fulfilled, not because their job on Earth was done but because their job was to die to show God’s power by bringing them back.

I think we’re on to something here. Maybe the reason people die, what seems to us uselessly, is planned by God because either they had served their purpose for him , or their death will serve a purpose for Him. The Bible does show us that the death of some people was related to their service to God. Moshe died when his service was done, the boy that Elijah revived and returned to his mother served God in that the mother said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” And Yeshua even tells us that the death of Lazarus was determined and had a purpose (“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”)

Going forward, I think I will stop asking “Why?” when I read about “untimely” deaths and accept that they are, in fact, good things because it is in someway serving God’s purpose. Perhaps the young woman that died had served a purpose that glorified God, or that the results of her death will glorify God in the future.

I remember hearing, when I was very young (just after the Earth cooled) someone explaining that when a wonderful person died that it was because God needed another angel in heaven. I like that- it’s a little sappy, I agree, but it may be closer to the truth than we realize. Maybe He is not calling someone to be an angel, but recalling an angel He sent here to help someone? How many times have we read of God using human beings to accomplish His plans?

I started out without an answer to the question I posed in the title, but now I think I have come up with a good possibility. Why die young? Maybe because the death we don’t understand is related to a purpose that God has had all along. The person has completed what God has called them to do, or their death will result in some action that will glorify God.

I like this answer much better than what could be another valid answer: we live in a cursed world and sometimes bad things just happen. There’s a lot of truth to that, too.

Nah…I like the serving God’s purpose reason better. Don’t you?

There is a downside, though: if you feel you are performing a purpose that glorifies God, you may think that completing that task will result in your death. I mean, if there is any validity to my postulation, serving God’s purpose on Earth will get us killed! On the other hand, we could refuse God’s call to us and end up on that list of not-knowns.  Life is not like salvation: God grants us both, but whereas God will not take back the gift of salvation, He certainly can, and will, take back the gift of life if it serves His purpose.

Let’s also remember that it is much, much better to be in God’s presence than on Earth (at least, I think so) so, overall, serving God is the highest calling anyone on Earth can have, and since we don’t know how much God wants us to do, or how long it will take, might just a s well do as He calls us to do and not worry about what happens when it’s over.

Live your life to glorify God, do as He calls you to do, and you will live a blessed life. Then, when God is ready for you to come home, it will be peaceful and glorious.