Parashah Chukkat 2018 (Statutes) Numbers 19 – 22:1

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As always, there is just so much in this reading to talk about. We are told about the cleansing ritual using the ashes of the Red Heifer, Miriam dies and Moses and Aaron, in providing water from the rock lose their right to enter the land. We read how God punishes the people with snakes for their constant rebellious attitude, of Arad attacking the Israelites and being destroyed, as well as the victory over Sichon and Og, kings of the lands to the East of the Jordan River (later to be occupied by Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh.)

I want to interpose one thought here, not to be discussed in length, but can you imagine how disappointed Moses and Aaron must have felt when God told them they could not enter the land? This is at the end of their journey- it has been nearly 40 years and all that time Moses and Aaron were looking forward to being in the land God promised their forefathers. Now this one mistake and they are out! There is a real lesson here, but it will be for another time.

Today’s message is a simple one, based on the regulations for preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer.

Let’s start off by saying that this regulation is one that even Solomon is said to have never been able to understand. The ashes are to purify one who is unclean, but everything to do with preparing the ashes renders one unclean to start with! This is quite a conundrum- what I need to make me clean will make me unclean as I prepare it! HUH?

If someone was to ask my why God gave these instructions, I have what I consider to be the definitive answer: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why God says we should do something, or what his reasons are for telling us not to do something. The only thing that matters is that God said so.

Humans have curiosity and that is a blessing; without curiosity there can be no advancement or improvement. Yet curiosity is a two-edged sword in that too much curiosity can lead us down a path that has a very bad ending. I refer to how people constantly use human reasoning to explain why God gave certain commandments. We shouldn’t eat pork because pigs carry trichinosis;  no sexual relations during the time of Niddah because studies show that sexual activity during the menstrual cycle increases the chance of cervical cancer; do not have sexual relations with close family members because incest causes genetic mutations, etc..

God doesn’t give us the reasons for his commandments and regulations but we need to know why so we figure it out on our own. I believe we do this because once we know why God said to do something we can then come up with a reason why it is no longer necessary.

For example: yes, way back then pigs carried diseases but today the USDA and proper cooking equipment prevents us from being infected so we don’t need to do that anymore.  You see? For those who want to reject God’s laws but not get in “trouble” for doing so, knowing why God said to do something is the means by which they can justify their ends, which is that they don’t need to do it anymore.

The faithful Believer knows that it doesn’t matter why God says what he says; what matters is that he said it and we are obligated to faithfully accept that it is good for us and we should obey our Father, our King and our Savior. Yeshua said that if we do not come to God as little children (meaning we should have unconditional and total trust) we can never enter the Kingdom of God.

Are you faithful enough to do what God says without questioning why? If not, I respectfully suggest you ask yourself, “Why? Why can’t I just do what God says to do without needing to why he wants me to?”

I can give you the answer: pridefulness. It is your prideful desire to do only what you really want to do and that will eventually weaken your faith.  In my book, “Back to Basics: God’s Word vs. Religion” I address this in the chapter I call “Buffet Believers.”  That is what I call people who look through the bible, pick and choose which commandments they are comfortable with and make excuses for rejecting the ones they don’t want to obey. And when they are done filling their plate with their favorite foods, they sit complacently by and tell others that try to take everything on the table they are wrong to eat so much.

When it comes to Psalm 34:8 (“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”) gluttony is not only a good thing, it is a blessed activity. God has provided us with spiritual manna which we call commandments, and the more we partake of that food the more blessed our lives will be.

It doesn’t matter why, it only matters that God said so. That is true faith.


Do you recognize the title as the Campbell Soup campaign slogan? One of the reasons their soup is so good is because it is filled with so many good things.

So, nu? Why am I talking about soup? Allow me to digress for a moment…..last week when my wife, Donna, and I were taking a morning stroll, I was talking about how I love it when something I have read in the bible dozens of times before suddenly has a totally new meaning to me: a new and clearer understanding of what God wants me to know. I know that you have had that same experience, too…haven’t you?

The word of God has different levels, called the Pardes: the P’shat (literal meaning), Remez (symbolic meaning), Drash (spiritual or comparative meaning) and the Sod (deep mystical understanding.)  When we read any passage from the bible, we first understand the P’shat, and after we learn more about God and have the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) lead our understanding, we learn the “hidden” messages God has for us.

Yeshua taught the underlying messages, the Remez and the Drash, whereas the Pharisee’s concentrated on the P’shat; they taught the Jews they could be saved by Torah as long as they obeyed the literal meaning of the commandments. We are told that many said Yeshua taught with authority, which (I think) is because He taught the deeper and more spiritual meaning of the Torah that the Pharisees ignored.

OK, now back to the soup…when we look at a bowl of soup, we see mostly just the broth, which covers all the stuff that is underneath. That broth smells good, and tastes great, but when you begin to stir the soup, suddenly all these other wonderful things begin to appear from underneath; the meat, the carrots, the onions, celery and (maybe) even a noodle or two. YUM!!  So even though the broth was satisfying, and could fill your stomach with life-saving nourishment, when you go deeper and begin to stir things up to see what is underneath, you find even more goodness and flavor and usefulness from that soup than just what the broth can supply.

The bible is like a big bowl of soup: it has nourishment on top (P’shat), and better things underneath (Remez and Drash)  you will discover as you get closer and closer to the bottom of the bowl (Sod.)

Maybe that’s why in Psalm 34:9 (JPS Tanakh) King David said:

Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy the man who takes refuge in Him!


Have you had your soup today?

Will we ever learn?

I just read Psalm 78, by Asaf, which is titled as a “Maskil.” From what I have seen, the difference between a psalm and a maskil is that a maskil is a psalm that may have a specific message, other than praise for God. This particular maskil is a reminder of the many ways in which God provided for his people, Israel, despite how they constantly demonstrated faithlessness and a rebellious attitude, which resulted in them being punished.

Fortunately for us (and I mean everyone, not just Believers, Jews or even Americans- I mean everyone in the world), God is a forgiving God, so much so that even in His righteous anger and punishment He is merciful. The fact that we are all still here is proof of that! And when He punishes, it isn’t like when a human punishes, which is (most of the time) from anger and frustration born out of pridefulness (“You didn’t do as I wanted”); no, that is not why God punishes us. When God punishes us, and we end up flat on our backs, it is so that we can only look up to see Him there, with His hand extended, waiting for us to take it so He can lift us back up onto our feet.

We have learned at least one thing- that God is forgiving. In fact, it seems (from history, including my own) that we count on His forgiveness because we keep sinning and rebelling. What would happen if, one day, God just decided, “Oy! Enough is enough! Youse guys have gone too far this time, so you’re on your own. Forever.” ? What would happen then?

I’ll tell you what will happen- there will be no hope for anyone, ever. I assume that without hope for eternal peace, there would be no more fear of eternal suffering- we will just live out our lives, with absolutely nothing else to look forward to, and then die. Our lives will be all we ever have, and when we die it will be as if we never existed. A meaningless past, no future, only the present. No blessings and hope, only random chance to count on; no one to depend on and nowhere to go for hope (you can’t count on humans), with nothing to do but get through it on your own.

Thank God that God will never allow that to happen. His promises are absolute, irrevocable and dependable. His faithfulness is eternal and never-ending; unlike ours, which is weak, unstable and transitory.

We need to learn one thing, if nothing else- God is dependable, and what God says will be, already is. God called Himself, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh“, which means “I am that I am”, or “I will be that which I will be”; what He is saying is that He, His name and everything about Him is undefinable in human terms and understanding. What He is, He was, and He will be. There is no timeline in God’s world- what was, what is and what will be already are.

Try to wrap your head around that one! Yikes!!

So, back to the lesson we need to learn, if nothing else- that God is dependable and what He says will be, already is. In other words, we always have time to ask forgiveness, and when we ask for forgiveness and really mean it (which is demonstrated by a change not only in our heart, but in our actions, too- the former without the latter is meaningless), we will be forgiven, even when we ask with our very last breath.

If you already know this lesson, you are ready to move on to the next level. If I put this in the terms most youth of today will understand, which does sort of jive with some ancient beliefs, as you do better and better, you move up a level (just like in video games); and, like in a video game, the higher the level, the more difficult it is to succeed at that level. The holier we become, the less likely we will fit into the regular world system, and the world will treat us more like an outcast than a member of society. That’s OK, believe me, because what the world offers is temporary and what God is preparing for us is eternal.

And infinite beats the heck out of finite, any day!

Parashah Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

The previous Parashah ended with Pinchus, also called Phinehas, killing the prince of the tribe of Simeon along with Cozbi, the daughter of one of the kings of the Midianites. It was this act of zealousness for God’s law and honor that stayed the plague God had sent among the people for turning to the gods of Midian.

Now, God states that Pinchus and his descendants will be the high priest as reward for his actions. God then commands Moses to take a census of the people (meaning the men) aged 20 and older (except the Levites are to be counted at 1 month and older.)

After we are told the results of the census, the next chapter is about the daughters of Zelophehad, who died in the desert but had no sons. Their request was that they inherit their fathers portion, even though they are women. God agrees that the family should have their share of inheritance, and so the law is created that if there are no sons, the daughters inherit but they must marry within the tribe so the overall property distribution remains stable.

Moses is told that it is time for him to die, and the first thought in Moses’ mind is not about himself (remember- he is the humblest of all men) but for the people, so he asks God to provide a leader. God tells Moses to appoint (no surprise here) Joshua. Moses lays his hands on Joshua in the sight of all Israel so that they know Joshua is the Man!

Finally, God has Moses remind the people about the rules for sacrifice and the festivals that they are to maintain forever once they are in the land.

Some have argued over the years, especially in recent times, that the bible is sexist and God is a misogynist.  The story of the daughters of Zelophehad shows this to be untrue, and unfair. It is an absolute fact that the rights of a woman in those days were no where near the rights women enjoy today, with regards to job opportunities and legal status within the social structure. But, on the other hand, they were given important responsibilities within the family structure and, when you read the bible carefully, you see that they were not really second class citizens (OK, OK- I agree the laws regarding a Get, the divorce decree, are unfair) but simply have a separate and distinct role within the society. Proverbs is very complimentary to women, and show them to be very influential.

The fact that God decreed woman have the right to inherit and own land is unique among the other peoples of that day, and to require marriage within the tribe is a legal matter to maintain the proper distribution of the inheritance the tribe receives. This one section demonstrates that God is not a misogynist.

The chronological order of events in the bible is not always clear, but here we are told that this is some 38 years after the people refused to enter the land, which was only a few chapters ago. Eleazar is the Cohen HaGadol because Aaron is dead. The daughters of Zelophehad tell us their father died in the desert, and the results of the census show that no one who was counted in the first census coming out of Egypt is alive today.

The time to enter the land is coming quickly: all those who were to die are dead, there is a new High Priest, Joshua is now in charge, and Moses is about to die. We’re on the precipice of the desert, about to cross over the Jordan into the land of promise. That is why God tells Moses to remind the people about the laws for sacrifice and the festivals so that they will not forget and sin when they first come into the land. That would be a pretty lousy start, don’t you think?

“Well, here we are…in the Land…finally! Let’s forget everything we are supposed to do and with out first step in the promised land we can fall flat on our faces.”

Not a good idea.

The lesson I see here is simple- the best way to not forget what to do is do remind yourself of it, constantly. God has Moses review the commandments, He told Joshua to write it on the stones on Mount Gerizim, later God tells the kings of Israel to have a copy of the Torah with them always and to read from it every day, and we all (should) have our bibles close at hand, and read from it everyday.

I often tell how I keep my bible in the bathroom, because I know I will be there, at least once, every day of my life. That is how I can guarantee I will have 10 minutes or so, undisturbed, in which I can read a chapter or two, daily, without fail.

Where is your bible? How often do you read it?  Daily? Once a week? Do you take it with you to worship and go to the place in it that the Priest, Pastor or Rabbi tells you? Or do you just figure if you go to services someone there will read something from it to you?

God holds each and every one of us accountable for what we do, and if we do what others tell us, it is still what we do. And you will be held accountable for it! If you only allow others to read the bible to you, then you will not be able to hear the Holy Spirit talking over the sound of the human being reading. Humans shout, but the Holy Spirit speaks in a still, quiet voice. If you want to hear the Holy Spirit ( in Hebrew called the Ruach HaKodesh) then you need to be reading the bible in a still, quiet place. Otherwise, how will you be able to hear the the Lord whispering to you?

Today’s parashah lesson is this: be zealous for God and demonstrate it by reading His word daily. This is the best way to learn about God, what He wants from you, and to hear from the Ruach HaKodesh when it speaks to you. And don’t worry about the “boring” parts, just go through them. That’s what is so wonderful about the Spirit- you are reading a bunch of names and numbers and can’t even figure out why this stuff is in there, and suddenly something you have read a dozen times, that seems to have no impact or worth,  comes alive in your mind and you see a deep and abiding truth that God put there, just for you! That’s right- He had Moses put that in there, millennia ago, just for you.

And now you get it. That’s why we need to read, over and over, until we know it well enough that we can get past the P’Shat (plain language) and into the Drash (deeper meaning). It’s like math- you first learn to count, then how to add and subtract, then how to multiply, and eventually you are doing quantum mechanics in your head.

Well, maybe not in your head. But you can do it! That’s why we need to read every day what God has for us.

It’s like Cracker Jacks- the word of God is like honey on my lips, taste and see that it is good (Psalm 38);  as you devour the word, loving every bite, you will find, hidden deep inside, a prize. That prize is the revelation God has for you, just for you, and it is in there.

You only need to look.