A SHORT STUDY OF CHUKAT (Num. 19-22:1):
A completely red cow is sacrificed, as a sin offering, outside the Temple. It is burnt to ashes, together with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool, then mixed with water. It's sprinkled upon those ritually unclean, due to contact with a corpse, on the 3rd and 7th days, to purify them. Yet those who prepared it are rendered ritually impure.
Rav S.R. Hirsch sees such fiats (chukim) as difficult, but not impossible, to understand. Intimate contact with death engenders "sin", involuntary loss of faith in free will and eternal survival of the soul. This ritual gradually restores his faith; it first teaches that death is indeed the end of all life, from the mighty cedar to the lowly hyssop, from the vital red cow and sheep to the worm, which provides the wool's scarlet dye. Yet one must not abandon vital life, created on Day #3, but sanctify it, render it a prelude to eternity and Divine Intimacy, symbolized by Sabbath and the 7th day. So the red cow's red blood is sprinkled 7 times toward the Temple. Thus man escapes and transcends time and death. Even the Cohen must render himself impure to prepare the red cow, which will bring back a fallen Jew (cf. rabbis today). Ritual impurity is, to varying degrees, contagious.
Ch. 20: Miriam died at Kadash in Nissan, 40th year of Exodus. There was no water and the Jews panicked. Moshe and Aharon withdrew; God appeared and told Moshe to take his staff and speak to the rock, before all of Israel, to give water. Moshe chastised Israel: "Hear now, you rebels! Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" He struck the rock twice with his staff- water came forth abundantly. God said to Moshe and Aharon: "Because you did not engender faith in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this community into the land that I have given them." Commentators differ as to the exact sin of Moshe and Aharon. Perhaps they were just burned out, ready for retirement. Moshe's protest and pleas are only related later (Deut. 3:23 ff.). Deut. 1:37 implies that Moshe was already fired, after the sin of the spies, but given a second chance here to restore Israel's faith.
Moshe pleaded with the King of Edom to pass thru his land, but was refused and threatened. Israel detoured to Mount Hor; there Aharon died and was succeeded by his son Eleazar. Every Jew wept for thirty days.
Ch. 21: The King of Arad then captured some Jews in war. Israel vowed a ban on their cities and God gave them victory. The people complained about their holy diet of manna; God's punishment, venomous snakes, killed many. They confessed their sin and Moshe prayed and made a brass snake on a tall pole. Those who looked up toward it (and God) were cured. Israel next asked Sichon, King of the Amorites, for passage thru his land. He attacked; Israel captured all his land, including former Moabite territory. They went on to conquer Yaazer and the Kingdom of Bashan.
Ch. 22: Israel finally camped in the wastelands of Moab, poised to cross the Jordan and capture Jericho.
The Haftora is Judges 11:1-33. Gen. Yiftach, born out of wedlock, was ostracized until Israel needed him; they were threatened by Ammon, who tried to regain his territory, captured by Sichon. Yiftach tried to make peace, but offered no territorial concessions. He promised God, if victorious, whatever would emerge from his house to greet him. He won hands down. We stop here, before his daughter greets him and becomes a Jewish nun.
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