This week’s Parashah is Chukat – Shabbat 13 July 2019
The most severe of all ritual impurities is tum’at met, the impurity contracted through contact with a human corpse. This section details the purification process for an individual or object which has contracted this form of impurity. A red heifer is slaughtered and is burned together with a few added ingredients. Water from a stream is added to the ashes. On the third and seventh day after contracting tum’at met, this mixture is sprinkled upon the individual or object. After immersion in a mikvah (ritual pool), the person or object is freed of this impurity.
The abovementioned purification process is continued, along with an admonition that the impure individual not enter the Tabernacle or Temple until the purification process is completed. Miriam dies in the fortieth year of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. With Miriam’s death, the waters which flowed from the miraculous “Well of Miriam” dried up. The people complain bitterly about the lack of water.
G‑d tells Moses and Aaron to take a staff and gather the people in front of a certain rock. They should speak to the rock, and it will give forth water. Moses and Aaron gather everybody, and Moses strikes the rock and it gives forth water. In the course of this episode they committed a grave error, the conventional explanation being that they struck the rock instead of speaking to it. This caused G‑d to punish Moses and Aaron, barring them from leading the Jews into Israel.
Moses sends messengers to the King of Edom requesting permission to pass through his land (which is south of Canaan) on the way to the Promised Land. Despite Moses’ promises not to cause any harm to the land whilst passing, Edom refuses the Jews passage. The Jews are therefore forced to circumvent the land of Edom, and approach Canaan from the east.
The Jews arrive at Mount Hor. At G‑d’s command, Moses, Aaron and Aaron’s son, Elazar, go up the mountain. Aaron removes his high priest’s vestments and Elazar dons them. Aaron then passes away. The entire nation mourns Aaron’s death for thirty days. The Amalekites, disguised as Canaanites, attack the Jews. The Jews pray to G‑d and are victorious in battle. The Jews complain about their food, claiming that they are “disgusted” by the manna. G‑d dispatches serpents into the Israelite encampment, and many Jews die. Moses prays to G‑d on the Jews’ behalf. Following G‑d’s instructions, Moses fashions a copper serpent and places it atop a pole. The bitten Jews would look at this snake and be healed.
The Jews journey on, making their way towards the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Encrypted in this section is a great miracle which occurred when the Jews passed through the Arnon valley. Tall cliffs rose from both sides of this narrow valley, and in the clefts of these cliffs the Emorites, armed with arrows and rocks, were waiting to ambush the Jews. Miraculously, the mountains moved towards each other, crushing the Emorite guerrilla forces. This section ends with a song of praise for the well which sustained the Jews throughout their desert stay — and whose now-bloodied waters made the Jews aware of the great miracle which G‑d wrought on their behalf.
The Jews approach the land of the Emorites, which lies on the east bank of the Jordan River. They send a message to Sichon, king of the Emorites, asking permission to pass through his land en route to Canaan. Sichon refuses and instead masses his armies and attack the Jews. The Jews are victorious and occupy the Emorite lands. Og, king of Bashan, then attacks the Jews. The Jews are triumphant again; they kill Og and occupy his land too. Now the Jewish nation has reached the bank of the Jordan River, just across from the city of Jericho in the land of Israel.