Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Parashah Chukas Numbers/Bamidbar 19:1 - 22:1
“HaShem spoke...”. We find this phrase, or one similar to it five times in this week’s reading. The occurrences are in 19:1 regarding the instructions about the red heifer, 20:7 upon Miriam’s death and the people’s complaining about a lack of water, 20:12 in reference to Moses and Aaron not sanctifying the Lord before the congregation, 20:23 which begins the details of Aaron’s death and the succession of the High Priesthood, and 21:8 which provided a remedy for the people from the plague of fiery serpents.
As I mulled over the parashah for this week I noticed a pattern in these occurrences of HaShem speaking. Were I to identify these as is oftentimes done with lines of poetry I would have to list the incidents with the following letter pattern: ABCBA.
In each of the A’s, the red heifer and the snake on the pole, the Lord is providing a remedy for the people. The ashes of the red heifer are used as part of the purification process for anyone who has come into contact with a dead body of a human being. Coming into contact with a body is not a sin, but it does cause one to be unclean. Therefore, an appropriate cleansing must be made. It compares quite nicely with Revelation 13:8b’s reference to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. In both instances the provision for restoration is provided prior to its actual need.
The snake on the pole was necessary for the people as a result of their already committed sin against the Lord and Moses. Moses interceded for them upon their expression of remorse, and HaShem instructed him of the remedy. In the reading of this incident, though, I am brought to wonder how long did it take Moses to construct the serpent, and how many people died in the meantime, or did the Lord stay the plague to some extent during the snake/pole construction. Nevertheless, provision for restoration was provided.
The B sections deal with the deaths of Moses’ brother and sister and the events that ensued as a result. In the case of Miriam, the people were at Kadesh. Upon being informed of her death and burial we immediately are told that there was no water for the assembly. Up to this point there had been plenty of water for the people since Moses had smote the rock in Horeb upon the command of the Lord (Ex. 17:6). Rashi indicates a belief that the water provided the people was, to some extent, a result of the merit of Miriam. Found in section C we find that a new source of water was provided the people. Let us also not forget the importance of water in the life of Miriam and her 3-month old brother as well.
Aaron’s passing is the subject of the latter B, as I have designated it. There are several similarities with the first B which take place following the assembly's move from Kadesh, the site of Miriam’s passing, to Mount Hor. Upon the direction of HaShem, Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar ascended the mount. Just as there was a new source of water was provided following Miriam’s death, there is a new High Priest (Eleazar) set in place prior to Aaron’s death to carry on in his absence.
Additionally, the sages teach (see Rosh Hashanah 3) that the pillar of cloud the Lord had provided for the protection and guidance of the mixed multitude was a result of the merit of Aaron, as the water was of the merit of Miriam. Upon Aaron’s death, they say that the cloud departed, hence the almost immediate warring against Israel by King Arad (21:1).
Lastly we come to the middle portion, part C. This portion commences in 20:7. Miriam is recently deceased, there is no water at the present, and the people are quarreling with Moses and Aaron - questioning why they brought them “out of Egypt to this evil place” (vs. 5).
As an aside, at least the people were not stating that they wanted to go back to Egypt. Also, though they were where the Lord had them at the moment, I can understand how they would call it “this evil place” in that it was a lesser place than the one they were hoping to go into. It was not a land of milk and honey where they were.
Back to the issue at hand. As usual, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord, and He spoke with Moses. The direction was for him and his brother to take Aaron’s staff with the assembly and speak to the rock before the assembly and it would give its waters. Moses, however, called the people rebels, intimated that he and Aaron were getting the water from the rock for them, and then struck the rock twice with the rod. The Lord gave instruction pertaining to none of these three things. Not once, by speech or action, is HaShem’s name mentioned! The result - neither Aaron nor Moses would be entering the land of promise. Ouch!
There was to be no recompense for them in this regard, at least not as far as entering into the land. It seems to me that the leadership here is held to a much higher standard than the people. The quarrelers of the people were still going to enter the land, but Moses and Aaron did not exalt/sanctify the Lord the way they should have, and as a result, their sojourn would end short of their desired destination.
In summary, as I look at these five sections I see the following: A - provision for restoration from uncleanness yet to occur, B - provision for that which had dried up, C - leadership called to a higher standard from which there was no earthly provision of recompense, B - provision of a line of succession, and A - provision for restoration from sin which has already occurred.
The reader/listener may be tired by this point of the word “provision”, but I have used it often in this summary and with purpose. The Provider provides the provision, and that is something we should not let out of our sight for a moment, as Moses and Aaron did in part C. He is always to be magnified, glorified, and sanctified. May this writing do the same.