Thursday, June 25, 2015

Parasha Chukat (decree) - Numbers 19:1-22:1

It seems that no matter what Israel does, nor how kind they are to their neighbors, that it simply doesn’t matter, they are unwelcome wherever they go.  In this week’s Parasha, we see Israel request to pass through the lands of Edom and also the lands of the Amorites.  In both cases, Israel proposes peaceful passage.  Numbers 20:17 “Please let us pass through your land.  We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well.  We will go along the King’s Highway.  We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” And Numbers 20:19 “And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it.  Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”  And to the Amorites, Israel said in Numbers 21:22 “Let me pass through your land.  We will not turn aside into field or vineyard.  We will not drink the water of a well.  We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”

The King’s Highway was the main thoroughfare in those day’s and was the main trade route, thus the promise to stay to the King’s Highway was a promise not to wander but to remain seen and visible as they would pass through, thus it was also extra assurance of peace, that they would not take anything that was not theirs and that they would remain visible the whole time that they were passing through.  Israel made it clear that their goal was safe passage and nothing more.  Interesting to note that the King’s Highway is still visible today as it has remained, to varying degrees, in use throughout the centuries.'s_Highway_(ancient)

Yet, despite Israel’s promise of peace, both Edom and the Amorites refused their passage.  The Israelites approached Edom as their brother, as they were both descendants of Abraham, and peacefully, “yet Edom said (to them), “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force.  Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.” (Numbers 20:20-21)

Yet when it came to the Amorites, the story was slightly different, as battle ensued, although Israel made the same promise of peace to them as they had made to Edom.  Numbers 21:23-26 “But Sihon (king of the Amorites) would not allow Israel to pass through his territory.  He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.  And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong.  And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages.  For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon.”  Numbers 21:24 “Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites.”  There was another king of the Amorites, Og the king of Bashan who also came out to battle the Israelites, and HaShem told Moses not to fear him, “So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left.  And they possessed his land.” (Numbers 21:35)

So Israel dispossessed the Amorites and took their land, which was later divided between the tribes of Manasseh, Gad and Reuben. (Numbers 32:33)

I cannot help but read this story, of how Israel came to be at the river Jordan, ready to cross over into the promised land, and think of today’s news headlines.  Israel of the biblical times, offered peace to all of her neighbors, and attempted to approach the promised land peacefully, yet they were met with the sword wherever they went and had to fight for everything they had while trusting fully in HaShem to deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.  Many centuries have passed, yet, perhaps, time does not heal all wounds.

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