Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1); Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Tammuz

[The jokes follow the commentary]

The beginning of the month of Tammuz is celebrated Saturday and Sunday, so there will be a portion read from a second scroll, Numbers 28:9-15 (sacrifices) and a special haftarah,  Isaiah 66:1-24.

Chukkat is usually read as part of a double portion, Chukkat-Balak.  It opens with the ritual of the red heifer, in which a completely redhaired, unblemished cow that has not yet been put to the yoke is slaughtered outside the camp and burned to ash along with (19:6.) some cedar wood, hyssop, and “tola’at shani” (usually translated “crimson stuff,” a dye from a red bug, also referred to in Gen.38:28 and, concerning the Tabernacle and the high Priest’s clothing, Ex. 25:4).  This is to be mixed with water and sprinkled on a person as part of the purification ritual required after contact with a corpse.  The preparation of the ash was likely carried out only a few times, since one heifer yielded a lot of ash.  The sprinkling for purification probably lasted through the Second Temple period.  

Chukkat includes only 87 verses, but those verses cover about 38 years; Rashi deduced that everything from Chapter 20 on happens in the fortieth year in the wilderness.  I’ve had spells that feel like 38 years in 87 verse, i.e., like time is really zipping by – I had to think twice about whether it was Memorial Day or the Fourth of July coming up, for example.  And yet, when I look back, things seem so long ago.  There was a sci-fi novel that came up with a fictitious mode of space travel by folding space like a piece of paper, zipping through it like sticking a pin in the paper, and unfolding the space/paper, and then you’d be amazingly far away from your starting point after only a short travel time.  Time is often like that for me; it passes quickly, but last fall seems years away.

Anyhow, during that time, the older generation is gradually replaced by the younger one, the one that will conquer the Promised Land.  We see what appear to be repetitions of incidents, but with new twists.  Miriam dies, and according to the midrash, the well of water that had accompanied the people because of her presence dries up.  As in Exodus 17:1-7, the people whine about water, Moses hits a rock, and they get water.  But way back then, Moses was told to hit the rock.  Now, with the new generation, he’s told to speak to it instead, bringing about the miracle in a more sophisticated manner than brute force, one that would really stick with these folks who only heard about the earlier miracles.  But he hits it again instead,   Maybe Moses was distracted by his sister’s recent death?  irritated that the new generation seemed as whiny as their parents? having short-term memory problems (what was that, hit? speak? hit?)?  The Lord’s verdict: “Because you did not trust enough to sanctify Me in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them” (Num. 20:12).  “You” means Moses and Aaron.  The people had also been kvetching about missing Egyptian food, though most have never eaten it and they whine about pomegranates and figs, a step up in taste from their parents’ nostalgia for garlic and onions.  Then Aaron dies and is properly mourned.  But the water runs out again, and the people complain about the lack of water and the diet of manna.  As had happened to the older generation, a plague strikes them.  But then, at Be’er, the people are able to get water directly from the Lord without Moses, or anyone, as an intermediary: (Ch. 21)  16 And from there to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Assemble the people that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:  Spring up, O well…”  Now they start winning battles, against Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and, as we’ll read next week, scaring the other Canaanite kingdoms out of their wits.  The portion ends with the Israelites encamped on the banks of the Jordan, in sight of their destination, the Promised Land.

An early Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Independence Day,

All I Need to Know About Life I Learned from a Cow

1. Wake up in a happy mooo-d.
2. Don’t cry over spilled milk.
3. When chewing your cud, remember: There’s no fat, no calories, no cholesterol, and no taste!
4. The grass is green on the other side of the fence.
5. Turn the udder cheek and mooo-ve on.
6. Seize every opportunity and milk it for all its worth!
7. It’s better to be seen and not herd.
8. Honor thy fodder and thy mother and all your udder relatives.
9. Never take any bull from anybody.
10. Always let them know who’s bossy.
11. Stepping on cowpies brings good luck.
12. Black and white is always an appropriate fashion
13. Don’t forget to cow-nt your blessings every day.

——————– [sent out in 2001]

Dairy Farming

The place where this man grew up in Central New York State was serious farming country – apple, dairy, and other fruits such as berries were the biggest items. There was one farmer named Mayne, who consistently won the state prizes for the best milk and milk products.

He was quite successful financially, and his farm was large enough that he needed a small helicopter to get around it. One day, some officials from the State Dairy Board dropped in to talk to him. The Chairman, his Assistant and Mr. Mayne all got in the helicopter and took a flying tour of the pastures.

As they were flying by, the Chairman noted that despite the huge acreage, many of the cows were congregated in one pasture whose ground cover was much darker green than the rest. The Chairman asked about this, and Mr. Mayne replied “Oh, yes. That’s part of my secret, you see. Some years ago, I bought out part of the land belonging to one of my neighbors, who was a fruit farmer. Anyway, he’d planted strawberries, and I just let the cows eat them, intending to replant later. Well, the cows that had been pastured out there produced much more milk, and of higher quality, that I planted more berries for
them to eat, and you have seen the results.”

The Chairman nodded, and said “I should have realized that. It makes sense – strawberry fields for heifer.”
——————– [sent out in 2002]

Redheads In History

Queen Elizabeth I only washed her hair about three times a year. She did so in lye, which was a mixture of wood ash and water. Her hair fell out and she wore a red wig.  Red hair was thought to be unlucky until Elizabeth I made it popular. Prior to this red hair was considered unlucky. [My grandmother still thought it was unlucky when my mother was born – she had red hair until about age 2 –  which was considerably after the Elizabethan age.  IGP.]

Redheads were turned out of Cornish dairies, because it was believed they would turn the butter sour.

Quotations about Time

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.  ~William Faulkner

Sometimes I feel that life is passing me by, not slowly either, but with ropes of steam and spark-spattered wheels and a hoarse roar of power or terror.  It’s passing, yet I’m the one who’s doing all the moving.  ~Martin Amis, Money

For disappearing acts, it’s hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.  ~Doug Larson

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.  ~James Matthew Barrie

It’s a strange thing, but when you are dreading something, and would give anything to slow down time, it has a disobliging habit of speeding up.  ~J.K. Rowling, “The Hungarian Horntail,” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000

Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side.  ~The Talmud

Why won’t they let a year die without bringing in a new one on the instant, can’t they use birth control on time?  I want an interregnum.  The stupid years patter on with unrelenting feet, never stopping – rising to little monotonous peaks in our imaginations at festivals like New Year’s and Easter and Christmas – But, goodness, why need they do it?  ~John Dos Passos, 1917

Three Pools

A new Russian is building himself a new house. He instructs the architect how he wants the things done,
“Here, I want 3 swimming pools: one with warm water one with cool water, and one w/o any water.”
The architect inquires, “Why do you need a pool w/o any water?”
“Well, you know, some of my brothers can’t swim.”

UN Meeting

At the emergency meeting of the UN regarding another conflict in the Middle East, the floor has been given to the Israeli Consul.

The Israeli Consul began, “Ladies and gentlemen before I commence with my speech, I wanted to relay an old story to all of you… …When Moses was leading the Jews out of Egypt he had to go through deserts, and prairies, and even more deserts… The people became thirsty and needed water.

So Moses struck the side of a mountain with his cane and at the sight of that mountain a pond appeared with crystal clean, cool water. And the people rejoiced and drank to their hearts’ content. Moses wished to cleanse his whole body, so he went over to the other side of the pond, took all of his clothes off and dove into the cool waters.

Only when Moses came out of the water he discovered that all his clothes had been stolen… And I have reasons to believe that the Palestinians stole his clothes.”

Yassir Arafat, hearing this accusation, jumps out of his seat and screams, “This is a travesty…It’s A lie ! It is widely known that there were no Palestinians there at the time!!!”

“And in agreement with Chairman Arafat,” said the Israeli Consul, “let me begin my speech…”

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