Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

Time flies in this week’s portion.

In 87 verses, we cover over 38 years.  Actually, if we accept Rashi’s conclusion that Chapter 20 onward takes place in the 40th year, that means we skipped  over about 37-38 years’ worth of narrative, since Chapter 19 is all about the red heifer (parah adumah), whose ashes are dispersed in water and used in purifying those who become unclean because of contact with a corpse or even being in a tent with a corpse.  It’s a mysterious ritual that defiles the purifier as it purifies the defiled.  This section gave rise to two long (or maybe they just felt that way) tractates in the Mishnah.  Parah (“cow”) concerns the details pertaining to the ritual that is only outlined in the Torah.  For example, the Torah describes the cow (19:2): “a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid” and the Mishnah addresses questions like, how old is the cow, what kind of activity is included in”yoke”, how much non-red hair is allowed and where, etc., defects being covered in a different tractate. Similarly, Tractate Ohalot (tents) concerns impurity transmitted to a person or vessel  by being under the same as a corpse, like, what qualifies as a “tent” (or overhang), what is the minimum amount of corpse for defilement, etc. 

Anyhow, placing that section right after the section about duties and perks of the Levites and priests is reasonable because this is another priestly duty. Because it is concerned with death, it leads nicely into Chapter 20, which starts with the death of Miriam.  By now, the older generation has been pretty much replaced, but we seem to hear similar complaints: no grain or fruit, and no water.  Years before, Moses had struck a rock and water came out.  Now he strikes a rock (twice) and water comes out, and he and Aaron are forbidden to enter the Promised Land.  Wait – did he (we?) miss something? This time he’d disobeyed the Lord by striking instead of speaking and he’d made it look as if he and Aaron (“shall we get water…”) were the miracle workers, not the Lord.  There are many commentaries about the severity of this punishment.  I think it was actually because Moses and Aaron were part of the older generation and not physically able to lead a conquering army  at 120 and 123, respectively.  Then Aaron dies (see?), and we again seem to hear old complaints (we’re tired of manna) and, again, there’s punishment, an attack of serpents.  But now, unlike their parents, these people can admit they were wrong and plead for forgiveness.  Similarly, the next time they need water, the people assemble, sing, and are given water.  No fussing.  And they have begun conquering kingdoms in their path, until they reach Moab and camp there, across the Jordan from Jericho.  The end of their journey is at hand.  Well, almost.

Shabbat shalom,



Cow Stuck in a Washing Machine


The RSPCA was called to rescue the heifer called ‘Spinner’ from a field at Higher Fraddon, St Columb, Cornwall, England.  The cow had to be freed after getting her head stuck in a fly-tipped (illegally disgarded) washing machine drum.

The lucky cow escaped injury after her ordeal; but the animal charity warned today that fly tipping can cause animals harm. ‘It is one of the more unusual things we had had to rescue an animal from,’ said RSPCA spokeswoman Jo Barr. ‘Young cows are quite curious, and she probably thought there was some food inside the drum,’ she added.

A member of the public spotted the frustrated ‘Spinner’ trying to free herself from the metal drum. RSPCA inspector David Hobbs rescued the heifer, and she has since returned to her herd unharmed.

Lesson: Keep your nose out of things that do not concern you.

Interesting Facts About Cows

  • Cows really do give more milk when they listen to music in the milking parlour.  Ask your government for a grant to study the effect of music on milk production.  Then make your fortune by inventing an iPod for cows so they can listen to music as they graze! 
  • In the Indian language, the literal translation of the Sanskrit word for ‘War’ is, ‘we want more cows’


Israeli  Sense of Humour at UN
An ingenious example of speech and politics occurred recently in the United Nations Assembly and made the world community smile.

A representative from Israel began: ‘Before beginning my talk I want to tell you something about Moses.  When he struck the rock and it brought forth water, he thought, ‘What a good opportunity to have a bath!’
He removed his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water.
When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished. A Palestinian had stolen them.’
The Palestinian representative jumped up furiously and shouted, ‘What are you talking about? The Palestinians weren’t there then.’
The Israeli representative smiled and said, ‘And now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech.


Quotations about Generations

There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age – I missed it coming and going.  ~J.B. Priestly

Generation Gap:  A chasm, amorphously situated in time and space, that separates those who have grown up absurd from those who will, with luck, grow up absurd.  ~Bernard Rosenberg, Dictionary for the Disenchanged, 1972

They say genes skip generations.  Maybe that’s why grandparents find their grandchildren so likeable.  ~Joan McIntosh

Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.  ~Haim Ginott


Time Jokes (excerpted, v. lightly edited)

An airhead asked someone what time it was, and they told her it was 4:45. The airhead, with a puzzled look on her face replied, “You know, it’s the weirdest thing, I have been asking that question all day, and each time I get a different answer.”

What time is it when an elephant sits on your car?   Time to get a new car.

Why did the man put a clock under his desk?   He wanted to work overtime.

One day a man met three beggars. To the first he gave a dime, to the second a dime, and to the third a nickel. What time was it?   A quarter to three.


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One Response to Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

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