Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are about two years into their 40-year trek.  At the end of the portion, it’s 38 years later, and they’re encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan, getting ready to invade.  Chapter 19 deals with the red heifer and, according to Rashi, Chapter 20 onward takes place in the 40th year.  Except for a travelogue in Parashat Mase’ei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), the Torah is essentially silent on the intervening years.  These are lost years that need not have been lost, had the slave generation had faith in the feasibility of conquering Canaan.

Ah yes, the red heifer.  A physically perfect and perfectly red-haired young cow is slaughtered outside the camp and burned to ashes along with cedar wood, hyssop, and “tola’at shani”  (red bug or worm)    “Tola’at shani” has been identified as a scale-like insect that lived  on tamarisk and oak trees and was an ancient source of red dye (see, e.g., and ).  Anyhow, the ashes are stored outside the camp and, as needed, are mixed with water and sprinkled on a person as part of the purification ritual after contact with a corpse.  The priest who prepares the purifying ashes himself becomes impure.

A lot happens in the 40th year.  Miriam dies.  [Miriam reminds me of Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love,” for which she won an Oscar: each makes only a few brief appearances, but with great impact.].  The people kvetch about food (at least it’s about pomegranates and figs this time, not garlic and leeks).  Moses strikes the rock and he and Aaron are barred from the Promised Land.  Aaron dies.  The people complain about manna.  There’s a plague of seraphic serpents, halted by a metallic serpent fashioned by Moses.  There are some military victories to hearten the Israelites and scare everybody else.

The most prevalent image, however, is not serpents or kvetching or ashes, but water.  In an essay, “Appreciating Water in the Desert,” (thanks, Stanley!) at , Al Tanenbaum points out that there are 32 mentions of water in this 87-verse portion.  Water runs (sorry) throughout, the red heifer ritual, (implicitly) the death of Miriam (with the loss of Miriam’s Well), the people’s crying for water (twice), the water from the struck rock, the refusal of the Edomites to let the Israelites pass through even though Moses promises they won’t drink their water, the trek by the Re(e)d Sea, the Israelite’s singing in appreciation of the new well the Lord has supplied for them, and, of course, their encampment on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.  This not only underscores the importance of water in a dry region, but explicitly links water to purification, life, song, and a viable future.

Shabbat shalom,

What happened when a red ship crashed into a blue ship?
(The crew was marooned!)

Patient: I swallowed a lot of food coloring.
Doctor: You’ll be okay.
Patient: But I feel like I’ve dyed a little inside!


What do you call a redhead with attitude?

What is the redhead’s motto?
The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his ribcage.

Redheads do not use spell check. If they misspell a word, Oxford simply changes it.

Redheads can slam revolving doors.


Parshas Chukas

by S. Galena Posted: 07-09-2006(Viewed 1004 times)

Impure Person: So I mix the red heifer ashes with water and I am pure. holy cow! Why?

Red Heifer: Mooo

God: Don’t ask.



Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.
W. C. Fields

The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.
Henry David Thoreau

If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’
Lyndon B. Johnson

From the JTA Archive: April Fools’ Day lessons for Jewish pranksters

By Adam SoclofMarch 31, 2011 6:10pm

Seeking inspiration for mischief, we found more than a dozen examples of Jewish April Fools’ Day pranks documented in the JTA Jewish News Archive…Here are some highlights of our fake coverage:

Manna From Outer Space?

April 1, 1976

LONDON – Two Cambridge University engineers have come to the conclusion that the manna eaten by the Israelites during their wandering through the Sinai was a single cell protein produced by a machine from outer space. Rodney Dale and George Sassoon, both well-respected in the field of engineering research, air their theory in the equally respected magazine New Scientist.

They argue that in the Kabbala the miracle in the wilderness is attributed not to the Almighty but to “the ancient of days.” From the Kabbalistic description of “the ancient of days.” They deduce that it might have been how a primitive culture would have described a sophisticated machine. The article appears tomorrow–April Fools Day.


Manischewitz Produces Manna Matzoth Wafers

December 9, 1934

B. Manischewitz and Company, one of the most widely known bakers of matzoths in the United States, has produced what is described as a revolutionary departure in this field in its manna matzoth wafers.

Slightly salted and flavored with caraway seeds, the wafers are said to go well with beverages and to be ideal as a between-meal snack. [Note: According to Exodus 16:31, manna resembled coriander seed, and caraway can be used as a substitute for coriander So I guess this is the basis for using caraway seeds in “manna matzoth”? IGP]


Several Rutgers grads were walking through the desert. They were nearly out of water when they saw three tents in the distance. They go to the tents to see if they could get some water.

At the first tent they were told, “We’re sorry we only have trifle.”

At the second tent, again, “We’re sorry we only have trifle.”

They went to the third tent and again asked for water only to be told, “We’re sorry we only sell trifle.”

As they walked on, one grad turned to the group and said, “That was a trifle bazaar.”

What do snake charmers do in the rain?
Turn on their windshield vipers.

Q: What do you call a monster snake that works for the government?
A: A civil serpent.


Walking on Water

A priest, a rabbi and a minister are fishing in a canoe on a lake. The priest says “I’m gonna get some beer”, steps out of the canoe onto the water and walks to shore. A short time later he walks back, with a 6 pack. The minister cannot believe his eyes.

After some beer, the rabbi says “I need to take a leak”. He stands up, steps onto the water and walks to shore, uses the bathroom by the docks, and walks back. The minister is mad with curiosity, but doesn’t want the others to know that he’s not holy enough to walk on the water.

Well, the minister decides to try it himself. He announces “I’m going to get some sandwiches!”, and steps off the boat. SPLASH!!!

The priest turns to the rabbi and says: “I guess we should have told him about those stepping-stones!”


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