Have you ever seen an intense movie, or read an engrossing book, where, as you get near the end, it seems that the author loses energy, or gets tired of the story, and just wants to tie things up as quickly as possible? This week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, kind of seems like that to me. In a mere 87 verses, we cover 38+ years. According to Rashi, however, everything from Numbers 20:1 on takes place in the fortieth year. Thus, Chapter 19 represents 37-38 years in 22 verses. Not that there’s anything about the “gap years” experiences of the Israelites in Chapter 19. It consists entirely of laws concerning the purification ritual that requires the ashes of the red heifer. Last year, I think I told you more than you’d ever need to know about the ritual, so I’ll just include some excerpts of that here:
“A perfect, red-haired, young, unworked heifer is sacrificed, burned entirely outside the camp, along with cedar, wood, hyssop, and tola’at shani (red bug or worm, a red dye source).The ashes are kept outside the camp. Those involved with the preparation and gathering of the ashes need to wash their clothes and bathe and will be unclean until evening. When needed, a small portion of ash is mixed with water, and the mixture is sprinkled on a person who needs to be purified because of contact with a dead body. This is usually presented as an example of a chok (guttural ‘ch’, long ‘o’), a law that is simply commanded for which there is no satisfactory intellectual explanation…here has been a lot of commentary (surprise). Two approaches are presented by Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 233-5): from R. Joseph Bechor Shor (French, 12th c.), a rational one based on a desire to discourage association with the dead; and a more allegorical one from Sforno (Italian, 15th-16th c), which emphasizes the symbolism of the additives (see below). Leibowitz herself goes the chok route. Another accessible summary is found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.”
The rest of the Torah portion is a combination of “same-old” type incidents and tying up loose ends. The people settle in Kadesh, where Miriam dies. Midrash attributes to her presence a well that accompanied the Israelites, so now the well vanishes. And, even though this is supposed to be the new generation, the old pattern persists. People start complaining about the lack of water, and while they’re at it, about the lack of good food (figs and pomegranates this time), their surroundings, and why on earth did Moses bring them up from Egypt into this godforsaken place? Way back, shortly after the Exodus, Moses was told to get water by striking a rock (Ex. 17:6). Now, he’s told to speak to the rock to produce water, which is a decidedly more impressive miracle, clearly divine. But he strikes the rock and his comments could lead the people to infer that he and Aaron were the ones responsible, rather than the Lord. That’s when Moses and Aaron are forbidden entry into the Promised Land. Maybe Moses was tired, cranky, in mourning for Miriam. Some have suggested that this was a ruse cooked up between Moses and the Lord to provide an excuse for him to turn over the leadership. I doubt that, given how he complains about his fate several times in the text.
The Edomites refuse to let the Israelites take a short cut through their land, even if they pay for their water. Aaron dies. The people start whining again about manna and the lack of water, and they are hit with a plague of fiery serpents. They repent and are cured by looking at a copper serpent made by Moses. They seem to have had a change of heart and singing a song of thanks for the well the Lord then provides (there’s a lot of symbolism concerning water in the desert, e.g., “Appreciating Water in the Desert”). Now this is clearly a new generation, capable of waging war successfully against Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, King of Bashan. And as the portion ends, the Israelites are encamped on the banks of the Jordan, finally ready for their future in the Promised Land.
POTENTIALLY EXCITING NEWS: Have we found a new Red Heifer in the Pacific [abridged]
The scholars and researchers of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem are preparing everything necessary to enable the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. As part of this program, the Institute is constantly on the lookout for ‘candidates’ for the Biblically-mandated ‘Red Heifer’ of Numbers Chapter 19 fame. For a heifer to be ‘kosher’ for the Biblical requirement, its hue must be completely red, without even two hairs of any other color. It must also be completely free of blemish and never be used for work.
The Temple Institute had located a genuine red heifer in the USA which was certified as kosher. However, that heifer was rendered invalid, when she began to sprout some white hairs.
The Temple Institute is pleased to share this photograph of what may possibly be a perfect red heifer, photographed in Norfolk Island, a small, sparsely populated island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. It is a self-governing territory within the Commonwealth of Australia.
It should be noted that the validity of this heifer has not yet been substantiated.
Redhead Jokes [collected by a real redhead. Selections.]
Redheads don’t sleep…they wait.
How sexy are redheads? A group of redheads once visited the Virgin Islands. They are now known as The Islands.
A cobra bit a redhead. After 5 days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.
What do you call a redhead with attitude?
When a redhead goes to get a cavity filled, anesthesia is applied to the dentist.
Redheads do not use spell check. If they misspell a word, Oxford simply changes it.
Redheads can slam revolving doors.
Dihydrogen Monoxide – The Truth
BAN DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE – THE INVISIBLE KILLER!
Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year.
What are the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide?
Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.
Dihydrogen Monoxide Facts
- is also known as hydric acid [also known as water (-; IGP], and is the major component of acid rain.
- contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
- accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
- may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
- has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
- as an industrial solvent and coolant.
- in nuclear power plants.
- as a fire retardant.
- in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
- as an additive in certain junk-foods and other food products.
Stop the horror – Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide
Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal.
THE HORROR MUST BE STOPPED!
IT’S NOT TOO LATE!
Act NOW to prevent further contamination. Find out more about this dangerous chemical. What you don’t know CAN hurt you and others throughout the world.
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Quotations about the desert
Like water in the desert is wisdom to the soul. EDWARD COUNSEL, Maxims
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY, The Little Prince