This week’s portion concerns purity, death, and water.
Chapter 19 includes the laws of the red heifer, parah adumah, which is needed for the ritual purification of those who have come into contact with a dead body. An unblemished, completely red-haired, unworked heifer is sacrificed. It is burned to ashes 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. When needed, a small portion of ash is mixed with water, and the mixture is sprinkled on the person who needs to be purified. This is usually given as an example of a chok (long o), a command that has no rational explanation. Naturally, commentators have tried to explain it anyway. For example, Rabbi David Stav writes, “What is this law supposed to be? Why ashes? Why a cow? And why did it need to be red?… An explanation is offered in another Midrash: ‘Why the red heifer? To atone for the sin that was done with the golden calf. It wasn’t just that sin that was red. All sins are red, so the heifer must be red. And when ashes of the heifer are burnt, they turn white, as it is said: ‘if your sins are red as scarlet, they will become white as snow’… (Yishayahu / Isaiah 1:18).”
According to Rashi, everything from Chapter 20 onwards takes place in the 40th year in the wilderness. So we have a gap of over 38 years with nothing worth writing about. We’ll read a travelogue of those years in a few weeks. For now, it’s mainly sealing fates and seguing from the slave generation to the free one.
While in Kadesh, Miriam dies and the people complain there’s no water (leading commentators to posit a miraculous well that followed the Israelites until her death). And the Israelites start whining that they should have died like their brethren: “Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”(20:4-5) Note that figs, grapes and pomegranates were among the samples brought back by the 12 spies. But instead of happily anticipating the bounty of the Promised Land, they (the remaining ex-slaves) realize they will never experience that; they will eat nothing but manna until they drop dead in the wilderness (which will be soon if they don’t find water). Really, do you blame them?
Moses is told to speak to a rock to get water, but instead he loses his temper and strikes it, saying, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” The people get their water and Moses and Aaron are refused entry into the Promised Land: “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” That is such a harsh punishment that the commentators have been scratching their heads over it ever since. The Ohr HaChaim (R. Chaim ibn Attar, 18th c.) alone cites 10 interpretations (A Daily Dose of Torah, Kleinman Edition, vol. 10, pp. 80-2). Basically, the miracle would have been a lot more impressive if Moses had just spoken to the rock. Also, Moses implied that he and Aaron were responsible for it (“shall we get’). And the brothers were part of the condemned generation and a little old (123 and 120) to lead a military conquest of the Promised Land.
Edom refuses passage across their land, even if the Israelites pay for their water. Aaron dies and his son Elazar becomes High Priest. The people complain about lack of water and presence of manna, are attacked by serpents (a change from plagues), repent, and are saved by a copper serpent made by Moses. They sing their gratitude for the well of water now following them. The Israelites win battles against local chieftains Sihon and Og. And finally, the Israelites are encamped in the plains of Moab, on the bank of the Jordan River opposite Jericho. The end of their journey is in sight.
Quotes about Death
Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. George Eliot
I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life. Jack Kerouac
The idea is to die young as late as possible. Ashley Montagu
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Joe Louis
Love and death are the two great hinges on which all human sympathies turn. B. R. Hayden
If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button. Sam Levenson
Temper, Temper submitted by: Chaim
Selma Epstein [went] to the doctor, worried about her husband Morty’s temper.
The doctor asks, “What’s the problem?
Selma says, “Doctor, I don’t know what to do. Every day my husband seems to lose his temper for no reason. It scares me.”
The doctor replies, “I have a cure for that. When it seems that your husband is getting angry, just take a glass of water and start swishing it in your mouth. Just swish and swish but don’t swallow it until he either leaves the room or goes to bed and is asleep.”
Two weeks later Selma comes back to the doctor looking fresh and reborn. Selma says, “Doctor, that was a brilliant idea! Every time my husband started losing it, I swished with water. I swished and swished, and he calmed right down! How does a glass of water do that?”
The doctor says, “The water itself does nothing. It’s keeping your mouth shut that does the trick….”
[An analogous version, where husband is worried about wife losing her temper, is at http://www.littlethings.com/cure-for-wifes-temper/]
Sent out in 2012:
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.
Hidden red hair gene a skin cancer risk (excerpts)
By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online
12 July 2016
People can carry a “silent” red hair gene that raises their risk of sun-related skin cancer, experts warn.
While people with two copies of the gene will have ginger hair, freckles and pale skin and probably know to take extra care in the sun, those with one copy may not realise they are at risk.
Around 25% of UK adults have one version of the gene called MC1R which increases their risk of malignant melanoma. Although not true redheads, they will have pale skin and some freckles and are prone to sun damage. Their natural hair colour can range from brown through to blond, sometimes with a hint of red.
The researchers looked at more than 400 tumour samples from patients who had been diagnosed with melanoma. They found that the patients who had at least one copy of a genetic variant of MC1R had 42% more sun-associated mutations in their cancers than individuals without these variations – equivalent to the toll of an additional 21 years in the sun.
Lead researcher Dr David Adams, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said the findings reinforced the message that people need to be sun aware. “All people, not just pale redheads, should be careful in the sun.”
“Unexpectedly, we also showed that people with only a single copy of the gene variant still have a much higher number of tumour mutations than the rest of the population.”
Science Explains How Staying Near Water Can Change Our Brains (excerpts)
Have you ever felt at peace when you’re walking by the ocean? A sense of rejuvenation when you stand by a waterfall? How about taking in the view of a breathtaking lake from your window? We can often report feeling a sense of calm when we’re around water and scientists say, this is having a positive effect on our brains.
So what exactly is happening to our brains when we surround ourselves with water? Well, the calming effect is down to a vacation for our brains from over-stimulation. Looking at water and listening to its sound puts our overloaded minds into a relaxed and hypnotic-like state with the benefit of this being a different way that our brain processes thoughts, leading to more calm and creative states and an increase our well-being.
Often referred to as blue space, the impact of the sea, rivers, lakes on our happiness and well-being is being researched much more by neuro-scientists and psychologists. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, has discussed the different ways bodies of water really can positively affect us and many psychologists have researched how just having blue space in front of you can boost your mental health.
[The author then goes on to cite specific benefits, such as] Water induces meditative states; invokes inspiration and creativity; gives us a sense of awe; and increases the benefits of exercise. ]