Compared with the sturm und drang of the last few readings, this week’s portion is relatively subdued and is partly tying up loose ends.
What follows below are mainly comments from 2013. Two additional thoughts: 1.) According to Rashi, everything in the Torah from Numbers, Chapter 20 onward happens in the 40th year. However, the people who whine in 20:5 about the lack of produce and water seem like the slave generation, not those who have grown up in the wilderness: “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!” Maybe it’s several years earlier than the 40th year, when a reasonable number of ex-slaves still lived and regaled their young with stories about “real” food.
2.) I can get teary over strange little things. That happened last year and this as I read about the figs, vines, and pomegranates. I thought of children excitedly looking forward to something that they subsequently never received. The ex-slaves would never see the figs, vine, or pomegranates growing in the Promised Land. They didn’t even have the hope of a “maybe” or “someday” (cf. Chekov’s Three Sisters’ hoping to go to Moscow). And even though they had caused their own doom, that made me incredibly sad.
“At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites 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). …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!), 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 Israelites’ 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.”
A ginger (redheaded) man finds a magic lamp and when he rubs it a genie pops out. “Ah, hell,” says the genie, “What do you want?” The ginger says, “I want a huge mansion with a hundred rooms and twenty floors, all made of pure gold.” The genie looks at him and says, “don’t be an idiot, do you have any idea how much gold that would take? That’s impossible. Pick something else.” So the ginger says, “I want everyone to stop making fun of my hair colour.” The genie says, “So this mansion, you want suite bathrooms?”
Why didn’t Indians scalp redheads?
They knew better.
Red Heifer Found in West Virginia [a little abridged]
A retiree in West Virginia has discovered a red heifer, and by all appearances, the young and unique cow is suitable to clear the path for service in the Third Temple to begin.
Bill Shuff, a retired civil engineer, discovered the distinctive calf among a group of three his son had purchased. A young heifer without an identifying ear-tag caught Shuff’s eye because of its distinctive red coloring.
He did not know of any rabbis to consult, so Shuff contacted Breaking Israel News, sending images of the heifer. The female calf, the product of a union between a female Red Angus and a Red Seminole male, was born last July. No patches of non-red color can be seen nor has she been bred.
The red heifer was used in Temple times to purify Jews from impurity caused by contact with or coming in the vicinity of a dead body. During the years the two Temples stood in Jerusalem, only nine red heifers were used. According to Jewish tradition, the tenth red heifer will usher in the Messiah.
His son was planning on breeding the young heifer, but Huff has urged him to wait until the cow’s status can be ascertained by rabbinic authorities. Breeding the heifer would render it unfit for use in the purification ceremony.
You all know the chemical formula for water, H2O.
What is H2O2? Hydrogen peroxide, which is not very stable, but is highly reactive. What is H2O3? It doesn’t exist. The electronic structures around hydrogen and oxygen don’t allow this molecule to form and be stable.
So what is H2O4? Drinking, bathing, swimming, etc.
Favorite Loose Ends Quotes
- “Sometimes transitional periods in life leave you feeling like a great big jumble of loose, split ends.”
Author: Brandi L. Bates
- “If you lack the humility to go back and tie up the loose ends in your past, then be prepared to forever be haunted by her ghosts, all of whom will come into your present and your future— staining everything and everyone with their leftover emotional and mental garbage. Humility is the master key that can get you out of all your cages; why do you choose your ego and stay in your prisons?”
Author: C. JoyBell C.
- “Today’s tangents will become tomorrow’s arcs, and unforeseen connections will tie up your loose ends in a way that will make you want to slap your head and holler at your accidental brilliance.”
Author: Chris Baty
- “There is enough mystery in the facts as we know them, enough of conspiracy, coincidence, loose ends, dead ends, multiple interpretations. There is no need […] to invent the grand and masterful scheme, the plot that reaches flawlessly in a dozen directions. – Agent Branch (58)”
Author: Don DeLillo