Chukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

This portion is only 87 verses long but covers close to 38 years, at the end of which the Israelites are encamped in the plains of Moab, on the bank of the Jordan, opposite Jericho.  Yet we learn very little about what happens during that time.  Some of our recurring tropes recur:  ritual impurity,  complaining about food, large-scale divine punishment, and water from rocks.  But now a new generation is coming to the fore. 

We read the details of the red heifer (parah adumah) some months ago as part of our series of special Sabbaths leading up to Passover.   Contact with a corpse renders one ritually impure, and purification involves being sprinkled with a mixture of water and the ashes of a young, totally red-headed, physically perfect cow, that was slaughtered outside the camp and burned to ashes along with cedar wood, hyssop, and “tola’at shani” (red bug or worm).  Clearly, one cow produces enough ash for many purifications.  Interestingly, the priest who prepares the purifying ashes becomes impure himself.

Now we get back to narrative. According to Rashi, everything from Chapter 20 onward takes place in the 40th year.  Miriam dies, but there is no indication the people mourned, as they will for her brothers.  Then, they run out of water. According to Midrash, a well had accompanied them because of Miriam’s merit and dried up when she died (no tears for her, no water for you?). 

At the very start of the journey, the people had cried for water and Moses followed instructions, hit a rock, and they had water.  Now, their children need water, but this time Moses and Aaron (“you will speak” is plural in the Hebrew in 20:8) are supposed to speak to the rock.  Instead, Moses hits it, twice, saying (20:10), “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” Who are “we”? Moses and the Lord? Moses and Aaron? All three?  Moses and Aaron are then condemned to not enter the Promised Land.  For one misstep?  My own thought is that this was a test to see if Moses was still up to the job after almost 40 years or if he would let his emotions get the better of him, as he had as a young man in Egypt.  Or maybe it was to demonstrate to Moses that it really was time for a change in leadership.

On the move once more.  Now the journey is lengthened because the king of Edom refuses to let them pass through.  No reason offered, just an armed force.  Aaron dies on Mount Hor, his son Eleazar is the new High Priest, and the people mourn for 30 days. 

Now the Israelites win their first military battle, against the king of Arad.  But, echoing the past, they complain about the lack of water and “real” food (21:5). They are attacked by poisonous serpents and many die.  But this really is a new people.  They themselves admit they sinned in speaking against Moses and the Lord and so they are saved.  And the next time we read of their needing water, they have a well and sing a song of thanksgiving for it, again demonstrating they are a new, more confident, more mature generation.  Winning a few more battles doesn’t hurt either.

Shabbat shalom,


Non sequitur, 7/21/17

tph moses workout


Water Jokes

A man goes to his doctor because he’s been feeling very ill for days. The doctor gives him several sets of pills.
The doctor instructs; “Take the green pill with two big glasses of water when you get up. An hour later, take the white pill with another glass of water. Take the blue pill with a big glass of water after lunch. Mid afternoon, take the orange pill with plenty of water, and repeat that at dinner. Then, just before going to bed, take the red pill with several big glasses of water.”
The man is alarmed at huge volume of medicine he has been given to take, and nervously asks, “What’s the diagnosis? What’s wrong with me?”
The doctor says, “You’re dehydrated.”

What did the sink say to the water faucet?
You’re a real drip.

A physicist, biologist and a chemist were going to the ocean for the first time. The physicist saw the ocean and was fascinated by the waves. He said he wanted to do some research on the fluid dynamics of the waves and walked into the ocean. Obviously he was drowned and never returned.
The biologist said he wanted to do research on the flora and fauna inside the ocean and walked inside the ocean. He too, never returned.
The chemist waited for a long time and afterwards, wrote the observation, “The physicist and the biologist are soluble in ocean water”.


Redhead Jokes (selected)


Redheads don’t sleep…they wait.
A cobra bit a redhead. After 5 days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.
Death once had a near-redhead experience.
A redheaded woman is so stubborn she can beat the sun at a staring competition.
A redhead is probably the reason Waldo is hiding.

What’s the difference between a blond and a redhead?
At least you can ignore the blond safely.

Redheads donate blood to the Red Cross. Just not their own
Redheads can slam revolving doors.


tph water buffalo


The Wall Street Journal Fixes Biblical Mistake: ‘Moses Brought Water From Iraq’

Jon Levine  The Wrap March 29, 2018

The Wall Street Journal may need their reporters to brush up on their Bible literacy.

On Wednesday the paper was forced to issue an embarrassing correction, over a story that misquoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in the process flubbed an iconic Old Testament moment.

“An earlier version of his article incorrectly stated that Benjamin Netanyahu said Moses brought water from Iraq. He said the water was brought from a rock,” the paper noted in their “Corrections & Applications.”

The actual WSJ piece, “Sheldon Adelson Facilitated EPA Connection for Israeli Firm,” was a pretty dry affair, which focused on how the casino magnate arranged meetings between Israeli companies and the U.S. government.

The actual moment quoting Netanyahu reads as follows:

“Professor Dershowitz reportedly demonstrated Water-Gen’s technology on stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington last year. And the company’s website touts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bragging about the technology at the same event this year. It “improves on Moses,” Mr. Netanyahu said in video posted by the company. “He brought water from a rock. They bring water from thin air.”

The famous story of Moses striking the rock precipitating a flow of water can be found in the book of Numbers in the Jewish Old Testament. There was no Iraq to speak of during the time of Moses.

The article, bylined by Timothy Puko, also took contributions from WSJ writers Julie Bykowicz and Louise Radnofsky and must also have passed some unnamed editor suggesting that at least four people looked at the piece without noticing the mistake.





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