87 verses of water, purity, and death, ending on a decided upbeat.
From 2013: 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., http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/teruma/849ofi.doc and
http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/%2FTU10_Navon.pdf ). 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. [note from 2015: 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.] 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 http://blogs.rj.org/blog/2013/06/12/appreciating-water-in-the-desert/ (dead link, now at https://www.mayyimhayyim.org/appreciating-water-in-the-desert/), Al Tanenbaum points out that there are 32 mentions of water in this 87-verse portion. Water runs (sorry) throughout, in 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.
I just stumbled upon this blog. For really short divrei Torah:
The Torah In Haiku: Chukat
BY ED NICKOW , 6/13/2013
Death of Miriam
Led the people to complain
“We have no water”
But when Aaron died
The people mourned, thirty days
No complaints mentioned
Ed Nickow is a teacher and member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL. He blogs at The Torah in Haiku.
From 2015 [selections]
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-foodsand 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.
Copyright © 1997-2001 by DHMO.org
Red hair genes directly inherited from the world’s first Redheads 70,000 years ago (excerpts)
ScotlandsDNA believes that everyone who carries one of 3 variants of the red-hair gene is a direct descendant of the first redhead ever to have it – two variants originating in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, and a younger variant originating in Europe around 30,000 years ago.
In recorded history, the ancient Greeks and Romans described Celtic and Germanic people as redheads and the distribution of red hair in Europe today matches the ancient Celtic and Germanic worlds. The map of red heads in northern and western Europe also correlates with the frequency of Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b, thought to be linked to the origins of red hair.
The origins of haplogroup R1b are complex, but it likely had a West Asian origin and migrated into Western Europe with the spread of agriculture.
(I)n the R1b-dominated lineage of European royalty, Richard the Lionheart, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were all redheads. The ancient Briton Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, was described by Cassius Dio as “tall and terrifying in appearance… a great mass of red hair… over her shoulders.” Probably the best known red-head in Britain today is also of royal, and R1b, stock – Prince Harry. While serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, he was known by his comrades – due to his hair colour and his status as a high profile target – as ‘the Ginger Bullet Magnet‘.
And the award for the “best known tourist guide in written history” goes to Moses:
Awarded for leading thousands of people over deserts for over 40 years, while listening to “Are we there yet?”