Weekly Reading Insights:
Chukat 5779

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Chukat - 3 Tamuz 5779 /July 6

Torah: Numbers 19:1-22:1
Haftorah: Judges 11:1-23 (Messengers to Edom)
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 4

Chukat is the 6th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and it contains 4670 letters, in 1245 words, in 87 verses

Overview: Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) opens with G-d's command to slaughter a red heifer whose ashes purify those who had contact with the dead. The water the Jews had in the desert came in the merit of Miriam the prophetess, Moshe's sister. After her passing, the Jews complain about the subsequent lack of water. G-d then tells Moshe to speak to a certain rock; when Moshe instead hits the rock to bring forth water, Moshe and Aharon are punished with a decree that they will not merit to enter the Land. Next, the Jews request to pass through the Land of Edom, but the Edomites refuse, and the Jews must go around. Following this, Aharon passes away on Mt. Hahar. When the Cana'anite king of Arad hears that the Jews are nearing his land, he wages war with them. G-d fulfills the Jews' request to allow them to defeat the Cana'anites and conquer their land, which they dedicate to G-d in return for their victory. The Jews complain to Moshe again, and G-d sends poisonous snakes to bite them. Moshe prays on the Jews' behalf, and G-d tells him to make an image of a snake; Moshe makes a copper snake, places it on a pole, and those that gaze up at the copper are cured of their snake bites. Next are details about some of the places where the Jews traveled and also the Song of the Well. The parsha concludes relating the Jews' defeat of Sichon and Og, two very powerful kings, and the conquest of their lands.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This coming Shabbat will be the 3rd day of Tammuz, the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. A great Jewish leader, and the head of the still growing Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement, the Rebbe was also a master of presenting deep Jewish ideas to the widest audience. We wish to share with you an adaptation from one of the Rebbe’s talks: one small piece of his great wealth of wisdom.

The message of the Jewish month of Tammuz (this Thursday is the 1st of Tammuz) is hinted to in the way the Torah refers to it: the “fourth month” (after Nissan, which is considered the first of the months, Iyar, the second, and Sivan, the third).

Tammuz follows the month in which the Torah was given, Sivan. The general difference between these two months is that Sivan is about the influence, the positive flow of the Holy One Blessed Be He from above: In the third month, G-d gave the Jewish people the Torah and its commandments, guiding us on how to behave in our day-to-day lives. In the fourth month, the focus is primarily on what the Jewish people can accomplish on their own, in this material world, through own efforts, and actively doing the commandments according to the instructions that were received with the giving of the Torah.

This difference is hinted to in the numbers of the months: 3 and 4. The Talmud teaches us that the numbers 3 and 4—in their alphabetical equivalents, gimmel and dalet, and even in their shapes allude to the Hebrew words “gomel dalim,” which means “giving to the needy” (those who are lacking). The gimmel represents an effluence from above (its shape is like a person running to give to someone else), while the dalet represents that which is lacking (it is shaped like the letter after it, hei, but missing the third leg), and therefore receives from above. We see this numeric division of the giving/receiving dynamic in the kabbalistic arrangement of the spiritual worlds as well. There are 3 upper worlds: Azilut - Emanation, Briyah – Creation, and Yetzirah – Formation. These three worlds pass the divine energy down to the fourth and lowest world: Asiyah - the world of Action, our world.

We can understand the difference between the 3rd month and 4th month in a similar way. The whole process of the giving of the Torah was an act of giving, while the 4th month is a state of dal, lacking, which receives. This receiving, if done properly, initiates action within us, turning the month of Tammuz into a month of doing. We received the Torah, and now it is up to us to do something with it.

Although our work within the material world is a “descent”— i.e., a lower level relative to the light and power of the revelation that characterized the month of Sivan—it is specifically in this physical plane where the revelation is received and integrated. In fact, it is only through this descent from the high of revelation to the mode of working within the world that the Almighty’s intention of creating a dwelling place in THIS lower world is accomplished. This is the ultimate realization and completion of the giving of the Torah: that it is imbued within each person here below until it spreads throughout the entire world.

To further understand the above, it is important to point out that one of the main focuses of the month of Tammuz is the “Fast of the Fourth”—the fast of the 17th day of Tammuz. This fast, which is the general theme of the month, is a day that commemorates several descents: from the breaking of the first Tablets to the siege that signaled the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exile.

The emphasis of this time of “descent” (the fast is a day of descent within a month of descent) is on service. Through the spiritual work of a Jew here below, through increasing in Torah study and mitzvah observance, the reason for our descent into exile will be nullified. More than that, our prophets and sages say that these days of “descent” and mourning (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the fast of Tisha B’Av) will actually be transformed into joyful, celebratory days—because this is really their purpose to begin with: that through them more goodness is added.

So we see that even though the “fast of the fourth” on the surface level is about descent, its deeper meaning is not at all sad. The fast day becomes a paradigm for increased action and goodness. When the fast days cause a Jew to do more, to learn more Torah and do more mitzvahs, he or she not only negates the negative effects of sin, but also achieves the ultimate purpose of the world.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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one sample:

The Holy Ari
Confounding the Work of Creation

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Korach was a Levite and moreover was the head of the Levites; he embodied the highest aspect of all states of gevura, whereas Aaron embodied the highest aspect of all states of chesed. Their natures are fundamentally opposed and this was the basis of Korach’s quarrel.

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