Weekly Reading Insights: Chukat

Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Chukat - 5 Tamuz 5783 /June 24

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 week's portion, Chukat, deals with the purification of a person who became impure because of contact with a (Jewish) corpse or was in an enclosed space with a corpse. Spiritual purity was required to participate in any activities connected with the Tabernacle, and with the spiritual life of the Jewish people.

There were three parts of the process of purification commanded by the Torah. In addition to the primary part, using the ash of the red heifer, it is also a commandment to take branches of an erez (cedar) tree. The erez is very tall, representing reaching to very great heights. The third part was the ezov (hyssop) bush which grows close to the ground - very low. What is the connection between these plants and a person who has contracted the spiritual impurity of death?

A person who has the "impurity of death" in a spiritual or psychological context is a person who lost their zest for life. They are angry at everyone and have given up on themselves. Little by little they are becoming detached from their natural creativity and activity in life and dwell in a state of impurity - a semi-death.
What is the solution? How does a person rescue themselves?

The Torah teaches us to take the stately cedar tree. What is the message? That each of us must remember our true height and stature. Just as G-d gave you a unique countenance, no one else in the world looks exactly like you, so G-d has also given you a unique mission, unique strengths and abilities that are always part of you, sometimes dormant, sometimes revealed. They are the reason you were brought into the world.
Who you really are has no relation to what other people think or perceive about you! You are the strengths and powers that G-d gave you. When we focus on this truth, it doesn't matter what others think. They cannot decide your value. And only you can realize your potential. For a person to give up on themselves is, in essence, an escape. It is hiding from who we really are.

In order to truly focus on our own unique abilities that, when used, can transform the world into a place of light and goodness, we must simultaneously guard ourselves. G-d forbid that our realization of our self-worth should turn into arrogance that brings another down! Therefore the Torah also demands taking ezov, a lowly and simple plain hyssop plant that reminds us all the time to remain modest in our relations with others. We must always remember that the gift of life was given to us by the Creator to fulfill our unique mission of revealing more good and adding more holiness to the world. Each and every person is a complete world and has their unique mission also! We are supposed to build others, never diminish them.

Combining the recognition of our personal great worth with the imperative of modesty and honor to others, graces us with literally a shot of holiness and purity, to return to the fruitful life, a life of faith and strength and progress.

Shabbat shalom, Shaul

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


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more, click to Chukat
one sample:

Chasidic Masters

A Passion for Miracles

From Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, the "Seer" of Lublin

To be considered "alive" one must constantly strive for holiness.

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