The Mishna tell us that 39 years have passed since the Exodus and soon the B’nei Yisrael will enter the Promised Land. The story of the Red Heifer is perhaps the most perplexing story in the Torah. Its ashes make impure the pure but also make the pure the impure. This is why it is called a hok, a decree from Hashem which we cannot comprehend but obey because He has commanded it. According to the Mishna, the ceremony of the Red Heifer was only conducted seven times: once by Moshe, once by Ezra, and five times after Ezra. It died with the destruction of the Temple.
The Bnei Yisrael, the whole assembly, arrived at the wilderness of Zin in the first month and the people settled in Kadesh. Miriam died there and she was buried there“(20:1).
You could say that this week's sedra really flows because of all the references to water running through it; 'Mayim' ('water' in Hebrew) is mentioned twenty two times. The portion begins with God’s command to mix water with the ashes of a red cow for purification. Next, Miriam dies, and the well which provided the Israelites with water disappears with her life. The Jewish people quarrel with Moses, whining “There is no water to drink!”. Moses and Aaron then strike the rock and God brings forth water.
We know that the Book of Bamidbar consists of two distinct parts. The first part of the book describes events that took place in the first two years of the journey in the Sinai desert. The second part, beginning with chapter 20 describes the events which took place in the 40th year of the journey.
The Torah is not written in the order in which events happened, and this week's parshah jumps to the 38th year toward the end of the Jews' forty years in the desert.
The Jewish people were getting ready to enter Eretz Yisrael after wandering forty years in the desert. Moshe Rabbeinu sent spies (migalim) to the area of Ya’azer, a land which the Jewish people had to cross in order to enter Eretz Yisrael. The spies were asked to scout the area and report back to Moshe.
Notes for Shiur: Parshat Chukat – The Waters of Strife
Abarbanel Classic Commentary on the Torah
Don Isaac Abarbanel – 1437 – 1508
Portuguese Jewish statesmen (the last of the Spanish golden period), philosopher, biblical commentator and financier.
Parshat Chukat Bamidbar Chapter 20:1-13
Abarbanel raises 7 major questions on the story of Moses and the water from the rock.
The Book of Bamidbar consists of 10 Sidrot, which can be divided into two completely separate parts, representing 2 periods in the history of the Exodus. The first 5 Sidrot describe the events that took place within the first two years of the Exodus, until the end of the rebellion of Korach. The last 5 Sidrot describe the events that took place in the 40th year, as the new generation of Israelites were preparing for the conquest.
In this week’s sidrah, we read of the song that Bnei Yisrael sang to praise G-d for the miraculous well of water in the desert. This song, known as ‘Shirat HaBe’er’ is sung exclusively by the Jewish people but not by Moshe. This is in contrast to the ‘Shirat HaYam’, the song which Moshe led at the Sea of Reeds when it split, some 40 years earlier.
The timing of Shirat HaBe’er is unusual, in that the well had already accompanied the people for nearly 40 years. Why the sudden praise? Surely a well in the middle of the desert should have been a constant source of gratitude?
In this week's parashah, Chukat, we learn of the death of Aharon. In 20:29, when the community learnt of Aharon's death, they all mourned him for thirty days.
There are three distinct periods of Jewish mourning for family members, each with its own laws, customs and rhythms. The most immediate and most intense period is known as the 'Shivah,' meaning 7 - the first 7 days, which include the day of the funeral.