Torah Reading — 7 Tammuz 5777 — 1 July 2017

Categories: Weekly Torah Reading

Chukat: Numbers 19:1 — 22:1


What the people saw


Moses & Aaron, by Hans Sebald Beham, 16th century

Then the text goes on to say that the people saw that Aaron was dead.

The immediate question we ask is how anyone was able to see what happened on top of a mountain which was not only some distance away but probably covered in so much cloud that no-one could see clearly what was taking place there.

The key has to be in the word “saw”.

“Seeing” has two main aspects – physical sight and metaphorical perception, i.e. mental insight.

In Aaron’s case the second sense explains the word. The people woke up (another metaphor) to the fact that Aaron was no longer there.

This explanation was behind the approach of Rashi, who said in his commentary that once Aaron was no longer physically present the community realised their deprivation.

In his lifetime Aaron had protected the people, says Rashi; now they perceived how much they had lost with his going.

In what way did Aaron protect them?

One explanation is that he was the great peace-maker. If arguments broke out in the camp, Aaron’s careful shuttle diplomacy reduced the scale of the conflict and encouraged the contestants to forgive each other in advance of their next personal meeting.

His protection of the people showed them how to live in harmony.


A Lesson in public relations


Why is this sidra called Chukkat, “a statute”?

Tradition divides the mitzvot into those which reason can and cannot elucidate. The latter are called statutes.

Rashi says the nations of the world ask Israel why they keep commandments such as the rule of the red heifer. In response, the Israelites say, “It is a Divine decree, a statute!”

In other words, instead of seeking explanations for certain laws we simply say it is the word of God.

This echoes the modern problem of public relations. We have to be smart enough we know which approach to take when outsiders question us – whether to try painstaking explanations, or to choose to say, “This is a mark of Jewish identity!”


Thanks for the grub


The Children of Israel – even the grown-ups amongst them – were like all children, always hungry.

On the way from Egypt to the Promised Land they constantly complained that they had no bread and water and were sick of their situation (Num. 21:5-9).

It didn’t help very much when God made sure they got food, because then they found something else to complain about.

One presumes that God too had His complaints. After all that He had done for the former slaves, you would think that they would at least have said “Thank you” to the Divine Donor.

But maybe that’s human nature, never to be satisfied and rarely willing to be grateful for what they get.

For some people the long Hebrew Grace After Meals is too drawn-out and difficult and they say that all they want is a short version that says enough at a convenient length. (Actually there is a short version, but the odds are that the complainers who don’t like the long version don’t say the short one either.)

One of the things we all have to learn is to feel grateful and say so.

To God – and to other people. Some children have a habit of making a rhyming ditty out of giving their parents some appreciation – “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!” (“the grub” = “the food”).

Two thirds of the world’s population is hungry; those who have food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over their heads should feel sufficiently grateful to say so in words, to God, to their families, to their community.


Shabbat Shalom

© 1997-2017 OzTorah
by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD