Torah Weekly

For the week ending 28 June 2014 / 30 Sivan 5774

Parshat Chukat

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The laws of the Para Aduma the red heifer are detailed. These laws are for the ritual purification of one who comes into contact with death. After nearly 40 years in the desert, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. The people complain about the loss of their water supply that until now has been provided miraculously in the merit of Miriam's righteousness. Aharon and Moshe pray for the people's welfare. G-d commands them to gather the nation at Merivah and speak to a designated rock so that water will flow forth. Distressed by the people's lack of faith, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it. He thus fails to produce the intended public demonstration of G-d's mastery over the world, which would have resulted had the rock produced water merely at Moshe's word. Therefore, G-d tells Moshe and Aharon that they will not bring the people into the Land.Bnei Yisrael resume their travels, but because the King of Edom, a descendant of Esav, denies them passage through his country, they do not travel the most direct route to Eretz Yisrael. When they reach Mount Hor, Aharon dies and his son Elazar is invested with his priestly garments and responsibilities. Aharon was beloved by all, and the entire nation mourns him for 30 days. Sichon the Amorite attacks Bnei Yisrael when they ask to pass through his land. As a result, Bnei Yisrael conquer the lands that Sichon had previously seized from the Amonites on the east bank of the Jordan River.


Hollywood Loves the Bible

“And someone will slaughter it (the red heifer) in his presence…” (19:3)

Few things are less epic than a Biblical Epic.

If you cast a glance over the history of Hollywood, the Bible features high on its list of subject matter. Without fail those movies manage to mangle the facts to suit the increasingly crass tastes of the viewing public. But even if they were scrupulously faithful to the Torah and its authentic rabbinic exposition, there would still be a major problem.

I well remember one of the great teachers in Ohr Somayach confiding to me that because of his upbringing in America (albeit in a religious home) whenever he thought of Moshe Rabbeinu he had to work hard to push a picture of Charlton Heston out of his mind.

Nowadays, the present generation is more likely to have to deal with a picture of Moshe Rabbeinu as a stylized cartoon figure, or Noah as raging environmentalist.

Truth be known, the physical realities of the Chumash are far beyond our imagination.

“And someone will slaughter it (the red heifer) in his presence…”

The Aramaic translation of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel adds to the translation of this verse: “And he will examine it for the eighteen indications that render it a treif (ritually unfit).”

The Talmud (Chullin 19) states that it’s impossible to open the carcass and examine the red heifer since it has to be incinerated whole. From this our Sages derive a general principle that since the majority of animals are not treif, we may rely on this and not check them at all. How then can the Targum Yonatan say that the animal should be checked to see if it is a treif by cutting it open?

Rabbi Michoel Cohen answers that the Targum Yonatan is speaking in a limited and specific case: the red heifer that was used in the Jewish People’s journey across the wilderness.

One of the wonders of that journey was the Pillar of Cloud. The light that radiated from the Pillar of Cloud was like an X-ray (but without its health hazards). By its light it was possible to examine from the outside the darkest places in a house or a tent – or the inside of an animal.

With the disappearance of the Pillar of Cloud it became impossible to check the innards of the animal from the outside, and, indeed, subsequently they relied on the principle of the majority.

The miraculous light of the Pillar of Cloud is just one example of the supernatural world in which the Jewish People lived during their travels in the desert. With their entry into the Land of Israel they left an existence where reality was much stranger than fantasy, a world more unbelievable than even the most sophisticated Hollywood special effects could conjure.

  • Based on Mayana Shel Torah, “Heard by Rabbi Alexander Zushia Friedman from his teacher, Rabbi Michoel Cohen;” Tosefot Shabbat: “And when it was for light” in the name of a beraita of the Malechet HaMishkan

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