Torah Weekly

For the week ending 27 June 2015 / 10 Tammuz 5775

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.


I Wish I’d Come Here Before

“Moshe stripped Aharon’s garments from him and dressed Elazar his (Aharon’s) son in them; then Aharon died there on Mount Hor…” (20:28)

Once there was a secular Jewish family who sent their son to Israel for the summer to study hydroponic farming on a left-wing kibbutz.

At the end of his expected stay, the son phoned home to say that he wasn’t coming back; he had decided to become religious and go to Yeshiva. The parents were heart-broken, but what could they do?

The following year they sent their daughter to study Arabic at the Hebrew University. At the end of the semester, the parents received a long and very apologetic email from their daughter explaining that she had been spending Shabbat with a religious family and had decided to stay on in Israel and become religious.

The mother and father were beside themselves. They decided to seek the help of their local, and not Orthodox, rabbi.

After hearing their tale of woe, he thought for a while and said, “When was the last time you checked your mezuzot?”

It’s difficult to describe to someone who isn’t religious what keeping the Torah feels like. And why it is so compelling.

A friend of mine described waking up on Sunday morning after his first full-fledged Shabbat. “I thought it was Monday morning. It was a kind of out-of body-experience.”

The Midrash in this week’s Torah portion describes the passing of Aharon from this world:

Moshe and Aharon and Elazar ascended Mount Hor. Then G-d descended and took Aharon’s soul with a kiss, as it says that Aharon died, “according to the ‘Mouth’ of G-d.”

Moshe and Elazar both kissed Aharon, each on one cheek.

Moshe said to Aharon, “What do you see?”

He said, “I don’t see anything except for the Cloud of Glory clothing the limbs that you are disrobing.”

They undressed Aharon until his thighs, and the Cloud of Glory moved up and covered him.

Then they disrobed him until his neck.

Moshe said, “Aharon, my brother. What do you see? What is death?”

He replied, “Until now, nothing except that the Cloud of Glory is coming up to my neck.”

When they had completely removed his garments, the Cloud of Glory covered Aharon completely.

Moshe called to him, “Aharon, my brother, what is the death of the righteous? Where are you?

He replied, “I am not worthy to tell you, but I wish I had come here before.”

When someone becomes religious, his non-religious friends are often curious to find out, “What’s it like to be frum?

The only answer he can give is, “I can’t describe it you, but one thing I can tell you is that I wish I’d come here before.”

  • Source: based on an idea by Rabbi Shimshon Pincus

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