Torah Weekly

For the week ending 6 July 2019 / 3 Tammuz 5779

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.

The 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 30 days.

Sichon the Amorite attacks the Bnei Yisrael when they ask to pass through his land. As a result, the Bnei Yisrael conquer the lands that Sichon had previously seized from the Amonites on the east bank of the Jordan River.


A Gift from the Wilderness

“…a gift from the Wilderness – the gift went to the valley and from the valley to the heights and from the heights to the valley in the field of Moav, at the top of the peak, overlooking the surface of the wilderness” (21:19-20)

Most ba’alei teshuva (returnees to Torah living) will tell you how at one point they sprang out of bed with “Modeh Ani” barely having left their lips, and rushed off to daven, unbelievably charged with the thought of putting on tefillin and davening — however slowly — with a minyan. How the expectation of Shabbat was visceral and the vistas of Torah were breathtaking.

And then, somewhere along the line, habit begins to dull the gloss. It’s not that the secular world has such a strong pull. Mostly you feel: been there, done that. Worn the T-shirt. Sometimes even knitted the T-shirt. It’s just that at some point you realize that you are different, and however religious you become you’re always going to be an “outsider.” It’s ironic that to be a ba’al teshuva you have to be somewhat rebellious. If not, you’d never have given up your nine-to-five existence to become a 24-hour a day “Yid.” And then you find yourself in one of the most conformist systems known to man. You could become bitter. Or you could pin your hopes on your children. After all, they’re “religiousfrom birth” and instinctively know how to walk the walk and talk the talk. But that’s also a challenge. The majority of noshrim (“dropouts” from the observant world) seem to have either chutznik (non-Israeli) parents or ba’al teshuva parents. And if you have both — that’s a double-whammy. Despite this, with a lot of prayer and common sense it is possible to bring up normal and well-adjusted Orthodox children.

But what about their parents? Are they just a stepping stone that’s been stepped over?

Never give up on your dreams.

The “gift of the wilderness” — the gift of water, the gift of Torah — comes miraculously out of the desert of a secular life. You have to follow that water. Sometimes it goes down to the valley, and sometimes it rises miraculously, and against its nature — to heights. But it can also return seeking the fields of Moav, the tremendous pull of the 49 gates of impurity.

Yet, if you keep going and you’re not prepared to stop and say. “Well, I got this far. Not bad for a ba’al teshuva!” If you keep following the water it will lift you to the top of the peak overlooking the surface of the wilderness, and you will know how far you have come.

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