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Chukat Summaries

Chukat 5777-2017

“Moses’ Painful Words of Comfort”

During the moving ceremony marking the passing of his beloved brother Aaron, Moses forces himself to say words of comfort to Aaron that are personally devastating.

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Chukat 5776-2016

“The Bronze Serpent”

The Biblical serpent has a long and complex history and relationship with the People of Israel. The Bronze serpent represents an important change in the serpent’s role.

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Chukat 5775-2015

“Accepting the Inscrutable”

There appears to be an intriguing connection between parashat Chukat and the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1242 by King Louis IX.

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Chukat 5774-2014

“The Inscrutable Statutes”

The rules and rituals of the Red Heifer represent a model of a “chok,” a Divine statute that seems to have no rhyme or reason. It teaches an important lesson for a person of true faith.

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Chukat 5773-2013

“Striking the Stone: the Parameters of Anger”

How lethal is anger? Moses and Aaron lost their opportunity to enter the Promised Land because of a single display of anger.

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Chukat 5772-2012

“It is a Decree Before Me–-You Have No Right to Question It!”

The Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, is one of the most enigmatic laws of the Torah. Rashi declares that the law of the Red Heifer is a decree that mortals have no right to question. Rashi then proceeds to try to explain the enigma.

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Chukat 5771-2011

“The Well of Miriam”

In parashat Chukat, the great prophetess, Miriam, passes away. The fact that, immediately after Miriam’s passing, there is no water for the People of Israel leads the rabbis to conclude that in Miriam’s merit, a well of water traveled with the people of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness, and, with her demise, the well vanished. What was the nature of Miriam’s well?

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Chukat 5770-2010

“And from Mattanah to Nahaliel”

After a series of battles and confrontations with hostile nations, the Torah, in parashat Chukat, records a lyrical but esoteric poem concerning the well of Miriam. The Talmud sees this poem as far more than a record of the historical itinerary of the people’s travels in the wilderness. It is, in fact, a vital lesson of ethics and educational philosophy.

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Chukat-Balak 5769-2009

“The Ultimate Value of Human Life”

In the first of this week’s double parashiot, a battle takes place. Described in only three verses, it is a battle between Israel and the Canaanite king of Arad. The commentators suggests that in the battle only a single maidservant is captured from Israel. Israel vows to defeat the enemy, and G-d delivers the enemy into their hands. This obscure battle teaches us about the great lengths that our enemies would go to deceive us and how precious human life is to the people of Israel, regardless of whether the person is Jewish or not.

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Chukat 5768-2008

“The Death of Aaron”

Why was Aaron mourned by all the people of Israel while Moses was not? The Midrash suggests that Aaron had a very special relationship with all the people because of his great commitment to love and pursuit of peace. It was Aaron’s obsession with peace that brought enemies together and turned them into friends. He was an extraordinary promoter of marital harmony between husbands and wives and was able to turn the wicked into penitents. This resulted in a powerful and abiding love that the people felt for Aaron.

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Chukat 5767-2007

“The Excesses of Rationality”

Parashat Chukat, which features the obtuse law of the Red Heifer, comes hard on the heels of Parashat Korach, the rebellion of Korach and his cohorts. The Midrash portrays at least part of Korach’s rebellion as being due to his demand that everything be understood and completely rational. Chukat comes to teach that it is not the opinion of the people that determines the truth of Judaism, but rather the opinion of G-d, Torah and Moses–even though it may not be rational, such as the Red Heifer.

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Chukat-Balak 5766-2006

“The Sanctity of Human Life”

The laws of the Red Heifer recorded in parashat Chukat seem archaic and antiquated. But, in truth, the ritual of the Red Heifer is an extraordinarily important ritual that drives home the invaluable life lesson regarding the principle of the sanctity of human life and the major role that this principle plays in every aspect of Jewish life and practice.

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Chukat 5765-2005

“Moses gets Battered by the Commentaries”

The tragic episode of Moses hitting instead of speaking to the rock at May Meriva is one of the most difficult and enigmatic in the Torah. The commentators struggle mightily with this Torah portion. As a result, many sins, mistakes and transgressions are attributed to Moses and Aaron. Are they justified?

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Chukat 5764-2004

“A Tribute to Miriam, Our Sister”

In Parashat Chukat, we are informed of the death of Miriam. Who was Miriam, and why was she so special? From the scriptural texts and the Midrashic literature, we learn that, from the time Miriam was barely a child, she was already changing the course of Jewish history with her exceptional leadership and wisdom.

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Chukat-Balak 5763-2003

“How to Market G-d!”

In parashat Chukat, the Jewish people, once again challenge G-d by speaking against the Al-mighty and Moses and asking, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness…?” In response to this arrogant display of lack of faith, G-d sends fiery serpents to attack the rebellious hordes, and a large number of people die. To stop the plague, Moses builds a fiery serpent and places it on a tall pole so that all who are bitten will look at the serpent and live. What is the role of this serpent? After all, it seems to be very much akin to voodoo.

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Chukat-Balak 5762-2002

“The Paradox of the Red Heifer”

In the first of this week’s two parashiot, parashat Chukat, we read of the paradox of the Red Heifer whose ashes were used to purify those who were ritually contaminated. The Red Heifer rendered those who were impure, pure, and those that were pure, impure. Perhaps it is teaching us that there is a significant price to pay for trying to improve others. But, we must be prepared to pay that price. It is, after all, the only way to achieve ultimate perfection.

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Chukat 5761-2001

“Can Death Be Sweet?”

In parashat Chukat we learn of the death of Aaron, one of the Jewish people’s most beloved figures. According to the midrash, Aaron had the privilege of leaving the physical world knowing that his children were following in his footsteps, and committed to serving the Jewish people. Aaron truly has a “sweet” death.

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Chukat-Balak 5760-2000

“History Repeats Itself! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

According to tradition, the nations of Moab and Midian were mortal enemies. As usual, as we see once again in parashat Chukat, the one thing that unites our enemies is their enmity of Israel, which is greater than their hatred for each other. That pattern has repeated itself throughout Jewish history. Indeed, the deeds of the fathers are the signposts for the children.

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