(This Torah Teaching is for Shabbat of June 19th, 2020)
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Chukkat (חֻקַּת — Hebrew for a “decree” beyond human understanding.) It is the ninth word, in the parashah is the 39th weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual cycle of Torah reading and the sixth in the Book of Numbers. The parashah sets out the laws of corpse contamination (tumat hamet) and purification with the water of lustration prepared with the Red Cow (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה, parah adumah, also called the “Red Heifer”), and reports the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, the failure of Moses at the Waters of Meribah, and the conquest of Arad, the Amorites, and Bashan. The parashah constitutes Numbers 19:1–22:1
Parsha Chukat Summary
Moses is taught the laws of the red heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body.
After forty years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies, and the people thirst for water. God tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is told by God that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.
Aaron dies at Hor Hahar and is succeeded in the high priesthood by his son Elazar. Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people “speak against God and Moses”; God tells Moses to place a brass serpent upon a high pole, and all who will gaze heavenward will be healed. The people sing a song in honor of the miraculous well that provided them water in the desert.
Moses leads the people in battles against the Emorite kings Sichon and Og (who seek to prevent Israel’s passage through their territory) and conquers their lands, which lie east of the Jordan.
This week’s haftorah describes how the people of Israel were attacked by the nation of Ammon. The Israelites engaged Jephtah to lead them in battle against this military threat. Jephtah first sent a missive to Ammon, declaring his peaceful intentions. In his message, he also discussed the Israelites’ conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og, victories which are related in this week’s Torah reading.
Jephtah the Gileadite was the son of a harlot. He was sent away from his home by his half-siblings, and settled in the land of Tob where he became a great warrior. When the nation of Ammon attacked the people of Israel, Jephtah was called upon to lead the Israelites in battle. Jephtah agreed, on one condition: “If you bring me back to fight with the children of Ammon, and God delivers them before me, I will become your head.” The Israelites accepted his terms.
Jepthah tried to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict by sending messengers to reason with the king of Ammon; but the latter remained inflexible. Jephtah then successfully led his countrymen in battle, and they trounced and eliminated the Ammonite threat.
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Torah Parashah teaching with video and audio and illustrations by Rabbi Isaac. © 2021 Assembly of Called-Out Believers. Use by Permission.