Posts Tagged 'Chukat'

Don’t Be an Ass: Chukat Balak and this Moment in History

In Chukat-Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals.   Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak. There we read:

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. ( Numbers 22:2)

Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and  he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites.  But what is his name? Balak the son of Zippor- Balak the son of Bird. And of course this story of animals fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity. What do we make of all of this “parsha menagerie“?

To understand this we need to focus in on the story of the Bilaam’s donkey. In the story the donkey understood the Angel’s presence while Bilaam just did not understand. And Bilaam a prophet of God not only missed the Angel, but in the process also revealed his own ugly side by striking the donkey. The donkey is able to perceive the divine in ways that Bilaam is not initially able to perceive the divine in the Israelites. What happens to us when we do not see the divine in each other?

Balaam, the Ass, and the Irony of the LORD – naSlovensko

Well it seems that we are in the situation we are in this moment in history. This is the moment when people are not observing social distancing because it is perceived as more of an infringement of their rights than a protection of the vulnerable. It the pervasive and unchecked violence of police against black and brown people. It is the rising levels of antisemitism. We do not need perfection, but we must do better. We do not need to be angels, but we need to strive to see the divine in each and every person we come across in our path. If I do not, I am just being an ass. Don’t be an ass.

All of Them: Hearing the Question, Adaptive Change, and Parshat Chukat

In Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the continued travails of the Israelites in the desert. Here we learn the people were kvetching and Moshe struck the rock to get water.  There we read:

The community was without water, and they joined against Moshe and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moshe, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” ( Numbers 20:2- 5)

Moshe’s response to their myriad of questions was to come with Aaron to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and they fell on their faces. God instructs him to go and speak to the rock to get water for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock he admonished the people and stuck the rock.  The water poured out and God punished Moshe. There we read,“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” ( Numbers 20:12) He spent his life to get his people to the Promised Land and just like that he could not join them. The punishment seems to far outweigh the crime. What did Moshe do that was so wrong?

From their herd mentality to only thinking about food and water, throughout the book of Numbers we see the Israelites acting like children. On the simple level in our case they were complaining for water. One of Moshe’s missteps is that he reacts to their childish kvetching instead of actually answering their questions. Yes he does get them water, but their questions linger.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend recounted a story about  Libi, our three-year-old who is about to turn four this week. My friend asked Libi, “How many legs does an octopus have?” As it was shared with me, Libi looks at my friend with indignation as if it was a stupid question and said, “All of them”. All too often we get swept up into the questions that we think people are saying without just dealing with the simple level of the actual questions they ask.

Why did God need them to go into the wilderness and almost die? Why was it important for them to leave Egypt to subside without “grain or figs or vines or pomegranates”? There is some depth to their questions. Why do we suffer? How do we make meaning when things do not go as planned? Surely they were thirsty, and they were also asking questions which could not be quenched by water.

The notion of ever getting to a Promised Land without suffering or issues of theodicy might always be beyond our reach. Moshe gave them a technical solution to what was clearly an adaptive problem.  In words of Martin Linsky, “An adaptive change that is beneficial to the organization as a whole may clearly and tangibly hurt some of those who had benefited from the world being left behind. “(Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading) The Israelites needed an adaptive change which would help them as an organization, but sadly to achieve this Moshe needed to be left behind. 

-It is crazy to imagine fOuRLOW turning four. Happy Birthday Libi. Thank you for reminding us to not lose the question in the process.

The Trump Holy Bible: Lessons from the Red Heffer

At the start of Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moshe and Aaron to instruct the Israelites regarding the ritual law of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה‬) used to create the water of lustration. The cow was to be without blemish, have no defect, and not have borne a  yoke. Eleazar the priest was to take it outside the camp, observe its slaughter, and take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the Tabernacle. The cow was to be burned in its entirety along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff. The priest and the one who burned the cow were both to wash their garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The ashes of the cow were to be used to create the water for purification from having had contact with death.

It is noteworthy that all other communal sacrifices were of male animals, but the Red Cow was of a female animal. Rabbi Aibu explained the difference with a parable: When a handmaiden’s boy polluted a king’s palace, the king called on the boy’s mother to clear away the filth. In the same way, God called on the Red Cow to come and atone for the incident of the Golden Calf. (Numbers Rabbah 19:8)

To me this parable is relevant in at least four ways to the horrid events from this last week when the Trump administration took to separating children of immigrants from their parents. On the most basic level, this Midrash suggests the sense of connection between a mother and her child. Just as the Red Cow has to clean up for the Golden Calf, children cannot be separated from their parents. On a second level it points to the fact that it will take a miracle for this administration to cleanse themselves  of their sins. Ain’t no magic burnt dust going to help them at this point. Thirdly we need to have more female leadership to clean up Washington. I am having trouble believing that a female commander-in-chief would have suggested this idea.I might be wrong about the gendered assumption, but we do need to clean up our government.  Finally this use of this Midrash comes to point that you could take almost any proof texts from almost any where to prove almost anything you want. AG Sessions will be damned by any God he believes in.  Immorality is immorality, it has no place to hide behind religion or scripture.

 


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