08 July 2016

Chukat - An Unfortunately Appropriate Beginning to the New Month

2 Tamuz 5776
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
Parshat Chukat

Tamuz marks the lead-up (or down) to that dangerous period of the year when terrible things happen to us as a nation - the Three Weeks begin on 17 Tamuz and continue until 9-10 Av. There is one glimmer of hope: we won't be fasting this year on 17 Tamuz or 9 Av. Both of them fall on Shabbat this year, so the fasts are deferred until the following day in each case. I think HKB"H is as anxious as we are to finish with this business of fasting and mourning - and dying.

 This week's parshah begins with a reminder of how we fell down from the lofty level we had achieved at Har Sinai. The laws regarding the preparation and administration of the ashes of the Red Heifer, which purify one from the impurity conferred by a corpse are enumerated and described. Chazal say that it's like the mother (the Red Heifer) coming to clean up the mess her son (the Golden Calf) had made. Death could have ended then and there, but with our failure in the affair of the Golden Calf, we succeeded in ensuring its continued existence until the End of Days; hence, the need for the ashes of the Red Heifer.

As if that were not bad enough, the parshah continues to recount some of the worst events of our early days as a nation. It describes how we arrived at the Wilderness of Zin "on the first new moon" and "Miriam died there" and "there was no water". This led to the usual general outcry and recriminations directed against Moshe and Aharon who turned and fell on their faces before the Presence of Hashem at the Mishkan, whereupon HKB"H instructed them to go and "speak" to the rock to give forth water for the people and their animals. And you already know what is coming...

Moshe and Aharon err by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. As a result of this error, neither Moshe nor Aharon will be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. What a let-down for all involved! Remember that as a result of the Golden Calf debacle and Korach's rebellion, the nation and its leadership both would already have been in an emotionally difficult place, but to add to all that the sudden loss of Miriam and her well. Is it any wonder that everyone was so upset and making regrettable mistakes? They were no longer completely focused on the mission, but on their pain and loss. That causes a breakdown - a breach - in our emunah.

And after all that, the nation was then face to face with Edom - our eternal foe - who dispassionately refused to let us cross their territory - kacha - just because. After they saw they would have to go the long way around, suddenly Aharon is taken from them. And Moshe is left alone, without his beloved brother and sister. 

The mourning for Aharon is barely finished before the King of Arad attacks. Hashem delivers the nation from this enemy, but the people again fall to complaining. And the biting serpents came killing many. 

Well, the story continues and you'll be reading it soon enough, if you haven't already.

Oh Lord, how things have not changed in 3500 years!

But, the most incredible thing that I take away from this story is that no matter how bad it got - how much pain and how much suffering and how many mistakes and how many times they had to do teshuvah for the same things over and over - they kept getting up and packing up and moving on to the next stop. They kept putting one foot in front of the other. They never quit.

Yes, Lord, how many things have not changed in 3500 years!!

~ Shabbat shalom~