Parashat Chukat, Believing by faith or Striking the Rock in Unbelief


In this week’s reading from Parashat Chukat (Bamidbar / Numbers 19:1-22:1) the Lord speaks to Moshe about the “red heifer” ב   זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָֹה לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר | אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל: 19:2 ‘This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed. (NASB)  The Cohen Eleazar will take the heifer outside of the camp, slaughter the animal, and sprinkle the blood towards the front of the Ohel Moed (אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, Tent of Meeting) seven times.  The entire heifer is burned to ashes, its hide, flesh, blood, and refuse, everything (19:5).  Cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet material are also cast into the midst of the burning heifer.  The Cohen then washes himself and his cloths; he is unclean until evening and may then enter the camp.  A clean man then is to gather up the ashes of the heifer.  The ashes of the heifer with water are used for removal of impurity; it is for the purification from uncleanness (19:8-9).  The mitzvot on touching the dead is given; if a man touches the dead he will become unclean.  If he finds himself in the room with a dead person, he is unclean; if a man touches a dead man who was slain in the field he is unclean.  In fact, if a person who has become unclean by a dead body touches anyone, the person he touches becomes unclean too (19:22).  These Scriptures show how uncleanliness behaves as a transmittable defilement.  It is interesting here that the only thing that can overcome becoming unclean by death is death itself, the ashes of the red heifer.  Does the purification by ashes of the red heifer provide for us a future messianic expectation of the work of the Messiah?  Upon coming in contact with or being in the presence of a dead person it is required to be cleansed using the waters of impurity.  If a person was not sprinkled with the waters of impurity he would remain unclean and his uncleanness would remain on him (19:13).  The scriptures then state that Miriam died and was buried in the wilderness of Zin (20:1).  The people arrived in the desert place in the wilderness of Zin at a place called Kadesh.  There was no water at that place and the people complained before Moshe.  Moshe brings this matter before the Lord and the Lord instructs Moshe to take the staff from before the testimony and וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל-הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם “speak to the rock in their eyes.”  Moshe and Aharon took the staff, went before the people and the rock, and rather than speaking to the rock, they spoke harshly to the people and struck the rock two times.  God’s instruction was clearly stated in 20:8, Moshe was to take the staff, assemble the people, and speak to the rock.  Instead, Moshe assembled the people, speaks harshly to the people, and strikes the rock with his staff.  The Scriptures then say that Aharon dies and Moshe transfers the role of Cohen Hagadol (High Priest) over to Eleazar Aharon’s son (20:25-29).  The Torah portion ends with a description of Yisrael defeating the kings of Arad and Sihon (21:1).  After defeating Arad, the people complain because of the long journey and the Lord sends fiery serpents among the people and many people died (21:6).  Moshe set up a bronze serpent upon a staff so that everyone who looked upon the serpent would not die if they had been bitten by the serpent.  Yisrael then moved from place to place and we read that Sihon refused to allow Yisrael to pass and so Yisrael struck him by the edge of the sword and took possession of the land from Arnmon to the Jabbok as far as the sons of Ammon (21:23-24).  We read that Yisrael lived in the land of the Amorites and captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who lived there. 

According to the Scriptures, in striking the rock Moshe failed to sanctify the Name of the Lord and the miracle God was going to perform before all of the people’s eyes.  Moshe failed to listen and obey.  Today, do we fail to listen and obey in a similar manner as Moshe did here in our text?   Read more here.