Riddle: What is the time frame covered in this week's Parsha?
Answer: Nearly 38 Years - between the 2nd year and 40th year in the desert
I have always found Chukat to be, one of the most challenging parshiot in the Torah.
On the face of it, it seems very preoccupied with death.
1) Parah Adumah - the Red Heifer whose ashes were sprinkled on people who had come into contact with dead bodies and had to be purified
2) The deaths of Miriam and Aaron, leading Moshe as the only leader in the desert
3) Moshe's striking of the rock, which led to his being deprived of being allowed to lead the people into the Land of Israel - a loss that affected the rest of his life. He effectively received his death sentence, in the last year of their wanderings in the desert.
Lord Rabbi Sacks - "Covenant and Conversation" 2018
Rava explains: As Reish Lakish said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not strike at the Jewish people unless He has already created a remedy for them beforehand...
An example is that of Mordechai who overheard the machinations of Bigtan and Teresh before Haman was made Prime Minister. Later on, this would prove crucial, as the King would reward Mordechai at the expense of Haman...and this was the beginning of his downfall.
The chapter about the Parah Adumah, the red heifer - red being the colour of blood, which is the source of life - a cow who has never endured bearing a yoke - which is burned until it is only ashes.
The dust and ashes of the cow are dissolved into water - and from the water, there emerges new life.
We are both physical being but Gd gave each of us a soul. Something that is immortal.
Aaron died, yet his sons lived on and the testament to his existence are the Cohanim in our world.
Moses died, yet the Torah he brought down from Sinai lives on and we remember him throughout the year. He is 'Moshe Rabbeinu' - Moses our teacher
Miriam lives on, through her role as an inspiration for women throughout the ages.
And from the water, there emerges new life.
Parshat Chukat deals with imperfections, with mistakes, with mortality.
It deals with unfulfilled dreams and lost opportunities.
But it doesn't shy away from the greatness of Moses, Aaron and Miriam as individuals and leaders of our people
The story of Moses losing his temper and hitting the rock is difficult to compehend. There is no proper reason given for why he was unable to lead the people into the land.
We do know that this episode came after Miriam, his beloved sister, had died and as result, the well that she provided for the nation, dried up. Both Moses and Aaron were understandably deeply affected by her passing and this resulted in the said episode.
Both Moses and Aaron were human and as a result, made mistakes.
The punishment for these, was the fact that they didn't make it to the Promised Land.
Yet, these mistakes didn't impact on their being thought of as two of the greatest leaders our nation has had.
Moses the Prophet and Lawgiver and Aaron, the patriarch of every single Cohen in the world.
Unlike other religions, they are not seen as gods. They are human beings, just like you and I.
When we look at the dust of the red heifer, we could say that this is what we are made of - yet, dust did not result in some of the greatest minds who ever lived - these people were more than just dust of the earth. Each and every one of us is imbued with the spirit of the Divine. We may not succeed and we may fail, but if we do our best, our names, our legacies and our contribution to society will live on.
When the Cohen puts the ashes of the red heifer into the water and sprinkles it on a person, that human being becomes pure again. The water of life reinvigorates, refreshes and renews their being.
We need the episode of the Red Heifer to prepare us for the upcoming chapters in the parsha.
We need the episode of the Red Heifer to remind us that life cannot exist without knowledge that death will eventually take over but also that death is not the end of life.
Our bodies might return to dust but our soul - our Neshama, which has been given to us by Gd - will forever be nourished and kept alive by the spiritual water that exists within each and every one of us.
sourced from "Covenant & Conversation", Chuchat 2018, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks