Shabbat Readings and Commentary

Friday, June 30, 2006 |  by Michael Schneider
Hukkat (Ruling): Numbers 19:1-22:1; Judges 11:1-33

This week’s Torah portion contains further “ordinances.” First, we read about the “water of cleansing,” an atonement mechanism made from ashes of the sacrifice of a red heifer. The ashes are kept (Numbers 19:19). The cleansing of a person who came into contact with a dead body or became unclean even by touching a grave was set for the “third” and “seventh” days.

Not much is known about the red heifer, but Jewish sages say nine red cows have been sacrificed since the giving of the Law. According to Rambam, sacrificing the tenth red cow is reserved for the Messiah himself. Moses and the high priest Eleazar sacrificed the first red cow, slaughtered and burned outside of the sanctuary in the desert. The “cleansing ashes” of the cow were kept and used for many years.

Scientists are currently conducting tests and experiments on farms in Israel to try to isolate the genes of a red cow without a single black hair.

Chapter 20 talks about Miriam’s death and burial in Kadesh.

And then, when water became scarce once again, the grumbling of the people also picked up. “Why did you take us out of Egypt to die in the desert?” (20:5). From a human perspective, the people had a good reason to grumble. But Moses took his rod and said: “Hear now, you rebels; must we bring you water out of this rock?” (20:10). Angrily, Moses struck it twice instead of just speaking to rock as God had commanded. This was happening while he was still coping with the death of his beloved sister who had saved him when he was a child.

As God’s representative, Moses did not act as the Almighty had commanded. The punishment was harsh: Moses was not allowed to enter the Holy Land. But even though God punished Moses and Aaron, He provided water, the so-called bitter waters, but water in abundance, enough for more than 1 million people – another miracle!

When Aaron died, the people mourned for 30 days and Eleazar became High Priest. Chapter 21 talks about the victory over the Canaanites from Arad.

When the people complained again about a lack of water and the same food, the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them and many died. A serpent of bronze was erected on a pole and became salvation and healing for all who saw it. The serpent on a pole became the symbol of modern medicine. Nowadays one can see a replica of it on Mount Nebo in Jordan. Again, the punishment for the repeated grumbling ended in healing.

This event holds deep spiritual meaning: The fall of mankind occurred because of a serpent that infected all of mankind with its devilish poison. But God provided the cure: His son, Yeshua the Messiah. Everyone who looks up to the one on the cross and repents will gain eternal life. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [on a pole], so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross], in order that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life and live forever!” (John 3:14-15).

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