The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Parashat Chukat

Parasha: Chukat – Numbers 19:1 – 21:35
Haftara: Judges 11:1-33
Reading Date: 5th July 2008 – 2nd Tamuz 5768

Parshat Chukat brings one of the most famous of biblical stories: Moses strikes the rock and is thereafter barred from entering the land of Canaan. The outline of the story is spare. Toward the end of the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness, the people begin to whine and grumble (once again) about their thirst. In response, Moses and his brother Aaron consult with YHVH, who tells them to speak to a stone and it will bring forth water. Moses, instead, berates the people – “Listen up, you rebels!” – and strikes the rock. Water comes forth and the people drink, but YHVH punishes Moses and Aaron, saying, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to make Me holy before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Everlastingly holy as YHVH may be, Moses and Aaron fail to demonstrate God’s holiness to the people and for this they are chastised and severely punished.
For over 2000 years, rabbinic commentators have struggled to understand the nature of Moses’ sin – and, thus, to understand what Moses failed to do in order to make God holy before the Israelites. The commentators have diverged significantly. Rashi, for example, says that Moses’ sin is that he struck the stone, whereas Maimonides says it is that he lost his temper. Ramban, with a third interpretation, teaches that Moses’ sin was in claiming too much power for himself.
Like Moses, we have had occasion to hear others’ grievances and identified them as affronts against us, as greed, or perhaps we have turned away unwilling or unable to face their needs with an open hand.
Our own needs and thirsts should not be denied. Still, our responsibility to make YHVH holy in the eyes of others (and in our own eyes as well) makes it incumbent upon us not to deny the thirsts of those who turn to us for help. It is upon us to see and correctly identify the rightful claims that others bring. Perhaps through this we learn that we can indeed bring YHVH’s holiness to all people. On our narrow path through this world we are bound to err, but we must keep trying to walk that road through the wilderness by recognizing the full humanity of those who journey with us.

Three Dimensions of Torah
This is a lesson adapted from a teaching by of the late Rabbi Menachen M. Scheerson The Lubavitch Rebbe.
This week's Sidra, Chukat, tells of the death of Aaron, Moses' brother, in whose merit the miraculous "Clouds of Glory" used to accompany the Children of Israel in their journey through the desert. When Aaron died the "clouds" disappeared, later reappearing in the merit of Moses. Two other outstanding miracles that accompanied the Israelites were the Manna that fell daily and the "Well of Miriam" which supplied them with water.
What were the essential characteristics of the three miracles of the well, the Manna and the Clouds of Glory?
The Clouds of Glory protected the People externally. The protected them from harsh winds, they exterminated the snakes and serpents that infested the wilderness, they smoothed out the mountains, and they cleaned and "pressed" the Israelites' clothes as the Torah relates, "Your clothes did not wear upon you." All of these are external functions.
The Manna was a wonderful food in which one could experience any taste one desired. Food is something that is absorbed internally and provides nourishment and sustenance.
The Well of Miriam was a source of water - which is not, in itself, a nourishment. The principal function of water is to act as a medium to carry food to all parts of the body.
Three different aspects of "dimensions" of Torah are signified and paralleled by the Clouds, the Manna and the Well. Three is an aspect of Torah which is absorbed internally like Manna; there is aspect that provides external protection, like the Clouds of Glory, and there is that aspect of Torah that carries the "external protection" and the "nourishment" to all Jews - like the water of Miriam's Well.

MANNA IN TORAH: Torah comes form the Hebrew word Hora'ah, teaching, signifying that Torah provides a code and guide for our conduct in life. This guidance must be thoroughly understood an absorbed, so that each person may know exactly how to guide his own conduct as well as that of his family and household. Just as the Manna was presented in different ways to those of different spiritual levels - the righteous finding it ready to eat while others had to grind it, etc. - so is Torah "ingested" in different ways according to the absorptive capacity of the individual. There are some who fulfill their obligation of Torah-study by reading the Shema prayer - if more is impossible for them, whereas others have the obligation to study Torah all day!

CLOUDS OF GLORY IN THE TORAH: When we step out into the parched wilderness of the everyday world, where evil forces abound like the snakes and scorpions in the Sinai desert of old, we are protected by the force of Mesirat Nefesh (self-sacrifice) which each and every Child of Israel possesses by virtue of his intrinsic connection and link with Torah. Just as a Torah-scroll is complete and wholly sacred only when all its letters are complete, so all of the Nation together - from the one who is on the very lowest spiritual level - have the "Torah-common-denominator" of Mesirat Nefesh, the potential to give his life for YHVH.
This dimension is the "Clouds of Glory" of the Torah. The Clouds encompassed and protected all the Children of Israel - even those few who still clung to idolatry - from the crossing of the Red Sea till their entry into Israel. In a similar way this aspect of Torah encompasses each and every one of our people from the greatest to the smallest; it gives us the strength to go through the awful wilderness. Not to fear the snakes and serpent, and to be constantly imbued with a spirit of self-sacrifice.
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneershon of blessed memory, told how he was once standing with a large motley group of Jews taking a shelter from the Nazi bombardment of Warsaw. In the group were such a wide range of spiritual personalities as the Rebbe, middle-of-the road Jews, simple Jews, and those who were not even aware that they had any connection with Judaism. But when a bomb exploded not far from them, the entire group cried out in unison, "Shema Israel".

"WATER OF MIRIAM'S WELL" IN TORAH: Water has the essential characteristic that it descends from high places to low places. The Torah, too, descended from the heights of lofty, Divine, profound wisdom to become clothed in the actual letters and words of the Written Torah, which thereby become "available" to everyone. Whoever recites the word of the Written Torah (even if he does not understand what the words mean) even if he understands no more than the simple explanation, receives the nourishment (Manna) and protection (Clouds of Glory) of Torah.

Shabbat Shalom

No comments: