Parashat Hukkat

July 15-16, 2016 – 10 Tammuz 5776
Annual (Numbers 19:1-22:1): Etz Hayim p. 880; Hertz p. 652
Triennial (Numbers 21:11-22:1): Etz Hayim p. 890; Hertz p. 660
Haftarah (Judges 11:1-33): Etz Hayim p. 909; Hertz p. 664

PDF Hukkat 5776

Beyond Thirst?

Rabbi Oliver Spike Joseph spent three wonderful years at the Conservative Yeshiva and currently works for Masorti UK and the Elstree and Borehamwood Masorti Community.

I can recall the one time in my life that I was thirsty. A friend and I were hiking in Jordan and we were lost in the valleys and hills of the ancient landscape. We cautiously sipped the last dregs of water we had, anxiously awaiting sight of the shops and cafés of Petra. Fear kept us silent the last few miles and a yearning for life, and more than a bit of luck, got us to our destination, unscathed.

In Parashat Hukkat the people Israel are in the desert without water, and they unite against Moses and Aaron. The people ask: “Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” (20:5). God tells Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses strikes it, releasing the waters of Meribah which quench the thirst of the rebellious crowd.

This episode reveals an important interface between water and land. For the Israelites thirsty for water, it did not matter where they were at the moment. They ask: “why did we leave Egypt?” Deprived of your most basic needs, where you are becomes irrelevant. We know this from our own national stories of persecution and flight.

The Aish Kodesh (R’ Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Piasetzna Rebbe), writing in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, relates the verses of our parashah to the statement in Pirkei Avot (1:3) ‘Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward’. Given the ghetto’s devastating conditions, it is hard to read the Aish Kodesh without envisioning the calamity to which he was witness, yet he paints a picture of how each person can rise to be his or her best self.

Most Jewish communities today need not worry for water or food, yet in the world the gap between those who have and those who do not is widening. Parashat Hukkat opens our hearts to an understanding of the most basic human needs, it does not matter where families and communities are; many will undertake long and perilous journeys to find food, water, shelter and medicine.

God punishes Moses for striking the rock by refusing him access to the Land, perhaps because he did not rise above the urgency of the thirst and hunger of the moment. The Aish Kodesh offers testimony to the struggle to maintain spiritual existence in light of tragedy and destitution.  He suggests that our hope is not to deny that we have desires of self-preservation or fear of violence, but to see beyond our own focus on the self, find a space that we call Divine, a place the spirit can inhabit, above one’s immediate physical needs. Parashat Hukkat asks us to connect with the thirst and hunger that exists now in this world, and gives us a sacred opportunity “to speak to the rock,” to consider what God wants of us today. Aware of the plenty we have, let us be inclusive and be ambassadors for those who are without. Instead of feeling fear and perceiving our own self-interest, may we allow ourselves to rise up and speak for those with no voice and act for those with no shelter, no water and no food.

A Vort for Parashat Hukkat
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

At Pharoah’s request in Exodus 8:9 Moses prays to God to remove the frogs (the second plague) “and the Lord did accordingly.” But in Numbers 21:4-9, when the people spoke against Moses and God and God sent fiery serpents amongst them, Moses’ prayer that God remove the serpents does not work. To be healed one had to look at the brass image of the fiery serpent. The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen Kagan, Poland, 19th C) said that this shows that tefilla (prayer) can help repair many ills, but not lashon hara, derogatory speech about another. One who looks for the weak points and negatives in another person will himself be judged strictly.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In this Parasha we seem to have entered the 40th year of our stay in the desert (time flies when no events are recorded.) Several major events take place now – some concerning the leaders, some concerning the nations in trans-Jordan that are affected by the renewed preparation for entering the land of Israel. We will touch only on a few of them.

1) Our Parasha opens with a long and detailed explanation of the laws of the red heifer. Who (more than one person) is in charge of the preparation of the red heifer (19:2-6)? What happens to the status of the Kohen(s) involved in the preparation (vv.7-10)? What are the ashes of the red heifer used for (19:11-13,19-22)?

2) What event is told in 20:1? Why do you think that the Torah decided to tell us about this event? What stories do you remember about this person (Ex.2:1-10 she is the sister, 15:20, Num 12)? What can you learn about her from these stories?

3) The people complain about the lack of water (20:2-6). Is this a legitimate complaint? Why? Reading on through v. 11, does God seem to agree with your answer? How do you know?

4) How are Moshe and Aaron told to solve the problem (20:7-13)? What do they do? God seems upset with their action, what do you think that God is upset about? What is the consequence of this event?

5) The people of Israel would like to cross the land of Edom to enter the land of Israel (20:14-21). How does Moshe try to achieve this? What arguments does he present? Why does he present Israel as Edom’s brother (Gen. 25:21-30 might help)? Look at how Moshe promises that they will behave if allowed to cross through Edom – what can this teach us about Edom’s fear of the situation?