Parasha Inspiration – Chukat

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה וְאֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹֽר: זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר | אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶ֩יךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל: וּנְתַתֶּ֣ם אֹתָ֔הּ אֶל־אֶלְעָזָ֖ר הַכֹּהֵ֑ן וְהוֹצִ֤יא אֹתָהּ֙ אֶל־מִח֣וּץ לַמַּֽחֲנֶ֔ה וְשָׁחַ֥ט אֹתָ֖הּ לְפָנָֽיו: וְלָקַ֞ח אֶלְעָזָ֧ר הַכֹּהֵ֛ן מִדָּמָ֖הּ בְּאֶצְבָּע֑וֹ וְהִזָּ֞ה אֶל־נֹ֨כַח פְּנֵ֧י אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֛ד מִדָּמָ֖הּ שֶׁ֥בַע פְּעָמִֽים: וְשָׂרַ֥ף אֶת־הַפָּרָ֖ה לְעֵינָ֑יו אֶת־עֹרָ֤הּ וְאֶת־בְּשָׂרָהּ֙ וְאֶת־דָּמָ֔הּ עַל־פִּרְשָׁ֖הּ יִשְׂרֹֽף: וְלָקַ֣ח הַכֹּהֵ֗ן עֵ֥ץ אֶ֛רֶז וְאֵז֖וֹב וּשְׁנִ֣י תוֹלָ֑עַת וְהִשְׁלִ֕יךְ אֶל־תּ֖וֹךְ שְׂרֵפַ֥ת הַפָּרָֽה:

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid. And you shall give it to Eleazar the kohen, and he shall take it outside the camp and slaughter it in his presence. Eleazar the kohen shall take from its blood with his finger and sprinkle it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times. The cow shall then be burned in his presence; its hide, its flesh, its blood, with its dung he shall burn it. The kohen shall take a piece of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool, and cast them into the burning of the cow.

Numbers 19:1-6

This week’s Torah portion contains the most important of all of the unexplained mitzvot, the red heifer. The portion details a rather involved ceremony to produce water that is used to ritually decontaminate. The decontamination water may be diluted infinitely, consequently, there have only been 9 red heifers used to make the waters of decontamination through all of Israel’s history. The sages explain to us that the red heifer, which is necessary to rebuild the Temple, will herald Messiah’s return.

In modern times, we do not stress, or even pay attention to, ritual contamination. In Torah, ritual contamination is clearly a very important issue. One of the important questions we must ask, is why? Why is ritual contamination important?

Ritual contamination may have one of several origins. These origins are seemingly unrelated. The touching of a corpse, skin disease, and the partaking in certain rituals leave one in a state of contamination. So, what is this contamination? What does the contamination mean? The contamination is a reminder of the connection that we have between that which is within time and space and that which is not within time and space. Ritual contamination is a spiritual condition, that is, a condition of the Ruach and the Neshama. The condition of ritual contamination exists outside time and space, however, the remedy for the contamination must be executed within time and space. This acknowledgment of a condition of the Ruach and the Neshama, and the recognition that a physical remedy is required, again keeps us mentally in a state of connection between that which is outside of time and space and that which is physical. This is a basic tenet of Torah, that we should keep constantly in the forefront of our minds that we are connected, both physically and spiritually, and we must act accordingly. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.