THIS week’s sedra, Chukat, opens with an account of the red heifer — para aduma.
Anyone who had come into contact with a corpse had to undergo ‘purification’. This entailed being sprinkled with a compound, which included the ashes of a red heifer as the main component.
Although it is difficult to fathom the rationale behind rituals such as the para aduma, we have to accept they are Divinely ordained.
Such mitzvot are referred to as chukim — literally, statutes — i.e. seemingly irrational mitzvot. That’s why the first verse of the sedra includes the words zot chukat hatorah — this is the statute of the Torah.
Moses’ sister Miriam passes away. As the “well” which accompanied the Israelites in the desert was in the merit of Miriam, it disappeared on her death.
The people complained at the lack of water. The Almighty instructed Moses and Aaron to “talk” to a rock and order it to gush forth water. However, Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it.
Although water does eventually gush forth, God is angry with Moses and Aaron and sentences them to die in the desert.
The people once again complained about the manna. Many people were punished by being bitten by fiery serpents.
God tells Moses to construct a copper serpent and all those who looked at this serpent — which was symbolic of seeking God’s help — would be cured. The Children of Israel engaged the armies of Sihon and Og in battle and crushed them. They were now well on their way to entering the Promised Land!
In a week in which we have just witnessed yetziat mitzraim — the Exodus of Egypt (from the World Cup), we continue to read of the aftermath of the original Exodus.