הפטרה: שופטים יא א-לג (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | שופטים יא א-מ (תימנים) | אם נקרא ביחד עם בלק, ההפטרה של בלק נקראת | בר”ח נקראת הפרשה לראש חודש [על-התורה]
- The Parah Adumah (Red Heifer)
- Miriam’s Death
- Water from the Rock (a Second Time)
- The King of Edom
- The Death of Aharon on Hur ha-Har (Mount Hur)
- The King of Arad
- The Snakes
- Journeys of Bnei Yisrael
- Sichon, King of the Amorites
- Og, King of Bashan
- Haftarah Summary: ויפתח הגלעדי היה גבור חיל
Parashat Chukat represents another major turning point, this time in the fate of Moshe. First, though, the Mikra gives us an important set of laws: the ritual of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), which purifies one after contact with a dead body. Three-eight years pass (making up a total of 40 years of wandering). Two losses then occur in this parsha, the death of Miriam and the death of Aharon on Hur ha-Har (Mount Hur). Significantly, Moshe’s actions surrounding the bringing forth of water from a rock for the second time consign him to die without entered Eretz Yisrael. Nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael continue their approach to the Land, defeating the kings of Edom, Arad, the Amorites, and Bashan.
The Parah Adumah (Red Heifer)
In order to become ritually pure (tahor) again after direct contact with a corpse, a person must make use of ashes from the burning of a Parah Adumah, a red cow without any defects or blemishes that has never been yoked. This Parah Adumah is taken outside the camp and, in the presence of Elazar the kohen, slaughtered. Elazar is to take his finger and sprinkle its blood 7 times towards the Ohel ha-Moed (Tent of Meeting). The entire cow is then to be burned before him, including its hide, flesh, blood, and dung. This process, interestingly, renders the kohen tameh (ritually impure) until nightfall, requiring him to bathe and wash his clothes (though he may reenter the camp). In addition, the person performing the burning of the Parah Adumah attains the same state of impurity. The ashes of the cow must be gathered, rather, by one who is tahor (ritually pure), and stored outside the camp in a tahor area for making into waters for cleansing using the mei niddah mixed with fresh water.
A person who touches a dead body becomes tameh for 7 days. To become tahor, the person must be cleansed by a tahor person with the mixture of fresh water and mei niddah from the Parah Adumah on the 3rd and 7th days. They must also wash their clothes before becoming tahor on the night after the 7th day. One who fails to do so is subject to karet, excision.1 If a person dies in a tent, all who are in the tent, and those who enter it, become tameh, as do any open vessels. If, on the other hand, a person dies out in the open (not inside a tent), they also confer impurity: anyone who touches someone who has died of natural causes, or is killed, or even a human bone or grave, becomes tameh for a period of 7 days. In addition, a person who becomes tameh due to direct contact with a corpse can confer impurity on anything they touch and on others, who then remain tameh until evening.
The Mikra now tells us that Bnei Yisrael arrived in the wilderness (or desert) of Tzin in the first new moon, and camped at Kadesh (קָּדֵשׁ). (The last time we were given explicit information on the whereabouts of Bnei Yisrael was in Parashat Shelach, after the sin of the Meraglim (12 spies), when the people are instructed to return to the wilderness by the way of Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds). Implicitly, 38 years have elapsed (because the wandering in the desert was to last 40 years, and the sin of the Meraglim occurs 2 years from the exodus).
Miriam dies in Kadesh, and we are immediately told that the people lack water.
Water from the Rock (a Second Time)
Yet again, the people rise up and complain against Moshe and Aharon, saying that they might as well have stayed in Egypt, if they are to die of thirst in the desert. Moshe and Aharon fall on their faces. G-d tells them to take their rod (mateh – מַּטֶּה) and assemble the entire community. Before the eyes of the community, they are to speak to the tock (ve-dibartem – וְדִבַּרְתֶּם), commanding it to yield water, enough so that all the people and their livestock can drink. This is similar to the first time Moshe brought forth water from a rock, in Parashat Beschalach.
Moshe does as commanded, taking the mateh and gathering the people. He says to them: “Listen, you rebels, should we get water for you from this rock?” (שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם). Moshe raises his hand and strikes the rock twice with the mateh. A large amount of water (mayim rabim – מַיִם רַבִּים) come out of the rock, and the people all drink and water their animals.
However, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon that they did not trust Him enough (lo he’emantem bi – לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי) and did not sanctify Him before all the people (le-hakdisheni le-einei Bnei Yisrael – לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל). As a consequence, they will not lead the people into the promised land. This was called Mei Meriva (מֵי מְרִיבָה), “waters of quarreling.”
The King of Edom
From Kadesh, where Bnei Yisrael are encamped, Moshe sends out messengers to the king of Edom, asking him to allow them to cross through his country. He pledges to stay on the king’s highway, avoiding any crops or water from the wells, paying for anything that they use. The king of Edom, however, refuses, warning that he will see this as an act of war, which he does. Yisrael turns away from the Edomites.
The Death of Aharon on Hur ha-Har (Mount Hur)
At Hur ha-Har (Mount Hur), on the border of Edom, Aharon is to die (literally, “be gathered onto his people,” יֵאָסֵף אַהֲרֹן אֶל עַמָּיו), on account of his disobedience in the events of Mei Meriva. The special clothing of the kehuna (priesthood) that Aharon wears are to be removed from him and put on by his son Elazar (אֶלְעָזָר). Aharon ascends Hur in the sight of the whole community, and passes away. The community mourns him for 30 days.
The King of Arad
The king of Arad, a Canaanite who rules the Negev, hears that Bnei Yisrael are coming his way through Atarim. He battles with Yisrael and takes some of them captive. The people pray for assistance, pledging to raze the cities of the enemies, which they are granted, calling the place Chormah (חָרְמָה – from the same root as cherem, ban or excommunication).
The people then skirt the territory of Edom by going towards Mount Hur by way of Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds).
Yet again, the people despair of dying in the desert and ask why they ever left Egypt. They complain that they have no bread or water and the food they have, they are sick of. G-d sends serafim snakes (הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים) against the people, which bite them. The people realize their mistake and ask Moshe to intercede on their behalf, which he does. Hashem tells Moshe to make a seraf figure mounted on a pole, which will cure anyone who is bitten who looks at it. Moshe makes it out of copper, and it is immediately effective.
Journeys of Bnei Yisrael
Bnei Yisrael now begin their journey towards arvot (the plains of) Moav, opposite where they will cross into Eretz Yisrael. The march and encamp at:
- Ovot – אֹבֹת
- Iyei ha-Avarim – עִיֵּי הָעֲבָרִים, in the wilderness to the east of Moav;
- Nachal Zered – נַחַל זָרֶד
- Beyond Arnon – אַרְנוֹן, on the boundary between Moav and the Amorites, in the wilderness by region of the Amorites, which include Vahev in Sufah, Nachal Arnon and its tribuataries, up to the settled area of Ar – עָר; this is recorded, it is mentioned, in a book called The Wars of Hashem (סֵפֶר מִלְחֲמֹת ה’).
- Be’er – בְּאֵר (meaning “well,” as in watering well), where Moshe is told to assemble the people so they may drink, and they sing a song of praise for the spring (“the Song of the Well”), only part of which seems to be recorded in the Mikra.
- Midbar – מִּדְבָּר (this seems to be a place name and not a wilderness or desert);
- Matana – מַתָּנָה
- Nachliel – נַחֲלִיאֵל
- Bamot – בָּמוֹת
- The valley (gai – גַּיְא) in the territory of Moav (מוֹאָב) at the peak (pisgah – פִּסְגָּה).
Sichon, King of the Amorites
From this last location, Bnei Yisrael send out messengers to Sichon (סִיחֹן), king of the Amorites (Emori– אֱמֹרִי), asking him for passage through his kingdom. As before, they pledge to stay on the king’s highway and pay for any resources used. Sichon refuses, and meets Yisrael in battle at Yahetz (יָהְץ). Yisrael defeats the Amorites and conquers the territory from Arnon to the (Nachal) Yabbok (יַבֹּק -a tributary of the Yarden River) and up to Az (עַז), which marks the border with Amon.
Yisrael settles in the former towns of the Emori, including the king’s former capital, Cheshbon (חֶשְׁבּוֹן), which had, before it had come into the possession of Sichon the Amorite, had belonged to Moav, a fact commemorated in verse and song. Moshe then sends scouts to spy on Ya’zer, another stronghold of the Emori, which Yisrael conquered.
Og, King of Bashan
Bnei Yisrael proceed to the territory ruled by Og, king of the Bashan. He meets Yisrael in battle at Edre’i (אֶדְרֶעִי). G-d tells Moshe that he will deliver Og into his hands just as he had done with Sichon. Yisrael does so, and then marches on to arvot Moav (עַרְבוֹת מוֹאָב), the plains of Moab, across the Yarden from Yericho (יְרֵחוֹ, Jericho), where they will prepare to cross over into the promised land.
Haftarah Summary: ויפתח הגלעדי היה גבור חיל
This story of the shofet (judge, or leader) Yiftach of Gilad (יפתח הַגִּלְעָדִי) takes place during a war with Ammon, forming the thematic link between the haftarah and the parsha. Yiftach was the son of Gilad, but from a woman who was not Gilad’s wife; his half-brothers throw him out to prevent him from inheriting. Yiftach flees and takes up with people of poor character (anashim reikim – אֲנָשִׁים רֵיקִים). When Ammon attacks Yisrael, the elders of Gilad wish for Yiftach, now a skilled warrior, to come back and assist them. Initially, Yiftach is reluctant to help those who have spurned him, but eventually he says that if he helps them and is victorious, this will show that he is their leader.
Yiftach sends a messenger to the king of the Ammonites asking him what his people’s grievance against Yisrael is. The king replies that Yisrael had seized Ammonite territory when they came up from Egypt, which was in Yiftach’s time some 300 years in the past. The language the king uses to describe this past conquest is “from the Arnon to the Yabbok,” just as it occurs in the parsha (in the battle against Sichon). Yiftach responds by recounting the conquests of Bnei Yisrael, emphasizing that neither the land of Moav nor of Ammon was seized. He recalls the defeat of Sichon, which is how Yisrael came into possession of the territory in question (between Arnon and the Yabbok). (Here Yiftach also mentions Balak, who will be a major figure in the coming parsha.) In addition, Yiftach excoriates Ammon for failing to make this claim over the last 300 years. G-d is with Yiftach and Yiftach prevails on behalf of Gile’ad.
Image: James (Jacques Joseph) Tissot, “Moses Smiteth the Rock in the Desert,” c. 1896-1902, gouache on board.