BOOK OF NUMBERS
Bemidbar (Numbers)Like the book of Leviticus, Numbers contains little 'narrative.' As its English name suggests, it contains several lists- each census of the Israelites. The Hebrew name comes from the first significant word(s): On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, in the wilderness of Sinai, (bemidbar Sinai)....The Israelites' journey through the desert concludes, and they get ready to enter the Promised land. There are thirty-six chapters, divided into ten parashiyot. The parashiyot of Be-Midbar are: Bemidbar, Naso, Be-haalotecha, Shlach Lecha, Korach, Chukat, Balak, Pinchas, Matot, and Masei.
Chukat-Balak: Humility before God must be the starting point.
In this parasha, Chukat, we find an overwhelming concern with death. At the beginning we find the mysterious laws of the Red Heifer, a very rare animal which is burnt in a special fire outside the camp. Its ashes are then used to ritually purify those who have become impure due to contact with a dead body. The portion then jumps 38 years to the end of the Israelites' wandering in the desert. We read the brief description of the death of Miriam, the prophetess who was the older sister of Moses and Aaron, and then an incident about the people's need for water. These two events are in fact connected by the Rabbis, who notice that stories with Miriam are always associated with water. The people complain about thirst, and Moses is instructed by God to speak to a rock, which will then produce water. Seemingly frustrated and saddened by his sister's death, Moses strikes the rock instead of speaking to it. Water does flow, but Moses is chastized by God for his lack of trust, and he is told that he will not be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. We then read of Aaron's death, and the people's mourning for him for thirty days. The portion ends describing a number of battles the Israelites must fight as they travel through the wilderness.
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