There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion 39 Chukat, aliyah by aliyah.
Aliyah 1: Numbers 19:1-17
Numbers 19:2 This is the regulation from the Torah which HaShem has commanded. Tell the people of Isra’el to bring you a young red female cow without fault or defect and which has never borne a yoke.
This seems to say to me that “Torah” is an entity unto itself. I don’t think it is just being self-referential, based on the context. The way it read, it seemed like some specific truth that is part of this “Torah” entity is beinf revealed in the scroll of the Torah. Perhaps all of the scroll is Torah, but Torah is more than the scroll?
The Torah scroll uses this phrase [חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה] which has been translated the following ways:
“regulation from the Torah” – CJB
“statute of the Torah” – Judaica Press
“ordinance of the law” – KJV
“statute of the Torah” – TLV
Numbers 19:3 You are to give it to El‘azar the cohen; it is to be brought outside the camp and slaughtered in front of him.
Why must this red heifer be slaughtered outside the camp? Most offerings were made in the Mishkan, in the middle of the camp, per Divine instruction.
Numbers 19:4 El‘azar the cohen is to take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle this blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.
The blood has to be kept fresh and quickly transported from outside the camp to its center.
Numbers 19:5 The heifer is to be burned to ashes before his eyes — its skin, meat, blood and dung is to be burned to ashes.
Why is it important that Eleazar or any High Priest see the heifers burning?
Numbers 19:6 The cohen is to take cedar-wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn and throw them onto the heifer as it is burning up.
Cedar, hyssop and scarlet yarn are all used in the cleansing of the Metzorah or leper as well. Is there some connection between them?
Numbers 19:7 Then the cohen is to wash his clothes and himself in water, after which he may re-enter the camp; but the cohen will remain unclean until evening.
The cohen is made unclean by this offering, I believe this is unique to the red heifer.
Numbers 19:8 The person who burned up the heifer is to wash his clothes and himself in water, but he will remain unclean until evening.
The person who burns the heifer also becomes unclean. Is this a separate person from the cohen?
Numbers 19:9 A man who is clean is to collect the ashes of the heifer and store them outside the camp in a clean place. They are to be kept for the community of the people of Isra’el to prepare water for purification from sin.
What kind of sin are these ashes used to purify the people of? Why must they be stored outside the camp? What sin makes someone unable to stay in the camp?
Numbers 19:10 The one who collected the ashes of the heifer is to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. For the people of Isra’el and for the foreigner staying with them this will be a permanent regulation.
Why does the ash collector become unclean, too. Is that a total of 3 people who are made unclean by these ashes made for cleansing?
Numbers 19:11 Anyone who touches a corpse, no matter whose dead body it is, will be unclean for seven days.
I think this is the first mention of this reality.
Numbers 19:12 He must purify himself with [these ashes] on the third and seventh days; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself the third and seventh days, he will not be clean.
Why are days 3 and 7 important, why not all 7 days, why not the first and last?
Numbers 19:13 Anyone who touches a corpse, no matter whose dead body it is, and does not purify himself has defiled the tabernacle of HaShem. That person will be cut off from Isra’el, because the water for purification was not sprinkled on him. He will be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him.
Why does the uncleanness of death matter?
Numbers 19:14 This is the law: when a person dies in a tent, everyone who enters the tent and everything in the tent will be unclean for seven days.
Must the tent be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer or does it become automatically cleansed?
Numbers 19:15 Every open container without a cover closely attached is unclean.
So a container with a lid would stay clean? Why? That’s right, the airspace of a vessel renders it unclean. A lid blocks off the airspace. What does that mean, though?
Numbers 19:16 Also whoever is in an open field and touches a corpse, whether of someone killed by a weapon or of someone who died naturally, or the bone of a person, or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.
I assume they need to be sprinkled to be cleansed. This leads me to believe from the tent in the earlier example.
Numbers 19:17 For the unclean person they are to take some of the ashes of the animal burned up as a purification from sin and add them to fresh water in a container.
Why does the water need to be fresh?
Aliyah 2: Numbers 19:18-20:6
Numbers 19:21 This is to be a permanent regulation for them. The person who sprinkles the water for purification is to wash his clothes. Whoever touches the water for purification will be unclean until evening.
The clean sprinkler becomes unclean, too? That’s 4 people who become unclean by these cleansing ashes to take away the uncleanness of death.
Aliyah 3: Numbers 20:7-13
Numbers 20:12 But HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust in me, so as to cause me to be regarded as holy by the people of Isra’el, you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”
It has been said that Moses and Aaron were barred from entering Israel on a technicality be assembled after the evil report about the Land, HaShem said only Joshua and Caleb would enter of the original Exodus generation.
Aliyah 4: Numbers 20:14-21
Numbers 20:21 Thus Edom refused to allow Isra’el passage through its territory, so Isra’el turned away.
There are alternatives to fighting. If HaShem wanted to, He could have given them victory over Edom. We can’t see G-d’s vision, but we should trust it.
Aliyah 5: Numbers 20:22-21:9
Numbers 20:28 Moshe removed the garments from Aharon, and put them on El‘azar his son, and Aharon died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moshe and El‘azar came down the mountain.
This is bittersweet.
Aliyah 6: Numbers 21:10-20
Numbers 21:14 This is why it says, in the Book of the Wars of HaShem, “… Vahev at Sufah, the vadis of Arnon,
Is there a copy of the “Book of the Wars of HaShem” available somewhere, is that a real scroll, or is it a reference to a section of the Torah scroll?
Aliyah 7: Numbers 21:21-22:1
Numbers 21:23 But Sichon would not allow Isra’el to pass through his territory. Instead, Sichon mustered all his people and went out into the desert to fight Isra’el. On reaching Yachatz, he fought Isra’el.
Sometimes you have to fight. Israel fought in self-defense and HaShem was with them.
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
- What is the Torah?
- Why is the red heifer special?
- Why do cleansing ashes make unclean?
That concludes my journey through Chukat for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.