Parshat Chuckat and Mystery and Meaning

Parshat Chukat is filled with mystery and meaning.

It begins with God’s instruction to Moses and Aaron to tell the people to sacrifice a red heifer that is free from blemish (nearly impossible to find), and which has never been yoked. Its ashes are then to be used in a ritual of purification to release individuals from impurity. As many of our sages commented, this was an irrational or supra-rational instruction. In subsequent verses we see how important it was for the supplicant to cleanse himself and his clothing after contact with a corpse. It is obvious that transitions of life and death had great significance then, as they do now. Transitions become sacred or meaningful for us, as for them, when marked by rituals for the cleansing of the body, mind, and spirit.

It’s interesting that the Hebrew for red heifer is Parah Adamah, which can suggest other meanings. Parah, a heifer, is related to the root PaR, which means fruitful. Adamah (the color of red) also means earth and contains the word Adam, which signifies “human.” A deeper understanding is that Parah Adamah is the “fruitfulness of being human,” which is what we are striving for.

We then learn of two deaths in the Parsha, the death of Miriam and that of Aaron. Each, in a unique way, brought life and meaning to the people. Miriam found the sources of water to sustain the community. Aaron guided the people in their expressions of gratitude and other spiritual needs though the offerings and other rituals. Now it was in the hands of their children and descendants to carry on for generation to generation, L’Dor vaDor. It is now up to us to renew our commitment to our deepest teachings and continue to nurture each other. — B’Shalom, Reb David

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