This week we are entering Parshat Chukat. The Parshah starts off relating the mitzvah of the ‘Para Aduma,’ in English known as the Red Cow (Bamidbar 19:2).
The Jews actually learned about this mitzvah just after the splitting of the sea, in Parshat Beshalach (Shemot 15:25).
There are many mitzvot in the Torah that one may feel to be incomprehensible, including, the mitzvah of the two goats on Yom Kippur (Vayikra 16:20-22), the mixture of wool and linen, Yibum (The Levirate marriage) and several more.
The ashes of the ‘Red Cow' purify a Jew who is impure, while making a person impure that was involved in preparing the ashes initially while at the same time mixing it with fresh spring water (Sota 16b).
The mitzvah of the ‘Red Cow’ was so incomprehensible by many, even King Solomon; the wisest of all men could not understand the reasoning behind it. He stated 'I said i would be wise, but it is far from me.' (Kohelet 7:23) However one thing established is, is that it is an atonement for the sin of the ‘Golden Calf.’
The Parshah then relates the passing away of Miriam (Bamidbar 20:1-2). Dying at the age of 125 years, the Jews only really started morning for her after the loss of the well of Miriam that accompanied them during the tenure in the wilderness.
After the Jews were lacking of water, the complaints started once again. Hashem instructed Moshe and Aharon to speak to the rock to bring forth water, however Moshe, in frustration against the Jews, hit the rock twice and brought forth water (Bamidbar 20:9-13). As Moshe did not bring water through speech, Hashem punished him and Aharon with death in the wilderness.
The Torah then continues relating how the Jews went about their mission travelling to Israel, Hashem commanded the Jews not to attack the descendants of Edom, Moav and Ammon (Bamidbar 29:14-21). Righteous people were to descend from these nations, including Ovadia from Edom (Sanhedrin 39b), Ruth from Moav and Naaman from Ammon.
Aharon then passed away at the age of 123 years (Bamidbar 20:22-29); he experienced the most gentle of deaths. While he was passing away he witnessed his son, Elazer, being appointed Kohen Gadol, placing on his body all the vestments required. The angel of death had no power over the death of Aharon. Aharon died through a death by a kiss of G-d, meaning that his soul became united with the holiness of the divine presence. In fact Aharon's death helped the Jews attain forgiveness (Moed Katan 28a).
Just after Aharon died, the Amalekim attacked the Jews in the guise of Canaanim (Rosh Hashana 2b-3a)., as they saw that the 'clouds of glory' had departed from Israel since the death of Aharon, they took this as a sign that they would defeat the Jewish nation. However Hashem performed a miracle as the Jews easily defeated them .
Just after this miraculous victory, the Jews yet again started complaining, in turn Hashem brought another plague (Bamidbar 21:4-9), killing many Jews and injuring them, however under Hashem’s instruction, Moshe brought his stick and placed a copper serpent onto top of it, if the Jews stared at it they got cured and the plague stopped (Rosh Hashana 29a)!! Unfortunately many years later this copper serpent was used for idolatry, King Chizkiyahu had to destroy it, by crushing it (Pesachim 56a).
Next up, the Emorim tried to instigate a plan to destroy the Jews with a brutal attack. Hashem performed another miracle, he destroyed the Emorim as they were hiding in caves between two mountains, the mountains miraculously moved and crushed the Emorim, killing all of them. The Jews realised the miracle as they saw a pool of blood flowing past them in a river, they in gratitude to Hashem sang a song of praise in commemoration of this event (Bamidbar 21:14-20).
The Parshah concludes relating the defeat of the Gigantic brothers Sichon and Og (Bamidbar 21:21-32/), in turn they were able to acquire their land, which originally belonged to Moav (Gittin 38a).
The Haftorah for this weeks reading comes from Chapter 11 of the book of Judges (Judges 11:1-33) relating the story of the judge Yiftach, a man who was bullied as a youngster, driven away from his home town. He defiled all the odds by becoming the leader of the Jewish people.