Chukat

“Parsha and Purpose” – Chukat 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Life’s Fragility and Maximizing Our God-Given Potential”

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Parshat Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

“Life’s Fragility and Maximizing Our God-Given Potential”

Far too often, life is so hectic that we lose our focus on the larger narratives of our existence.

Why are we here? What can we do to give meaning to our relatively short time on earth?

How can we reclaim a proper perspective that will enable us to live lives of purpose and accomplishment in all aspects of our existence?

One answer comes from a surprising source, the intricate laws of ritual impurity found in the beginning of this week’s parsha, Chukat.

The parsha begins with the laws involving טומאת מת – the ritual impurity of someone who has come into contact with a human corpse, which is the quintessential example of טומאה, ritual impurity. (Numbers 19:1 – 22)

As we continue, we learn that only vessels that have a function can become ritually impure.

Moreover, a vessel’s ability to become ritually impure is proportional to its importance.

The higher the value of the vessel, the greater the capacity for ritual impurity to permeate its walls.

This principle becomes even more pronounced when we look at the laws of impurity in relation to the lesser creations.

For example, earthenware vessels, כלי חרס, the most simple and fragile of utensils:

…וכל כלי פתוח אשר אין צמיד פתיל עליו טמא הוא

…and every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean. (Numbers 19:15)

The walls of such a vessel are too primitive to contract ritual impurity from contact by touch.

They can only receive ritual impurity when an impure object is placed in its air space – Avir Klei Cheres.

Let’s reflect on that. An earthenware vessel and a human being come from the same elements.

The difference between them is their environment, and their potential.

The Torah views the human as the highest of vessels, with a commensurate ability to receive or impart ritual impurity in a multitude of ways, while the earthenware pot is the lowest of vessels, with a limited ability to contract ritual impurity.

What an important message for us.

Human beings are the crown jewel of God’s creation.

We are the ultimate vessel of God’s will in this world, His partner in working to perfect it.

We are holier than angels. (Tiferet Yisrael [Maharal], Chapter 24)

And built into our spiritual DNA is the incredible capacity to be a vessel for tremendous achievement and enlightenment.

But proportionally, we also have the capacity for stunning levels of degradation and destruction.

With this precarious balance in mind, we must constantly ask ourselves how the way we live our lives fits into the larger narrative of the purpose and potential of our existence.

God has made known His affection for us and our unique standing in the universe, as Rabbi Akiva taught:

חביב אדם שנברא בצלם

Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God. (Pirkei Avot 3:14)

One more fact regarding the ritual impurity of a vessel:

If a vessel shatters, it may have lost its primary function, but if any of the shards can still hold water or food then they still have the capacity to be מקבל טומאה to receive impurity.

Shards of a vessel which still have purpose, can receive ritual impurity. 

Sometimes, our dreams and goals are shattered like a piece of pottery.

When our dreams and goals are not being achieved, when there are obstacles in the way it may make us feel broken – but it is important for us to realize that despite all of that we are still receptacles of holiness – even when we feel fragile, even when we fail.

We have the capacity to transform ourselves, our families, our community, our society.  

With this in mind, it is upon us to constantly consider the incredible potential that we possess the capacity in us to transform  ourselves, our families, our communities and the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shoshana Winter Magid

Parshat Chukat: Learning to Recognize Hidden Miracles Shoshana Winter Magid  (Midreshet Lindenbaum ’02-’03) is a medical physicist at Beilinson Hospital in Israel. Throughout the books of Shmot and Bamidbar there are numerous stories of Bnei Yisrael complaining about a lack of food or water in the desert. These stories, for the most part, follow a set …

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Parshat Chukat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “God spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance (chukat) of the Torah which God has commanded, saying, ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring a completely red heifer, which has no blemish, and which has never had a …

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Shabbat Shalom: Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “The entire House of Israel wept over Aaron” (Numbers 20:29) Why was Moses, the greatest prophet who ever lived and who sacrificed a princedom in Egypt to take the Hebrews out of Egypt, denied entry into the land of Israel?  Was it because he …

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Rabbanit Frankel

Parashat Chukat: The Red Heifer Rabbanit Naama Frankel, Rosh Beit Midrash of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod We’re in the Book of Numbers, and the Jewish people are closer than ever to the entrance to the Land of Israel. With immense excitement, they stand in formation, according to their flags and tribes – for “… at Hashem’s command …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach/Chukat 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

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“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

The minute that Moshe is challenged by Korach as the leader of the Jewish people, God swallows up Korach and his entire rebellious cohort.

But then God says, “I want each tribe to take a staff, and the staff that blossoms will truly represent who should be the leader of the Jewish people.” Numbers 17:20

Why is there a need for another miracle?

Imagine a board meeting. The members begin to discuss the rabbi and immediately, those who are against the rabbi get swallowed up. Is there really still a need for a follow-up vote on whether or not to support the rabbi?

And yet, in our parsha, even after God makes it clear that Moshe is the leader and not Korach, He still demands that there be a blossoming of a staff to appoint the leader.

In the next parsha, Chukat, there’s the tragic episode in which Moshe is told by God, ve’dibartem el ha’sela. which really means, “and they [the Jewish people] should speak to the rock.” But what Moshe does is to hit the rock, and because of that, he cannot lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. Numbers 20:8

In both of these cases, there’s a common denominator. Our goal as leaders, whether it is in our families, in other areas of our lives, in the community or greater society, is to inspire change – not to compel it. Our goal is to create a collaborative environment, not to compel a vision.

What God is saying after Korach and his cohort is swallowed up is, I want people to realize that Moshe is the leader – not because his opposition has been swallowed up, but because his staff blossoms, and that is what defines leadership. 

And that’s the challenge that Moshe has in Parshat Chukat. God is telling Moshe, the people need water. They have to learn that they don’t just have to go through you, they can send their own email, their own WhatsApp, their own letter to Me, to God.

The Jewish people have to grow up. They have to realize that they have a powerful voice. 

VeDibartem el ha’sela – “speak to the rock.” Teach them they can also pray, teach them they can also engage. 

But instead Moshe takes a direction which does not allow the Jewish people to have a voice. And because of that God determines the need for a new leader to replace Moshe. The leader will be Moshe’s student, but his style of leadership will be much different. The Jewish people will engage with him. It won’t be a top-down model; it will be much more collaborative. 

What powerful messages for us, and the type of lives we lead, especially during this time in which we’re seeing so much unrest throughout the world.

Imagine if we realize that we have a voice to make a difference, to inspire change in safe and creative and constructive ways. 

We can do that, and that’s what we’re seeing all over the world.

It’s not about striking the rock. It’s about speaking truth to power.

It’s about allowing our voices to blossom. 

And through that, we create leadership that is eternal, and make changes that will better society for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Bezalel Safra photographed by Rony Nathan

Parshat Chukat: Faith in the Unclear and the Unknown “There are things that are hidden, we won’t understand and we won’t know/we will also do things, seemingly without reason/there’s no need to ask and investigate into everything/sometimes, it’s fine not to know everything” This is the refrain of Zohar Argov’s well-known song, “There are things …

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Shabbat Shalom: Chukat (Numbers 19:1-21:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And he [Moses] said to them: “Listen now rebels”…and he struck the rock twice.”  (Numbers 20:10) Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav tells a tale of a king who was beside himself because his only son was behaving like a rooster: he divested himself of …

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