Insights into Parshat Chukat of Mr. Aaron B. Buechler of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.
Parshat Chukat is packed with many different stories and themes that have seemingly no correlation. There appears to be no ostensible association between: the parah adumah (red heifer,) Miriam’s death, the water crisis, Moshe and Aharon’s punishment, Aharon’s death, the attack of the fiery snakes, the healing effect of the bronze serpent, the travels and battles of the Jewish people, and the song of B’nai Yisrael. Yet there is an undertone of an inherent relationship – the theme of remedying a wrong.
The concept of righting the wrongs of yesterday and improving our lives runs deep throughout the chronicles of Chukat. The parah adumah, though lacking logical understanding, is an antidote to cleanse ourselves of tameh met (ritual impurity due to contact with a corpse.) After Miriam passed away in the wilderness, Bnai Yisrael complained they had no water, so Moshe struck the rock after HaShem commanded him to converse with it. Consequentially, Moshe and his brother Aharon were prominently punished for their failure to follow HaShem’s command, notwithstanding the fact that they fixed the grave situation at hand vis-à-vis the lack of water.
Due to incessant nagging regarding food and drink, HaShem sent fiery snakes to bite the complainers. This led B’nai Yisrael to protest once more. As a result, HaShem instructed Moshe to construct a bronze snake and hoist it high upon a pole. All those who raised their eyes towards the sculpture and heaven were instantaneously and miraculously healed. Many ask how the bronze serpent saved the ill. One answer is that the statue was raised upon a rod, thus, when the stricken gazed upon the serpent they found themselves staring skyward with hope and prayer for a rapid recovery. They believed while looking upwards that they would be healed; whether intentional or not they trusted in HaShem to help hasten their healing. They looked towards the heavens in search of a remedy; it was this search and their request to Moshe that led them to find their answers.
Parshat Chukat is about having faith and fixing that which went wrong, making difficult scenarios better, and believing that things will turn out for the best. Whether it was in a dire situation of drought, waging war, aching from the pangs of plague, mourning the loss of a leader, or exhausted from the expedition known as the exodus from Egypt, B’nai Yisrael knew that HaShem was there to protect them all along the way. While no one understands how the parah adumah has the power to be mi’taher those who were tameh met we know that those who were sprinkled with the ashes of the parah adumah would be pure again. When B’nai Yisrael was thirsty due to lack of water they beseeched Moshe to be their liaison and approach HaShem on behalf of the nation and request a renewal of their water source. We continue to see this theme via the incident regarding those who fell ill from the snake bites. Regardless of how grave the situation became B’nai Yisrael knew that ultimately they could turn to HaShem and trust that all would turn out for the best.
Parshat Chukat teaches us to have faith, believe in HaShem, and know that as a result of His perpetual involvement in our lives things will turn out ameliorated. This tenet is a major factor throughout not only Parshat Chukat but our lives in a much broader sense; be it in our turning to HaShem in times of trouble, consulting with others in circumstances of uncertainty, and believing that at the end of the day HaShem runs this world in a sensible manner whether or not we see it. This basic precept of existence often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life. The routine, rote, and mundane often blind us of the truth that covertly rests veiled beneath the surface. We, like B’nai Yisrael, often start off with a complaint; we fail to pause and recognize that greater picture, and the hand of HaShem hidden within. Yet all things considered it is our duty to step back, take in the panorama of the present, ponder the past, and proceed into the future with a plethora of perspectives. With this arsenal of assessment we will recognize how blatant the involvement of HaShem is in our lives. Our level of faith in Him will swell and fill our every movement, word, and action; and through this recognition we will come to the greater realization that faith is the remedy for the confusions known as life.