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Parashat Chukat - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat, we read Chukat. We are now 38 years into the wandering and very close to starting the conquest of the Promised Land.

Three important incidents are found in this Parasha:

1. Talking or Hitting?

In the first incident, Miriam dies and the people have no water. They complain to Moses. G-d instructs him to take his staff and, together with Aaron, gather the people around a rock. Moses is told to speak to the rock and water will come out; however, Moses hits, rather than speaks to the rock. Water comes out, but because of this incident, Moses and Aaron are told that they will not enter the Promised Land. They missed an opportunity to sanctify G-d's name by showing how a rock fulfills G-d's oral command.

Most commentaries have a hard time explaining the difference between speaking to or hitting the rock. The fact that water comes out is a miracle. The people are impressed when water gushes out of a rock, and consider it a miracle. So why is Moses punished for hitting the rock?

I will let you ponder this question and see if you have an answer.

2. Three go up and only two come down.

In the second incident, Moses and Aaron are told that the time has come for Aaron to die. Moses is instructed to go up to mount Hor, together with Aaron and his son Eleazar. On the mountain, he removes the Priestly garments from Aaron and puts them on Eleazar. Aaron dies, and Moses and Eleazar come down from the mountain. The people notice that Aaron is missing. They see Elazar wearing his father's garments, and understand that Aaron has died. They mourn his passing for 30 days (shloshim).

It must have been very hard on Moses and Elazar to accompany Aaron on this last ascent up the mountain. Rashi, our great commentator, explains that Moses comforted his brother by saying:

"How fortunate you are that at least you see your son take over after your passing. When I die, my children will not be following me by taking over my leadership role."

Isn't it great when a parent knows that his/her children will follow in their path, holding on to the values that were dear to the parent?

3. Our Good Neighbors

In the third incident, Edom, descendant of Esau, Jacob's brother, does not allow Israel to cut across their land on their way to the Promised Land. Since Edom was not one of the seven countries promised to the Israelites they are forced to take a long detour. When the Moabites refuse Israel's request to cut across their land, Moab wages war and Israel prevails and conquers the East bank of the Jordan.

Three thousand years ago, Israel was in a bad neighborhood. Things have not changed. Today Israel, again, is surrounded by tough, hating and resentful neighbors. It would be nice to have neighbors who are also friends. We hope that day will come.

Shabbat Shalom,