Adapted from Metaparshyot 5755 by R David Wolfe-Blank and Living Torah by R Aryeh Kaplan
PARAH ADUMAH – THE RED HEIFER
The first section of this Torah portion deals with the ashes of the Parah Adumah T’mimah, a wholesome and healthy red heifer. The ashes are used in a ritual to support community members’ transition back into community life after coming into contact with a dead body. The red heifer is to be sacrificed on an altar, and a piece of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool are cast into the burning of the cow. Her ashes are mixed with water and sprinkled on whoever has physically touched death.
Using the ashes of the red cow for this purpose has been considered illogical by many students of Torah. Maybe, the point is that purification from death requires jumping into a non-rational stance. The name of this Torah portion is Khukat which translates as decrees. A rational thread is not always apparent in a Hok (singular for Hukkat – decree). Perhaps there is a logic to it in the Divine Mind that is difficult or impossible to see or comprehend from the perspective of life on Earth.
DEATH OF MIRIAM AND AHARON
There is an abrupt jump to roughly 40 years later. The Torah portion tells of the death of Miriam and Aharon, Moshe’s sister and brother, in the later narrative section.
The question arose whether Moshe would be allowed to enter the promised land. He made a huge effort to lead the people, and it is hard to imagine it happening without him present. His actions show that Moshe was not ready for the different life required to settle the land. Sadly, he would have to leave the people before they crossed the Yarden (Jordan River).
MOSHE WILL NOT ENTER THE PROMISED LAND
What event showed that Moshe wasn’t ready for this new wave of civilized existence? He hit a rock with a stick, and then a spring of water flowed out of it. The Holy One of Blessing asked him to speak to the rock, not to hit it.
In a civilized society, we must communicate with those who seem as inflexible as rocks and then trust that they can flow as water. Violence or force is not a way to inspire people (or rocks) to act. Such behavior must be removed.
Similarly, it is incumbent upon humanity to honor and flow with nature, to co-exist with Her. Sh’khinah radiates nature and her patterns into the Earth plane. When nature is violated, Sh’khinah is too.
Hitting the rock is a dominating action and does not give respect to Earth as speaking does, as The Holy One directed. Sadly, many humans feel a sense of dominion over Earth and continue to pollute. It is ongoing. Only last week, the United States Supreme Court restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to limit carbon emissions. This makes the states responsible for a problem that must be solved nationally and globally. It is akin to hitting the rock, but on “steroids”.
Moshe made a mistake. The people were complaining; his brother and sister had died, and he had been leading a problematic group in the desert for forty years. Compassion wells up inside when I think of him, especially in this Torah portion. This kind of action comes from a stressed person and illustrates that service, even at the level of Moshe Rabeinu, and stress are not excuses for this dominating behavior.
HEALING METHOD REVEALED
One more time people lost their faith and complained: this took place just prior to the outbreak of an uncontrollable amount of poisonous snakes running amok in the camp. Moshe responded by quickly molding a copper snake and set it up on a pole. Whoever saw it, though bitten, lived. From this image comes the idea of the wounding agent as an instrument of healing, the caduceus – a symbol of medicine.
The original Copper snake made by Moshe eventually became an object of worship in the temple until King Hezekiah destroyed it in 800 BCE. Bronze serpent images have been found in Gezer, Hazor, and Meggido. More recently, one has been found in the excavation of a temple at Timnah, near Eilat, dated from about 1200 to 900 BCE. It is assumed to be Midianite in Origin.
CONFRONTATION WITH OG AND SIHON
This Torah portion details several amazing stories of people that the children of Yisrael encountered, their travels, and how they fought or avoided fighting them. Og and Sihon were faced and battled. The end of the Torah portion finds the people camping on the far side of the Yarden (Jordan River), close to the end of their travels.
HUKKAT CORRESPONDS TO SH’KHINAH IN HOD IN THE S’FIRAH CYCLE – PRESENCE IN REFINEMENT
The combinations of the S’firot within Hod are completed this week – the fifth cycle of seven.
Hod refers to a cluster of qualities including humility, refinement, cleansing, gratitude, and holding back until a standard has been met. We are at a stage in the year, and Torah readings in the refinement process are complete. Soon we enter the three weeks of dissolve, followed by seven weeks of T’shuvah – returning to Source.
The Holy One stood up for Sh’khinah in the decision not to allow him into the Promised Land. This is an aspect of Sh’khinah (Presence which includes a sense of honoring the Earth’s gifts) in Hod (Refinement). In one final, ultimate act of holding back energy, Hod manages to restrain Moshe and keep him in the desert.
Moshe‘s dominant quality was said to be that of Netzah; he stayed the course for forty years. Netzah is the counterbalancing element to Hod. Netzah is driven and gets the job done, where as Hod pauses, reflects, and refines. Both are needed and valuable. They are represented by the right (Netzah) and left hip (Hod) in the Etz Hayyim; part of meditating on these aspects includes balancing hips.
Hukkat finishes its course of Hod with Moshe‘s influence checked, and the people facing the Yarden. Obviously, it is an ending of sorts.
Next, we escort the cycle of Yesod to our year of Torah and bring in its vulnerability and contact fullness.
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