Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Parshat Chukat

The Red Heifer and Sefer Bemidbar

Sefer Bemidbar tells the story of the wanderings of ancient Israel in the wilderness, as they prepared to conquer Canaan.

Yet, this week's parsha begins with the laws of the Para Aduma, the Red Heifer. Its main focus is cleansing people from impurities gained from being in contact with the dead.

It therefore, seems to be totally inappropriate for Sefer Bemidbar. It is ideal material for Sefer VaYikra, for it deals with keeping Israel's habitation holy and what to do when that holiness has been breached. Indeed, the rituals for the sacrifices are denoted in VaYikra. So, why is Para Aduma the exception, why does it appear in Sefer Bemidbar and not in VaYikra?

To answer this question, we must examine the episodes immediately prior and following this parsha.

Preceding Para Aduma, we have Korach's rebellion and its aftermath. After Para Aduma, we have the death of Miriam. Korach's rebellion occurred in the first year or two after the exodus from Egypt, while Miriam's death transpired at the end of the forty years.

What happened in those 38 years in between? The Torah tells us nothing, but fills in the gap with the laws of the Parah Aduma. Why?

While the Torah does not relate anything about those 38 years, we do know of one thing that did happen. The generation that left Egypt all died as a result of the sin of the twelve spies. That is, over 600,000 adult men plus, presumably, a similar number of women, perished in those years.

Every family had at least two of its members die in that period of time. Every person would, therefore have been in contact with the dead and would subsequently have been contaminated with their impurity.

Therefore, every family would have needed the services of the Para Aduma at some point during those 38 years.

Consequently, it is highly appropriate for this parsha to be the episode that divides between the events of the first year and those of the fortieth year.

Accordingly, Para Aduma appears here in Sefer Bemidbar and not in Sefer VaYikra. It is the subject with which all Israel busied itself with during the 38 years.


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