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

“They journeyed from Kadesh and the Children of Israel arrived-
the entire assembly-at Mount Hor.” (Numbers 20:22)

Parashat Chukat commands the Israelites to find a parah adumah, a free and perfectly red cow, to be used for ritual purification (Num. 19:2-10). Classic commentators call this mitzvah, or commandment, THE paradigmatic law of the Torah, beyond our understanding. Each mitzvah, though, is supposed to be equally important to fulfill. That assertion raises a question, though, since two mitzvot, honoring your parents (Ex. 20:12) and shooing away a mother bird before taking her eggs (Deut. 22:7) are singled out for special reward: good fortune and a long life. A midrash, or rabbinic story, helps make a connection between these mitzvot and the parah aduma.

A jeweler named Dama ben Netina sells a gemstone for 1,000 gold pieces. But his father is sleeping on top of his safe and he refuses to disturb him to get the stone. When the buyer sees Dama return empty-handed, he increases the offer to 10,000 gold pieces. Dama refuses to take more than the 1,000, because he does not want to profit from the mitzvah of honoring his father. Later that year, Dama’s cow gives birth to a red calf (an extremely rare event; only seven have ever been born), which he sells to the priests for 10,000 gold coins (D’varim Rabbah 1:14).

Only God knows the reason for the parah adumah. But the midrash makes clear: respecting your parents is its equivalent. The conclusion? K’vod habriyot, honoring all of creation, and acts of chesed, or covenantal kindness (mitzvot everyone can fulfill) are alternate ways to purify the world.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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