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

“And from there to B’er; that is the well about which God said to Moses,
‘Gather the people together, and I will give them water.’” (Numbers 21:16)

Parashat Chukat appears to be the climax of a string of rebellions: Miriam and Aaron, the ten spies, Korach and his band, and now…Moses himself. When the Israelites complain about water (again!), God instructs Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, Moses strikes the rock twice and brings forth water. God condemns Moses to die in the desert for this act. But is Moses rebelling? If not, what’s really going on?

Chukat reports Miriam’s death laconically (Num. 20:1) and immediately follows with, “And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.” (Num. 20:2) Rabbi Audrey Pollack (rabbi of Temple Israel, West Lafayette, IN) notes while this verse usually is interpreted literally (i.e., the Israelites complain again because there is no water to drink) it also can be read to mean they do not mourn Miriam with crying and tears (…no water). It is this ingratitude for all Miriam has done that triggers Moses’ anger and why he hits the rock (Because of Miriam’s merit a well follows the Israelites as they travel. When she dies, it disappears; hence the Israelites’ thirst (Babylonian Talmud 9a)). Using this interpretation as a lens, it is possible to view the string of “rebellions” instead as episodes of ingratitude for God’s care and protection throughout the desert trek (Chukat takes place in the 38th year).

Chukat is a reminder there are no entitlements–not even for Moses. An “attitude of gratitude” for whatever we have is a fundamental tenet of Jewish life. Expressing that gratitude (instead of kvetching) is a statement of faith.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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