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

“When the entire assembly saw that Aaron had perished,
they wept for Aaron thirty days, the entire house of Israel.” (Numbers 20:29)

Parashat Chukat inspires a startling rabbinic statement about God. In the wake of Miriam’s death, Moses must provide water for the Israelites and hits a rock to do so. Since this violates God’s instruction to speak to the rock (Num. 20:7), God condemns both Moses and Aaron to die in the desert along with the Egyptian-born generation. Moses dies within the year but Aaron dies almost immediately.

God instructs Moses to inform Aaron he will die that day and when Moses demurs, God explains, “I am ashamed to tell him of it Myself. ” (Midrash Tanchuma Vayechi 4) We’re used to a creative God, a mighty God, a vengeful God, and a merciful God. But an embarrassed God?

Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains: despite Adam’s and Eve’s sins in the Garden of Eden, humans shouldn’t have to die. This makes death a shame or a disgrace. God is sensitive to this, especially with regard to someone like Aaron, who has been such a faithful soul and a man of peace. So God is embarrassed to reveal this to Aaron. Of course, this may be just a rabbinic projection: nobody likes criticizing people they love and so God, knowing it will be difficult for Aaron to hear this hard truth, is embarrassed for him and prefers not to. Either way, it’s a remarkable admission.

There are many words used to describe the essence of Judaism and being Jewish: faith, family, community, and action, to name a few. Parashat Chukat is a reminder empathy should be on everybody’s short list.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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