This week’s parasha is entitled, Chukat, which means “statute” and covers Numbers, chapters 19:1 – 22:1.
Chapter 19 explains the sacrifice of the red heifer and the purpose for that. The red heifer was designated as a type of sin offering, but it was for a very special type of sin. Let’s look at the instructions for this sacrifice in more detail. First off, the animal was to be a heifer. This would mean that it was a cow under three years old, which had never given birth. In addition, the color was to be red. This would immediately make the color of the animal unusual and set it apart from more common animals. In fact, this is the only sacrifice in the Old Testament that specifies the color of the animal. The animal was to be without defect or blemish, no spots or other imperfections. Indeed, later Jewish tradition specified that if even two hairs of another color, black, brown or white were found, the animal was to be disqualified. It was also never to have been put under a yoke, meaning it could not have done any work. All these requirements combine to mark the animal as special, and also in a way as pure, since the animal would not have been defiled by having been impregnated or by having done labor usually done by beasts of burden. The color, red, would also have denoted the image of blood.
Continuing with the instructions regarding the heifer, we find that the animal was to be killed outside the camp. All other sacrifices designated as sin-offerings were made inside the camp, and later at the Temple, once it was built during the time of King Solomon.
Three individuals were involved with the sacrifice: The first red heifer sacrifice was offered by Eleazar, the priest, who was Aaron’s son. Once the heifer was slaughtered, Eleazar was to take some of the blood on his finger and sprinkle it towards the Tent of Meeting. Then the whole heifer was to be completely burned: hide, flesh, blood, everything. The priest who burned the heifer was to be ritualistically clean. Then another priest, who was also ritualistically clean, was to gather the ashes that resulted from the complete burning of this sacrifice. These ashes were then mixed with a “water of cleansing,” which was then used to cleanse people who had come in contact with a dead body. This was very important because we read later in Numbers 19 that if people remained in a defiled state without being purified by these ashes mixed with the “water of cleansing,” they would not be allowed to worship at the mishkan, the Lord’s Tabernacle. The Lord’s House of Worship could not be defiled by one who was impure in such a manner. If a person did not become cleansed, and their uncleanliness stayed upon them, it was a requirement that the person be cut off from the community of Israel.
3 different people, each ritualistically clean, were involved with the red heifer sacrifice. However, once these priests participated in the sacrifice, for which they had to be ritualistically clean, they became unclean until evening. Those who were clean became unclean through offering this sacrifice, which would be used to purify others. They purposely had to defile themselves so that those who had been defiled could be made clean by the result of the red heifer sacrifice.
In chapter 20, we have 3 significant events, the deaths of Moses’s sister and brother as well as the incident of the water of Meribah. Miriam’s death is explained quite simply. The people of Israel came to the wilderness of Zin, in the modern- day Negev area of Israel, in the first month, Nisan, the month which celebrates the Passover holiday, Miriam dies and is buried.We find that at this time, no water is available for people to drink, and Moses is commanded to speak to the rock so that it will bring forth water. God commands that Moses speak to the rock, but instead Moses strikes the rock twice. Water does come forth, but since Moses, because of disobeying the Lord’s command forfeits his chance to enter the Promise Land. You might think this is harsh, but for those who have been given much responsibility from the Lord, much is required.
And finally, Aaron’s death. Moses is commanded to go up Mount Hor, with Aaron’s son, Eleazar. There, Moses takes off Aaron’s priestly garments and puts them on Eleazar, a passing of the priestly responsibility and then Aaron dies. We are not told if Aaron is buried on Mount Hor, just that he dies there, and then Moses and Eleazar go back down the mountain to the rest of the congregation of Israel.
In chapter 21, the people again grumble against Adonai and the Lord sends fiery serpents upon them and many die. Moses intercedes and Adonai commands the making of the bronze serpent so that if someone is bitten, but looks at the bronze serpent, they will live.
The parasha ends with 2 great victories which the Israelis achieve over the kings of Sihon and Og.
A few closing comments:
What a picture the red heifer sacrifice gives us of the atoning power of Yeshua for those who believe in Him. He cleanses us from our sin and allows us to draw near to God because He paid the ultimate price by dying on the cross. He who was sinless and blameless gave up His life as a perfect sin offering to atone for all sins, past, present and future. He who was pure, allowed Himself to experience the defilement of the sins of the entire human race so that He could once and for all be the perfect atonement for all people.
And, in chapter 20, Moses loses not only his earthly sister and brother, but also forfeits being able to enter the Promised Land. These events all happen in a relatively short time. I wonder if this was one of us, would we still be as Moses and accept and continue to submit to the Lord, in effect, continue to say, Blessed be the name of the Lord, or would we lose our faith? Something to think about.
And finally, as in so many chapters, disobedience versus obedience in chapter 21. Grumbling against the Lord and the plague of fiery serpents, obeying and following the Lord and victory over the kings of Sihon and Og. There was only one person who completely followed the Lord’s commands through His whole life and never faltered, like many of us would. That was Messiah Yeshua, our Lord and Savior. May His example always be in our minds and in our hearts as we live our lives.