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Friday, July 12, 2019

Chukas

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I think I mentioned that we're on a triennial Torah scheme at my shul. As such this year we're in the final third of each parsha, not that I usually don't read it all on my own. 

Chukas seems wildly contemporary. 

The red heifer opens the portion, and so we start by learning you can't make a thing to purify without becoming impure. Someone is always left in a state of impurity and so a paradox is established, or perhaps we are asked to recognize the truth in what Daniel Kahn sang about in the Butchers Share.

Miriam dies, and the people respond like jerks as usual. Moshe and Aaron go to G!d for advice (as their older sister wasn't there to consult) and are told what to do. They don't follow the letter of the command though, and are punished for it even though they ultimately quiet the people again.

Aaron dies, and the people this time wail and moan. None of that when they lost their source of water, but now the high priest is gone and they break down. The man who was their living embodiment of the peacemaker is gone and when they wander on after a month, Torah starts us with warfare. 

They battle and win and wander and again start to grumble against G!D. Seraphim are sent against the people and Moshe ends up making what can only be described as a fetish or even an idol that cures the people bitten by the seraphim. Described as flaming winged serpents, it is the same term used by prophet Ezekiel and the creatures he saw. Kabbalah would go on to say that these creatures, these angles were inhabitants of a space between the Ein Sof and a lower sphere of the divine presence. They burned like plasma, giving off energy like an excited element shedding electrons and energy for going between the place so close to the ultimate unknowable, and the lower worlds, in this case down to us, in the realm of dust and mud. 

Surviving again, but still not absorbing this divine lesson the people move onward as a multitude and petition governments for passage through their lands. Promises to remain on the highway, to not touch a thing, neither eating nor drinking any of the local foods and beverage. The kings of these lands decline. What promise could you trust from a nation of locusts at your doorstep. Edom said no, and the Hebrews abide by this.  Sihon said no, and the Hebrews abide but then he gathered his forces and attacked the nation of Israel all the same. Israel prevails and moves on skirting Edom.  

The Haftorah is the tale of Y'ftach, a tale of caution. A man who makes a vow without thinking about how it could turn out if he gets what he wants. Even in the best of circumstances, assuming we get what we want, there are consequences to consider.  

Choices are binary at least, but how often do we think about what happens after the outcome we desired happens? Often we think and heap so much up on the alternative, getting what we wanted is lost in the numbers.

The people were clean, but that means someone always remains unclean.
We are thirsty, what does the water cost us?
We're just trying to get where we think we need to go and we end up in battles.
We promise blindly to a momentary success with no thoughts about what comes next.

Chukas reminds me again that we live in a time when long term thought is what's needed, over short term solutions. Where commitment is rare and wondrous stuff.

For me to have a clean environment but still enjoy my modern life, what materials must be extracted somewhere else in a dirty process? When I feel deprived of a facet of my modern life is it a right or a privilege that is pulling on my senses? If I don't recognize that it's a privilege and not a right will I come into conflict over it? If I maintain my privilege will that privilege be used responsibly or will it again leave someone else dirty and by extension leave me unclean?   



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