Welcome to this week’s Torah / Bible study section called CHUKAT (Statute or Decree) “This is a requirement [חֻקַּ֣ת / Chukat / statute] of the law [Torah] that Yahweh has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer [parahadumah]” (Numbers 19:2).
Last week in section titled "Korach", the Levite Korach incited mutiny against Moses. He and 250 tribe chiefs of Israel questioned the anointed position of Moses as leader and Aaron as high priest. This week’s section Chukat, presents the ritual laws of the ParahAdumah (פָרָהאֲדֻמָּה / Red Heifer) and the deaths of Aaron and the prophetess Miriam, Moses and Aaron's sister.
Chukat (חוקת | Statute)
Torah scriptures: Numbers 19:1-22:1. Prophetic scriptures: Judges 11:1-33 [Jephthah and his vow]. New Testament scripture: Hebrews 9:1-28.
Chukat is the thirty-ninth reading from the Torah. The word chukat (חוקת) means "statute." The name is derived from the second verse of the reading: "This is the statute of the law which YHWH has commanded" (Numbers 19:2). Chukat presents the mysterious laws of the red-heifer ceremony for purification after contact with human death. This reading also contains the story of Moses striking the rock, the stories of the deaths of Aaron and Miriam and the wars with the Amorites. The section concludes with the host of Israel encamping on the edge of the Promised Land.
TORAH Section: Numbers 19:1 | Ceremony of the Red Heifer. Numbers 20:1 | The Waters of Meribah. Numbers 20:14 | Passage through Edom Refused. Numbers 20:22 | The Death of Aaron. Numbers 21:1 | The Bronze Serpent. Numbers 21:10 | The Journey to Moab. Numbers 21:21 | King Sihon Defeated. Numbers 21:33 | King Og Defeated.
The Purity Paradox.
In Numbers 19, the Torah gives the laws for preparing the ashes of the red heifer. The red heifer is an unusual sacrifice which was slaughtered and burned outside of the Tabernacle. Its ashes were then collected and mixed with water. The water was sprinkled in a purification ceremony which removed ritual uncleanness engendered by contact with death. Paradoxically, the preparation of the red heifer renders each person involved unclean. The priest who oversees the slaughter and the burning becomes unclean and incurs first degree impurity. The man who ignites the fire becomes unclean. The man who gathers the ashes together is rendered unclean. Moreover, the one who sprinkles the water of cleansing to remove the impurity of corpse contamination incurs first degree impurity. Is this not a paradox, an inexplicable decree of the Almighty where those doing the cleaning become dirty. I suppose like one who washes dirt off of cloths or cleaning their home. They become dirty from the dirt coming off the cloths or home.
Who decreed this? Was it not … God? We have learned that all the people engaged in preparing the water of the ashes of the red heifer, from beginning to end, defile garments, while the heifer itself makes garments ritually clean.