Sedra – Chukat

Sedra – Chukat

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

With Rabbi Ariel ABEL.

This week’s reading is on the theme of ritual purity. The principle underpinning the ceremony of purification was that whoever was pure could enter the Sanctuary, and later in history, the Temple Mount area.

One of the details of the purification process was that those who handled the materials involved in the ceremony required a degree of purification themselves. Why? Our sages tell us that even Moses could not understand this ritual. For this reason, it was called a Chukah – a statute fixed by the Torah with no apparent logic.

However, on the social level this is quite comprehensible. The Torah recognises that volunteering to help others engage in the community involves a degree of compromise of our own levels of “purity”. We all have a responsibility to help each other to have access to prayer.

Sometimes we might feel “impure” disturbing our own prayer to go round shul and help others engage. In actual fact, this is the highest calling, as this week’s reading teaches. The Lubavitch Rebbe en- couraged his own follow- ers to go to even the most remote places which are not locations of Torah living, and not be afraid of any contamination that might lurk.

A friend pointed out to me last week that water is a theme running through the entire reading. For example, water is needed for the purification process. When the water supply runs dry, the people complained against Moshe and Aharon.

Moshe hits a rock, disqualifying himself from leading the people into the Promised Land. The Israelites ask for safe passage through the lands of potential enemies, and offer to pay even for the water they consume. The “Song of Israel” is all about a well of water, which according to tradition refers to the miraculous well of Miriam.

There is a special reason for water as the theme accompanying this week’s reading. Water and desert appear to be two opposite themes. Water represents life and dry desert is often seen as empty of life. However, the Hebrew word for desert is “mid- bar”, which means “a pasture” at an oasis.

The desert is a place where animals were taken to graze freely. The Israelites grazed spiritually in the desert as a people freed from slavery and their water was the living spirit of Torah, which our rabbis compare to water. The desert can blossom with life, while settled cities can be drained of the life force. It all depends on us.

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