The double bill of Chukat-Balak takes in a mix of the mystical and spiritual recovery and also the harsh realities of enmity and aggression.
Chukat begins with the red heifer, an animal selected for the purification process of Israelites to access the sanctuary.
The animal, once cremated, is used with water and hyssop grass to sprinkle the Israelites wishing to gain access to spiritual communion with the divine.
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. Water is a theme running through the reading of Chukat.
Water is needed for the purification process. Water supply runs dry and the people complain against Moshe and Aaron. Moses 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 even offer to pay 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.
In Balak, the story is told of Bilam, a guru with unparalleled prophetic potential and the power to curse effectively.
God gave Bilam many chances to realise the mistake he was making by allowing himself to be contracted out to bear ill will to the people of Israel.
According to the biblical commentator Sforno, it was God’s will that a man of his stature among our own people should not be lost to us by making the wrong choice and not having an opportunity to rethink the issues confronting him.
Even Bilam, a professional who took “cash for curses”, was given chances to reassess his conduct.
- Rabbi Ariel Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force