Shabbat Shalom Dear Readers Parshat Chukat 5775

June 26, 2015
Thomas Leslie Conroy

A pointillist painting by Thomas Leslie Conroy

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The following is an adaptation of an article that appeared on Globe Tribune.Info last year.

This week, Parshat Chukat candle lighting will be at 8:13PM tonight, June 27. To find out the time for candle lighting in your locality, look on the Chabad.org web site. On Chabad.org and Aish.com are articles that can be printed out and read during the weekly day of rest for humans and their computers.

One article on the Chabad site deals with the  authorship of the Book of Psalms. In the introductory sentences of a number of psalms are the names of a total of ten individuals, including Adam, Abraham and Moshe. In addition to having written some of Psalms, David is noted as an editor and compiler, working under divine inspiration.

A puzzling feature of this week’s parsha is the plague in the desert of venomous serpents. G-d ordered the Israelites to fashion a snake out of copper, to raise it on a pole, and for those who were bitten by snakes to gaze at it in order to be healed. How could the source of venom also be the source of healing? We see in science that antidotes from snake venom come from the same poisonous snakes that we avoid. on a psychological level, sometimes emotions that are considered negative can have positive uses. The desire for revenge, for instance can be controlled and become a component of the desire for legal redress.

On the other hand, too much kindness can be a bad thing. In 1945, soldiers who were overcome with pity for concentration camp survivors sometimes fed them a hearty meal, which ended up killing some former prisoners they had intended to help. Emotions need the direction of laws, social convention and intellect in order to be expressed in a constructive way. This is one possible lesson of the snake on a pole in the desert.

Aish.com had an article about charity collectors, and one woman’s struggle with maintaining charitable impulses in a world where fraud is not unknown. On one level, the fact that charity collectors come to Jewish homes shows that a strain of mercy exists that attracts people who are in need.  No less frequent than incidents when people with questionable credentials collect for charity are instances when people with genuine needs are met with rejection. On the one hand, one can’t  empty one’s bank account for every sad story. On the other hand, too much skepticism has a hardening effect on one’s personality and outlook. In asking G-d for generosity and mercy, it surely must help to show such characteristics to others.

The term “Chukat” is the name for commandments with no rational reason behind them.The 613 commandments are divided into three categories. Mishpatim are logical laws, such as the laws against murder, adultery and robbery. Then there are Edut, which are commemorative commandments such as Passover and Shabbat. The last kind of commandment is Chukim. These commandments are either counter intuitive, such as the commandment of the red heifer, which purifies yet renders impure the priest who sprinkles them, or shatnez, which prohibits the mixing linen and wool.

In the times in which we live, we see what can happen when laws are passed according to human common sense that create unintended consequences. No fault divorce was supposed to make separation less traumatic. Instead, it made divorce more frequent and its consequences more visible. The one child policy in China created the unforeseen consequence of a shortage of females due to selective abortion in countries that had hoped to increase wealth by dividing it among fewer people. In India, there are entire villages full of people who have sold kidneys to wealthy western donors for a few hundred dollars.

There is less danger in a system in which some commandments transcend logic than a” Gott Mit Uns” (God with us) system in which people make a god in their own image. Pointillist paintings are made of many tiny dots that make a picture. The Torah has this aspect as well, that Torah is made up of many points of light that can make a much brighter grand picture. The attitude that each dot of humanity and each commandment is part of a grand and coherent picture is one that is hinted at in this week’s parsha.

This parsha depicts a time of trying losses for the Israelites in the desert. It was a week in which we lost Miriam and Aaron.

The haftorah, the portion of the prophets that is read this week is Judges 11:1-33.and deals with an attack the people if Israel in the lands of Sichon and Og by the Ammonites.

 

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