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Parshat Hukkat

On this humid Hukkat Friday, in addition to central air-conditioning, Shabbat Mom seeks a "red cow without blemish" wandering the steamy city streets. If she spies a perfect red heifer on which "...there is no defect and ....no yoke has been laid" Shabbat Mom will be sure to tweet! Known as the Red Heifer, this animal is to be sacrificed by Eleazar the priest; its ashes, mixed with water, ("the water of lustration") are kept to purify those who are contaminated by touching corpses. Meanwhile, the prophetess Miriam dies while the people are camped at Kadesh and is buried there. Left without fresh water, since its presence was dependent upon Miriam's, the thirsty, desperate people rebel. G-d instructs Moses and Aaron to "...'assemble the community and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water.'" Frustrated by the kvetching, Moses makes a fatal tactical error. Instead of speaking to this rock he "struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank." Since Moses does not follow G-d's specific command, Moses learns that he and Aaron "'shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.'" All this aggravation, one (big) mistake, and Moses will die in the desert before reaching the Promised Land! While the decree may unusually harsh to a modern reader, perhaps the resonant message is this: No matter how holy, powerful, or important, our leaders are human and thus flawed, just like the rest of us. Only G-d is perfect. Aaron dies first on Mount Hor; his son Eleazar comes back down wearing his father's "vestments" to signal the succession. The recalcitrant people, "(speaking out) against G-d and against Moses" are struck by "seraph serpents" sent by G-d. Moses intercedes on the Israelites' behalf and is told by G-d to create "a copper serpent" on a stick that will cure the stricken when they gaze upon it. The Israelites march on through Transjordan, defeating their foes along the way.

Shabbat Shalom!

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