Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Chukkat

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Parashah Chukat (regulation) Numbers 19:1-22:1

The title “Chukat” comes from the word which is used for a Divine ordinance that has no “rational” explanation.

Within the category of Chukim (plural) are two levels; 1) those decrees that could in principle be understood by human intelligence, but details of which are beyond comprehension, and 2) those which are entirely beyond the scope of human understanding. The law of the Red Heifer belongs to the second category.

Even Solomon, who possessed great wisdom, said that the only part of God’s Torah that he could not explain were the commands concerning the red heifer. This weeks portion deals with the ashes of the red heifer, which are significant to us when we refer to ritual cleansing. It is very important to remember that to be unclean is not necessarily to be in sin.

Many commandments are open to human understanding as they are explainable for social or moral reasons, as opposed to the Chukim which require us to obey without necessarily understanding the reasons for them.

The Ashes of the Red Heifer

One generation has passed and another has grown up in freedom, prepared to enter the Land of Israel. The leaders of the older generation, too, are departing: first Miriam (Bamidbar 20:1), and then Aharon pass away in the same year. The instruction for this ritual is given before the passing of Mirium and Aharon.

Most of the sacrifices of Israel were bullocks. Logically, it is more desirable to sacrifice bullocks than heifers because heifers are used for producing offspring and for milk, so offering them for sacrifices is very sacrificial. In this case, the female is offered, spotless and choice.

The ashes of the red heifer were used to purify the unclean, particularly those who had come into contact with a dead body. They could not come into the tabernacle without first being sprinkled with a solution of water and the ashes of the red heifer. Even so, they were considered unclean until evening. From the ashes of this heifer the purification water was made and kept in the homes of the priests throughout the whole land of Israel. That way, those who had been in contact with a dead body would be able to purify themselves for seven days according to the commandment. Only small amounts of ashes were needed for large amounts of water. Thus the ashes from the sacrifice of one heifer lasted for many years. The Torah says that a crimson thread which tied together the cedar wood and the hyssop, were thrown into the fire with the burning flesh and the resulting ashes Yahweh used to cleanse those who were unclean. Notice that the priest who supervised the process was ritually impure and could not enter the camp or city until he had immersed himself and his clothing in water. One of the fundamental requirements is that the heifer had to be completely red. The prophet has explained that sin is described as red; “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1,18)

Throughout the history of Israel up to 70 AD, the ashes of nine red heifers were prepared, and the tradition is that the tenth one will be prepared when Mashiach comes. When Yahweh conveyed to Moshe the statute of the red heifer, it is understood that the ashes from the original were to be mixed in with the next, so that there is always a continuance from the original red heifer which Moshe prepared. It has been recorded that nine heifers altogether have been slaughtered over Israel’s history (Mishnah Parah 3:5). Now, to continue this ordinance, a red heifer must be found and the remaining ashes from the previous temple era must be brought out from where they have been preserved to once again make the “waters of purification” for the defilement of death. Literally it is called the “waters of menstruation” . This is because, just as the menstrual flow of blood cleanses away the death of a potential life, so these waters (red as the likeness of blood and representing blood) cleanse a person from the contamination of death.

The Jews are at a loss to explain the significance of this ritual. The red cow is a ritual that makes sense only when Yeshua the Messiah is added to the picture.

Here are some clues linking the Red Cow to Yeshua; the color red, the burning of the cow, the cow’s spotless purity, she had never born a yoke, the heifer was slain outside the camp. Additionally, hyssop, cedar wood tied with scarlet wool were thrown into the fire. Each was symbolic of something.

  • Red is the color of the stain of sin (Isa. 1:18, “though your sins be as scarlet...red like crimson.”). Red is also the color of the tzaaras skin infection dealt with in Leviticus 13:19,24,42-43.

Red is also the color of clay earth out of which Yahweh formed the first man naming him Adam (Strong’s H#119/120) which means ruddy, red, bloody or rosy in color. Red is also the color of the Second Adam, Yeshua the Messiah who was literally red covered in his own sacrificial blood while hanging on the cross.

  • Burning the cow represents the death and suffering of Messiah on the cross. More care was exercised in choosing a spotless cow than in any other sacrifice. This spotless purity represents Messiah Yeshua the perfect sacrifice.
  • The red cow had born no yoke. Similarly, Messiah was neither under the yoke of sin nor was beholden to or under bondage to any human, institution, government, religious system or anything else of an earthly nature.
  • The heifer was slain outside of the camp. During the first and second temple eras the red heifer was slain on the Mount of Olives by the priests. The Mount of Olives was located off the Temple Mount and outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem (see The Pentateuch/Numbers, p. .329, by Rabbi Samson Hirsch). Messiah Yeshua was sacrificed outside of the city gates of Jerusalem (Heb. 13:12) and very possible, contrary to Christian tradition, on the Mount of Olives from which the front of the temple and the veil was clearly visible from the place of crucifixion (Matt. 27:51, 54; Mark 15:38-39).
  • The heifer was totally burnt. Messiah suffered in body, soul and spirit (Isa. 53) to atone for man’s sin. Into the burnt offering fire went three things (See Stone Edition Chumash, commentary on Lev. 14:3, p. 621)
  • cedar wood = haughtiness and loftiness of sinner in rebellion against God. This points to the cross, which was made of wood.
  • hyssop = to gain atonement the cedar one must bow in humility like a blade of hyssop. Hyssop was used to put the blood of the Pesach Lamb on the doorposts as well as to put the sour wine to Yeshua’s lips while on the cross. It is a medicinal plant known for its cleansing properties (Ps.51:7)
  • scarlet = the stain of sin (Isa 1:18); the priests made red with dye from a snail or insect _ a lowly creature symbolizing the penitent’s new-found humility. This is one of the colors of royalty and prosperity (Proverbs 31:21, Daniel 5:7, Rev 17:4). It is the color Matthew describes as that of the robe the Roman soldiers put on Yeshua on Passover (Matt 27:28).

We also see these three used together, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet, in Leviticus 14 for cleansing. Paradoxically, the preparation of the red heifer renders each person involved unclean. The priest who oversees the slaughter and the burning is rendered unclean. The man who ignites the fire is rendered unclean. The man who gathers the ashes together is rendered unclean. We learn in Numbers 19:21 that the one who sprinkles the water is also rendered unclean only until evening, unlike those unclean from actual contact with death who were unclean for seven days. This is one of the great paradoxes of Torah. So too, in order to cleanse us, the Master became unclean. In order to liberate us from death, He died. Yeshua took the curse upon Himself. He became death for us, so that we might be freed from death. Just as those administering purification from death, are rendered unclean, so too Yeshua was made unclean, even taking on the contaminating impurity of spiritual death itself, in order to cleanse us from sin and death.

The writer of the book of Hebrews specifically mentions in Hebrews 9:13-14 the ashes of the red heifer. What is more, he attributes efficacy to them as regards cleansing the flesh. The passage compares the blood of Messiah to the ashes of the red heifer. If the ashes of the red heifer work on the outside (the flesh), how much more so does the blood of Messiah work on the inside cleansing (the conscience) from sin. In the case of Yeshua, his shed blood plays a central part in our cleansing. Were it not for the blood, which was freely spilled, we would forever be in a state of spiritual tamei! Thanks be unto God, His blood was poured out for us to cleanse us from all defilement of death, both natural and spiritual!

Immersion for Cleansing

“Then the clean person shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify him from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and shall be clean by evening.” (Numbers 19:19)

The Torah says that touching a corpse makes a person ritually unclean. To be cleansed, a person needed to be sprinkled with ashes from the red heifer. After completing the seven-day purification process by sprinklings with ashes of the red heifer, the defiled person was to immerse himself in water and then he was pronounced clean.

In traditional Jewish practice, a corpse is prepared for burial by a special ritual washing of the body. To be among those who care for the dead in this manner is considered a high honor in Judaism. The early believers practiced the customary washing of the body. For example, when Tabitha died, Acts 9:37 says the community of believers washed her body. The ritual washing of the body is an expression of faith in the resurrection of the dead. It is a preparation for resurrection.

Those who conduct the ritual washing, however, necessarily contract corpse contamination. Though the ashes of the red heifer would not have been applied to people living outside the land of Israel, the believers in Corinth would still have undergone the prescribed immersion in a mikvah (immersion bath). The same practice of immersing after washing the dead persists in the Jewish community today. Therefore, Paul asks rhetorically, “If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (1 Cor. 15:29) In other words, if the dead are not raised, why practice the ritual washing of the body? The dead will be raised, and the rituals of cleansing from corpse contamination testify to that coming resurrection. In that day, we will be cleansed from the ritual impurity of our dying, mortal bodies. We will be raised imperishable and pure like our righteous Messiah.

“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up outside of the camp in a clean place; and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Yisra’el for a water for impurity: it is a sin-offering.” (19:9 HNV) - The ashes from the red heifer was split up into three parts, one part was placed on the Mount of Olives, another was placed in the area called “chel” and which surrounded the court of the temple, and one part was divided up between the twenty-four groups of priests that served at the temple. According to Mishnah,[Mishnah Parah 3:1] the part that was on the Mount of Olives was used to consecrate the High Priests who was to prepare more red heifers. The ashes that were kept in the chel were meant for future generations, which this verse speaks about. The part of the ashes that was out in the land among the priests served to cleanse those of the children of Israel who lived in the other cities.

Moshe Strikes the Rock Numbers 20

The Aramaic Targums and oral tradition record that when Miriam died, the ‘well’ of water which had been with them as a source of supply for the 38 years, dried up. Miriam was a Tzaddik, (a righteous person) and they had this blessing because of her prayer. This is Israel’s last year in the wilderness, thirty eight years since they were told they could not enter into the land. There are no records of the events in those years until we come to this time. All of the first generation were deceased except for Moshe, Aharon, Caleb and Yehoshua and those of the tribe of Levi who were not represented in searching out the land and who therefore were not participants in the sin of the nation. In Yehoshua 14: 1; 17: 4; 19:51; 21: 1, Eleazar, the new high priest, is mentioned as assisting Yehoshua in distributing the inheritance to the tribes after entering the land. Aharon and Mirium die in the same year.

This situation seems similar to the past in the previous generation, of the people complaining against Moshe and Aharon. The rod which Moshe is commanded to take is the one which was before Yahweh - the one placed in front of the Ark in the Holy Place. This was the anointed Branch which had been placed in the Holy Place as a sign of Aaron’s ordination by Yahweh. It was to be a sign to any future group that rebelled against the leadership of Aharon and Moshe. (It was later used for the ordination of kings) And so, with this uprising Moshe is instructed to go take the symbolic rod and go out to the people. He rebuked them for their rebellion and struck the rock instead of speaking only to the Rock which would have glorified the power of Yahweh.

Here Moshe just at the end of the long journey and many years of faithful shepherding of Yahweh’s people amidst many trials with them, acts in a manner that causes him to not be allowed to enter the promised land. We tend to overlook that Moshe and Aaron were held equally responsible for this action. The area where Moshe is reported to strike the rock is a very hot and hostile part of the country. In front of lots of thirsty people the pressure mounted and in a moment of anger and indecision, anger welled up inside Moshe and he struck the rock in disobedience instead of what he was instructed to do and speak to it in His Name.

This incident at the Rock was one of Moshe acting in the flesh. He had been instructed to take the anointed rod from before His Presence and speak to the Rock in His name, and not be involved in the issuing forth of the water as he had been on the previous occasion by striking the rock. Yahweh wanted to be sanctified in the sight of the people for them to see His power demonstrated without an intermediary at the invoking of His name. Imagine the impact when an inanimate object such as a rock responded to a command. It would have brought the people to a higher esteem of Yahweh. It was His answer to the people’s focus being on Moshe and Aaron and not looking beyond them to Him as their source of all things.

There is no record of this new generation having seen the power of Yahweh at work. The provision of manna had become commonplace as was His Presence in their midst in the Cloud, they needed a fresh revelation of His manifest power. And, whereas the people had looked to Moshe and he had been established in their sight as one who had the power to perform miracles, whom He had chosen to be His representative, He wanted this new generation that was to enter the land to go to a higher level of faith and look to Him directly. Moshe failed to move out of the way and move into the new realm of faith, as he said, “must we bring water for you out of this rock” (20:13). And so, both Moshe and Aaron are judged and not able to take the people into the land. Moshe’s anger with the people caused him to rebel against the command which he was given. It constituted a disqualification from leadership. His disobedience, outburst of anger, and harsh words were prevented him entrance into his inheritance.

In Psalm 106:32-33, it is written, “They angered him also at the waters of Merivah, so that Moshe was troubled for their sakes; because they were rebellious against his spirit, he spoke rashly with his lips.”

Moshe and Aharon, the leaders of the nation appointed by Yahweh, act out of their own mindset and react against the people’s rebellion. Yahweh allows the water to flow from the rock after it is struck the second time. He doesn’t allow the people to suffer more than they could handle because of the disobedience of the leaders. Yet, along with His mercy, we see a reminder of His requirements of responsibility especially where chosen leaders are involved. Moshe was in a high visibility position. The greater the calling the greater the responsibility. Moshe, after his error, was not written off by Yahweh. He continued to fulfill his calling but was denied the blessing, their entry into the Promised Land.

Moshe broke prophecy by striking the rock. Yeshua is the rock from which Israel drank. When he spoke to the Samaritan woman, He identified Himself as this “Yeshua answered her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that said to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10).

Moshe negotiates with the Edomites

Their journey now take them into close proximity to some territorial enemies of theirs. In an act of cordiality and humility, Moshe offers to pass through the land of the Edomites without disturbing what belonged to Edom. He even uses the identification marker of brother highlighting the well known fact that Edom was a descendant of Esav, the brother of Yaakov whom the Israelites were descendants of. But despite his gentle pleadings in 20:14-21, Edom refused to allow passage, and instead turned a closed door to the wandering descendants of Yaakov. The King of Edom was not too sure that he would be able to get rid of nearly three million people if he let them into his territory. Edom even issued a threat of the sword upon any that would cross into his land. This incident will be remembered for ages to come. Yahweh was not pleased with Edom and his prophets record Yahweh’s heart on the matter later for the people to read and understand. For now, Israel had no choice but to comply with Edom, and go around the long way.

In chapter 21, we read of their involvement with the king of the Emori. Again, the same invitation is offered to them as with the Edomites, but this time Sichon, king of the Emori takes to the offence and attacks Israel. Yahweh intervenes and Israel defeats the Emori all the way up to the borders of the people of Amon. Following this successful campaign, Yahweh instructs Moshe to muster a small army and go against Og the king of Bashan as well. Moshe does, and Yahweh causes a great victory there as well, with their complete destruction. The promises of Yahweh did not come without a struggle. The Promised Land was not just handed over to the people. Rather, to secure what was theirs by covenant right, the people would have to go through the struggle to gain possession of it.

This portions mentions many of the names of the places that the Israelites passed by or sojourned at during their time in the wilderness. Some of the places mentioned in the portion are known to us today and others are lost. Some of those that are known to us today and can be found on a modern map of Israel are; Kadesh Barnea, on the Western border of Israel with Sinai; Ovot or Ir Ovot (the city of Ovot), in the Arava on the road from the Dead Sea to Eilat; The Jordan River, Israel’s Eastern border with Jordan; The Bashan is what is known today as the Golan Heights, the strategic piece of land bordering with Syria and the city of Jericho, still in the same place that it was all those many years ago!

The Bronze Serpent

As the people went around Edom (land of the descendants of Esau, Yaakov’s brother), they began to complain against Moshe and Yahweh in about the manna and the water.

In the Gospels and Epistles, Yeshua is compared to the manna and the water. God sent “fiery serpents” to afflict the people. He then gave Moshe the instruction of placing a “serpent” on a stick for people to look upon in order to escape the punishment. Yeshua directly compares His coming to earth and being “lifted up”, to the actions of Moshe lifting up the saraph/serpent on the stick (John 3:14).

When God first gives Moshe this instruction (21:8), the term found in the Hebrew text (translated “serpent”) is Saraph, a type of angel. The serpent in the garden represented the one who once was Lucifer, the covering cherub in the Holy Place in heaven itself - the arch angel.

Moshe makes a physical representation of the Saraph in the form of a copper serpent. The word for serpent (nachash), is spelled Nun-Chet-Shin. The word for copper comes from the same three-letter root and is spelled Nun-Chet-Shin-Tav. In Hebraic studies an important point is made that the gematria (numerical value) of Mashiach (Messiah) and nachash (serpent) are both 358. When words have the same numerical value they are related in essence, even if diametrically opposed on the surface. In this sense, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) that came with the fall of Adam (linked to the serpent) will be transformed by the Messiah into a force which does good. He was lifted up as the identification of all that the serpent caused and became sin for us. Now, all who look to Him as the source of their salvation from the penalty of their sin, will be saved.

The serpent on the bronze pole is another prophetic picture of the redemptive work of Yeshua. The bronze pole symbolises judgement. The fiery serpents were a righteous judgment that Yahweh brought upon Israel for murmuring and unbelief. Israel had “sharpened their tongues like a serpent” (Psalm 140:3) and “their throat [was] an open sepulcher; with their tongues have...used deceit; the poison of asps [was] under their lips” (Rom. 3:13). All this was directed at Yahweh and Moshe. They reaped what they had sown. He loosed fiery serpents upon the Israelites to bite and sting to death the unbelieving murmurers.

How often do we lash out with our tongues to kill, steal and destroy, to sow discord among brethren (which Yahweh hates and calls an abomination Prov. 6:16-19). The mouths of the unrighteous are an open tomb spewing out death and destruction (Rom. 3:13; Prov. 18:21). Many times it is the little comments, the innuendos, the sharp vocal tones, the little sarcasms, the cryptic comments, the criticisms and complaints in passing that do the most damage to others and grieve the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our assemblies. Pray that you would be so full of the love of the Spirit that no evil word would come from your mouth, only that which is life to others.

The rabbis teach that Israel was punished with serpents because they acted in the manner of the serpent that deceived Adam and Eve, for they spoke malicious slander against the manna. Both incidents involved food, a great area of weakness and one to which humans are subject to temptation

Parallels between the bronze serpent and Yeshua:

  • Both the serpent and Messiah were lifted up on a pole.
  • Israel was to look up to the brass serpent; sinners are to look up to Messiah to be saved.
  • Yahweh provided salvation from the sting of death from no other source but the serpent.
  • Look at bronze serpent and live; look at Messiah and live.

Both the serpent and the cross are merely symbols of Yahweh’s grace and mercy. They simply point one to Yahweh in heaven who heals those who believe him and have faith in him. Similarly, there is salvation in no other name but in Yeshua (Acts 4:12).

The devil is the great red dragon/serpent (Rev. 12:3) whose venom inflames men’s sinful passions through his fiery darts aimed at humans (Eph. 6:16). Fiery serpent is the Hebrew word saraph the plural of which is seraphim which is a type of an angelic, flaming spirit (Heb. 1:7). Though physical snakes bit the Israelites, this is nevertheless a picture of Satan, the fallen angelic being who is now the serpent and enemy of both Yahweh and man. Israel went though all these things for our examples (1 Cor. 10:1-12). How they reacted to various situations is literally a mirror held up for our benefit for us to see ourselves as we really are so that we will not repeat their mistakes. We owe them a debt of gratitude, for we are able to gain spiritually at their expense.

The children of Israel kept the brass serpent for approximately seven hundred years when King Hezekiah finally destroyed it because the people were misusing it. This text teaches us that something positive that was given by the Eternal in order to bless the people, can become an idolatrous cult and a curse. In the same way the death of the Messiah, and even the cross, has become a cultic object that is worshipped through songs, incense, lighting of candles, etc.. Things which have been used to draw us close to Yahweh God can become an idolatrous object in themselves. Some interesting or additional information: - the bronze snake that Moshe was instructed to make is the symbol used today by many medical institutions and practices.

Aahron’s Passing

Aharon is to ascend Mount Hor dressed in the special garments of the Kohen Gadol. The transfer of these clothes to his older son Eleazar will constitute the transmission of the office of High Priest. Then Aharon will surrender his soul blissfully to Yahweh.

Aharon died, as he lived, totally devoted to serving Yahweh: and they ascended Mount Hor before the eyes of the entire assembly. And Moshe stripped Aharon of his garments and dressed Eleazar his son in them, and Aharon died there on top of the mountain, and Moshe and Eleazar descended from the mountain. (Bamidbar 20:27-28) Aharon’s duties as Kohen Gadol were not complete until he fulfilled the transfer of his office to Eleazar. The same is true of every form of service to Yahweh. It is not enough that we serve Him, we are duty-bound to ensure that the next generation will do so, as well, just like Aharon.

Many people have asked why it is that we mourn for first seven days and then to a total of thirty days. In the portion we have all the answers. For the first seven days, besides the fact that the bereaved are having to deal with a lot of pain, they are also unclean if they came into contact with the deceased or if the death was in the home. In the times of old, most people passed away at home or were killed in battle. Traditionally the family prepared the deceased for burial. The first seven days (shiva) is the time when friends and family rally to meet the needs of the bereaved. They are not expected to cook or clean or perform any regular daily tasks. The mourning is for a total of thirty days (20:29), this is for an additional 23 days after the initial seven. Jewish men do not shave for this period and this helps to be an outward sign to others to be sensitive to their condition. Sack cloth and ashes are no longer used but the corner of a garment is torn to mark the start of the time of mourning

The Process of Overcoming — from sin to victory and salvation

While going through the wilderness of life if we have an attitude of gratitude instead of one of complaining, murmuring, doubt, fear and unbelief in the word and promises of Yahweh we will be more likely to understand his purposes, instructions, his heart and his plans for our lives. One can waste one’s energy on murmuring and never grow up spiritually, or one can determine to hear Yahweh and to commune with him in the wilderness of life and seek spiritual enrichment out of that wilderness and view it as our training ground for entering the Promised Land instead of the negative attitudes which accomplish nothing except leading to death.

While crossing the wilderness Yahweh’s people must fight and overcome the enemy – i.e., that which would keep us from fulfilling our God-ordained destiny to possess the land and inheritance He has given us. First comes the fighting and in overcoming, the victories.

Yahweh makes rivers to flow out of seemingly dry and barren situations. We, too, are called to come to the rivers of salvation, the river of life and to become a river of life to all those with whom we come into contact (John 7:37-39).