Saturday, June 25, 2011


Parshat Chukat
Bamidbar 19:1 – 22:1
Sivan 30 5771 / July 1 – 2 2011

by Laura Taishoff, MH New Orleans

Parashat Chukat was an incredibly interesting Parsha for my first ever D’Var Torah. It includes lessons about how to purify oneself when there has been contact with a dead body, the death of Miriam, and an intense almost revolt against Moses and Aaron.

It was all fascinating but I am choosing to focus on the beginning of the Chapter, which opens with a delineation of the ways in which Jews are required to cleanse themselves after coming into contact with a dead body. In 19:12, there is a description of the red heifer, which is “, faultless, and upon which never came yoke”. The portion says that the heifer must be burned and the ashes will be combined with water to make a purification mixture. On the third day and the seventh day, the individual seeking cleansing will have this purification mixture sprinkled on them and then, he/she would be cleansed.

All of this just for coming into contact with a dead body? Why were such arduous and meticulous orders necessary to warn the Jewish people from coming into contact or hanging around a corpse? I found this kind of warning especially surprising given the various ways in which Jews are required to be empathetic and compassionate towards those who are grieving a loss. It seems to me like mixed messages. If it is so incredibly important that we purify ourselves for merely coming into contact with a dead body, why do those reciting Mourner’s Kiddush stand? It was my understanding that they stand so that they entire community knows that they are grieving and are in need of support. There is also the tradition of brining a home cooked meal to those sitting Shiva.

I came to the conclusion that it is important to recognize the difference in doling out sympathy to those grieving from death and being exposed to death and surrounding yourself with it. Perhaps what the parsah is suggesting is not a lack of compassion for the dead but rather an acknowledgement of life. We support those who are grieving but not at the cost of our own sense of aliveness. If one is constantly surrounded by death and dead bodies, it will be vastly more difficult to fully live and experience all that life has to offer. So, what I am taking away from this portion is the importance of creating boundaries for grieving and mourning, and coupling those with an appreciation for the beautiful, challenging, exhilarating highs and lows that we all experience as a part of LIFE.


Post a Comment