Monday, June 25, 2012

Moishniks Making Meaning…Mmmm good!

Parshat Chukat
Bamidbar 19:1 – 22:1
10 Tammuz 5772 / June 29 – 30, 2012

Moishniks Making Meaning…Mmmm good!
by Jordan Fruchtman, MH CPO, MHHQ

Parshah Chukkat contains a few short yet powerful stories. In this week’s portion we read of yet another instance of kvetching through the desert; the Israelites are thirsty and there is no water, so they complain. Moses is commanded to ask a rock for water, instead he strikes it, and though water begins to flow, Moses now will not be allowed into the promise land. Later we also learn of the death of Aaron, the erection of a giant serpent statue, and the lyrics to an ode to water wells. But there is one more story contained within this portion about the “red heifer” that I found to particularly interesting.

The portion goes into the details on the purification rituals one must practice after touching a dead body. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it involves some very particular ways to spread a cow’s ashes on someone who is deemed “ritually impure.” I am less interested in the details of the ritual, and much more fascinated on how little sense the law actually makes.

This parsha gets it’s name, Chukkat, from the term chukkim, or decrees, which actually refer to an entire series of mitzvoth that have little rhyme or reason. One interpretation suggests that the chukkim are beyond our understanding and highlight the importance of faith and trust in the divine. I don’t want to pick on the chukkim themselves, but rather the notion of having laws and traditions we just don’t understand.

I would argue that following traditions with no understanding, or that provide no meaning in our lives, could be worse than not following traditions at all. To phrase in the positive, I appreciate people who take the time and care to create their own thoughtful, and meaningful traditions. Working at Moishe House is a source of constant inspiration for me. On a daily basis I have the opportunity to witness and learn about young adults who are molding, reinventing, remixing, and morphing our ancient traditions to fit their passions and beliefs.

To me, our traditions and laws are valuable to the extent they can inform our lives in a positive way. Judaism has a unique appreciation for trying to understand ancient customs and texts in a modern context. While major Jewish institutions often struggle with making Judaism relevant to our generation, Moishe House residents are finding unique, powerful, and successful ways to do this every day.


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