Congregation B'nai Torah
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Torah Portions of the Weeks - From Aish.com
Chukat- Balak July 4 - Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (parah adumah) which was burned with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure. Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceases to flow. Once again the people rebel against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth. (There are two incidences of Moshe hitting the rock; the first time he was told to hit it - this time he was told to speak to the rock.) However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!) Aharon dies. His son, Elazar, is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, then repent and therefore live. The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us. (There are many questions which need to be asked. Please consult the original work and a good commentary.) The second portion this week, Balak, is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, is granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe's level of prophecy. The Almighty gives Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, "If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it." Bilaam is an intriguing character - honor driven, arrogant and self- serving. (Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.)Balak, the king of Moav, desires to hire Bilaam for a fortune of money to curse the Jewish people. It is interesting that Balak believes in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thinks that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind). Bilaam is very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews (more for the profit motive than the prophet motive). The Almighty allows Bilaam to travel to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tries to curse us and three times the Almighty places blessings in his mouth. Balak is furious! So, Bilaam gives him advice with hopes of collecting his fee - "If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol." Balak follows the advice and consequently the Almighty brings a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam's plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.
July 11 - Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1 In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen -- Divine decree. The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor. Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings -- daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.
Matos and Masei July 18- Matos includes the laws of making and annulling vows, the surprise attack on Midian (the '67 War wasn't the Jewish people's first surprise attack!) in retribution for the devastation the Midianites wreaked upon the Jewish people, the purification after the war of people and vessels, dedicating a portion of the spoils to the communal good (perhaps the first Federation campaign), the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan river (yes, Trans-Jordan/Jordan is also part of the Biblical land of Israel). Moshe objects to the request because he thinks the tribes will not take part in the conquering of the land of Israel; the tribes clarify that they will be the advance troops in the attack and thus receive permission.Masei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert (the name of each stop hints at a deeper meaning, a lesson learned there). God commands to drive out the land's inhabitants, to destroy their idols and to divide the land by a lottery system. God establishes the borders of the Land of Israel. New leadership is appointed, cities of the Levites and Cities of Refuge (where an accidental murderer may seek asylum) are designated. Lastly, the laws are set forth regarding accidental and willful murder as well as inheritance laws only for that generation regarding property of a couple where each came from a different tribe.
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The Parsha of the Week