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Chukat 5773

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

by Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Kalman Packouz' popular Jewish weekly.

GOOD MORNING! The apocryphal story is told of a man at the race tracks who sees a rabbi blessing a horse. Figuring the rabbi is close to God, the man places a bet and sure enough the horse wins! Before each successive race, the man observes which horse the rabbi blesses, places his bet and wins. However, even after following the same procedure for the last race, the horse comes in last. The man approaches the rabbi and asks, "How come every horse you gave a blessing won except the last horse?" The rabbi answers, "You need to know the difference between a blessing and a kaddish!" (Kaddish is the prayer said on behalf of those who have died.)

Most Jews are familiar with the blessing over bread, HaMotzie. However, there are blessings for different types of foods, blessings for mitzvot (commandments) -- i.e., putting on tefillin or lighting Shabbat candles, blessings of thanks -- when one is saved from an accident, blessings for natural phenomena -- seeing a bolt of lightning or hearing thunder, blessings for life events -- the birth of a child or a death. There is even a blessing for after going to the bathroom. Don't laugh -- imagine if you were unable to relieve yourself or unable to stop relieving yourself. You couldn't live!

What is a blessing? It is a statement or affirmation that begins "Blessed are Thou Lord, our God, King of the Universe..." It is not that we have any power to bless God. He is infinite and lacks nothing. What we are doing is recognizing that the Almighty is the source of all blessings.

Why do we make blessings? Life is a matter of focus. We can eat and sleep and work and eventually die without ever thinking what life is about or the significance of the moment. A blessing focuses us on the Almighty and our relationship with Him.

In the case of food, rather than just tossing the food into our mouth, we focus that this food comes from the Almighty. There are two verses. The first says, "The earth and its fullness is the Almighty's" (Psalm 24:1). The second says, "The Heavens belong to God and the earth was given to man" (Psalm 115:16). How is this seeming contradiction resolved? Everything belongs to the Almighty. However, after we recognize that fact through making a blessing, we have permission to partake in the goodness (the food) He has given us. There is a blessing said after eating which give thanks to the Almighty for that which He has given us.

After hearing someone say a brocha (Hebrew for blessing), those who hear respond, "Amen." What is "Amen"? It is an acronym for "God is the faithful King." It is an affirmation that one places his trust in the Almighty. All of us trust in something -- our intelligence, education, money, power. In truth, one can only truly place his trust in the Almighty. As it says in Psalm 20:8, "There are those who trust in chariots and those who trust in horses, but we, in the name of our God, call out."

There are two ways one can say a brocha. One is by rote with speed and no feeling -- just to fulfill the requirement of making the blessing. The second way is to know the words and concentrate on the meaning of the words and the intention of why you are saying the blessing. Really, the second way is the only way to make a blessing. We just sometimes forget the reason why we make the blessing and how we are supposed to do it.

If one makes a blessing with thought and concentration, it is a growth experience. It makes a person more spiritual -- more closely connected to the Almighty -- through recognizing the Source of the good which he receives and through his expressing gratitude for that good. (Just as it is incumbent upon us to thank God for what He has given us, it is important for us to thank our fellow human beings for what they do for us.)

One time following breakfast with a devout Christian, I explained that I need a minute to say an after-blessing for the food I ate. He was very excited; he sat down, bent his head forward and shut his eyes. As I was saying my after-blessing, every few seconds he was saying with great devotion, "Yes" ... "Yes" ... "Yes." When I finished, I said to him, "I know what I was saying, but what were you doing?" He looked at me with great surprise and responded simply, "I was agreeing with you!" May we all recognize the Source of our blessings and remember to thank Him ... and remember to agree with those who do!


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Torah Portion of the Week
Chukas, Numbers 19:1 - 22:1

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 burnt 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. It is a lesson that we must do the commandments even if we can't understand them. God decreed the commandments. They are for our benefit. We may not always know why.

Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceased to flow. Once again the people rebelled 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. 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, repent and 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!

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And Moshe and Aharon gathered the Assembly (the whole of the Jewish people) before the rock and he (Moshe) said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels.' " (Numbers 20:10).

Was Moshe correct to call them rebels?

The Midrash tells us that whoever serves as a leader of the Jewish people must be very careful how he addresses them. According to one opinion -- because Moshe said, "Hear now, you rebels," he was told, "Therefore, you shall not bring the assembly into the Land which I have given them" (Bamidbar 20:12).

The prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) said to the Almighty, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). For this statement he was severely punished.

The prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) said to the Almighty, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the Children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant" (1Kings 18:10). He was severely punished for his statement.

Rabbi Avuhu and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish were traveling to a certain town. Rabbi Avuhu asked Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, "Why should we go to a place of blasphemers?" Upon hearing this, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish strongly reprimanded Rabbi Avuhu and told him, "God does not want us to speak evil about the Jewish people." (Yalkut Shimoni 764)


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With Deep Appreciation to

Dr. Michael and
Jackie Abels


With Tremendous Thanks to

Robert & Mojdeh


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