This week, Parasha Chukas reminds us of how important our friends and family are to one another.
The parasha begins with a description of the decree (chukas) of the Red Heifer. A completely red cow that has never pulled a cart or plow is slaughtered and burned together with cedar, hyssop and a piece of crimson wool. People who have become spiritually contaminated by contact with a dead person are cleansed using the ashes soaked in water.
The parasha also describes the journey of the Children of Israel into the lands of Edom and Arad, whose kings refuse them passage.
Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses, dies.
God commands Moses to take the garments of the High Priest from Aaron and put them on Aaron’s son Elazar to install Elazar as High Priest. Aaron then dies.
The people have no water and cry out. God commands Moses and Aaron to gather the people at a certain rock and speak to the rock to give water. Instead of speaking to the rock, an angry Moses calls the people rebels and strikes it. The rock gives water, but God tells Moses and Aaron that because they did not honor God before the people, the two of them will not enter Canaan.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains the possible connection between Miriam’s death and the error that Moses and Aaron make. He points out that Miriam was a very important person in their lives. Miriam was the oldest of the three siblings. When Moses was a baby, she watched over his reed ark as it floated in the Nile to see what would happen. Though just a girl, when Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses from the water and said she would raise him, the brave and smart Miriam approached the princess to suggest their mother could serve as a nurse for Moses, so that he would grow up knowing what it means to be Jewish. After the miracle at the Red Sea, she led the women in song. Because of her tremendous merit, a well of water followed the Children of Israel through the Wilderness. When she died, the well was no more, and that is why the people were thirsty.
Rabbi Sacks notes that the water crisis was the first challenge Moses faced without his sister. He becomes angry and does not do as God instructed him, and he loses the chance to enter the land he has worked so hard to gain with the Israelites. As Rabbi Sacks points out, people need friends who will listen to them and provide support.
The Scout Law reminds us to be Helpful and Friendly. The parasha reminds us that in addition to being the person who gives help and friendship, we need those who give us help and friendship. We should appreciate them and understand their importance in our lives.