This week we read two parashot, Chukas and Balak. Chukas includes several important events.
First is the mitzvah of the Red Heifer (the Para Adumah), the procedure by which an entirely red cow is slaughtered and burned together with cedar, hyssop and a piece of crimson wool. The ashes of the heifer are used to purify people who are spiritually contaminated by coming into contact with a dead body.
Then there is the death of Miriam. With her death, the well of water that followed the Israelites is no more. The people cry for water, once again saying they would have been better off in Egypt. God instructs Moses and Aaron to find a certain rock and speak to it to give the Israelites water. Moses and Aaron fail to follow instructions, and Moses strikes the rock. The rock gushes water, but because Moses did not follow God’s commands, God decrees that he and Aaron will not enter the Land that God has given the Children of Israel.
The Israelites try to travel through the kingdoms of Edom and are attacked, but they defeat the Edomites.
They reach Mount Hor. There Elazar, the son of Aaron, is installed as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and Aaron dies.
The Israelites come to the kingdom of Arad, where they are once more refused passage, but are not attacked.
The people start complaining again, and God sends deadly snakes. The people ask for forgiveness, and God instructs Moses on how to stop the plague of snakes.
The Israelites journey farther, and finally rest on the plains of Moab, near Jericho.
The Jewish people are now almost arrived at their homeland. It is 38 years since they left Egypt. But if you review the parshot for the last few months, you will see the Torah has not given us many details about the journey destined to last 40 years.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his book Unlocking the Torah Text: Bamidbar, has a fascinating insight. A period of 40 units is often a signal that our ancestors are about to encounter something new. Noah encounters 40 days of rain, after which a new world awaits him.
Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai where he receives the Torah. The Meraglim (Spies) scout out Canaan for 40 days and give a report that causes the people to fear the Canaanites and not trust in God’s promises to give them the land. The bad report of the Meraglim leads God to decree that the wanderings in the Wilderness will take 40 years so that a new generation, not born in Egyptian slavery, grows up ready to enter Israel.
It may be hard for you to think about 40 years, but what great new thing could you create in your life in 40 minutes? Perhaps you could read an interesting article or do something that would help your parents at home.
What could you do in 40 days that would be a change in your life? Get started with an exercise program? Earn a merit badge? Plan and carry out a patrol event?
Take 40 seconds and think about it.