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Chukat(Numbers 19:1-22:1)

Chukat 5760

GOOD MORNING!  We are about to enter the Three Weeks -- the period of time between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. (Tamuz 17 begins Wednesday evening, July 19.) It is such an inauspicious period throughout our history that the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, forbids the performance of weddings. It is a period of introspection with thoughts to correcting one's mistakes in life. During this period -- though in different times of history --both of the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.

The Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, unwarranted hatred. People did not treat others with respect or kindness. The Sages tell us that for the Third Temple to be rebuilt there needs to be Ahavat Chinam, unconditional love.


Q & A:  WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 17TH OF TAMUZ AND HOW IS IT OBSERVED?

The 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz begins a three week national period of semi-mourning which culminates with the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av). It is a period where many tragedies have historically occurred and is considered in Jewish cosmology such an inauspicious time period that one is, as mentioned above, not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (August 2) one is even advised to push off court cases until at least the 10th of Av (August 11). Traditionally, we refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self-reflection and improvement.

On the 17th of Tamuz five calamitous events occurred throughout history:

  1. Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf.

  2. The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep.

  3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple.

  4. Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah.

  5. An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.

The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance -- to break the body's dominance over a person's spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.

It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein is a student of Jewish history. He named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) -- you guessed it, Tamuz 17! (Want the source? Ten Minutes Over Baghdad.) For more history, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov (available in bookstores or by calling toll-free: 877-758-3242).


Torah Portion of the Week
Chukat-Balak

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.

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. 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.)

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 to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. 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.



CANDLE LIGHTING - July 14:

Jerusalem 7:06   Miami 7:58  New York 8:10
L.A. 7:47  Hong Kong 6:51  Singapore 6:58
Guatemala  6:17  Honolulu   6:58  J'Burg 5:12
Melbourne 5:00  Moscow 8:48  London 8:54
Atlanta 8:32  Toronto 8:41  Montreal 8:25



QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

It's easier to fight for one's principles
than to live up to them.



Dedicated by...

In Honor of
Harry and Edith Gampel

Published: July 23, 2000

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